Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Mega Bloks First Builders Pony Palace Review - Pink is NOT just for Girls

We received the Mega Bloks Pony Palace set on 28th August, so we have had some time to put it through its paces.

When it first arrived, I was busy writing a letter so my best friend played with 4 Mega Bloks' first builders sets with her son and mine. I got a few photos but that was it.

Today I got a bit imaginative, and made a little "show" of sorts with the Pony Palace to bring it alive... would you think I was weird if I said I did it alone while Aaron was at school? I thought I was doing the video for the purposes of this review, but it turned out it had a special effect on Aaron too:

After I collected Aaron from school, I couldn't wait to show him my efforts as he watches toy reviews similar to that A LOT so I knew he would be a discerning one/two man audience. Daddy wasn't so sure about it but Aaron LOVED it. I explained to Daddy that my video is PITCHED at KIDS! Their differing reactions as they watched were hilarious. All Daddy wanted to know was what accent was that I was trying to adopt. Ha! I had no idea. It was unscripted and so off the hoof, it just flowed out of me.

I then went on to make dinner, and Daddy & Aaron remained in the sitting room as I cooked. All I could hear, tonight, the whole time I cooked, was Aaron doing role play with the set, using similar stories and styles to what I'd adopted but with his own twist. He even introduced other toys to add to the scene. Daddy was GOB SMACKED and said LOOK at what watching YOUR video has achieved. 

I wasn't overly surprised as Aaron often role plays with his toys, but to be fair, until he watched my video he hadn't done so with this particular set yet. I showed him the possibilities.
Boys Can Play with Pink Toys
So dear reader it's not just about BUILDING it despite it being part of the first builders Mega Bloks aged 1-5 years range. It's also about all of the many possibilities for learning through play, once it's built.

Now that Aaron is 4 I have seen him revisit some of his baby toys and play with them in a different way. So I can well believe this is 1-5, as you can get years out of toys like this.

Aaron was more interested in the car tracks (that we also received same day from Mega Bloks to review). Look out for that blog post, if you're a boy Mum, but I am glad that my video brought this "pink" toy alive for him. It's great, as normally he's open to girl's pink things, like he LOVES Sofia, Doc McStuffins, Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom etc... As much as he loves trains, tractors and cars, he is open to playing with pretty much anything and I love that.

So back to the review itself. 

This Mega Bloks First Builders - Pony Palace set retails at 19.99 GBP and is available now. In my opinion I would suggest it provides great value for money. I have paid double that when Aaron was younger, for what was effectively a big tub of Lego Duplo, that is not themed in any way. A toy such as this has more longevity when their imagination kicks in, and they're no longer simply making colourful towers. It's a beautiful set for role play, for learning through play, and I can imagine siblings or best friends on a play-date playing with it very well.

I loved that the Princess is really snug, when pushed on the Unicorn. She doesn't fall off, even if turned upside down, whereas the block pony, if he is placed on a block, it's not such a secure connection. However the pieces are all easy to play with for cute little hands. The colours are beautiful and there are quite a few GLITTERY sparkly blocks, which I know little ones will adore.

It's a set that can be built in quite a few configurations. I did the one that is on the back of the box. That's the one you see in the video above. The front of the box is a different build. So straight away there are two ideas for the structured child like *me* but for younger ones, the possibilities are endless in terms of how they can "build" the set.

The stable doors are adorable as are the two archways.

Here's a pic:
Mega Bloks First Builders Pony Palace review

This is what Mega Bloks themselves have to say:
Let your curious, little princess discover an enchanted world with the Mega Bloks First Builders Pony Palace! Create and decorate a pretty palace and stable for Lil’ Princess and her magical unicorn and pony friends. With over 50 blocks and stickers, your little one can build a beautiful palace with tall towers and a stable with real swinging doors. When Lil’ Princess is ready for a ride, she flies with her sparkly wings to meet her animal friends with her magical pop-up tiara glittering in the sun!Ideal for ages 1 to 5.

  • One Lil’ Princess with pop-up tiara, a unicorn pony and a pony Block Buddy for lots of magical adventures
  • Magical stickers to create a colorful Lil’ Princess world
  • 50 colorful and sparkling blocks to build a pretty princess pony palace
  • Fun on its own or combined with other Mega Bloks First Builders sets
Disclosure: I was sent the full range of *new* first builders sets. So you will be seeing some more reviews like this one shortly. I am reliably informed that they are all in the new Argos catalogue so start planning Christmas now :-) 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Whole New Pizza Hut - Our Saturday Night

I must admit Pizza Hut was a big part of my life in the 1970s and 80s, maybe even 1990s but I can't remember.

I'd never come out of the cinema without going there after. Whichever decade it is I am remembering, Deep Pan was the thing. Everyone who was anyone ate deep pan. I remember seeing the Rocky movies and going to Pizza Hut in Wood Green afterwards. It was always hard choosing between pizza, pasta and salad so I always remember eating all three.

I have just done a little research on their site and it would seem that they came to the UK in 1973, and their first branch was in Islington, so no wonder I have such an affinity with them, being that I hail from North London and was born that year - check out the details on their page: Pizza Hut UK About Us.

In recent years I went all thin and crispy (if only). Rather my pizzas did, and I went over to the competition.

I made a return to good old Pizza Hut for the purposes of this review, and here Dear Reader I will tell you why you should too...
Acidic food currently drives my plantar fasciitis bonkers so I opted for the Heavenly Veg. It clearly was heavenly as no pain spike ensued. I LOVE me a bit of rocket and goat's cheese.
Heavenly Veg Pizza Hut Pizza with melted goat's cheese, black olives, cherry tomatoes, sweet caramelised onions and fresh rocket
You'll remember the days when the salad bar was only included at times when you couldn't go, or wasn't even open all of the time, well things are great now:
So, reasons I think you should go:
  • The soft drinks are unlimited.
  • The Ice Cream Factory fab and unlimited.
  • The salad bar is full, varied, tasty and unlimited.
  • The starters are SUPERB quality.
  • The service and atmosphere is warm, friendly and relaxed.
  • They have a layout that accommodates families as do the prices.
  • The price is great: we came in at 48 pounds for a family of 3.
  • If it's years since you've been (like me) you'll see that the pizzas themselves have come a long way. In terms of the ingredients, the taste and the range.
  • I love that you can choose your crust. The husband and I both opted for the stuffed crust and I am so glad I did, as it is finished with garlic and herb butter (on the outside) and is superb. Aaron got a piece of French Bread style garlic bread with his kid's meal, and wasn't satisfied so I had to order him another. While waiting for his second piece to arrive I ripped off the crust of my pizza and he ended up eating LOADS of that, as it's as good as garlic bread if not better!
I would go again, most certainly, without hesitating.

The starters were way above my expectations. The cheese is melted and stretches as you break it open. Mouth watering without being greasy. The husband's chicken was so tasty that Aaron and I grabbed one each, and again not at all greasy. They've surpassed themselves with those great starters. 

The starters meant we both had some pizza to take home in a takeaway pizza box, which actually made me chuckle as it said on the box: "Does my crust look big in this" *chortles*...

Aaron loved decorating his ice cream and mine, but then didn't want to eat it, so I had great fun ordering extra Pepsi (Pepsi was my THANG in the 80s, and as you know, at Pizza Hut is *unlimited*) so that I could make a Cola Float. After eating MY ice cream, as I wasn't going to let those smarties and delicious jelly babies go to waste (well after Instagramming them that is).
Clearly my followers love sweeties too, as that ice cream photo covered in sweets was quite popular on my Instagram feed on Saturday night. Clearly people out there with a sweet tooth.
Back to the Ice Cream or Cola Float. My cola float took me right back to the 80s.

I embarassed Daddy somewhat though, as did you know how much it fizzes and overflows??!?! No I hadn't remembered either - yummy though!

Overall I would say Pizza Hut offers the perfect night out for families - I was thoroughly impressed. 
Family meal out at Pizza Hut UK
I want to remain honest with my readers and no doubt you want to know if I had any criticisms. Honestly? I could not fault the layout, the staff, the restaurant or the food. We even left a large tip. 

They made a mistake with our main meal order and rectified it in a way that was above our expectations and they did not know I was reviewing at that point. 

My only criticism would be that although Aaron was VERY excited by the Ice Cream Factory and operated the whipped ice cream himself with my help and decorated the ice cream with sweets, he didn't want to eat it. When I asked him why, he said he didn't like the ice cream or the chocolate buttons. I ate BOTH and didn't find a problem with either of them. I don't know is he too used to Cadbury's and could tell this wasn't, or what? Daddy asked him if he would have preferred the ice cream in a cone, to which he said yes. But there you have it folks, my problems were no bigger than a fussy 4 year old.

If you would like to get a feel for Pizza Hut, then here's a video just for that purpose. Let me share our Saturday Family Meal Night Out with you:

I have a GIVEAWAY to add to this post, tonight, so if you are reading now, be prepared to come back again. Stay peeled.

Liska xxx

Disclosure: I was given a Pizza Hut voucher in order to facilitate this post and share my thoughts with you. We had a budget of 50 pounds and only spent 48, so I was pleasantly surprised by that, for all that we got!

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Week He Learned to Draw a Monster

Aaron started school Wednesday 3rd September. Those 3 days he only did 13:30 to 15:15, so I only had time to pop home, and then go back to collect him. Each day, there were puzzles and jigsaws already on the tables. Aaron would always make me watch him do 2-3 before he would let me leave, and even then I was only going to have a cup of tea. Day 1 he was so anxious about my leaving, the school allowed me to have that cup of tea IN the building. Aaron had no idea that I was the other end of the building, and it'd probably take me a full 5 minutes to get to him should he need me. But knowing I was near by, of course he didn't need me. During the 1.5 hours he was without me, he did comment to a staff member that "Mummy's been gone a bit long" and they brushed it off that I was having problems with the kettle.

As the days went on, and as we got into week 2 (where the early starts began as he was by now 08:45 to 11:45), my lie of being near by could not be maintained, as when we'd arrive home he'd seen washing on the line and say in an accusatory tone "have you been home?" to which I'd have to say "yes" - I never ever lie to him, which is one of many reasons he is very emotionally secure.

During his first full week of school - note: full week not full days (which was week 2 if you include the Wednesday Thursday Friday the week before), the teacher got him to draw a person, and he made her draw one first so he could copy it. The lack of confidence he showed was transformed once he had a point of reference. 

This was each of their efforts:
He then wanted to colour it in, and asked the teacher what colour he should use. She said "why do you ask?" to which he said "well Mummy's white and Daddy's black and B (a boy in his class) is black"... she left it to him to decide, but on collection asked me what I would have liked her to answer. I explained to her about conversations we've had as a family about colour and how he normally says when asked, that he is "white" which always tickles Daddy. When I go to correct him, Daddy silently goes "sshhh" shakes his head, as much as to say, let him choose his identity (for now). I can't even hold my arm next to him and show him that he's browner than me, as we've spent THAT much time outdoors, my tan is so good, that Aaron and I genuinely are the same colour, so no wonder he identifies with me #bless he wants to be like Mummy #melts.

Anyway, drawing has been a bit of a topic of the week, as not only did he draw that person at school (above) he also did one online, which you can see below:
I thought his coordination in doing that was fabulous.

You'll notice (as an aside) that there are FOOTBALL pics above. It's because even though he had the tiring thing of starting school and a week of early mornings, I took him to Football Club Friday evening and we even cycled there and back which was a 4 mile round trip. I have included it in the learning log capture above as he learned so many things there. Some he took to immediately, others he really struggled with, which is why he then did lots of football practice with Daddy over the weekend. That was very cute for me to watch.

The other thing he has done lots of at school are jigsaws, so all weekend he has been doing the ones we have at home, that the last couple of years have been neglected.

He's done his Gruffalo one about 50 times this weekend. You can see him hugging the finished article above, in his PJs. We were, a long time ago, sent the Gruffalo jigsaw to review by Yellow Moon. (Alas I can no longer find it on their site so can't link to it for you). He's also even done his ABC large jigsaw and is an absolute whizz at it. For the past few years it's only been me doing it and then it had been shelved.

Before the drawing with his teacher, he and I had attempted drawing a monster together. Actually now I am realising why he wanted something to copy with the teacher, as when he went all blank on me, I got a card from the Monster Game, to give him ideas. Funnily enough that game was also sent to us a long time ago by Yellow Moon.

This was what he came up with:
He named the monster himself. I was really impressed with the name of "Mr. All Eyes" as it is so articulately accurate.

He hasn't yet learned to stay on the page, so the head and eyes filled the page so much I let him spread out on to two.

When I asked what the monster does he said "scares mice, nice to Aaron" which I thought was incredibly cute.

He knew we were doing the drawing to enter a competition so after we did it, I let him look at the other entries in the gallery and he had a comment to make about each and every one. I videoed his comments but ran out of memory on my camera half way through. Here's what I managed to record (apologies for the mad baby voice he is putting on):

UPDATE - Aaron's drawing is now on that Gallery too #ProudMummy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Based on him saying that the monster is "nice to Aaron" I will be entering the comp in the Friendly Monster category. The competition is being hosted by Mattress Online.

I hope we come 1st 2nd or 3rd as I think he would be so so proud and it is the first competition he has ever entered in his little life.

Part of me is thinking that maybe I should have drawn with him more in recent years, but days-out have been more our thing. I am not at all worried though, as I know with Aaron his learning curve once he starts something is really really steep.

For example we have been on Nick Junior's website a lot in recent weeks, and he has mastered every game on there now, even the tricky ones. He has learned mouse control so swiftly, he's as good as an adult. This is way beyond the mouse control that a 2 year old exhibits when they are pressing play and pause on You Tube. This includes hand-eye coordination and drag/drop etc... So the fact that he didn't just draw a person straight off till she gave him an example doesn't worry me. Plus, if he could do everything already, he would find school boring and I wouldn't want him to not be stimulated enough. When children aren't engaged or stimulated they get bored which CAN lead to being naughty. 

Anyway, his vocabulary is fabulous, as is his ability with books.

If you'd like to enter the competition the terms and conditions can be found here: Mattress Drawing Competition Terms and Conditions.

Wish us luck.

P.S. school drop-off this morning was stressful (a) it was Monday, (b) the alarm didn't wake us so we woke 35 mins late (c) he spent ages trying on his bike helmet only to leave it at home and (d) it is his first day of full days, so he made me stay with him for 30 minutes IN the classroom and even then still cried when I left *sigh* 


Friday, 12 September 2014

Billly Smart's Circus is Coming to Town - Harefield this Weekend September 11th to 14th 2014

Billy Smarts Circus
Billy Smart’s Circus will be in Harefield Common from Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th September, THIS weekend.

The Billy Smart's Circus UK tour is brimming with a dazzling combination of:
  • acrobatics
  • comedy
  • music
  • juggling; and
  • aerial feats
brought to you by our amazing international artistes.

There are no animals and quality and innovation are at the top of the agenda for this sensational company of performers. 

This year’s show is hosted by YASMINE SMART granddaughter of the founder! 

Artistes include: 
  • The FLYING ACES, five exciting youngsters on the flying trapeze swing and somersault their way through the air
  • The X-TREME BROTHERS, a trio of handsome and talented acrobats from Romania utilise immense strength and power to achieve amazing feats of balance
  • ALINA ESKINA brings her beautifully choreographed unique ‘cube’ routine
  • GERMAINE DELBOSQ from France shows off her foot-juggling skills with a modern slant on the back of a motorbike!
  • The ASADULLIN TROUPE from Russia use a specially constructed seesaw to propel one another high into the air
  • CAROLINE, a high-flying solo trapeze star, swings, plunges and twists with elegance high above the circus ring
  • Italian clown JONNY BOGINO brings his whimsical comedy style to UK audiences for the first time
  • INDIAN SPIRIT, liven up the proceedings as a bolas is whirled to the rhythm and beat of the drums
  • A LIVE BAND, the only one in a British touring Circus, complements the action
For further information including performance times and prices and to purchase tickets please visit their website

Phone ticket & information line:


Billy Smart’s Circus will be in Harefield Common from Thursday 11th to Sunday 14th September

I was invited in exchange for this post - although we are not able to make it I wanted to share the details as it sounds phenomenal and we do LOVE the circus!

Have a watch here:

And here is the official poster
Billy Smarts Harefield September 2014 official poster

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Starting Reception - What I Knew, What I Didn't. Learn from Me?

The days and weeks are going fast, so I want to document the start of Aaron's school life while I can still remember it all.

Don't underestimate how draining it is. Your precious bundle of joy, who's grown up in the blink of an eye, is now off to school. Pace yourself and expect to need some early nights. That's both of you.
Open Days 
We didn't go to any of these, but for anyone starting reception September 2015, you need to find out when your favourite schools are hosting these visits/tours. These start happening NOW anytime between now and January so get in quick. Just looking at Ofsted Reports is NOT the way to choose a school. You really need to view the school (inside) to get a feel for the facilities, the vibe, the layout, the happy (or not) vibe coming from the children AND the teachers/staff. Are they responsive and enthusiastic when you make enquiries? We found out about open days way too late, but I don't want the same to be true of you.

Our deadline for applications for 2014 was January 15th. The application is easiest done online. There is a booklet to support the process - if nobody has given you a copy you can get a PDF online (depending on your local authority). Don't always believe what your friends say, as your experience may be different. Your local authority may ask you to apply for 5 schools, theirs may only expect 3 options; 1st 2nd and 3rd choice. Also, your authority may expect 3 forms of ID (birth cert, proof of council tax, etc...) and theirs may not ask for anything. If you are asked for proof of address it means you can only apply for schools based on your current, not your future address.

Depending on your area, the timescales may look like this:

15 January 2014 
Closing date for the submission of an online application or return of paper

16 April 2014 
Parents who have applied online are able to access the outcome of their application during the evening

16 April 2014 
Letters sent by 1st class post advising parents and carers of result of application

30 April 2014 
Deadline for parents and carers to accept the school places offered.

17 May 2014 
Closing date for lodging appeals for community schools 

June 2014 – July 2014 
Community schools appeals heard by independent panels

So May/June is the time when you will apply if you did not get any of your chosen schools, which with the current high numbers of children versus places is a possibility you NEED to consider.

The School
As a new mum, you may do what I did and base your choices purely on Ofsted and location. Once you get talking to other mums and viewing schools you will realise that this is not the only thing to consider. Also, a school that had a good Ofsted 24 months ago, may be on the way down now, as something may have changed (Great Head Teacher has left for example) OR a school with a bad Ofsted may be on the way up now, and may have better facilities than its neighbouring school. Also, consider the needs of your child, and where they can be best met. If they are very outdoorsie, do you want them in a school that has next to NO outdoor space? Maybe that school with the big green field is more attractive than you thought. 

If your child is a sensitive soul, who's very close to his Mummy, the OUTSTANDING school that has strict teachers that aren't very "loving" might see you running for the hills despite your excitement at getting s/he in.

You might have only wanted Catholic schools, and may even have got your child baptised, and dragged them to mass every Sunday, only to find the Catholic schools aren't necessarily for you, for one reason or another. (Yes, this did happen to me, can you tell?).

Go into the process with an open mind. Your gut instinct will give you little nudges, hints and messages, IF you let it. You'll also, if you're anything like me, have chance encounters, that will guide you through. To steer the ship in murky waters.

Location Location Location
Some schools have such HIGH demand, that they limit their intake to just the surrounding roads, and to siblings of children already in the school. They could take in 30 children, but 20 of those could be siblings, meaning the remaining 10 are from literally the neighbouring roads. So when the school says "are you within walking distance?" and you say "yes" you may be meaning a 30 minute walk and they might mean 3!!! I went to Church every week for nearly 3 years every Sunday, till I realised that I was NOWHERE near, near enough to that school to get in.

I am still spiritual and always have been - I pray every day, but that doesn't have to mean mass on Sunday and nor does it mean he needs to go to a Catholic school. Luckily he is now at a Christian one though.

So look at your favourite school's numbers for last (this) year. How many got in? How many were declined?

Similarly if you are thinking of moving, to a town, just so you can get into a certain school, find out how NEAR you need to be, to have any hope of getting in. Worth it before you start all that conveyancing and experience any disappointment. Disappointment when it comes to school decisions tends to amount to heart ache!

The Uniform
Yes, you may have seen that it is very cheap in Tesco/Asda and even Marks and Spencers, but until you pick a school (or have one picked for you), you won't really know.  For example, your friend's children may have generic uniform: cardigan, blouse, trousers and skirt that you can get from anywhere, affordably. Yet you, like me, may end up in a school, where there are certain items, with the school logo on, that you have to buy from the school. These can be expensive, i.e. a 2 pack of white polos from Tesco is 2 pounds, yet ONE with a logo on from school is 6 pounds. So consider this when budgeting. If you get school shoes from Clarks or Clinkards you can be looking at 45 pounds. If you're like me, you can get something more practical from Next for 24 pounds :-) I got these black lace school shoes for Aaron. They may look a bit trainer-ish, but my rationale was (1) I wanted him to be comfortable (2) I fell in love with them (and not because of the price) (3) his uniform is a polo and sweatshirt, so it didn't seem formal enough to justify formal shoes (4) he's starting reception so there will be a lot of running around and playing, not just sitting like a book worm. I am VERY pleased to have just found them on their site (I didn't buy them online) and to see that they are calling them shoes (not trainers). They even have a place inside where you can write their name :-)
It is also worth finding out what the school's Summer Uniform is, as September can often be warm.

I didn't even think about this, but if I had, Aaron would definitely 100% be in short trousers, like some of the boys in his class.

Don't panic about hair cuts. I LOVE Aaron's curls, and did not want to part with them (yet) so at the open evening, after our school place was allocated, I asked if he has to have short hair. Luckily the answer was no. Don't get me wrong, it's above his collar but he has a good head of curls on him. I trimmed him up myself for day 1, so that all the dead ends were gone, and so that I could get a comb through it every day. Oiling it daily with Coconut Oil gives it a wet look, which I think is really smart with his curls, and saves him having the bed head look.

The Journey
If you live near school, for the love of God don't use the car. School for us is a 25 minute walk and I'd hate to think how far it would be with Aaron's little legs. So we both cycle, and you know what, we whizz passed all of the cars stuck in traffic. Congestion that you cause if you needlessly bring the car. I am so happy in our area to see so many people walking and so many kids on scooters.

You may have to factor in costs that you didn't think to budget for. Like for us, I had to get a bike lock. I bought it after he started school, so those first few days the bikes were there on a wing and a prayer. I have got a LONG one, so that it threads through both of our bikes. I want my bike safe while I am walking him round to the rear of the building. Then I unhook it and cycle home, leaving his chained up. We will have future costs when the evenings and mornings get dark, as neither of us have red or white lights on our bikes.

See above (Cost and The Journey). Cycling also means we will need to get front and rear lights, which we are yet to do as the mornings and evenings are still bright and we are getting FABULOUS weather last week and this week (touch wood). It is also dictating what I wear every day. In this glorious weather I would love to wear long maxi dresses but they would get caught in the chain of the bike. We will also need High Vis stuff when the Winter months come. Cycling also means there is none of that eating toast in the car nonsense, and we get a lovely breeze going through our hair ensuring we are bright and bushy when we get to those school gates.

For us it is not a "school run" so I have started a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram called #SchoolPedal. If you cycle to school like us, join in. I would LOVE to share experiences and tips.
The Early Starts
Make sure you factor in how this will effect you both if you are not normally early starters. For us we have to have a long slow breakfast, to make it as close to his normal routine as possible. We spent the last 6 months getting up at 10:30, so it's been a huge change for us. But now he is asleep anything between 20:30 and 21:30 and up at 07:10. The 20:30 night he got up VERY easily but the 21:30 days (the last 2 nights) he has been slightly tired in the morning. Only very slightly. It hits him worse in the afternoon, when I have seen the return of the tantrums.  Seeing the tantrums he had yesterday, I think for full days, from next week, he will really 100% need to be asleep by 20:30. As he likes to read a lot of stories, I think he'll need to be IN bed by 19:30, so I am rather thankful the evenings are drawing in, because he is often heard saying "I will go to bed when it gets dark". Wow, never thought I'd hear me ever say that I'd be glad the evenings are getting shorter. I am normally very sad about the first signs of Autumn (and yes I HAVE already seen conkers and leaves on the ground *sniff* despite the amazing weather we have had this school fortnight).

The early starts have even been tiring me out so the last 2 nights I have actually gone to bed with him, even though I normally go to sleep at 3 a.m. It has made me very effective in the morning though.

Different Strokes for Different Schools
Your friends on Facebook may be saying come July that their child is having 1 or more settling in days at school. Our school did NONE of these. BUT equally, those schools then sometimes start full days immediately come September, whereas ours has done two weeks of half days. He started on Wednesday 3rd September, and those 3 days were only 13:30 to 15:15. Yes I only had time for a cup of tea and back there again. Then this full week he is doing 08:45 to 11:45, which gives me a little longer.

So it is only next week, week commencing Monday 15th September, when he starts full days 08:45 to 15:15. It is only then that he will have lunch at school.

In case you don't know, at this age school dinners are now free for everyone. That's only something that started in 2014. I am going to wait and see if he likes them before I even think about changing him across to packed lunches. They handed us all a fortnight's menu yesterday and the food sounds fabulous. There are now something called School Food Standards, so the schools are really strict about nutrition now. I think Jamie Oliver shamed them all into making some changes and to be fair they HAVE done.

You have to get into the habit of leaving the uniform, hung up and ready the night before. Some nights I have not done so and it has really shot me in the foot come morning. Also, Tuesday morning trying to find his shoes delayed us by 4 precious minutes, likewise with trying to do his hair yesterday (as I decided to keep his curls, so it is work come morning making them NOT look like bed-head)!

School Mums
Unlike what I was lead to believe online, the school Mums in our school haven't been partaking in a fashion show, and it's been quite relaxed. I have been making more of an effort than my SAHM pre-schooler days, but only so  that I look presentable and have the right clothes for the bike ride. I have been wearing make-up but I don't know how long that will last ;-)

There are already two ladies I love to chat to, and this Tuesday Aaron and I, and one of them and her 2 children (the boy being in Aaron's class) headed off to the park after school. It turned out to be a mistake, as although WE (adults) get on really well, Aaron was useless at sharing. He'd got up earlier than normal (last week was afternoons) and they don't yet have lunch at school, so he was tired AND hungry which always makes him the devil incarnate. I HOPE we haven't both lost potential friends over it.

I will add more to this post, and photos as I think of it, but for now I am going to make a bowl of porridge as I have to leave in an hour to pick him up, and I don't want to spend all of my precious morning free time on here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Thin End of the Wedge

So, it's knickers in a twist time again in ole bloggy world, and this time it is a post by Media Works: Handle With Caution #PRrequest that has everyone's tail in a spin. (The word *tail* will come into its own below - oh I do love an intended PUN)!

I don't have that much of an interest in the post, because I neither stalk the hashtag, nor use it. If you can find a tweet where I have, good luck, as I can't remember doing so.

Anyway, what I find more interesting is the fall-out from the post.

My friend Claire for example views Media Works as biting the hand that feeds them, as bloggers often provide "free advertising" for PRs and the brands that they represent. She's tweeting about it quite a lot and has blogged about it too

The argument seems to be more about the fact though that products end up on blogs with little or no true original content, and that the products themselves bear no relevance to the subject of the blog.

I think this practice will reach its own demise soon enough, without us falling out over it. Or... will it?!?!?

What I did find interesting in the MW blog post was the line:
"blogging should never be motivated by a desire to profit from reviews".
There is a new wave of bloggers - not even that new - who register with HMR&C as quick as they print business cards; they have a professional presence and decent following across all of their platforms in less than a year. It's like the blogging holy grail and the stepping stones walked to get there has blazed a path for others to follow. They're doing so, quicker, bigger, better. It's a shift that's been happening for quite some time, and if Australia and America are anything to go by, it's here to stay. It's a rolling stone that's gathering momentum and a lot of it. Maybe the resistance to it, is not wanting to get out of its way. Firstly I think resistance is futile and secondly, if you can't beat 'em join 'em? No? Not for you? Well life is diverse no? Something for everyone...

Back to the quote above. Never?!??!?! Who says never?!?!?

As we all know, the one rule about blogging is, "there are no rules".

Yes, there are practices that will be frowned about. Like a flagrant use of #PRrequest, but surely it is up to the users on both sides to weed out the dross. 

Another quote from the MW post that I find of interest is:
"It’s also serving to divide the blogging community, separating those remaining dedicated to their writing ambitions and people motivated by the possibility of rewards". 
Hhhhhm, this is normal, surely?!?!? I am sure in every industry this occurs. So you are writing a book... you could be true to your art, and write about what you love, or you could write a book called 50 Shades of Sky, knowing that the very title might give you a headstart. You're making a movie. You could make a movie that follows on from your passions at Film School, and be shown at Film Festivals, or you could chase that Oscar, and be purely "motivated by [...] rewards". I really think the community being divided in this way, is a division that goes across all activities and isn't really even comment worthy.

One thing that struck me about the post, is that it is all about Bloggers and doesn't address the practices on the other side of the fence, that have led to bloggers acting in this way.

At BritMums Live, in one of the sessions, a slide was shown on the screen.

As you can see, in my embedded tweet below, there is a thin end of the PR tail, as the number of bloggers to access grows and grows.

I would say, that PRs rather than spending a great deal, on working with the bloggers with huge influence, they want to get to that thin end of the graph, where the numbers are. BUT, you can't work with THAT many bloggers and remain within your budget, so you have to offer less. 

Giving bloggers very little in exchange for their time, or sometimes, as Claire said, expecting bloggers to work for free, because you have shared interesting information with them. THIS I think is at the crux of it, as Media Works seem frustrated that bloggers aren't remaining in a niche/subject area and staying authentic to that with original content. If we did, when a juicing press release comes along, in our subject area, no doubt we would be SO excited to press publish for free. But the PRs miss the point, that the content doesn't provide us with any extra traffic, and often, dear brand, no matter how big your website, no we don't get any click throughs from you.

However, when we review your product, guess what, people on Google, wanting to read about that product, DO come to our site, and then go on to yours. You only have to look at bloggers like Inside The Wendy House, and how established her You Tube channel is, to see how this art can be honed.

So yes, there is a thin TAIL at the end of this graph. I think the battle, which caused the post to be written, and the Twitter fall out it has resulted in is because what is now being decided is:

Who is doing the wagging? 
The tail or the dog?

I'd say at the moment it is a battle to be fought and not yet won! I'll leave you with that thought ;-)

As an aside, I can't think or talk about tails at the moment without laughing as me and Aaron watch Nick Junior a lot and a song on there at the moment is "come on let me see you shake your tail feather" - it gets very funny when we join in as you can see on instagram :-)

I think, the way to do it, is to work in creative ways. Find the PRs, find the bloggers, that are a match made in heaven. When it works, it works. For example, when Costa calls, they have me at "hello" - I'll provide content that looks like this: Spring Menu Food Art Challenge. We all have brands/PRs we love to work with. I'll also jump out of bed rather quickly for Dyson too: The Dyson Cinetic and why There's No Hidden Dust

If #PRrequest is no longer the way to do it, then oh dear, you have to think outside the box. Like we've never done that before...?

Other creative ways of working together will spring up, like Collective Bias - who I have happily written many paid blog posts for.

Oh, and Media Works have gone to great lengths to state that the Twitter Account @BuyItYourself has NOTHING to do with them, but (1) they RT each other and (2) they finish their post by giving @BuyItYourself a HUGE plug. I'll let you make up your own mind on that one.