Reviews

CLUB PENGUIN COMES TO NOTTING HILL

Club PenguinClub Penguin has truly arrived in Notting Hill. Not only is the sound of skiing penguins a constant in our living room, the cuddly versions have also invaded. Amelie has formed a lifetime bond with the Yeti and Alexander has chosen the ice hockey player on the left as his favourite.

The penguins I get – they look like other cuddly toys. The puffles I don’t get. They are limbless brightly coloured heads with sometimes frankly frightening expressions. Naturally the children adore them! And Alexander likes brown puffle – the evil looking one at the front – the best.

If the toy puffles are baffling to adults, the entity that is “Club Penguin” is more so. So far I have cruelly declined the kids membership, as they spend enough time on it as non-members and seem to have plenty of fun. And why pay ( though it’s only £37 a year) if you don’t have to. We are not alone around 90 per cent of users ( according to Wikipedia – I know I know) choose free play.

Anyway I’ve decide I need to investigate what has taken over our home  and this is what I’ve found out. Club Penguin was started in 2005 by two dads Lance Prieve and Lane Merrifield in British Columbia who wanted to create some kids games with some form of social side that was safe for their own children. I admit I like it more now I know that.  Within the first year it had two and a half million users – a year after that it had 12 million and was bought by Disney. Oh well. Why oh why did I not think of a computer penguin game for kids with a but of messaging thrown in – I mean apart from the fact I am completely untechnical….

Anyway, Club Penguin is a virtual world designed for 6 – 14 year olds and it works like this… maybe only read on if you have a specific interest…..After creating their very own Penguin to play as, children can interact with others in Penguin world through chatting, sending greeting cards or even dancing or waving! There are lots of mini-games to play , and you then earn virtual coins or cuddly pet Puffles to adopt. The idea is it teaches you to reach goals

The children do seem to enjoy personalising their Penguin and dressing it in different outfits. Alexander seems adept at winning judo or karate belts for the penguin ( which they share!) and when he won the black belt he confided: “Amelie will be SO proud of me!”

Once you get into the chatting online arena- which I admit I have not encouraged so far- there are two different levels of control for parents: Ultimate Safe Chat – which limits what users can say and what messages they can receive to a predefined menu of greetings and questions . This is good for younger players or if you want more control ( made for me then)  or there’s Standard safe chat where players can send their own messages to others, but all messages are filtered to only allow pre-approved words and phrases. This filters out bad language and blocks attempts to give out personal information such as phone numbers.

There are on-site moderators that can be contacted if your child needs to report misconduct or to gain personalized player support. (You have to press the ‘M’ in the upper right hand corner of the screen to gain help.)

It’s free to set up an account and enjoy the majority of Club Penguin features, including talking to friends and exploring the world. However for exclusive games, themed events and unique activities you need to purchase a membership, which has added benefits. This costs £3.95 a month or £37.95 for a year.

The coins used in the game are a virtual currency and can be collected by playing the various mini-games and taking part in different activities. Coins can be used to buy outfits for your penguin or to decorate your own igloo (members-only). You can also gain coins for use in the virtual world when buying Club Penguin toys and games.

I haven’t done this but I might – you can set up a parent account so you can set play hours and limit the daily total – harsh but fair. My husband also insists they play it on mute at the weekend as the music can be a little irritating but they are happy to comply.

I still don’t really get it, but then it’s not aimed at me and the kids love it.

The toy penguins are definitely growing on me – they don’t stop me using my computer which helps – but they are really very soft. They’re £9.99 and the puffles are £6.99. Both come with a coin – no I’m afraid I don’t really know why – but your kids will!

And I’ve just noticed that you can win some puffles and other Club Penguin stuff worth £100 in a competition at UK.MumsTV . Deadline is October 24th.



 

RIO

We went to see a screening of Rio at London Zoo at the weekend. If it seems like a strange place to go to see a film then that’s because it was a press launch for the triple ray, DVD and blu-ray 3D, with real blue macaws on standby, hundreds of toy macaws being clutched in sticky hands, a Macaw facepainter and the chance to go round the zoo afterwards.

It did mean it wasn’t in a proper cinema but projected from a computer onto a drop down screen in a pavilion. But the fact that we still enjoyed the film I think says a lot about the characters and the story telling. If you don’t know it, it’s a bit like 101 Dalmations – but about birds and bird trafficking rather than dogs and dognapping -and set in Rio rather than England.

Basically Linda has a rare pet macaw called Blu who believes he is the last of his kind, so when she discovers there is in fact another – and fortuitously another who is female in existence in the same city – she takes him to some kind of lab so they can mate! But while they are left alone to get to know each other they are kidnapped by rare bird smugglers. And so an adventure through Rio’s shanty towns, rainforest and beaches begins.

Apparently it’s the director’s vision of his home city and you can certainly see that

The film is described as a comic animation, with a serious message I suppose but this was certainly not hammered home, and I have to say I did actually laugh quite a lot – though my tolerance for children’s movies is not always high. There were a few whimpers from the kids when the birds were caught and put in cages ( but nothing to the howls when one dinosaur ate another in David Attenborough’s Flying Monsters) and generally speaking it is a pacy feelgood adventure woven in and out of Rio’s carnival parade.  There is of course  a happy ending – and no blood is spilt – even the baddy bird smugglers and their evil Cockatoo survive – though not completely unscathed!

The  Blu-ray and DVD will feature more songs and dancing, as well as a free download of 15 new exclusive, levels of “Angry Birds RIO. To coincide with the launch, Nickelodeon are running a competition where you can take a picture of make a film of of your own Rio screening and the winning party will be filmed for a TV advert. They will also get £1000 worth  of party gear.

Here are some games you can play or maybe your children might prefer them!  Birds vs Monkeys

 

TOP TOY PREDICTIONS FOR CHRISTMAS AND IT”S ONLY JULY

As a journalist, toy reviewer and blogger I was invited along to vote on the best of the latest toys and gadgets, a few weeks ago,  and predict what would be hot this Christmas. Didn’t you know that July is the new November and all gifts should be bought and wrapped before the end  of the Summer holidays. Where is your competitive spirit?!
OK I admit – I think ” Christmas in July” is more to help the industry judge what may take off so they don’t sell out of Buzz lightyear or Go Go Hamsters or whatever the must-have toy turns out to be. But I digress.

I took my four year old son along to help and we chose our top five toys for boys, girls, creative toys, gadgets and so on. Some manufacturers kindly gave us things to take away and test, others were demonstrated on the spot.

On the day, my son was very keen on the Pump and Play Inflatables ( inflatable remote control cars and animals shown below), Hexbugs, the Morbs sonic fighter jet

and some Scooby Doo figures from Character Options, which instantly seemed to replace his obsession with collecting the Fireman Sam figures – though he thought the monster goo that comes in a tub with it was too ” gooey!”

He chose Toffee the pony and Zhu zhu puppies for his seven year old sister –

though I think the hamster versions look much more realistic ( perhaps I am missing the point!) And he thought she’d like the Disney princess kitchen – despite my protests it was quite “pink”, too big for their bedroom and they already have a lovely mini kitchen in tasteful natural wood! I rather liked the historical China dolls technically called “A Girl  For All Time, Daughters of History” – the sort of thing Grandma might be tempted to buy I thought. And I loved the Globee-  well, ” globes” – beautifully illustrated with famous landmarks from your chosen city. Can’t wait til the full size London one comes out. Am I being terribly old fashioned?

But the things that are an absolute all out favourite this holiday are the Trunki suitcases ( see above). I’ve seen kids sitting on them at airport and thought they looked rather sweet – they come in various designs including a tiger which my son rather fancied.

But what I hadn’t realised was that having their own cases makes the kids interested in packing and more excited about the journey beforehand.  I was going to save them for our Summer holiday abroad, but the children insisted on using them straight away. So they have been used non-stop for trips to Grandma and Godmothers and other relations. And they are actually interested in choosing what they want to take (with some supervision of course)  and putting them in and even attempting to fold their clothes up.

As a fairly close relative of Scrooge, I very much favour presents that are “useful” and these cases press all my buttons, as they are something useful that has been dressed up to appeal to a child. They are strong enough for a seven year old to sit on and light enough for a four year old to carry, even with clothes in – of course that might not hold true if you packed it entirely with hardbacked books, but it’s worked with clothes, a pair of shoes ,a toy and a paperback or two. They can pull them along themselves and they want to! My only reservation is that the locks, though easy to do up are quite tricky to undo, and have cost my a fingernail or two – but actually given the other pluses they still get my vote. Of course Notting Hill Mums who’ve just had their weekly manicure may not be so forgiving!

The other things we took away from the Toy which are fabulous ( and cheap – another thing I like about presents) were some accessories for the ubiquitous microscooters. As nearly every under five that has a scooter has this one in blue or pink, personsalising them has gone from a bit of fun to an absolute necessity. Writing your name on the bottom won’t cut it – it will have disappeared to someone else’s home before anyone thinks of turning it over to check it’s actually theirs. ( Yes we did have ours nicked since you ask. Its replacement is customised with coloured handlebars.)  So buying a coloured rubberised light (£9.99)or these new scoobits – which are £3.99 each – is a rather nicer alternative than the collecting of grubby Royal Mail red rubber bands that litter London streets and seem to be the alternative. The other thing about the red rubber bands is they are all – red – and so don’t really help distinguish your kid’s scooter from the others in the school or nursery scooter dump.

But these are just my personal preferences. There were other bloggers at the show and we all had to vote. This is the Top 10 as chosen by the group:

1. Hexbug, Innovation First
2. Zhu Zhu Puppies, Character Options
3. Dino Bite Game, Drumond Park
4. Pump & Play Inflatables(Boys/Girls), Bladez
5. Vtech Kidizoom
6.  EzyRoller Union Jack (Girls/boys) Microscooters
7. Disney Princess Kitchen, Jakks Pacific
8. Trunkisaurus, Magmatic
9. Fuzzoodles, Flair
10. Peppa Pig World of Playsets, Character Options

To see the individual lists for boys, girls, preschool toys etc chosen by the group of chosen parent bloggers go to Ukmums.tv

 

AWARD WINNING INDIE FILM SHOWS LONDON AT ITS BEST

There’s no getting away from it. This award-winning film is a love story.  And at first glance, it may not be your rom-com hating husband’s first choice for a night out at the movies. But this is not a rom com – it is a beautifully filmed  love story with a twist and if you have a sentimental bone in your body, I don’t think you will fail to be moved by the story.

A large part of “Forget Me Not” is shot on the streets of London and if you love this city it’s a great way of seeing it through someone else’s eyes and from another angle. Actually if you don’t love London – and think it’s dirty and noisy – it’s a very enjoyable way of being converted.

“Forget Me Not” takes place over less than 24 hours and follows the developing relationship between guitarist, Will Fletcher (Tobias Menzies) and Eve Fisher (Genevieve O’Reilly), a woman who works in the local bar where Will is playing. She has spotted him. He, despite her obvious attractions, has apparently failed to notice her.

But then Will has his own preoccupations and we know from early on, he feels he has little to live for. What we don’t know is why. The obviously romantic nature of the story is prevented from becoming saccharine by a recurring sense that there may not be a happy ending.

The pair become involved after Will saves Eve from being attacked by a drunken customer after the bar closes. One thing leads to another, he walks her to the tube, the tube’s closed, so he walks her to the party and before you know where you are they have spent the night together. Though not in the way you might expect.

But in the morning real life intrudes once more. We learn Eve has her own problems but is Will ever going to admit to his?

Menzies and O’ Reilly are very convincing as a couple taking their first hesitant steps towards a relationship and Gemma Jones gives a great performance as Eve’s grandmother.

“Forget me Not” is showing nightly at the Empire Leicester Square from tomorrow (Friday, May 20th) until Thursday May 26th at 8.30pm.

It’s well worth seeing and that’s not just my opinion. It won best UK film at the London Independent Film Festival and Best of the Fest at Palm Beach Film festival among others.  And anyway I think it’s always worth supporting small, independent films.  The fact that this was put together by two first time directors, Alexander Holt and Lance Roehrig, makes it even more impressive. It was produced by Rebecca Long.
For more information about the film, the cast and more lovely shots of London go to www.forgetmenotthefilm.com

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this review, nor given a free ticket, it’s simply something that I think you , dear reader, will enjoy!

 

 

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ITALIANS?

Why are they so fantastic with children?

Now before any other Mediterranean nationals jump up and down, I agree that I have had great experiences with my children in France (one restaurant in Paris excluded) and in Spain, and I had a fantastic time in Greece when I was taken there by my mother as a young teenager.

But today I am praising the Italians in general and in particular those that run a new restaurant on Notting Hill Gate called Nino.

We went there quite by chance on Sunday. We were about to hit Pizza Express which is also very family friendly, but I try to support smaller independent businesses if I can, so we walked a couple of doors further on, were impressed by the modern look of the place and the menu and in we went.

We hadn’t booked. No problem. They had to push a couple of tables together. No problem. Alexander took 20 minutes with the waitress on standby while he manically altered his order. No problem.

There were grissini – and when they ran out there were more grissini. There were sweets – given with the proviso they were not eaten until after lunch and with our permission. There was a children’s menu. And the staff interacted with the children, rather than just tolerating them.

So far this made the place good, though not out of this world. We have on occasion been treated well in other restaurants with the kids, and not made to feel we had to apologise for allowing them to eat out. But all too often the stress of not upsetting any fellow diners outweighs any enjoyment  – and no our children are not particularly badly behaved. But they are four and seven and they do like to explore a bit and sometimes their enthusiasm for their food  or their juice “ YUM YUM YUM” or their rendition of “ Ten Green bottles” on repeat is a little louder than we or anyone else would like.

But I digress.  Alexander chose chicken nuggets and chips – I don’t honestly think he has ever had chicken nuggets before in his life – but Jamie O – calm yourself – these were actual pieces of chicken that had been fried and came with a green salad (well, he ate the cucumber) and so many chips that he was more than happy to share them with his sister to whom he had already promised “ four or seven” to go with her bolognese. She netted way more than that in the end.

My OH had a pizza which kept him very quiet and I had sea bass, which was very good indeed. Because as well as being kid-friendly, they do do proper Italian food for grown-ups too.

The children’s portions were huge. I would have struggled to finish spaghetti eating

I was not surprised when Amelie could only manage half.

Unprompted, the waitress offered to box the bolognese so she could have it later – I wasn’t worried – she’d eaten plenty. But A was very keen and it occurred to me she could have it for her packed lunch the next day – after one term she is very, very, bored with sandwiches.

So boxed it was and an extra packet of breadsticks put in for Alexander’s packed lunch. Then Amelie protested she wanted grissini too. I pointed out she already had the bolognese – naturally she didn’t follow my logic and before there could be even a hint of irritation in my voice, another packet was in our doggie bag, the waitress remaining calm and smiling.

For me, this tipped the experience over the edge of the good- but-not-exceptional basket and into the exceptional – it was the fact that they repeatedly offered help without being asked. I guess the only downside might be if your kids were on a strict diet!

Another waiter walked the room casually making sure everyone had what they needed, there was no need to think up strategies to get some attention – but it wasn’t overbearing either.

A lot of the puddings are those exotic chocolatey ice-cream-based deserts. I thought they were a bit rich for the children. Guess what. No problem. Scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice-cream soon appeared with strawberry sauce and little biscuits for the kids to dip.

Of course the children were pressing their noses to the revolving ice-cream cabinet saying YUM YUM and playing a game of chicken with the waiters walking past with plates balanced along their arms. But still I swear there was not even a tiny hint of disapproval.

Of course, they have opened a new business. Of course they want to impress. But I couldn’t help thinking that they actually LIKE children!

The great thing was that the laid-back, but spot-on, service seemed to attract similar customers so the whole atmosphere was chilled. It was how Sunday lunch out is supposed to be.

I don’t have to say, do I, that this is NOT a sponsored post. These guys do not know me, they do not know I blog. And I didn’t need the £5 voucher they gave us as we left to encourage us to come back. We will be back anyway.

P.S The amount of bolognese we took home was enough for both the children’s packed lunches – do not have a big breakfast before you go.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

 

SWIMMING FOR FREE

OK it wasn’t quite free, but my daughter did learn to swim without a single swimming lesson- not even from me. She taught herself.  She has been in the water for Family Splash sessions since she was about 18 months old and my swimming costume of choice was a float suit. If you don’t know about them, in my opinion they really do blow swimming rings and arm bands out of the water!

They are basically a bathing costume with a row of polystyrene floats round the middle.  As long as the child is old enough to support their own head and keep in out of the water,  they can paddle around unaided. This is especially useful if you have more than one child in the water at a time.

They feel as though they are swimming though I did feel I needed to stress that they were only able to swim because they were wearing the special suit – I didn’t want them trying it without and sinking!

Then as they get used to the water (and I didn’t start doing this until my daughter was about four) you remove a few floats – until eventually there are none left and guess what -they are supporting themselves and swimming.

In our case, my daughter could swim unaided by the time she was five – and at five and a half could dive down to the bottom of the pool to pick up weights. This was partly because of her confidence in the water but also the result of two weeks in Spain with a pool and some older children to emulate!

In the years we used the float suit many mothers asked me where I got it from and there were soon a tribe of children in these strange looking suits. And my daughter’s costume was handed on to my son – though it does now need replacing.

There are various types out there on the net. I’ve tried the jackets but find they ride up. Even with one piece costumes check how the floats are divided up. If there is just one float at the front and a couple at the back like small surf boards, they float very well but it’s a lot harder to remove them one at a time without your child noticing.

Zoggs and Konfidence make all in ones with plenty of small floats. We used this one by Splashabout  (stocked by various companies and they have their own website). I am choosing it again because it has a double row of floats round the middle so you have more floats to take out and can do it more gradually. It also has short sleeves which protect the shoulders from the sun if you are swimming outside. Despite the rather comical telly tubby look, I kept my kids in these suits on the beach even when they weren’t swimming, as an extra safety measure. Though they are not life jackets and if the kids are swimming you absolutely need to be in the water with them.

What these suits don’t teach of course is style and last term my daughter, now seven, did start having lessons. But her self taught technique meant she has a head start and is progressing very quickly. The manic doggy paddle has already turned into only slightly manic front crawl ( saving years of tuition fees- shame there isn’t something similar for undergraduates!) But the best thing is she is just so confident and happy in the water.

P.S. This is not a sponsored post. I have always wanted to share this brilliant invention with as many people a possible – not just the mums at my pool. But when I told Splash About how much I loved them, and that I intended to spread the love, they were kind enough to give me a discount on my son’s new suit.

Friday, 21 January 2011

THE VERY BEST HOT CHOCOLATE FOR A CHILLY DAY

Today is officially the gloomiest day of the year.

And sure enough, here in West London at least the sky is grey and overcast, it’s been drizzling since morning and I have back ache ( Ok, so  that’s not officially a factor but I do, something to do with being so lazy I don’t sit on my chair proprly before tapping away at my computer for hours and so I get all twisted and knotty)

Anyway it seems the perfect opportunity to share with you the best places for Hot Chocolate – and before my smart arsed OH chips in again these are in London, me being in Notting Hill and all – and no the one on the Rue de Tivoli cannot be included – not least because I am definitely not the woman he took there!) In case it’s escaped your notice, hot chocolate is also the thing that cheers Dora up on a Chilly Day.  So with that endorsement – down to business.

My best ever, most favourite Hot Choc has to be the Gourmand at
The Wolseley
in Piccadilly, where actually my husband did take me.

OK so it’s a trek into London and you can’t book for afternoon tea and it tends to be crowded – but if you ARE nearby or even there being treated to breakfast, lunch or dinner, it would be a crime not to try it.

My second favourite is the Bicerin at Carluccio’s a traditional hot chocolate from Turin. It comes in three small jugs of expresso, Florentine drinking chocolate             ( Think thick chocolate sauce) and cream and you mix it to taste. Personally I usually leave the cream out altogether as it is SO rich, but however you take it, it is really delicious.

Hotel Chocolat would be my third choice since I discovered their Dark Mocha – co
mbined with the fact, in High Street Kensington at least, they have comfy leather sofas and it’s a lot less crowded than your average coffee chain. As if this were not temptation enough, they usually have trays of tempting little chocolates for you to taste. The staff are lovely and always give the kids a taste too, which takes the pressure off when your perfect children are about to suck on the wrapper of a chocolate lolly so that you have to buy it!

These three places I have chosen purely for the standard  of the drinking chocolate.

But I’m also recommending Maison Bertaux in Greek Street because, while

the hot chocolate is not as spectacular as my top three choices, the pastries are – and the decor is legendary. So if you are in Soho and trying to beat the January blues it will certainly do the trick.

And finally if you are in Notting Hill and want to avoid the coffee chains try Charlie’s cafe on Portobello. Again the chocolate is good, but the added benefits are it’s spacious, you can get your buggy round the tables and chairs and it’s frequented by ordinary locals (and of course some tourists at the weekend) – but the Supermodels and Superrich will be down on Westbourne Grove so you don’t need to bring your designer shades to fit in. If chocolate is your thing, they do a chocolate biscuit cake that is so rich I eat it with a tea- spoon over the space of about an hour.

Disclaimer: To date none of these establishments has given me a free hot chocolate , or anything else. They are simply places that, in my opinion, get it right.

TOYS UNDER A TENNER

Every Christmas there are lots of incredible new toys to choose from. But if you have lots of children, friends of children, nephews and nieces, or godchildren you probably set an upper price limit – partly to keep things fair.

Perhaps I’m mean, but for class parties I try to spend around £10 to £15. So I decided to have a more thorough look at what you can get and get the opinions of my just seven year old daughter and four year old son.

After weeks of testing, I am pleased to announce that if you shop around you really can get some very good things for under £10.

TOP TEN  UNDER TEN –  TRIED AND TESTED

1. The overall favourite in our house is a game called Tip The Ship. This is so popular, that rather than demanding the TV when they get in from school they ask whether they can play Tip the Ship! It is a very simple cardboard ship which you construct yourselves which rocks. Each player has a number of card animals in three different sizes and the aim is to get all your animals onto the ship without tipping it over. If you tip it over, any animals that fall off become yours and so you have even more to get rid of.

What I love about this game is that after two or three tries the children can play it totally unsupervised. As they are four and six this is no mean feat. Most games that involve dice rolling, also involve adults as contestants or referees! Oh and it’s not just me – this has won an award

2. The second most popular ( with my son) is an interactive Fireman Sam fire engine by Character Options with opening doors , movable ladders, a hose-reel that unreels and yes, I’m afraid, some sound effects. But he loves it and does not necessarily push the button for the Fireman Sam theme tune every time he picks it up ( and of course there’s a button on the bottom to turn it off!)

3. The third most popular are Beyblades – again after a bit of practise they can spin these tops without help – which for a four year old is great. There is a bit of squawking about the unfairness of the game when one top seems to keep losing – it is a bit random like that, but then so is life. I should say you only get one top for under a tenner and to get the two tops with the battling ring costs far more. But if you were buying for siblings and got them one each, you would be onto a winner. (£7.99 each)

4. My personal favourite – again – is the interactive hamster from Zhu zhu pets, which makes little grunting sounds and runs around.  Honestly, they are great fun and so much better than having a cage to clean out!

5. My daughter and my son loved Tinkerbell, Magic Glow Fairy – a doll the size of your hand with wings that flash in different colours. (£8.99)

6. Pop pals are rubbery mice/bears – we can’t decide which- that can be decorated with special buttons that clip into place.  Again they are about the size of your hand. A slightly bizarre concept, but one that appealed to my just seven year old. Once decorated they can be clipped to bags, you can keep tiny treasures inside them – and the decorations can be swapped over.

7. Doodle dudes are small clay figures with strange square heads that you can decorate with stickers, pens and crayons and unlike some of the creative arty stuff out there,  children can do them on their own.

8. Barbie is controversial for some people I know, but actually, given what is out there on billboards, in magazines and on reality TV shows, I don’t think having a Barbie is likely to be the main cause of the body image hangups from which we want to protect our daughters. The key is she is just a doll and most children know that. It’s us grown ups that can’t always see the dolls for what they are.

A friend of mine hated her daughter feeding her baby dolls with a bottle. Similarly I don’t think this will affect her little girl’s choices about breast feeding in 20 or 30 years time.

But back to Barbie . She is well made and what I would call a proper present and although you can spend more than a tenner on a Barbie, for £9.99 the Fashionistas range gives you a choice of  the kind of dolls that little girls have always enjoyed playing with. There is Sporty, Wild( don’t worry she just has zebra print leggings!) Sassy, Artsy, Girly and Cutie- (the only other one who does not have  a very short skirt if these things worry you)!

9.My children have had years of fun with Megablocks – after we collected a couple of Dora and Diego sets, which, with lots of plain blocks, allowed them to create entire villages. I’m delighted to tell you that Megablocks and Duplo are totally compatible with each other and DUPLO have a very cute Legoville farm nursery with four animals and a farmer for £9.99, which again can be used with other sets and plain bricks to create imaginary worlds. There’s a chicken coop in the same range for £7.99.

10. Sylvanian Families – we don’t collect these but the family of three meerkats comes in at under £10 and can be enjoyed without. If you are buying for a child who collects these creatures there are lots of accessories in the price range. I liked the look of the  little rowing boat.

ALSO UNDER £10

Sing and splash fish – from Vtech – lights up and plays songs – aimed at 6 months plus

Build an Electric Stunt Buggy – this looks great – aimed at eight year olds and above. From Interplay UK.

Bratz dolls – these are Barbies with serious attitude and rather strangely proportioned bodies – but again they are not intended for a life class and they appeal to six and seven year  old girls

Zibbits these are tiny battery-operated robots which – like everything these days- are also collectable!

Dragons Universe Tailspike – A high tech dragon inside a meteor egg – it’s a boy thing!

Tonka Garage Mod machines DX5 assortment These vehicles come with tyres, tank treads, and light racks so you can customise them. You can choose an ATV, UTV or 4×4 – my favourite thing as you know – but these are only toys!

NOT QUITE UNDER £10

Monster High – Frankie Stein and Watzit- I thought this was a really fun take on a rag doll. It’s aimed at 6 plus but my daughter was having none of it. My son however does like the look of it – he is very keen on puppies. ( £12.99)
Lego is always a winner with boys of a certain age – but the more complicated and rare Star Wars space stations can cost a fortune. So you will be pleased to know there are things available in the lower price range. Not quite under £10, there is a Toy Story motor action car.

I was totally intimidated by the number of tiny pieces ( Keep me away from those space stations and airports!) but the instruction leaflet makes it very easy. The car is great. the only downside is that we lost Buzz Lightyear’s body as we opened the box which has rather put him out of action.

DUPLO also have a Toy Story set for £12.99.

NB. Everything in the top 10 has been tried and tested by us – many, though not all, were sent by the manufacturers, some were presents, others I spotted myself, but I have chosen those that my children enjoyed the most.  The “also under £10” list  includes toys we didn’t try because the age range was wrong and some that didn’t quite make it into the top 10, but the children still enjoyed playing with them.

They are generally priced at £9.99 unless I have specified otherwise. Happy Christmas shopping!

Friday, 17th December, 2010

What you will be buying this Christmas?

This Lego Airport for one thing – if predictions from the Toy Retailers Association are right – and they usually are.

Every October the TRA unveils the toys and games they believe will be the top 12 bestsellers that Christmas. Last year one of them was a furry interactive Hamster – do you remember ? You couldn’t get them anywhere. Some toy stores had security in the aisles to prevent violence breaking out and you were only allowed to buy one. It wasn’t the manufacturer’s fault. The GoGo hamsters were new to the market and no-one realised they would be so successful, so fast. But at £9.99, if you could get hold of one, what was not to like? After I had conquered my irrational dislike of rodents, it was certainly my favourite toy on last year’s list.

The airport is at the other end of the scale in many ways, not least price ( rrp £84.99). I’m not sure why parents would want to be reminded of some of the worst experiences of  their lives, or at least of their holidays, trapped at Heathrow or Stanstead or Luton because of strikes or cancellations or the wrong kind of snow; having their baby’s milk taken away for analysis never to be returned, their hand luggage being rejected for being a few centimetres too long or their lip gloss confiscated as it could be used to kill. OK, we know that these security measures are intended to make us safer in the sky. But do we want to be reminded of the stress when we are back home, by tripping over a mock-up of the event.

Lego though is one step ahead. A child doesn’t see it that way. For children an airport is one giant shop/cafe where they are likely to receive treats in an attempt to keep them happy, or at least quiet, despite the grown-ups’ growing frustration.

For a child an airport is the start of a holiday, a place of excitement, a portal that leads to a flight on an aeroplane, which, initially at least, is very good fun. And so once a child knows that Lego airports exist, I absolutely believe, like the TRA, the child will want one!
Still the airport is only one of 12 predicted top sellers
. Buzz Lightyear is back in force this year and the Buzz Lightyear jet pack ( £39.99) is one of the dream dozen. Younger children can be expected to demand a Fireman Sam Fire station ( Character Options £29.99); a Moon Dough Barn (£19.99) where you push in the dough, turn the handle and dough farm animals come out the other end ( if only having children was so painless) or Pumpaloons – where you race to blow up large inflatable skittles ( £19.99.) For children who are desperate for a pet, FurReal Go Go Walking pups do exactly what you would expect but won’t ruin your carpet while they are being house trained (£59.99).  Sylvanian Families, who last year offered Sylvanian children a very, very cute caravan ( and I’m not even especially keen on these wierdly-fuzzy collectible animals) , have downsized with the continuing economic gloom to a motorcycle and sidecar ( £24.99). Presumably the squirrels are going to have to go on holiday in that instead of a caravan this year. In a similar vein, a grooming salon for ZhuZhu hamsters is also predicted as a top 12 seller – you can blow dry your hamster’s hair. Yes really!

For boys the Nerf n Strike Stampede ECS (£54.99) is expected to be a Christmas hit. And whatever qualms I might have about children playing with guns, I have to say they were loving it. It’s a huge automatic blaster which fires 18 darts (foam pellets) in a round. The good news for safety-conscious parents is that this model comes with a shield to protect faces from incoming darts.

If you’d prefer to steer your child from Rambo to Rock Star, you might want to look at Paper Jamz Guitar (£24.99). You put a very lightweight pre-programmed plastic guitar shape round your neck and strum along to various songs: the guitar responds to your finger movement. Playing air guitar takes on a whole new meaning. For budding film-makers, Vtech, who make the blue and pink rubberised children’s cameras have moved up a notch to a Kidizoom Videocam (£59.99). Technology is everywhere and even Monopoly has been revolutionised with a circular board, sound effects and credit card transactions replacing the paper money! ( £29.99).

Some of these  toys are a little expensive (though these are recommended retail prices so you may be able to get them cheaper), especially if you have a lot of children, god-children, nephews and nieces to kit out, so I’m now rounding up the best Christmas toys I can find for under a tenner and will share my discoveries with you soon.

 

3 Responses to Reviews

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  2. shannon says:

    Hi

    Would like you to review a product of ours if possible. Please let me know what you would like from us.

    Thanks
    Shannon

  3. Dear Not a Notting Hill Mum,

    I came across your great site while searching for book bloggers in Notting Hill where I live (or more precisely, Portobello). So I wanted to ask if you had the time/ inclination to do a short feature my first novel Cinema Lumiere which has just been published. It’s about a cinema with one seat where you are shown a film of your life.

    As a former comedy writer at Comic Relief, working with Richard Curtis, I now write fiction full time, as well as doing a weekly blog for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/portobello-puff/) on all things bookish.

    I appreciate how busy you must be, but if you do have the time for a short feature, then let me know if a print copy or an ebook is best.

    With warm wishes

    Hattie Holden Edmonds

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