Friday, 15 June 2018

46 Months #TBCSmiles

It's that time of the month again and crikey it's come around quickly! I haven't had time to comment on everyone's #TBCSmiles photos on Instagram, but I will do as many as I can. Thanks to everyone who shared their grins, chuckles and laughter with us - they brighten any month.

This month we had weather!! Loads of glorious sunshine for much of the country and so much colour! Up here in Manchester the lack of grey has brightened everyone's mood. Bright blue skies, amber evenings, lush green grass and a rainbow of flowers. It's been very nice to escape the gloom for a while and I hope it lasts a little longer.

We really escaped by making a trip to Scotland to see the children's Grandparents. It's ridiculous how hard things are now, and we aren't in a position to cope with failure, so naturally avoid anything with potential to go wrong. Taking a 400 mile round trip has seemed like an expedition to the moon for the last 4 years, and we couldn't plan it too far in advance as it gave us time to talk ourselves out of it.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

BubbleBum Travel Booster Seat Review And Giveaway

BubbleBum have been around for a good few years now. Their inflatable children's booster seats are perfect for taxis, if you need to fit 3 car seats or booster seats in one row, great extra car seats when you have an extra child with you, and ideal for any child who regularly changes vehicles or is going abroad on holiday. I'd never seen one in person before, so I was really intrigued to find out exactly how they work...

The BubbleBum is designed for children aged 4 to 11, who weigh between 15-36kg (height restrictions apply, see the ROSPA site for more information). Much more than simply a comfy cushion to sit on, the design holds your child in the correct, safe position for travel. In the event of a crash it is important your child isn't slumped forward, and belts are guided into the correct position over the lap and shoulder, so that injury to internal organs and the chances of your child 'slipping out' of their harness are minimised.

BubbleBum is crash test approved and meets and exceeds the EU ECE R44.04 and the US FMVSS 213 safety regulations for both Groups 2 and 3 and is a totally safe option for your family. These tests cover both crash testing and materials testing. The components used to make BubbleBum are similar to those in life rafts and air bags.

Exploding Kittens Family Card Game Review for Asmodee (age 7+)

Exploding Kittens is the latest game to be sent to us to review for the Blogger Board Game Club. This is a family card game suitable for 3-5 players aged 7+, and as it says on the box, it takes 2 minutes to learn, and a game lasts about 15 minutes...

Inside the box are all of the 56 cards you'll need to play, plus the instructions. It's a nice sturdy box and it's really small, with no pieces to lose, so perfect for taking with you as a travel game.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Star Wars Force Link 2.0 Kessel Run Millennium Falcon Review For Hasbro (age 4+)

The full title for this toy is Star Wars Force Link 2.0 Kessel Run Millennium Falcon with Han Solo Figure and it's worth that mouthful. This is a fantastic vehicle which acts exactly as you'd hope, and we've been sent it to review by Hasbro...

We are long-standing Star Wars fans here and so Star Wars toys are always welcome. Over the last 24 years I've watched all of my children 'shhhhhooooosh' around the room with various Millennium Falcons and other Star Wars vehicles, and this is by far the most impressive and special. No longer do you even have to make your own sound effects...

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Hotter New Shoes For Summer! Hotter Shoes review.

Five years ago I hadn't heard of Hotter Shoes and now I'm a complete convert. I lived in Dr Marten Boots for about 20 years and in the Summer flip flops or barefoot did me. I thought there couldn't be anything more comfortable, but I'm willing to admit I was wrong.

At BlogOn conference I won a pair of shoes from Hotter and it was a win I was really delighted about. Since the loss of my last pair of 3 year old DM boots (they don't make 'em like they used to), I've been wearing the Hotter shoes that I chose for review last year. No longer relegated to fancy evenings and days out, they became my everyday shoes and I like it a lot.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Dinosaurs Are Coming!!! StikBot and Brainstorm Dinosaur Toys Review

The new Jurassic Kingdom movie is out and so are some brand new Dinosaur toys! On Thursday 14th June BrainStorm will be having a Twitter party with several fantastic giveaways, and they've sent us some of their newest dinosaur toys to take a look beforehand...

Brainstorm bring us a lot of really excellent STEM supporting toys for curious kids and future scientists. They help children explore their world - and beyond! We last worked with them on a project involving Brainstorm's Space Toys. This one is based a little further back in prehistoric times...

We've been sent the Brainstorm T-Rex Projector And Room Guard, Aqua Dragons, 2in1 T-Rex Buzz Wire, Glow In The Dark stars and Dinosaurs, a StikBot Mega Dino Brontosaurus and a StikBot Dino Egg Velociraptor. We made the most of the gorgeous weather and scenery and took them outdoors to really play.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

5 Simple Steps To Saving Planet Earth by Jo Withers Children's Book Review (7+)

I'll start with the important bit. We absolutely love this book. 5 Simple Steps To Saving Planet Earth is a fantastic read for any young independent reader aged around 7 or over. It may also be a children's book, but it's a brilliant story that pretty much anyone can enjoy.

Funny and cleverly inventive, the science fiction and adventure storyline has hints of ancient tales with heroes like Hercules, and more modern adventurers like Percy Jackson, yet still manages to be completely different.

Our heroes are Billy Hollingworth, a regular dinosaur-loving, rugby-playing schoolkid, and the Ysygol, a tiny little alien who has been sent to find him. Billy has been chosen for a very important mission crucial to the survival of the planet, and the pocket-sized Ysygol (I-cy-gol) is his guide.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Rubik's - far more than just a cube! Rubik's Flip and Rubik's Battle Review (age 7-8+)

We've all played with a Rubik's Cube and you've probably had a try of a Rubik's Snake, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Rubik's have a whole range of toys and games for one or more players, and they've sent us 2 of their new games to review.

We've been sent the Rubik's Battle Card Game and the Rubik's Flip 2 player game. We have also been sent one of the original Rubik's 3x3 Cubes - updated to be smoother and faster than ever.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

StikBot Movie Castle Set Review for Zing Toys (age 4+)

We are big fans of StikBots. These little jointed characters have suckers on their hands and feet, and are perfect for your amateur film makers to practise with. We've been sent the Movie Castle Set to review, and it's a fantastic backdrop and accessories for our next StikBot movie...

Inside the box are lots of pre-cut sheets of construction material, accessories, 1 x StikBot, a sheet with loads of stickers and instructions. You don't need anything else, this is glue-free and slot-together.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

12000mAh Slim Power Bank Review for Varta

The Varta Slim Power bank promises up to 5 full phone charges or 2 tablet charges before it needs to be recharged itself. Smaller than a paperback book, and safely encased with a metal cover, it is ideal to take away with you and likely to be invaluable to us this Summer.

Everyone has a cupboard somewhere full of very exciting electrical gadgets. Sometimes this is a drawer, sometimes it is called a garage or a shed. Your gadgets (including your vehicle) will all need power and this is where Varta come in. They have been making batteries for over 100 years and more recently have increased the range, now making chargers, torches and other consumer products.

Summer Holiday Review for Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Last night we were treated to nostalgia and laughs in beach bucketloads as we were guests of Bolton's Octagon Theatre to review their brand new show - Summer Holiday. This is an ambitious and very different performance, which starts at Bolton Interchange and ends in the theatre - and you get there in style, by double-decker bus...

We loved it. I haven't laughed and grinned so much in ages. The show went incredibly well from our perspective, despite including 6 genuine Bolton Vision double-decker busses, 4 different locations, 11 different musical instruments, 10 actors and a broken down mini at the bottom of the Bolton Town Hall steps. Hats off to everyone involved - thank you for a great evening.

For anyone who didn't watch Cliff Richard and crew in Summer Holiday every Summer as a child, this is the tale of a group of bus drivers who have the idea to transform a bus into a mobile hotel and take people over to the south of France. Set in 1963 when most people hadn't been abroad on holiday, this was incredibly exotic and daring.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Our Half Term In Scotland With The Ponies.

This half term we managed to get ourselves up to Scotland to stay with my partner's parents. It's the first time since we lost Elspeth and was full of memories, as we knew it would be. It was also the most amazing break and I can't describe in words just how lovely it was to be back...

My younger children have missed out on the Shetland Ponies, they are only just small enough to ride now and haven't ridden since they were tiny. Thankfully the weather was on our side. We had 4 days of amazing 27 degree sunshine and plenty of chance to spend hours outdoors. The complete opposite to last time I wrote about a visit to my partner's parents in the 8 foot snowdrifts at Easter 2013.

One Small Step Family Theatre Review at Z-Arts, Manchester

Earlier on today we were guests of Z-Arts in Hulme, Manchester, to see the morning performance of Oxford Playhouse's family theatre One Small Step. We were promised 50 years of space travel in 60 minutes, in a show that is suitable for children and grown ups aged around 7+, and with a cast of only two actors.

It was brilliant. My other half is meticulous in his detail and 'the space race' is something he knows well. We all have an interest in science, technology and space, so we were all looking forward to it. A couple of my boys were even hoping to catch the cast out with technical errors... it wasn't possible.

Using a collection of household items as props, the two-person cast portray every character and all of the necessary rockets and capsules. They create the flag left behind on the moon, and they even recreate the moon. They dress as astronauts and newsreaders, and the impressions were excellent. If they'd had James Cameron adding special effects, ultimately it wouldn't have been any more convincing. There are tons of ideas there which children can duplicate at home for free.

Friday, 1 June 2018

A Hedgehog Story: Hedgehog Queen by David Hills review for Book Guild Publishing

A Hedgehog Story: Hedgehog Queen by David Hills is a new release from The Book Guild Publishing. Recommended for age 3-11, reading together or independent readers, this is a smaller book and a shorter read. A tale of friendship and being helpful to others, with maybe more than a tadge of imagination...

The story follows Hamish The Hedgehog, who wakes from hibernation and explores his world. As he walks around the garden he leaves a glittery trail behind him. A young boy names Alistair cannot sleep, he spots Hamish through his bedroom window and goes outside to meet him. They both benefit from the company, so play together and become friends.

The kids trashed my lawn...

Being asked to write about grass alternatives is easy for me because it's something my partner and I have discussed at length. My lawn is completely trashed. I mean seriously wrecked. For the last year all the local children have come and played in our garden and used it as a park, and the lawn proves it. I really am not complaining. We have a big garden and it would be a shame to see it wasted, but it's had 10 year's worth of normal family wear and tear in the last 12 months alone... and there isn't a lot of lawn left...

I live in the swampland of the North. My local area is so peaty that my tap water has sediment. Seriously. We made the mistake of buying a white shower curtain once. After a week it looked like someone had tried to colour it in with a brown felt tip. The peat in our soil holds tons of water and protects us from floods when there is heavy rain, but it means the grass is full of springy moss and the lawn is generally too wet to sit on. In a move of unlikely genius we put the swing and the trampoline over the wettest bits. It's definitely hidden it helped...

Friday, 25 May 2018

Summer Half Term Events & Activities For Families In Manchester

The sun has been out, but there's still loads going on this half term if you want to spend some time indoors! Here's a round up of some of what you can find for families in the Manchester area this May/June holiday. If you have anything to add, please drop me an email. We like free or very affordable best of all, so don't forget your local park and library!

Z-Arts, Hulme, Manchester

Z-arts is blasting off with a space-themed half-term 26th May to 3rd June. A free family fun day and a Space Race themed theatre show by Oxford Playhouse provide something for the whole family to enjoy

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Time Travellers Club by Mark Roland Langdale: Young Adult Fiction Book Review

My latest children's book review is more for the older, young adult, age group. The Time Travellers Club by Mark Roland Langdale is published by Matador Press and tells the tale of Benjamin Digby Esq., Time Traveller.

The first thing I have to say about this book is "Wow". The Time Travellers Club is a wild foray into the mind of the author. I honestly have never read a more rambling book in my life. There are 3 times as many similes and asides as there is storyline, and there are so many references that a young reader is going to struggle to understand or recognise even half of them. For me it's full of nostalgia. I actually was one of only 7 people who turned up to see Furniture do a pub gig in Nottingham back in 1989, the last thing I expected would be to see them namechecked in a book in 2018.

Our hero Benjamin Digby wants to travel through time. Not only that, but he also wishes to collect the best scientists and inventors as he goes, creating the most extraordinary Time Travellers Club. If he perfects his time travel machine, he can go wherever he wants.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All Star Family Fortunes Card Game Review for Ginger Fox Games (age 12+)

We've all seen Family Fortunes on TV, it's been showing since 1990 and has filled all of our evenings at some point. In 2006 All Star Family Fortunes took over and now, thanks to Ginger Fox Games, we can all take part. 3-11 players can try for the spot prizes and the Big Money round, and find out if what 'the survey says' matches your answers. We've been sent a copy to review...

This is a tiny little travel game box, barely bigger than a pack of playing cards, which stores everything you need except a pencil and paper to keep score (or a good memory) and is brilliant for taking on holiday or visiting friends or relatives.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Frederick Thomas London £100 Voucher Giveaway & £10 Voucher For Every Reader

To celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday 17 the of June, Frederick Thomas London have offered one of my lucky readers a fantastic £100 voucher to spend in their online store. I also have a voucher to spend on my partner, so I've been having a look around their website too.

Frederick Thomas specialise in high quality men's ties, socks, cufflinks and accessories. Even if you don't work in an office, as we head into Summer it's easy to forget you might need something other to wear than Hawaiian shirts and swimshorts. Summer is also Wedding season and the time when a lot of clubs host formal dinners and presentation evenings.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Meccano 10 Model Set Motorised Car Review for Spinmaster (age 8+)

Our latest review for Spinmaster is a fantastic Meccano model set - the Motorised Rally Racer Car. This set is from the 10-in-1 range and there are instructions for 10 model vehicles that you can create from just the elements included here, as well as an infinite number of your own creations.

Inside the box is everything you'd expect. The Meccano elements, metal nuts and bolts, instructions and the all-important tiny tools. In 120 years Meccano hasn't really changed in principal, and using small version of genuine tools and fixings is very appealing and long-lived. Batteries are not included, you'll need 3 x AA.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Gangster School by Kate Wiseman Book Review for Zuntold (age 6+)

Out tomorrow 21st May is a brand new children's book from author Kate Wiseman. Released by Zuntold Press, Gangster School is suitable for young readers around 6-8+, full of good humour and friendship, and it's sure to be popular.

We were sent a pre-release copy to review, so we already know all about Blaggards, the very desirable school for future criminals. Less desirable is Crumleys, which is nearby and offers plenty of opportunity for the pupils from both schools to test their skills on each other.

Our heroes are Milly and Charlie, who are just starting out at the school. They are both smart young people and have excellent skills that will make them master criminals, but they both lack a passion for delinquency, preferring fairness and feeling uncomfortable with the behaviour of fellow students and what they are learning in classes.

I Am Not A Number... #MHAW

Back 20 years ago I used to watch re-runs of The Prisoner and when he uttered his catchphrase cry of "I am not a number, I am a free man", we'd grin. I even visited Portmeirion and bought souvenirs with No.6 on and thought it was cool and funny. Now I just think it was pre-emptive and maybe a bit sinister.

It occurs to me that while our population is being impersonalised and reduced to numbers, our mental health is dropping. The more you are one of many, the less you are an individual.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ferocious Friday ~ UNTAMED Raptor Giveaway! (Age 5+)

It's Ferocious Friday and I have a great giveaway to celebrate. The most ferocious of them all - dinosaurs! Okay, he might really only be a tiny bit ferocious, but he's very, very cool and cute. A relative of the incredibly popular Fingerlings, the UNTAMED Raptor responds to your touch and movement, and will even close his eyes and go to sleep - plus he's a dinosaur!

We recently reviewed UNTAMED Raptor and he's great. We were sent Stealth to review, but there are four different characters available, each with their own colour: Blaze (orange), Fury (blue), Stealth (green) and Razor (purple)!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

To The Moon And Back Paperplay Book Review And Giveaway For Carlton Books

Carlton Kids children's books are bright, colourful and full of information, and To The Moon And Back is no exception. This is a beautiful book crammed with facts about space and everything in it. What's different is that this a papercraft book and has 25 different cut-out and press-out projects for your child to create.

Susie Brooks' papercraft projects are incredibly varied in type and trickiness, and over the 80 pages there really is something ideal for anyone. All of the pages are designed to pull out easily, without ruining the book.

Summer Holiday: Octagon Theatre Bolton and ON A BUS! 31 May-23 June

In a couple of weeks time we'll be heading off to sunny Bolton Interchange for the start of a very different theatrical performance, when we review Summer Holiday.

Rehearsals are well underway and I think the cast with their pretend bus made of chairs is such a wholesome and grin-inducing image it would have been mean not to share...

Showing from Thu 31 May - Sat 23 June, the audience start at the interchange and then get onto an actual bus for the first part of the performance, before travelling to the Octagon Theatre for the second half of the show. I've been on the East Lancs Railway for their Halloween and Christmas specials, but that's the closest I've ever come to anything like this...

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Pinch 'n' Pass Family Board Game Review for Ginger Fox Games (Age 12+)

Pinch 'n' Pass is a family board game for 3-6 players aged 12+ and we've been sent a copy to review by Ginger Fox Games. Very fast-paced and loads of fun, this is one of those 'tip-of-your-tongue' games that really makes you laugh with frustration at your own inability to answer simple questions under pressure.

Packaged in a sturdy box, you can store it away safely between games. Inside you'll find the board with spinner, press out cardboard 'Head To Head' tokens, counters, 2 packs of (a whopping) 150 cards, game rules and the electronic buzzer/timer. Batteries are already fitted, so this is Christmas morning friendly.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

May #TBCSmiles #MHAW

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and in case you weren't aware, I collect and share smiles because it helps my mental health. My monthly posts started off as a way to update everyone on how we were coping after the sudden loss of one of our teenage children. I began to realise that every smile was a win. It showed we could do it, life could have good bits, it could have joy. I shared the first few smiles I took and eventually The Brick Castle Smiles, or #TBCSmiles was born.

Since then you guys have shared with the community your most precious smiles. Birthdays, weddings, Christenings, anniversaries. You've shown Grandparents meeting brand new relations and baby's first smile. You've shown sports wins and educational achievements, graduations and first days at school. The ones that always make me smile the most are the ordinary moments (that's a different link up). Kids playing in fields with sticks, a toddler discovering the world, the love of a parent looking at their child, however old. A grown up who has forgotten all about the outside world and has let themselves live in the moment.

I'm grateful to everyone who joins in, you fill my month with smiles. I know that some people have reasons for joining in and sometimes smiles are hard-fought, and I know how much that makes them worth. Each and every one is a precious treasure.

I hope you take the time to check the hashtag too, it's worth it - it'll make you smile, I promise. Anyone can join in, and we have a lot of new people this month, so thank you for coming along. All you need to do is tag any photo on Instagram with a smile in it - the bigger the grin, the better.

Here are 9 of the brightest of this month's smiles, which was a fantastic crop. I think we have all enjoyed this glorious weather...

This month's 9 were provided by the following photographers and/or comedians:

We had our own smiles as well. We've been enjoying the sun too - as much as my pasty lot can manage anyway - and we had a lot to smile about, but I really didn't take many photos. I'm storing most of them in my head.

Until next month...

If you find yourself part of TBCSmiles by accident and wish to be removed then please let me know. It's not happened yet, but stranger things have happened...

Monday, 14 May 2018

It could be you... #MHAW2018

This post is for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 and carries trigger warnings.

For most of my life Mental Health was something I felt affected other people. Don't get me wrong, I've had my fair share of sobbing into my pillow, not wanting to leave the house, drinking a few too many because it made my reality further away. My life has not been plain sailing, but in general I seemed to skim round all the sinkholes and emerge relatively unscathed.

As a teenager I was a volunteer for MIND, spending my evenings playing pool and smiling yet again at photos of a stranger's family and great times, carried around as precious treasure. A reminder that life can be good, and a reason to carry on. I learned quite quickly about some of the realities of poor mental health.

Stuffed Fables Game Review for Asmodee (age 7+)

Stuffed Fables is a co-operative adventure book game for 2-4 players. It takes you on a journey through a child's dream, in the nightmare-laden world that is The Fall. The book is all-important. It is where you find the story, your guide and your playing board for the amazingly detailed character pieces to play out the scenes from the story. This is also one of the most beautiful games I've ever had the opportunity to play.

There are many components. Everything is packaged in a sturdy box and fits back inside for storage. You know you have something special even before you begin to read the rules. You'll be delighted to know that gameplay doesn't disappoint either - Stuffed Fables is an all-round winner here.

Whacky Shots World Warriors Power Pack Review For Yulu Toys (age 6+)

Whacky Shots World Warriors are collectible rubber toys which are different from most because they come with trading cards, obstacles and targets and they really fly...well, they certainly launch across the room once you get the hang of the power launchers...

Your Whacky Shots Power Pack is packaged in blown plastic with a cardboard backing, which really doesn't do the product justice and you won't have anything to store it in afterwards. There are 8 Whacky Shots included in the pack, as well as 2 Power Launchers, 6 Crash Cones, 1 Net, Instructions and 8 Whacky Shots Trading Cards with bases.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Pointless The Mini Game Review for University Games ( Age 12+)

We've all seen Pointless on the TV and thought that we could do better than the contestants. This travel sized mini game allows anyone to prove that you aren't quite as clever as you suspected whilst having a laugh and maybe learning a thing or two!

Inside the tiny 8cm x 15cm box is everything you need. A set of 60 double-sided Question Cards, the Question Card Holder, a pad of answer/score sheets and the rules. You will only need something to write with. The game is suitable for 2-5 players, but is brilliant for teams, so any number can play.

Gameplay is super-easy and if you know the show from TV, you'll understand how to play instantly. Each question was originally put to 100 people, and 5 possible answers listed. The number of people who gave each answer determines the scores for that question, so if 55 people gave Teresa May as an answer to "Name a UK Prime Minister", the score is 55.

The cards are stored in the Question Card Holder, which prevents you from seeing either the back or the bottom half of the card, which is where the results are printed. Play starts with the youngest and all players take part, even the designated reader, all writing down their answers and then saying them in turn. If someone already gave an answer and you have the same written down, you need to choose another option or pass for 100 points. If you think they are wrong, you are allowed to give your own answer.

The results are revealed once all players or teams of players have given an answer. There are 5 possible correct answers and each will have a different score.

Answers which are wrong score 100 points. The aim of the game is to get the lowest score possible each round, and the player with the lowest total after 6 rounds is the winner. You need to try to select the answers that were given by fewest of the 100 surveyed people. Some answers weren't given by anyone, they are pointless. If you find them then you're on a to a win.

Pointless The Mini Game can be played in about 10 minutes, but it often lasts a lot longer because you talk about the answers and it's amazing what you can get wrong. It's loads of fun and full of "Ooooooh" moments. So simple to play, but the age rating of 12+ is right because younger children simply don't have the general knowledge.

Perfect for travel because it's so tiny and playing the game requires very little space. There are no small parts to lose in the grass or sand, and the game requires little time commitment, although you can easily play for hours. Pointless The Mini Game is also an excellent team game and could get quite competitive, although I think it'll always be light-hearted.

Pointless The Mini Game is distributed by University Games and is available now rrp £10.99 from all good games stockists instore and online, including Amazon (affiliate link*). 

I was sent my copy of Pointless The Mini Game for review. *The Amazon link is an affiliate link. In return for me adding this link, if you buy anything after clicking on it, it won't cost you any more, but I will earn a few pennies towards my running costs. 

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Totally Amazing World Atlas Review & Giveaway for Carlton Books

Carlton Books make some lovely books for children and The Totally Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas Of The World is no exception. Genuinely full of information and big, bold illustrations, there's enough here to satisfy any young future explorer.

The book starts with a world map showing continents and The World At A Glance. The perfect introduction to our planet, neatly laid out and with text in manageable boxes. The book format is full colour in a large 24cm x 28cm with a really glossy cover and fold-out pages throughout.