What are your childhood Christmas toys worth now?

I love to remember the games I played as a child, and I especially like to see how much they are worth now. My wife has bought a couple of her childhood games like Spirograph, Etch-a-Sketch, and a Simon off ebay in the last few years. I think we are all nostalgic is some way or another.

I have still never got over the fact that my mum gave away all my original Star Wars toys that I had saved in the loft without me knowing. They are worth so much money now, but I've let it go... no, honestly... well maybe not!

The fab people over at 2 Little Fleas have put together this great little graphic on a few of those family favourite toys and what they are worth now.

It can be fun to see what they are worth now, if you still have that toy that is!

I'd love to know what you think. Comment below if you had a toy that is now worth lots of money but you don't have it anymore!

Father's Day: A trip down memory lane.. my dad's love of rubbish cars

As Fathers Day is fast approaching, it got me thinking of all my dear dad's sub-standard family automobiles we had to endure as kids, if you're a child of the seventies and eighties this may relate to you, so please read on...

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Foreword by Mark Jennings

Along with my younger brother and older sister we had a good education and a nice house, but the family budget would never allow for an expensive brand new shiny car. To be honest, even if my dad could afford one he'd still probably elect to get a bargain basement banger to run us all around in. His attraction with pretty British sports cars such as the Jaguar XK series or Austin Healey, definitely didn't rub off when choosing the latest family car. I'm probably being a little harsh, but when you're a pubescent young man pushing your dad's clapped out jalopy around a major roundabout just as the local secondary school kicks out for the day, was just one of many experiences any teenager would want the earth to swallow them whole!

The family holiday was always an experience. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved the actual holiday, but getting there was always stressful especially for the poor man driving with three argumentative kids in the back and nagging wife in the front, not knowing whether the car would actually make it there, let alone back.

Living on the south coast it was always a cheaper alternative to drive to southern France rather than flying. So we'd jam pack the car full of mainly my mothers clothes, neatly stuffing toilet rolls in places that would easily fall out on the road as soon as the boot was opened in an emergency, then head off to the nearest port just about making it off the drive without pulling the rear axle off with all the weight!

Anyway, that's enough from me. I'll now leave you with the humorous but audacious history of my dad's rubbish car collection in his own words (some names and local places have been censored to protect the innocent, or guilty). Happy Father's Day dad!

By Byron Jennings (aka Dad)

"I will try to remember all the cars I’ve owned and cherished, but some details, inevitably, are veiled in the mists of antiquity, and the chronology may not be exactly correct, but here goes...

The first was in about 1973, a 1959 Austin Cambridge, which cost £50. It was listed as the A55 Mk ll, with a 1489cc engine and large tail fins. They were good old cars – comfortable, easy to maintain and with a cavernous boot. It wouldn’t do much more than 65mph, but there were many fewer motorways in those days anyway.

Doing all my own servicing (which was easy on cars like that – all the engine parts were instantly recognisable, all your tools fitted, and so on) and buying spares – even including an entire exhaust system - from the scrappy, I managed to keep it running for a few years. Eventually, the underbody rot became uneconomical to repair and I sold it to a British Rail porter at the Docks for banger racing. (He did the banger racing at a rally cross track, not at the Docks).

I think my next foray into automotive whimsy was the royal blue 2-door Mk l Ford Cortina. This cost the princely sum of £25 and was acquired from a copper I knew who lived in a nearby town – his son had been using it, but had moved on to something more modern. I can’t remember how long this lasted, but not all that long.

I remember, one morning on my way to work, I was driving through the town Square when I was stopped by a rather pretty young WPC who informed me that the offside front wing was hanging off, and that it was dangerous. I was able to reply – in complete honesty – ‘It was ok when I left home a few minutes ago, officer. I’ll fix it in a minute.’ When I got to work, I borrowed a drill from the marine workshop and duly secured the wing with a few self-tapping screws. Shortly afterwards, the engine started to burn oil at a horrendous rate, and, rather than go to the expense of buying the expensive, new stuff from Halfords, I got the workshop manager at the local Renault garage to allow me to help myself to the contents of the ‘used oil’ barrel in the corner of the workshop, which I was getting through at the rate of about a gallon a week.

One morning when you were at school, I told your brother that I would take him for a ride (this must have been about 1980, when he would have been 4). We got about 2 miles when the engine blew up, and we had to walk home. I think I arranged a tow and sold it for a fiver. When I spoke later to one of the mechanics at Renault, and asked him exactly what went into the ‘used oil’ barrel, he replied, ‘Oh, everything goes in there, mate. Engine oil, brake fluid, diesel, the lot.’ Not exactly Castrol GTX, then.

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You’ve forgotten the bronze FD Vauxhall Victor SL200! I bought this for £495 as a part-exchange clearance bargain from a dealer (long since gone). This was by far the fastest car I’d owned up until then – it would do a ton (just) and had quite decent acceleration. My colleagues (especially the younger, female ones) quite enjoyed being given a lift in this, as they said it reminded them of Starsky and Hutch. Unfortunately, one very icy evening whilst on detached duty at Birmingham Airport, I managed to wrap it around a lamp-post on the A45 at Sheldon. This must have been very early 80’s, as Birmingham Airport was then still operating out of the former site at Elmdon, near Solihull, not near the NEC, as we now know it.

I think next came the pale blue Ford Zephyr Mark lV 2,495 cc V6. This was bought from one of your Uncle's colleagues in the navy at Portsmouth for £150. Sitting inside was like sitting at home on a luxurious armchair, but, despite its engine size, the performance was absolutely hopeless. It was also unfeasibly long, and you virtually had to find two parking spaces together if you wanted to park it anywhere. The bonnet was about as long as a snooker table. Also, it was the first car I had known with an automatic choke: I was blissfully unaware of the fuel being used when the engine was cold until, one sub-zero morning on my way to work for an early shift, I ran out of petrol whilst reversing out of the drive. I had a gallon of fuel in a can in the boot, and put this in the tank, thinking that it would be enough to last me a couple of days. I ran out of petrol again 3 miles away! That meant, when the engine was cold and the automatic choke was fully operational, I was getting about 4mpg (about the same as a F1 car, but without the g-force). The realisation of this, allied to (once again) the dreaded underbody rot, as well as a slipping clutch, made me decide that it was time to move on.

All the while, I had a friend called Andy McBride, a heavily-bearded Dundonian (who, sadly, died in his forties), who lived in the same town. Although he had no driving licence, he had bought a Simca 1100 Special for £450 from a work colleague. This had a tuned 1300 engine and was very sporty. Andy’s idea was, that I should keep the car at home, service it and use it while I was looking for a replacement for the Zephyr; I was supposed to give him driving lessons whenever we were both free. Unfortunately, Andy was a (functioning) alcoholic, and he was always far too drunk to get behind a wheel – I never did get to give him a lesson. After a few months, I had been using the car for so long, I felt guilty, and offered to buy it from him for the price that he had paid. He accepted, and insisted on cash – not because he was afraid that a cheque might bounce, but because a cheque payment into his bank account would simply get absorbed by his overdraft, and needed cash to pay his bills. I saw him at the end of that week, and asked him if he had managed to pay all his bills. He had been so unused to having so much dosh on him, he had p***** the lot up against the wall, poor sod.

I ran the Simca for quite a while, and it was fairly decent. The water pump gave up on one occasion, and I managed to find another on an upside-down vehicle in a farmyard a mile away. I never did find out who it belonged to. Also, the gearbox gave up once on the way back from Tenterden – I had to drive in 3rd all the way home, slipping the clutch, and it took an entire weekend to fit a replacement. I found one at a scrap yard (long-since closed) up a lane near the ambulance station for £10: I had to remove the nearside front wing and drop the front suspension to access it! Do you remember Raj? He, too, had a Simca 1100, which he left outside Chris's (another work colleague) garage while he was working on a 3-month posting at the British High Commission in Delhi. It was rotting away by the hour – Chris had to go out with a dustpan and brush every day to sweep up the rust that had fallen from it during the night – but it had quite new tyres on it. I borrowed these to put on my car so that it would pass its MOT, and never did get round to putting them back again. Raj never seemed to wonder how his tyres had become so bald whilst the car was sitting in a driveway for three months. I took this car on another spell of detached duty at Birmingham Airport (spring 1984 – the new terminal opened while I was there), but it was, by now, getting well past its sell-by date. Those Simcas were made of notoriously rubbish metal, and the mechanicals were starting to play up as well.

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On the motorway to Brum, I started to lose power – only slightly, at first, but gradually more and more until I was forced to pull in on the hard shoulder. I looked under the bonnet to be greeted by a strong smell of petrol and the sight of a fuel pipe with a large hole half-way along its length. Luckily, the windscreen washer used piping of the same calibre, which I was able to adapt and fit (after all, you can still drive with a dirty windscreen).

Whilst in Birmingham, the alternator packed up, and I had to put the battery on charge every night (I had had the foresight to take a battery charger with me). And, on one of my frequent visits to Ludlow on my days off, the c/v joints on the steering decided to give up the ghost. That was when I bought the Escort estate – for £150, from a garage in Sandpits Road. It had been used as a delivery hack, and was indescribably filthy, but it cleaned up ok. It had a very noisy gearbox and the speedo didn’t work; I found another gearbox at a scrap yard near Corve Bridge - I persuaded the owner to accept the Simca as payment in lieu of cash, but only after assuring him that it had a fully working radio! I managed to swap the gearbox over (at Woofferton, with the use of an inspection pit) in exactly one hour. Contrast that with the same job on the Simca! As you know, the Escort served us very well for many months – we went to St Jean de Monts and back, for example, as well as to Ilfracombe with your Uncle and his family, if you remember.

Eventually, the dreaded tinworm set in with a vengeance around the top of the MacPherson struts, and I sold it for spares for £25 to a colleague. I then bought the Avenger estate (£175, I think) from some shyster in the next town. It never was much cop, really, although it did get us to Ludlow and back at least once: I remember the thermostat on the electric fan packed up, so I wired it up so that the fan was blowing all the time. I did it so that there was a connection outside the car, just under the front bumper, so that you could disconnect it when it was parked! Once, whilst driving back home a Nickolls truck, passing the other way, dropped a stone from its load and shattered the driver’s window. It made a noise like a bullet – scared the sh*t out of me! I thought I’d been shot by a sniper. Such was the condition of the car by then, I never bothered to fix it. To avoid the (highly unlikely) possibility of theft, whenever shopping in town, I used to park with the driver’s door tight up against the wall in the car park at the shopping centre, and exit by the passenger door. I sold this for £25 as well, to the yard that there used to be in the town centre.

The Peugeot you’re thinking of was, in fact, a white Toyota Corolla E30 Wagon, which cost £500, from an old couple near the local hospital (the old chap had got beyond driving, I’m afraid). I can’t remember too much about this little beauty except that the engine blew up when I was driving to the docks for a nightshift, having dropped off Aunt Dot in Sevenoaks. Btw, I think it was the Toyota which we took to St Tropez and back, which was a fair hike!

Then it was the turn of the Burgundy Morris Oxford Series Vl, (£190) which was similar to the Cambridge but had smaller tail fins and a 1622cc engine. It was an automatic – Paul McKenna (my colleague, not the illusionist) had bought it so that he could still drive after breaking his left leg playing football. As with the Cambridge (they were practically identical, mechanically) it was very easy to work on. The only slight problem was, being an automatic, you couldn’t bump-start it; and, although there was a starting handle, someone had replaced the front cross-member with one from a later model – it had no hole for the starting handle to go through! I once had a slight altercation with a pick-up truck at the village roundabout – nothing serious, but when I examined the front wing, I observed that the slight bump had caused a large hole to appear, and that, lying in the road, was a piece of chicken wire surrounded by a pile of burgundy-coloured dust, that had once been filler. One Arthur Daley-type MOT later, this, too, was sold for banger-racing, for £40.

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We then had the Volvo 244, another automatic. Also very comfortable, very thirsty, and not much performance. I bought this from friends of your mothers religious friends for £900, and only later discovered that the heater didn’t work. I didn’t dare complain, as they’d have probably set some God on me. It was during the ownership of this car that I managed to lose my licence, but we won’t dwell on that here.

On resumption of normal service, I noticed that the Volvo was starting to overheat badly, and as another French holiday was imminent, something else was needed, pronto. (I later sold the Volvo for £50 to a taxi driver who lived in a caravan next to the local pub). Enter the Renault 18 estate, bought from a guy not too far away for £125. This went quite fast but didn’t have very good brakes (I don’t know whether you were ever aware of that). It got us all the way to les Sables d’Olonne, but not, as you will remember only too well, back again. I don’t know whether we were weighed down with excess baggage (I still maintain that high heels and two evening dresses are not must-have items to take on a camping holiday) but it’s probably still rotting away quietly in that scrap yard near la Rochelle. All I know is, that whoever sold me that AA 5* breakdown insurance probably got the sack when the bills started rolling in..."

So as you can see your honour, I have a pretty strong case against our father. Although we love him dearly, he did absolutely nothing for our street cred when it came to the family car. However, it's these occasions that make our childhood memories; the smell of musty leather seats, cheap n' nasty lemon air freshners and Swarfega after a trip to the scrapyard in the drizzling rain. The rubbish cassette player that chewed up my new Mötley Crüe tape in 1987 and the time on holiday when the car was running so hot that when my Dad turned off the ignition the engine kept running ...but I wouldn't change it for the world!

World Book Day - 6th March 2014

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With the rise and rise of smart phones, tablets and kindle use, it's really easy to be lazy in this day and age and forget about our old friend, the book. Whether your excuses, like mine are you haven't time or can't be bothered to dust them off from the bookcase, just have a think for one moment, where would we be without them? When I was a kid in the 70's/80's we didn't have electronic hand held devices or the internet but things called 'Libraries', and I used to love going to get stuff like Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl. I love things unusual and the pictures inspired me to draw my own characters. 

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My favourite book that I bought from book club at school and kept reading over and over again was 'The Twits' by Roald Dahl and with the perfect marriage of drawings by Quentin Blake sets off a young imagination as If they live somewhere near you. But that's where the perfect marriage ends though, as the book is about a horrible couple that live together and play practical jokes on each other like putting worms in spaghetti eventually resulting them shrinking into nothing! I remember Mr Twit having a disgusting beard with all types of left over food stuck in it and Mrs Twit used to be pretty but turned ugly (and had a glass eye) because she had unattractive thoughts all day long.

I introduced 'The Twits' to my daughter when she was younger and will do the same with my little rascal of a son, who I know will absolutely love it! There's something very special about reading a good book especially when tucked up cosy in bed reading to your little ones before bedtime. Today, 6th March is 'World Book Day', so give a thought what 'made us' as a child into an adult and pass on these great books to your children and hopefully they will do the same when they have their own children.

Tried and tested: Gardening equipment

Mark Jennings tried and tested some helpful gardening equipment that make life a whole lot quicker and easier.

As a stay at home dad of two young children, I have to spend a lot of time concentrating on general household chores with little time when the wife's off work to spend in our size-able garden with over-complicated garden machinery and equipment.

It finally looks like summer's here and quite frankly apart from mowing the lawn once a fortnight, little work is done to compliment our adored, but slightly neglected garden. I wanted to try out accessible products that are not only popularly priced, but easy to use being appropriate for today's busy young family.

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Gtech ST05 Li-Ion Cordless Grass Trimmer - £69.95

The Gtech 'ST05' grass trimmer is not only very good looking (yes I need to get out more) but very lightweight, only 1.5kg and the small but powerful 14.4v battery Li-Ion battery with 30 minute running time is incorporated neatly into the handle. Being cordless it's ideal for larger gardens like ours, so no need for the inconvenience of extension cables and having had string trimmer heads in the past that constantly snap and tangle instead of uncoiling, the plastic blade option is much less hassle that leave you with nice, neat edges.

But one of the things I liked most about this proficient trimmer is the adjust-ability, not only can you swivel the head through 180 degrees, adjust the handle for comfort, but there's a telescopic shaft that extends and shortens for those hard to reach places or just for comfort making it a genuinely versatile trimmer.

See more at: www.gtechonline.co.uk            

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Kärcher 'WD3.500P' Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner - £149.99

When it comes to uncomplicated simplicity, you can't go wrong with Kärcher's 'WD3.500P' Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner. Let's face it, when you want to vac out the car for example, you don't really want to do it with the house vac. This powerful 1400w heavy duty cleaner not only sucks up ample debris, unblocks sinks and water spills but has a blower function that can be used from clearing leaves to blowing up inflatables.

It really does pack a punch with an airflow rate of 68 litres a second and I had no problem clearing up some wood chippings from my front garden in no time at all. Also included is a handy power tool adaptor that means you can plug the 2 metre suction hose onto the back of a jigsaw for instance, plug into the machine and it switches on and off with the vac - ingenious!

See more at: www.karcher.co.uk            

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WOLF-Garten 'CSA700' Li-Ion Power Chainsaw - £179.99

Another 'handy' item for the garden is the compact cordless 18v Power Chainsaw from WOLF-Garten which is really good for sawing through wood with a diameter of around 70mm is ideal for people like me who've never used a chainsaw before. After you've charged the battery, it takes only a few minutes to set-up and once you've added the chainsaw oil (available separately) and read the safety instructions you're off.

From full charge the Lithium-Ion battery should last you around 40 minutes running time which you can do over 100 dry cuts at 70mm. It's nice and light and at just over 2.5kg you won't get stiff or tired and safety being a must you have piece of mind with the 2 hand safety switch and assured grip. Once perfecting my technique, the quality Oregon cutting chain made light work of of the pile of quite sappy conifer branches that I'm drying out and saving to use in the future.

See more at: www.wolfgarten-tools.co.uk

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The Handy 2400w Impact Shredder - £99.99
The Handy 2600w Garden Blow Vac - £41.99           

After chainsawing your conifers or other trees, you're left with the problem of easily getting rid of all the unwanted smaller branches, but 'The Handy' 2400 impact shredder will shred all your garden waste up to surprising 40mm in diameter! You may think of shredders being incredibly noisy and dangerous, but with a little common sense are perfectly safe and I expected it to be a lot noisier. Minimal setup is required and it's very easy to move around the garden and use. Just feed the branches into the top of the machine hopper and the powerful 2400w motor with it's sharp steel cutting blade makes it easy work. The blade has two cutting edges, so when it finally becomes blunt can reverse it to use again. You can then either use the waste for composting or it makes for easier compact transportation up to the local tip.

When upon it's time to clean up all the mess 'The Handy' 2600 garden blow vac is perfect for the job. Not only can you either suck up garden waste into the 35L collection bag (can compact leaves 10 times smaller to their original capacity), but also precisely blows any debris away to the corners of your garden perimeter. This blower/vac is very simple to use and the single speed 2600w motor is extremely powerful. With a shoulder strap it makes it effortless to walk around in comfort and with 6 metres there's plenty of cable to access a wide area of your garden. For the casual gardener like myself, this really is a useful product and great value for money!

See more at: www.notcutts.co.uk

 

Packed lunches may be off the menu: A healthier education is needed

As the stay at home dad in our family, I have the wonderful job of staggering down the stairs at 7.30am every morning to make our daughter Amber's packed lunch.

Not only does the bar have to be set high by her expectations for something awe-inspiring every single day, I also have to make sure she's getting the right amount for a balanced healthy diet.

With the news today that schools have been 'urged' to ban packed lunches by a government-commissioned school food review, I can't help feeling like we, the responsible parents are being treated like school children ourselves!

My daughter has a cooked meal every evening, anything from a Sunday roast style dinner to spaghetti on toast, but I make sure it's a balance of food she likes and something I know is healthier than just chips and nuggets every evening.

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Yes, I agree I'm not perfect, but at least I'm in control. Does having a cooked meal at school mean she'll be having two cooked meals a day, or do I have to give her sandwiches for tea?

Another reason why I'm slightly at unease with this idea is apart from not knowing what my child is eating everyday, how will I know if she's eating what we're paying for?

The teachers can't possibly observe every child to make sure they're eating their greens, not that a school child would choose vegetables if they had the chance.

And on a matter of cost, there's mention of actually lowering the prices to boost take-up. Healthy food is far too expensive to implement this and I can see cost just going up and up OR the standard of food going down and down!

Beyond doubt contracts for school dinners will go to companies that can provide the cheapest competitive prices, but at what real cost in the long run?

Surely as a responsible adult, we the parents need to be accountable for the health of our beloved children. It's just another case of the feckless spoiling it for everyone else.

If they choose to put fatty crisps, sugary fizzy drinks and chocolate bars into their kid's lunch box, that's their nonchalant decision and we should educate those parents.

Why should I have the control of what I think is best for my children taken away by the uncaring parent and totally out of touch government?

A 6th Sense from Whirlpool

"..hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face..erm, not for me they don't!"

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

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Upon choosing a new machine, we wanted to try out a reliable, energy efficient model and when you think of quality kitchen appliances, Whirlpool are among the best in the world. The ADP 8693 is a part of the Whirlpool Green Generation that's not only energy efficient, but water efficient too using just 11 litres of water in a typical wash giving it an A++ rating.

This large capacity appliance holds up to 13 place settings and I was surprised when I overloaded it with my Sunday dinner remains how crisp and clean the results were. You can adjust both racks so you can arrange your crockery to suit your needs, I particularly liked the adjustable flaps in the top rack for my wine glasses that were always too tall and kept falling over or breaking in my previous washer.

Whirlpool prides itself on their exclusive 6th SENSE PowerClean technology which senses and then adapts to measure how dirty the water is, saving you up to 50% on energy and time.

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Having our last dishwasher for such a long time, I was very stuck in my ways - probably out of repetition, so I was slightly apprehensive on re-educating myself on something I used automatically. I was instantly put at ease by the uncomplicated control panel and features and was glad of the LED wash time display with digital countdown indicator for that all important advice on the 8 different wash programs.

For an extra thorough clean for really baked on food (eg: a shepherds pie), there's the option for Whirpool's unique PowerClean jet system which uses 28 water jets at the back of the lower rack to blast away any stubborn dried-on food without using any extra water.

As well as being intelligent and super efficient, this Whirlpool is very hygienic for your family too, it's antibacterial hygiene wash and rinse kills 99.9% of all bacteria and even has a self cleaning wash filter for continuous optimum performance. I found this a very quiet (about 42dB, so ideal for open plan living) and a low energy machine that doesn't compromise on cleaning and drying even on the rapid 30 minute wash and I couldn't believe the intensive wash, my glasses came out looking brand new and have never been so clean!

Priced at £449. For full product specifications and information, please visit: www.whirlpool.co.uk

 

Kids love cycling: Get on your bike this summer

Need help choosing the right kids bikes? Save £££'s online and instore from Halfords. Stay at Home dad, Mark Jennings, reviews 2 children's bikes.

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

As it seems that finally the British weather is starting to warm up, there's no greater way to get the kids fit having fun in the garden by updating their old cycles with the latest great models and fantastic offers at Halfords. Our 9 year old daughter, Amber, is growing up fast and our 2 year old son, Jacob, is getting more and more boisterous and mobile. So when I checked on the bike situation in the shed, Amber's was far too small and rusty, plus this would be our sons 1st proper bike. When it comes to piece-of-mind, you can always trust Halfords to deliver quality, safe products.

The cycle recommended for our maturing pre-teen was the cool looking Apollo 'Krypt' Girls Mountain Bike. Our daughter's into 'Green Day' and 'Blink-182' at the moment so she loves the Gothic-Style decals which perfectly harmonize with the metallic silver/purple paintwork. With a good spec for a childs bike the 'Krypt' boasts front suspension for a smoother ride, 18-speed 'Shimano' gears, front disc breaks for complete but careful breaking all housed on a solid steel frame with 24" wheels!

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Our daughter found this very easy to ride and with a change of gear for the grass, was whizzing around the garden in no time at all and this well made bike gave her total confidence immediately. Now when she comes home from school after her homework she asks if she can go out and play on her bike instead of her games console, so that makes us very happy!

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www.halfords.com

Our little boy's choice of bike was the adorable Apollo 'Firechief'. What budding trainee wouldn't be thrilled to get straight into the action on his wicked bright red Fire and Rescue wheels complete with with siren, megaphone and emergency tool box!

With safety in mind, there's full chain and mudguards so busy fingers don't get dirty or trapped, front and rear brakes for extra confidence and detachable stabilisers for eventually when your little one has enough firmness to try two wheels only! Our son was fearlessly straight onto this bike encouraged by the brightness and interest in the extra gadgets. It's recommended for ages 3-5 so when his little legs get a bit stronger I'm sure he'll be off in no time at all!

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Apollo Firechief Boys Bike - 12" WAS £159.99 NOW £69.99 SAVE £90.00 www.halfords.com

Helmets have become a necessity especially when it comes to the safety of our children and Halfords have got a range to suit every age and style. For our daughters bike the MET Crackerjack 'Pink Hearts' Bike Helmet goes well and is very in tune with her age group. Well fitting, It features an anti-pinch buckle, a safe-t-twist retention system for easy adjustment and an LED rear flashing light! And for our sons bike the Apollo 'Firechief & Police Patrol' Bike Helmet, with it's action and emergency scene decals makes it the perfect match. It has a dial-a-fit system so is easy to adjust without stress, adjustable straps under the chin and plenty of ventilation holes to keep them cool. He loved it so much he screamed his head of when i was time to take it off! Both helmets of course conform to EN1078 safety regulations.

 

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MET Crackerjack Bike Helmet - Pink Hearts (52-57cm) WAS £34.99 NOW £27.99 SAVE £7 www.halfords.com

Apollo Firechief & Police Patrol Bike Helmet (48-52cm) WAS £17.99 NOW £14.39 SAVE £3.60 www.halfords.com

Halfords also offer a FREE 'Bike Build & Safety Inspection' on all new bikes which you can see all about this in this short video, so you really don't need to worry about all those nuts & bolts, seat heights and tricky gear adjustments.

Prices are web exclusive - Save While You Shop on All Bikes* ?*Spend £100 save £10, Spend £200 save £20, Spend £400 save £40, Spend £600 save £60. Discount Applied in Basket. Offer ends Tuesday June 11 2013.

SEGA Super Sonic Raceway experience at Brooklands

Where better than to view the latest SEGA products for 'Sonic the Hedgehog' the iconic blue anthropomorphic hedgehog that has the ability to run at supersonic speeds than Mercedes-Benz World at the historic Brooklands racing circuit.

Our Children, Amber 9 and Jacob 2½ were treated to a one-off afternoon of fun activities including face painting, testing out the latest Sonic game and even speeding around in electric Go-Karts!

Amber with Sonic painted on her face

Amber with Sonic painted on her face

After meeting the SEGA team, Amber and her friend went to get their faces painted whilst Jacob played cars with the 'Sonic & Knuckles Meccano Chemical Plant Racing Playset'. It gave me a chance to look at the wide range of 'Sonic the Hedgehog products now available in the 2013 product catalogue. There's everything from plush toys to bedding, t-shirts to personalised cakes and even a Sonic bike - Sonic's come a long way since I remember playing the original game on my Mega Drive in the early 1990's!

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Now looking the part with her Sonic facepaint, Amber climbed in her Medium Speedster for a few hot laps of the Brooklands Hall. They were timed laps so everyone under 1.5m had a go, but I think she must have had at least 15 goes! At a more leisurely pace, Jacob didn't hesitate to try out the 'Little Learners Drivers Zone' that's available to the public for 3-5yr olds. He absolutely loved testing his road skills on a specially built indoor road course behind the wheel of a miniature SL-Roadster!

After a spot of lunch and some flag making, our daughter and friend tested the latest Sonic racing game 'Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed' - an improved sequel to the last game where players can alternate between car, boat and plane modes and where you can earn boost by drifting around corners or performing tricks whilst in the air. With new weapons and challenges as well as old favourites, this is must for any Sonic or Racing fan.

Our Super Sonic afternoon came to a close with a Medal Ceremony for all the children where the received a certificate, medal and goodie bag to remind them of their racing experience and Sissel Henno head of brand marketing at SEGA Europe thanked us for coming! ...no problem, anytime!

We wrapped up the afternoon by looking around the excellent 'Mercedes-Benz World' exhibition (which is free to the general public) something for the bigger kids as well as the little ones. Apart from the Formula One, historic and modern sports cars to look at they offer several driving experiences to suit any ages over 1.5 meters tall.

For more details please visit: www.sonicmerchandise.com and www2.mercedes-benz.co.uk   

 

Kärcher puts on the pressure...

When you think of big brand names for certain products, you think of Sony for Walkman, Dyson for bag-less vacuums and Kindle for e-book readers. But even I have to admit Kärcher wasn't yet in my limited vocabulary when it came to choosing pressure washers. Don't get me wrong, I'd always new those bright yellow machines existed, but I always forgot that name!

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Alfred Kärcher invented the high-pressure cleaner in 1950, with the introduction of the 1st portable devices in the early 1980's. Kärcher originally set up his business in 1935 and in 1939 the company moved to Winnenden, Germany, where the family still has its headquarters to this day!

 

The job in hand was to clean a very large stone patio, pathway, steps and parking area, so it really would put the 'Kärcher K5.800' that was recommended for us through it's paces. With our area recently being made a drought free zone, I had piece of mind that this model features an Eco switch which reduces energy and water by 20% and with the wettest drought on record, you even have the option to source water from you garden water butt!

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Minimal set-up is required out of the box, a simple click of the wheels and handle. The only screwing required is the dosage regulator (the unit comes with detergent if you so wish to use) and once you've attached the pressure hose and spray gun you're ready to plug in, attach the water supply and off you go.

You have a choice of 3 high pressure nozzle attachments depending on your cleaning needs. The 'Vario-power spray lance' which adjusts from low to to high pressure jet with just a twist at the end is ideal for all types of cleaning. The 'Dirt-blaster lance' is a rotary nozzle lance for seriously embedded dirt which uses a more precise and powerful blast (up to 50%). And finally the 'T300 T-Racer lance', which is an extended 'broom like' lance that works like a hovercraft, with 2 rotary fan jet nozzles and encloses the water so you don't get wet! This is recommended for patios and areas you don't want splash-back, but I personally preferred the 'Dirt-blaster lance' for the majority of the work.

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Immediately on start-up, I was slightly taken back how powerful the 'K5.800' was compared to the cheaper DIY shop branded pressure washers that I've had before, maximum pressure from this unit is powerful 140 bar. The 14.5kg unit weight doesn't feel particularly heavy as it's on wheels an you don't really have to move it much as the high-pressure hose is a very generous 9 metres in length. As I mentioned you have the option for detergent with the simple 'Plug & Clean' system.

Depending on your task there's 6 detergents available that can be placed easily into the visible chamber for cleaning use on either wood or washing & waxing your car. I didn't need to use the detergent this time as the 'Dirt-blaster lance' effortlessly cut through the black embedded dirt with ease and in one afternoon I was left with a gleaming white path!

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When thinking of those bright yellow pressure washers you see in the shops, think Kärcher, the 'Rolls Royce' of cleaning systems. For all types of cleaning jobs big and small, take a look at the fantastic range of Kärcher pressure washers on-line at www.karcher.co.uk and available from all good DIY stockists. 

Pump 'n' Pitch with Vango Tents

It's been nearly 30 years since I had my first tent and was allowed to camp in my back garden. I remember emptying all the tightly packed bits and laying all the separate poles out eagerly ready for construction. Over the years, tents have become overly complicated, with their incomprehensible instructions and bendy fibre-glass poles! Not anymore so it seems with the Vango AirBeam® range of tents, which offers an advanced 'no poles' structure. I was slightly sceptical that it was so quick and easy to erect a tent in under 5 minutes, but now you can.

 

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

I tested the 2 man tent, the 'Vango AirBeam® Velocity 200' and what better place than the Hop Farm Festival at Paddock Wood, Kent. The bag that it comes in seems on the larger size for a 2 man tent (as it also houses the excellent quality hand pump), but only weighs 7.5kg and can comfortably worn over your shoulder or as I found across your back.

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Once you've pegged the four corners of the all-in-one tent (groundsheet already attached) you attach the pump to the base of each AirBeam® and inflate with only a few effortless pumps. The beauty of this apart from the speed is that if it's raining you can quickly jump in straight away before you have to complete the construction. After you've pegged the rest of the tent and guy ropes, you attach the inner tent with easy colour coded clips which takes seconds and hey presto, you're done, it's as easy as that!

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In complete honesty it probably took me about 10 minutes to erect, only because is was the first time, but would easily take less than 5 minutes now that I know what I'm doing. The only draw back to this is you've got to wait around for everyone else to put their tents up! One of the first things I noticed once the tent was up was the rigidity compared to all of the other tents around me, it was a windy day and it hardly moved. There's double entry doors for ease of access and extra ventilation on warm days that lead into a very ample porch space (enough room to even sleep 2 children) - the actual sleeping area being a large 210x140cm.

For more information and pricing of these remarkable tents, please visit vango.co.uk

Check out this cool video...