Wednesday, 7 December 2011

DadsNursery’s first toy review - Meccano!

Following my last blog post in which I mentioned that Miss D and I enjoy building things, I was delighted to be contacted by Meccano UK and asked if I would like to review a product for them. Needless to say I was happy to accept! The product in question was the ‘Build & Play’ Formula 1 car – a kit comprising of 110 parts, a spanner, screwdriver and instructions for making 5 different models including a helicopter and a crane (it wouldn’t be Meccano if you couldn’t make a crane would it?!).

Miss D turns 4 in February so she’s a little younger than the recommended age group of 5-8 years, however, Meccano were still keen for my feedback and I knew that she would enjoy making (or at least helping to make) the toy.

On opening the box, my first impressions were good. The pieces are much larger and more colourful than the older, traditional Meccano sets that I remember from my childhood, plus the fact that all the parts are now plastic rather than metal. I liked the addition of a few ‘flexible’ pieces of plastic to give the models a more tactile feel and there were also a few ‘easy building’ nuts & bolts which simply snap together and pull apart.

So, on to the build. I asked Miss D which model she would like to make and she chose the racing car. We read the instructions together and she took charge of finding the parts for each step of the build, a task that she managed well. The pieces are clearly identifiable and easy to match up with the instructions so this meant the build could progress fairly quickly and there was little chance of getting bored! I shared the construction steps with her; I’d attach something on one side of the car and would then watch/help while she made the other side.

Miss D used the screwdriver and spanner to good effect (of course, with the occasional reminder of which direction to turn them) but there were a few steps in the construction that proved too tricky for her – bending some of the flexible pieces into position whilst at the same time trying to thread a bolt through as many as 4 different parts AND putting a nut on the end of the bolt was quite a complex task for small hands, even I found it a bit fiddly but that’s probably more to do with my fat fingers than anything else! I’d say the target age of 5-8 is aimed correctly, but may benefit from a bit of adult supervision (or another pair of hands) on the more complicated bits.

The finished model is great and Miss D is very proud of it. From my point of view I like the chunky wheels and the sturdy feel of the car. The eye stickers are a nice touch and add that extra bit of character. My only reservation would be the ‘easy building’ nuts & bolts, there have been several occasions (both while making the model, and since playing with it) where a couple of them have unfastened of their own accord so I’d worry a little about their longevity given that we’d like to get plenty of use out of the kit, both with my daughter, and my son when he’s old enough.

However, I shall leave the last words of the review to my daughter:

Me: What did you like best about making the car?
Miss D: I liked finding all the pieces.
Me: What’s your favourite thing about the car?
Miss D: It has funny eyes and it goes really fast!
Me: Shall we make something else?
Miss D: No, I really like my car!

It’s a thumbs-up from us, thank you Meccano!

Meccano's UK website for further info:

Friday, 23 September 2011

Teaching an old dog new tricks.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh on myself but then again, thinking about it, in dog years a human 30-something would be pretty ancient.

One of the nice things about being a parent and having a 3.5 year old with a 30 second attention span is that you’re continually bombarded with requests to do new things. ‘Daddy, build me a tower, draw Mickey Mouse, draw a dinosaur, make a paper aeroplane, juggle!’ etc etc…

This works pretty well for me. As a child I enjoyed drawing cartoons and so making a few recognisable shapes with the crayons is not a problem. Although for some reason, despite Miss D being more than happy with my efforts, I just can’t get Mickey Mouse looking perfect - I would post a picture to illustrate my point but I fear I’d be sued for breach of copyright by the ever litigious Disney Corporation so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Building stuff is great fun too. Being a past user of Lego and Meccano, coupled with the fact that my dad taught me bricklaying at the tender age of 11, I’m pretty happy with my recent construction projects involving the Duplo bricks and Early Learning Centre’s ‘Build-It’ kits.

However, every once in a while, life throws you a curve ball. At a recent day out to meet Peppa Pig, one of the entertainers gave Miss D a balloon animal dog which she immediately fell in love with. He was red and she named him ‘Woofy’. I stress ‘was’, he lasted well considering he was played with all weekend but eventually he started to fade. Then the inevitable happened:

‘Daddy, can you fix Woofy’s legs?’
‘Um, okay, I’ll try’
* POP *

Despite my best efforts, this was one toy that daddy just couldn’t fix. Miss D’s genuine sadness at Woofy’s passing meant that within a few minutes of consoling her I was Googling ‘balloon animal kits’.

The kit arrived today, along with a large bag of back-up balloons. Thankfully, included is an instruction book with a ton of step-by-step pictures of things to make. I’ll have to put in some practice before Miss D gets ‘Woofy II’ but this will be another random skill I’m looking forward to acquiring!

Friday, 13 May 2011

A rant about tailgaters.

A lot of things have been annoying me lately. The rise in energy prices, petrol prices, food prices, the Special Agent Oso ‘Three special steps’ song, the shiny Irish bloke that presents Channel 5’s ‘Milkshake’ in the morning, I could go on… And on… Perhaps my shortened temper and general lack of tolerance is due to the absence of sleep – Little Dude is teething, teething heavily and has been very vocal on the subject, usually at around 03:00am every morning.

Currently at the top of the list, the thing that ‘grinds my gears’ most is tailgaters. Yes, that old chestnut. The pet hate of every motorist, a pretty obvious thing to get annoyed about and probably in most people's top 3 of things that piss them off whilst driving.

I don’t have a placard in the rear window of my car exclaiming ‘Baby on board’, ‘Little person on board’, ‘Teething nightmare on board’, ‘Disney obsessed 3 year old on board’ or any other variations of the theme. I’ve never liked the idea, they would obscure my view and in my opinion, they shouldn’t be bloody necessary as the two large car seats are clearly visible to anyone who gets anywhere near the back of my car.

Last Monday’s incident was a far too common occurrence. We’re in a line of fairly slow moving traffic with a learner driver up front (which doesn’t bother me, we all had to learn sometime), I’m a few cars back and what do I see looming up in my rear view mirror quicker than a cheetah with a bum full of dynamite? A white van. Cue heavy sigh and a quiet muttering to myself of ‘Great, here we go again’…
The aforementioned pillock sat on my rear bumper for a while until I managed to pull over and let him pass (and taking the below photo – registration number changed for comedy effect), he then carried on bullying other motorists in front of me before disappearing into a side street in a cloud of tyresmoke and diesel fumes…

My early driving days included a spell doing a lot of courier work around London and Essex so yes, in the past I have been at the business end of some pretty gnarly, poor, inconsiderate driving. However, time has mellowed the man and now my primary concern is simply getting my children from point A to point B safely and comfortably. It’s a shame that these days, my slightly more chilled out driving style somehow seems to attract every moron who happens to be in a hurry. Maybe it’s payback for the ‘courier’ days, I don’t know, I just wish they wouldn’t do it when the kids are in the car.

Thinking about it, perhaps I will get a placard for the rear window:

‘Sleep deprived short-tempered dad on board – Don’t even try it’

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A kids clothing rant.

I’ve never been a fashion-lead sort of a person. Designer labels don’t mean much to me. Personally, I couldn’t give a toss if your new shirt cost £100, good for you, well done, good luck with it, I hope it wins you favour with a lady friend.
This isn’t a rant against people that dress their babies up in designer gear either, perhaps it should be, I don’t know. All I know is my 1 year old son (who isn’t quite walking yet) couldn’t care less if he’s wearing £2.99 plimsolls or £29.99 designer trainers. Dressing your baby in designer gear doesn’t impress me, it makes me think you’re doing it for your own benefit and are just showing off. And no, it’s not sour grapes because I can’t afford to do it, I just really don’t see the point. Forget that ‘adorable’ Ralph Lauren Polo dress, buy something from Peacocks and put the money you’ve just saved in their piggy bank.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the value of decent clothing, especially when it comes to something as important for toddlers as shoes. As soon as Miss D started walking we took her to Clarks, got her feet measured and spent a not-inconsiderable amount on her first pair of proper, sturdy, well made shoes which she promptly grew out of (cue another trip to Clarks…) and when Little Dude is ready we’ll approach things in exactly the same way.

So we’ve established I don’t ‘do’ designer labels, and yes, I like a bargain, however, there are times when it’s nice to treat them to something a bit different and dare I say extravagant. A case in point being Miss D’s birthday. Mrs D took her to see Disney’s ‘Tangled’ which she adored, and on her next trip to the Disney Store she was treated to her very own glittery Rapunzel dress. Lovely! Or so we thought…

Giving in to the frequent (almost daily) request of ‘Daddy, can I dress up like Rapunzel?’ has meant that the dress has had lot of use and to be fair, a lot of enjoyment from Miss D. BUT… (and to steal a line from Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson) ‘And it’s a big, round, full-bodied but..’ The ‘glittery organza flourishes’ on the dress shed EVERYWHERE! It’s like Miss D leaves a little trail of purple glitter wherever she goes (and especially where she sits). Yes darling, of course you can dress up like Rapunzel, but daddy is going to have to follow you around with the vacuum cleaner.

It’s not just this item of clothing where the ‘build quality’ has been a bit shoddy. The print on Miss D’s official Disney Store ‘Little Mermaid’ t-shirt has cracked and faded after only a few washes (I’ve got band t-shirts that are 15 years old and in much better condition) her smart new sequined t-shirt from Next loses sequins all over the place and as a result I’m scared to put it in the washing machine, and there are a few other items of ‘premium brand’ clothing that have ended up in the bin for one reason or another.

The old saying goes ‘You get what you pay for’. Yes, I agree, you should. So if I’m spending two or three times my usual amount on a dress or a t-shirt or whatever, I expect that to be reflected in the quality and longevity of the item. I have to admit I’m not really seeing it. Ah well, back to Primark…