Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Halfords Folding Picnic Table

This year, we travelled light to Camp Bestival, but you can't go without something to sit on for comfort! We tried a special offer foldable picnic table from Halfords. How did we get on?

In the previous two years of Camp Bestival, we've brought a roof box for our car and filled it with all sorts of tat we didn't in the end need. This year, having hired a car without roof box attachment options, we had to travel lighter.

However, we didn't want to go without something to sit on, which meant something which had functionality and which didn't take up too much space.

The same time as we bought our tent from Halfords, we saw a foldable picnic bench on sale too, reduced from £50 to a reasonable £20.

It was pretty compact when removed from the box and I had no trouble fitting it snuggly into the boot of the car (a Peugeot 2008) we hired.

On arriving, after the tent mishap, we had concerns that maybe the picnic bench wouldn't be great either, as we had already found we got what we paid for (eg: not much) when it came to that.

Luckily, Halfords redeemed themselves a little!

It was very simple to open out into a picnic table, and was quite sturdy when on flat ground. It had several locks which kept it all together safely, and which were easily pinpointed by helpful stickers underneath.

It was lightweight and made carrying it around simple, folding into the shape of a briefcase when not in use with a handy handle to the top.

It took the weight of our cooking stove easily, and the kids had fun sitting at it to eat or to read and play games.

Adult weight wise, I felt a little uncomfortable, as the seats were pretty basic and thin, but it managed to take my weight without collapsing. It wasn't the most comfy chair in the world, and I had to sit sideways rather than with my legs under the bench as there wasn't the space, but it did the job. It was better than sitting on the grass, but not as great as a lawn chair. 

For £20, it's gone in the shed for next year, I wouldn't recommend it for regular garden use, but for camping or day trips to the beach it's well worth having to avoid having to take along extra chairs. If space is an issue, you could do a lot worse for the price.

You can buy the picnic bench at Halfords for the same price we paid.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Groov-E Portable Solar Charger

Going camping is fun, but wanting to charge your gadgets in a tent minus electric sockets is not so much fun. Of course, you could go cold turkey and give tech the cold shoulder, but why when you can charge your phone with the sun! 

I tried a solar charger last year at Camp Bestival, and found it really poor! At first, we were impressed on the ease of use, to just charge it via USB and then stick it in the sunshine outside the tent. However, we found that after the first use- when of course it was charged from being USB charged in the same way a Powerbank works- it was rubbish and it ended up in the bin.

Groov-E however is a slightly more upmarket model, and we tried it with high hopes for charged phones over the weekend.

The Groov-E is sleek, it's lightweight, and it comes in a handy velvet pouch for easy transportation. It also had a USB charger cable (although not an iPhone one, but these would fit too) included, and, when charged, provided a handy little torch, which made plugging a phone into it in the dark easy.

It again needed to be charged at first via USB connection to a PC, and did so pretty quickly. You can tell it's charged as it has handy lights to the front which show when you press a button on the front. his of course stops the lights draining any charge it has.

When I first used it on my phone, which has the crappiest battery life ever, I found it charge it pretty swiftly, in a around an hour. It also stayed charged just as long as it would had I charged it on a conventional plug socket at home.

The great thing is that it also has an auto cut off for charging, so if your item is charged, it wont waste energy it has stored continuing to charge.

It's also compatible with cameras too, and it's top charging time for gadgets is two hours. The way I used it was to charge my phone at night, ready for the next day when I could put it outside the tent ready for night time.

Included in the box is a little metal hook, making hanging it from a tent or a window very simple to achieve. We then left it whilst we went off exploring.

So, did it charge my phone after being in blistering sunshine all day?

It did!

I was shocked to be honest as after last year's cheaper version by another brand I was rather dubious. But give it credit, this little gadget did the job impressively. In fact, I managed to keep my phone charged during Camp Bestival, which I've never managed before.

I would highly recommend the Groov-e to travellers, its so easy to use and works just as it should. I usually rely on Powerbanks but these work once and then need to be plugged into an electrical source so for trips they aren't amazingly helpful.

I will certainly be using the Groov-e again next time I'm camping, and at under £20, its a purse friendly solution for when you really don't want to be without a phone or want to keep kids amused via their tablets.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Budget Car Hire

In the next of our season of Camp Bestival tie in reviews, it's car hire. This year, we hired a car from our local Budget Car Hire company. Was it all smooth motoring? 

Hiring a car is pretty simple these days, and there are plenty of websites online- third party or otherwise- offering the latest deals to customers whatever your vehicle needs.

We wanted to hire a larger car for Camp Bestival, or a mid size with roof bars, and found Budget our best bet.

Like most sites, booking in advance can save you cash, but we weren't able to book as much in advance as we wanted as Littlest had a bit of a health scare and we weren't even sure we could make it to the festival until pretty much 12 hours before leaving!

We visited the Budget rental office locally, it was easy to find and the website gave great directions too. The website itself is pretty easy to navigate, and you can get a quote either there or on the telephone before booking.

The lady we spoke to was lovely, we told her what cars we were interested in and found one car- a Diesel Peugeot 2008 was available. We were happy with this as we hired the same model last year and used the roof bars to put our roof box on top.

The paperwork was pretty simple, with Elder's drivers licence being used to complete the set up. 

We were then asked to inspect the vehicle, and made notes of any marks on the bodywork or interior. We were happy to do this as obviously, although Budget offer you insurance as part of the deal, any marks or imperfections will have to be paid for.

One member of staff was a little sullen, and I did feel for the lady we spoke to- she had to ask several times for this male staff member to complete the check in of another customer returning his vehicle and eventually gave up and sorted us and the other customer out instead.

He did, though, on hearing us mentioning wanting to use a roof box that the model we were hiring didn't allow the owner or hirer to use the bars on the roof for that purpose. We told him we had done just that at Peugeots advice the year before, but he rather ominously said a previous hirer had done this and had to pay £1,600 to replace a damaged set of bars to the roof!

All in all, with a returnable deposit, we paid £407 (£200 to be paid back at a later date) and were asked to refuel the car on it's return.

We didn't use our roof box in the end, taking a smaller tent than we'd planned on as to be honest I was concerned we may be billed for using the bars if we did. That did cost extra- £50 for a hastily bought tent which turned out, as per my last review, to be a nightmare.

We set off on Thursday and problems began quite soon after. 
It appeared there was a problem with the engine as it would suddenly lose power trying to climb a hill or if we'd been in stationary traffic. Elder kept having to accelerate to keep the revs up or the car would just stop, and it meant a journey that usually takes an hour and half took 3! It also meant we used up more diesel,  

The car was a concern whilst we were away, usually we go into Wareham to buy supplies to avoid having to pay premium prices for food on site, but we didn't feel comfortable with regards driving it. We were unsure where we stood with regards breakdown cover too, and didn't want to be left stranded in Dorset with no car if the hire car was taken to be fixed, or worse, we didn't want to have to come home and return it and ruin our trip.

In all, the car took 6 hours to get us home as it just kept losing power and Elder had to pull over as a result. It was a cause for concern all the way home as we worried we would break down on a back route or in the middle of a lane of the motorway with no warning.

On returning the car, Elder told the same lady about our issues with the engine, advising that perhaps it needed to be taken in for a full service to find out where the problem was. For a brand new this year car, it really should not have such a major issue so soon, and we knew, from driving the petrol version last year, that the car is usually a great and smooth drive.

She was very kind about it, giving details of who we could contact about the problems, but I would advise Budget that check in on return should also include a check of the engine as not everyone is safe, careful driver and sadly with the car we hired it feels someone may have taken the "not my car, I can drive like a moron" idea too far.

Would I hire with Budget again? Yes, as the lady who dealt with us was incredibly professional and polite, and it was short notice to hire and we still left with a vehicle. Next time though I would ask when the engine was last assessed for peace of mind.

Budget Car Hire can be found online

Friday, 5 August 2016

Aventura 4 Man Tunnel Tent

When camping, a tent is top of the list of essential items. But finding the right one can be a hard task. For this year's Camp Bestival, we purchased an Aventura 4 Man Tunnel tent. What did we think?

As an ex-Girl Guide, I like to think of myself as a tent expert. I have camped in some very old, shaky tents which took hours to put up, and I've also camped in the newer, much easier to put up modern style too. Such is my prowess with a tent, I was once given a challenge on an outward bound course to put a tent up blindfold with help from someone else, and managed to do so with ease and little help from my non-blindfolded team mate.

We did have a very good Halfords tent for five years, the review of which can be found here, but it was a casualty of last year's Camp Bestival so went in the bin.

It was the obvious choice once again to grab a tent from Halfords, and we found the Aventura 4 Man Tunnel tent for £50, reduced from £100.

We wanted a simpler tent without losing some of the size, and we felt sure the specs of this tent were what we were looking for, and the price was great too.

It came in a compact bag, as we were travelling lighter this year having taken far too much stuff in previous years, and we arrived on Thursday of last week to put it up.

Now, we've put tents up and down in appalling conditions, rain, high winds, the lot, there was a bit of a wind behind us which is typical of the campsite as its at the bottom of two steep hills. 

The instructions were pretty straight forward, and the tent consisted of two shorter poles and two longer ones, with a middle area for "living" and two pods for "sleeping."

It went up pretty simply but it didn't look as big as stated on the website at all. To be honest I've slept in bigger two man tents, and couldn't see how on earth you'd fit two air beds in either pod.

The worst part though was when we tried to zip the middle door up. This comprised two zips on either side of a flap.

Except that it became clear that one was already broken.. Not a great result- we'd travelled for three hours, it was late, we were all hungry, and now we had a tent which was broken. To make matters worse, the groundsheet was far too small so the cold had yet another point to come in at, and any clothes had to be put in the -already tiny- sleeping pods to try and stop them getting damp.

We made the best of it whilst we weighed up our options and grabbed a bite to eat.

On returning, the tent was freezing! We tried to put an airbed in one of the pods whilst it was inflated and couldn't get it in there without first taking the air out and only half inflating it whilst in the pod. To make matters worse, the two single air beds wouldn't both squeeze in at all in the other pod, so one had to be left in the middle living area. Not a problem so much if both zips had been able to shut, but not great when one is broken and flapping in the wind.

We all spent a rather cold uncomfortable night in the tent, annoyed to have wasted £50 on something that was ready, straightaway, for the bin and disappointed that Halfords and Aventura had marketed a tent that clearly was meant for two at best as a four person tent. Considering two of our group are 7 and 9, the very idea that four grown adults can fit in this tent is laughable.

The next big issue down to the zip was that, inevitably, the condensation which worked its way into the pods, which has left all of us with stinking chest infections.

It was also a complete farce trying to live in the tent, as the middle area offered no room to stand up, so getting dressed or leaving the tent to go to the loo was the stuff of nightmares.

On day two, the second zip broke too, we were shutting it to grab some breakfast and it just came apart in my hand. We had been forced to improvise with the other broken zip and had used our flag- meant to mark out our tent for ease of finding it on the walk back- to cover it, but now we were screwed.

The problem was, Lulworth is in the middle of nowhere, you can't even get a reception on your phone there with our network, and the nearest town is a good 45 minute drive away, so we were stuck in the middle of a tiny village, with a tent which wouldn't do up.

Another "feature" is a porch arrangement, but this never even went up, it was impossible to work out and we gave up.

I'm sorry to say this tent, had we just been on a camping holiday, would have ruined our holiday, it's just lucky that we were at Camp Bestival and could enjoy the music and fun until late and had two children who were so sleepy when they got back at night.

I was asked by Halfords to return the tent, but it went in the bin, I wasn't going to drag it back to Reading and take up space trying to fold the appalling thing back in it's bag- the only zip on the thing which didn't break.

Don't waste your money on this tent, it should be recalled as its not safe and its not as described at all.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Christmas in July: Food, Fashion and a Whole Lotta Toys Part 2: Tech and Budget Buys

If you missed Part 1 you can find it here, where I give you a sneak peak (along with my helper for the day, Littlest) into what Aldi, Morrisons and Asda have on offer for 2016.

Next up, another Wednesday and this time no Littlest who sadly had to go off back to School (with much persuasion after a day spent eating cake and playing with cool new toys).

First up, back to One Marylebone for Currys PC World.

It was tech heaven here! I am not kidding, I am half surprised I'm not still there, looking at all the amazingly cool gadgets on display.

Now that the two stores have merged, not only do you have all your kitchen and home gadgets sorted, you also have all your PC, tablet and even Virtual Reality covered in one place too.

Yes, I did say Virtual Reality. It is here, but it's probably going to take either a very large credit card bill or a few years before the majority of us can own it in our homes. The one pictured above, from HTC, was at the lower end of the cost bracket at nearly £700, but I did see another for £900!

However, if you prefer not to enter an alternative dimension (or value your credit rating), there were plenty of nifty Tablet computers for all ages. A particular favorite was a kid friendly Amazon Kids tablet with bouncy sides to stop it breaking when dropped. At £99.99, it is pricey for some, but if it's anything like my Kindle Fire, the kids will love it and it's a speedy little machine for kids gaming and for homework research too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                As a kitchen gadget lover, I was very impressed with the shiny mixers, of which there was an abundance of brands and colours to suit all kitchens. I particularly liked the range of Smeg kitchen accessories, which featured an unusual lattice design with chrome accents.

There was also a great display by chef Luis Troyano, who used many of the gadgets to show us how to make delicate and tasty meringues, and a very Christmassy Mulled wine (although at 11am, it was a little early for me to indulge ad successfully make it around London!).

Next up, Argos, who always seem to have everything covered across the board in one catalogue.

I love Argos at Christmas as I have many happy memories of the Christmas book being available and of grabbing it, biro in hand and circling all the goodies I wanted to find from Father Christmas as a child.

I went straight to the toys and it has to be noted that Argos definitely put on an amazing experience for us to go back and write up. I've not been to many events where the adults are encouraged to play on the bikes and scooters in the middle of the space.

It was also great to see children there who you can ask what they thought of the toys too. There was plenty to see, and the guys from Argos were very knowledgeable on release dates.

Lego is a massive fave in our house, with Littlest dying to know when the new Ninjago sets are coming out (September in case you also wanted to know). Considering how long Lego has been around, I feel it carries on its success across generations as it taps into the modern world. None more so than with Lego Nexo Knights. These are more than just sets, including an app and TV show, where the child is encouraged to collect special shields to unlock features in the game.

For doll lovers, and all things pink, Argos is a one stop shop. I was impressed with the great range of varieties, from well known brands such as Zapf to Argos own versions, all budgets are covered, from the big toys to the smallest gift.

Gamers are sorted too, with new add-ons coming soon for Wii U, XBox 360 and Playstation too. I really loved the Lego Dimensions sets for Wii U, and like that boredom factor is taken into account with the unlocking of new levels and features. I also think that incorporating the building of Lego into the game is fun too and harks back to my days of building a house for fun!

Another interactive toy which I got to try out (and I'm sure I was allowed to win) was the ONKI Overdrive. Think traditional Scalextric and add a phone and virtual rocket launchers to stop your opponents car! Using a sensor filled material, you place your race car- or lorry which is coming soon- to the bendy track, pick up your mobile with its free app and play along. Unlike the Scalextric, the cars don't leave the track and aren't restricted to one lane, and there's no bits of plastic to attach which will break after a bit of a tantrum. I really loved this toy and for £150 for the starter set of two cars and lots of track, which can be added to, it's a toy I feel that would go down very well during Christmas and beyond.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Onto the homewares and electricals, it was great to see vintage re-imagined with the Bush portable record deck, which no doubt has far better sound quality than the 1960s versions it pays homage to, and the vintage designed radios with DAB capabilities. The colours were great with pops of pastels and vibrant hues a plenty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Last stop, Poundland.

Now, there is sometimes a certain level of feeling that everything from Poundland will be rather plastic and cheap and cheerful.

Now, cheap, yes, cheerful, plenty, but plastic and not all that good? Never!

I was really impressed with the level of diversity available, all for £1. I loved the decorations- something that I know from going into the store at Christmas are always very popular. There were ranges which would convince people you'd shopped in the likes of John Lewis, with particular mentions for the wooden handcrafted fox and owls.

For Marvel, Secret Life of Pets and Frozen lovers, Poundland has a range that not only includes funky baubles for the tree but sweets, colouring books and stocking filler toys too. For a few pounds, you could sort out all the friends from school with quality Christmas gifts.

For older kids, look out for the new ranges hitting soon of make up and jewellery sets too.

You will ask yourself "did I really get this for a quid?" and of course, for those who find Christmas a budget nightmare, Poundland should be top of your list.

After viewing the Christmas shows, I'm up for some snow and turkey as soon as possible!

Hope we've given you some ideas for this year!