Monday, 15 July 2019

#TBCSmiles July 2019.... 59 months.

This month didn't exactly go as expected for us, in fact the last week has been a bit of a roller-coaster of emotions. We had an excellent 4 days at Timber Festival (as guests and I will get my review live this week), but we came home to find that Gary the cat was not well.

Gary was an internet star from the moment he arrived, and possibly my glowing review helped. He lived his life on the internet and I know a lot of people cared about him. He owed a lot of people a coffee.

Gary was really poorly. He didn't survive the night and died in the early hours - peacefully and not in pain. We all had an extra day off work and school to say goodbye and help bury him. I think it was harder because Gary arrived at a time when we really were feeling the huge gap left by Elspeth. Losing him was like losing another part of her, but it was right I told everyone, and I did so in a blog post eulogy. 

He brought us joy and laughter, love, and someone warm who was always willing to have a cuddle. I admit it, my opinion of cats has changed somewhat. I miss him. He's left a shredded stair carpet, a box of chewed cat toys and a small cat-shaped hole that will never be filled in.

The universe realised we were short of a pet and needed a distraction, so it intervened and sent us another to save. My eldest son saw a magpie fighting a tiny bright green budgie near a park in Withington, stepped in and rescued the little fella.

He might be a full grown bearded adult, but he did what all kids do when they aren't sure what the next move is, he took it to his Mum. That's me. In his pocket, on the tram. I preferred it in a cardboard box (it's a proven rescue animal storage method).

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A Eulogy To A Cat...

Gary was left outside our house. At first we thought he was a lost kitten, and we printed off big photos and put up posters looking for his owner. No-one rang and we were sad for an imaginary young family of children or elderly lady pining for her cat.

When he arrived, despite the fact I had a strong dislike for cats, Gary was determined he was at the right place. He knew how soft I am really and he knew he could break me down. I think he knew everything. Cats are smarter than we realise.

Thing is, he was really scared of outdoors and he really didn't want to go back out. He stayed with me all day, following me around the house and climbing onto my knee whenever I sat down. His eyes barely left mine and I chatted away to him the same as I did with my toddlers. Sometimes he even replied.

No-one ever came forward to claim Gary - who was named Gary by our youngest "because that's his name". We fed him boring dry food and left the door open for him to leave, but he didn't. He even went to the toilet inside - in the actual toilet (or the bath). It's one of the things I particularly liked about him.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

ColourMyWall Draw On Wall Prints For Doodlers. Sent For Review.

Most parents have at some time discovered their miniature Picasso has decided to do some impromptu home decorating - usually their bedroom wall with the only working permanent marker in the house. ColourMyWall have created a solution to give amateur artists a nice big safe area to doodle and draw without causing any damage.

ColourMyWall Draw On Wall Paper logo and small portion of poster

ColourMyWall create repositionable vinyl stick on wallpaper, which can be drawn on with dry wipe markers to your heart's content and then wiped clean and you can start again. Perfect for doodlers and amateur artists...

Colour my wall review giving idea of size of poster along wall

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

National Geographic STEM Build Your Own Volcano Kit Review (Age 8+) Sent by Bandai

We've all made volcanoes before and they're a real crowd-pleasing, reliable experiment which is easy, safe and dramatic and teaches children a lot. This month Bandai have sent us the Build Your Own Volcano Kit to review and it's hands down my favourite home volcano science kit.

National Geographic Build Your Own Volcano Kit box photo

Inside the box is everything you'll need in generous quantities, and it's all in a cardboard tray which pulls out and can be used as a work surface to keep everything neat. I love the National Geographic STEM Kits for this.

National Geographic build your own Volcano box contents

You are given plaster of Paris and a 3-part mould to create your own volcano. There is masses of plaster and we propped the plastic mould up in the shaping of the box to hold it still while we filled it and it set hard.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Gen7 Crossroads Storytelling Adventure Game Review (Age 14+) Sent by Asmodee

Gen 7 is a mainly co-operative 'crossroads' game, where players decisions affect the outcomes and change how gameplay and the storyline progresses. Made by Plaid Hat Games, we've been sent a copy to review for the Asmodee Blogger Boardgame Club, and it's brilliant.

Gen 7 Game box with filmstrip illustrated characters

Suitable for 3 to 4 players aged 14+, you are the 7th generation to exist aboard a huge colony ship fleeing Earth for a fertile new home planet. The journey is around half way through and everything has gone well so far, until now. The entire mission and lives of everyone on board are threatened and it's up to the crew to find the clues, solve the puzzles and save humanity.

There are more elements included in the Gen7 box than just about any game I've played. It makes it seem very exciting, but it also seems much more complicated than it actually is. The secret nature with lots of hidden information adds to the anticipation.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Rocketbook Everlast - Almost Everlasting Intelligent Notebook Review and Giveaway (paid collaboration)

A couple of weeks ago we were sent the Rocketbook Everlast for review. An almost everlasting intelligent notebook which can be used, scanned, erased and reused for years. Combined with a clever app. which includes Optical Character Recognition, you can save or send your scan, and convert handwriting to typed print instantly.

Rocketbook Everlast bag and contents for 2 basic sets

We were all excited about receiving the Rocketbook because we use a lot of paper. My household includes myself, an I.T. Man and 3 University students who all makes lists and notes constantly and rely on notebooks every day.

In the Rocketbook Everlast Executive pack are the Rocketbook itself, plus a soft cloth to wipe pages clean and the Pilot Frixion pen, which you do have to use, but they are a gorgeous pen to write with.

The pages in the Rocketbook are made from a special hardwearing but thin plastic coated material, which feels pretty much like regular paper when you write and wipes completely clean afterwards. I've found if you press on hard then the pen leaves a slight indent which scared me at first, but so far even this has actually vanished after cleaning and resting for 5 minutes.

The clever stuff comes with the app. Each of the 32 pages has a QR Code and very faint symbols across the base of the page, which can be read when you scan into the app. You can really easily associate those symbols with cloud services or email addresses, so when you mark over the symbol and scan a page, it is automatically sent to the folder you want.

I was a bit daunted before I started because it seemed like it would be complicated, but it took seconds to work my way around the app. and decide where I wanted everything to go - all to my own email address as default - I jot, doodle and work mainly alone.

There are lots of cloud services the Rocketbook app. can link to, and you can also choose to 'share' in the same way as you can share any images or documents from your phone, so sending to multiple people or places is again, really easy, intuitive and familiar.

Still in Beta, but working exceptionally well, is the OCR - Optical Character Recognition. The software 'reads' what you've written and converts it to typed text. When you scan and send a page, you can choose to also include a printed text version, and you can even search your notes.

You can give a page of written text a title using double hashtags, which is a really handy feature. I didn't make any effort to tidy up my writing because I wanted a real test of how well it read when I was behaving normally. I'm really impressed. For notes the transcription is perfectly good enough, and when I've made only a tiny bit of effort it's been perfect.

My partner has also found that the Rocketbook app. can read his writing, and I can't, so bonus! You can see it in action and hear what we all thought of our Rocketbook Everlast in this 3 minute video:

I mainly use my Rocketbook for lists and notes - my job list, weekly job list, daily to-do lists. Shopping lists, household chore lists and for noting down points for reviews as they come to me. I've found it ridiculously handy because I can delete and add to my lists or notes at will, and a clean page is a job well done.

I genuinely didn't realise how much paper I was using each week and it's a great bonus for my uni students, who have reams of notes from lectures. We like Rocketbook Everlast - two of us have already swapped from paper to Rocketbook.

Rocketbook is available in different sizes. 'Letter' is similar to A4 costing £34.99rrp and 'Executive' is similar to A5 at £32.99rrp. You only need plain water to wipe it clean and replacement Pilot Frixion Pens are available at most stationers in a variety of colours and thicknesses.

We all love the Rocketbook Everlast, so I'm delighted to have a discount code for my readers. If you order on the Rocketbook website before 28.9.2019 then you get 10% off any Everlast notebook, in any size, with the code TheBrickCastle10 

Rocketbook Everlast is also available on Amazon

I also have a Rocketbook Executive Everlast to give away to one of you. Entry to the giveaway is via the Gleam form below and open to UK entrants only. Your details are only used to administer this giveaway and not shared with anyone else. The giveaway will end at midnight Sunday 28th July 2019. Full terms and conditions are at the bottom of the Gleam form.

You can find a link to help if you are new to Gleam and see my other UK giveaways here...

Rocketbook Everlast - Almost Everlasting Notebook Giveaway (paid collaboration)

We were paid a small admin fee for the time taken to administrate this giveaway and sent our Rocketbook Everlast for review. 

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Hubelino Marble Run Elements Set Review Age 3+ (Sent by Hubelino)

Hubelino is a brand new product in the UK which combines with your own blocks and bricks to create a marble run track. The design and size is all up to your own imagination and it's a fantastic STEM supporting toy to bring out the designer and engineer in all of us.

Hubelino Marble Run Elements Set front of box with various bricks illustrated

We've been sent the Marble Run Elements Set, which contains 55 pieces, including 4 balls. Packaging is awesome. It's all in a big cardboard box, with 2 resealable plastic bags to keep everything tidy. No extra or unnecessary packaging and perfect for storage when you aren't playing.

Hubelino Set box contents 55 various shaped blocks in a resealable plastic bag

The Hubelino is Elements Set is an 'add-on' and although it's possible to create a marble run with these elements alone, it is designed to work with what you already have and is compatible with standard blocks.

Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker Giveaway (Age 6+) Sent for review by Zuru Toys

Bunch O Balloons have been a huge hit since they arrived in the UK a few years ago and this year they've increased their arsenal for even more garden water fun. We've been sent the new Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker for review and as luck would have it, the weather kindly perked up in time for my kids to have a play...

Bunch O Balloons Soaker/Filler pack and two packs of extra water balloons

We reviewed Bunch O Balloons last year. They're every bit as good as they look on telly and you really can fill a whole bundle of water balloons in 60 seconds. The balloons are rubber, biodegradable and recyclable. You can find my original Bunch O Balloons review here with our short video - and a couple of errors we made by being too cautious.

Orange bowl of water full of filled blue water balloons

The Bunch O Balloons Filler/Soaker is a really great addition to the range and means that you don't even need a tap to fill your balloons. Perfect for anyone who doesn't have an outdoor tap, and it makes Bunch O Balloons portable! You can even fill them on a campsite - but in a pool might well be the best of all.

boy firing the Bunch O Balloons Soaker/Filler as a water gun blaster

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Three Inch Fools present Macbeth: Ordsall Hall Summer Outdoor Theatre Review (We were guests).

Ordsall Hall's Summer Outdoor Theatre programme launched last Friday night with Macbeth and we were invited along to review. Last year when we went for the outdoor theatre it was 30 degrees at 9pm and we were melting - it wasn't quite the same this year, and I was reliably informed it would move inside if there was rain, but in the end we did very well with a dry, sunny evening.

Three Inch Fools present Macbeth: Ordsall Hall Summer Outdoor Theatre Review  view of stage

Ordsall Hall is a beautiful Tudor building set into gorgeous grounds, and it really is an oasis of calm in amongst all of the modern buildings, homes and businesses. The current Great Hall was built in 1512, so it would have been sparkly new when Shakespeare was alive. The perfect location for Macbeth.

Ordsall Hall Salford Kitchen Garden area and back wall of manor house

Gates opened at 6pm, which allowed us plenty of time to familiarise ourselves, find a suitable spot and get comfy. You are free to bring your own chairs, and if it's wet you really will want to, as sitting on the grass or a picnic blanket will be cold and/or damp unless the weather is glorious, especially at night.

The gardens are gorgeous - the Gardener does an amazing job and I'm sure she is rightly proud.

Posh Paws BBC Earth Soft Toys Review And Giveaway (Age 12m+) Sent by Posh Paws

The BBC Earth range of soft toys from Posh Paws International is a collaboration with the BBC, and all of the soft toys depict land and sea animals featured in the BBC television documentaries including Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II. We've been sent some of these gorgeous creatures to review and I also have 2 to give away to my readers.

All of our land and sea creatures are suitable for anyone 12 months and over. They are approximately 25cm/10" tall or long (with a smaller 7" size range also available). Super soft and cuddly, they come with their own cardboard display plinth. In fact the display plinth is the only real packaging and there aren't any plastic bags involved.

Posh Paws BBC Earth Soft Toys Review Sea Turtle Penguin and octopus on table