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CheshireJ

CheshireJ
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Member since: 07.08.2011

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    • More +
      31.10.2011 21:52
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      A great mid-range desktop PC for everyday family use

      We bought this PC back in July. My husband's laptop was on its last legs, and as my daughter was just starting school, we figured a desktop was the way to go. He could use it for his stuff, it could be used as storage for photos and such like, and my daughter could use it to get used to computers, play games, and eventually for school homework.

      I'd done a bit of research into processors as I was also getting a new laptop myself around the same time. HP is a brand we trust, and after much researching the different desktop models available we settled on this one. It was £499.99 at Comet at the time, but we got 10% off through my husband's work scheme.

      The box it came in wasn't too big, and contained the usual packaging which wasn't too excessive. Along with the base unit were a wireless keyboard and mouse. No recovery CDs, which is disappointing, you're supposed to create your own. Having read that this can take over 4 hours and require multiple DVDs I haven't got around to doing it yet!

      This model is just the base unit, you need to purchase a monitor separately.

      The base unit measures approximately 11cm wide, 39cm deep and 30cm tall. It's black with silver trim, and shiny black on the front.

      It's very easy to set up once out of the box. Just plug the monitor cable and the power cable into the back of the base unit. There are 2 USB ports on the front, along with a SD/MS/xD slot, plus a headphone socket. On the back of the unit are 4 more USB ports, a 1394 socket, ethernet socket, optical audio out, and a DVI socket. The front is also where the CD/DVD drive can be found. It opens by way of pressing the button underneath and CDs are inserted vertically into the tray that slides out. We have our base unit positioned under a computer desk on the left hand side, and I therefore find it a bit tricky to insert CDs as they go from the left side into the tray.

      Setting up involved the usual process of clicking through a number of screens and the optional registration. We couldn't complete this at first because I'd failed to realise that it isn't equipped for Wi-fi. I had to go out and buy a USB wi-fi adapter and slot this into the front USB drive to be able to get online. This was very frustrating as the main thing we use this PC for is to go online.

      It's average spec by current standards, with an Intel Core i3 3.2 GHz processor, 4GB DDR3 SDRAM, and 1 TB hard drive.

      We've been perfectly satisfied with the performance so far, although haven't installed much software as yet and have mainly only used it for getting online.

      It comes with Windows 7 installed and starts up very quickly when switched on.

      As for pre-installed software, much of it is trial versions. Microsoft Office Home is included, but is only a 60 day trial. There are loads of games, including kids' games such as Dora the Explorer, but again they are trials and will only work for so long. "Magic Desktop" on the programs menu takes you to a child friendly desktop, where they can surf the internet, play games, play music on a keyboard, do puzzles and use a paint program.

      The wireless keyboard is very easy on the eye, being black with a silver trim. The keys are nicely spaced, and there's a number pad to the right. Above the number pad are three volume keys. It measures approximately 43 x 16cm. The mouse is also wireless and is shiny black with a wheel in the middle of the buttons. Both the mouse and keyboard work off a small USB stick that fits into the base unit. The mouse runs off 2 x AA batteries, and the keyboard off 2 x AAA batteries. Being wireless is great as you have no extra cables running from the keyboard or mouse.

      We're pleased with the computer, it's fits the bill perfectly for what we wanted. Just remember when buying to budget for a monitor and wi-fi capability, such as a USB adapter.

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    • More +
      28.10.2011 22:23
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      Would recommend

      We stayed here recently as part of the Legoland package. When searching the Legoland Holidays website this hotel was one of many choices available, but had a good customer star rating, as well as being a 4 star rates hotel. It was also reasonably priced, coming in at £349 for 3 nights, including tickets for Legoland (2 adults, with 2nd day free, and a 2 & a 4 year old going free).

      Check-in was from 3pm onwards, and it was just after 4pm when we arrived on the Sunday. It's located literally just off the M4 motorway at junction 5, not far from Heathrow airport. There's a large car park at the front and rear of the hotel, accessed by barrier. You take a ticket from the machine as you enter, but as free car parking was included with our package, the receptionist swapped the car park ticket for one that would grant us access in and out for free. There were 2 or 3 people serving at reception when we got there, and we didn't have to wait at all. The receptionist was a nice French lady (most hotel staff we came across were non-English) who quickly checked us in, after taking a credit card guarantee for any incidentals, and gave us two room key cards. She also have our two little girls a paper bag each, which contained crayons, stickers and other bits which kept them busy for all of 10 minutes. There was a nice large seating area across from reception, should you need to sit down and wait for any reason.

      Our room, 114, was on the ground floor, just a short walk from reception. We'd booked a family room on the website, but the receptionist described it as a double room, which it was - two double beds. I'd hoped for maybe a sofa bed or roll out bed for the kids (age 2 and 4), as the double beds are quite high off the floor. We stopped by reception later to ask if they had any bed guards, but they didn't, so we requested extra pillows to put on the floor in case they fell out. A short while later, a staff member came to the door with one pillow. I told him that wasn't enough, explaining what it was for. He didn't look hopeful, but then returned with about 5 or 6 more pillows a short while later. We pulled two of the chairs with the backs against one side of the bed, and wedged a couple of pillows alongside to form a barrier. On the other side we wedged a pillow between the bed and bedside table and laid pillows on the floor. My two year old managed to fall out once on our last night, and we found her sleeping on the floor pillows!

      The beds were very comfortable, with good quality sheets and squishy pillows.

      Décor was nice and modern, with white sheets and a red throw over the bottom of the bed.

      Apart from two double beds the room featured a desk and swivel chair, two chairs and a small table, a chest of drawers (two long drawers, two small), a flatscreen LG TV, and a wardrobe. There was a decent choice of TV channels, similar to what you'd get on Freeview, plus some pay-per-view channels. Amenities included trouser press, iron and ironing board, safe (wide enough to fit laptop), kettle, cups, tea & coffee (yucky UHT milk), ice bucket, and hairdryer. There was a mini sewing kit in the drawer, and a plastic bottle opener in a cellophane packet (the "take me home" with you type). Toiletries in the bathroom were shampoo, shower gel/body wash, body lotion, and facial soap, plus a shower cap. These were replaced daily if you used them. Biscuits were also replaced daily. The hairdryer was the type that overheats and smells of burn within minutes of using, and cuts out if used for more than a few minutes. There were around 7-8 hangers in the wardrobe, some with clips for hanging trousers or skirts. There was also a laundry bag for the hotel laundry service, but I dind't get a look at prices. There were two phones in the room. As always in these places, call prices were horrendous, with a freephone call costing £2, so avoid at all costs. The only time we used the phone was to set wake-up calls each morning, just in case the kids didn't wake up in time (which they did). There was a card on top of the fridge, next to the tea and coffee making things which said the minibar had been emptied and could be stocked by calling "At your Service." It couldn't be used as a proper fridge as the temperature was set at 8 deg C, but could be used to chill things if you wanted to.

      In-room temperature was easily controlled via the small panel on the wall. Simply press the up or down arrows to adjust the temperature. Both my husband and myself found the air in-room to be very drying.

      Lighting in hotel rooms is never great, with lamps rather than ceiling lights and this room was no exception. There was a ceiling light as you entered the room, one above the fridge area, a standard lamp near the window, a lamp on the desk, one on the bedside table, and a small reading lamp attached to each headboard.

      The bathroom was reasonably well-lit, and had adequate space to put your toiletries around the sink and behind the toilet. Four bath towels and three hand towels were provided, along with face cloths. If you wanted fresh ones each day you had to leave them in the bath or on the floor. The only problem was the shower. Apart from not being very powerful, the shower head wouldn't stay up on the rail thing, it was broken and kept slipping down. Fine for short people, but anyone taller than 4 ft needed to squat down or lift the shower head off and hold it over you.

      Considering it wasn't too far from Heathrow, we barely heard any plane noise. We could however hear the louder cars and buses in the car park, which our room overlooked. And also foot traffic in the corridor outside our room. Our room also had a connecting door to the room next door which was only a problem one morning when the French people in there were up and about at 7am being rather noisy.

      Dining options were a Chats Cafe Bar, and Brasserie Centrale, and Pizza da Marco. Full breakfast was included in our package each morning and was served buffet-style in the Brasserie. It was waiter service for hot drinks and help-yourself for food. The choice was good, with a selection of cut and fresh fruit (no bananas though), muffins, danish, croissants, make-your-own toast, cereals, juices, yogurts, bread rolls, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, sausages, beans, tomatoes, hash browns, fried bread, cheese, cooked meats, made-to-order omelettes and waffles. Some of the hot items were a bit hit and miss depending on whether you got them fresh or not, but it was mostly ok. Service was also a bit hit and miss, and we often had dirty plates piled up waiting to be cleared for a while.

      We didn't have lunch or dinner at the Brasserie, we did look on our first night but the carvery was £19.50 per person, so we headed out instead. There's a Toby Carvery just across the road, and a Harvester a few hundred yards down the road. Neither looked good from outside. Thankfully I'd done a bit of research online beforehand and found a Frankie and Benny's 4 miles away in Staines, so we went there and it was good.

      Neither did we try Pizza da Marco, but it looked to be located inside the Brasserie as there was a pizza price list on the wall next to where the breakfast buffet was served.

      We dined at Chats bar one evening, which was busy and we got the last remaining table. There were two TV screens, both showing BBC News 24, with the sound turned off, but one had subtitles on. Service was ok, but the food was pricey. I had fish sandwich and fries which was £14. The portion wasn't huge but it was served up very fancy, on a wooden chopping board, with the fries in a mini metal frying basket. They had a kid's menu too, which included a Smarties push-up lolly. It was the same menu as room service, and strangely enough at the same prices as room service, albeit you had to pay delivery charge to have it in-room, which I think was £3.

      The leisure complex was complimentary for hotel guests, with a fitness suite, pool, and sauna. We used the pool twice. Towels were provided there so you didn't need to take them from your room, and lockers were also free. The pool wasn't very warm though and we only managed 15 minutes in there both times. One thing to note is that the pool went from fairly shallow to much deeper without any warning, which caught my 4 year old (and me) out. The changing areas were nice and had showers, free toiletries and hairdryers. The floor from the changing rooms to the pool, and especially so around the pool, was very slippy. My daughter slipped a couple of times.

      There's a tennis court outside at the rear of the hotel, with a small play park next to it.

      There was a concierge desk in the hotel lobby, and the concierge man was supposed to help you with things like directions and places to visit. However the ones we spoke to were useless and gave wrong directions.

      For those going to Heathrow, a "Hotel Hoppa" bus ran to and from the hotel, run by National Express. We priced it up one day for a possible visit to the airport, but it was £14 return for two adults, with the kids free, so we didn't bother.

      There was quite a wide variety of guests staying there. We saw people like us going to Legoland, business men, army men, pilots and aircrew.

      Not to be confused with the Marriott London Heathrow, which isn't that far away. The hotel is located just off the M4 and not far from the M25. Windsor is a 10 minute drive, with Legoland about 8 minutes further. London Heathrow is 6.4km away.

      Prices, as listed currently on the hotel website-
      LEGOLAND Windsor Family Break from £105
      Park Here, Fly There Packages from £80
      Last-Minute Weekends from £54 per night

      The hotel's address is-
      Heathrow/Windsor Marriott Hotel
      Ditton Road, Langley
      Slough, SL3 8PT United Kingdom

      Website: http://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/lhrsl-heathrow-windsor-marriott-hotel/

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    • More +
      07.10.2011 21:52
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      A good sturdy hand-mixer.

      I bought this mixer to replace an ancient one my mum had given me. I chose this particular model as it was on special offer at Argos and had good reviews there.

      If anyone's not familiar with James Martin, he's a TV chef, who like other TV chefs has brought out a range of kitchen equipment.

      The mixer is silver in colour, and is quite heavy to hold, which can be a problem if you're mixing for any length of time. Saying that, it's easy to hold as it has a rubberised handle, and it's easy to move the speed switch with your thumb whilst holding the mixer.

      It comes with two lots of attachments: beaters and dough hooks. Being a keen cake-baker it's the beaters that I use, and haven't tested the dough hooks yet. The beaters are around 17cm long, of which 7cm is the wide beater part. They fit easily into the two holes underneath the mixer, by simply clicking into place. To release them you need to press the speed switch downwards, which is a bit stiff to do.
      There are five speeds on this 300W mixer, and you just flip the black switch at the front on top to switch between speeds. There's not much between each speed and I always find that I go straight onto speed two, as it's quite sensitive. If you step up to each speed you won't notice a huge difference between each, unless you go from speed 1 right up to speed 5. There's a turbo button just behind the speed switch, which makes the beaters go even faster, although I've not had the need to use it yet, as the fastest speed has been more than enough for my needs.

      When first starting to mix, it's best to start on the lowest speed, especially if mixing flour or icing sugar, which can end in a "snowstorm" if you mix too fast to start with! The beaters are deep enough to mix large amounts efficiently, and strong enough to cope with things like buttercream which can be a bit stiff to start with.

      The only gripe I have with the mixer is that's it's difficult to clean because of the air vents. You can easily wipe the outside surface down, but icing sugar and flour tend to fly into the air vents, and you obviously can't submerge an electrical item in water to clean it, so you need to try and poke a damp cloth inside just enough to clean the vents. The beaters and dough hooks are dishwasher safe so can be cleaned easily. The cable is long enough to stretch if your work surface isn't directly near a power socket.

      The hand mixer is actually manufactured by Wahl, and retails at Argos at £24.99, but is very often on special offer. A James Martin DVD is included, but I haven't had chance to watch it yet, so can't comment on that.

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      • More +
        29.09.2011 22:53
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        Wouldn't recommend if you want fast internet

        When we bought a desktop PC recently, we didn't realise that it didn't come with wireless capability. Myself and my husband both use laptops, which have built in wireless, and we weren't 100% sure what we'd need to get connected to the wireless router we have.

        A trip to PC World and a helpful lady there pointed me in the direction of the Wireless Network USB adapters. This Cisco Linksys adapter was one of the cheapest at £24.99. The lady in-store said there were more powerful ones available, but as the desktop PC is mainly for my 4 year old daughter (and her sister when she's old enough), something that was powerful enough for online gaming didn't seem necessary.

        The adapter comes in a neat little box, although perhaps a tad too big, even allowing for the CD enclosed.
        Inside, on top, was a blue envelope with an orange sticker on that said "Run CD first." The CD was inside this envelope and also had the same sticker on. So it wasn't rocket science to work out that you needed to run the CD before doing anything with the adapter.

        The CD should run automatically when you insert it into the CD drive, and will then guide you through the quick process to set it up (choose language, then insert USB adaptor into USB port).

        Once the installation is complete, a small wireless icon manager will appear on your desktop system tray. This consists of 4 green bars which indicate the strength of signal you're getting.

        The adapter looks similar to a USB pen drive, and is around 7cm long. It has a cap on, which you take off before inserting it into your USB drive. There's a tiny light on it that blinks when it's connected to your wireless network. We've got it in one of the USB ports on the front of our desktop PC, and it sticks out a bit too much, so you have to be careful you don't knock it. It could be put in one of the back ones, but I think that might make the signal even weaker.

        Regarding the signal, it's not terribly good and we seem to only get about 2 out of 4 bars on the signal indicator icon most of the time. Even though it's only my daughter that uses the PC, you notice the difference in speed, even when just on the CBeebies website! Our wireless router is in the hallway, and the desktop PC in an adjoining room, with not much distance in between, so I'd expect a better signal than that.

        The blurb says that the adapter "uses RangePlus smart antenna technology to deliver a high speed connection to wireless networks with extended range and fewer dead spots."

        It complies with the 802.11g standard, is faster than Wireless G, and can connect to Wireless-N, -G and -B networks. The best performance is said to be when connected to 802.11n draft or RangePlus routers. We have a Belkin Wireless G router, so maybe that's why it's not as fast as it should be. The adapter supports WEP (64- and 128-bit), WPA and WPA2 (Personal and Enterprise) encryption security.

        System requirements are: 600 MHz or Faster PC, 256 MB of RAM Memory, CD-ROM Drive, Available USB Slot, Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.

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        • Hasbro Elefun / Electronic Toy / 21 Readings / 20 Ratings
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          23.09.2011 10:40
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          Good game, but not very durable

          Elefun is a game whereby the aim is to catch the butterflies that Elefun blows out of his trunk, using nets. We bought it for my eldest daughter (now 4) the Christmas before last. It looked like a fun game that she would enjoy, and she has indeed had lots of fun with it. Sadly, it's now showing its age a bit.

          The game consists of a blue elephant, who is sitting down, and looking upwards. Inside the elephant is a fan, that, when switched on blows fabric butterflies upwards out of his trunk. The trunk is made from the sort of material that heavy duty bin bags are made from, fitted onto a thin plastic base which fits onto the elephant. To put the butterflies inside, you simply lift the trunk off, no need to unscrew it.

          There are 30 butterflies included, coloured red, yellow and green. They do have a habit of getting everywhere, especially when they blow out of his trunk and flutter away, evading capture. I'm sure we haven't got all 30 left in the box.

          Once you've got all of the butterflies inside, you need to place Elefun on a hard, flat surface. This is because there's a button on the underside that needs to press in fully to operate. If it's on a soft surface, such as a carpet, the button won't get pressed in fully, and when you turn it on nothing will happen.

          The on/off switch is very small and hidden away in his short, curly tail at the back of Elefun. Once switched on, the fan will operate and supposedly "inflate" the trunk so that it rises upwards. Sadly, this doesn't happen automatically and you need to give it a hand, pulling it upwards until the airflow is enough to keep it upright. Because ours has been used so much now, and folded away when not in use, it's all creased around the base of the trunk. So when it's operating, the trunk keeps flopping over, which is very annoying. I can't remember how powerful the airflow was when we first got it, but I'm sure it was better than it is now.

          Once switched on, and the trunk is inflated, you need to be ready to catch the butterflies as they come out very quickly at first. The tallest people, whether kids or adults, tend to catch the most butterflies, as they're higher up and can get to them before the shorter people. The elephant and trunk are 142cm tall when it's fully inflated. After the initial burst of them all coming out fast, the remaining ones have a tendency to get stuck. If you see the shadow of one floating round in circles inside the trunk, you'll need to give it a gentle nudge to try and get it to blow up and out. You may also hear if any are stuck in the base, in which case you need to give it a bit of a shake to dislodge them.

          The nets that you use to catch the butterflies with are a plastic handle with a circular rim, which the net fits onto. The rim undoes so that the net can come off, although I'm not sure what the purpose of that is, and if the kids take them apart it's a pain to have to thread the net back on and click the handle rim back into place. There are four butterfly nets, a red one, blue one, yellow one and green one. My girls can occasionally be found with the nets on their heads, which isn't really part of the game!

          The box shows a clock and says 15 minutes. I presume that means how long they're saying it takes to play. Well, when we play, all of the butterflies are usually out within one minute, so not sure where they get 15 from, unless they expect the average person to want to play 15 times.

          The recommended age is 3+, but my 2 year old loves playing it, even though she doesn't catch many butterflies, but instead picks the ones up off the floor and puts them in her net.

          It's for 2-4 players, but there's nothing stopping one person playing on their own just for fun rather than competitively.

          It's a really good active game for kids to play, rather than sat round playing a board game or a video game, they're getting a bit of exercise whilst playing. The game is also great for hand-eye co-ordination, and learning to catch things.

          The game requires 4 x C batteries. We've had to replace them a few times since having the game, it seems to eat them.

          Made by that stalwart of games, Hasbro, it retails at £15.19 on amazon.co.uk, and £15.99 at Argos.

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          • Samsung RSG5DUMH / Fridge / 22 Readings / 21 Ratings
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            17.09.2011 11:19
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            A great fridge freezer for families

            When we moved house, we had to leave our fridge freezer behind as it was an integrated one. Having repeatedly struggled to fit all of our frozen food into a standard size fridge freezer, top of my want list for the new house was an American-style model. Luckily my husband also liked the idea and agreed we could get one. As we were moving into a new build house we were able to request plumbing in the kitchen for the fridge freezer. If you're not familiar with the American fridge freezers, there are two types, ones that have a built in water/ice dispenser and ones that don't. The former need to be plumbed into a water supply.

            We had a look at various electric stores, but there wasn't a large choice of this type of fridge available. After searching around online we opted for this Samsung model. It appeared to have a large enough fridge and freezer, was frost free, and had the water dispenser. To be honest, I don't really take notice of energy efficiency gradings, however this has an A+ grade which is a bonus.

            The order was placed with Comet, and the fridge freezer was delivered to our new home, and fitted (we paid extra for fitting). I didn't stay in the kitchen while this was being done, so can't comment on what the delivery men had to do. There's one thin pipe that connects to the water supply and runs into the back of the freezer. This supplies the water for the dispenser, and also gets made into ice for the ice dispenser. I've never had to undo the pipe, but looking at the instruction booklet it looks simple enough, I just screws on and is secured by three clips.

            The manual says to allow to stand for 2 hours after installation, but as we weren't moving in straight away this wasn't a problem.

            The fridge freezer is a dark silver colour, and has handles on both doors that run the full length down each door. The fridge section is larger and therefore has the bigger door. On the freezer door is the ice/water dispenser, and control panel.

            The freezer is on the left hand side, as you look at it, and the door opens to the left. The capacity of the freezer is 7.9 cubic ft. net. Inside are four shelves, two drawers and three compartments in the door. I find the shelves very handy and much better than drawers for storing things. You can pile boxes on top of each other, and not have to lift everything out or rummage in drawers to find things. I keep boxes, bags, and loaves of bread on the shelves. The drawers are fairly narrow compared to the fridge drawers, but they're deep and go a good way back, so you can fit lots into them. I keep pots of food I've cooked and frozen for the kids in one drawer, and meat in another. The drawers are at the bottom, and if I need to rummage I usually have to get down on the floor to look for things at the back of the drawer. If you want to take the drawers out all of the way you need to open the door wide or they won't come out, as the door stops them. The same happens with the drawers in the fridge.

            The fridge is on the right as you look at it, and the door opens to the right, away from the freezer. The fridge capacity is 14.7 cubic ft. net. There's a huge amount of storage space in the fridge, and the we've rarely filled it all. The fridge has four shelves, one of which has a section at the front that you can push in and it slides under the back part of the shelf, thereby giving you space to stand atll bottles or large items on the shelf underneath, which is really handy. Under the shelves are three large drawers, one is labelled a fresh drawer and two are vegetable drawers. I use one for keeping fresh meat in, one for vegetables and one for salad stuff and fruit. The drawers are really big and deep and can fit lots in.
            There is lots more storage space in the fridge door, with three drinks shelves/compartments. I can fit five bottles (plastic 2 pints) side by side on one shelf. Above those shelves are a wire bottle / can rack, which fits mu husband's bottles of beer nicely, much to his delight! Above that is another shelf/compartment which I use for storing eggs and chocolate, then at the top is a dairy compartment with a plastic see-through lid over it, where I keep blocks of butter and cheese. I accidentally left this lid open one day, then closed the fridge door on it, breaking the piece on one side that keeps it attached to the fridge. It's still usable, but a bit wonky.

            It also came with a wire bottle rack that fits onto the bottom of one of the shelves, but we don't use it.
            All of the shelves are made from safety glass, which is easy to clean. The drawers and door compartments are plastic.

            A great thing about this fridge is the water and ice dispenser. Located on the freezer door, it provides water and ice on tap. The water isn't freezing cold, but just nicely chilled. You simply press your glass or cup against the button at the back inside the dispenser area and water flows out. It's not fast by any means and can take a while to fill a glass. There's a control panel above the dispenser, with two silver buttons at the bottom. The right hand button is for water, and left for ice type (press it to change between crushed and cubed). To change what comes out of the dispenser, just press one of the buttons. Whichever you pressed last stays on, so we leave it set to water, so when you put your glass in you get water, without having to select it. It can be annoying if someone else uses ice and doesn't change it back to water, so next time you go, you get a load of ice. Cubed ice comes out in oval/rectangular cubes. If you choose crushed ice it takes a second or two from pressing your glass against the back to your ice coming out, as it needs to crush it. The ice is stored in a clear box on the inside top of the freezer door. Each time you use ice, a short while later you hear the sound of new ice being made and falling into the ice compartment. This is the only real noise we hear from the fridge freezer, which runs silently. The dispenser does require a filter to work, but it only needs changing every six months. It's the Samsung AquaPure water filter and tends to vary in price, costing around £20-25. I buy them from amazon.co.uk. The filter is located at the back of the top shelf of the fridge, and is easy to change. You simply turn the old one and pull it out, then insert the new one and turn it back round to lock. After changing the filter you're supposed to run the water dispenser for so long.

            The control panel has other functions aside from the dispenser. There's a digital display panel in the centre, above the dispenser buttons. This shows the current temperature of the fridge and freezer, and various other settings that I'll now explain. At each side of the panel are three buttons. One turns off the ice making facility. One makes the light in the dispenser stay on (normally it comes on when you're using the dispenser, then goes straight off).

            Another is for the child lock which is handy if you've got small children who you want to prevent flooding the kitchen with ice or water. However my kids soon learned how to use the button, rendering it pointless in our house.

            By holding the child lock button for three seconds, the vacation mode is switched on. This leaves the freezer turned on normally, but takes the fridge up to 15 degrees. We use this function when we go away on holiday, and it's great as we're not wasting energy when we don't need the fridge, yet the frozen stuff remains frozen.

            When the water filter is due for replacement, the little filter symbol on the display starts to turn purple, then goes red when it needs replacing. At this time, the water flow reduces, so you do need to change it.
            The fast freeze button freezes food quickly. I've never used this function, so can't comment.

            If you leave the door open to the fridge or freezer for too long (e.g. when putting shopping away), a warning noise will sound for a few seconds to alert you to the rising temperature. While it can be annoying when you've purposely left the door open to put things away, it's very useful if the door is left open by mistake.

            The only real problem we've had with this fridge freezer is when we needed our kitchen floor replacing due to it being damaged, the fridge was so heavy it caused problems moving it. We couldn't just pull it along the floor as it was damaging the new flooring. To move it, the front legs need to be in the up position, which is done by opening both doors, removing the front cover and turning three screws. Then the fridge will only move forward or backward, not side to side. We had to get a number of people to physically lift it and slide it along on a protective barrier (sheets of plywood). This was far from ideal and it would be much better if it had proper wheels on.

            There aren't any elements at the back of the fridge freezer, so it can be pushed flat against a wall.

            I couldn't live without this fridge freezer now, it's so handy to have so much storage space, especially with the freezer. I make meals for the kids in bulk and freeze them, and also like to freeze a couple of loaves of bread, bread rolls and other things, and this freezer enables me to do all of that without running out of room.

            The dimensions are 91 x 69 x 102cm.

            It currently retails for £1299.99 at Comet.co.uk, but we paid less as it was on offer when we bought it.

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            • More +
              13.09.2011 22:47
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              great if you don't mind the clean-up afterwards

              Before I get started on the actual review, I'll give a little history as I think it happened:

              1897 - Mr Liketomessyourcarpetup invents Plasticine
              Not content with it being messy enough he spends the rest of his life trying to invent something even messier. His son, then grandson, and later, great-grandson carry on his work.

              1930's - Mr Liketomessyourcarpetup's great grandson invents Play-Doh.
              Hmm, he thinks, still not quite messy enough...

              Zoom forward to the Noughties and his grandson comes up with Moon Sand - success at last! A product made from fine grains which tread wonderfully into carpets and get ingrained in clothing. Small children don't even have to pick tiny bits off to throw on the floor, the tiny grains are already there, no extra work needed!

              Anyway, back to the review...

              Prior to last Christmas my daughter (then 3 ½) wanted everything she saw in the ad break on Milkshake each morning. One of the things she repeatedly uttered the words "I want that" to was this Moon Sand Bake Shop set. Not normally one to give in to "I wants" I did think it would be something that she'd enjoy as she's very creative. When my mum asked for ideas of what to get her for Christmas I suggested this. If only I could go back in time...

              She was made up when she opened it on Christmas morning, but didn't get to play with it until the day after. That's when we discovered just how messy it was.

              The first time she played with it was on the dining table. That was the last time, from then on it was in the conservatory with a laminate floor underneath rather than carpet!

              So, what is moon sand? It looks and feels like regular sand (apart from the colour) but sticks together when squished or moulded. You don't have to add water or anything to it to make it stick. In fact if you do add water it won't stick together as it should do.

              There are several Moon Sand play sets available, this particular one is themed after a bake shop.
              The box in which the set comes doubles up as a play area, which supposedly contains the sand and resulting mess. Unfortunately it doesn't quite work out that way, and the sand has a nasty habit of jumping out of said box, leaping onto the floor and getting itself embedded in carpets, socks, clothing, etc. To be fair, it does come out of the carpet once it's vacuumed and does wash out of clothing. It's just a hassle to have to get the Dyson out every time the moon sand is used, especially as once on the floor it ends up on socks and gets trodden around the house before you've had chance to de-sock the child.
              The box lid has a card piece that folds down, with a tab that slots together with the base, so that the lids stays up as a nice background, and also provides a little shelf on which they can put their creations. The plastic sandbox base has raised sides, and a small built up shelf in one corner to put finished cakes on. There's not really enough room inside the sand box, once you've got the mixer set up and have made a few cakes, you start to run out of room to use the moulds. This is when kids are tempted to move outside of the sandbox and make more mess.

              There are three bags of sand included with the set - pink, purple and what's supposed to be white, but is more of a light grey colour. To date, we've only opened the bags of pink and purple sand as there's more than enough in one bag, and opening another would just lead to the sandbox overflowing.
              Also included are a mixer, decoration mould, small spoon, large spoon, cupcake mould, egg shaped mould, oblong block mould, larger cake mould, plate with clear plastic lid, and a spatula.

              The idea is to make small cakes using the sand, as in a bake shop. Although, obviously, you wouldn't be using sand to make cakes in a real bake shop. Once you've made "cakes" using the moulds, the different sizes are designed to fit on top of each other to make larger, more elaborate cakes and delicacies. Use the small bits on the decoration mould, such as the fruit shapes, to make small decorations for on top of the cakes. The promotional pictures show cakes made of more than one colour from each mould. In reality this isn't easy to do, especially for a small child. With a bit of imagination, some great creations can be made, and my eldest daughter loves coming up with different cupcakes and birthday cakes.

              Once packed into one of the moulds it's often difficult to get it out, and a good tap, or even bash on a hard surface is needed. My little girl often shouts for me to help when she can't get the sand cake out of the mould. They recommend washing the moulds with dishwashing liquid regularly to prevent residue build-up which apparently makes this problem worse. I've never done that myself, and have had the problem of getting sand creations out of the moulds from day one. They do advise not to let the sand come in contact with detergent, or it will take the coating off and make it just like regular sand. So if you do wash the moulds, make sure they're fully rinsed before using again.

              The mixer is like a mini food mixer, and is meant for mixing two or more colours together to create other colours of sand. But given the colours of sand provided, there's not a great lot of scope for making new colours, other than pinky-purple, or a lighter shade of pink or purple. You're only supposed to fill the mixer half full, but try telling that to a stubborn four-year old! The lid of the mixer tilts back, so it's easy to put the sand in. To mix, you turn the handle on top, which is quite hard to do when it's full of sand. If there's too much sand in the mixer, you end up with it overflowing. If you do want to mix new colours it can take a while to get the two colours combined to make a new one.

              Once a few cakes have been made, children will probably want to play with them. Playing with the cakes as they are can create even more mess if taken out of the box. While the sand creations do stick together well, they can start to crumble if played with. So, a rather useful feature of Moon Sand is that it can be baked to make the creations permanent.

              First it needs to be placed on a flat surface for baking, such as a baking sheet (cover with foil to protect). Then place into a preheated oven (125 deg. C) Bake for 60 minutes for 1 lb of Moon Sand, or 30 minutes for ½ lb. Once finished, leave in the oven to cool down, and only give to children once completely cooled. We haven't actually tried this yet, but may end up doing soon to save us from further sand mess.

              The Moon Sand is non-toxic, and apparently doesn't get absorbed by the body, so no need to rush off to A&E if your child suddenly decides to digest one of their creations - although it's not something I'd want to recommend! For young children I'd advise explaining to them that it shouldn't be put into their mouth, and they shouldn't try to eat the finished cakes as they aren't real. I know from experience that young children like putting sand in their mouths on visits to the beach, although my girls haven't to my knowledge attempted to eat Moon Sand.

              Although it's a cleaning-up nightmare, kids absolutely love this stuff and it's kept my girls entertained for many hours (not all in one stretch I may add). I do have to hang my head in shame and admit to keeping it shut away in the cupboard and only getting out when they remember its existence and beg me to play with it. One of my friends puts a small table outside in the garden with a playmat underneath for her boys to play with their Moon Sand set. A good idea, but it renders the product seasonal, unless you're kids are prepared to sit outside in winter. One thing I should point out is that the manufacturer recommends not using it on wooden floors as it can make them slippy. I've never had that problem, and much prefer being able to sweep it up off a laminate floor than vacuum the carpet.

              If you ever run out of Moon Sand or want to try different colours, refill packs are available. A pack of five colours is on sale at amazon.co.uk for £7.95.

              There are any different sets available, including the Shake Maker, Candy Factory, Construction Destruction, Ice Cream Sundae, Sky Crane, Dough Diner, Magic Zoo, and Puppies Playset, to name but a few. It's suitable for both girls and boys and has a recommended age range from 3 - 7 years old.

              This Bake Shop set has a recommended retail price of £22.99, but can be bought for slightly less by shopping around. Amazon.co.uk have it for £21.19 at present

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              • More +
                12.09.2011 21:57
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                A great first keyboard

                This has easily got to be my #1 ELC toy, and we have many in our house!

                My eldest daughter received it from my parents when her little sister was born, and both of them have had so much enjoyment from it since then.

                The keyboard measures around 37 x 17cm, and isn't too heavy for little ones to carry. The carry handle at the top of the keyboard makes it very portable, and it's great for taking out of the house and keeping kids amused in the car. We have the pink version, but it's also available in red. Ours has flowers above the buttons at the top, making it nice and girly. It's of a sturdy build, made from tough plastic and doesn't feel in the slightest bit cheap, unlike some other keyboards you can buy.

                There are 24 keys (counting black and white) along the bottom of the keyboard. They are just the right size for little fingers to play, but adults will find them a bit too small to play a proper tune on (I can just about manage Twinkle, Twinkle with my long fingers!)

                Above the keyboard itself are 8 tempo buttons and 8 instrument buttons. Pressing one of the tempo buttons (salsa, rock, etc) starts a tune playing to that beat. The keys can be played along with this tempo, which is a good way of teaching children about beat and tempo, getting them to play along with the beat. The tempo speed can be slowed down or sped up to assist them with this.

                The instrument buttons simply change the sound of the keys to the instrument chosen. For example, to change the sound from the default piano to a trumpet or guitar sound when the keys are pressed. Again, it's a great way of teaching kids the sounds that different instruments make, although some of the sounds aren't the most authentic, especially the guitar. You get a preview of each sound just by pressing each instrument button.

                Got a budding drummer in the house? Start them off gently with the four drum buttons - bass drum, snare drum, hi hat and cymbal. All four buttons can be pressed at the same time as the keyboard and when the tempo tunes are playing.

                One good feature is the record button. Kids can press record, then hammer a tune out on the keyboard, press play and listen to it back. You need to press play straight after recording, don't press stop first or you'll lose what you've just recorded. It can be played back over and over, straight away, but won't be stored for more than a few seconds if left without pressing play. The stop button comes in very useful for stopping the tempo or demo tunes.

                Perhaps the feature used most by my girls is the "demo" and "demo all" buttons. Hitting the demo button sets off the most catchy song! I'm not too sure exactly what it is, it starts off sounding like "Do your ears hang low," but then doesn't sound like it, so answers on a postcard please if anyone knows?! This has been played so many times in our house over the years I often go to bed at night with it running through my head. The demo all button plays a medley of tunes, including "For he's a jolly good fellow," and much to my husband and I's astonishment, "Livin' on a prayer!" Not the song we expected to hear coming from a toddler's keyboard! Listen to the demos all the way through, or keep pressing the demo all button to change from one song to the next. Both demos can be stopped with the stop button. I showed the girls how to change the tempo of the demo tunes, and they love nothing more than putting one of the demos on and increasing the tempo to the max, then going completely crazy dancing to it - hilarious to watch!
                One more important feature to point out is the volume button! When switched on, the volume is at what I'd consider a slightly higher than average level, but then I've got sensitive hearing and don't like loud noise, so normally end up turning it down a notch. Full volume is quite loud, and the lowest level is still quite audible.

                The four lights at the top of the keyboard flash when the keyboard keys are pressed, and play in time to the beat when any of the preset tunes are playing.

                When you first turn the keyboard on, it plays a little 6-note tune, and the lights flash. If you don't press any keys within a few minutes, the same tune plays and it switches itself off to save power, which is great as anyone with kids knows that they often forget to turn things off. Power is switched on and off easily via a switch next to the volume, no need to be ferreting around underneath to turn it on or off.
                There are two silver speakers, one at each side of the keyboard, on top. I've always found them to be good quality until recently, when there's a kind of fuzzy white noise after each sound you play, which is annoying. I suppose after over 2 years and the amount of wear and tear it's been put through it's done quite well to last and remain in the good condition is has. Maybe it's telling me it's time we upgraded to the full size keyboard on legs?!

                The keyboard runs off 3 x AA batteries, which are located in a compartment underneath the keyboard, which you open using a smallish Phillips screwdriver. We have gone through quite a lot of batteries, and using rechargeable ones would save quite a bit of money over time.

                The keyboard currently retails at £15, but at the time of writing is on offer at £7.50 from elc.co.uk, which I think is an absolute bargain - not something I can say about many ELC products!

                The recommended age is from 3 years, but there are no small parts involved (unless you have a very strong child who can pull keys off!) Babies love to bash on keyboards and my youngest has enjoyed it since being a baby, so I wouldn't let the age recommendation put you off buying for younger children.

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              • ELC Sew & Lace Card / Baby Toy / 21 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                08.09.2011 21:58
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                A good little buy for children aged 3-4 +

                My eldest daughter received these cards for her second Christmas when she was only 17 months old. The age recommendation on the box was 2-6 years, and after taking a look inside the box at the product I decided to put them away until she was older. The reasons being that apart from it looking too complicated and tricky for a 17 month old to do, I wasn't happy for her to have the laces, which in my opinion are a strangulation hazard for such a young child.

                It was only in the last few months that I discovered the unused sew and lace cards hidden away in a cupboard. My daughter, now aged 4, and her 2 ½ year old sister loved getting a new toy and have spent a good amount of time since then playing with them.

                There are 8 cards provided, plus 8 laces. Each card is made from thick, sturdy cardboard, and has a brightly coloured picture printed on. There's a police car, rabbit, train, snail, crab, lion, teddy and ball. Around the outline of each picture are punched holes. The idea is to thread the laces through the holes, from front to back, back to front, weaving in and out. The laces are rainbow dyed, and have a sealed end to make it easier for them to be pushed through the holes.

                Some of the pictures are easier to do than the others, and I'd recommend starting your child off on one of the easier ones such as the ball, which is simply a round shape, or the crab which is an oval shape. The trickiest is probably the lion, which has zig-zags around his mane, and my daughter sometimes threads the lace through the wrong hole on this part. It took her a few gos to master how to thread the lace through, and she would often thread it from front to back, then front to back again, getting it in a tangle. My two year old still does this, and it also takes her a while to get the thread through the hole in the first place, but she has improved since first getting them.

                The threads are more than long enough to go through all of the holes and still have enough left at each end, so if you leave quite a bit trailing when you start, you'll have a good chance of having enough lace to complete the shape. As the laces are rainbow dyed, it creates a nice colourful effect once the picture is completed.

                Sadly, the ends of the laces have become frayed and I'm going to have to use some PVA glue to seal them again, as they will no longer go through the holes.

                The cards came in a smallish box which we have always used to store them in. The box is now falling apart after just a few months, and it's also a squeeze trying to fit the cards and laces back in the box. They won't fit back in if any of the cards are laced up, so you need to take the laces out of each card before putting them back inside the box, which can be a pain if you're trying to tidy in a hurry. The cards themselves have lasted well and haven't bent or got creased at all.

                The sew and lace cards are really good for encouraging hand to eye coordination, and developing fine motor skills in your child. Teaching them to put the lace through one hole, then turn it over to put through the other hole, and so on, and to follow the holes in order. It's a good introduction to sewing in a way which they'll enjoy. I'd recommend parental supervision, especially for younger children, not only because of the laces, but young ones will need help and guidance to get started and show them what to do.
                Despite having a recommended age range of 2 - 6 years, the ELC website states "Not suitable for children under 36 months due to small parts," which is a complete contradiction!

                At £5 they're a good buy and my girls have certainly enjoyed playing with them and I'm sure will continue to do so - so long as Mummy glues the ends of the laces!

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              • More +
                31.08.2011 21:56
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                Wouldn't recommend unless you've got a horse-mad child and money to throw away!

                My youngest daughter received this as a joint present from a few relatives for her second birthday earlier this year. It came in a large box, with the poles in plastic bags inside, and the horse in his own plastic bag.

                I decided to tackle the assembly myself rather than waiting for my husband to come home as it looked relatively easy at first glance, that was until I started to read the instructions. Well, I say read, but there wasn't really anything to read, just a very basic diagram. There were twenty poles made up of four different sizes, with some having an extra connector piece attached. Then 3 different types of connectors, with 8 in total. The first job was to sort out the poles, which didn't have any number stickers on, so it was pure guess work as to which was which, and a case of measuring the largest to the smallest to figure it out.

                The instruction diagram simply showed the poles as numbers, with coloured arrows to show which connector to use where. There were no words at all, and even though I consider myself quite adept at putting things together it was a challenge to make sure I got the pieces in the right place, and I felt like I was in an episode of the Krypton Factor at one point. The poles themselves simply slotted into each other which was the easy part. You were required to leave the two bottom poles unconnected in order to get the cover on, which I didn't realise at first and had to take them apart again. It was only when the frame was assembled that I realised what poor quality the poles were, being very bendy, and looked liable to snap at the slightest bit of pressure - not good for a toy aimed at young children.

                The cover itself was tricky to get one, and I could have done with an extra pair of hands to pull it over the frame. The cover has a front, sides, roof, base, but no back which is left completely open. It doesn't seem like terribly strong material/plastic which is a worry for the base which gets stood on a lot. The cover is made of a plastic type fabric, and is printed to look like stables, with brickwork, a roof, rosettes stuck on, and wellies & a bucket under the mesh window.

                There was just one other small diagram which was even worse than the main one. It showed where to put the flat lengths of plastic - on the roof apex and down the edge of the door frame - to connect the poles after the cover is on, and where to tie the cover to the poles. Again, this wasn't very clear and I had to work most bits out myself using trial and error. The ties to tie the cover to the pole aren't very long and need re-tying regularly.

                The door to the stable is just a half door, so the horse can stick its head out. It opens and closes easily enough, and fastens by way of a magnet. However, because the actual stable frame is so poor quality, when the door isn't shut, the frame and cover on that side has a tendency to gape outwards a bit, so you need to pull it back in to secure the door shut.

                The finished stable measures 95cm x 95cm x 49cm, and can fit two small children inside, although there's more room to move if there's just one, and only little kids would be able to stand up inside.

                I get the feeling that the main thing you're paying for here is the horse, called Fudge, which itself it fairly good quality. It feels like it's got a wooden frame inside, covered with wadding, then fur. It stands 57cm tall (I should really measure it in hands shouldn't I?!), and measures 62cm nose to tail. It's soft to touch and sturdy enough for children to sit on. My two year old can sit on it, but her feet just touch the floor so she can't move on it. Whereas my four year old sits on and can walk around dragging it underneath her, as if she's riding a horse.

                Fudge comes complete with a fabric saddle, with fur trim, bridle and reins, which also fasten with velcro. I find it hard to work out how to get the saddle back on once it's off, so you can imagine the trouble small children have! I'm sure if you're familiar with horses and know how to saddle up it would be a doddle, but for the uninitiated a diagram would be helpful. A brush, hair scrunchie, 2 hair bobbles, four hair clips, a strawberry clip with 2 lengths of plaited hair attached, are also supplied. The brush isn't the best quality and the plastic handle looks as if it might break. My daughter enjoys grooming Fudge with the brush and doing her mane up with the bobbles and clips.

                The RRP is £99.99, and amazon.co.uk currently have it for sale at £89.99, but I have seen it on there for less than £60 which is still very overpriced in my opinion. Whilst the idea is nice, and any child who likes horses would be thrilled to have this toy, the quality of the stables is very poor. We bought her a play café/shop tent from Tesco at the same time she got this. It only cost around £20 yet is much better quality.

                Officially it's not suitable for under 3s, which I guess is due to the small accessories, which can be taken away if need be.

                It's made by Worlds Apart who do lots of role play toys, including a Strawberry Stable Care Set. This consists of an apple and carrot to feed Fudge, a blanket, blow-up bale of hay, nosebag and broom. My girls just use a plastic carrot that they already had. There's also a Gymkhana dress up set outfit available.

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              • ELC HappyLand Funfair / Baby Toy / 19 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                29.08.2011 22:33
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                A fantastic addition to any Happyland collection

                We bought this, along with other Happyland products, for my daughter's 1st birthday. Although she hadn't reached the recommended age of 18 months, she still enjoyed playing with it. There are no small parts so it's safe for all ages. It required no assembly and was ready to use straight from the box.

                This has been one of her favourites from all the Happyland toys she has and she's had over 3 years of fun out of it. I think back then it was £35, and I used a Big Birthday Club 20% off voucher. But it now retails at £40 which is quite overpriced in my opinion.

                The set consists of:

                - A carousel featuring 4 horses around a mirrored centre. The Happyland characters are supposed to fit into the horses, secured by fitting onto a small bump, but have a tendency to fly off when the carousel is moving - annoying at times, amusing at others! In fact we've been known to not even try and secure the figures in just so they'll fly out once the carousel starts rotating. Pressing the large button on this battery (2 x AAA) operated toy makes the carousel move round, and play fairground type music. One good press and it does around 2 rotations, whilst the music plays. If it stops rotating before the music stops you can keep pressing to make it rotate. As it's been used so much the batteries recently ran out, although they lasted a fair amount of time given how much it's been played with. Not all characters from Happyland will fit properly into the horses, those with larger bottoms won't go in, which is frustrating for little ones. The detail is nice on the carousel, with little "lights" around the edge, and the mirrors in the centre, just like a real carousel. There are two horses of each colour. The top of the carousel collects dust and other bits easily due to its shape.

                - The spinning rockets ride has two rocket ships which the figures fit into, again they're not that secure and fall out easily. No batteries here, you need to spin it around yourself. It's fairly sturdy, although pushing it round too fast can sometimes lead to it falling over.

                - A pirate boat ride, is basically just that. A pirate ship that swings back and forth, seating a figure in each. It can be used as a swing-type toy, or if you hold down the base you can get the ship to do a full 360 rotation!

                - A train completes the ride elements of the set, and seats 3 figures. It can be tricky to get one in the front seat due to the overhang on the front carriage. This is a nice addition and a good way for the figures to get around the fairground, plus it's an extra ride for them to go on. This gets played with outside of the fairground set in our house, and used as a general get around vehicle for the other Happyland figures.

                - Four figures are provided: A fairground man, a clown, a boy and a girl. The fairground man looks quite traditional and stereotypical, with a straw boater, bow tie and striped trousers. It would have been nice to have an adult figure provided, i.e. a parent for the children, as it would be good to teach children that it's best to go to the fairground on their own, especially with a clown on the prowl!

                Overall this is a great toy set which encourages kids to use their imaginations and develop social skills. It's also good for teaching cause and effect, with buttons to press and things to spin round. Kids can take the Happyland figures from other sets on a day out to the fairground, or maybe the fairground could come to town. If you have the Happyland airport set and plane, they could all go on a Disney-type holiday to the fair. And as I said above my girls have got lots and lots of use out of this and keep returning to it on a daily basis.

                It's well built, especially compared to some of the other Happyland range, no bits have fallen off, although paint does scratch off over time.

                A musical ferris wheel is available from ELC and would complement this set well.

                ELC have sales every so often on Happyland items, so I'd recommend waiting for it to be on sale rather than paying full price, or use a 20% off voucher (via Big Birthday Club or occasionally available on food packs).

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              • More +
                25.08.2011 17:05
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                A classic toy which will last for years

                This is one of those iconic toys that anyone under the age of 20 will either have had one, known someone who had one or have played in one at least once.

                I'd always said we wouldn't buy one for either of our daughters, after seeing kids slipping from the seat to fall underneath, or having other mishaps in it. But after seeing my youngest little girl happily playing in one at mother & toddler group, and desperate for something original to buy for her for Christmas last year that we didn't already have, I relented and agreed to buy one.

                After researching the best price online, amazon came out tops, and it arrived in a big box a few days after ordering. Knowing it would require assembly, I set my husband the task of putting it together on Christmas Eve. It must have taken him over an hour to do, and I had to abandon my doll's house assembly a few times to help him out.

                The main red body of the car was the biggest piece, and everything else fitted onto that somehow. It wasn't a case of slotting things in or pushing them together, there were screws and hammers and much cursing involved! Whilst I can't give full details of what was involved as I didn't do it, I do recall from watching and helping out with the trickier bits that it was hard to get some things fitted where they should be, and it was definitely not just a one-person job. A hammer was needed for the wheels, and although he tried managing without, not wanting to wake the girls up, he had to in the end to get the wheels fixed on. Not wanting him to wear himself out completely with the task, I kindly offered to help him out by putting the stickers on (mouth, dashboard, etc).

                It was worth all of his effort on Christmas morning when she tore the large piece of wrapping paper off, and proceeded to spend much of Christmas day sat behind the wheel, beaming away, only to be lured out for food, and the occasional glance at her other new toys.

                The car has been played with on a daily basis since then, with frequent squabbling over who gets a turn (her and her big sister, not Daddy). She's two and her sister is 4, but tall for her age, yet still fits comfortably behind the wheel. My 4 year old scoots around quite happily on her own, moving it herself, but my 2 year old demands to be pushed, which can put a strain on your back at times.

                Although we didn't make a conscious decision to keep it indoors, that's where it's ended up living and I think they've got much more use out of it than if it had been kept outside.

                I'm happy to report, that so far, touch wood, they haven't had any major accidents in it, apart from getting stuck while exiting the car, but that's their own fault for climbing out through the window rather than using the door!

                Now for the car itself. The main body of the car is a red/orange colour, with the yellow roof supported by four pillars that curve slightly inwards. Entry to the car is supposed to be via the door on one side, but as you've read above, some children prefer to climb through the window on the other side. Two large white eyes sit on the front of the car, with a smiley mouth sticker underneath (ours got pulled off within a short time). The smiley face on the front of the car appeals to children and makes it look very friendly and fun. The door has a catch on it which needs to click over a piece to shut properly. This is difficult to do, even for adults (I just trapped my thumb doing so!) When my girls are using the car they don't bother shutting it totally because of this.

                The seat is slightly curved so comfortable to sit in - well it looks to be, I haven't actually been able to squeeze into it myself! The car runs on foot power (think Flintstones), so there's a big gap in front of the seat for which to fit little legs through. Should foot power fail, you have two options- open the white fuel cap on the side of the car at the back and fill with imaginary fuel. Or get an adult, or willing sibling to push the car from behind, for which a hole/handle is built into the back of the roof. Having tried both methods I can only vouch for the latter as a working option.

                Turning the steering wheel in the car doesn't make the wheels turn, but makes the young driver feel like they're actually driving the car. The back wheels are fixed and don't move from side to side, but the front wheels are on metal axles (is that the right word?) and turn around enabling the car to turn corners. Pushing the car, or powering by feet, it's easy to steer.

                Other parts that make the car more "authentic" to little ones are the key, which is fixed into the ignition, but can be pulled out so far, and turned round to start the engine. Stickers which stick on the dashboard showing a fuel gauge, indicators, etc, and a wing mirror - only two of the three remain stuck on ours. There are two cup holder holes in the back of the car for kids to put their juice cups in, although chunkier cups won't fit too well. There's horn to beep in the centre of the steering wheel which kids love pressing.

                There's a piece you can fit as the floor rather than having your feet go through to the floor, but we left it out as even a small child would be sat with their knees up their nose if it was fitted.

                Overall I'm really glad we purchased this car and can't see any major faults with it. I'm going to knock one star off for the difficult assembly.

                The car retails for £49.99 at Mothercare, but is currently available for £40 at amazon.co.uk.

                Also available are a pink version, a police patrol car version, a "Cozy Cab," a princess version, and a green/yellow "Grand Coupe."

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                • More +
                  23.08.2011 17:37
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                  Recommended as an alternative to a mouse

                  I've been using graphics tablets for as long as I can remember. Due to having an illness that affects my joints and muscles, I find using a mouse quite painful after a short time. It was fantastic the first time I used a graphics tablet and pen. It's just like holding a normal pen, drawing or writing on a board which you hold in your other hand, place on your lap on put on a table next to the computer.

                  I'll give a bit of background as I feel it's relevant to the brand. I've gone through about 3 tablets now, all have been Wacom. My last one was the Bamboo Fun tablet, and lasted just under 2 years before going awry. The connecting wire became loose and kept losing the connection unless you held it in a certain way, which was very annoying and inconvenient. When I contacted Wacom (based in Germany) they advised me to send it back To Germany as it was just within the 2 year warranty period. However I couldn't find the receipt so couldn't send it back. A bit of research online lead me to think I could maybe return it to PC World, where I bought it, and lay a claim under the Sales of Goods Act, using a credit card statement as proof of purchase. Sadly I couldn't find that either. By this time my Bamboo Fun had given up completely. Struggling to manage using the touchpad on my laptop, which I find completely useless, I gave in and ordered a nice new Bamboo tablet from amazon. After my last tablet failed I researched other makes, but none had great reviews, so I decided to try Wacom again. I paid £39.40 for it on amazon.co.uk, with the RRP at £79.99 I thought it was a good deal. Note that there are 2 listings for the same product on amazon with one for sale at £63.99, so make sure you get the cheapest!

                  It came within a couple of days and I was a happy bunny once again!

                  The tablet came in a box inside a card sleeve-type box. Once you lift the lid on that box you'll find another piece of card to lift up which welcomes you to your Bamboo in 10 different languages. Inside all of the boxes is another card insert in which you'll find your tablet, pen (inside a bag with a plastic cap on), and a smaller box containing the CD and two booklets (quick-start guide, and one about Bamboo Apps). A case for excessive packaging usage if ever I saw one!

                  Installation is quite simple. You put the CD into your computer/laptop, click to install, and go through the instructions. You can choose whether you want to use the tablet left- or right-handed. Then plug your tablet into the USB port and you're good to go!

                  If you want to change any settings afterwards, just go to your control panel and click on "pen and touch." There, you can choose what actions to assign to the pen buttons and pen actions. Default are a single tap of the pen on the tablet is equivalent to a single click. Double tap is double click. Press the pen down on the tablet and hold it is the same as a right click by default. I switched this one off as it was annoying. You can set the speed for these actions too. The pen button is automatically set to be a left click when you press the bottom down, and right click for pressing the top button part down. On previous models I've been able to change this to have the bottom button for right click, but that isn't an option on this model which is a shame. If you're using an art/drawing/paint programme you can use the top of the pen as an eraser. Another function here is "flicks." The pen can be set to perform various functions by flicking it in a certain direction. For example, flicking to the right takes you forward to the next page, up to the left diagonally closes the document you're using, bottom right copies to clipboard. Handy if you can remember each function and don't do them by accident, but highly annoying if you keep doing it without realising. Hence, why I have that turned off now!

                  The tablet really comes into its own when using a paint or draw programme. I use Photoshop and Fireworks a lot and you can't beat it when editing photos or drawing things. It far surpasses a mouse in this respect. The tip of the pen is pressure-sensitive so for example when drawing a line it will be be harder and thicker the harder you press.

                  Some people find it hard to adapt to using the pen rather than a mouse. My husband and mum have both tried and said they don't like it and couldn't get used to it, so it's not for everyone, although I'm sure they would have got used to it in time.

                  The pen is lightweight, has no wires and needs no batteries to work. Not quite sure where it gets its power source from though. The plastic tip will eventually start to wear and Wacom very kindly provide 3 spares which are easy to insert. Just remove the old one with a pair of pliers and insert the new one by pushing in. There's a nice fabric slot on the side of the tablet to store the pen in, making it harder to lose.
                  One thing to note is that the pens can be easily damaged/lost and are expensive to replace. I've lost one and dropped and broken one from previous models. At the time of writing, the spare pen for this model is £33 on amazon.co.uk.

                  The tablet itself is black, with a matt edge, shiny surround and matt working area. The active working area is 147 x 92 mm, which is plenty big enough for day to day stuff. If you were a professional graphics designer you'd probably find a need for a more expensive, bigger model, but this is just fine for the average user. The overall size of the tablet is 248 x 176 x 8.5mm. A small white light lies to the left of the working area, and is lit when connected to your computer. It's lightweight, and has a fixed wire rather than removable one like my last model, so hoping it won't suffer the same fate. Just in case though, I've made sure I put the receipt somewhere safe!

                  ArtRage painting software is included on the enclosed CD, and the blurb states that additional bonus software is available to download, although I haven't had chance to explore either yet.

                  Overall I'm really pleased with my new tablet and would recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative to a mouse or touchpad.

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                • More +
                  22.08.2011 22:42
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                  I'd highly recommend for outdoor play for young children

                  We've had this sand and water table for a couple of years now and it's still going strong. Bought for my daughter's 2nd birthday, both her and her younger sister have had more than their money's worth from it.
                  We got the pink table, but it's also available in red.

                  It came in a large box and instructions were included, but not really needed as assembly was very straight forward. It was simply a case of putting the two top pieces together and slotting the legs in from what I remember. The legs can be easily taken off if you need to store it away.

                  The legs go out at an angle, making it very sturdy and I'd say pretty impossible to fall over.
                  A lid is provided in the form of two large pieces which slot together like a jigsaw on top of the sand pit, sealing it and preventing water getting in if it rains. You do need to make sure the two pieces are fixed together in the middle to prevent anything getting in. The lid also does a pretty good job of keeping any bugs out, and doubles up as a track, which is built into the top of the lid and can be used for racing cars around.

                  The table is intended for using sand in one half and water in the other. We did this at first, but found that the sand was getting mixed in with the water, and vice versa, which makes a bit of a mess and leaves the sand too wet to play with. We now just use both sides for sand, which is perfect when you've got two children as they can have a side each. Although two or more children can comfortably fit around one side of the table as it's big enough to do so. Each side is deep enough to put a good amount of water or sand in. Although unlikely to come to any harm and end up face down in the water, you should always watch little ones around water.

                  There is a plug in each side of the table so you can empty water out when needed. Simply twist it round and pull it out.

                  Kids being kids, sand will inevitably end up on the floor. We have ours on the patio, where it can easily be swept up, and put back in, providing it's not too dirty. If you have the sand table on the grass you won't be able to do this and will end up losing sand. You could have the table indoors although it's not something I'd recommend as it's so messy.

                  There are six holes along the middle of the table in which you can place the accessories that come with the table. One is a funnel that has a water wheel underneath. Pour the water into the funnel, it runs down into the wheel and makes the wheel spin round. All being well the water then pours into the table. You can switch a piece under the funnel that has two different size holes, each giving a different speed of water flow.
                  There are two of these funnel pieces provided, which can be fixed into another attachment that's like an upturned U shape, with a scale-type scoop on, which lets water down onto two smaller water wheels. Children will love playing with this and it teaches them cause and effect - what happens when you pour water in the funnel, how changing the speed of the water flow affects the wheel turning, and more water in one side of the "scales" makes it tip up. My girls pour sand into the funnels, which isn't too bad if it's very fine sand, it just about flows through if pushed, but if it's a bit wet it just sticks in the funnel.

                  Tools provided are a scoop shaped spade, regular shape spade, a rake, boat and starfish shape. The starfish shape can be used as a star shaped sand mould. It also has holes in so water can be poured through, making it flow through underneath. Or it can be used as a sieve to filter sand through. The boat sails nicely on the water, but can also be used with the sand, pouring sand into it. The spades are a nice neat size with round chunky handles that are just the right size for little hands to hold. The tool handles fit neatly into the holes down the centre.

                  The only real downside is that you can't leave the attachments and tools stuck in the holes if you want to put the lid on the table, it won't go on. So when packing away each day you'll need to take everything out and just leave it laid down inside the table, where it fits ok. The funnel parts can be difficult to pull out sometimes if there is sand stuck around the holes.

                  The table is extremely durable and totally weather-proof, we've always left it outside over winter. I'd highly recommend it for young children. My youngest played with it before she could walk, she'd just pull herself up on it and lean against the table while playing in the sand. They've had two years of fun from it and I'm sure they'll still be playing with it in another two years time.

                  We've gone through about three bags of play sand in the time we've had it. The first two were from ELC, and the latest from Asda which was cheaper.

                  We also use sand toys that we bought for playing on the beach with. Sand moulds are particularly good for using with the table and can be bought cheaply from a lot of places, including ELC.

                  It measures:
                  depth: 65 cm
                  width: 65 cm
                  height: 45 cm

                  The table currently retails at £45 from Early Learning Centre.

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                • ELC Fairyland Bluebell Boot / Baby Toy / 9 Readings / 9 Ratings
                  More +
                  18.08.2011 22:42
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                  Little girls' imaginations will run away with this toy!

                  This was one of the many toys my eldest daughter (now aged 4) got for her first birthday, and she's had lots of enjoyment out of it over those three years.

                  Part of the popular Happyland range, this building is in the shape of a boot, and is home to three fairies and a gnome. It's a lovely looking toy and very attractive in shades of pink, purple and green.

                  I'll start from the top of the boot and work my way down. The green carry handle isn't really much use for its intended purpose as it's always falling off. Whilst I understand that ELC make the doors the way they do so that little fingers don't get trapped and doors don't get broken, but instead come away easily, this doesn't really apply to a carry handle and it should be able to be used without falling off.

                  There's a room at the top of the boot, accessible via two small doors or by lifting half of roof up. It's much easier to play with if you lift the actual roof up, although there isn't a huge amount of room to get hands inside, even little ones. There's enough room inside to fit the little bed that comes with the boot, and maybe a chair or two. The two doors have stayed on and have never fallen off, and they lead out to a small balcony, where there's room enough for a couple of figures to stand. The upstairs in our boot hasn't been used much to play in, but rather to stuff figures in to hide them there!

                  The main inside part of the boot is down at the bottom and has the most floor space. It's big enough to fit all of the accessories provided in it and is easy enough to access once one half of the boot is opened up. Despite the ample room inside my girls rarely play with the accessories inside and prefer to have them just outside of the boot, with just the figures popping in and out of the boot.

                  Visiting fairies can enter via the front door, after ringing on the doorbell which plays a nice fairy jingle sound and lights up the three bluebells above the door. This is something kids love doing and mine are constantly pressing the doorbell. Opening or closing the front door catches a little trigger which also sets the fairy jingle sound off. Our front door falls off constantly and is at the stage now when we don't bother putting it back on.

                  On the half of the boot that swings open there's a small balcony inside, which has always been overlooked when the girls play with our boot.

                  The tongue part of the boot pulls down to create a slide, which is great fun for the fairies to slide down, but there are no steps to climb up to it so they need to jump quite high to get onto the slide. When the slide is down you can't open the toe part of the boot.

                  You'll hear another fairy jingle sound when the front toe part of the boot is opened or closed. There's a small amount of floor space in here, but as it's difficult to move the fairies from this bit to the main part of the boot, it doesn't get used very much.

                  There's a large pink flower at the front, which doesn't have a purpose apart from being part of the front hinge and for decoration.

                  At the back of the boot is a swing made from a bluebell, with the bottom shaped like an acorn. It can be a bit difficult for little fingers to get the fairy into the swing due to the shape of it and the fact that it moves when you're trying to put someone in. Still, it's a really nice , but don't swing them too hard or they may fall out as there's nothing to secure them in.

                  Included were a gnome (we named him Norris), three fairies (ours are called Fairy Bluebell, Fairy Violet, and Fairy Dotty), a caterpillar, table and two chairs, chaise long/bed, and a stove with a kettle on. The chairs are made to look like they're made from leaves, and the fairies fit nicely into them. The bed isn't an ideal shape however, and they can sometimes fall off easily. These additions give plenty of scope for imaginative play. The fairies can have a tea party around the table, cook meals or a cup of fairy tea on the stove, or go for a sleep on the bed.

                  Apart from the bits that fall off, it's been very durable and has lasted well, with no scratches or paint chipped off.

                  In the three years we've had it I've never had to replace the batteries despite constant use, which is pretty good going.

                  This is a really good set, which I'd recommend for any little girl who loves fairies and make believe, despite it's price of £40. Recommended for ages 18 months - 4 years, it's suitable for either side of that age range, with no small parts and plenty of appeal for slightly older girls.

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