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Verbena
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    • Grasp GR7025 Grater / Gadget / 132 Readings / 124 Ratings
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      03.02.2014 22:05
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      Great performance from a well designed and engineered grater.

      === Time For A Change ===
      This was the Christmas present I didn't get. I make a lot of preserves, including lemon curd with grated zest added. I also make coleslaw, but for 2 of us it's not really necessary to use my food processor. One day I realised my old manual grater was past it - not surprising seeing it's over 30 years old. With Christmas coming, and my parents always wanting to know what I want so they can get me a 'surprise', I dropped a big hint.

      Roll forward to the middle of January and I'm in possession of a sturdy looking piece of equipment - still a box grater, but a substantial item that actually came in a box! This wasn't in my stocking; my parents seem not to have taken the hint, or forgotten, more likely. I chose it myself.

      ===On The Lookout===
      Having failed to find anything in any of our local stores, and to be fair we are somewhat limited, I was pleased to find I had the choice of several in a neighbouring town's Downtown store. I was tempted by one which seemed to offer the possibility of grating into its own container; this is hard to explain, but anyway on reflection it wasn't going to be easy to clean. I liked the look of the Grasp. It wasn't possible to test out in-store, of course, but with my daughter's help we ascertained that it would be stable on a work surface when in use. It seemed worth the £12 asking price - and it wasn't the most expensive at that. The only thing I wasn't sure about was that it didn't have a face for grating whole nutmeg as my old one did. Neither did the alternatives; I got round that by buying a small grater for the purpose at about £0.99.

      ===New To Me ===
      Grasp is a new brand to me. Closer reading of the information on the box revealed that the parent company is Grunwerg, which initially I took to be German but is based in Sheffield, although the items are manufactured in China. Now I know Sheffield has a history in steel, and, being curious, I researched a little. Grunwerg is a family business that's been running for over 65 years with a wide range of products in the 'Housewares' market. Unfortunately their website seems to be for the trade only, but if you're interested in what else they do you could look at it:
      www.grunwerg.co.uk

      ===First Impressions===
      At 9" tall and 4 sided, this takes up more storage space than my cheap old faithful. It's described as a 'professional, Deluxe model' and it looks the part. Other models are illustrated on the box and it seems as though this is the Big Daddy. It is guaranteed against defects from faulty materials or workmanship. A feature I particularly like is the provision of a non-slip top and bottom grip and foot; the first makes it comfortable to hold while using, and the second is indeed effective at stopping the grater from slipping. It doesn't actually say anywhere what the black material is made of, but it has a slightly rubberised feel.

      The blades are described as non-clogging and razor sharp. On the side there is a removable sticker giving caution about their sharpness in 4 languages. All of the blades are shaped a little unusually, in my opinion. In this instance a picture is more useful than words, so I'm sorry I can't show you. On many graters, the basic shape is a circle, with the grating element kind of protruding. The Grasp models, however, present you with a rectangular shape, except for the front one where there's more of a slant. I can't describe it more successfully without going into far too much description.

      ===Performance Pros and Cons===
      The front blades are for grating foodstuffs like cheese and carrots, which is fairly standard on graters like this. One side is for slicing cheese etc, and again it's a bit different, with a slight curve to the slit-like aperture. It slices a piece of strong Lincolnshire Poacher in no time! The other side and the back would be the ones I'd consider using for zesting as well as grating carrots and cheese more finely. I've discovered, in fact, that I can get 3 different sizes of gratings for carrots; I haven't yet used it much for other foodstuffs apart from simply grating cheese. I don't think it would give me a very fine grating for cheese, somehow.

      It's taken a bit of getting used to, and to be honest I still have some way to go, which sounds daft for such a small item. There's no doubt that the blades are razor sharp. It's vastly different from my old one, and far superior. I find it does grate quickly and efficiently; so far I have had no problems with clogging. I have found that it's a good idea to use a brush on it when washing up [I don't have a dishwasher]. That helps to make sure all the small pieces of foodstuffs have been removed.

      Bearing in mind that it came boxed, I'm slightly disappointed that there's no suggestions there for the uses of each blade. It's a case of trial and error. With the unusual shaping of the blades, it's not as obvious as it would be on a more standard piece of equipment.

      My other slight niggle is the price I paid - £12 when it's currently available on Amazon for £8.40! However I don't think I would necessarily have bought this without seeing the actual item first. For those reasons I'm going to deduct one star and rate it at 4 when it should really get 5. It's a great bit of kit for the kitchen and I'm glad I bought it.

      ===Good To Grate===
      And my Christmas present? A subscription to a gardening magazine. I thought that would be easy - not so! My father goes into the local W H Smiths and picks up my copy each month! At least I'll be able to grate my home-grown carrots efficiently!

      Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

      ©Verbena February 2014

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        29.01.2014 17:28
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        Beautiful book that comprehensively describes the growth and use of herbs.

        ===Why Herbs===
        I've been interested in plants and gardening for as long as I can remember. My interest was rekindled by the late, great Geoff Hamilton, who seemed to make everything seem so easy and attainable. I enjoy cooking, too, so it's natural that an interest in growing fresh herbs would feature alongside cultivating other edible plants. I've occasionally made teas from fresh herbs, but my interest in other uses for herbs has been stirred by a discussion I had with a lady in Kenya, who showed me some roadside plants that locals use for medicinal purposes, and a friend who has recently completed a course on a similar subject in this country. Then, recently when I was doing my Community Gardening day, the leader pulled out a flask of hot water, plunged in a sprig of stinging nettle, and drank it as a tea.

        ===What Is A Herb?===
        Jekka quotes the Oxford English Dictionary's definition: 'plants of which the leaves, stems or flowers are used for food or medicine, or in some way for their scent or flavour.' That doesn't seem comprehensive enough to me, as it doesn't include roots/rhizomes, nor does it cover uses such as dyeing.

        ===My Herb Garden===
        Well garden is a bit of an exaggeration; I have some terracotta rectangular pipes by the back door planted with mainly mints and lemon verbena. This idea is Geoff Hamilton inspired, as drainage pipes are far more frost resistant than the pots you buy claiming this property, in my experience. Mine must be about 20 years old now! There is also a circular patch in the middle of the lawn which will be under redevelopment in the early spring.

        ===Finding This Book===
        We visited a local garden centre which sells a range of household products and books as well as plants etc. We had a look around while we were there and I discovered this book. I had a browse through and decided it looked like a good one to add to my collection. I already had one of Jekka McVicar's books and knew of her reputation as possibly the leading expert on herbs in the nation. There was something about the layout of this book, plus the fact that I could see it mentioned herbs like Vietnamese Coriander which I possessed but had little idea how to use: I had to buy it!!

        ===About The Book===
        This is a substantial hardback volume, published in association with the Royal Horticultural Society and any royalties from its sales go to help the charitable work of the RHS. There might not have been many from mine, though, as the price printed in the volume was £25 but the garden centre sold it for £9.99. First published in 1994, this is the revised edition printed in 2007 by Kyle Cathie Ltd. ISBN 978 1 85626 741 0. I believe it is also available in a paperback version.

        ===About The Author===
        Originally from Somerset, Jekka learnt about herbs from a young age with the help of her mother and grandmother. After school she was in a progressive rock band that played at the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury Festivals as well as touring Europe. She then worked for the BBC for a while. After marrying Mac McVicar, they established a herb farm together near Bristol, called Jekka's Herb Farm. As far as I know it's still growing strong, with over 600 herb varieties. She has won many medals at events such as the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Show and has appeared frequently on television, on gardening and cookery shows. I've found references to at least 10 books written by her, so you can see she probably knows her subject!!

        ===Book Contents - Layout===
        There is an introduction by the celebrated Penelope Hobhouse, an author's note from Jekka, where I was pleased to see a gentle reminder not to dig up any wild plants, a 'how to use this book', an A-Z of Herbs and 'General Details of Herb Growing'. Had I read the A-Z properly before diving in I would have noted that the herbs are arranged alphabetically by their Latin botanical names, not their everyday names. This confused me a bit - I know the Latin names for some, like laurus nobilis for bay (oh the benefits of an old-fashioned education - Mr. Gove would be pleased!) but struggled to find Vietnamese Coriander again - in the index it was under coriander, not Vietnamese - and it's persicaria odorata in case you were wondering!

        ===Book Contents - Illustrations===
        The book is illustrated with many beautiful photographs of the plants themselves, the end product of culinary uses and other uses such as pot pourri. They are sharp, clear images that set the text of well for me. In some books like this the photos can almost be too dominant but here I think they complement each other. It was a slight surprise to see that Jekka is credited as the main photographer - talented lady! Where other photographers' work has been used, credit is given at the end of the book. There are some drawn illustrations, particularly in the section suggesting possible layouts for a herb garden. These are credited to Sally Maltby.

        ===A-Z of Herbs===
        There is so much in here that it's hard to know what to describe to you. Each herb has its own few pages, almost like a mini-chapter, the length varying, naturally, by how much there is to say!
        The varieties of each herb are given, so, for instance, all of the mints are together, which is useful. Awards like the RHS's Award of Garden Merit are indicated with an AGM. You've got folk/country names, natural habitats, then Jekka goes on to discuss propagation, pests and diseases, maintenance, garden cultivation, harvesting, companion planting, container growing, uses and warnings for where plants have potential adverse or even toxic effects. There is a symbol next to any plant that is poisonous! Yes, some plants that you may have in your garden may have toxins. I knew you could add nasturtium leaves to salads, but not that you shouldn't eat more than 15g at a time or 30g per day. [There are also warnings about the dangers of self-medication etc along with a full responsibility disclaimer on the page facing Contents.] Finally in this section is 'Zones' which relates to the plant's hardiness when grown in the U.S.A. or Canada.

        It was the range of plants that are included in this book that attracted me - ranging from Good King Henry, which many people see as a weed, to the more exotic ginger and lemon grass. Well, a weed is only a plant growing in the wrong place, isn't it?! I also like the propagation section, where there is advice on seed sowing, cuttings and divisions, and an indication as to which method is most likely to be successful. Jekka is also very frank in some places, with comments to the effect of 'it's used by some people in teas - you can try it if you want to - not for me!'

        ===General Details of Herb Growing===
        The first chapter is 'Propagation', and goes into some detail of seed sowing, softwood cuttings, semi-hardwood/greenwood cuttings, hardwood cuttings, root cuttings and layering. It's a handy piece of work.
        'Planning Your Herb Garden' talks about choosing the site, the style you like, site preparation, soil type & dealing with that, and everything else from paths to raised beds.

        'Herb Gardens' gives some ideas of possible layouts with planting suggestions, for instance a first herb garden, one for aromatherapy, a natural dye garden and so on. I need to give these two chapters some attention when deciding how to reinvigorate my own garden.

        'Herbs in Containers' follows, then 'Harvesting' which includes drying, storing and freezing. Logically 'Herb Oils, Vinegars and Preserves' is next - I like the look of the Coriander Chutney! 'Natural Dyes' also looks interesting - it's something I would like to try one day. Then there's 'Pests and Diseases', with the usual suspects, and a 'Yearly Calendar', including, for instance, the best time to take cuttings. At the end we have a useful glossary, further reading, bibliography and finally a 5 -page index.

        ===My Opinion===
        This is a detailed, comprehensive book written by someone with an obvious passion for her subject and I find it infectious. It's a great book for anyone who enjoys growing and using herbs. I strongly recommend it. My only slight concern would be finding your way around it initially if you were new to such books, but you'd soon get there. I can't give it let less than a 5 star rating as it's a seminal text. I'm really glad I found it!
        http://www.jekkasherbfarm.com/books

        Thank you for reading my review, a revised version of one posted on other sites.
        ©Verbena, January 2014

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          28.01.2014 22:05
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          Fun children's story with an ecological slant.

          ===Introduction===

          When I was a little girl our family holiday comprised of a week's B&B in a small coastal village in North Wales. It was usually in early June as I recall. We spent a lot of our time on the beach - not one typical for a summer holiday, being incredibly rocky. I remember constructing shelters from the wind and sometimes rain from the stones. If we found a patch of newly-revealed sand it was a cause for some celebration! Thinking back, I think this was instrumental in developing my love of nature and, in particular, exploration of rock pools. We sometimes collected shellfish to cook back at the house - the lady we stayed with was more of a friend than a landlady. So quite early in life I was very familiar with limpets and the like. I was keen to read this one to the children at Preschool.

          ===The Author and Illustrator===

          Simon James: perhaps not one of the better known names in children's fiction. I was interested to read about him on the Walkers Books website. He's a British author, brought up in Bristol and Exeter. As a child he enjoyed making and illustrating his own little books, perhaps influenced by the many books by cartoonists owned by his father. He wanted to be a cartoonist, and went to college to study graphic design and art history. He published his first book in 1989, called 'The Day Jake Vacuumed'. There were other books in the 'Jake' series apparently, though I don't recall having come across them. I think I have seen 'Dear Greenpeace'. Some of 'things you didn't know about Simon James' is quite amusing - for instance, he trained to be a policeman but was asked to leave the force when he was discovered to have drawn penguins in his police notebook! He sounds like fun to be around, with quite a deep interest in nature and ecology. I think the 'Baby Brains' series is his latest offering.
          http://www.walker.co.uk/contributors/Simon-James-1736.aspx
          http://www.simonjamesbooks.com/

          ===The Artwork===

          It won't surprise you, then, that the illustrations are cartoon-like in style. I'm no expert on art, but I would say they are probably pen and ink outlines coloured by watercolours in pastel shades. Simon James uses a restricted palette to effect. The blues, greens and yellows/oranges of the beach predominate - even on pages not set on the beach. Sally wears the same pink top with lilac patterned shorts, I think, throughout. There are various skin tones, of course. Red is really the only other colour used, and that mainly for the clothing of other characters. It's simple but very effective, and busy without being over-stimulating. I particularly enjoy the frames where Sally is sitting in the sea or a pool; it captures that experience so well.

          ===The Story===

          Simon James says that the story originated from an incident on Wenbury beach. He was walking with his friend Sally when they encountered a little girl who was trying to pull a limpet off the rocks - a pretty impossible task! Sally apparently found one lying on the sand and gave it to the child. As she did, the limpet made a strange squelching sound. The child was startled and dropped it.

          In the story, the child is called Sally. She's exploring on the beach when she notices a limpet that's more brightly-coloured and bigger than usual. As I would have at that age, she wants to take it home & tries to pull it off, but of course it just hangs on more tightly, making a funny noise. Suddenly Sally slips and falls back, only to discover that the limpet is now firmly stuck to her finger. She can't get it off. Her dad tries to help, but every time they try to pull it off the limpet hangs on more tightly, making a funny squelching sound. They go home with it on. Dad tries using his tools & her brother suggests lettuce and cucumber - maybe thinking of Giant African Land Snails? No joy. Next day, at school, the nature teacher tells her that limpets live for twenty years and live their lives on the same rock. The anxiety level rises! Mum takes her to the hospital where, after being subjected to some uncomfortable treatments, Sally has a bit of a paddy and takes matters into her own hands. It would probably spoil things if I told you how the problem is resolved, although you can most likely guess which way it goes.

          ===Reflections===

          I think this is a book to be enjoyed for its story and the discussions that can be had from it. It's not written in rhyme, doesn't use a lot of alliteration or assonance, and doesn't really introduce a lot of 'new' vocabulary. What it does, very successfully in my opinion, is identify with children's interests and experiences, such as playing on the beach, collecting rock pool specimens, going to school, going to the doctor and so on. Although it's about a girl, when I've used it with children the boys have really enjoyed it.

          As an adult, I have a question in my mind about the accuracy of limpets living to be 20 years old on the same rock - it reads rather as though the age range is up to 20. I find it a bit unlikely that Sally would really succeed in pulling one off a rock, even accidentally, but I think I'm taking it too seriously and a writer has to be allowed a degree of license to make a good story. In either a group setting, which is my context, or a family one, it would be a good starting point for discussions along the lines of 'is that true? What do we know about limpets/rock pools etc? Is it a good thing to take a creature out of its home environment? It's a book that could be used to take on holiday, or to support a study theme on life on the beach. It's a great book to promote learning about environmental issues and our responsibilities. The only disadvantages I can see are that ideally it needs to be supported by experience of rock pools and limpets - something that's not easy to provide on our Lincolnshire coastline, though of course children may well have experienced other beaches on holiday, as I did. Also I think a child needs a reasonable level of language and reasoning development to get the best from it. It's lost on our two year olds. Some of the three year olds like it as a story, but it's the fours and upwards who are most likely to be able to appreciate the moral of the story and its implications. Those are generalisations, though, and I do think children often benefit from reading a story on a one-to-one basis, or as close to that as possible, so a parent and child/ren reading it together is ideal for a book like this. For that reason it's a four star rating from me. If it appeals to you I do recommend you look at the website links.

          ===The Book===
          Published by Walker Books in 1991
          ISBN 0-7445-2020-7
          Amazon price = £4.49 [paperback]

          Thank you for reading this review. It is a revised version of one posted on Ciao in May 2013.
          © Verbena January 2014

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            27.01.2014 13:30
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            A relevant, topical read.

            Why This Book?

            Simply - because my mother offered it to me as something I might enjoy. She's read it recently herself. Her reasons for suggesting I read it would no doubt be connected to my deep interest in Africa, and Kenya in particular. I don't know whether she knew I'd been considering joining a humanitarian trip to Ethiopia this January, but felt I should turn it down largely because of her poor health - quite ironic.

            I wasn't in a rush to read it initially. The cover had rather a bleak , grayscale picture of a figure I took to be male walking away from the viewer, down a pathway with what appeared to be open land on either side. It didn't grab my attention at all. I've got out of the habit of reading fiction lately and for a few days I didn't even read what it said on the back cover. That did pique my interest a little. I knew of Benjamin Zephaniah as a poet and had seen him on the T.V. programme 'Question Time' recently, when I felt he was one of a few who spoke good sense! I'd also heard that he now lived in my home county, Lincolnshire, [for some of his time at least] as he had been interviewed on our local radio station. You may have heard of the issues around immigration here, especially in Boston and Spalding. So I started to read.

            The Opening Chapters

            'Ethiopia' is extremely brief - no more than a single page- but full of drama. Soldiers burst in on a sleeping family. They scream questions at the father: 'Are you Ethiopian or Eritrean?' to which he replies 'I am an African'. They call the father 'traitor', the mother 'the enemy' and the only child, Alem, 'mongrel' and leave with words to the father 'Leave Ethiopia or die.' I found this opening gripping, and turned to 'Eritrea' to find out if they did leave. To my surprise, this chapter, entitled 'Eritrea' was a kind of mirror image, repeated word for word with the first one except that the soldiers this time address the mother, and so on. I was a bit slow to understand - the father is Ethiopian, the mother is Eritrean, and the child therefore belongs to both and neither. The message is clear - they are all in danger if they don't leave.

            No dates, time frames and explanations are given at the opening of the book, but I cast my mind back to a conflict I'm ashamed to say I only recalled dimly. The Eritrean-Ethiopian War took place between 1998 and late 2000 and border conflicts still arise. This war itself had been preceded by Eritrea's War Of Independence from Ethiopia [1961-1991] and the Ethiopian Civil War [1974-1991].

            Chapter One proper enjoys the title 'Welcome To The Weather'. It describes Alem's arrival in England, with his father. Alem is constantly reminded by his father to use his English rather than his Amharic dialect. We see his reaction to encountering an official with ginger hair for the first time - 'what was wrong with him?' I thought they were going to be stopped through customs, but they survive a thorough customs check and are on their way as holidaymakers to a hotel. It's a bit puzzling to learn that the holiday is only 4 days, though. Next day they go sightseeing in London where Alem enjoys Italian food, a theme which recurs throughout the story.

            Alem's Story

            I feel the opening chapters were scene setters for the main story - Alem in England. So many issues are addressed in this book that I hardly know where to start. I decided to précis the main characters as the best approach, hopefully without giving too much away.

            Mr. Kelo
            Alem's father, from the Amhar tribe. His relationship with Alem is central to much of the story. He comes across as a man who is intelligent and courageous. Alem tells us his father speaks 6 languages. In the opening chapters he is clearly troubled as well as determined to give Alem a happy time. On the morning of the third day [I think] he has disappeared. It transpires that he has returned to his homeland, to be with his wife. They believe Alem, of mixed descent, is in the greatest danger and it is safer for him to be in England. He writes to Alem frequently and returns to England later in the story. The love between father and son is evident.

            Mrs. Kelo
            Someone we never meet. She worked as a clerk in a court in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, then in Harar in Ethiopia. This was where the trouble for the family started. They tried to live in both Ethiopia and Eritrea but they always had problems, including experiencing violence. That was when Mr. Kelo decided Alem needed a holiday - just after his 14th birthday.

            Mariam
            One of the women who stands by Alem throughout the story. She has witnessed the war first hand: I think she was herself a refugee. She and Pamela are from The Refugee Council. She explains to him many of the procedures they have to go through in order for him to stay in England.

            Pamela
            Also from the Refugee Council, she often does the note-taking while Mariam does the talking. These two ladies quickly gain Alem's trust.

            Alem
            14 years old at the start of the story, he immediately comes across as a polite, well-mannered boy who loves his parents, wants to go back home but understands why it's not safe to do so in the first place. He is highly motivated to learn and do well, aiming to be an architect when he's an adult. We follow his progress: first to a disastrous placement in a Children's Home, then to foster parents, where he is far happier and enjoys school.

            Sheila
            Alem's social worker, who sees him through the various legal processes from his initial screening to his hearings.

            The Fitzgerald Family
            Mother and father are originally from Ireland. They've fostered refugee youngsters before and are very supportive of Alem at each stage of his tragic journey. Ruth, the daughter, initially seems resentful, but Alem seems to win her over.

            Nicholas Morgan
            The barrister who represents Alem and Mr. Kelo.

            There are other characters who have cameo roles: bullies in school, friends, disturbed children in the Home, and so on. Alem encounters a wide range of individuals and each, to me, seem to evidence his good character.

            Alem's case seems to be progressing well until disaster strikes and his father reappears to bring the terrible news that his mother has died - evidently brutally executed. Alem hears for the first time how his mother died when he's in court with his father, and almost faints. Everyone is shocked when their appeal for asylum is turned down. Nicholas instantly lodges an appeal. The situation is now grave. Alem cannot stay in foster care as his father is there to look after him, but the accommodation is awful and they have little to live on. However, a group of their friends, shocked by this injustice, mount a movement to support the Kelos. I'll leave the story there, but it has a few more ups and downs before its conclusion.

            Thoughts

            I must clarify that this is about refugees, not the wider subject of immigration. It's still a hot political potato with the Syrian issue so prominent in the news today. Some of the procedures and organisations involved may seem a little dated but the issues are still there. Clearly our small islands cannot accommodate every deserving refugee, yet I personally feel ashamed when I hear of people returned home to horrific situations. In Kenya, helping in a school, I was moved by the high respect our nation was still held in, despite the Mau Mau history. I was also made aware of how deeply tribal divisions can run and the unrest they can cause. I'll say I'm proud of some aspects our nation's humanitarian values but ashamed of others and leave it at that, I think, as I am no political animal.

            This is a book that is suitable for older children to read - indeed, during my background research I came across a very detailed study pack for school Year 8, so ages 12-13 I think. Issues relevant to teenagers are addressed, such as bullying, motivation to study, smoking and so on. The violence is there but not described in such a way that it would cause distress, rather it's the implications that haunt you. It doesn't play on your emotions but tells Alem's story in a matter-of-fact way, in keeping with his character which is almost stoic.I find it skilfully done.

            Benjamin Zephaniah

            Benjamin Obadiah Iqbal Zephaniah was born in Handsworth, Birmingham in 1958 of mixed Jamaican and Barbadian parentage. A Rastafarian and a vegan, he describes himself as 'profoundly anti-empire' having turned down an OBE in 2003. He is renowned as a playwright and musician as well as a poet and author - not bad for a dyslexic who couldn't read and write until the age of 13! He has plenty to say - check out his website:
            http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

            He says of 'Refugee Boy':
            "I would like to know that anyone who reads the book would think before they accuse refugees of looking for a free ride. We all want to live in peace, we all want the best for our families. The Celts, the Angles, the Saxons, the Jamaicans are all refugees of one sort or another. What kind of a refugee are you? And what are you scared of?"

            In Conclusion

            It's only just over a decade since a ceasefire was signed, yet the conflict had disappeared from my conscious memory, like Rwanda and so many more before it. The story does seem a little dated purely because it is, but it was a well-written, challenging and uncomfortable read for me at times. I'm glad my mother gave it to me, and glad I did read it eventually. 5 stars.

            If you are sympathetic to these issues you may be interested in the work of the Refugee Council:
            http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

            My Copy:
            Refugee Boy © Benjamin Zephaniah, 1981
            ISBN 0-7475-5086-7
            Published as a Bloomsbury paperback original, price £5.99
            Currently available on Amazon for £4.99 [free super-saver delivery applies] and Kindle for £3.60

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              05.11.2013 00:11
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              An all-time great.

              === A Modern Classic ===

              I've just been reacquainted with an old friend from the late 1990s. The sight of the cheery white duck at the wheel of an open topped, bright red truck on the cover was enough to persuade me to buy this book in a charity shop. Duck In The Truck was, I believe, the first in Jez Alborough's 'duck' series. Over the years since I've read it to many preschool aged children and we have enjoyed sharing it together. I would rate it as one of the modern classics. So what contributes to its enduring popularity?

              ===Cartoon Style===

              Duck In The Truck falls into the category of children's picture book, so it's to be expected that its illustrations play an important part. Alborough's artistic style in general leans towards cartoon, and none more so than the 'duck' books. This style, combined with use of bright, clear colours, results in a dynamism that complements the storyline very well. There are some amusing little details that may not be noticed by the young child, but appeal to the adult or older reader, such as the vegetables in the back of the truck which explain why the duck is holding a leek on one page.

              ===Slapstick Comedy===

              Anyone who knows small children will probably have encountered their sense of humour, too - ever had a four year old tell you a joke?! It's a simple enough story line executed with delicious humour: Duck is driving in his truck, hits a rock in the road, gets thrown off course and ends up stuck in the muck. His friends, Frog & Sheep, try to help, with no success. They call on Goat, who is conveniently nearby in his motorboat, of course. The solution is clearly to tie a rope to the front of the truck, the other end to be fastened to the boat, and Goat will be able to pull the truck out - simple! Except, of course, it's not! Lots of mud, lots of mess - just what small children love! It's even amusing for adults, too. You can't help but smile.

              Another point in its favour is that reads aloud well, at least when read by someone with a degree of skill in reading. I say that because I think you need to read it in an animated way, or the excitement of the text will be wasted. It's rhythmical, so it would be easy to overemphasise this, which could make it a bit boring, in my opinion. I don't think the children would mind much, though.

              ===Some Thoughts===

              I find it a story that's quite fast-paced and full of activity. It's unusual for children to lose interest or become bored, in my experience, which is loosely with children from 2 to 4+ years. Older children might enjoy reading it themselves, helped by the rhyming couplets which give the text that element of predictability that encourages children to 'have a go'. An early example is:

              'This is the duck driving home in a truck.
              This is the track which is taking him back.'

              If you miss out the last word of each line, children enjoy filling it in.

              So I guess I'm recommending this book for ages approximately 2-7 years. Now issues around gender differences and literacy have been much discussed over past years, with boys sometimes seeming to be harder to engage with reading and writing than girls. In my experience, boys find books like this hard to resist. Perhaps this is because of the truck, or the slapstick humour, or the dynamism of the story as a whole - but it works! Another advantage is that, should children like this one, there are several other books in the series: Fix-It-Duck, Captain Duck and so on.

              ===About Jez Alborough ===

              Jez Alborough is a British born author and illustrator with over 40 children's books to his credit. His first book was Bare Bear, and he was runner up for the Mother Goose Award of 1985 with this. He cites the Rupert Bear annuals and the 'Lion and Albert' monologue, performed by Stanley Holloway, written by one Marriott Edgar, as strong influences on his style as they demonstrated to him the effectiveness of the rhyming couplet.

              Alborough talks about his enjoyment of rhyme in an article published in The Telegraph:

              'Rhyming is good, rhyming laced with comedy is even better. (I applied this important principle in my Duck in the Truck series.)'

              ' Writing in rhyme forces you to choose words carefully and economically.'
              [Alborough, The Telegraph online, 01/03/2013]

              I think it's no coincidence that skilled rhymers are currently among the most popular authors of books for small children - Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd are two others who come to mind.

              Alborough's website is worth a look, for details of other books and resources for children, both printable and online. I think there's also some kind of membership club.
              http://www.jezalborough.com/

              ===Recommendation and Rating ===

              Absolutely recommended and 5 star rating.

              === Book Details ===

              Published by Harper Collins in 1999

              My copy is a Bookstart version, therefore no price is given
              ISBN 978-0-00-773585-3

              Harper Collins website: www.harpercollinschildrensbooks.co.uk

              Current paperback price on Amazon UK is £5.24, reduced from £6.99 and eligible for free UK delivery. Also available in Kindle format for £3.99; you can 'Click to look inside' on the website.

              Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

              ©Verbena November 2013

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              • More +
                28.10.2013 22:17
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                A useful clothes airer.

                ===Drying Indoors===

                I'm old fashioned enough to prefer drying the washing outdoors whenever I can. In our climate, though, there are too many times when that's impossible. Tumble drying is an option, but many clothes aren't suitable for this. The cost of running the tumble dryer is a consideration with rising fuel prices. Most of us have to find alternative ways of drying laundry. Our solution was the Minky airer.

                It was my husband's idea. Years ago we had an appliance that was a bit of a monstrosity - a base that provided heat, an airing rack and a cover that enclosed it, keeping the heat in. I was sceptical and thought he'd bought something similar, as he's inclined to come up with household solutions that he thinks are brilliant but don't always work for me!

                We've owned it a few years now, and I don't actually remember where it was purchased - Argos or Homebase most likely. He brought in a fairly large, flat package, took it into the conservatory and unpacked it there.

                ===The Airer===

                On removal from the plastic packaging, we found it simple to assemble. We pulled the frame up to its full height and locked the tabs into place. On the newer models I think these are pale blue, but mine is a lot older and they are black. At full height I guess it's about 140 cm high, with three tiers on each side. The locking tabs aid stability. Each tier has four wires or rungs across them. I believe it offers something like 15 metres of drying space, though I've never had the urge to test this out. The floor space it occupies when upright is about 60 square centimetres. There are plastic feet which protect the floor from scratch marks. It's quite simple to collapse it down for storage just by unlocking the tabs and pushing gently on the concertina folds. I've never trapped my fingers in the locking parts, but it's as well to be aware of the possibility.

                ===Drying Laundry===

                We use the airer in the conservatory most of the time. When we need to dry clothes indoors they often dry quickest in there, with the exception of cold, dark winter days, when I find it better to bring it into the dining room. We store it in there when it's not in use. Folded down flat, it stores pretty unobtrusively next to my husband's desk. In summertime we do sometimes place the airer outdoor, usually if there is so much washing it won't all fit on the rotary airer. In windy weather, though, you need to watch out for the possibility of it blowing over. We have no small children or pets, so stability in that context isn't an issue for us.

                I tend not to put underwear, socks etc to dry on here. It seems quite fiddly to do. I prefer to use it for larger items of clothing. I rarely use it for items like bedding or towels, where size and weight make it impractical.
                I have an adult son still living at home. At 6'2", of broad build and with a liking for chunky clothing, drying his laundry can be a challenge. He seems to buy clothes that aren't suitable for tumble drying. I don't like putting thick tops from Weird Fish, Craghoppers on radiators, so they go on here. Now the rungs on the airer have about 10 cm between them, so it can be a tight fit to get some of his clothing on and they seem to take a long time to dry. That's a disadvantage, but I'm not sure whether to attribute it to the airer or the son and his clothing!

                ===My Opinion===

                I haven't found anything better for my purpose. There are other models from Minky available now, but I see no advantage in replacing until necessary. This is a piece of kit I can't claim to be in love with, but neither would I want to be without it. It has some limitations but is still very useful. A four star rating seems fair.
                Although I can't recall what ours cost, if I ever knew, I believe Minky products are widely available and you would probably expect to pay around £20, for example, from Amazon UK.

                Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                ©Verbena October 2013

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                • Colgate 360? Sensitive / Oral Care / 102 Readings / 99 Ratings
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                  20.10.2013 23:44
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                  A great brush for sensitive teeth and gums.

                  ===A Sensitive Issue===

                  As a long-term sufferer with tooth sensitivity, I find I need to be very careful about the kind of toothbrush I use. My dentist advised that one with soft bristles was essential for me. I have an electric toothbrush, but I often find that I can't tolerate it and revert back to a manual one. For several years I have used Sensodyne's Pronamel brush, but lately it has become difficult to track down in our town and I had resorted to stocking up when I found some. The time came when I needed a new brush but could not find one of these. When I came across this Colgate brush I felt a mixture of relief and caution.

                  ===The Right Package===

                  I was in our local Tesco when I saw this toothbrush. Coincidentally it was at the same time that I decided to buy Colgate's Pro Relief toothpaste for the first time - I think that was what drew my attention to it, as I'd genuinely not spotted it before. Rarely for me, I read the information on the packaging quite thoroughly before deciding to buy - not that there is much of it. However, the '48% softer bristles for sensitive teeth and gums' persuaded me to give it a go. The information that it claims to clean tongue, cheeks and gums as well as teeth added to the attraction. The head was bigger than I was used to, and of a different shape, so I wasn't sure that I would get on with it. At around £4 it's not cheap for a manual toothbrush, but I felt it wouldn't be a huge loss if I couldn't get on with it.

                  ===Gentle, Effective Cleaning ===

                  This toothbrush has a soft textured tongue and cheek cleaner as well as really soft bristles. I tend to use the brush for this purpose, though. In use I don't think it's quite as soft as my old Sensodyne choice, but that was less of a problem than I'd feared as my teeth and gums seemed to adjust to the new brush quickly. I thought that it might scrub my gums too much and used it pretty gingerly to start with, and now I'm used to it I'm finding it is actually very good. I feel I'm getting a thorough clean without damaging my gums or enamel any further. The longer bristles at the top of the head help me to reach areas I struggled to clean with the Sensodyne brush, which doesn't have comparable ones. I find the Colgate brush comfortable to hold, too.

                  ===To Buy Again?===

                  I have only been using the brush for about three weeks, and it isn't showing any major wear yet. Colgate advise replacement within three months in any case, as I believe most reputable brands do. I think it very likely that I will be buying this one again as I am pleased that I tried it and happy with all aspects of using it. It's a five star rating for me and I recommend trying it if you have sensitivity issues that require a soft brush. It would also be good if you were happy with an electric brush but wanted a manual soft brush for travelling etc. I just hope that it remains available, as I find it frustrating when a product I like is discontinued with no equivalent replacement.

                  Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                  ©Verbena October 2013

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                  • More +
                    12.10.2013 21:46
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                    An effective toothpaste across a range of dental issues, including senstitivity.

                    *~*~Change Is Sometimes Good*~*~

                    It takes something special to persuade me to change from a product I'm comfortable with. I was happy with my old favourite Sensodyne toothpaste. A visit to my dentist 5 months ago caused me to rethink. It wasn't anything he said, really, although we'd had a discussion about my sensitivity. He'd advised me to be more careful about the angle at which I used my brush and to use sensitive toothpaste, of course. I thought 'I have done most of my adult life!' I noticed he had a container full of sample -sized tubes of Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief; he didn't offer me one though! As it happened my husband had been sent a trial tube from Boots some time ago and I knew you could use this toothpaste to rub into problem areas occasionally. The dental surgery had always recommended Sensodyne before. Now I'm not so naive that I don't know that there are deals done in these areas, but still it got me thinking.

                    *~*~Decisions, Decisions*~*~

                    Decisive as ever [not - it's getting worse too!] I took a week or so looking at what was available and dithering, especially over the price. To be fair I don't think it's all that different from the Sensodyne range. I think the huge range of products makes me indecisive. When I spotted one that offered multi protection I thought 'this sounds like it's for me'. In my late fifties, my teeth need all the help they can get! It didn't hurt that there was a 3 for 2 offer in Tesco. Currently the price is £3.79 per tube.

                    *~*~Fighting Sensitivity*~*~

                    The 75 ml toothpaste tube comes, as most do, encased in a cardboard box. This gives detailed product information, and there's also a comprehensive leaflet inside. It's difficult to decide how much to include here, but I will be selective.

                    All toothpastes in this range contain something called pro-argin, or arginine. This is the ingredient that combats sensitivity as far as I can tell. There's quite a lot of discussion of how this works, by plugging the open tubules that lead to tooth nerves. Regular use should bring about lasting relief. Further information is available here:
                    www.colgatesensitiveprorelief.com
                    It reads as though there is currently a risk free money back guarantee. Details are on the site.

                    *~*~Multi-Protection?*~*~

                    As well as reducing sensitivity, this toothpaste claims to fight cavities, remove plaque, promote gum health, strengthen enamel, remove stains and freshen breath.

                    *~*~Directions For Use*~*~

                    If you're using for instant relief, you rub a little on to the sensitive tooth with your finger tip and massage gently for about a minute. I haven't used it in this way. You can do this twice a day, but for children from 6-12 it should be no more than once a week. I thought at first this implied that it isn't suitable as a toothpaste for under 6's, but not so.

                    Use twice daily is recommended, as is use of a gentle toothbrush, making sure to brush all sensitive areas. There's the usual warning that sensitivity may indicate an underlying problem requiring attention from a dentist, and when to seek advice about children and fluoride, which is one of the ingredients. I can make a guess at some of the others and their purpose, but I'm not sure enough to put myself on the line!

                    *~*~Clean Teeth*~*~

                    First you have to get into the tube. There's a small plastic cap that you have to twist in a certain way to remove, but it's not difficult once you get the idea and there are instructions on the leaflet if you're stuck.
                    It's a white paste with a pleasant minty taste that's not too strong. It does seem to produce quite a bit of 'froth'. Other than that, at this stage it just seems like any other good toothpaste.

                    *~*~Performance*~*~

                    The most positive thing I find about this toothpaste is that my teeth feel very much cleaner than they used to do. That surprised me. Initially I was a bit concerned that this might mean the sensitivity would get worse, but actually that's not been the case. As I have several large fillings, a crown and some gum recession it's never going away completely, but I'm not suffering more discomfort and it may be a bit better. I shall be interested to see if my dentist makes any comments when I have my November check-up.

                    *~*~Recommendation*~*~

                    I am really happy with this toothpaste and I think I shall be sticking with it now for a while. On that basis I have to give it 5 stars as I can't fault it. I recommend it if you suffer from similar problems - but it's a good idea to keep an eye open for special offers.

                    Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                    ©Verbena October 2013

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                    • Fox's Rocky Caramel / Chocolate / 103 Readings / 102 Ratings
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                      08.10.2013 12:14
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                      Average but tasty little snack.

                      ~*~*Can't Resist A Bargain!~*~*

                      Not so long ago I reviewed the 'classic' Rocky biscuit. There's something about writing a review that seems to make me more aware of similar products, or variations from the same range. When I noticed that the caramel version of the Rocky biscuit was selling in Lidl for the bargain price of £0.75 I just had to get a pack and try them - oh, and let the men in the house have a taste, too! A more typical price would be in the region of £1.59, as currently in Tesco, though they are not infrequently seen on offer at £1, along with others in the range.

                      ~*~*Wrapped Up~*~*

                      The packaging for these caramel biscuits is very similar to the traditional Rocky, except that the wrappers are yellow rather than red. I don't think it's a great surprise, then, that the biscuits seem to be identical in size and weight - 24g, according to my kitchen scales: the things you do for reviews!
                      You get 9 biscuits in a pack. I have the same gripe with the packaging as I had with the traditional Rocky: I feel the nutritional information - calories etc - should be on each wrapper, not just the overall wrapper.

                      ~*~*The Important Bit!~*~*

                      Never mind the packaging; it's the taste that counts! I will just say, though, that they are easy to unwrap as the zig zag closure at each end tears easily. This seems to be quite standard for most biscuits of this kind.
                      As I bite into the biscuit I notice that the chocolate layer is noticeably thinner than on the plain Rocky Bars. The biscuit itself has a concave surface and I presume this is to accommodate the caramel layer so that the final top surface is still level, if that makes sense. The biscuit looks like something similar to shortbread in colour and texture, though little comes through in the way of flavour as the chocolate and caramel dominate. It lacks the coconut that for me gives the original Rocky its character. The caramel is of a similar texture to the one used in Twix bars. It's no surprise that the main sensation I get is one of sweetness. I don't find these biscuits particularly crumbly, which I like.

                      ~*~*Ingredients~*~*

                      Milk Chocolate (43%), Caramel (26%), Wheatflour, Vegetable Oil, Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Raising Agents: Ammonium Bicarbonate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Disodium Diphosphate, Cornflour, Dried Skimmed Milk, Salt, Flavouring, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin.

                      Milk Chocolate contains Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Dried Skimmed Milk, Cocoa Mass, Dried Whey, Dried Whole Milk, Vegetable Oil, Butteroil, Emulsifier: Soya Lecithin, Disodium Diphosphate.

                      Caramel contains Invert Sugar Syrup blend (Invert Sugar Syrup, Glucose Syrup, Sugar, Salt), Sweetened Condensed Milk, Vegetable Oil, Butter Oil, Emulsifier: E471, Acidity Regulator: Sodium Carbonate.

                      ~*~*Nutritional Information~*~*

                      Suitable for vegetarians
                      101 calories [5%]
                      9.3g sugar [10% ]
                      4,7 g fat [7%]
                      2.7g saturated fat [14% ]
                      0.14g salt [2% ]
                      Standard Rocky Bars are 107 calories, so I guess these are slightly healthier. The fat levels are slightly lower, too. It's not going to make a significant difference, though, unless you eat them by the packet!

                      ~*~*Allergy Awareness~*~*
                      Contains Cows Milk and Gluten, Wheat, Milk, Soya\Soybeans
                      The product has been made in a factory where nuts may have been used.

                      ~*~*Opinion~*~*

                      There are so many of these kind of biscuits that I feel we're spoiled for choice and am hard pushed to name a favourite. I would have to say this isn't one. There's nothing wrong with it at all, but for me there's nothing that stands out. I would still prefer the traditional Rocky over this, and I think Twix has a more satisfying flavour. The Rocky wafer biscuit - blue wrapper - has a lower calorie count if you're looking for a diet treat. However it's one I would buy from time to time to make a change or to have a selection available for guests. Certainly it's worth buying when it's available at £1 or less for 9. Three stars from me - maybe a bit tight but I rated Rocky original as 4 and I'm not quite so keen of this to buy it at full price.

                      Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                      ©Verbena, October 2013

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                      • More +
                        26.09.2013 22:27
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                        A beautiful, emotive story complemented by beautiful illustrations.

                        ===Spoiler Alert===

                        Because of the simplicity of this story, it's not possible to review it adequately without giving away much of what happens. I'm sorry if that's a problem for you.

                        ===A Good Find ===

                        I love charity shops! It's just as well, as we have so many of them in our market town. We're not too well off for shopping facilities these days, so the charity shops make life more interesting. I've found them to be a great source of books, and children's books in particular. Often I come across something that would never be available in the small branch of WH Smiths which is our only real bookshop. This was how I came upon 'The Big, Big Sea'. A quick browse through it, and I was happy to pay the very reasonable price of £1 for a hardback book that's in nearly new condition.

                        ===First Impressions ===

                        I was initially drawn to this book by the stunning illustration on the front cover. There's a bright full moon in the sky, throwing its light on to the sea and beach. On the beach, to the left, is a little girl who is turning slightly as though to look at something on her right. I guess she's no older than five, but it's hard to be sure. She's bathed in silvery moonlight, too, with just a hint of skin tone showing on her face and arms. She really is quite beautiful. To the right of the moon we have the author's name, the title in an elegant cursive script, and details of the illustrator. There was something about this picture that resonated with me, although it wasn't until later that I realised it reminded me of an evening when we holidayed in Norfolk. We were in the sea at about 9 at night, and my daughter would have been a similar age, enjoying swimming with my father. How nostalgic and actually quite a precious memory!

                        === The Story===

                        'Mum said, "Let's go!" So we went ...'
                        This is a simple story of a mother and daughter enjoying some special time on the beach in the moonlight. In many ways, that's all there is to it. The charm lies in the way each part of the experience is delivered with relish: 'I went right in to the shiny bit. There was only me in the big, big sea.' It's told by the daughter, reliving her experience - how much later we can't know. It isn't written in especially poetic language, yet for me there is a lot of poetry in the story. Partly it's through the repetition of the phrase 'Mum and me' with a few variations; partly it's in the way there are rhymes with 'sea' 'me' 'be' - but on some pages, not all, so it's subtly done. Somehow I feel Waddell has managed to use language that's appropriate for a young child while still writing beautifully, as if every word is there on merit.

                        ===Reflections - No Pun Intended===

                        It's not often that a book written for small children has such an effect on me. True, the repetition of key phrases and the rhythm and poetry of the text make it a joy to read aloud. They almost seem to echo the sound of the waves on the seashore. True, each part of this unusual trip to the beach is described carefully and beautifully. There are deeper things here, though, for me. Waddell and Eachus have managed to create a dreamlike experience through this story - it's a bit like being in that half-asleep, half-awake state first thing in the morning. You could read into it that Waddell is tackling - or not - some gender stereotypes here; a girl and her mother: is it safe for a mum to take a small girl down to the beach at night time like this? I'd rather take it more at face value. There are two phrases that touch me on an emotional level: the mother says "Remember this time. It's the way life should be."What a wise woman, and what a good message! Then at the end the girl says "I'll always remember just Mum and me and the night that we walked by the big big sea". A timely reminder to all of us, parents or not, that it's quality time together that builds relationships and memories.

                        ===The Author===

                        Martin Waddell is a Northern Irish author who still writes in the town where he was brought up - Newcastle, in County Down, in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. I believe it's a coastal town and it seems likely to me that this is the setting for 'The Big, Big Sea'. He is well known for works including 'Owl Babies' and 'Farmer Duck'. He has written for adults and older children as well as for young children. I'm sure Irish readers could add much more!

                        ===The Illustrations===

                        The pictures are a major part of this book; they are not a supporting act to the story but an integral part of it. Facing each page of text is at least a full page illustration. Sometimes this illustration carries over on to the text page. There is one double page illustration, too. I'm no art expert, but I'd describe them as exquisite.

                        ===The Illustrator===

                        I was intrigued to read that Jennifer Eachus had been a preschool teacher before becoming a full-time illustrator. She had studied graphic design at the Liverpool College of Art. I didn't find out too much more about her, other than she is a mother of three and seems to live in Wales now, having lived in France previously. She has illustrated several other books, but I'm rather ashamed to admit the only one I'm familiar with is 'I'm Sorry' which was written by Sam McBratney. She seems to specialise in illustrating books that have a strong emotive pull, such as dealing with separation from a parent, [Forces, maybe?] and the death of a grandparent The illustrations in this book are watercolours, as I think they may be in most of her books.

                        ===Opinion===

                        I thought that I knew a lot about quality books for preschool children, having managed a preschool for over twenty years. Somehow this little gem slipped through. I so wish I had grandchildren to read it to! I can't wait to read it with the little ones when I'm next in preschool as I believe they'll love it. It would be suitable for children from about 2 to 5 years, I think. I believe it would be equally suitable to read in a group as to individual children, though I think there would be more opportunities for discussion with a smaller group. I'd highly recommend it and can't give it less than five stars. I love it!

                        ===Information===

                        First published 1994 by Walker Books Ltd
                        ISBN 0-7445-2521-7
                        Price £7.99 [hardback] as indicated on my copy.
                        Currently available on Amazon UK in paperback at £4.49 and eligible for free Super Saver Delivery.

                        Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                        ©Verbena September 2013

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                        • More +
                          24.09.2013 16:56
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                          Surprisingly effective wasp control

                          ===A Pesky Problem===
                          We have a lot of fruit trees in our garden. When we returned from holiday, in early August, I was dismayed to see hundreds of wasps buzzing aggressively round our plum tree - surprising because there were no plums on it! I watched to see where the wasps were going to and from, only to find that many of them were entering under some roof tiles at the front of the house via a small opening in the lead flashing. We called out a company to deal with this - I won't go into details as it's not that relevant - and this problem was quickly dealt with. Unfortunately the wasp problem as a whole was not.

                          Having already been stung while working in the garden, well away from what I thought was the wasps' 'space', I was concerned that a significant number were still visiting the tree. It's very close to the greenhouse and I have to go in there regularly to water the tomato plants. The problem seemed to be that the tree was infested with an aphid build-up caused by the hot weather, and the wasps were either eating them or the sweet honeydew they exude. I couldn't spray because of the proximity to the greenhouse and I'm growing the tomatoes organically.

                          ===Help At Hand===

                          My elderly father is becoming increasingly allergic to wasp stings. Someone had bought him one of these traps as a gift and, bless him, he brought it down for us to try. I was extremely sceptical when I first saw it, especially as I thought the wasps would easily get out again. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. So I read the instructions - very brief - before giving it a go.

                          ===Simplicity Itself===

                          The trap is simple in design: a hollow plastic container, shaped like a beehive, with a screw-on cap at the top and a rim running round the inside at the bottom. A hole at the top holds the hanging wire. A small card is attached, giving information and instructions which are short and to the point. No waffle here! Well it's a simple enough product, but a simple girl like me sometimes needs a bit more help than that to work things out. I'm not blessed with great problem solving skills.

                          It's as simple as filling the inner rim with an appropriate bait - something sugary - so I opted to make a thin syrup by diluting ordinary sugar in boiling water and letting it cool. I've also used a bit of syrup from stem ginger, diluted. You could also use fruit juice, and it's apparently worth experimenting with different ones to see which is best for your area or different seasonal stages. My husband pinched a bit of our son's favourite Smoothie - the wasps like it, too!

                          ===Setting Up===

                          The instructions are not very clear about filling, but we have found that the best way is to tip the container upside down, place a little liquid in the top - with the lid firmly in place - and then turning it right way up. The bait pours down the container sides into the rim. Not much is needed. I've found it far easier to do the filling as close to the place in which the trap is going to be sited as possible. You are advised to locate it at least 10 metres from the wasps' activity area, but for the plum tree this was difficult. I ended up putting it on top of the adjacent water butt and being very cautious around it. You can also hang the traps, as there's a hanging wire included, but I didn't think this would work. I set it up one evening and left it until next day.

                          ===Surprising Results===
                          I was very surprised to see at least 6 wasps in there when I returned. Some were swimming in the liquid, some flying up inside the trap but clearly unable to exit. I would have preferred a quicker end for the creatures, but they do seem to drown quite soon [ugh!] Over the next few days the whole rim became chocker block full. I was puzzling out with my husband how come the wasps can't get out, as there is nothing to stop them. We concluded that their natural instinct is to fly upwards, which takes them to the top of the trap. In a window, when they come down, usually they're sliding down it, and I think the same thing happens on the side of the trap. If they go down this, they end up in the rim and in big trouble!

                          My husband must have been impressed by the results. One day, having been out, I returned to discover he'd bought another one from a shop in town, and had hung it in an apple tree; the wasps had started to be a nuisance round it as the fruit ripened. I thought: this will be a real test, I bet it won't work as well when it's hanging. Well I'm wrong, because it's now every bit as full. Even in late September it's still trapping a few.

                          ===Emptying===
                          To empty the trap you just unscrew the cap and tip out the contents - keeping a watchful eye open for any wasps still alive. I found the best method of disposal was to dig a hole in the soil in a spot that wouldn't be dug for ages, and pouring the ghastly contents in.

                          ===Reflections, Regrets & Recommendations===

                          I must say that I do regret feeling the need to take action like this. Wasps are not altogether bad; they play an important role in pollinating plants, especially early in the season. They also eat aphids and caterpillars in large quantities, so in that sense they are a gardener's friend. It's just later in the season, when their taste for sweet things predominates, that they seem to become aggressive and therefore a nuisance.

                          I also regret that, on emptying the traps, it became apparent that it is not only wasps that are caught. It was mainly flies, but also a few hoverflies and moths, though in nothing like the quantities of the wasps.

                          If you are plagued with wasps, I do recommend this. I'm agreeably surprised at how well it worked, despite by initial cynicism. I can't claim that it will completely solve the problem - if you have a nest you will probably need to take more drastic action - but this method significantly reduced wasp numbers in our garden over a month, and the two traps are still doing their stuff today. I'm surprising myself by awarding this 4 stars. I think you can probably get the traps from Amazon, and they come in different sizes I believe. The one we bought came from a store called Yorkshire Trading Company and cost £6.99.

                          ===Product Details===

                          Produced by STV International Limited of Thetford, Norfolk
                          Product Code STV368
                          www.stvpestcontrol.com
                          Customer Service: 01953 881580
                          Email: info@stvpestcontrol.com


                          Thank you for reading my review. It may appear on other sites.

                          ©Verbena, September 2013

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                            14.09.2013 22:53
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                            Spoiled by a faulty spray mechanism.

                            ~*~*'Leave Behind The Chaos Of Odours'~*~*

                            I am fortunate to live in a house with three bathrooms - well, strictly speaking, one is a cloakroom. Without being too explicit, there are times when there is a need to disguise less than pleasant smells - we are a household of 3 adults after all! Whenever possible I prefer to do this by opening the appropriate window and letting the fresh air in. This is hard to do in the downstairs cloakroom because of how and where that window opens out, and, as this is the one most likely to be used by guests, I'm always aware of the need to make sure it smells pleasant. For the upstairs bathrooms I'm often content to settle for supermarket own brand air fresheners, but I wanted something a little more special for downstairs for that reason.

                            ~*~*Why Thai Orchid~*~*

                            I live in a small market town and my main stores are limited to a Tesco's and a small Sainsbury's. For breadth of choice I usually shop in Tesco's, and that's where I found the Febreze Thai Orchid Air Freshener on sale for about £3, I think. I was in the mood for something a bit exotic, in the smell department at least! I hadn't tried it before but thought I'd give it a go. I have grown a few orchids, and one in particular smells gorgeous, so I was intrigued to discover what this one was like.

                            ~*~*A Little Enlightenment~*~*

                            Febreze Thai Orchid air freshener comes in a 300ml pressurised canister, lively pink in colour with a pink plastic top and white trigger. It claims that it 'eliminates odours and freshens' and is for 'a moment of pure relaxation and zen'. The idea is that it eliminates odours without masking them, and leaves behind a pleasant scent. Apparently it's a non-flammable propellant but 5% by mass of the contents are flammable, so care needs to be taken about storage in high temperatures and it shouldn't be pierced or burnt, even when empty. On the reverse are the usual warnings about solvent abuse dangers, keeping away from children, and what to do should you inadvertently spray it in your eyes. The parent company is Procter Gamble and a helpline number is provided, but no website or email contact address.

                            ~*~*A Fragrant Experience But Not Quite As Expected!~*~*

                            The first thing I noticed when using this product was that I seemed to have to pull the trigger mechanism quite hard before I noticed anything happening. A fine mist was dispensed, with a subtle, sweetly floral aroma which I found delightful. However, I soon found that when I pulled the trigger hard I sometimes found the mirror very badly stained where the mist had presumably settled on it. Now it's a very small room so I could understand that this might happen, but it puzzled me as to why it happened when the spray was pointed in the opposite direction. Then I began to notice that I couldn't smell much when trying to spray, and was having to pull harder. It got to the point where I was convinced there was something wrong with the hole the spray came out of, but I couldn't see anything wrong. On one occasion I tried to use it and noticed that my hand was getting wet, so it clearly had a problem somewhere as it was leaking all down my hand! I decided I needed to discard it with over 50% left. It's not safe to tamper with a pressurised container.

                            ~*~*It Wasn't a 'Breze' For Me~*~*

                            Now I did consider taking it back or making a complaint, but it seemed an unreasonably long time from when it was purchased. To be honest I couldn't be bothered. I think perhaps I was just unfortunate, because we use the same product at work and there don't seem to be any complaints there. I feel it's been impossible for me to evaluate the actual product adequately because of the faulty container. On that basis, I cannot in all conscience recommend it, although if you were to buy it you would probably find it fine. For that reason, and that alone, I'm going to be tough in scoring and award it two stars. I think it probably is a good product, deserving of a high rating, but I don't think I will be buying it again because I've never had a problem like this with a similar product and there are many others from which to choose. What a pity.

                            Thank you for reading this review, which is a revised version of one earlier placed on Ciao.

                            ©Verbena, September 2013

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                            • Fox's Rocky Bar / Chocolate / 97 Readings / 94 Ratings
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                              10.09.2013 18:35
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                              Handy, snack-sized chocolate biscuit

                              === Led Astray! ===

                              My other half and his family have been a bad influence on me. I don't whether it was connected to being farmers, with the accompanying tradition of hospitality, living remotely or just a sweet tooth, but they had a tradition of always having to have a container well stocked with assorted chocolate biscuits. Needless to say, himself felt deprived when I tried to dispense with this tradition and it was sneakily reinstated before very long. We still have it today, partly because he inherited his late parents' biscuit container when the house was cleared - [by-the-by] a rather attractive rubberwood article, from Lakeland, I believe.

                              ===In Need Of A Little Treat===

                              Often his preference has been for two-finger Kit-Kats or Penguin bars, but more recently he's taken a shine to Rockys. It was quite fortunate that this coincided with them being on special offer in Tesco, at £1 a pack, so it would have been a bit mean not to let him stock up a bit! As we still have an adult son at home, you can imagine that we get through a few of these kind of things. Hand on heart I have to say that it's quite rare for me to be tempted, though I do give in occasionally. Today, for instance, the change in weather seemed to create a need for something sweet and comforting to go with my coffee. We'd been out in the cold and rain this morning - the car thermometer read 10.5 C at one point, can you believe? - so I didn't feel too guilty about a little indulgence.

                              ===Packaging - Outer and Inner Wrappers===

                              The Rocky Bars come in packs of nine, and I don't recall ever having seen them sold individually or in different sizes. Please correct me if you have. I can't see anywhere on the packet or individual wrappers that indicates the weight of the individual biscuit; my electronic kitchen scales registered 22g. The packet wrapper is the one that has the nutritional information - on the individual wrapper there is an ingredients list, allergy awareness and a 'suitability for vegetarians' notice only. If you are concerned about the calorific or fat values, then, it's clearly a good idea to hold on to the outer wrapper rather than discarding as we usually do; I'm thinking of situations where you might count a biscuit in as a treat as part of a special diet.

                              You also need the outer wrapper to tell you that Rocky bars are made by Fox's Biscuits of Batley, West Yorkshire. There's a freephone number, an email address and a website given. The best before date is also on the outer wrapper only.

                              The packaging - both the external and individual wrappers - is bright red in colour, with a purple central badge displaying a large white 'R' with the word 'Rocky' beneath. It would be hard to mistake them for anything else!

                              ===Nutrition And Contents===

                              When you eat one of these biscuits you are consuming 107 calories, 8.8g sugar, 5.4g fat, 3.1g saturated fat, and 0.18g salt. The corresponding adult RDA values are 5%, 10%, 8%, 16% and 3%. From that I'd deduce that, while they're not going to wreck a healthy diet, they're best indulged in as an occasional treat rather than eaten regularly. I think they're slightly more calorific than Kit-Kats, which at 24g have the same calorie count.

                              The contents list is quite lengthy, though for once I can pretty much understand what everything is. Milk chocolate takes up 50%, then we have wheatflour, vegetable oil, sugar, oatmeal, glucose syrup, dessicated coconut [which surprised me a bit until I thought about it] right through to 'flavouring'. Then the contents of milk chocolate are listed.

                              The allergy alerts are that they contain wheat, gluten, milk, oats and soya. They may contain nuts, too.

                              ===The Taste Experience===

                              Fox's promote the Rocky as a 'rugged biscuit, chunky chocolate' - so how do I find them?

                              Like Penguins these days - which seem smaller than they used to be - Breakaways and the like, the biscuit seems quite dainty in size. The chocolate coating is quite substantial and I can see why they say 50% is chocolate: it would be difficult to contest that! I find the chocolate itself quite tasty. I'm not overly fond of very sweet milk chocolate and generally prefer something darker, but this one I find quite pleasant. I'm not sure I would personally have used the words 'chunky' and 'rugged' had I been in charge of the advertising campaign, but perhaps I wasn't their typical target. I haven't found them quite so prone to melting as Kit Kats, but I'm not sure why that is.

                              The biscuit beneath the chocolate is tasty and to my liking. I thought there was a slightly nutty taste to it, and I realise now that it's probably the coconut, which I love. I'm amused by that as my OH claims to dislike it! There's a wholegrain kind of texture to it, which I suspect comes from the oats - I'm sorry, I can't think of a better way to describe it than that.

                              It doesn't take many bites to get through one of these. It would be a mistake to think it satisfies hunger, in my experience, though it does satisfy a sugar craving and goes very well with a mug of strong black coffee! I can't vouch for tea, as I don't drink it, but my menfolk don't seem to mind whether they eat Rockys with or without a mug of tea! A caramel version is also available, but it doesn't seem to tempt my husband.

                              ===Verdict===

                              At £1 for 9, I think they are great value for money and ideal to have available if someone calls in for a cuppa. I think the regular price is nearer £1.59 which is still not too bad. I prefer the taste of these to some of the other chocolate biscuits, but I think Kit Kats give seem to last slightly longer, because of the 'two fingers' perhaps. I was surprised that the calorie count was as high as it was, which makes me less inclined to eat them regularly. Also I'm surprised at the lack of nutritional information, Best Before date etc on the individual wrapper. It's not ideal. While I do think it's a good, tasty product I'm deducting a star for those reasons so it's 4 from me. I think my OH would have said '5', but I'm a bit mean!

                              Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                              ©Verbena September 2013

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                                05.09.2013 16:24
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                                Made my sore mouth feel much better.

                                === A Slight Holiday Mishap ===

                                I'm not someone who's suffered from mouth ulcers to any great extent. I leave that to other family members! It's thanks to them, no doubt, that I always associate Bonjela with that particular product. I'd probably never bought a tube of the stuff for myself until I was on holiday in July this year.

                                Since I was 18 I've wanted to visit the Isle of Skye. I've seen it in the distance, but never actually been there. That changed when we caught the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on south-eastern Skye as foot passengers this summer. Admittedly we were only there about 4 hours, but it was a start and I was so happy!

                                'What has this to do with Bonjela?' you may be thinking. Well, it was there a minor misfortune befell me. We decided to eat at a neat little kiosk-type establishment near the ferry terminal. It was a glorious day and perfect for outdoor dining. I have an occasional weakness for fish and chips, and they always taste best by the sea. That's what we both ordered, and we were soon tucking in; very good they were, too! The chips were crispy on the outside and softer inside: just right, or so I thought.

                                I don't know quite what happened but as we were finishing I became aware that I had a flap of loose skin behind an upper tooth, right at the back. It was a bit tender, but I didn't pay it too much attention, though I found my tongue kept running across it subconsciously. I realised it was actually quite a big piece of skin and it worked loose. By now it was quite sore. I wasn't too bothered as I know the mouth tends to heal quickly and I could use mouthwash when I got back to our accommodation. No doubt it would soon be back to normal - except it wasn't.

                                I realised it was deeper than I'd originally thought, and it was very painful if any food touched it when I ate, although it had never bled. I put up with it for a day. We were nowhere near a pharmacy and I didn't want to make a special trip as I still felt it was minor. Then one day we were driving in the Ardnamurchan area and came across a small camping-style store that had a little bit of everything, including this Bonjela, thankfully. I'm not sure what I paid, though I think it might have been higher than you'd normally pay because of the kind of shop it was.

                                I had used Bonjela before - in the days when there was just the one available - so I was expecting it to sting when I applied it to my gum, and it did! Not quite to the point of making my eyes water, but not far short. I did find it brought relief rapidly after that, so that was helpful.

                                ===When to Use and When Not To ===

                                I didn't read the instructions until after the first use - bad, I know, but I had used it before and I am 16 years several times over! I'd noted from the carton that it was sugar free and you should seek advice if no improvement was noted within 7 days. Unlike some products where the leaflet seems to just contain the same information as on the carton and the treatment itself, there's a lot more information on this leaflet and I do think it's a good idea to keep it for reference. The 'uses' section didn't include injuring yourself on a chip, though! I suppose 'sore spots and ulcers due to dentures or braces' comes nearest, though I have neither. It did say it was useful for cold sores, too. Thankfully I don't have those either.

                                Without going to too much detail of complex chemical names, this adult Bonjela contains ingredients that are pain killing, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. There are a number of groups who should not use it, first and foremost anyone under 16, because of the possible link between salicylates [which it contains] and Reye's syndrome, 'a very rare disease which affects the brain and liver and can be fatal'. This was the reason for the rebranding, which I think took place in 2010. Not worth the risk, especially as the Bonjela teething gel can be used up to the age of 16, but I do think they should look at changing its name. Other groups should speak to a doctor or pharmacist first: anyone on anticoagulants: it can increase their effect; undertaking treatment for gout; and of course ladies who are pregnant or breast feeding.

                                ===Bad reactions? ===

                                There are possible side effects, as with most medication, which seem to focus around possible allergic reactions to salicylate - asthma attack is the only example given. There's also a warning that to exceed the stated dose may result in salicylate toxicity. I can't find this described anywhere, which is a little puzzling. Usually there's information about what to do if this happens, but not so here. I think it's covered by the statement about consulting the doctor or pharmacist if you have an allergic reaction, but I'm not 100% sure.

                                ===Application ===

                                I can't see any alternative other than to massage Bonjela on to the sore area, so I'm surprised the leaflet doesn't spell out the importance of doing this with clean hands. Dose size is about a centimetre and frequency is 3 hourly. I thought it might state a maximum number of doses over 24 hours, but it doesn't. It has a mild aniseed flavour - star anise is an ingredient - which I find quite pleasant. I did notice a sting as I applied it, though.

                                ===Success?===

                                In terms of relief, yes, definitely. My gum felt much better each time I applied it. It's harder to be sure of whether or not it speeded up the healing process as 4 days later I was beginning to wonder whether I was going to have to get further advice, but thankfully it just about cleared up within the allotted 7 days. It's hard to know if it would have got better anyway.

                                ===Reflection===

                                I'm glad I bought it, because it did give me relief. I would recommend it for the problems referred to in the leaflet. I think my uncertainty about it healing me is because my oral problem was a bit unusual. Had I been within reach of a normal pharmacy I think I would have been better off buying the Bonjela Once, which is likened to a plaster you can put on a sore spot, as it protects the area for up to 4 hours as I understand it. That's no fault of this product so I will rate it with 4 stars because of the couple of things on the instruction leaflet that I feel are not quite spot on. I would buy it again without hesitation if I needed to, but I think this tube will last ages.

                                ===Product Details===

                                Bonjela Adult - from 16 years only
                                15g tube.
                                Not to be stored above 25C
                                Don't use past expiry date [mine is Feb 2015]
                                Marketing Authorisation holder/Manufacturer: Reckitt Benckiser Healthcare(UK) Limited, Hull HU8 7DS
                                Expect to pay around £2.80 - £3.30 - seems a reasonable price as a little goes a long way.

                                Thank you for reading this review. It may appear on other sites.

                                ©Verbena September 2013

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                                  03.09.2013 23:55
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                                  A well made drum for young children.

                                  Introduction

                                  I work part time in a Preschool and one of my responsibilities is to take a lead in the musical activities offered to the children. The age range is 2 years to school entry, i.e. the September following the child's fourth birthday. The children's time is less structured than in school, especially for the youngest children, so 'activities' covers both those led by adults and those selected by the children themselves. Activities involving music are usually very popular and we have a range of instruments for the children to use. Some of these are 'proper' instruments, but often these are not suitable to be left out for unrestricted access. We do have some robustly made 'toy' instruments with brand names such as Fisher Price and Little Tikes and it's the Little Tikes Rhythm Maker Drum that I am reviewing today, with my 'Preschool hat' on, so my angle won't necessarily be the same as a parent's would, as the use of toys by up to 24 children in a session is rather different from use in a domestic setting.

                                  A Bit of Background

                                  Little Tikes is a brand that both families and carers/teachers will likely be familiar with. From climbing toys through kitchens to trendy coupé cars, their products have a good reputation as being sturdy and durable. They are also available from a range of retail outlets. The Little Tikes Company was founded in the U.S.A. in 1970 and still has its headquarters in Ohio, although these days it describes itself as a 'a multi-national manufacturer and marketer of high-quality, innovative children's products' which became part of MGA Entertainment in November 2006. Further information can be found on the U.K. website, www.littletikes.co.uk/

                                  Description

                                  Our drums have colour variations from the dooyoo picture, probably reflecting their age. Some children's drums are flatter in shape and not very deep; these are deeper which seems to make them feel more solid and substantial. There are carrying handles on the sides to make it easy for children to play them on the move without the need for potentially hazardous cords or straps.

                                  Skins

                                  These are double sided, so there is a skin at the bottom as well as the top. The skins seem to be made of a thick, flexible plastic of some kind rather than a rubber or a thinner, papery type skin that you often find on children's drums - those are very disappointing when inevitable, they are broken by something! I am impressed that ours have withstood vigorous wear and tear for this length of time.

                                  Body

                                  The body of the drum is made from a thick, slightly flexible plastic. I'm impressed with the way Little Tikes have managed to produce something that feels so solid yet is still light enough for a small child to carry with ease.

                                  Sticks

                                  The drums each have two attached drumsticks. I think this is a great idea. It would be a nightmare if they were to go missing, and small children are so good at transporting items to unexpected locations and using them creatively! The strings that attach the sticks to the drums are of a sensible, well thought-out length - short enough to be safe but completely usable. Someone did their homework here! The drums have grooves at the sides for the sticks to fit into.

                                  Our Experience

                                  At Preschool we actually own two of these drums and although I can't remember when or how we acquired them, we have had them for over two years and I suspect that they were second hand then. I think they retail on Amazon for about £12-13 these days. That they have been accessible to the children for all that time says a lot about how well they are made, in my opinion. One is still complete; the other has needed a little tape applying to one of the drumsticks when it became separated from the drum but is fine otherwise and will last a little longer!

                                  Children seem to enjoy using these drums. It's not unusual to see small groups experimenting with all the instruments on offer, making their own little band in a corner. Sometimes they use them as part of role play, for instance, if they are pretending to be soldiers or superheroes. And I am sure they find other ways to use them that I haven't spotted!

                                  At this age more structured musical activities are at an elementary level. Sometimes we use the drums to accompany singing a particularly rhythmical song. We may ask children to imitate rhythms made on the drums, firstly by staff, then hopefully by the children themselves - this is where it's useful to have two identical ones. This is most appropriate for the older ones, say from about 3 ½ years upwards. Here I think the fact that these are so sturdily made can limit the ability to tap out a satisfactory rhythm and I can tell that the older children sometimes look a bit frustrated or lose interest. These children are probably ready for something with a more sensitive skin like the instruments that aren't made generally available. We also use the drums for general listening activities and for tapping out the rhythm of names and other significant words, i.e. to tap the correct number of syllables. I find the drums useful for this.

                                  Evaluation

                                  These are well made, solid drums that stand up to bad treatment! The children seem to find them attractive to experiment and play with. Slightly older children may need rather more challenging instruments in a structured activity, but for free play they are ideal for all children in our age group. Maybe I'm being a bit mean in marking it down as an instrument when it's a toy, but it has to be dual purpose in an educational establishment so it's four stars from me!

                                  Thank you for reading my review. It is a revised version of one which previously appeared on Ciao.

                                  ©Verbena, September 2013

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