For 11 More Hours Only- Get 35 Free Tiny Me Personalised Name Stickers for School- Just Pay Postage!

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Quick little offer which ends in 11 hours. 35 free personalised stickers, just pay £3 postage.  I featured TinyMe back in 2014. Their personalised party invitations are super cool. £3 for postage for some stickers may be a little steep, but what I'm going to do is think of it as I'm getting the stickers for £3 and postage free, while I buy some other bits for the year ahead.

They've personalised lunch boxes, P.E. bags, wall stickers, all sorts. Below you can see the labels I got for Smix one year. The circular ones are for inside shoes, and come with a special protective covering so they don't rub off.

There are dozens of themes for the stickers too, so you can choose fairies, woodland, Transport, dinosaurs, whatever your own child is into. Offer is UK only, and only the next 11 hours, so be quick! 

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Dapper Foxes, Sassy T-Rexes & Majestic Unicorns- Asda Duvets (For Adults!) Do It Again

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Asda have the best duvet covers. They corner a much neglected market- novelty duvets for double beds and larger. Their fun duvet covers come in all sizes, from single to king, and start at £10 with doubl sizes usually around £12.

Their autumn 2017 range does not disappoint, with heritage animals, sassy dinosaurs, wizarding cats, mermaids and more. 

Sets have matching cushions and soft fleece throws which are priced £5 or £6.

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Family Friendly London #4- Kidzania: The Educational Mini-Amusement Park That's 60 Days Out All At Once

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You may or may not know that Smix absolutely loves planes, commercial planes especially. So having already visited London Transport Museum & the Science Museum on previous trips to the capital, I had been Googling other aviation attractions before our most recent trip.  

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I came across Kidzania, an educational attraction located in the giant Westfield mall at Shepherd's Bush. It's tricky to describe what Kidzania is to those who haven't seen it. It's part education yes, but also like a mini amusement park. Kids can train and work at sixty different jobs and professions. Each activity is almost like a little day out by itself.  There are several Kidzanias around the world, including Dubai, which is a really good watermark for what this attraction is- it's the Dubai of kids' days out.

Its really best to just show you- so here is a video I put together that can help explain what Kidzania actually is.  There are clips from our visit plus footage from the Kidzania UK YouTube page.

So you can book tickets online, or at Westfield. Kids over 8 can enter by themselves, under 8 will need an adult with them. You have four hours of play. Tickets are around £24 for a child, £16 for an adult. This might sound steep, but considering an hour at a trampoline park cost £10 or more, and this is for four hours, it's pretty good, it's £5 an hour each.

And here's a little tip- you can get a buy one ticket get one free offer with a valid train ticket, or check online for a 20% off voucher code.

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So what can you do in Kidzania? Its incredibly impressive, and easily worth the ticket price in my opinion. The interior is a miniature city, sort of like Main Street Disney, with little shops, hotels, a police station, hospital etc. When we walked through into the city our mouths literally dropped open, much to the amusement of the attendant, who said, "You guys must not have been here before!". 

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There are sixty different jobs, and so sixty activities for kids to choose from. Most take 10-20 minutes each, so you would be able to visit Kidzania many times and still have a new adventure to discover. The whole area is the size of Leicester Square, and has two levels.

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There are lots of real world companies to work for within the city. Be a chef in the Cadbury and make chocolate bars. Make a snack at Mission Deli Wrap and a fruit bar at the Natural Food Company Factory. Cook up a storm in the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

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Work as a fire fighter and ride the fire engine round the city, or be a surgeon and ride the ambulance.

Try your hand as Renault F1 pit crew, learn about being an Estate Agent with Hamptons. Get arty in the Pokemon Animation Studio, Painting Studio or Face Painting Pod. All these activities are included in entrance.

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Kids can earn KidZos for doing certain jobs, like window washing, medical courier and hotel receptionist. When they have  75 KidZos they can open a bank account and get a debit card. Then when they get paid for other jobs they can have their salary paid straight onto their card. They can spend their KidZos in Kidzania's Department Store, or save them for the next visit.

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Does your kid love performing? They can audition for a puppeteer or actor then put on a show for the parents in the Kidzania Theatre. The Dance Club has jobs like dancer, DJ and singer. There's a full TV studio to do various jobs in, and a Capital FM studio to broadcast from. 

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If you love animals you can train as a vet. Keep the city safe as a Policeman or Policewoman. Design clothes in H&M, or sell them in their store. Be a hair stylist in Expression Beauty Salon.

It's impossible to show you everything, but you can explore yourself with the interactive tour which works like Streetview. 

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 For Smix, it was always going to be all about the British Airways Aviation Academy. Located on the upper level it has two activities. You can train as a pilot and fly a real flight simulator, and then work as cabin crew. If you watch the video I made up above, you'll see Smix taking part in the safety demonstration.  

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With most Kidzania activities, kids queue and wait their turn, then adults can watch from outside while they try out each job. With some professions, the adults get to join in. If your child is acting as cabin crew you get to come on board the plane interior and get served an inflight meal by your little ones. 

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There are wonderful souvenir photos to buy at the end of your visit. Smix had the little pilot license card printed, which is £15 and includes a digital copy of the pilot photo. He was absolutely delighted with his pilot pass and bought a lanyard to wear it. I don't think he's ever going to take it off! 

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We loved Kidzania, and with so much to do I'm sure we will have a return visit on another of our London trips. Thanks to Kidzania for letting us come along to review our visit. There really isn't anywhere like this in Northern Ireland, so if you get the chance to visit with your children, you'll be sure to love it too.

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Family Friendly London #3 Ryanair Return Flights Belfast-Gatwick For Two Under £50 TOTAL, Plus a Chelsea & Kensington Hotel Stay for £45 a Night in EasyHotel

Our trip this week to London for an overnight was the third time I've been able to take Smix over for an adventure. I couldn't do it without Ryanair, so I thought I might share the wealth (of knowledge) and tell you how to get a flight from Belfast International to London Gatwick for the same price you would pay for the bus up to the airport from The Great Victoria Bus Station. 

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The three trips we've taken, I always book the same flights. Out of Belfast International at 11am (means you don't have to get up at dawn), then home on the return flight the night after, departing from Gatwick at 9.45pm (means you have all day in London, catch a train to the airport after the tea time rush is over).  

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On all three trips I've never paid more than £50 for the flights. Total. For us both. That's both ways. This time I managed to get all four tickets, including booking fees, seat choices etc for £39.16 (see pic left, cause I wouldn't believe it unless I saw it either). You can see, two flights each, including our seat choice onboard. 

 

How the hell do I manage that? Patience. Like I said this isn't a one-off, this is the third time I've booked these flights for under £50 total.

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Say I want to book the first week in August, I start checking for low fares around May, but it's not always true that the earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. I check every couple of days for the dates I'm looking for, then usually five or six weeks before the date, a flight will start to show £13.99 and £16.99 seats for the route I want to catch. This time I booked on 23rd June, for flights on 8th & 9th August.

You may be thinking even £13.99 each person , times two journeys is well over £50, but even if you pick a £13.99 seat it will be less than that once you enter the age of the child who is flying. So technically if it's two adults flying it will be about £56, but for one adult and one child it's under £45 total, altogether, usually.

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So, travel by air this time cost under £40, but there are other costs to take into consideration. We drive up to Belfast International, and we sort of have to when our home bound flight gets in around midnight. I book the car parking ahead of time, usually just the week before, and choose Park and Fly. There's a bus every 3 minutes to the terminal, and it even runs in the wee small hours.

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For The two full days, from 8.30am on day one, until 11.59pm on day two, the parking usually costs on average £17. There's no fussing around if you arrive in a hurry either. The entrance barrier of the car park scans your registration and you drive on in. Same deal on exit, so no having to queue to pay or find an attendant at midnight in a giant car park. 

Also you might save a couple of pounds if you do a quick Google for a current active % off voucher code for Park & Fly. Always worth checking, even £1.75 off means more pennies for Krispy Kreme when your train gets into London Victoria... and speaking of trains.... 

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So we've gotten into Gatwick Airport, next you've got to think about how to get into the city. If you aren't smart about this, you'll literally end up paying more than you've paid to fly there. 

The most obvious choice is the Gatwick Express. Straight into London Victoria in 30 minutes, no stops in between. 

Now I will give you my advice on how we do this part, but I'm not 100% sure this is exactly for certain the cheapest way to do things. You read that booking online in advance is always the cheapest way, but we don't do that, so I may not be giving you the best advice here, but I'll share anyway. 

 

 

You'll get a little shuttle bus from the plane to Gatwick Arrivals. Once you are in the building you'll pass through the baggage reclaim, then exit into an open area with restaurants & shops. As soon as you get into that large lounge, turn straight to your left, almost turning back on yourself and you'll see a train ticket desk. There's usually three desks open, and no real queue to speak of. You'll want to ask for a ticket that gets you into the city, and back tomorrow, but also works as your run around Underground ticket for both days.  

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For that I end up paying around £34 total. A child's ticket is only £2 a day, as they are free on The Underground, but the ticket will also get their journey into the city from Gatwick covered. 

This fare is for any Southern train, but NOT the Gatwick Express. These trains can take 90 minutes to get into the city. However, we accidentally got onto the Express for the London bound journey this time, after sprinting to catch what we thought was just the next train leaving for London Victoria. When we got to the destination they simply charged me a £4.20 upgrade on passing through the barriers to exit.

Again I'm not an expert on this part of the travel, but EVERY time we've taken the return train journey they've just told us to get on the next Gatwick Express even with our basic ticket.  So I'm not totally sure how it works, but be prepared to pay a surcharge if you do get on the wrong train.

P.S. Watch out for the amazing retro futuristic 'Fifty Pence Building' out on your right as you head into the city. It's the Noble Lowndes Tower at the East Croydon Station, designed by Richard Seifert in 1970.

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So what about accommodation? Well, we always stay in the Easyhotel, Earls Court. I've stayed here six times now, three times with Smix. I did a full blog post about the hotel last summer, and this trip I paid £45 for a room with a window for the one night. It's a ten minute walk from the nearest Underground Station and has never let me down. 

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You stay right in the heart of the city and can walk to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum in about 30 minutes. If you watch Made in Chelsea like I do, it's a good dander to take in the above ground scenery if you choose one journey to skip the tube for. 

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So that's the basics of a trip to London.

 

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Next time I will share my secrets for cheap attractions & eating out in Central London, plus our visit to Kidzania- a must-visit if you are visiting with children- we'd never been anywhere like it! 

 

Last tip- if your kid loves planes like Smix does, hang around to be one of the last to get off the aircraft and you can ask the crew nicely could they see the cockpit (thanks to Clare from Vintage Rocks for this tip). I think it made Smix's trip! 

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Fruit & Nut Salami, Chocolate Olives, Sparkling Rose and Coffee Flavour Drinks, & Nougat That Looks Like Gourmet Sushi- Curious Candy For Your Sweet Tooth From M&S Spirit of Summer 2017

Gastro Book £5

Gastro Book £5

 

We are at the half way point of the summer holidays, but there's still plenty of time to be adventurous and try the inventive treats from the Marks & Spencer Spirit of Summer range for 2017. Mediterranean inspired goodies are to be found in every aisle and every food department. 

 

 

 

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This week we were invited to try the sweet delights of the confectionary, dessert and drinks ranges. What struck me about the choices in the colourful fridges and tempting shelves were how unusual some of the products were. There are 'chocolate olives', which are milk chocolate coated almonds. 

Chocoate Fruit & Nut Salami at first sounds crazy, but then thinking about it- yes please. Peach Bellini Truffles and a Mocha, Lemon, Pistachio and more selection of Gelato Truffles make up the Spirit of Summer confectionary selection.

Summer Nougat £4

Summer Nougat £4

Jellies £3 : Fudge £4

Jellies £3 : Fudge £4

Of course my eye was instantly drawn to these beautiful little packages of nougat and fudge. They look like gourmet pieces of hand rolled sushi, but sweet! Heaven! The nougat has apricot, pistachio & rose flavours, while the fudge has pecan, ginger & Valencian Orange nibbles to enjoy.

Smix just loves watermelon anything, so the selection of watermelon and lemon & blueberry juice jellies are perfect for his dessert. 

Lemon & Rose Presse £2

Lemon & Rose Presse £2

Agua Fresca £2.20 : Yoghurt £1.50

Agua Fresca £2.20 : Yoghurt £1.50

 

Continuing the watermelon theme, we picked up a freshly squeezed Agua Fresca.

If you like your flavours unusual, the Spirit of Summer drinks choice is inventive also. You can be adventurous with a sparkling lemon & rose presse, a coffee spritzer, or for a party with some surpirses why not serve some Olive Vodka, Murcia Lemon Buck's Fizz, or Peach Frizzante?

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Chocolates £2 : Drinks x4 £2.30

Chocolates £2 : Drinks x4 £2.30

 

For grab from the fridge & go, handbag-sized chilled cans, there are Spirit of Summer Sparkling Grape, Sicilian Lemon & Grapefruit mini-cans. There's also an orange flavour if you prefer. 

There are some more interesting flavour combos in smaller snack packs, like the Hazelnut Coffee Vanilla Custard Chocolates. 

Lastly, for the ultimate summer dessert, it's got to be cinnamon sugar dusted, oven-warmed churros, with a side of hot chocolate sauce.  Hopefully those will stick around after summer 2017 is gone.

Churros £4

Churros £4

WIN a Holiday For a Family of 4 To Orlando, Florida With Wild Science Kits- We Tried The Lava Lamp Factory!

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A bit of a fun on a rainy afternoon with the Wild Science Lava Lamp Kit.  Technically marketed to girls I suppose, due to the leading packaging, but Smix and I have never let a bit of pink get in the way of being creative. 

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A lot of the creative aisle in toy shops is aimed at girls. Sticker makers, friendship bracelet kits, fancy 3D pens- but we've always just bought toys like these for the fun of it, rather than say oh no, just because the box has girls only on it. So we were very happy to pick the Lava Lamp Kit out of a selection of Science themed toys to review. 

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The kit has two different, but similar projects in it. The smaller glitter tube literally takes five minutes, the Lava Lamp takes maybe ten to fifteen minutes. The latter involves some mixing of powders, so you will need to supervise. However the entire project could be completed by someone Smix's age, nine, by themselves.

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The kit itself is enjoyable, but a downside is the Lava Lamp is only temporary. You make little bath bomb type disks to drop into the oil/water/glitter tube which makes it move, but there is no lid to secure the tub properly, and once the bomb has stopped fizzing, that's it. It tells you to discard the mixture and do it over again if you want to have the Lava Lamp effect once more. I think this is a little misleading as you would think you would have a Lava Lamp to display in your room after completing the kit. 

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The smaller glitter tube however is a permanent make, and you get a little flashing LED to put in the base of either tube to turn it into a pretty cool disco light.

There are dozens of different Wild Science experiment kits to choose from and they are running a very exciting competition throughout 2017 to win a holiday for a family of four to Orlando Florida. 

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Simply buy a Wild Science product, keep receipt, then visit them online and invent the next kit for them to produce. What equipment and instructions will you need? Put together a product presentation and you & your family could be jetting off to Florida for a week. Prize even includes entrance to Disney World and the Kennedy Space Centre. As an extra special Science prize, you'll get to have lunch with an astronaut.

The competition is open until 31st December 2017, so get your thinking caps on! 

Earliest Childhood Memories Part Two- Exterior Features as Interior Walls- as seen in Ex Machina, Including Summerland, Isle of Man

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I loved Ex Machina. I love robots (I'm also terrified of them, due to another childhood memory), the soundtrack was class (this tune from the film's climax especially)  and I loved the story of the film. Another character besides the robot fascinated me however, and that was the house of the billionaire inventor. I especially was drawn to the rock face feature that made up one of the stark living areas.  I was goggling at the house more than paying attention to plot.

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I've always been fascinated with exteriors used as interior walls. Locally there's a great example in Bangor's heritage centre. Coffee Cure restaurant cafe is indoors, but one wall is the old exterior courtyard wall of Bangor Castle. For years any time I've visited the small museum I've remembered peeking through the door to see the wall, and feeling very happy at the sight of it. I think I know why.

Coffee Cure at Bangor Museum set up for an event

Coffee Cure at Bangor Museum set up for an event

It's one of my earliest childhood memories again. When I was a toddler my parents would take me on holidays to Rose Cottage, a rental home on the Isle of Man. I have very little memory of it. Just the tail-less cats at the cottage, some of the beautiful seafront gardens of Dingle, the giant sunny face of Summerland (below), and the interior rock wall of its indoor pool.

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Summerland was a giant leisure complex, which originally was much bigger. It would be a billion pound venture to build these days. The pool below is the original, I can't find a photo of the pool I would have been in. I'm almost sure it was parallel to the wall. 

The reason I couldn't have remembered this pool is because Summerland #1 burnt to the ground in 1973. 

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You can see the complex was much bigger in the early 1970s.

They rebuilt Summerland on a smaller scale in the late 70s, and I was born in 1980 and visited in the early 80s. 

They demolished 'my' version of Summerland in 2005, but you can still see the rock wall I remember from the smaller rebuild. 

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It amazes me that my early memories seem to certainly shape my tastes if not more. 

As for the Ex Machina house, it's actually an exclusive hotel in Norway, so maybe someday I can visit and stare at their wall to my heart's content. 

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Can Your Earliest Childhood Memory Steer Your Present Day Quirks? Plus The History of the Garden Gnome.

Can your earliest childhood memory effect the person you become? Mine seems to creepily suit my kitsch niche.

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I've lived in Bangor, Northern Ireland most of my life, but for my first two years I lived on the Castlereagh Road in Belfast. 

I have no memories of the house, inside or out, but I've watched hours of video of myself as a baby. My dad bought one of the first home video cameras, a giant thing complete with bulky machine to plug into, this was 1980.

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I've watched myself sitting in a high chair, listening to the entirety of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds- which explains why I've always found it so bloody terrifying!

Its not that that springs up as my only memory of life on Castlereagh Road, and therefore my earliest. I remember being taken on walks a number of houses down, to look at a neighbour's front garden, which was decorated with dozens of little garden gnomes. 

Gnomes are one of the symbols of kitsch, which seems spooky given my blog now, and how I choose to decorate my home and the things I love in life. 

So that's my history, but what of the history of the garden gnome? This info graph from Museum Selection plots their path to our gardens, from 19th centuary Germany. 

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