Thursday, 7 July 2011

Christmas in July

I can be a bit of a Scrooge about toys.

Having my first child 23 years ago and my sixth last year means I have lived with toys for a LONG time. I know what I like and I know what irritates the hell out of me. I am a firm believer that toys need to appeal to the adult as well as the child. I don't want my house to look like a Playgroup - I don't want to be clearing up hundreds of pointless plastic monstrosities - I don't want to be tripping up over large, seldom played with, 'must have' items. I also find it hugely annoying that it is implied that my child's neurological pathways will atrophy if I don't purchase the entire range of toys designed to stimulate specific aspects of development.

On the other hand, I don't want my children to feel deprived and hard done by. It is all about finding a sensible balance.

There are some fantastic toys that have enormous play value and it always a joy to find something new that excites me and I know my children will love. For that reason, I registered to be on the Mum's Choice Blogger panel for at the Christmas in July Event in Camden (the promise of a free lunch and goodie bag were in no way influential!!)

I was very happy to be accepted as a panellist, which basically meant wandering around a hall full of toy companies displaying the products that they hope will become the Christmas bestsellers and choosing my personal top 5 in different categories. It was surprisingly difficult in the time we had  (and the heat of a building with no air con)  to do a thorough job and I will admit to conferring with other bloggers on the panel for some of the categories.

It was a lovely opportunity to meet blogger friends in a relaxed atmosphere over lunch (which was pleasingly veggie friendly) and I did enjoy chatting to some of the exhibitors. There were plenty of toys there that made me shudder at the thought of having them anywhere near my house but equally I discovered some fantastic things that could well find their way into my children's Santa sacks this year.

The following, in no particular order, are my own category - Best of Show top five:

1. Character had a wonderful range of Dr Who inspired toys starting with the pocket money priced individual foil packed 3D micro figures at £1.99. My older girls are big DW fans and would appreciate the detailing on the daleks, cybermen, weeping angels and other characters.

The thing that elevates these from the realms of purely collectibles (which I do not encourage in my house) is the fact that they are constructed from separate components that are interchangeable and also Lego compatible. I can foresee a lot of imaginative play, bordering on the slightly weird!

I fell in love with the Eleven Doctors collection, predictably packaged in a blue police box but with plenty of information for for the hardcore fans and enough cuteness to appeal to someone who did not know their Tom Baker from their John Pertwee.

I also had the chance to chat with Susannah Leah who won the Blue Peter competition to design the Junk Tardis console which featured in "The Doctor's Wife". She was delightful and fully approving of the Junk Tardis Playset modelled on her design.

2. Red Tool Box really impressed me. The describe themselves as a new concept offering parents and kids the opportunity to spend time together while learning new skills. The skills being learned are carpentry skills and the products available are various sets of woodworking tools and kits to create some worthwhile and useable projects.

The tools are not toys. They are scaled down versions of proper woodworking tools. Obviously there is an element of danger involved with using a saw or a hammer but the idea is to understand the risk and learn to use the tools responsibly. This resonated well with my own ethos.

Although photographs of mums and daughters featured on promotional material, there did seem to be a strong gender bias - particularly with their tag line "Made by Dad and Me". I don't have a problem with that personally but it may not go down so well with the supporters of gender neutral parenting.

My little ones are a way off being at the recommended 8+ but it is definitely one for me to remember in the future.

3. Paper Jamz Pro Guitar was a lot of fun. It basically takes the idea of rocking out with a tennis racquet to a new level with an authentic looking guitar and amazing sound. It was really easy and satisfying to play. I had heard of PaperJamz before but erroneously imagined them to be constructed from cardboard. They were actually plastic.

The young man who demonstrated the Pro Guitar to us before letting me loose with it was himself a guitarist and a fan of rock music. He played the Paper Jamz without a hint of embarrassment or condescension. Obviously, it is not the same as playing a real guitar but it does give you the feel of it and instant results without the need for many hours of practise honing your musicianship.

It is recommended for ages 11+ but I think they are missing a trick if they don't bring out a Paper Jamz Mini Rocker Guitar for the wannabe rock star toddlers out there. My three year old would LOVE this.

4. Esdevium Games have a beautiful range of Nostalgic titles. It was so lovely to see the familiar Cluedo, Monopoly and Risk re-issued in wooden boxes with playing pieces as I remember them to be as a child. They would definitely be an aesthetic asset to the games cupboard.

5. Trunki is a brand that has pretty much passed me by - until now. They sell a range of products that make travel fun for kids from the original ride on suitcase now available in a whole range of designs and colours to the new for Christmas Gruffalo's Child Wash bag.

To understand how good a product the Trunki case is, just give one to a child!

These are the results of the Mum's Choice Awards. How many shopping days are there till Christmas?


  1. What a great and thorough post - I don't know when I will get chance to do mine.
    Liska xxx

  2. I'm still in shock from seeing the C word in July! Some of those look like really good buys.


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