Tuesday 29 June 2010

Natural Empathy - Beautifully British Luxury Hand & Body Lotion and Top-to-Toe Wash

As soon as I saw the packaging, I fell in love with these products. I don't know if it's my patriotic streak, or because it awakens nostalgic memories of getting dressed up in Union Jacks for the Silver Jubilee when I was a kid in the 70's or if it's just the appeal of the bright colours, but as soon I see a product flying the British flag, I want one ! I felt the same about the Union Jack-bedecked Firefly Tonic called Britannia, which I reviewed here.

Now, I don't really know what I was expecting a "Beautifully British" product to smell like, but I have to say, I was slightly surprised and - if I'm honest- a bit disappointed to get a whiff of lavender. There's nothing wrong with lavender - it's a lovely natural, relaxing scent. But it does have connotations of old grannies or, going to the other extreme, baby products aimed to get sleepy heads calmly off to the land of Nod. This is probably because of my formative years being lived out with a musical backdrop of Britpop by the likes of Oasis, Pulp and Blur or hearing Tony Blair going on about "Cool Britannia", but I was expecting something a bit more cutting edge, in-yer-face, loud and proud ! The product is really nice but I just felt like it was having a bit of an identity crisis and didn't really belong in this bottle !

Once I got over the initial surprise and really breathed in the scent, I did actually quite like it. As they explain on their website, " This exclusive luxury, natural hand and body lotion is a distinctive blend of the traditional and the modern, celebrating pride and passion. This rip roaring, flag waving, barnstormingly British body lotion with a fine nostalgic fragrance of cedarwood English lavender and patchouli is evocative, sensual and immaculately turned out. A Beautifully British skin nourishing and protecting formula for discerning Ladies and Gentlemen." The lavender, cedarwood and patchouli blend nicely together to create a subtle, relaxing, natural fragranc that is great for a wind-down shower at the end of a long day.

The Top-to-Toe Wash left my skin feeling lovely and soft, and the Hand and Body Lotion completed the pampering session, leaving me with perfectly moisturised and ungreasy skin. I could tell both products were made with high quality ingredients.

I was really pleased to learn that, as their name suggests, Natural Empathy deal only in natural products that aren't packed full of harmful chemicals. "This paraben free, cruelty free, synthetic free, natural beauty product is made lovingly in small batches and is suitable for even sensitive skin."

But the Union Jack isn't just there for show. They say, on their website, "Buying British doesn't just mean stocking up on Union Jack designs. It's about celebrating all the unique skills, traditions and creative ideas that make us truly Brit-tastic." The Hand & Body Lotion contains cold pressed extra virgin moisturising oils from Northumberland. They not only produce their products in Northumberland, they also use locally grown and produced ingredients. In a recent article in the Mail Online, founder Philip Stuckey said : "‘We believe that in Britain we should make things, and not simply be a shop window for other countries."

For that reason alone, I'd be happy to add it to my shopping list, but when you also take into account the high quality of the products, the eco-friendly natural skincare range and the beautiful packaging, they're definitely on to a winner.

star rating : 4.5/5


Monday 28 June 2010

Savlon Spray Plaster

When I was a kid, there was always a squished-up tube of Savlon in the first aid kit - actually, I don't remember there being much else in there except for a packet of plasters, some tweezers and a box of Rennies ! These days, in our house, we've progressed on to the high-tech version and now use Savlon Advanced Healing Gel (which I reviewed here). The kids know that as soon as there's a grazed knee or an infected insect bite, they need to head off to the first aid cupboard for a plaster and some Savlon ! They were therefore keen to test out the impressive-sounding Savlon Spray Plaster.

What you have is a little aerosol can of Savlon magic (I admit that is just a nice way of saying I have no idea what it's made of !) that you can spray on to minor cuts and grazes to keep them clean and help them heal, in place of a normal plaster. The label explains, "Savlon Spray Plaster delivers a spray-on waterproof and transparent film which helps protect cuts and grazes and aid the natural healing process. This no-touch formula is antiseptic upon application due to the alcohol content, and this helps reduce the risk of infection."

As expected, the first people in the house to have cuts and grazes to treat were the girls. Sophie got a nasty paper cut on her finger which she asked me to spray - she jumped around the room saying "ow ow it stings" but soon settled down, although she did say it was stinky and made her eyes water ! Juliette was next with a grazed knee. She made no fuss when I spray it on but wandered back to show me her knee twenty minutes later and said "look mum, it hasn't turned into a plaster" ! She really thought a fabric plaster was going to magically appear out of thin air !

For kids, I must admit I prefer still using the traditional sticky plasters because they clean all the muck out and have that real "magic mummy kiss" charm of making your injured little one feel instantly better because he can go around showing his plaster to everyone for sympathy ! The Spray Plaster does avoid the soggy plasters getting left in the bottom of the bath or falling off two seconds after sticking them on because they've got stuck to the inside of their trouser legs. It also avoids the major whingeing session when you have to pull off a particularly well stuck-on plaster, especially if it's on a hairy arm or leg !

For an adult, I would recommend the Spray Plaster as a more discreet version of a normal plaster. It is transparent, non-drip and best of all waterproof, so you won't forever lose your plaster in the washing up bowl or when washing your hands if you've cut your finger.

It's quite pricey, retailing at £6.19 for 40ml, but it's a handy product to stash in your handbag or the glovebox in the car to deal with all those little scrapes and grazes that you constantly have to deal with as a parent.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £6.19

Sunday 27 June 2010

Wilko Sun Care range

You might have noticed, it's Wilko day on my blog today ! I've been reviewing several products from Wilkinson's own-brand baby range, including their baby wash, baby wipes and nursery surface wipes, and next up is their funky range of suncare products.

My biggest gripe so far with Wilko hasn't been the products themselves, it's been the packaging which looks cheap. Even if the products are really cheap, you don't necessarily want everyone to know this, especially if you're swanning around on a posh holiday ! Well, the whole suncare range looks very similar in style and colours to a lot of the more expensive suncare ranges on the market. This is actually a conscious decision on the part of Wilkinson's, who say : "Listening to customers, we have vastly improved the packaging to ensure the range looks just as attractive as the branded offers and stands out confidently on shelf." It's great to see retailers listening to their customers and actually acting on what they hear.

We were sent two SPF50 moisturising sun lotions to test, one for children and one for adults. The labels on both products give exactly the same information : both lotions are five star-rated, provide broadspectrum UVA and UVB protection, are enriched with Vitamin E, are water resistant and dermatologically approved and are light, non-greasy and easily absorbed.

As even the bottles look almost identical, I couldn't really see the point of having two separate products for adults and kids when either would be ideal for the whole family. Well, there is one big difference - the kids' version is purple when you apply it ! The kids loved the funky colour and it made it really easy to see where you had applied the product, which is brilliant news. The purple colour does come off on anything it touches (clothes, sheets, ...) so warn your kids in advance to try not to touch anything for a while after you've applied it, but the purple colour on the swimsuits washed off easily in the pool so hopefully should come out in the wash too.

As for the product itself, I couldn't see any difference between the Wilko lotion and some of the more expensive brands we've used in the past. They smelt just as good, gave equally good coverage and - most importantly - nobody got burnt. The only real difference is the price - you'd be hard pressed to find many products this cheap (from £2.98) that work as well.

Even though nobody had sunburn, we also tried out the Wilko Suncare Moisturising Aftersun Lotion. It contains aloe vera and vitamin E to help soothe and revitalise skin that has been exposed to the sun and the label says it helps to prolong your tan and prevent peeling. It smells nice and fresh, more like a body moisturiser than a sun product, and is easy to apply. It soaks into the skin easily, leaving a cooling sensation and nice smell. It does feel a little sticky afterwards (which could be from the suncream, as both were used), but this is something I've found with all brands of sun products, whatever the price.

Yet again, I am really impressed with the high quality of the products at such a low price. Wilkinson's say that their products "not only match the performance of the brand leaders, but are at a significantly lower price with a no nonsense money back guarantee if you're not satisfied" and I have to say, I now believe every word of that statement. I've often found the prices of top brand sun care products to be exorbitant, especially knowing that they have a captive audience - particularly for children's protection - where worried parents won't dare to buy the cheaper and possibly inferior-quality products. Well, I can vouch for the fact that the Wilko Suncare range is just as good as the more expensive brands I've tried - and nobody else has purple suncream on offer, to the best of my knowledge !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : sun lotion from £2.98 for 200ml, aftersun lotion £1.99 for 200ml

Wilko Baby Wash

When you look at the plain white plastic bottle of Wilko Baby Wash, it looks cheap. But that's because it is ! It retails at under a pound, costing just 96p for a big 300ml bottle. As you can see from the cheeky bit of advertising above, Wilko, the own-brand label of high-street store Wilkinson's, pride themselves on providing quality products at much cheaper prices than their rivals. But are they really quality products ? Well, so far, I've tested their baby wipes and nursery surface wipes and I'll be testing their suncare range shortly (watch this space !) and I'm pretty impressed overall.

The label tells us, "Wilko Baby Wash is a kind and gentle cleanser that helps moisturise whilst washing. Its extra mild formulation with lotion is pH balanced to help leave baby's skin feeling soft and smooth. It will also help your skin feel baby soft too". I always like products that are suitable for the whole family - babies, children and adults alike - so the baby wash was already on to a winner.

The bottle says that for a baby, you should apply directly on to the skin with your hand or a sponge so I tried this out with Pierre at bathtime. It got him nice and clean, rinsed off easily and didn't cause any skin reactions at all. His skin didn't feel particularly moisturised or softened, as it does with some of the more expensive brands I've tested, but it did smell lovely. The fragrance is a typical "clean baby" smell and reminded me of the smell of talcum powder.

The instructions say that for grown ups, you should squeeze it on to a sponge or puff and work into a rich creamy lather. I tried this out in the shower and it worked really well, lathering up nicely - so nicely in fact that I successfully used the lather for shaving my legs, without the need for another product. I did however find that it smelt a bit too strongly of baby products for my liking !

As the girls also wanted a bath, I decided to try it out as a bubble bath and that was very successful too, making a lovely creamy lather that they happily played in, making beards and bubble bikinis and punky hairstyles until it was time to get out ! Sophie occasionally has flare-ups of eczema but had absolutely no reactions to the baby bath.

I was really impressed because you get a three-in-one product : baby wash, bubble bath and shower gel. That helps reduce household waste so is better for the environment but also reduces bathroom clutter so makes tidying up quicker. It isn't the most luxurious or deeply moisturising body wash that I've ever tried but quite frankly, for under a pound, I wasn't expecting it to be ! It's brilliant value and I'm amazed at how good it is for the price.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : 96p for 300ml

Wilko Baby Nursery Anti-Bacterial Surface Wipes

Wilkinson pride themselves on being "the home of family value" and when you see how low their prices are, you can see why. However, cheap isn't always good so I was keen to try out some of their baby essentials and see how they compared to the more expensive brands and other own-brand labels.

The Baby Nursery Anti-Bacterial Surface Wipes come in an unassuming plain white and blue wrapper that doesn't look particularly impressive or luxurious. It has the usual resealable sticky label to keep the wipes moist but nothing that attracts your attention as you scour the shelf.

Each wipe folds out reasonably big, slightly larger than the size of a normal wet wipe, that is more than large enough and robust enough to wipe down any dubious looking surfaces that you want to clean. The label promises that they are tough on germs ; offer anti-bacterial action for up to 4 hours ; are clinically proven to kill E.coli, Salmonella, E.faecalis and S.aureus ; they are safe to use on surfaces in contact with baby's skin ; and they are dermatologically tested.

The back of the packet tells us that the wipes are "ideal for use on changing mats, high chairs, kitchen, bathroom and nursery surfaces" and are "perfect when travelling". Each packet contains 30 wipes and comes in a handy small pack that is perfect for stashing in your handbag or changing bag or even the glovebox of the car. I'm not a clean freak by any means but whenever we eat out and come across a dubious-looking highchair or changing table, I always feel more secure when having a quick swish with one of these wipes. They smell lovely and fresh and citrussy and don't leave the table all wet or sticky. They are also great for sanitising potties at potty-training time as they eliminate all the dodgy bugs simply and quickly. They are not flushable though so make sure you fling them in the dustbin and not the toilet.

They may be dirt cheap - they have an unbelievably low price of 77p for 30 wipes - but they are absolutely brilliant for peace of mind when gallivanting out and about with baby.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : 77p for 30 wipes

Wilko Cotton Soft Baby Wipes

As I just said in my review of Boots Extra Care Baby Wipes, I have nothing against own brand wipes, having often found them to be as good, or in some cases even better, than the big brands. I therefore came to Wilko's Baby Wipes, sold by Wilkinson's, with a totally open mind, particularly as they had been put in one of the big reuseable plastic dispensers that hold packets of wipes so it was a totally blind test.

My first instinct was that they felt less soft than my usual baby wipes and I would even go so far as to say slightly abrasive. They seem to have an incredibly large weave, looking slightly porous so that you can see your fingers through them. I was convinced I'd end up with poo all over my fingers after changing Pierre's nappy, but I have to say, this wasn't the case !

However, they weren't very wet and I found it quite hard to get the last bits of poo off Pierre's skin at changing time. I had to rub quite hard and repeatedly so Pierre squirmed and complained, presumably because it wasn't very comfortable. I therefore wouldn't recommend them for changing babies with particularly sensitive skin or during periods of nappy rash, although for a bum change when no major clean up is required, they do the job well enough.

The advantage of them being slightly rougher is that they are also tougher, so for wiping chocolatey fingers or cleaning dirty feet and knees at the park, they're very resistant. As they're not very wet, you might need a couple to get the job done but they get there eventually without falling apart.

I initially avoided using them on Pierre's face, because I didn't think they were soft enough, but when I got fed up with hayfever and used one to wipe over my face to get rid of some of the pollen, they didn't feel at all rough, as I was expecting.

In conclusion, they are not my favourite wipes for cleaning baby's sensitive skin because they aren't as soft as some brands. However, for tougher jobs, where softness isn't an issue, like cleaning hands and feet or having a quick refreshing wipe over your face when your kids are hot and sweaty after playing football, they're perfectly adequate and work out much cheaper than most wipes, even the own brand ones.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : 97p for 80

Boots Extra Care Wipes

When it comes to the main reasons we want wet wipes - namely wiping pooey baby bums and cleaning sticky toddler hands and faces - pretty much all brands do the job reasonably well. A lot of it comes down to personal choice, such as how wet you want the wipe or how big it needs to be. I must admit, I always used to avoid own brand wipes and nappies because I thought they wouldn't be as good as the big brands but most of the time I've been pleasantly surprised.

Boots are a brand I've come to trust and use a lot - especially as buying regularly with Boots means the points mount up on my Advantage card and I can get myself some guilt-free freebie treats to pamper myself with ! I therefore had pretty high expectations when I was sent a pack of their Aloe & Chamomile Fragrance Free Extra Care Baby Wipes to test. And I have to say, they exceeded my expectations.

The label tells us that they are made with 98% pure water, perfect for baby's sensitive skin ; fragrance-free, extra thick wipes ; and consultant dermatologist and paediatrician approved. Further information is given on the back of the packet, if you read the small print : "Boots baby extra care hypo-allergenic wipes are soft and strong to gently cleanse baby's sensitive skin with added Aloe and Chamomile to help keep baby's skin soft and smooth. Each wipe is made with 98% pure water, with a touch of baby lotion to help prevent the causes of nappy rash and protect delicate skin. Gentle enough to be used at every nappy change or at feeding and play times."

Well, I've given them a thorough testing, using them on Pierre's face and fingers after getting sticky ice cream all over himself in the park, and on his bottom, despite having a nasty bout of nappy rash because he's teething. The ice cream came off really easily with a quick swipe without needing lots of rubbing (which always annoys Pierre) and the wipes didn't leave any greasy, sticky or wet residue on his face. Despite the nappy rash leaving Pierre's bum looking nasty and red and sore, he didn't squirm or cry when I used the wipes on him so they must feel nice and gentle and possibly soothing, unlike some wipes which must sting because he complains and wriggles when I use them.

From a mum's point of view, I absolute love the packaging. I have never had a packet of wipes where each individual wipe is so easy to get out, even when using the bigger more expensive brands. They don't stick together, the pack is easy to get into and reseal, you never lose the end of the wipe and rip half the pack open when you go fishing about for the next wipe ... Further research showed that this is done on purpose, it's not just a fluke ! The packaging tells us that "the wipes are interleaved so that each one can be easily removed with just one hand, leaving your other hand free for your baby." If you have a particularly wriggly baby, that is really handy (no pun intended) because there's nothing worse than having to use both hands to free a wipe, constantly worrying that baby is going to tumble off the changing table.

For that aspect alone, they get top marks from me, but even if the ease of use hadn't blown me away, I'd still have been impressed by the gentleness and softness of the wipes that are kind to even sensitive, sore skin during teething. They're cheaper than the big brands but they are equally as good, if not better.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £1.39 for 64 wipes (but currently on offer : 3 for £2.50 on selected Boots baby wipes )

Book review : Love and Summer - William Trevor

If you imagine a hyperactive, stressed-out, workaholic city-dweller being suddenly parachuted into a quiet rural village for a week, that will give you an idea of how I felt reading Love and Summer ! After reading fast-paced thrillers and adrenalin-fuelled crime novels, it all seemed painfully slow and, dare I say it, boring. But wait to get over the culture shock and adapt to the new pace and the city-dweller will start to appreciate the beauty of the countryside, just as I was eventually won over by the lyrical quality of the writing.

Love and Summer is set in a sleepy little Irish town called Rathmoye. Life is quiet and nothing much happens so, when a stranger shows up and starts taking photographs at a funeral, the local curtain-twitcher has a field day. Who is he ? What does he want ? Surely he could fuel a few juicy rumours to put some excitement in their lives ? Well, this time, the idle tongue-wagging isn't far off the mark and the stranger, named Florian Kilderry, does embark on a love affair with the young wife of a local farmer, Ellie. There is still no great excitement though - much of their romancing involves leaving notes for each other in the grounds of an old derelict house and (sorry, huge spoiler coming up so skip on to the next paragraph if you don't want to know !) the love affair fizzles out before it has even really begun.

The style of writing is poetic, lyrical and understated. A bit too understated at times because I felt that the author didn't fully exploit much of the material he created, just hinting at things from the past that could have been developed much more fully into really interesting and exciting tales. And at times, interest and excitement were sadly lacking so it would have been a welcome relief. Ellie's sad beginnings as a foundling child and her more-or-less arranged marriage with a local farmer. The tragic tale of her husband accidentally killing his wife and infant child. The mysterious figure of Orpen Wren and his strange, half-deranged half-lucid ramblings. The fire at the old cinema that left a man dead. Miss Connulty the curtain twitcher's affair and secret abortion in her youth. Things do happen at Rathmoye after all but they are merely hinted at in a roundabout way, which to me seemed a shame.

The grand themes of life and love, hope and happiness, resignation and sadness are all evoked and I can see this book being highly popular with reading groups or study groups at school or university. The author gives you plenty of food for thought and discussion but if you want an entertaining read by yourself, it felt somewhat lacking to me, due to the slow pace and slightly tedious life of the characters. I came away feeling as if I had read a short story, rather than a fully developped novel with fleshed-out characters.

star rating : 3/5

Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Viking (17 Aug 2009)
ISBN-10: 0670918245
ISBN-13: 978-0670918249

Saturday 26 June 2010

Lindam reuseable microwave steriliser bags

According to their website, Lindam are "the UK's number 1 brand in safety and the UK's largest nursery provider". They go on, "We have spent the past 20 years looking at the world as a new parent and our designs are created by parents for parents. We have learnt that it is the clever little things that make the biggest difference."

Well, I have never used any Lindam products before but if the microwave steriliser bags that I was sent to test are anything to go by, they certainly have thought about what makes parents' life easier. Travelling light with a baby is never easy, what with all the changes of clothes, nappies and other bulky essential equipment you'll need like a travel cot, car seat, pram, ... the list is endless ! One thing that you can cross off that list though is a bulky steriliser, if you opt for these microwaveabale bags.

The idea is simple - you put water in the bag, put in all the bottles, teats and bits and bobs (but not boobs, you'd end up with a nasty scald !) that you want to sterilise, close the zip, microwave for three minutes so that the water turns to steam and sterilises it all. Be sure to leave the bag to cool for ten minutes so you don't burn yourself on the steam when you open it.

If you're going off on holidays and are trying to reduce the amount of luggage and baby paraphernalia, these would be absolutely ideal. I'm a bit of a greenie at heart and like to reduce waste as much as possible so I did feel slightly guilty about using disposable bags - however, I needn't have worried. Each bag can be used 20 times so one pack of three should be plenty for a week away with the family (a pack of three STERILISER BAGS, not anything else, you dirty-minded people !!). There's a handy row of boxes to tick on the bottom of the bags so you can keep track of how many times you've used each one.

There are a couple of things that could be improved. Firstly, you need to pour 70ml of water into the bag so I would have liked to have seen a line drawn on the bag like a measuring jug. Admittedly, you can use the bottle you're about to sterilise to measure out the right quantity of water but that felt wrong to me somehow, like I was filling the bag with dirty germ-infested water to begin with. Secondly, the packaging tells you that each bag is big enough to sterilise two feeding bottles and accessories - although this is true for the tiny newborn bottles, you will only manage to fit one larger-sized bottle in at a time. The neck of the bag is also a bit on the small side so it can be fiddly trying to get all the bits in and out of the bag. As you ideally want to handle sterilised bottles as little as possible, make sure you wash your hands and use a hand sanitizer if you've got one so that you don't get the germs from your grubby mitts all over the newly-sterilised accessories, as this would rather defeat the whole object !

Overall though, these bags are a really handy space-saving alternative that are simple to use and perfect for travelling with a baby. One less thing to pack in the car can make all the difference so make the most of it !

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £4.99 for 3 bags (suitable for 60 uses)

Friday 25 June 2010

Just two minutes a day can help prevent serious accidents - Child Safety Week 21st – 27th June

Healthcare professionals have reported that four children are admitted to hospital every hour after suffering accidents in their own home. Nearly 100 babies and toddlers fill hospital beds every day. These figures are in stark contrast to the results of a new survey, which show that four in five parents of under fives believe their home is the safest place for their child.

The survey, commissioned by the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) to coincide with the launch of Child Safety Week (21st – 27th June), also uncovered a feeling of helplessness among parents of young children. While almost three-quarters worry about their child having a bad accident, nearly half believe there is nothing they can do to stop accidents from happening. Of even more concern is the one in five parents who think that ensuring their home is a safe haven for their child takes too much time and energy.

But parents needn’t feel overwhelmed by accidents, as just two minutes a day making small changes in their home – the same amount of time it takes to clean your teeth each morning – can make a huge difference to their child’s safety.

CAPT has identified four key areas of risk to young children within the home and is encouraging parents to make small changes to reduce the risk of serious accidents.

Fact: Today, 11 toddlers will swallow something so potentially harmful that they will be admitted into hospital. Detergent capsules and concentrated detergents can pose new risks to young children.
Tips: Keep all cleaning products and medicines out of reach and sight – ideally in a high locked cupboard. Use products with child safety caps and look out for products containing a bittering agent such as Bitrex®. Don’t forget the detergent capsules under the sink and the painkillers in your handbag.

FallsFact: Today, 45 toddlers will be admitted to hospital because they’ve had a serious fall. Falls from windows can cause severe injuries or even death.
Tips: You can prevent serious falls by fitting safety catches to stop your windows opening too wide. Safety gates can prevent serious falls on the stairs.

Fact: Every day this week, six children will be so badly burned that they will be admitted to hospital. Hair straighteners can still burn your child eight minutes after they’ve been unplugged.
Tips: Put your hair straighteners out of reach straight away after you use them. Remember to put hot drinks out of reach too, as they can still burn a small child 15 minutes after they’ve been made.

FireFact: During Child Safety Week, two toddlers will be admitted to hospital because they’ve inhaled poisonous smoke from a fire in their home. A young child can die in under a minute from breathing in poisonous smoke.
Tips: Fit a smoke alarm on every level of your home and take a few minutes each week to check they are all working properly.

To mark Child Safety Week, the Child Accident Prevention Trust is asking parents to make time for safety by pledging their time on-line, anything from 30 seconds to an hour each day, and by finding out how they can protect their children from serious accidents.

Safer strangers, safer buildings campaign - free online video 'Teigan gets lost'

Safer strangers, safer buildings is an award-winning campaign to help children know what to do if they get lost or feel unsafe. The campaign was launched at the House of Commons, and is endorsed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and educational charities including the Children's Safety Education Foundation, Kidscape and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

A free film 'Teigan gets lost' is available to watch online, together with a printable version of the Safer strangers, safer buildings code, children's activity sheet and guidance for teachers, parents and carers. You can also read the following safety code with your children.

Safer strangers, safer buildings code

If you get lost, or feel unsafe, and there is no adult around that you know and trust, look for a safer stranger who you can ask for help. If you can’t see a safer stranger outside, look for a safer building you can go in to, to ask for help from the people who work there.
A safer stranger is a person who is working at their job which helps people. Safer strangers will usually be wearing a uniform. Safer strangers could be police officers, police community support officers, traffic wardens, shopkeepers, check-out assistants, paramedics and others.

Safer buildings could be banks, post offices, libraries, medical centres, shops, supermarkets, leisure centres and others.

Tell the safer stranger your name. Also, if you can, tell them the phone number of your parent or the person who looks after you.

For teachers, parents and carers
Watch the Teigan gets lost film with your child/ren and talk together about the safer strangers and safer buildings in your area.

Strangers: A stranger can be described as someone that we don’t know or someone that we don’t know well. You can say that because we don’t know the person we don’t know whether they are kind or not. Most people are kind but there are a small number of people who are not. We cannot tell who is kind just by looking at them. We must never go anywhere with a stranger or do anything for a stranger. It doesn’t matter what they say to us, we should always tell the grown-up who looks after us if a stranger talks to us.

Safer strangers: Ask your child(ren) if they can think of any safer strangers. You can say that even though these people are often strangers we call them safer strangers because they are doing a job where they help us and it is easy to recognize them because of their uniform.

Say that if your child(ren) can’t see a safer stranger outside, they should look for a safer building to go into, to ask for help inside from the people who work there.

Safer buildings: You can say that safer strangers can be found in safer buildings and that there are many where we live. A safer building is one where often there will be a reception desk and there will be someone there to help you. If a child needs help, hopefully they will be quite close to a community facility of this kind, and it will be safe for them to go there.

Walk about
Once you have had a chat with your child about the safer strangers and safer buildings near where you live, go on a‘walkabout’ together to point them out to your child. Talk about how they might put the code into practice. For example, if your child gets lost in a shopping centre, talk about how they could go into a shop and find the uniformed person at the till. If they are in a cinema, they should go to the ticket office to ask for help. 

*Teigan gets lost is one of five films on the DVD ‘A child’s eye view of keeping healthy, staying safe’, which is also available from www.childseyemedia.com.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Kaloo Perfumes for Babies and Children

I love the lovely warm, snuggly, almost biscuity smell that all babies have when you give them a cuddle. If someone could bottle it, I'm sure they'd make a fortune because nostalgic mums would buy it by the boxload ! However, sometimes babies smell a bit less delicious - the mixture of remnants of curdled milk, the lingering smell that a particularly toxic nappy leaves behind even after a nappy change, sweat and wee is slightly less delicious !

Sophie and Juliette both had Kaloo soft toys when they were babies so when the Kaloo perfume arrived for Pierre to test, they both oohed and aahed nostalgically and wanted to spray some on. Despite their website stating that "Kaloo perfumes babies from 1 month to 3 years old", both 5-year-old Juliette and 8-year-old Sophie loved the sweet, fruity, delicate fragrance that smells light and summery. The bottle with the soft toy head on the lid is so cute that it has pride of place on the shelf in Pierre's room.

We were testing the Kaloo Blue perfume with the teddy bear head, but the range exists in four fragrances. "The line includes 4 scented waters, sweet and tender like children, with each a soft toy head, a nice family of friends to collect: Kaloo Blue, Kaloo Lilirose, Kaloo Liliblue, Kaloo Dragée." You can see all four cute bottles in the picture at the top of this article.

The perfume is designed with children and babies in mind so it is alcohol-free and clinically tested. Kaloo also explain that it "contains Glycerin to moisturise and has perfect PH levels to ensure comfort on young skins". Just to be on the safe side, I tend to spray it on to Pierre's clothes rather than directly on to his skin. Kaloo take this safety aspect very seriously though and state, "Their fragrances follow the same strict safety guidelines as the toys, not only meeting but surpassing European safety standards with all materials and colours being both saliva and sweat resistant". I've also found it to be an effective room spray when that pongy nappy smell lingers !

The perfumes are beautifully packaged in a pale blue and white box and would make a lovely gift, either for a newborn or for a slightly older child who is just starting to take an interest in "grown-up" perfumes and grooming products. You can also buy a gorgeous gift set that comes in a round box and contains a perfume and Kaloo soft toy.

Kaloo are extremely popular in France, both for the perfumes and the soft toys, which are widely available in nationwide high street stores. However, Kaloo fragrances have only just arrived on British shores so they are currently available exclusively from Harrods. You should be able to find them online too, though.

star rating : 5/5

Retail prices
100ml Spray £19.50
Small gift set £29.50
Large gift set £39.50

Care Allergy Defence - natural hayfever protection

If you suffer from hayfever, as I do, the arrival of summer is always bitter-sweet. I love the sunshine and the longer days and the fact that the kids can play outside, but I also know that I'll soon be rubbing my eyes and sneezing and constantly wiping my nose. There are various remedies available but pretty much anything in tablet form is ruled out if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, so for the past couple of summers, I've been on the lookout for more natural remedies.

I was therefore keen to try out a new treatment called Care Allergy Defence that is clinically proven to stop sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes that is suitable for elderly people, adults, children (under supervision) and ... wait for it ! ... pregnant/breastfeeding women. Yay !

What you get is a little squeezy bottle that you squirt up your nose for a recommended minimum of three times a day. Unlike most other nasal sprays I've tried in the past, this bottle doesn't contain a liquid mist, it contains a powder. That sounds horrible and I was expecting a disgusting taste or sensation but you can't actually feel a thing. In fact, I squirted the bottle in front of my eyes to check that there was something coming out because I couldn't feel it at all !

The label explains that "Care Allergy Defence is a powder spray which is clinically proven to deliver fast, effective protection against hayfever and other airborne allergens such as pollen, dust and pet allergies. Care Allergy Defence provides a natural barrier within the nose to rapidly block airborne allergens thereby treating the cause so you don't suffer the symptoms". It's definitely a case of prevention is better than cure. The powder is made from natural cellulose and peppermint powder, which cannot be absorbed by the body so it is totally natural and harmless - that's why even babies from 18 months can use it, under supervision. It contains no steroids or antihistamines so you won't have any side effects like drowsiness and it won't interact with any other medication.

I did have a puff up each nostril first thing this morning but, having just got back from the school run and walked past a group of council workers cutting the grass, I had tears streaming down my face, my nose was running constantly and my eyes were really red and sore. I figured it would be a waste of time reaching for the Care Allergy Defence because the pollen was already up my nose and in my eyes so it would be a case of closing the door after the horse has bolted. Nevertheless, with zero conviction, I had another puff up each nostril and was amazed to see that the symptoms had stopped within seconds - even in my eyes, which were presumably reacting to direct contact with the pollen, so I still don't understand how squirting a pollen barrier up my nose can have stopped that.

That basically says it all - I can't explain how it is so effective but quite frankly, I don't care ! It works, pretty much instantaneously, and you can use it as often as you need with no risks of overdosing or side effects. I love the fact that it is natural and harmless too. I know in the past, I had to change my antihistamine tablets from time to time because they stopped working. The doctor explained that different products target different allergens and, with the arrival of new exotic flowers, some pollens wouldn't be targeted. Care Allergy Defence also nicely sidesteps this problem as it just cuts out all airborne allergens, whether pollen, dust, pet hair or anything else. It will be my handbag essential this summer - I'm even thinking of going for the St Bernard's look and tying it on a string around my neck for constant emergency access !

star rating : definitely 5/5 which I really wasn't expecting !

RRP : £6-99 for 500mg (200 sprays)

available from Boots, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s Pharmacy

Other reviews you might be interested in :

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Method Laundry Detergent

"Don't You Know, Pump It Up,
You've Got To Pump It Up,
Don't You Know, Pump It Up,
You've Got To Pump It Up !"

That's what I want to sing every time I do my washing using Method's snazzy new laundry detergent that comes in a funky pump-action dispenser bottle. Method never do anything the same as anyone else, usually coming up with dazzling fragrances for cleaning products that actually make doing the housework - dare I say it ? - fun ! This time, it's the bottle that is so innovative. Oh, and what's inside of it.

When I saw on the bottle "4 pumps = 1 wash - amazingly concentrated", I thought to myself, "yeah yeah, heard it all before". I've been well and truly won over by all the concentrated detergents on the market up until now, not just because you don't have to lug around really heavy bottles or find space for them in the laundry cupboard any more but also because they create less household waste and use less resources to create the smaller bottles in the first place. But one thing I have come to realise about method is that when they say something, they really mean it - in this case, amazingly concentrated really does mean AMAZINGLY concentrated. I was expecting each of the four pumps to gush out a relatively large quantity of detergent so that it would be the equivalent of the usual capful of laundry liquid used with other brands. But it's a pathetic amount that squirts out ! I looked dubiously in my detergent dispenser drawer and thought to myself, "No, surely not ? That can't really be enough, can it ? Maybe I should add an extra couple of squirts just to be on the safe side". But no, I decided to follow the instructions and was amazed to see that yes, that pathetically small amount of laundry detergent actually did get my clothes clean. Now that really is amazing - not to mention brilliant news for the environment and your pocket because one small 300ml bottle will give you 25 washes.

Unsurprisingly, method are rightfully proud of their latest creation and explain that they have created "an 8x concentrated solution (something no other laundry brand has ever achieved) [which]has huge implications on the environment, with a 35% smaller carbon footprint than conventional detergent, a pump action for easy one-handed use [that is] made from 50% recycled plastic using 36% less plastic and 33% less energy and oil. This has huge implications on the environment, particularly if all the market competitors follow suit." Well done method - that's even smaller and mightier than certain other brands that will remain nameless !

The fragrance is labelled as "fresh air" and I found that it didn't really smell of anything much, so I suppose that's a fair description ! I've always been bowled over by the fragrances of method cleaning products, be they grapefruit, cinnamon bark or minty eucalyptus , so I was a bit disappointed, but then I suppose I wouldn't really want my clothes smelling that strong, however much I love the fragrances (and believe me, I really really love them !). (Oooh, I just went and looked on the method website and there are two other fragrances available - free & clear and peony blossom. I definitely like the sound of the latter so I'll be trying that out once I've finished this bottle - which will actually take quite a while !)

As you'd expect with method products, they're up to their usual green standard with a laundry detergent that is 95% plant based and non-toxic. I'm going to have to do it again, aren't I ? 5/5 for method - they're not paying me to write these reviews, honestly !!

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £5.99

***for an exclusive free sample giveaway for the readers of this blog, click here ***

Loyd Grossman Cooking Sauces

"Who cooks in a sauce like this ?!" As soon as I hear the name Loyd Grossman, I always think of him in Through the Keyhole, snooping around celebs' houses, rather than as a gastronomic chef ! However, that was years ago and since then he has more commonly been linked to cookery shows on TV. The fact that he was picked to head a £40 million project to improve the quality of food served in British NHS hospitals shows that he is taken seriously as an expert in all things nutritional and gourmet, so I was intrigued to test out his range of pasta sauces.

There are certain pasta sauces - in particular bolognese and carbonara - that seem so basic and easy to make and that use pretty much only store cupboard staples, that I never usually want to fork out on buying shop-bought versions. Now that I've gone back to work, I must admit that I do like the fact that you can make an instant supper within minutes if you rely on a ready-made sauce. I also like the fact that some sauces add in ingredients that make all the difference taste-wise that you may not have in the fridge or cupboard, like fresh or unusual herbs and spices. That was one thing that impressed me about the Loyd Grossman pasta sauces just from looking at the labels - they do seem to put the emphasis on quality ingredients that will give them a great taste.

I tried four varieties of Loyd Grossman pasta sauce :

This was the first sauce we tried and I wasn't expecting to be blown away, because I make a pretty decent spaghetti bolognese from scratch, even if I say so myself ! However, it was the ideal instant supper when we arrived in our mobile home on our Keycamp break. I did miss the huge chunks of carrot, onion, mushroom and red pepper that I put in my own homemade version, but the jar did pack a bigger punch than I was expecting taste-wise. More importantly, it actually tasted like real, authentic, home-cooked food, not something packed full of artificial additives that was obviously from a jar. For those times when you've had the day from hell and really can't face cooking from scratch, you can serve up a tasty spaghetti bolognese within minutes that the whole family enjoys. Juliette didn't want minced beef added to her spaghetti so I just spooned some sauce straight from the jar on to hot spaghetti to warm through - she loved it, and even I thought it tasted nice when I gave it a tentative sample !

Tomato and Basil
Now this is another one that sounded uninspiring to me but packed in a lot more taste than I was expecting. Loyd (assuming it really is him who came up with the quotes on the jars ?!) tells us : "Creating a great pasta sauce is all about the details, like the basil in this sauce being added near the end of cooking to really bring out the herb's delicate flavour". Again, it's the attention to detail and using only the finest ingredients that make all the difference in taste - you wouldn't ever mistake this for a supermarket own brand value spaghetti sauce !

Tomato and Chilli
Wow, it's certainly got a kick ! The girls didn't like this one, declaring that their mouths were on fire ! It went down well with the adults though and we found it to be just right on the heat scale rather than unpleasantly fiery. It might be an idea to use half a jar if you're not keen on spicy food though, then add more if you think you're hard enough !

Tomato & Parmesan with Pancetta 'Al Forno' Pasta Bake
This is my absolute favourite and one that the kids have asked me to add to the weekly shopping list. I was a bit dubious about how well it would work when I read the label because you add it to dry, uncooked pasta, stir in some water then put it in the oven for about 1/2 hour. I was expecting the pasta to either go soggy and horrible or to totally dry out in the oven, but it didn't, it came out perfectly al dente and full of flavour as the sauce really infuses the pasta. The best thing about this sauce is that it takes you seconds to prepare, then you have half an hour to yourself while it's in the oven. After a prolonged session at the park on the way home from school, I was in need of something quick for the girls' tea. While it was cooking, I just had time to feed and change baby brother before serving up the pasta. As I was so sceptical, I did add a little extra water halfway through cooking, just before sprinkling grated cheese over the top, but it honestly didn't need it - I could have just trusted the cooking instructions !

What I really love about all these sauces, apart from the sheer convenience, is that you can actually see distinct chunks of vegetables and detect the taste of individual ingredients listed on the labels. The recipes look surprisingly natural and homemade, not full of artificial additives like many shop-bought sauces. In some of the jars, in particular the tomato and chilli or tomato and basil varieities, there's a rather off-putting quantity of oil that accumulates on the top of the jar. However, this can easily be poured off before you heat the sauce or, if you are planning on adding extra ingredients like onions, mushrooms, bacon or mince, you can use the infused oil to fry them off and pack in some extra flavour.

If you need an instant supper - or if you are a totally hopeless cook or have cupboards ressembling those of Old Mother Hubbard ! - you are guaranteed to get a foolproof, tasty meal if you use Loyd Grossman pasta sauces. They aren't the cheapest on the market but you can tell that they are made with quality ingredients and a reassuring lack of E numbers.

star rating : 4.5/5

'Make A Pledge’ to get children playing more

I love it when a press release arrives in my inbox that makes me smile to myself and say, See ? See ? I was right all along, I'm a brilliant mum, I know these things !! Well, that happened this week. New research by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) and Play England reveals that kids have less time to play than their parents’ generation and that many get just one hour a day of playtime. They are asking parents to make a pledge to get their kids playing more.

Here in France, there's serious pressure on parents about getting your kids signed up to a sports club on Wednesday afternoons, because there's no school. I signed up Sophie for doing gymnastics when she was 5 but the following year, for her to continue, she had to commit to going to gym practice all Wednesday afternoon and all Saturday afternoon every week. At the time, there was still school on Saturday mornings so she'd have had no family/chilling out time left at all. It all seemed too serious for such a young child.

Well, here's the press release - you can see if you agree.

New research reveals kids have less time to play than their parents’ generation

New research today reveals that parents feel their children are not having enough playtime with the average child playing for just over one hour (70 minutes) each day. Parents would like to see this time at leastdouble.

The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) and Play England who commissioned the survey found that one in four parents feel they had a lot more time to play when they were a child compared to their own children growing up today.

Over half of parents feel that their children are under more pressure today than ever before and that school, homework and extracurricular lessons are preventing them from having the time to play. One in ten said they feel their children have increasingly structured days and one in five don’t think their children have enough free time to just be children.

Almost a third of parents (27 per cent) feel like time playing with their children is becoming limited due to work pressures such as overtime in a bid to impress employers and over a third (39 per cent) would like to have flexible working time so they can spend more time encouraging their kids to play.

The research found that a quarter of parents find it difficult to think up different and creative ways to support their children’s play and a third (32 per cent )would like a resource to be available that gives them ideas to encourage more play.

The BTHA has therefore partnered with Play England to ask parents to ‘Make A Pledge’ to allocate more of their children’s time each day to spend playing. Parents can make their pledge via Facebook at www.facebook.com/maketimetoplay and will be able to receive help and ideas of what to do with the time they pledge.

The aim is to get the UK to collectively pledge 2 million extra minutes to play over the next three months. Parents can pledge anything from just 5 minutes a day to 3 hours and can also keep adding time if they are easily hitting their own target.

“Play helps a child to develop a whole range of skills from learning how to take turns and share to increasing fitness, creativity and even self-esteem. Through fun and play a child learns about the world around them”, said Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist who advises the BTHA. “This research shows that children today are not getting enough time to play and their parents want to change this”.

Adrian Voce, Director of Play England, said “Play England are pleased to partner with the British Toy and Hobby Association to encourage more play for all children. Both organisations believe in the power of play and the benefits it has for the development of all children, such as health, learning and enjoyment. An easy way for families to pledge towards the 2million extra minutes is to attend a one of a thousand events taking place across the UK on 4 August to celebrate Playday. Through the ‘Make Time to Play’ campaign we hope that steps will be made to give our nation’s children the playtime they need and deserve”.

Parents are also invited to share their favourite games and tips to inspire children to play through the Facebook page and can get lots of ideas of how to fill their pledged time at http://www.maketime2play.co.uk/. The site details the benefits of play and gives parents ideas of what to do to keep children entertained over the coming months including Playday – the annual celebration of children’s right to play on Wednesday 4th August.

Right, I'm off to make my pledge - what about you ?! (And I'd just like to point out that while I'm on here blogging, Juliette is covering the patio with Moonsand and Sophie is riding her scooter around the car park opposite ! )

children's book review : Wild Rescue : Polar Meltdown - J. Burchett & S. Vogler

I'm ashamed to say, I sometimes see reading bedtime stories to the kids (or, now that Sophie's older, listening to her read me a story) a bit of a chore, especially after a long day at work. However, this week, I've been the one saying, " Come on, let's go and find out what's happening to the polar bear cubs" every night !

Wild Rescue is a series of books for 7-9 year olds, following the adventures of twins Ben and Zoe who work for a top secret organisation called Wild that sends them all over the world to come to the rescue of animals in danger. At the end of the book, we learn that the other books in the series are Wild Rescue : Forest Fire (which deals with orang-utans), Wild Rescue : Safari Survival (elephants), Wild Rescue : Ocean S.O.S. (dolphins) and Wild Rescue : Earthquake Escape (pandas). This episode, Wild Rescue : Polar Meltdown, tells the story of two orphaned polar bear cubs who need rescuing in Alaska after their mother is killed.

As the book's heroes are boy-girl twins, the stories will appeal to animal lovers of both sexes. Fans of kiddie spy programmes will also love all the high-tech gadgets that Ben and Zoe use in their missions - it's like a cross between Totally Spies and Go Diego Go !

The stories are brilliantly written, combing absolutely loads of information about animal life, environmental issues and geography with a fast-paced exciting story of adventures in exotic locations. The words are easy to understand and the numerous black and white illustrations help young readers to follow the story, but I was very impressed by the relatively complex issues approached in a very kid-friendly way. The book finishes with a double page of information about polar bears and a website (http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/) where you can go and do further research. 8-year-old Sophie also asked me to show her some pictures in colour of the Northern Lights, after being intrigued by their description in the story.

It's rare to find a story that is so exciting, simple to read but also absolutely packed with factual information. I'll definitely be looking at getting hold of the whole series now.

8-year-old Sophie's review :

Wild Rescue is a great book because it tells us all about polar bears. It’s a good book for boys or girls about my age (8) because it's not too long and it's easy to read. It’s a really exciting story because Ben and Zoe go to exciting and dangerous places and we don’t know if they will manage to save the polar bear cubs or if they will get killed. I really like them because they do exciting stuff but they are also a normal brother and sister who fight with each other sometimes ! I like their spy gadgets . They are really cool. I also liked learning about things like the Northern Lights and how eskimoes live and at the end you can go on internet to find out even more about polar bears. Now I want to read the other Wild Rescue books to learn lots of things about other animals too.I love the fact that they went to Alaska. I didn’t know anything about Alaska and now I know loads.

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £4.99

Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Magi Publications (1 Oct 2009)
ISBN-10: 1847150675
ISBN-13: 978-1847150677

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Book review : Innocent - Scott Turow

Innocent is Scott Turow's sequel to his 1987 novel Presumed Innocent, which you may have read or seen on the big screen in the Hollywood adaptation back in the 1990's starring Harrison Ford. Even if you have no knowledge of the first episode, it is still a gripping read as a stand-alone novel though. I didn't realise until over halfway through that this was the sequel and had to refresh my memory of the original storyline.

We rediscover Judge Rusty Sabich, once again in the hotseat accused of murdering a woman, this time his wife Barbara. The previous episode, Presumed Innocent, saw him in the dock on charges of murdering his colleague and lover Carolyn Polhemus, ultimately being released without charge on a technicality due to badly handled evidence. Tommy Molto, who has never really got over the fact that Sabich didn't go down the first time, partly due to errors on his part, is now going all guns to get him this time, determined to send Sabich to jail for the two murders he is convinced he has committed. For those who have no knowledge of the first book, it is useful to know that we discover at the end that Barbara, Sabich's spurned wife, admits that she killed her husband's lover and planted the fake evidence that incriminated him.

We therefore come to this novel with a lot of unknowns. Barbara is a highly intelligent but also volatile and unpredictable woman, whose judgement is further clouded by her multitude of medications for controlling her bipolar disorder. Lightning doesn't strike twice so, even if he was wrongly accused last time, can it really happen again ? Why, on finding his wife dead in bed beside him, apparently from natural causes, does this legal expert neglect to notify the police and the coroner for 24 hours, by which time the autopsy will reveal a lot less ? Why on earth, come to that, is Rusty still married to this woman who murdered his lover and tried to set him up to take the blame ?! We are thrown in at the deep end, not knowing who or what to believe, so our role is to try to unpick all the differing narratives to construct a final coherent version that resembles the truth – rather like the jury in the courtroom.

The first part of the book is split into chapters that jump around on a timescale with three key points – Rusty's 60th birthday, Barbara's death and the election. The multiple narrators' viewpoints combined with the lack of chronology make it hard to keep track of things at times, but the little timelines drawn at the beginning of each segment make it slightly less impossible. Once all the background has been covered, the latter part of the novel, following Rusty on trial, follows the classic chronology. We have a serious sense of déjà vu as the trial mirrors the one in Presumed Innocent in the beginning.

The tension in the courtroom is palpable and Turow makes it very hard for us to guess the evolution of the trial. Several times, I thought I had it all figured out, only for my theories to come tumbling down as new evidence came to light and this sense of confusion and involvement in unravelling the web of lies and half-truths helps the reader to totally empathise with the lawyers on both sides.
Yet again, you will have to wait until the very end of the novel to find out who the real culprit is and how it all transpired. I was totally wrong – Turow really is a master of red herrings !

Turow has been hailed as the creator of the legal thriller genre, and Innocent is a worthy sequel to the original gripping episode.

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £17.99

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Mantle (29 April 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0230748376
ISBN-13: 978-0230748378

Saturday 19 June 2010

Powerfreakz Evolution 2500 Solar Portable Charger

I'm not very good with high tech gadgets. Most of the time, I'm never really 100% sure what they're for and even when I can see the point, they look really confusing and overly complicated to use. But for once, when I was approached about testing the Powerfreakz Evolution 2500 Solar Portable Charger, I was immediately convinced not only that it was a brilliant idea but also that even I could use it with no problems ! Bring it on !

The slogan on the box says that it is "the ultimate charging device". It works with anything 5v or less so that icludes digital cameras, MP3 players, Nintendo DS or PSP consoles, mobile phones, Blackberries - or anything else that has a mini USB or micro USB charging input. That to me immediately translates as happy kids (and therefore parents) on long journeys this summer - yay !

As with most other chargers, the Powerfreakz Evolution 2500 Solar charger can be recharged via the mains or USB. However the really snazzy and impressive, not to mention eco-friendly, thing about this particular charger is that you can also use the sun or even interior lighting as a power source. As we'll be in Turkey this summer, that's great news for us !

However, even if you're not heading off to sunny climes, we've tested it and the UK sunshine is enough to charge your device too. Even if you leave it on a sunny windowsill, the sunlight through the glass works just fine. As a green option and an attempt to economise on energy bills, I also try to remember to top it up whenever we turn the lights on in the evening. A full charge via the mains takes about 6 hours but you should expect it to take longer if you're using sunlight or artificial lighting as the power source.

Powerfreakz tell us that with a full battery charge, you will have enough power to charge the average mobile phone 3 times; extend the use of most MP3 players up to a further 48 hours; give PSP, Nintendo and other hand held portable game players up to 6 hours extra game time ; allow digital cameras up to 2800 extra pictures; or power SatNav's and many other portable devices.

The pack is really complete, comprising all the accessories you should ever need : a worldwide mains adapter, device connectors, USB/DC cable and a carrying case. Oh, and a user manual but even I didn't really need to look at that for once !

If you, or more likely your kids, can't bear to be without your various electronic gadgets, it will be a total sanity-saver this summer when you may be away from home on days out or camping trips when recharging via the mains may not always be possible. It's a really handy backup - I love it for my phone and digital camera because I'm forever forgetting to keep the batteries topped up ! - and if you've ever been stuck in an airport for hours due to a strike or volcanic ash cloud, I'm sure you'll agree that it's worth it's weight in gold !

star rating : 5/5

RRP : £49.99 (or £39.99 for the normal Evolution 2500 charger without the solar recharge option)

Brio Classic - Ant With Rolling Egg Pull-Along Toy

Whenever you buy a toy made by Brio, you know you'll get something that is top quality. Their toys - especially the wooden train sets - have been playgroup staples for generations of kids (even back when I was kneehigh to a grasshopper !) and have really withstood the test of time. As they explain on the Hello Baby website, Brio started out in 1884 so they've had plenty of time to become experts in producing quality goods for children. They explain their values clearly on their website : "BRIO’s toys are characterised by quality and durability, and are often handed down from generation to generation. BRIO has also accumulated extensive expertise on how toys stimulate a child’s development. A BRIO toy is not only educational, it’s also a joy to play with. As all good toys should be."

I already have the Brio stacking clown and I must admit, it's out on show in the bedroom as a decorative object as much as a toy. The same will be true of this wooden pull-along ant - at least until Pierre gets mobile and drags it around the house with him all day long !

I actually had to have a good feel to believe it's made of wood ! It's so shiny and smooth that, if it wasn't so solid and hardwearing and stamped with the Brio name, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's made of plastic instead of wood. The colours are really vibrant and appealing to small children and if you're worried about teething babies getting splinters from wooden toys, you can stop right now - the finish is exceptionally smooth, not to mention tough.

The concept is really simple - it's a wooden ant on wheels that you pull along on a string - but it has a little extra ! When you pull it along, the bright yellow egg that you can load on his back magically spins round. Now, call me stupid but I've looked really closely and I'm really impressed - it was some engineering genius that came up with that one ! Who needs flashing lights and sound effects when you can have a magic twirling egg ?! And I'm pleased to say, it's not just me that's impressed and a little mystified by the egg - the kids are too ! The wobbly head, antenna (umm what's the plural of antenna ?!) and tail on springs also go down well.

I only have two very slight gripes and they are easily overcome. The first is that you need a PhD to get the toy out of the box because they've twisted and knotted the little wires that hold it in place so much that trying to untangle them is like trying to do a Rubik's cube ! I've only got a degree so I had a few problems !! The second is that the pull-along cord seems too long to me - but that is possibly because I'm paranoid because my doctor is always telling me to make sure the cords are kept short to prevent the kids from wrapping it around their necks and strangling themselves. I've tightly knotted my string in half to make a loop which is plenty long enough for a small child and is actually easier for baby fingers to hold on to than a single string. They've been around for so long though that I'm sure they've taken the safety aspect into consideration when manufacturing the toys.

Those two slight niggles aside, it is the perfect toy for toddlers. It's beautifully made, fun to play with and will last forever. I bet Pierre will end up handing it down to his kids, just as I've passed on my little wooden Fisher Price woofing pullalong dog with the yellow shoe in his mouth ! OK hand's up - who had one of those when they were a kid ?!

star rating : 5/5

RRP: £12.99

Matt Beaumont’s e Squared now in paperback - website & competition

Last year I reviewed (here) the hilarious novel by Matt Beaumont, E squared, which is told entirely in emails, texts, webchat and blogs. It has now been released in paperback and has a website where, if you're quick, you could win vouchers worth £100 to spend on iTunes. The competition closes at midnight GMT on 24th June 2010 though so don't hang about !

50th Anniversary Edition Play-Doh Fun Factory Spin and Store

1960 must have been a great year for creating new marketable concepts. This year sees the 50th anniversaries of such iconic brands as Fairy Liquid, Coronation Street, Playboy Clubs, Doc Martens and ... Play-Doh.
A little while ago, I hosted a giveaway where three of my lucky blog-readers managed to bag themselves a funky special edition Play-Doh set. Well, I was also lucky enough to get one myself so that I could review it so the kids have been busy testing it out. I've been joining in too and it really took me back to my youth.

It's a really simple concept - you feed in the Play-Doh and extrude (as Play-Doh like to say !) a long squishy rope shaped in whichever form you have chosen. You have eight different shapes to choose from - triangle, flower, bat, number 3, cross, three flat strips for "tagliatelle", tiny holes for "spaghetti" and a ridged edge (so it comes out looking like strawberry bootlaces !). You can use the little plastic knife (totally childsafe, it'll cut Play-Doh but nothing else so no worries for little fingers !) to chop the strips into smaller segments, then mash it all up and start all over again ... and again and again ! (Oops, I'm starting to sound like a Teletubby !)

You get two little pots of Play-Doh in the kit to get you started, but if you have toddlers in the house, you're bound to have various other pots lying around that you can add in to the mix too. I must admit, I haven't used actual Play-Doh for a while, having been led astray by the cheaper pound shop brands, and I must admit, it is much softer and squishier and doesn't dry out. Not to mention the smell which is unique and took me right back to my childhood within seconds.

They've thought about the mums too - all the Play-Doh accessories can be stashed away inside the Fun Factory so tidying up is quick and easy and you won't spend ages desperately looking for the shape cutters and pots of Play-Doh when your kids decide they want to play. Just don't let them walk it in the carpet !

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP : £7.99

for more information : http://www.hasbro.com/playdoh/en_GB/ (You can even get some cool new ideas of things to make with Play-Doh on there)

Coming soon ... The Red Queen Blogger Tour - 16-20th August

I recently signed up to take part in The Red Queen Blogger Tour and have just been told the books are on their way ... it will be really interesting to compare reviews when everyone posts their links in August.

The Red Queen is the second book in Philippa Gregory's stunning new trilogy, The Cousins War, and brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series - The White Queen - but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses. The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth's daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

The first instalment, The White Queen, got rave reviews and here's what they're saying about The Red Queen already :

THE RED QUEEN – Philippa Gregory – Published August 19th in hardback
'Saints' knees, Praise God, I have saints' knees. I am not yet ten years old, but I have saints' knees... Pray God I can meet their challenge and have a saint's end too'
Daughter of one of the most famously incompetent English commanders in France, heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her House is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her. Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin Henry VI of England fails to recognize her as a kindred spirit, and even more when he sinks into madness; but worst of all for Margaret is when she discovers that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.

Married to a man twice her age, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy himself. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty she names him Henry, like the King, sends him into exile, and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth Woodville's daughter. She feigns loyalty to the usurper King Richard III, marries one of his faithful supporters and then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time- all the while knowing that her son is growing to manhood, coached by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, recruiting his army, his eyes on the greatest prize,

In a novel of conspiracy, passion and cold-hearted ambition, Number 1 bestselling author Philippa Gregory has brought to life the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history.

Friday 18 June 2010

Silver Cross Days Out website - discover, rate and add ideas for days out with pre-schoolers

How many times have you organised a great family day out then gone home disappointed at the end of the day because it didn't really live up to expectations or wasn't really kid-friendly ? Those places where access with pushchairs is almost impossible or where you have to pay loads for every little extra. Maybe there are no kids meals at the restaurant or there's nothing to keep the tiny tots entertained ? Well, a brand new website launched today that could be the answer to the prayers of parents and grandparents all over the UK, especially with the long summer holidays coming up.

Silver Cross Days Out is a website developed by Silver Cross and designed to help you find places to take your little ones throughout the UK. Families will be able to search for specific types of attraction such as zoos, parks, aquariums, museums or places to eat. Alternatively you can enter a postcode to discover what attractions there are close to you or wherever you're going on holiday.

Silver Cross decided to build this website after several of their customers said that they were frustrated that the existing websites that provided recommendations on where to take children were commercially motivated and often did not allow for reviews. ‘We have built a website called www.silvercrossdaysout.co.uk and set it up with 500 venues to get the site started,’ explains Alan Halsall, the Chairman of Silver Cross. ‘Silver Cross will not allow any advertising or sponsorship on the site as this exciting new development has been built for the benefit of the community and it is up to you to both take advantage of the reviews and also give us accounts of your experiences, good and bad, so others can be helped by what you have discovered. That's great news because you're guaranteed to get an unbiased and therefore genuinely helpful opinion.

But Silver Cross need your help to make it work. They explain, "We hope that Silver Cross Days Out becomes the go-to website for anyone looking for something to do with their family, be it near to home or further afield. However, the website relies on the community getting involved and updating the content as often as they can, so please get involved ! "

If you need a little encouragement, there's currently a competition running, to celebrate the launch, where you can win either an annual Scottish National Trust family pass and an English Heritage annual pass or a National Trust family pass and an English Heritage annual pass, just for adding a review. And even if you don't win, you'll still help other mums and dads enjoy some great family days out and maybe find some new ideas for yourselves - I'm off to see if they've already got the brilliant Sheep Farm near Eastbourne where you can even feed the baby lambs in springtime !

star rating : 4/5 as it's only just launched - but almost definitely 5/5 when more people get involved ! Go on, what are you waiting for ?!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...