Friday, 29 August 2014

Potters Resort - worth a visit? (@pottersresort)


Potters Resort advertises itself as Visit Britain's (AKA the tourist board) first 5 star holiday village in the UK. It has held this 5 star award for 12 years now and that speaks volumes. It is also telling when you look at Trip Advisor that you find more good reviews than bad. This site is notorious for being brutally truthful and it is good to see that in the case of Potters Resort the truth is positive.

Whilst Potters has some aspects that duplicate other holiday villages we have been to before, my overriding feeling is that it is really unique and pretty darn special too, I suppose some of that might come from it being the longest serving and still privately owned holiday centre in the UK (the Potters family built and opened it in 1920). When we first drove onto the site we were greeted with the hotel with its balconies and posh looking penthouses at the rear and then you look right and see all the bungalows and yes on the outside they are not that attractive and the paved floor is a bit gloomy but you get inside them and see the luxurious finish and forget about the outside facade.


A walk up to the main complex takes you past tennis courts, adventure golf, an outside bar and a beautiful pool. Everything looks fresh and new and it is clear Potters have an ongoing renovation plan and a commitment to keeping the place updated.

Once in the main building we were first greeted by the enormous garden restaurant, which looks as if it should be on board a luxury cruise liner and then shortly after a small over 18's and children's amusements area and I commented to my husband we were in little Vegas as much of the decor looks a bit mock Grecian. Next up we caught sight of a Zumba class and a group of women and girls following the dance instructor and for a moment I was transported to Kellermans and Dirty Dancing. It really it is a little bit of everything.
On reflection the next day I actually think that the main complex in Potters is like an up-market David Lloyd fitness centre; you can enjoy a beer or coffee whilst watching various sports or children's activities. It was great that all the main areas link and we could allow the children to make friends and go off for short times, this definitely added to their holiday experience and Buzbys basement was particularly appreciated as this allowed them a kids only play and chill out zone.

I can't believe that anyone could be bored at Potters Resort, I understand that organised fun is not for everyone but if you are a sporty family then you can independently book for darts, golf, pool, snooker, table tennis, tennis, squash, badminton, bowls, segway, archery, football, swimming and so many other activities that I can't even recall. Oh and do not worry they are all included in the price you have already paid.



Our family is not really a sporty one but there was still loads to keep us entertained too. The kids enjoyed soft play, an inflatable assault course, the play park, laser quest, the climbing wall, skateboarding, adventure golf, meet the animals, back stage tour, village fete on the green and various activities at their kids clubs like 5 aside football, nail art, crafting and dancing games.

Everyone was exhausted on the first day so we headed home at 9pm after the kids clubs but on the second day after the back stage tour there was no way the kids were going to let us go. So we found seats to watch the show and I'm so glad we did, as the entertainment is really high end. The performers could easily have been in a West End show and after watching once we of course went back the next night too!


Potters is set right on the beach and you can easily walk down to the beach from the football field or golf course. The beach is truly stunning but I see at the moment they are redeveloping the beach to put natural stone breakers in this, this of course spoils parts of it at the moment but once it is all done it will be even better.



As we leave Potters Resort to go home my overriding feeling is one of sadness; I could just do with another couple of days here. I think this is probably JJ's best holiday ever as the park is small enough and he is now old enough that he could go off with his new mates and have so much fun. The girls have tried all sorts of new activities and stayed out for their latest holiday bedtimes ever and Miss M is now convinced that she will be a famous performer one day! And dh and I? We have done what we do best on holiday, we have enjoyed our children having a wonderful time and got to relax and chat together.

I always like to do a balanced review and to tell you the good with the bad. At the moment I'm struggling to find any bad points to talk to you about. The jolly join-in kind of atmosphere might not be for everyone but we did not find it over the top and the staff really do seem to care and enjoy their work. As I mentioned the bungalows do look quite old fashioned on the outside but from my point of view who cares, they are fabulous inside and really practical. I suppose the one thing that was the most annoying for me was the wi-fi was a bit patchy in the main building. At times it was brilliant and I could download to iPlayer at others I struggled to get connected to the cloud and I'd really of liked the option to have wi-fi in my room (but I suppose that was just because I'm a blogger).

I asked dh what his recommendations were to make our stay better and he suggested an optional welcome talk, as there is so much going on it would be great to find out all about it at the beginning of the stay and then we could have planned better and also he said booster seats in the theatre (like you get in a cinema) would have been a great addition and I think he is right.

Thanks so much Potters Resort for having us, we have had a wonderful time and as we left today the kids kept telling their friends they would see them next year so we need to get saving!

Here is just a few more memorable moments from our stay and I'll post about our eating experiences at Potters Resort next week. You can also see our intial reaction over here.


Disclosure: We are staying at Potters for three nights for the purpose of viewing the holiday resort. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Thursday, 28 August 2014

How to enjoy Colchester zoo in the rain


Yesterday on the way to our holiday we had an overnight stay in Colchester and for my husbands birthday we headed to Colchester zoo as he loves to watch the animals. Sadly the great British weather was not on our side and it was heavy rain pretty much the whole day. Despite being on holiday and thus not being prepared for this kind of weather we decided to brave it anyway.

Here are my top tips for enjoying a day at Colchester zoo in the rain (and yes I would recommend you still go, it is a great place) -

1)    Get prepared before you leave home. Make sure you have waterproof coats, wellies (there are lots of big puddles) and an umbrella. Personally I'd also advocate one of those shopper bags on wheels and pack it with your lunch, towels (to dry yourself or sit on) and all the other things your family might need. Also dont forget the positive attitude, whilst the weather might be miserable, you don't have to be.

2)    Don't miss the brand new Australian Rainbows walk through. For £1 you can purchase a little tub of nectar and feed the beautiful lorikeets. Just look at the smile on my boys face when the bird hopped onto his arm and fed. This was probably the highlight of my husbands day too.


3)    The animal shows continue rain or shine, so use your towel or a carrier bag on a chair and have a seat to watch one of the outside shows. Miss E loved watching the parrots fly overhead and as I was standing the hawks were a tad unnerving when they flew past me!


4)    Make sure you visit some of the public animal feeding times. The kids fed the giraffes and they felt so connected to the animals by doing this, it also meant they could chat to some of the staff and learn some new facts.


5)    Many of the animal enclosures are undercover and you can spend ages watching the animals inside or out. I really loved the fact that the enclosures at Colchester zoo are large and you feel as if the animals have enough space. Particularly good is the Orangutan area, where you can watch them inside and outside and also play with some apparatus and get a taste of what it is like to be an Orangutan.


The sealion tunnel is also much better than most aquariums Ive been to and it is great to watch them swim overhead and feed. The Penguins can also be viewed from inside and make for interesting viewing.

2014 is the year of the bear at Colchester Zoo and the new Bears of the Rising Sun enclosure is very impressive and large. So great to be able to watch the animals and have space to do it.


6)    The Lost Madagascar Express train is good as it is undercover and thus does not matter if it is raining. The ranger guide talks you through all the enclosures that you drive past and takes you straight into the Lemur enclosure and you can get out the train and take a walk and see what the lemurs are up to, it was really good.


7) Visit the Discovery centre for some hands on fun. Miss M loved getting in the cage to see what bears in captivity have to go through and holding the giant African land snail.


Of course if you go along to Colchester Zoo when it is not raining it would be even better I expect, there are so many great adventure parks all over the zoo and my kids really wanted to try out some of the fantastic looking slides but alas it was just too wet on the day we went. It is probably apt to mention that there is a nice soft play at Colchester zoo, we did go in there for about half hour but because of the rain it was really busy.

To be honest due to the weather we probably missed about a third of what we could have seen at Colchester Zoo, so do make sure you check out their website and see exactly what they have to offer.

If we had paid for entry to Colchester Zoo it would have been £78.25 for our family of 5 (this is 10% off the on the gate price). If you find you like it when you are there you can of course upgrade to a yearly pass and the cost of that day will be taken off.

During the summer months the zoo is open 9.30am - 6.30pm and this is plenty long enough to see everything. There are loads of snack and eating venues across the zoo and you can choose from things like cheesy fries at £2.20, wraps made to order, hot dogs or more traditional sit down restaurants and patisseries. We used used the vending machines where a coke bottle was £1.70 and a water £1.30.

In all I'd say Colchester Zoo is a wonderful place to visit, there is so much there and it is all presented well. The animals have lost of space to move and there is good variety. There is also plenty of opportunities for the kids to learn more and lots of interactive displays where they can open flaps, move doors etc to discover more about the animals.

Disclosure: We received free entry to the zoo in return for an honest review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.


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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Review of the LG G3 Phone

Over the last month or so I have been using the LG G3 phone which only launched a couple of months ago and is hailed as being one of the most impressively speced handsets on the market. It features a near bezel-free design, a 5.5-inch Quad HD display with a Snapdragon quad-core processor, 2GB of ram and a 13-mega pixel rear-mounted camera.

So what did I a devoted iPhone user and novice phone reviewer think? Well, in a nutshell I was far more impressed with it than I thought I might be. Let me tell you about it -

The screen resolution is fantastic
It is an absolute joy to watch a video or look at pictures on this phone. The quad HD screen really does what it is supposed to and you can see the difference from my iPhone 5C. The resolution on this screen is 538 ppi, which is what is commonly used to print high-end glossy art books

One touch photography
The 13mp camera is so easy to use, you have the option of no buttons and you can have the full 5.5" screen to look at and then tap with your finger to focus and shoot. Or alternatively tap the 3 dots and the controls appear on screen. There are a few nice options like magic focus, voice activated photo taking or selfies taken when the photo recognises your hand in front of the screen, so you don't have to worry about pressing the button and looking good! Also the OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) function reduces blur and shaking, with the laser measuring the distance to the object instantly to create clear and exquisite pictures. I also love how easy it is to share pictures straight from the camera roll, no need to go into Instagram or Google + (or any other social media site) you can share directly with just a few tiny actions.

Take a look at a couple of the pictures I took on the phone (with no enhancement) -



and just so you can see the quality of the images taken with the front facing camera, here is a selfie -


The phone looks really good
Available in three different metallic colorways, the LG G3 looks the business. One side is completely glossy screen the the other is the metallic finish. Sadly the metallic finish is on polycarbonate and whilst this makes the phone light and I believe has connectivity benefits too, it just feels a bit light and cheap to me. I also got a couple of small scratches quite easily.

Another benefit is that the back is really easy to get off the phone and this means you can insert a Micro SD card to increase memory capacity (up to 128GB) and change the battery if necessary.

It is a very big phone though, with a 5.5" screen it is practically a small tablet and I suppose it just comes down to personal preference. For watching videos and viewing images and web pages it makes things a lot easier but for storing the phone in a pocket or being really portable it is not so good.



Easy to use interface
Considering I've never used an LG phone before I was surprised how intuitive I found the phone to use, the controls at the bottom of the screen are pretty much the same as on my girls Samsung Tab 2 tablets. It was really easy to set up using the wizard which came up first time I plugged it in to charge and arranging the home screen was just like using my iPhone.

It all looks very ascetically pleasing with muted colours and I could add my own photos as wallpaper and screen save as you would expect.

The on/off switch and volume controls are on the back which at first I did not like but once I read I could tap the screen twice to turn it on and tap the status bar twice to make it go to sleep I was happy.

Intuitive keyboard
I was surprised how much of a difference it made to me having letters and numbers on one page of the keyboard, rather than having to toggle between the two. Something so simple but so helpful. It is also good that the keyboard gets to know you and the way you type, so it starts to predict your common typing errors and will start to allow for these. Auto-complete and auto-correct are easy and quick as well.

Not too fussy
By this I mean the phone did not come pre-installed with tons of apps that I don't want and can't delete. I love the fact I can really customise this phone to have just what I want on it. I can delete the pre-installed apps if I so desire and the Google play store is easy to use and download from. It would be better if there was some kind of password attached to downloads though.

Good enough battery life
The LG G3 has a 3,000mAh cell battery which can handle the strain the high resolution screen and fast processor puts on it. Using it for the whole day for social media, web browsing, texting and note taking meant the battery lasted me about a working day (8 hours) and then it needed a full charge again.

Decent sound quality
The 1 watt speaker with boast amp is good enough for a phone, it made a change to not need to add bluetooth speakers for decent quality sound.

Fast working and plenty of space
You could feel the quality of the processor on this phone as internet browsing is so fast and the phone comes with 16GB of memory as standard and you can add in a Micro SD card to take that up to 128GB if you need to.

Smart Notice
Can you believe that this phone tries to pre-empt what you might need, based on previous behaviour and interactions with the phone? It might ask you if you want to call someone back whose call you missed or if you want to switch wi-fi on. It is very clever and a little unnerving too! I did smile when it reminded me to take my umbrella out with me and then of course I didn't and got rained on!

Knock code
When you set up your LG G3 you are encouraged to set a knock code, which will wake the phone up and also act as a pass code to give you access to use it. You basically have a 4 quadrant grid and need to tap in 4 places to break the code and I like the idea of this but I kept forgetting the knock code so I had to turn it off and put a traditional number password on, I suppose that is because it is what I am used to using.

Conclusion
In all the LG G3 is a really great phone. If you like a big high-resolution screen, effective and easy to use point and click camera and lightweight phone then this could be for you. A new LG G3 is currently retailing for £357 on Amazon.

As mentioned at the beginning I really am a novice at this tech thing and can only give a perspective on the parts of the phone that I have experienced. If you want to read some more in-depth reviews of the LG G3 then check out Tech Radar or Know Your Mobile.

Disclosure: I received the LG G3 handset free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Our first impressions of Potters Resort

For weeks our family has been looking forward to this week and being able to be a family of five with no work (well except my blogging I suppose) and a whole lot of family fun.  We left home on Sunday and have spent two rainy days in Colchester (but still had a great time thankfully) and today we arrived in Norfok to stay at Potters Resort for 4 days.

We are reviewing this holiday but will still do so in a completely honest fashion as I know that is what my readers have come to expect of me and to be frank from what we have seen and experienced today we are going to have very few moans and groans.

Take a peek at our first impressions of Potters Resort -

Our very first impression was a fabulous one when we were greeted by Daniel at the reception desk. He was super smiley and informed us about all we needed to know to make our stay enjoyable. We had arrived a couple of hours before the 2pm arrival time and thankfully our room was ready for us.


JJ was quick to spot that you could buy 5 drinks tokens for £10 and this means the kids can get served at the bar by just handing over their token for a milkshake or pop, he loved the idea of being independent and when we found out this would actually save us money (as the drinks are normally £2.20 each) we quickly parted with our money!


We headed straight to our room to get settled and boy were we impressed when we walked in. We had been booked into the most basic accommodation type, a bungalow and frankly it is fabulous. They had put an extra bed in the twin room so we had three full size beds and three happy kids.


After getting unpacked we headed out to explore and see what Potters could offer us during our stay and again we were a bit blown away, there is so much going on and each time we saw something new JJ would ask 'does it cost more Mum?' and I was pleased to be able to say NO. The only things that seem to cost more are ten pin bowling and clay pigeon shooting. The kids have now got super-full plans for the rest of our stay and I'll blog about some of the things we get up to over the next few days.

One of the nice little extra touches that Potters offer, which we all loved is the kids check-in. Between 2-4pm the children could have their picture taken and a mini passport made, they then wear these all week and each time they take part in an activity they get a stamp in their passport and a certificate at the end of the stay. The girls were very pleased to get to meet Boo at check-in time too.


We did so much today in the short time we have been here, we swam, we ate (magnificently), we went to kids clubs and we relaxed but I'll write about those things another day.

For now it is goodnight and I hope you have a great day tomorrow, I sure know we will.

Mich x

Disclosure: We are staying at Potters for three nights for the purpose of viewing the holiday resort. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London - Great for the family


If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I love to get the family out to explore new places. We don’t have to go anywhere fancy or spend loads of money, the fun for us is in the discovering something new and exploring where we have not been before.

Or in this case where some of us have been before. Last weekend on my birthday we headed along to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. This of course is the home of the London Olympic games from 2012 and my husband and children all went to watch one of the Paralympic events whilst I was at work back in 2012.

They reliably inform me that whilst a couple of landmarks still remain and mean they can recognise this as the Olympic site generally the park has undergone such a massive redevelopment that is really is very different. One of the great legacies of having the Olympics here means that the area is very easy to access by public transport and there is also a massive multi-story car park, so you can travel in whatever way suits you. The Westfield shopping centre is also right on the parks doorstep and there is something there for everyone, what a wonderful cornucopia of shops, restaurants, street performers, fun activities and relaxing space.

First off there is no fee to enter the park and you can spend as much or as little time there as a you fancy. We arrived about 3pm and stayed until near 8pm and in that time we hardly even touched the surface of what is available, so I will happily go back again.

I often think that pictures tell a better story than words, so let me share with you some of the sights of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. First, the dancing fountains, which children were having so much fun with and there was plenty of bench seating around the outside for the adults. As the day was a bit chilly and we did not come prepared with towels our kids stayed pretty dry and had fun avoiding the water sprays!


The park itself is a visual feast, between all the enormous buildings that housed the games you have walkways that have beautiful planting and interesting things to look at - walls with blocks that turn, large wooden sun loungers and interactive areas where you can learn about some of the medals that were won by Team GB in the games.


Such a lovely birthday spending time with my family and I had the most delicious piece of banana cake and latte from one of the stalls selling food at the park. Of course they were not cheap, but I didn't really expect them to be here and JJ was super happy with his Nutella waffle, which set me back £4.00.


We found two good play areas as we explored, one right by the main heart of the park (close to the original stadium) and this had a variety of climbing areas, swings, slides, climbing walls and a fab sandpit.


The second one was a much further walk (down the canal, over the road and past the wetlands) on the north side of the park and by the time we got there it was deserted but we could see what fun it would be when there are lots of kids. There are water pumps which pump water down a big slope and you can build dams to stop the water. There is also a big rope bridge, sandpit, swing, wobble boards and balance beams.


As I mentioned earlier there really is so much to see and do here and it is a great place to be able to talk to your children about the Olympics and what they meant for this part of London. Next time we go and visit the 560 acre site I'm going to print off some of the trails for us to follow, there are kid specific ones, ones to follow the Olympic trail and an art one too.

Tesco Fuel Save
It is great to get out and about and going by car is far easier when you have a big family and lots of paraphernalia to take with you – picnic, towels, blankets, spare clothes, water etc but we all know fuel prices are very high nowadays. Thankfully Tesco is trying to prove yet again that every little helps and this time they have started a Fuel Save scheme. Over the last few years we have seen many supermarkets offering a fixed amount off per litre when you spend a certain amount in store and then fill up with petrol but Tesco have gone one better.

There is no single shop minimum spend with the Fuel Save scheme, every penny you spend in Tesco counts towards your fuel discount and once you reach a £50 spend in any one month then you can access that discount and it starts at 2p off per litre. Then for every £50 you spend in store you get another 2p off per litre. For a family like mine that spends £100 per week on their shopping that means a 16p per litre discount on my petrol cost (or diesel if that is what you buy). The discount is available up to a maximum of 20p off per litre.

Just think if I spend £500 a month on groceries (it can easily reach that with some new school uniform) and buy 100 litres of fuel I could be looking at a a saving of £20.00 and that would be really appreciated and could easily be spent on something else.

I really love the fact that the discount is tied to your Tesco clubcard, this means I do not have to worry about retaining receipts and gaining my discount that way, just by swiping my clubcard as normal I can access the discount available to me and if you don't already have a clubcard then it is free and easy to apply and frankly you should have one as the deals that you can access are wonderful and have paid for many of my families days out.

Disclosure: I have received some vouchers from Tesco to help us have a fun day out and to spread the word about the new Fuel Save scheme. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Saturday, 23 August 2014

10 top tips for a relaxed UK family holiday (on a budget)


A couple of weeks back we were on holiday in Poole with my parents and their dog and it was great, a real time of old fashioned and low-key fun.

I don't know about you but sometimes I find that holidays are a bit too full-on and constant activities can be exhausting. After a long term at school, my three kids are very ready for a break and need to chill out. They don't want to mind, but as I have the title 'Mummy', I get to make the decisons and rather than constant activities we have been enjoying time together as a family and just being in each others company.

I'm sure there are other parents like me so I thought I'd share my top 10 tips for a chilled and easy holiday away (on a budget) with the family -
  1. Try out a student house. This is not going to be for everyone as you have to be quite flexible about the area you stay in and the decor of the house but basically we rent a 5 bedroom student house in Wallisdown (between Poole and Bournemouth) for one week of the school holiday each year and this costs just £400. Compare that to a regular holiday let and we save hundreds for the 7 of us to stay. It pays to shop around and to consider places you might not normally.
  2. Plan ahead but don’t over commit. Have a good search of the Internet or contact the local tourist board and find out what is going on locally during your stay. There are often free events that can be enjoyed and will keep the cost down, for instance this week in Bournemouth my children have been able to help light the candles in the park and watched free performances by the beach. We have also made use of our existing National Trust membership. 
  3. Don’t be afraid to leave some times unplanned. I do think it is important to have times when everyone can just relax and choose what they want to do. It is of course really good to have lots of time where we all come together but we also need to charge our batteries and different people do that in different ways. I have two book worms and a crafter and a quick visit to the local charity shop provided new books for next to nothing. 
  4. Take the pressure off yourself. Within 15 miles of where we are staying there are probably in excess of twenty quality beaches that we could visit and on other times I might have pressured myself to try out new places each day and to ensure the kids went out every night but on this holiday we visited the same beach a couple of times and had a family movie night in, both of which the kids loved.
  5. Take a pack of cards and some board games with you. On the first night my kids were hassling us to go into town for an ice-cream and a go on the penny machines but after a long drive, shopping and unpacking all I fancied was a cuppa and a game of monopoly. I promise you, they had just as much fun as going out.
  6. Take some cheap outdoor sports toys with you. There are so many great free parks across the UK and it seems a shame not to make use of them. Of course the kids love to play in the park but more than anything I find they love to play with us, so rounders, racket ball, handball and football are all big hits. Or we sometimes create a circuit for us all to move around together - skipping, spin the hoops, get the ball in the net, scramble through a tube or use whatever is about, like tree stumps and free exercise equipment in many parks.
  7. Buy some ready meals. Go on, stop being a snob and just go for it. You cook enough at home and going out each day as a family is really expensive and can be a bore if the younger ones are tired. So I like to go to a quality shop like M&S or Waitrose and buy some ready meals that can just be put in the oven and enjoyed around the table.
  8. Or light the BBQ and use disposable plates and cutlery. Don't make life difficult for yourself, the kids think it is a real thrill to eat outdoors and to just be able to bin everything at the end of the meal!
  9. Let them break through the boredom barrier. I often find that my kids have the best fun when I have allowed them the time to get bored. Especially JJ, as a geeky boy he would happily sit on his laptop or iPad the whole day long but when I tell him it is a tech free day he will then play with his sisters and make fun from nothing. Camps get built, hide and seek is played and they come to me with ideas of what they want me to help them do.
  10. Take rainy day activities with you. It is Britain after all and it may (probably) will rain so it is best to be equipped. The house we stay in is always well equipped and during rainy stays we have painted stones we collected from the beach, made fairy cakes (or even decorated digestives when we have not had a cooker available) and created flags for our next sandcastle building day.
What are you best tips for a nice easy family holiday?
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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Miss E's Love Affair with Alfie (Your toy story)

Miss E - meeting Alfie for the first time on her christening day in May 2008 through to today

There really is something very special about a child's relationship with their most-loved toy. Take my little Miss E for example, she is 7 years old now and got her Alfie teddy when she was 8 months old as a Christening gift and he has barely left her side in all those years. That in itself presents problems; as a toddler she would want to take Alfie out with her in the buggy and I used to panic until we were back home that she might lose him.

To ease my worries I thought it would be a good idea to buy an identical Alfie and then if one got lost she would still be happy with her replacement and of course it meant I could give Alfie a much needed wash too. There is only so much loving any teddy bear can take before he becomes a bit smelly!

I searched for ages for a duplicate Alfie. As he was a gift I did not know where he came from but I knew he was made by Gund and called Alfie as his tag said so. The internet bought up lots of large versions but none the same, so it was with delight that one day walking through our local John Lewis I spotted an Alfie. Of course I immediately bought him and that night I hid Miss E's Alfie downstairs and at bedtime I placed the new Alfie next to her. She was only two at the time, so still fairly young but she knew what she wanted.

Miss E glared at me with a look of horror and chucked the new Alfie at her twin sister and said "Not my Alfie, that Miss M's Alfie, where is mine?".  Something I thought would be such a simple answer turned out not to be at all! It has proved useful to have this other Alfie though as the girls enjoy having twin bears as they are twins themselves and to this day they are both still called Alfie and on the odd occasion when we cannot find Miss E's Alfie (as he has got packed away in a toy box or been left at Nanny's) then  Miss M will gladly lend her Alfie to Miss E, it really is very cute.

I do love the fact that Alfie is helping to build beautiful childhood memories for Miss E, she chats away to him, takes him on every holiday and he gets involved with all sorts of teddy bears picnics and make believe games. She has told me before that she loves her Alfie like daddy loves Orange, his teddy that he has had since birth.

I also remind her that mummy loved Raggedy Ann in the same way too, this was my rag doll that went everywhere with me and I know my mum had to replace her felt face a number of times as I used to rub holes in her! I believe she is still in my parents loft, I must ask them to get her down so I can introduce her to Alfie.

My funniest memory of Raggedy Ann is that she regularly used to take the train to see my Nanny. As a young child we had a railway line at the end of the garden and by all accounts I was quite a handful and run rings around my mum. So in an effort to help me behave, if I was naughty Raggedy Ann would be sent away on the train to stay with my Nanny in the next town. Then once I was behaving, there would be a knock on the back door and I'd run and answer it and find that Raggedy had been allowed home again.  I do chuckle about this now and think my Mum was quite clever to instate this discipline as it sure did work and I remember it 37 odd years later!

I won't try this with Miss E though as she is much more of a tender heart than I am and I fear she would cry her heart out. No I'll let her keep hold of her Alfie and they can continue to make beautiful memories together for many years yet.


Talking of childhood memories, John Lewis Insurance have just launched their ‘Your toy story’ campaign.


Every Thursday for the next four weeks a different retro toy will be featured on the John Lewis Insurance microsite (http://whatmatters.johnlewis-insurance.com), along with the story of the toy’s history. This will detail why the toy was popular; its success and why it has been chosen. Furthermore, John Lewis will be publishing a Throwback Thursday (#TBT, ‪#ThrowBackThursday) post each week to celebrate the toys of our childhoods.

The first toy featured is the good old ‘TeddyBear’.

John Lewis Insurance wants to hear your special childhood toy memories, share them on Twitter. Also, why not keep up to date with John Lewis to see what retro toy they will be featuring next week!


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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Are there 100 supportive MP's out there?


I sure hope so is the short answer, we really need them to show their support and turn up in parliament on 12th September 2014 for the second reading of the International Development Bill.

What is that you may well ask? and don't tune out if you don't know what it is, if politics is not your thing because I'll be honest I wouldn't say politics is my thing either. I'm not one of those clever types who know exactly what is going on or how it all works but I know right from wrong.

And quite simply it is right for our rich country to commit to giving 0.7% of our national income as UK aid. The fight against extreme poverty has come so far in the last few years, there are massive success stories -

  • like under 5's child-deaths reduced by 50% in the last 50 years
  • like cases of polio being reduced by 99% and smallpox being eradicated
  • like primary school enrolments up by 50 million from 1999 to 2007 *
and it would be sinful to allow all that good work to start to ease. There is still so much more to be done but if the rich countries pull together and provide the aid needed there are forecasts which show we could put a end to extreme poverty by 2030, that's not that far away, right? But it sure is exciting!

So today I'm asking you to do a few things to play your part in helping our Government make this 0.7% commitment law. They made the first commitment 40 years ago and then last year all 3 of our major UK political parties pledged their support and said they would enshrine that promise in law. The private members bills will be discussed and voted on on 12th September 2014 and if there are 100 supportive MP's there, the proposer Michael Moore MP can force a vote.

So could you please take a moment to help?
Any one of these things would be brilliant, two would make you fantastic and if you do them all then God bless you and thanks for your help.

Come on, lets pull together and pester those MP's!

* Source - http://www.one.org/international/living-proof/#

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

JJ has his first taste of designer sports brands...

I recall being a young teenager and all I wanted for my fourteenth birthday was a shiny new Puma tracksuit top to go with my Nike and adidas ones. I had the big white Nike trainers with the fluorescent laces, the pale blue dungarees and big leather belt with a 'sexy' buckle. I was not short of confidence back in those days and I certainly knew what I wanted and most of those things included big brand names - names like adidas, Nike, Puma and Sassy. I hung around with a group who liked to roll out their lino and do some break dancing and we would all gather round the boom box. It certainly was a different time but lots of fun.

Nowadays not many people are break dancing anymore and the idea of wearing a shiny tracksuit top is a pretty horrifying one but it still remains that teenagers like their big brands. It is the in thing to wear the right names and the right pieces of clothing or trainers.  I am pleased to say that JJ is not that much into brands yet, I'm sure it will come and when it does I know where I'll be heading to - straight to JD Sports where the prices are so much more reasonable than most other high street sports shops.

We started to shop in JD Sports for JJ a couple of years ago when he needed new jogging bottoms and we found that they often had deals to buy 2 pairs for a special price. We have found their products to be quality and really reasonably priced and in fact we are off there tomorrow for some new tops and hoodies for JJ as he just does not seem to stop growing.

I'd never considered JD Sports as a shop for back to school purchases but actually they have a great stock of sports clothes (of course), bags, coats, trainers, shoes, caps and hoodies. JJ was offered a new school bag and he jumped at the chance to choose something more grown up than the one he had been using.



His first choice was this adidas backpack, which retails for £30.00 and is 100% polyester. It feels like a really sturdy backpack with adjustable straps and padded over the shoulder straps for a comfy fit. Our bag is all black but there are various different colour ways. It measures 17" x 11" x 5.5".

The backback has a really large laptop section which pleased JJ a lot as he loves to take his laptop with him and there is also another large section as well as smaller pockets and a place for a water bottle. There is also a D loop so you can clip things onto the bag and a nice touch is the straps and buckles on the front which will work well for when JJ goes on hikes with the scouts as he can strap his coat on the front when he needs to.

So what was JJ's comment about his new backpack? "It is so cool Mum, I can take it to Caverdale when I start next September as it is like the big kids have. It totally is a bag for secondary school!".

There is a great selection of school bags on the JD Sports website and they start at a reasonable £10 for McKenzie and there are even Nike branded bags from £15, so you can find something for all budgets.


I was pleased to see that you can order from the web for free delivery into your local store or it is free home delivery for orders over £60. The price is £3.99 if you wanted it delivered to home and your order value is less than £60 and I was super pleased to see that all returns are free whether you post them or take them into store. This is where some stores let you down but not JD Sports.

We have been very pleased with our service from JD Sports, our bag arrived quickly, was well packaged and the actual bag itself is brilliant.


Disclosure: We received this backpack free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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Monday, 18 August 2014

A Birthday visit to Ripleys Believe It or Not! London

It was my birthday last week and with my 40th last year being a bit of a wash-out I was determined that we should celebrate as a family and have some fun. So it was decided that an overnight trip to London was needed and we had a very lovely couple of days walking, eating and exploring some new places.

One of the places we went to visit was Ripleys - Believe It or Not! in Piccadilly, London. I'd not heard of this attraction before they contacted me recently but when I mentioned it to my 10 year old son JJ, he got all excited 'oh yes Mum, I so want to go there. There are loads of interesting facts and all weird stuff. I've got the book'.  So on that strong recommendation I arranged a visit for the weekend.

Arrival
Last Saturday was super busy in London, far too much for me. You literally could not move in Leicester Square, so I was expecting Ripleys Believe It or Not! to be uncomfortably busy but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a queue of just about 15 people in front of us and this was gone through within 5 minutes. JJ was super happy anyway as he found a door you could open that screamed when you did and this set his expectation that loads of fun would follow.

One of the first exhibits you see is the swarovski crystal covered Mini Cooper, worth over £500,000. This new exhibit has travelled from America to be in London and uses over a million crystals in 50 different colours to represent the 50 states in America, it also depicts many classic American icons like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore.


I'm not really sure how to explain what Ripleys Believe It or Not! is, so I'll use this bit from their website -
At Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London visitors can marvel at an unbelievable collection of jaw dropping artefact's from across the globe – many of which were collected by the ultimate explorer Robert Ripley himself. With over 700 astonishing exhibits, galleries and interactive experiences spanning across 6 floors, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London celebrates the weird, wonderful and bizarre in all its forms, which are sure to excite, delight and thrill the whole family. Want to see how will you measure up to the world’s tallest man? Or come face to face with our rare collection of Amazonian shrunken heads? Will you dare to venture into Ripley’s Marvellous Mirror Maze and defeat the Impossible LaseRace?
And actually look at this short video clip as this gives a really good insight and idea.



The Best Bits
Probably my favourite part of the attraction was the artwork. It is truly amazing what you can use to make great art - bottle tops, tape from cassettes, keyboard keys, matchsticks, leaves, dung and even toast!


I also enjoyed the hall of exotica as it was interesting to see what other cultures use.

Of course the part the kids loved best was the interactive exhibits and JJ said he would have liked more of these. There was an awful lot of things to just look at and for my boisterous and busy kids this is not what they want to do generally.

I asked JJ for a comment about Ripleys Believe It or Not! and he said 'It was good but not the best' and I then asked him to compare it to going to somewhere like the Science Museum and he said he would prefer the museum as there is more to get involved with and explore. JJ also commented that he thought Ripleys Believe It or Not! could make their signage/ commentary more interesting. Other places we have been to have made the kids lift doors, looks in boxes, match up answers etc but at Ripleys Believe It or Not! it was mainly just reading a straight forward sign about what the exhibit is.

In fairness there were a few areas where you could watch. There was an excellent holograph of Ripley himself at the beginning explaining about how all the artefact's were gathered and then at others times there were short explanatory shows. Like about the shrunken heads and then another showing a man doing some odd swallowing and regurgitating trick, that one felt a bit like an old fashioned circus side show if I'm being honest. JJ tells tells me there was a few clips together that we could have stood and watched but they were shown in a big empty room which felt as it if should have had chairs or benches in so you could sit and watch for longer if you liked.


I asked my 7 year old twins about their favourite bits and Miss E (who is dyslexic) said she liked seeing all the art as she wants to be an artist herself when she is older but she thought lots of things were boring as she could not read the signage herself.

My husband said there were some interesting areas within Ripleys Believe It or Not!, he really enjoyed being able to talk to our kids about the Berlin Wall and the Olympics area was really good but these were combined with other areas that were just a bit 'freak showish' for us. Within the Dungeon area there was some very macabre items and whilst it was interesting to discuss some of them with my 10 year old the idea of my children having their picture taken in a chastity belt just seemed so wrong.  It was good that you could take a route to miss the dungeon if you did not want to go through it.

LaseRace, Mirror Maze and the Black Hole
Miss M said her best bit was the LaseRace, this is at the end of the tour and you can choose your level of difficultly and try and get through the maze of lasers without breaking the beams and in the quickest time to get added to the leader board. You got one go at this in the price and could pay £2 for another 2 goes if you fancied.

JJ loved all of these. He mastered the mirror maze in no time and as it was not too busy he kept going in again and again and the black hole freaked me out entirely as I could not maintain my composure and was convinced the bridge was moving under my feet, of course it was not!



Sadly the interactive graffiti wall exhibit was out of action when we visited.

Cost & General Visitor Details
If we had turned up on the day and bought our tickets we would have spent just short of £100 for 2 adults and 3 children and if we purchased in advance via the website it would have been £85 which is a good saving but it is still a lot of money to spend, especially considering we were only in the attraction for about 2.5 hours.

Ripleys Believe It or Not!, London is really easy to access with buses, tubes and trains serving it frequently. The opening hours of 10am - midnight are excellent and it is accessible for those with disabilities. We used a couple of the toilets on site and both were very well used and a bit grotty with wet floors and smelly bins.

I noticed there were audio guides available in various languages and you can arrange for a guide too, I imagine it would be an interesting school visit.

The cafe was really nice in the middle of some exhibits and we were able to buy a drink and snack. We paid £1.50 for bottled water, £1.75 for a bottle of Coke and 90p for polos.

As with most attractions nowadays you leave via the gift shop and thus the kids beg you for various sweets and knick-nacks!

Conclusion
I'm glad we went to Ripleys Believe or Not! as now we have seen some very unusual exhibits and learnt a few new facts but if I'm honest it is the kind of place I'd only visit the one time. If you love the odd and the unusual  then this will definitely be for you.

Disclosure: We received complimentary entry for our family for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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