There are not that many things that I treat myself in life with, but somethings are just too important to buy on the cheap. Shoes are vital that you buy quality as you will be walking on them for miles; cheap shoes will just fall to pieces. My experience has been the same with frying pans; buy cheap and you regret it soon after; the non-stick starts to deteriorate quickly and the build quality is just not there. Take it from me, spend a little more on a frying pan and live a far happier life.
A good option is the nesting set from Prestige Kitchen. These 20 cm and 24 cm pans actually click together with their handles, so don’t take up as much space as they might. Only being 24 cm max, they are never going to take up too much room and I would say that the 24 cm is just about big enough to cook up a family meal, but an extended family would probably need a bigger pan. What these pans lack in width, they make up for in depth. Not quite wok deep, these frying pans are certainly deeper than I am used to and this means that the food does not spill over the edge as often.
In terms of build quality, the pans are great. There is a nice weight to proceedings and the handles are sturdy, connecting to the pan itself well. The non-stick is also of the highest standard, requiring little to no oil and cleaning impeccably. That is except for one bit. Where the handle meets the pan are two metal studs; these create a sturdy connection, but also an oasis of non-stick. The only real failing of these pans is that all the crust and goo is attracted to these two studs and they can be a pain to clean and not as hygienic as the rest of the pan. A small annoyance perhaps, but one that does not have the same prestige level as the rest of the pans.
Battleships is a fun game, but a little slow. In today’s Amiga generation they want fast entertainment that keeps their brains ticking over like only James Pond can. ‘Kanoodle Head-to-Head’ is a simple, but effective party game that will have two competative siblings firing pieces of plastic at each other for days. The aim of the game is simple; both players sit on opposite sides of a board that is a little Battleships-esque, but unlike that game they both work from the same start. You have to copy the image in front of you by using the plastic moulded beads provided. Once you match these Tetris style beads you press the button in front of you and it flings the opponents pieces flying! What says good winner better than flinging the pieces in their sorry faces?
The game can be a little heated due to the intense nature of trying to solve the puzzles as fast as you can, but that is the joy. If you do lose and see that your opponent did not actually have the correct result a local family solution may be required; as little violence as possible please. The game is compact and best played on a flat surface, but can be used on your travels (although pieces are likely yo get out of reach). The entire thing packs away into the board, so it is something that does not take up too much space and comes with 80 variations in design to copy so it has a lot of replay value.
Minecraft certainly has a distinct look to it and the ‘Minecraft: The Nether and the End Sticker Book’ aims to capitalise on this. The book is essentially a sticky activity book that follows a loose story around one of the Minecraft worlds. I am not an expert on the subject and after reading this am no more the wiser. The book is aimed at the Minecraft fan and younger spectrum at that, 6-7 perhaps. The book has plenty of stickers, but not all of them are well used. Some are for the activities in the book, but a lot are miscellaneous.
The book even partakes in the worst sin that a sticker book can; that of producing countless bland stickers all squashed together so that they can claim there are loads of them. There may be plenty, but many are not that fun. I also had an issue with the darkness of the book. Minecraft images don’t always look pleasant on the page, but with the muddy and dark images here they look awful at times, even the stickers cannot help too much.
Despite reservations on this particular Minecraft book, for a fan it will still provide plenty of fun. The games on offer may be a little opaque to some, but for a fan they will make perfect sense and they can start playing straight away knowing who the characters and locations are. Just make sure the child you are buying this for is a true Minecraft fan before buying it as the appeal of the book will not cross over to the non-fan.
Learning Resources are a company that are walking a tightrope between producing toys, but also educating a child. Fundamentally, a farm set is educational as you learn about animal husbandry, but is that really STEM based? It is more imaginative play and a little motor skill based. Therefore, for the ‘Busy Barn’ to hit their remit it needed to be more than just a barn with a couple of animals. It is this, but also a little bit more.
For a farm it is not over populated with animals which is a shame; you get a cow and her calf and some chicks who are in the roof space. You will probably want to supplement the toy with more figures that you have; most children will have some suitable pigs or dinosaurs knocking around the place. The thing that separates ‘Busy Barn’ from other farmyard toys is that there are some more interactive elements that are aimed at developing motor skills. You can turn a wheel, flick a switch and open and close the doors. For a relatively small farm, there are lots of little things to try out. This is a good toy for someone who does not have a huge amount of space and does not want to be burdened with a massive farm.
As this is a toy aimed at a toddler audience it works well; colourful with nice chunky things to grab onto. The build quality is also good, everything is kept simple so that it is easy to use, but also harder to break. If there was a few more animals to mess with this would be a great little kit in of itself, but you will probably want to add some more toys to it to make played with more.
The Learning Resources Collection of toys offer a way for children to have fun with science. Many of them are a set of activities rather than a game, this means that there is not a huge amount of structure to what you do. However, as long as there are enough varied and fun things within the pack, no end game is not really an issue. The ‘Magnets Activity Set’ is a great example of just having fun with what is in front of you. Magnets are pretty much a riot anyway and anyone with iron filings or a train set with magnets has already played with magnets and enjoyed them. This set takes a step forwards and does some cool stuff that will make your child think a little.
All the activities revolve around magnets, but Learning Resources have done a great job of thinking of different things you can do from mazes to cars that attract (or don’t). Perhaps the most impressive element are the rings that seemingly float in the air. This is a clever way of using magnets to stimulate the imagination. Not only are the rings fun to play with, but inquisitive minds will want to know why they are floating.
The kit also comes with some activities to try, both using the equipment that comes in the pack, but also by adding extra bits. The set is 5+, probably because the pieces are a little small. The age group is reflected in some of the experiments it suggests; kids will need to think a little outside the box and do some assembly. With an assortment of colourful magnets to try out, this set is fun just to mess with, but Learning Analytics have done a grand job in also stimulating the academic mind. This is a simple set, but one of the most fun that the manufacturer as designed. Magnets are cool!
Does your child have an inquisitive mind? I know for a fact that some of them do and others just don’t. The ‘Learning Resources Zoomy 2.0’ is the type of device that is perfect for the science mad kid, but would go down like a wet balloon to a child with no interest in the subject. Essentially, this is a neat bit of kit that allows you to plug and play a camera/microscope into your computer. The round look and feel means that it is easy to pick up and use with smaller hands. To zoom you twist the camera and you can get pretty deep; it is certainly easier than trying to use a microscope and you get the same effect. Another added feature by using the computer software is that you can take stills of what you are looking at and also mini movies.
The quality of the camera is decent enough, but perhaps not the HD we are increasingly used to. As this is a tool for children to get into science at an affordable cost, this is not really an issue. You lose a little definition as you zoom to the extreme, but some tweaking with the focus and the quality is certainly of a high enough standard for a hobbyist. The Zoomy is essentially a web camera with added features and Windows treats it like this, when you plug it in you don’t have to install from the CD as the drivers should automatically load. The software that comes on the disc is on the basic side, but this is in keeping with the age that the camera is aimed at, kids should be taking photos and making mini videos within minutes.
Is the Zoomy fun? It depends on the child. I would have loved it as a kid as you can see the detail of what things are made up from, but for some children it will be like trying to bring the classroom home. There is not real attempt at making the use of the camera a game; the software could have tried doing something clever here. However, for the right child the power of the microscope alone will be enjoyment.
One of the things that I like about comedy is that there seems to be a taste that suits everyone from Mrs Brown’s Boys, all the way to something that is actually watchable. Some people enjoy puns, others slapstick. If you are willing to look for it, the chances are that something will make you laugh. The ease in which you can discover comedy was not always as simple as the internet and in past years access was dominated by The Footlights and other educated fellows. However, in many cases it is the oddballs that managed to sneak through that provide the best laughs. Paul Merton may be an established and quite safe pair of comedy hands, but if you think about him, he is a bit of an oddball.
‘Only When I Laugh’ is a pleasant and intelligent autobiography that in perfect keeping with the man himself. Merton’s humble background, combined with his love of old comedians meant that he never really felt like he fitted in with the raucous crowd. It did not really enter his consciousness for a long time that someone like him could get paid for being a comedian and that is why the book is so interesting.
The path between Merton and fame is not actually filled with that many pitfalls and in the grand scheme of things he did well for himself at a decent pace. The book works through his childhood to the present day and like with many lives it has its ups and downs. The best comedy autobiographies are often as funny as the person writing it, but also have a little pathos. ‘Laugh’ certainly has both of these. I actually think that the book was a little safe at times and Merton’s voice is a little standoffish, just like the straight man persona he uses on ‘Have I Got News for You’.
The book really comes to the fore in the darker times in Merton’s life. I knew little about him so read about his time being sectioned and the death of a partner had impact. Merton seemed to take these things in his stride in the same way that he also takes his successes. This makes for a methodical and detailed book, but does lack a little passion in places.