Tuesday, 31 March 2015

My Wicked Uncle review

No, my nephew hasn’t learned to write yet, and if he could I’m not sure he’d use that description for me.

He’d probably use the much stronger language I’ve taught him.

Anyway, ever had trouble picking out age-appropriate presents for children?

Especially for kids you don’t know too well?

The idea behind Wicked Uncle is to make that process a much easier one.

It can be a nightmare buying presents for kids, especially if you don’t have any yourself, or any experience for buying for boys or girls of a certain age.

The Wicked Uncle website is very simple and easy to follow.

All gifts are categorised by age and by gender.

Now I know the later will perhaps cause some consternation, and as a parent I don’t like to see things genderised.  However as someone buying a gift for someone else’s child I want an easy and safe bet for a gift.

Buying presents for other people's children made easy

And that’s whom Wicked Uncle is aimed at, it isn’t for parents, it’s a site targeting help for uncles, aunties, cousins and friends alike, desperate to make a good choice of kid’s gift.

The site at the very least gives you a good idea of what may be age appropriate for a child, which is especially useful for younger children who may not be ready for your gift idea and can grow past toys very quickly.

As well as descriptions and images, the site also carries small video descriptions and demonstrations for most items.

In the digital age, videos are very useful when making buying decisions, and were the things I found myself clicking on first when appraising specific gift ideas.

There seems to be an emphasis on quality over quantity on the site, however it certainly doesn’t feel like you lack choice.   More so you don’t get overwhelmed with pages and pages of products that some sites will offer you.

For the ultra lazy busy they offer a gift-wrapping service with a variety of options, and will even set a reminder so you don’t forget the same birthday next year.

I certainly recommend bookmarking this site for a try the next time you need a present for someone else’s child.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Best UK Theme Parks for Families

With the Easter holidays nearly upon us, and them also being the traditional season opener for all the UK’s major theme parks, I’m timing a review of all my favourites.

I know they won’t all suit all parties, so I’ve split them in to the best for little ones, for those after bigger thrills, and for when your family has a mix of all types, like ours.

Hope you find our experiences useful for choosing where to visit this year.

Best for little ones

Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Park & Zoo

This one is a toss up between Legoland Windsor and Drayton Manor Park & Zoo.

It’s a close call, and while I’d happily recommend either to parents of little ones, I’d go for Drayton Manor as being my favourite.

We’ve had some great trips to both, but Drayton Manor wins due to its variety, its compactness, its ease and the change of pace available.

They really did steal a march on some of their rivals by setting up Thomas Land several years ago, and this year sees it undergo a transformation and significant expansion.

At Easter it opens with a brand new Sodor Airport, a Flynn the Fire Engine ride as well as the new Captain’s Sea Adventure.

This adds a gentle water ride element to Thomas Land, ride types popular with toddlers at other parks.

Taking a ride on the Thomas the Tank Engine train is always popular, and a gateway to a more relaxing element of the park, taking in lunch or a snack by the playground before perhaps enjoying an hour or two in the park's zoo.

If you have a mixed party, there is also a lot to do at Drayton Manor.  There’s the high octane rides like Shockwave and Pandemonium. But there’s also stuff in between like the Ben 10 Rollercoaster.

They also do great deals if you can take your toddlers to the park outside of school holidays.   It’s quieter and cheaper, and a good gentle introduction for small children to theme parks.

Best for bigger kids

The Alton Towers Resort

This one is a little bit more straightforward, and I’d plumb straight for The Alton Towers Resort.

My son has been measuring his own height for the past two years, just to see if he’s broken through the 1.4m ride height requirement for all the larger rides at Alton Towers.

Perversely, as well as a seemingly annual investment in the next big ride, Alton Towers has also made a significant effort in improving the experience for families and smaller children too.

We’ve always had a good time there, popping from one zone to the next, trying to adopt a route and order to taking all the rides in that avoids the masses.  The ride time boards are a great help with this.

It is a big park, and the Skyride is an excellent way to get around the park.  Mind for the little ones, they don’t need to go very far as the new CBeebies Land and brand new Octonauts Rollercoaster Adventure is right at the entrance to the park.

Look out for deals at the Alton Towers hotels and water park too.  We had a fantastic weekend stay at one of their themed Pirate Weekends.

Best for all the family

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

We are now a real mixed family, especially when it comes to theme parks.

My wife doesn’t really enjoy any ride that goes more than a few feet off the ground, or over a few miles per hour.  I’m happy to have a blast on any ride, and we have a 10 year-old boy who is somewhere in between.

Add to that we often go to theme parks with friends, so always have a mix of heights, ages and thrill tolerances.  And of all the parks, Blackpool Pleasure Beach seems to be the best place to cater for us all, together.

There’s some real classic and heritage rides at the Pleasure Beach, like Alice in Wonderland and The Ghost Train.  There’s the ‘inbetween’ rides like the Avalanche and Steeplechase.  The Big One is still an imposing sight and landmark, and for little ones Nickelodeon Land is a compact area well populated with rides little ones love.

As a family unit it’s probably the park we spend most time all together on rides.
We are generally together when we visit other theme parks, but perhaps taking turns to go on the rides and to stay with the bags.  At Blackpool we all tend to go on the rides together, with it being an exception rather than the norm when we don’t.

We’ve had some epic days at the Pleasure Beach, and if memory serves me correctly, they have the longest opening hours, so you can really space your day out, or pop off to return later in the day.

Keep your eyes peeled for deals on Pleasure Beach wristbands.  Cheap passes to the park are also available for family members not wanting to go on the rides, a practice that seems to have stopped at most of the other theme parks.

My tips for visiting these theme parks

I have written more in depth reviews of all these parks previously, and have included tips for getting the most out of your visit.

Hope you have a great time visiting them with your families.

Tips for visiting Drayton Manor

Tips for visiting Alton Towers

Tips for visiting Blackpool Pleasure Beach


Friday, 20 March 2015

Well done Walsall FC, we're off to Wembley!!!

I am a very proud Walsall Football Club supporter.

I’ve supported them since my early teens.

It was love at first sight.

Not because they were brilliant, far from it.  But because the experience of physically watching football matches, and watching The Saddlers in particular was so much fun.

Standing on the terraces, joining in with the singing, the celebrations and the sarcastic jeers had me hooked.

Up The Saddlers

I sold the idea to other friends, even going to midweek reserve team games and as I grew up a little, my dad then started to come with me to watch.

We’ve been through some genuine highs and lows.  Following Walsall all over the country.

The night we drew nil-nil away at Gigg Lane with Bury to all but clinch promotion will live with me forever.

As will Dean Keates’ last minute screamer at Swindon that wrestled the League Two Championship crown from Hartlepool United.

That was even topped by being in the Air Balloon pub afterwards, and the team coach noticing the Walsall fans had taken it over for the day, and them then turning around to join us fans in our celebrations.

Truly magical stuff.

And I thought we may never top it.

Then Max started coming to Walsall games.

Boy + Pie + Football = Aces

Max's superpowers

I’ve written about his super powers before, there’s even a chapter dedicated to them in my book, but they still continue to astound me.

The first one he has is to make everything more fun than it has ever been.  And as he’s taken to coming to Walsall games with me (and his granddad) the experience that I’ve always loved, has got even better.

I explained to him recently, that I’ve never enjoyed going to the football more.

Regardless of the results and performances, sitting with him, and my dad, always makes for an enjoyable afternoon.

Which is one of the reasons why I’m passionately involved with the Football League’s work in encouraging family excellence.

Then there’s his second super power.  Where everything he seems to come into contact with him performs beyond their previous performances.

Like when he came to watch me play hockey for the first time, and I rattled in two corking goals in one game, despite only ever scoring a handful of goals in the hundreds of games I’d played before.

And now, as he’s chosen to come and support Walsall, in his very first season as a full-blooded attending supporter, they make it to Wembley for the first time in their 127-year history!


Well done Walsall Football Club

On Sunday we will take on big spending Bristol City in the final of the Johnston’s Paint Trophy.  They are the highest ranked team in the competition so it would be no mean feat to come away winners.

The playing and coaching staff of Walsall must indeed be congratulated on their immense efforts to even get to the final.  Defying the odds at almost every round to get there.

However my biggest praise is reserved for the club itself, and how they’ve handled getting to the final.

They’ve done a tremendous job of engaging with the fan base and wider community and the normal loyal 3,500 home crowd has been swelled to nearly 30,000 supporters for Wembley.

Which actually formed part of my initial fears.  I was always confident of getting tickets to the final, but wanted to share the experience with the friends I usually go to away games with rather than with anonymous fans only coming along to this game.

I’m delighted to type that that is going to happen.  I have some fabulous friends I’ve made through supporting Walsall – something Max recognised himself at our last home game – and they braved the cold and the queues to ensure we would be sat, or stood singing, together.

The club did a fantastic job facilitating us and many other fans, and it was clearly a tremendous collective effort.

Players recognised this too, even making hot drinks for the hard-working ticket office staff.

The town has really got behind the club, even turning the its famous concrete Hippo into a Walsall Fan to mark the event.

Wish us luck

Whatever the result on Sunday, we are confident of making a decent account of ourselves.

The team, and the fans.

It will be a trip, that myself, my dad, and Max will probably remember forever.

Up The Saddlers!


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