Monday, 29 September 2014

We love Nintendo Tomodachi Life! (Review)

It's no secret that we are big Nintendo fans in this house; the girls love all of their games and as parents we are happy to admit to enjoying them too!

After our day out at Lollibop, where we spent some time exploring the Nintendo stand, Tilly decided to use a chunk of her pocket money (which she had been saving) to purchase one of their newest offerings - Tomodachi Life.

'Tomodachi' means 'friend' in Japanese apparently, and this game is all about friends and watching them interact. You start off with your own Mii character, which you can customise by choosing eyes, hair colour, nose size, clothes and so on. You can also import Mii characters which you may have already created in other games, or take a photo of someone you know and this then generates a Mii itself - very clever!

The next step is to then give your Mii character a voice, and you can adjust the pitch, tone and accent settings for hilarious results. Personalities can also be dished out - 16 unique characteristics to be mixed and matched for anything from pushy and competitive to kind and honest. Here's one of Sophie's Mii creations - she likes candyfloss and crisps apparently.

The Mii characters then live on two islands which have a seemingly infinite array of activities to offer. Form bands and perform songs, go shopping for new clothes or have fun at a funfair, with or without your friends. The Mii characters can fall in love, decorate homes and even have babies - how exciting! You can also play mini games with your characters, so there's never a dull moment.

Honestly, I can say this is one of the best Nintendo games we have ever purchased for our 2DS (it's also available for 3DS of course). The girls go back to it time and time again, and never seem to tire of it. I'm tempted to have a go while they are asleep....

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Thursday, 25 September 2014

Can Supernanny fix everything?

Does 'traditional' parenting work? What would Supernanny Jo Frost make of this?

Yesterday parents were invited to a mass at school, to welcome the new starters. Sasha stayed in the room for around 30 minutes of the full hour which all the other children (and parents) stayed for. She started to get a bit stressed at the point where she, along with all her peers, was asked to go up to the front for a blessing with oil; she refused. Quietly and without causing a huge fuss though, so that is definitely progress. Can't say I blame her for not wanting to, and I'm sure there were a fair few other children who were nervous or who would rather not have gone up. 

What amazes me always when I now attend these kind of events, is how compliant all the other children are - including my eldest girl. It wouldn't have occurred to me to notice before, because it's exactly how I was as a child too. Almost sheep-like. The others stay sitting down, quietly, because they are told to, and because they are taught that is the way they should behave. Most of them don't want to be there any more than Sasha does. Yes, some squirm, and fidget, and I'm sure there are lots who simply don't listen. They understand though, that there are consequences if they don't behave. While I think Sasha has now progressed to the point where she can understand that she should be 'joining in', and she is starting to see that she is 'different' (which will bring its own mental health challenges), it doesn't make her any more capable of sitting quietly and following 'the rules'. 

I think I've said before how relieved I am that we have an older girl who has been parented in the 'traditional' manner, with rewards and consequences, and standard parenting 'rules'. Whilst I'm not in any way suggesting I have it nailed, or that I am a perfect parent, I hope people can see that she is (most of the time) a polite, well-behaved, well-balanced young girl. Being the older sibling has meant that Tamsin hasn't copied Sasha's behaviour thankfully, though it has of course been very difficult for her to understand and live with at times. It may sound crazy to say, but it feels like Tamsin is my saving grace, the reason why others listen to me, and why they, for the most part, believe me when I explain how it is. Tamsin is my proof that it isn't my fault, and that Sasha's behaviour can't be blamed on my approach to parenting.

I feel for all the parents of children with autism, and particularly those with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance), who don't have another child at home to compare the behaviour to. In that situation I'd have questioned myself and my abilities as a parent even more than all parents do as a matter of course. On top of that, professionals would no doubt have questioned my abilities too, sent me on 'better' parenting courses. It happens, to so many. 

The truth is that 'traditional' parenting techniques do not work with children like Sasha. Standard autism techniques don't often work either. It's a case of using different strategies, of always having a Plan B, and of being flexible.

Funnily enough, the argument that is often used as an excuse for being inflexible in a lot of other schools (not ours, thankfully, we have been so lucky) is that one child can't be allowed to do something different from the others, because then the other children will want to do that too and their behaviour will deteriorate.

Interestingly, we have not found that to be the case where Sasha is concerned. Her peers just seem to accept the fact that she is often not there, and that she doesn't always have to do the 'boring' things that they have to. Before too long, most of them will also understand that it is not always fun to be Sasha, and to have these difficulties, and they may end up feeling grateful that they can be part of the crowd.

Children are amazing. They are all individuals, but most of them are capable of following the rules and being part of the main pack where necessary and expected. Supernanny has worked her magic on many families; families where discipline has slowly disappeared or was never there in the first place for one reason or another. I honestly don't think she could make a difference here.

Sasha will face different challenges in life because of her autism/PDA. Supernanny can't fix her. She doesn't need fixing. Sasha is amazing too.

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

MAD Blog Awards 2014: Bloggers FlashMob

You'll have already seen in my last post that I did something a little bit crazy last weekend, at the Mad Blog Awards 2014. Well here is the evidence - video footage of our Mummy Blogger FlashMob! See if you can spot me.

Huge thanks go to Harriet and Sophie and the other helpers from Stagecoach, who very patiently taught us the dance moves. I still think they were a little demonic optimistic with a fast song choice, and plenty of 'dancer' steps in there, but we just about pulled it off I guess. What do you think?!

Mummy Bloggers Flash mob
Woo hoo! The Flash Mob are over here!

It was such fun to be a part of, wish I could do it every weekend! Cannot wait to see what next year's 'challenge' is.....

Here are some more photos of the event, all taken by the wonderfully talented Tom Arber from Tom Arber Photography:

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Mummy Bloggers Flash Mob

Downs Side Up and Steph's Two Girls
Me with the lovely Hayley from Downs Side Up

Dr.Ranj CBeebies
Me and the gorgeously smiley Dr.Ranj!

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Mad Blog Awards 2014: MAD secret thing

Around this time last year, I attended my first ever Mad Blog Awards Dinner in London, and you can read all about that on my post Bloggers are Brill (it involved a floaty skirt and a mechanical surfboard. Oh and Dr.Ranj from CBeebies). Let's just skirt over the fact that I had to pose dressed up as a carrot to win a ticket, shall we? 

Fast forward 12 months and I've just attended my second Mad Blog Awards Dinner. I'm still on a high; bear with me as I explain why. Let's get started with a pic of me and the best compere ever, Dr.Ranj from CBeebies. He has to be the smiliest man I know (yes, he kept it up all night, oo-errr) and he's a little bit naughty and giggly too...
Me and Dr.Ranj in the colourful dance floor lights. He's a mover too ;)
A few months back, a call was put out for some people to do a secret MAD thing, and I thought 'hell, why not, what can be worse than dressing as a carrot?' 

So I toddled off to a not-so-local school hall in Surrey on one very hot afternoon in summer, to be greeted by a handful of other nervous-looking bloggers, along with Sally from Tots 100 who had organised the torture session.... and some very enthusiastic Stagecoach employees. 

The secret MAD thing was not at all what I expected. We were being forced into given the opportunity to take part in a dance routine. The tune was an Olly Murs song (Dance With Me Tonight), which I'd quite liked up until that point. Have you realised how fast the beat in that song is?

After we spent a hot and sweaty couple of hours learning a few hundred steps, we returned to our individual homes and wondered what on earth had possessed us to sign up. Well, that's how it was for me, I'm just guessing on behalf of the others, but I reckon I'm not too far off.

We discovered that there was also a separate Northern group of bloggers who had rehearsed; around 30 bloggers were originally signed up to take part. As the holidays went on, and that initial rehearsal became a distant memory, the panic intensified, and so during a holiday visit to my parents up North, I took myself off to an extra rehearsal with a handful of the Northern bloggers.

A Google Hangout and one final rehearsal later and we were ready... as we would ever be. As I got ready to iron my gorgeous posh Boden frock pre-event, a big white wiggly vein suddenly bulged out on my leg (TMI? Sorry!). I could hardly believe my luck but was determined to do the dance whatever - and thanks to a little bit of medical advice from the fabulously talented Sally (I was looking for Dr.Ranj, but sadly he hadn't arrived at that point) I spent an hour with my leg up and ice pack on, chanting 'the show must go on'. Something like that anyhow. Huge thanks to my wonderful fellow flash-mobber Ruth from Geek Mummy who stayed calm and looked after me the whole time.
Me and Ruth from Geek Mummy
The drinks reception kicked off at 645pm and the nerves had well and truly kicked in at that point. I managed to whisper something terrible into Dr.Ranj's ear* before introducing myself to some lovely friendly bloggers (thanks Jennifer and Rachel) and then playing a giant size Operation game. That was followed up by a hug with Pikachu before we all filed into the hall where my flat shoes were waiting on a chair for me. We still had to get through a sumptuous three course meal before the secret would be revealed, and to say tummies were churning would be an understatement.

All of a sudden, it was time. Dr.Ranj had begun his speech, and then the lovely Clara from My Two Mums interrupted him to invite us to the dancefloor at the front of the room. I didn't stop to think or look at what all the other bloggers left at the tables behind us were doing, but I'm guessing there were a few surprised faces amongst them. 
The crazy MAD secret thing flashmobbers - photo credit @VicWelton
We flash-mobbed our hearts out, and it was an amazing feeling to be part of something special that I'll probably not get to do again ever (Sally?!). There will be full-on video evidence coming soon, so if you don't believe me you'll just have to check back in the next couple of days. For now, I'm going to leave you with all the pictures I took during the rest of the fantastic evening. 
MAD Blog Awards 2014
MAD Blog Awards 2014

MAD Blog Awards 2014

MAD Blog Awards 2014

MAD Blog Awards 2014

I'm slightly in awe of all the amazing bloggers who won awards, but a special mention goes from me to Helen of Actually Mummy who was brave on an emotional evening. All the Outstanding Bloggers are winners in my eyes - the pinnacle of this community and I'm so honoured to know Hayley from Downs Side Up, Emma from Emma And 3, Maddie from Gammon and Chips, Emma from Crazy With Twins, Jenny from Edspire (missed you this year!) and the Team Honk gals. Love you ladies! 

I chatted with too many gorgeous people to mention them all, and there were so many more I would have liked to spend time with but there just wasn't the chance. Next year... hopefully. Wondering if it can get any crazier than this... knowing Sally, I'd say yes. Thanks Sally for another brilliant event, and the chance to take part. Hugs to you.

Finally, to my fellow fab flash-mobber Colette I just have to say thanks for providing the best moment of the event. *I will never forget #fistandflick. Poor old Dr.Ranj. 

 photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg
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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Brownies. Would it be possible?

Sasha has been looking forward to this Wednesday all summer long. She was so excited about the idea of being able to join the Brownies group with her big sister that my heart almost melted.

Almost. It kind of groaned too. 

I didn't know if Sasha joining Brownies was going to be a good idea. Nothing is ever quite that straightforward round here. 

I'd originally encouraged Tamsin to join Brownies two and a half years ago so that she could socialise with other children who did not attend her school, and I hoped it would help build her confidence. It was also an extra chance for her to do something fun away from Sasha, which may sound mean, but I'm obviously aware that living with Sasha is not all sweetness and roses for Tamsin. Time off for good behaviour maybe? Tamsin has loved Brownies and I wasn't sure we should encroach on the fun she has there.

There are extra sibling issues to the 'norm' here of course; Tamsin is acutely embarrassed of her younger sister with autism, who doesn't think twice about shouting out or doing things she is not supposed to do. Tamsin can feel the stares and strange looks from the other children, and she dislikes having to field their questions and try and explain why Sasha behaves in that different way. Of course she shouldn't have to, but without me there, there is no one else to deflect all that attention. I have seen from a distance how much it upsets her. I feel for her.

Yet I also feel for Sasha, and of course I don't want to stop her taking part. Her autism brings enough difficulties which hold her back from groups anyway, so I'm going to do everything I can, bending over backwards to try and enable her to join in. She has tried ballet lessons previously but couldn't carry on as they were too structured and 'slow' for her. She'd do 10 minutes of dancing but then lie on the floor in the middle of the class, disrupting; she has a need for attention and control. Last term she did her first whole run of an after school club, doing gymnastics. She needed an assistant with her for the whole time though. Sasha needs direct instructions rather than group ones, and she needs someone to try and persuade her to stay focused on the task. That someone needs to be flexible and able to 'go with the flow' when Sasha has other ideas about what is fun. The PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) type of autism, which we believe Sasha shows signs of, causes great anxiety and a lack of awareness or understanding of rules generally.

I wasn't even sure that Sasha would want to join Brownies, and I had concerns about how unstructured the Brownies sessions are. She needs to be not dictated to, but at the same time benefits from very clear instructions... there's a happy medium in there somewhere! When she asked if she could join, I had a word with Brown Owl and we went along for a trial session. We'd done a visit to the local fire station with Brownies the week previously (there are some perks!), but it hadn't exactly gone swimmingly. The Brownies were shown into a warehouse set up as a house with hazards and they had to work together to identify around 30 hazards. After spotting about 10 in two minutes, Sasha had done enough of that activity and so I had to wait outside the building with her. 

She did then join in with the walk through the fire engine but after that she was too tired to take part in squirting the fire hose, which I'd have thought she'd love. There was just too much noise and sensory stuff going on for her. 
Tamsin learning how to handle a Fireman's hose!
Anyhow the next session, when she did her trial back at the school, actually went quite well - with me on hand in case of any upset of course. The group did some colouring, and played outside; lovely easy activities which Sasha enjoys. So Brown Owl kindly offered to let Sasha start this term. As long as I was able to stay for all the sessions with her.

To be honest, I would have been the kind of mum who would have offered to help before this point, if it had been feasible. But with Sasha at home, I always dropped and collected Tamsin just like all the other mums. Tamsin would have been delighted if I'd have stayed to help sometimes, but it just wasn't possible. This is different though. I have to be there to help Sasha specifically, which I know makes Tamsin feel 'why her and not me?'. She understands Sasha's needs of course, but that doesn't mean she likes them.

So how did tonight's session go? It started off with Brown Owl asking the Brownies to make a list of 100 things they were going to do over the next week (washing up, tidying rooms, reading etc). Sounds easy, huh? Slight issue in that Sasha has generally been refusing to write anything so far. So I groaned inwardly again and went to sit with her, expecting to have to scribe for her. As it turns out, I had to spell all the words for her, but she did the actual writing herself (a mix of capitals and small letters, but still) - 5 whole points (compared to Tamsin's 20)! Yippee! A small miracle just occurred, right there. 

After that and some small discussion which she was happy to join in with, we all went outside for some activity. Initially Sasha turned away from joining in with all the other Brownies who were playing a catching game in a big group, and she just wanted to play football alone with me, which is when I snapped this picture. I felt a bit sad as I did so, as although she was happy enough being apart from the others, she was very definitely not in their group.

After a while though, I needed to pop back inside, and I gently suggested Sasha might now join in the ring and their organised group game - and she did, and they welcomed her! Two miracles in one evening. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, but it's fair to say both those things might not have happened without my presence, as it takes a certain approach to gently encourage Sasha, and I'm well versed in that now.

So whilst a huge part of me would rather not have to stay at every Brownies session from now on, and whilst it makes my heart sink a little because it highlights the whole time I'm there that Sasha is different, and I know it's an attempt to be inclusive but it doesn't quite reach fully inclusive, I do appreciate that Sasha's needs necessitate extra manpower. That's not her fault, or the fault of people working with her; it's nobody's fault, it's just fact. 

I'm just pleased that my girls can attend Brownies together.

Post Comment Love

Ethans Escapades

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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Lottie Dolls Review and Giveaway

We were delighted to be chosen as Ambassadors for Lottie dolls recently. These dolls have won 15 awards so far in the US, UK and Canada, so I was very keen to see why this relative newcomer (launched two years ago) is so special.

Meet Autumn Leaves Lottie. 

Isn't she just adorable?! Well, our 9 year old girl thinks so too; she has been carrying her almost everywhere, and constantly combing her hair. She barely lets our 7 year old girl have a look in with her (hmm, I can see a purchase of a separate Lottie doll being needed soon), and this is from a girl who has previously shown very little interest in playing with any of the existing types of doll figures.

So what's different about her? The size, for a start. Lottie dolls are just 18cm tall, which means she is easy to hold and easy to pack to take out. There are currently no other dolls on the market this size, and yet it makes perfect sense. She has been designed for girls age 3-9 but I'm quite taken with her myself!

The other main difference is that she has been made to have a healthy, childlike body. She's intended to be 'wholesome', with no make-up, jewellery or high heels, so children are able to relate to her and pretend she does the same things she does. There's no need for children to grow older younger, they are fine just as they are, and this doll comes without any forcing recognition of body image issues. There are 12 dolls in total to choose from, ranging from beautiful Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie through to Butterfly Protector Lottie and on to Robot Girl Lottie. They come in beautiful presentation gift boxes too:
Her hair is lovely and soft and doesn't tangle or get frizzy like other dolls' hair does - I think that's why Tamsin likes combing it so much! She is flexible and is also able to stand on her own two feet (see what they did there...) and sit independently without too much fussing. The clothes she wears are everyday type clothes, but they are fabulous quality and with great attention to detail - the tiny buttons on the coat are so cute. All the clothes are easy to get on and off (some with velcro fastenings). Our doll (Autumn Leaves) came with a coat, hat, scarf, long sleeve top (with removable patch on the front), skirt, tights and boots. Tamsin's only wish was that she could have some separate wardrobe/clothes packs for the dolls so she can change her for different role-play scenarios. Luckily, I've just checked the website out and they've already thought of that, so I know what's going on her Christmas list! There are also other accessory sets such as dogs, cats, picnic sets and even a pony. 

I'm so pleased to be able to tell you that we, along with the other Lottie Ambassadors, are offering the chance to win two Lottie dolls and two accessory sets from the existing range. Please see full terms and conditions below the Rafflecopter entry box. This giveaway is running between 14th September and 12th October 2014, and is being moderated by Lottie dolls themselves.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more information on the Lottie dolls, do check out their website and their Facebook page You could even tweet them @Lottie_dolls to say if you're impressed - we certainly are!

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

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Monday, 15 September 2014

{Siblings} in September

OK, so this time I am super-duper late and it's nothing to be proud of. I'm catching up on lots of things after Back To School though, so do bear with me.

Siblings is the chance to capture your children together once a month and see how they are changing over the year. I love this idea so much that I may just carry it on forever!

I'd like to say that this month I managed to take just one photo of the two of them together smiling happily... but I can't. On our way out of the door to school this morning, school photo day (ha! I know what those photographers have coming, times 240, so I'd like to offer them some headache pills right now). Sasha was being slightly hyper and Tamsin grumpy, so no change from usual there.

It's the usual collage from me and actually it makes me smile to see all the photos, good and bad, so I'm making no apology for it this time!

If you'd like to check out all the other gorgeous families linking up, please do pop over to the fab Manneskjur blog this month.

dear beautiful
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Shopkins Small Smart Supermarket Playset - Superfans Review!

If you have children but you haven't yet heard of Shopkins, I am sure you soon will. 
Shopkins were launched over summer in America and are the next craze set to sweep the UK in time for Christmas.

They are small grocery-themed collectible toys aimed at girls, and their appeal is that they are tiny and cute replicas of things you would find on the shelves in supermarkets. I'm almost addicted myself - I mean, just look at that adorable margarine tub! 

There are over 140 different items to collect, from Sweet Treats to Frozen Food, and they come in a variety of Limited Edition, Rare and Ultra Rare (with a special finish).

Both our girls managed to become aware of these products via YouTube clips (and that whole issue is another post in itself), where they watched a very excitable American gal called Cookie Swirl C reviewing them. Now they've become Shopkins superfans themselves.

We have already acquired quite a few of these cute little items and they are all loved and played with constantly. The small starter 2-packs of Shopkins come in blind bags packaged in a cute little shopping basket (not the bags shown in this pic; see below for the baskets).

So it's fair to say I just may have been teleported to the top of the 'Mum Of The Year' list when I was able to announce that we had been chosen to review the Shopkins Small Mart Supermarket Playset.

The Small Mart Playset comes with two of the Shopkins collectibles and is a mini store, with doors that open. It also includes a cash register with a moving conveyor belt, a 'lift' with slide for the toys to play on, two shopping bags and a shopping trolley. Then there are shelves which are perfect for both displaying and storing your Shopkins. 

Small Mart supermarket playset


Our eldest daughter, Tamsin, loved the idea of creating her own review of this product. She would be so pleased if you could do a quick click to watch her clip and maybe even give it a thumbs up or comment?

We're working on losing the fake American accent and how to focus a camera next week! 

The Shopkins range is being distributed by Flair in the UK. At a RRP of £24.99 this Supermarket Playset is definitely aimed at the Christmas gift market, but I think that is a fair price as it will have a longstanding play value. There are other small playsets which will provide hours of entertainment too - I know what my girls are asking for on their Christmas lists this year, and I suspect some more pocket money will be spent on the characters in the meantime!

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Friday, 12 September 2014

Summer holidays round-up

#CountryKids is a linky run by the lovely Fiona at her Coombe Mill Blog, and it's all about making the most of outdoor spaces with children. We, and I'm sure most of the parents in this country, tried our hardest to do this all summer holidays (after all, who wants children stuck in the house for that long?!).

I've been wanting to join in this linky again for quite some time, but there's always so much going on and never enough time to write. We do get out and about on a weekly basis, but we had so much fun outdoors over summer that I definitely wanted to try and log this on my blog for us to look back on. So no apologies for the picture heavy post today!!

First off, a little fishing locally in the river with good friends:

Then a trip to a local park and playground (where Sasha insisted on posing to have her photo taken, which is almost unheard of!):

Next a visit to one of our favourite places - TopGolf and the adventure course:

A very quick but fun visit to Knebworth - due to time limitations we only made it to the grounds of it this time. We loved the amazing fort playground. This was followed by pottery painting (indoors but still fun!):

Next fun in the playground at Hatfield House. I love the (not-so) mini Hatfield House replica for the children to climb on!

Finally, an impromptu (yes, it can sometimes happen given the right conditions - when Sasha is in a good mood...) trip to a local playground where the sisters played happily together.

So there you go. That's only the half of it though - I haven't managed to fit in our trip to my parents at the seaside, or the kite flying, or friends visiting and playing in our garden, or outdoor trips to the big city, or kite flying. We did pretty well over summer don't you think?! 
Why don't you pop over to the Country Kids linky for some more inspiration?
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Monday, 8 September 2014

One Direction Swap Watch Review

So here's a present idea that any One Direction fan will love... 
a One Direction Swap Watch!

The box contains over 70 accessories, and the main piece is of course a watch face with a 'cute' picture of One Direction on it. Then there are 5 different colour face trims, 5 different pattern and shape surrounds, 5 watch straps with various pictures and logos on, and plenty of coloured cord and beads to make alternative straps from. I lost count after about 10 different options but I'm sure there are many more than that.

It's aimed at 7+ years, and I'd say this is about right unless you have a particularly crafty or patient younger one. Our 9 year old needed a bit of help to get started, but then I'll have to admit she is a little...lazy (shock, horror). The instructions are fairly basic, but most children should be able to put 2 and 2 together!

After no time at all, Tamsin came up with this as her favourite. The best thing is that it can be gone back to time and time again (ha! excuse the pun!) to make new versions and freshen up every young girl's look!

The packaging may be a little big for the contents, but I still think this is a great value kit - I don't think there are many good watches out there for less than £14.99. Try Flair for stock; I am sure this will be one product to make sure you get hold of in time for Christmas!

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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