Sunday, 31 December 2017

Goodbye 2017

Goodbye 2017 and do you know what, you weren't too hard on us. When I started this blog (5 years and 1 day ago - Happy Birthday The Brick Castle) I had no idea that it would record the hardest, most stressful and saddest years of my life. The time when I really grew up. We are still here and fighting fit, and I hope your Christmas was as good as ours.


Five years ago we had a bunch of teenagers and 2 little kids. Now we have 4 adult children (3 of whom have moved out), a 7 year old and a 9 year old almost as tall as I am. Our family has evolved rapidly, as we always knew it would, and the blog has gone from Orchard Toys and picture books to drones and chapter books - but the LEGO remains.

Losing Elspeth will always be one of the biggest influences in our children's lives. They will always have a sister who isn't there, experiences they'll never have, jokes they should have been able to share. They'll always see that empty chair, but they are all learning to live with that.

Our children's lives are spread out ahead of them and they can all see a way forward. There is more value in that than I could ever express in words. They are all reaching out for the possibilities ahead and my heart bursts with pride at how strong they've become. It is always worth carrying on, you have the potential to be a great person.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Christmas With The Big Kids...

With little kids Christmas is all about Santa and presents and tinsel and lights. When you have grown up kids it seems it's mainly about logistics.

This year we have been truly blessed by being able to spend time with all of our big kids, we even managed to eat a Boxing Day Christmas dinner together. It took the arrangement skills of Norbert Dentressangle, but we did it.


We always knew this would come, but with both of our current 18 year olds working part time in the service industry, a 23 year old in full time work and Christmas week party mode, plus a 20 year old uni student, then add on two other sets of parents needing a share of the young people's time, this year was the year it got tricky.

We had to arrange, re-arrange and then with half an hour to spare and the meat already resting, we were still 2 missing and starting to think it might not happen. But they made it.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Crater Craft Farming And Building Game App. Review

Crater Craft is a new free game app from 55pixels and it's set in an imaginary world where teams of robot creatures, or crafters, use resources to create useful or decorative objects, furniture and even buildings. Regular readers will know I'm a big fan of games, but I can rarely justify the time, so I was more than happy to take this job. As it turns out, you can dip into Crater Craft for 5 minutes if that's all you have spare, you never have to commit any period of time, which for me is ideal.


In Crater Craft you manage a crater, running the farm and building a little community with your team of crafters and various visitors who call by to stay. Together you work to create buildings and furniture to make the crater and guest houses nice. You have to provide the crafting equipment and resources by farming, digging and trading.

3 Wise Family Travel Tips During Christmas Season

This post is written by Joyce Perona.

It is almost Christmas and every family out there is planning something for their holiday vacation. Going on a trip this season can be stressful yet exciting. A lot of people are preoccupied with organizing their trips and busy traveling anywhere at this time.


Christmas season is one of the best times to travel with your whole family. It is when you create happy memories together and make your bond stronger. Be sure to maximize your time and make the most out of it, for it is not all the time you get to experience such a break and a time to be with your loved ones.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Act Normal And Don't Tell Anyone About The Present Machine Book Review (7+)

Act Normal And Don't Tell Anyone About The Present Machine by Christian Darkin is the eighth book in the best-selling ‘Act Normal' children's book series. A chapter book for young independent readers aged around 7-11, challenging gender stereotypes and showing that blue is not always for a boy and pink and glittery isn't always for a girl, and that's okay. In fact it couldn't be more normal.


Act Normal's main character is a girl named Jenny, who thinks she is weird. When she's 46 like me she might realise we're all weird, but for now she thinks it's mainly just her and her family.

Friday, 15 December 2017

December #TBCSmiles 40 Months.

It's December! And Christmas is almost here. And if you are like us, you will have done very little preparation. Christmas can be very hard and there is more on that in the second half of this post. I am going to be taking some time off the blog though, starting with my first weekend off in 3 months - so hopefully we'll have a tree up by Sunday.

This month we had lots of suitably festive smiles shared on the #TBCSmiles hashtag. Visits with Santa, Christmas trees, festive baking, Christmas jumpers and so many youngsters with their first real taste of snow. We also had a few princesses and even a King. You can find all of the photos by searching the hashtag on Instagram, but here are a few of those that really made us grin this month.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Siege Of Christmas at Contact, Manchester Interactive Theatre Review

If you are looking for family Christmas theatre that is completely different then The Siege Of Christmas at Contact in Manchester might just be the thing. You have to be quick though - it's only on until 20th December!


We've not been to Contact before and we walked past at first and had to turn round - ridiculous when you see that giant castle shaped building with amazing windows. We'd been invited to review The Siege Of Christmas, an interactive performance that takes you around the building, rather than a traditional 'sit-down' play.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Winter Wonderland 2017, Event City, Manchester Review

Winter Wonderland is back in Manchester until 1st January and it's gorgeous. We were invited over to review on Monday. The Wintery weather had us all in the mood already and when we went through the entrance there was snow indoors! And it was substantially warmer...and so Christmassy!!


There are shows and a circus, so it's worth checking out the times at the start of your 4 hour visit, otherwise you could miss your favourites. We caught Rainbow on the Main Stage. Winter Wonderland has a few seating areas, mainly towards the centre of the hall. You can always get a chair, even if you just want to rest your legs.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

12 Great Books for Children 0-11 this Christmas plus Giveaway!

Harper Collins have sent us 12 of their favourite books for children aged 0-11 this Christmas and asked my boys to take a look and see what they think of the selection. You shouldn't try to judge a book by it's cover, so I encouraged them to at least read the blurb and the first page too!


The 12 books we've been sent are all in the Harper Collins Gift Guide, and are a mix of fiction written by some of the most popular children's authors of recent times and with pictures from a host of excellent illustrators. Here's what my 7 and 9 year old boys thought...

Raymond Briggs and Lord Tennyson

On the face of it Raymond Briggs, cartoonist and children's writer, might have little in common with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Victorian poet, but they both left us with the same over-riding message - it's just that Alfred did it in words.


Briggs lost his wife to Leukaemia in 1973, they never had children. He wrote The Snowman in 1978, when the wind blows in 1982 and The Bear in 1994. His works are full of loss, and it is shown in such simple terms that even the youngest of children can understand.

Characters enter your life and then they leave, and at some point you will leave too. Briggs teaches us that well, but he also teaches that it is better for the story to have happened. The story ends, but we are glad we were able to share it while it lasted.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Home-Made STEM Toys Of Christmas with Konnie Huq &the IET

If you watched Blue Peter any time between 1998 and 2007 you'll be familiar with longest-serving female presenter Konnie Huq. Konnie hasn't given up crafts and this Christmas has teamed up with the Institution of Engineering and Technology to bring us a series of easy and fun STEM toys that you and your child can make at home very inexpensively.


Head of Education from the IET, David Lakin has highlighted a significant shortage of engineers in the UK, which is posing a threat to the economy. The STEM toys of Christmas is designed to inspire children’s natural curiosity about how things work and why – a key principle in engineering. We were asked if we wanted to have a go at one of the projects and as soon as I saw the list, I knew which one I was choosing.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Bear - Waterside, Sale, Manchester Theatre Review

Waterside Arts Centre might have rebranded as Waterside, but that was the only thing that had changed since our last visit. It was lovely to be back in the warm friendly atmosphere that this smaller theatre offers. We were there as guests to review The Bear, presented by Pins And Needles and based on the work of one of my favourite children's authors and initiator of my love of books, Raymond Briggs.


Before you even go into the auditorium itself, the whole building is decorated in blues and white and you walk on paw prints in snow towards the seating. It sets the scene in a brilliant way and my boys were bursting with excitement as they sat down. Pure magic. 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Drones - which is the best for your big kid?

Drones are likely to be a big seller this Christmas. We've reviewed a handful and the technology has moved on so far in the last year that they are almost unrecognisable - and the prices have come right down. Gyro stabilisation keeps them upright, ultrasound and other sensors help prevent crashes and bluetooth or other control systems have become so finely tuned that they can power your drone far beyond your own back garden.


Drones can be a real education for your child. Even the simplest drones teach hand-eye coordination, about electricity and direction commands. Drones teach about wind speed, friction, design and engineering - and how to get objects down from high trees. Programmable and VR drones with an array of sensors expand anyone's understanding of their world.

In case you are considering one this Christmas and are still confused by the choice, here is a comparison of those we've reviewed this year. These are not cargo drones or professional photography drones, these are for big kids of all ages. Please excuse the earlier videos - drones take a while to master, but once you've got the hang of it...

Monday, 4 December 2017

Toletis by Rafa Ruiz Book Review (age 7-107)

Toletis is a new book release from Neem Tree Press, themselves a new publishing house producing books that change and broaden perspectives.

Written by Rafa Ruiz, excellently translated from the original Spanish by Ben Dawlatty and beautifully illustrated by Elena Hormiga, Toletis is recommended for anyone age 7-107, and I think that's probably about right.

Nerf Zombie Strike Dreadbolt Crossbow Review (age 8+) for Very

We are huge Nerf fans, so I was more than happy to accept another for review from Very, the home shopping site. This is my first try of the Nerf arrows, with the huge and impressive, yet ridiculously light, Nerf Zombie Strike Dreadbolt crossbow.


Firstly, this was the most minimal packaging I've ever had on anything sent for review. I can't fault the Nerf crossbow because it survived the UK postal system, despite only being protected by a magic address label. Lightweight yet robust certainly!

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Gift Guide For Teenagers and Young Adults Christmas 2017

It can be ridiculously hard to buy for teenagers and young people, especially once they're earning their own money. It's made even harder if you don't live with them and aren't up to date with what bands or TV Shows they are into this month. My lot have helped me come up with a few ideas that hopefully won't spend the next year in the back of a drawer...