Friday, 18 April 2014

Review: LEGO Batman the Joker Steam Roller 76013

A figure from this LEGO set went missing. Or at least that's what I told the boy. Bat Girl is now sitting on top of my monitor at work. Don't tell him, he will be cross.

The presence of Robin and Batgirl along with the Joker provide an interesting mash up as none of the films feature all 3 of them but then even Tim Burton couldn't come up with anything quite a surreal as the Joker's Steam Roller.

We received this for review purposes but being an immense cheapskate I wrapped it up and it became part of the boy's rather epic LEGO Birthday. He's still building all the stuff, almost a week on and he's no slouch.

This is a good set to get you going with Batman LEGO because it contains a lot of figures- all three of the goody superheroes in Batman, Robin and Batgirl as well as Batman's most iconic baddie, the Joker. This means you can mix it in with existing LEGO City stuff and have the adventures take place in a much larger environment without having to get any more initial sets. Having said that, we've already got a smaller set with Catwoman in, so she can pop up at will.

The Joker's steamroller itself is about as outlandish as you'd expect from something associated with the Joker and here we're definitely in the arena of the Burton or Schumacher films rather than Nolans' more gritty efforts. Interestingly you can get the Tumbler from the Dark Knight though.

For an RRP of £49.99 you can buy sets with more bricks and a longer build time but since this set is vehicle based and doesn't include scenery, it's a little more practical for playing with to my mind. The boy had no issue constructing it and took great pleasure in showing me how the mechanism at the front of the Batwing worked (if you remember, in the Burton film, the Batwing had some wire cutters which Batman use to cut some wire suspended balloons with). Yes, despite the set being called the Jokers Steamroller, you do get the Batwing as well. It's slightly smaller but to our 7 year old as impressive if not more so than the steamroller.

Some might argue that licensed sets reduce the use of imagination but I've been involved in some rather inventive play with Batman and the Joker this past week. Out of all his birthday haul, this was the set he chose to build first. We've even managed some impressive team ups- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles appeared last night and helped Robin out of a particularly tight situation.

If you can shop around, you can find the set for £40 or less, which is a better price than full RRP.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Featured: Things to do in Edinburgh this summer

Edinburgh – The Festival City

Edinburgh is world renowned for its International Festival and Fringe Festival that take place every August, transforming the entire city into one huge, living theatre. But did you know that this is only part of the story? Edinburgh’s actually a festival city all summer long. Book a Travelodge in one their many locations in Edinburgh and you’ll never be far from the action!

Edinburgh International Film Festival, 18-29 June 

This June Edinburgh will turn into a film buff’s paradise, with its long-established International Film Festival that showcases some of the best new film making from around the world and attracts industry bigwigs and ordinary film lovers in equal measure.

Leith Festival, 14 - 22nd June 

Once a rundown, no-go zone for tourists, Leith is now a fashionable, thriving area with great shopping and a brilliant choice of upmarket waterside bars and restaurants. And to celebrate, they’ve even got their own festival with a gala day and pageant kicking it off on June 14th.

Edinburgh International Magic Festival, 28 June - 5 July 

Now in its fifth year, this brilliant family festival kicks off with a gala night on Friday 27th June that’s sure to have everyone applauding wildly in delighted disbelief! And if one of your brood has ambitions to be a future Dynamo, you can even enroll them in  magic school. Be warned though, ordinary lessons will seem very dull in comparison!

Scottish Real Ale Festival, 10-13 July 

One for the beer enthusiast in your life (yes I think we all know who that is!), this ale festival is a great chance for connoisseurs to sample the best of Scottish ale. And if you’re interested in all things alcoholic, make sure you pay a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile too.

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, 19-28 July 

If jazz and blues are your thing then this festival is unmissable. Featuring big names (Jools Holland and His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra were a highlight last year) and little-known gems, there should be something for everyone. And of course, Edinburgh’s relaxed licensing laws make it the perfect city to listen to cool, sultry melodies well into the wee small hours.

Edinburgh International Fashion Festival, 18-28 July 

Move over London, Paris and New York! Edinburgh’s fashion festival is now in its third year and getting bigger than ever. Featuring catwalk shows, talks and exhibitions, it’s going to be absolutely fabulous darling!

Edinburgh Art Festival, 31 July-31 August 

Running alongside the main festival this huge, multi-venue festival celebrates art old and new, traditional and avant-garde. One of the main events this year will be the American Impressionism: A New Vision exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. And it’s not just about the exhibitions – art aficionados can immerse themselves in talks and many other special events.

So as you can see, when it comes to Edinburgh, it’s probably harder to find something they don’t have a festival celebrating than something they do!

An EMPIRE of sheds

Way back in 2008 we dismantled the incumbent concrete shed, disposed of the iffy looking corregated roof and did some serious carpentry to transform it into a much larger summer house, with french doors and a pitched roof with a porch. Obviously all the stuff that had been in the shed had to be put elsewhere, so we bought two cheap DIY shack sheds and piled everything up in there.

A couple of years later we converted our attached garage into a playroom for the kids, so all the stuff from the garage found it's way into our summer house. We've only just managed to clear it our for use.

Beast Sheds are currently running a competition until the end of April to win a £499 shed. I already have three, what could I possibly want with a fourth? Well.....

It's long been an idea of mine to have a modest secret underground base that would befit a villain in a cut price Bond film. It's easier to manage than you might think, because think I have, in some considerable detail. The whole premise starts with the purchase of a 20ft shipping container. These can be bought for about £1,000 second hand. There are certain things we want to do to our shipping container when it arrives. Firstly we're going to buy something technical- some Weholite HDPE structured wall large diameter twin wall pipe (1.35m diameter) and a junction for it. Then we're going to angle grind a hole in the roof of the container at one of the corners and fit the junction to the hole. Secondly we're going to erect a timber frame inside the container, sacrificing about 6 inches all the way around in space. We're then going to pack this space with insulation and nail marine plyboard over it to properly insulate and line the container. Thirdly we're going to do some wiring to bring electricity and light to the box, as well as ensuring it's earthed properly. We'll wall mount armoured cable in watertight trunking just to be on the safe side. When all of this has been done we're going to weld the door shut from the outside to make it even more watertight.

Then you have the hard graft: dig a large hole, around 10 feet deep, 22ft long and 16ft wide, dispose of the soil either in a flurry of skips or in a more The Great Escape fashion and you'll be able to see where I'm going with this. Don't dispose of all of it at this point, we've intentionally made sure our hole is a bit bigger than the container in case we need to do any fiddling externally.

So what you have now is a dirty great big hole in your garden. Rather than just plonking your container in this hole, we're going to do things a bit more professionally because we've thought about this a bit. First things first, we're going to put concrete bases in each corner for the corner feet of our container to rest on. Then we're going to put a foot of gravel, up to about two thirds of the height of the plinths, in the hole to aid drainage. This will probably be a couple of tons but wont cost more than £100 from Wickes. At this point we'll get the chap with the large crane to lower our cargo container into our hole, making sure it's resting on our concrete plinths. Then we'll put some Gabion baskets around the sides. These are the wired baskets that you see on cliff defences or roadsides. They're basically a big wire basket you fill with stones. We'll build these up to the height of our container. These will stop the lateral pressure of the soil buckling the container.

We're on the home straight now. Attach your plastic piping to the junction and back fill your hole. There should be a foot of soil on top of the container, which isn't too heavy for it to cope with. Run a drain pipe down the side of your vertical shaft, bringing the armoured electricity supply in and a pipe for the air conditioning out.

Around your vertical pipe, build a concrete base large enough for your 5ft x 4ft shed, making sure the base isn't extending over your buried container. Lets keep the weight of the base off your container eh? You should position the shed in such a way that you can avoid cutting too much of the frame when you cut a hole in the bottom to access your secret underground bunker. Build the shed, then make sure you put either a pivoting cover or trap door to hide your entrance to your secret underground bunker. A telescopic ladder can aid entry and exit.

The shed will look great and give you some additional storage. In our case, we really miss having a potting shed, so the shed would double as a potting shed as well as access to our secret underground bunker.

Obviously this is just at the cunning plan stage, I've not looked into any of the building regs required for such an undertaking, only the practicalities of actually doing the project. But if I win a shed, I'd be one step further along my masterplan...

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: LEGO Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutation Chamber Set 79119

When the boy demanded LEGO for his birthday, he did it with all of the singlemindedness he never brings to bear on his school work. He loves building LEGO sets, following the instructions and turning a pile of bricks into something entirely different. He's good at it too- some of the sets he's built recently are in the 9-14 age range and he's only just turned 7. Yes, he needs some help but it's invariably finding the missing piece of LEGO that's lurking under the instruction manual rather than anything as obvious as interpreting the instructions. The boy knows where he is with instructions, and that's just the way he likes it.

Through happenstance of timing, LEGO sent me a press release about some new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle LEGO the week before his birthday. We'd already bought him some other sets from the range and wrapped them in advance of the big day, so it was great when LEGO agreed to add to his haul with a review set for his birthday.

The Turtles are about to become very big again as Michael Bay is making a new live action film. April O'Neal is being played by that woman who pouted her way through the first two Transformer movies, and it will be huge. Not that it's really gone away much to be honest- the TMNT film from a few years back was brilliant and there is also a new(ish) animated series available on DVD and some cable channels. It's nominally this TV show the LEGO is based on. If you want the DVDs, they're £3 each in Sainsburys at the moment.

The Mutation Chamber set includes one of the Turtles and some scientist bloke who obviously never saw Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. The set involves a lab with a chamber you can pop a figure in holding a small spider, rotate it around and you can see the mutant spider thing pop out.

Whatever your attitude to licensed LEGO is (some love it, some think it distracts from the imagination process), you'd have to be dead inside not to find the Turtle LEGO figures absolutely cool. They're right up there with Iron Man and the Storm Troopers as my favourite LEGO figures this side of the iconic 1979 Space Man that people of my generation love.

The set retails at £19.99 and didn't cause the boy any problems during the build. Funnily enough he likes it as much as the Turtle lair attack set (79103), which is a lot more expensive (RRP £50 but available online for £35 if you shop around). I think the idea of a mutation chamber really appealed to him and he kept on putting different figures in there to mutate into the giant spider thing. I imagine if I browse the TV show, I'll find a direct episode that this relates to.

This is a good fun and affordable set of LEGO for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan in your life.

The ambience of Ned's bedroom

I am by various means being gradually moved out of my own bed by a devious two year old. His energy knows no bounds, so despite pretty much ditching the pushchair, and any naps, he isn't ready whatsoever to go to bed when the boy and Fifi do. For that matter he is sometimes still awake when we want to go to sleep.

Ned is particularly tenacious in his attempts to not go to bed. Ever since we took him out of his cot when we found out he was literally flinging himself over the rails, he's either pounded on his door shouting, or simply opened it and escaped when we've put him to bed before he's ready to go. Before we gave up, we could easily spend two hours putting him back in his bed, leaving him to cry, settling Fifi who would be woken up repeatedly, before we gave up and had him in with us.

Now, he might go to sleep in our bed (or not) and I'll carry him to his bed at 10ish. He might sleep through the night but probably 4 nights out of 7, he comes into our bed at around 3am. Within half an our of this toddler infiltration, he's dug his toenails into my side so much, that I give up and go into his bedroom. If he's not done the toenail thing, he does the "leg drop"- he lifts his legs up, manoeuvres them above me and just drops them onto my ribs. Repeatedly.

I'm getting used to the view of the motor car wallpaper I put up in his room. I must say I also get unusually vivid dreams in his bed too. It's a rather hard bed, which probably isn't helping with the odd dreams...
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