Brown's About Town

House of Flavours

What: House of Flavours Indian restaurant

Where: Reading

When: Visited on a Sunday lunch time

Cost: Reasonably priced

Age: Best suited for babies who can sit in a high chair

To be honest, I was a little worried about visiting this Indian restaurant as it was incredibly quiet when we arrived. I was conscious that Sophie might use it as an opportunity to “express herself” (!) and this would become more obvious when all the other diners were so quiet. However, the calming atmosphere in the restaurant had a really positive influence on Sophie – what a relief!

Feeling very self-conscious because it was so quiet, I still managed to feed Sophie without any issues. She was really interested in the food arriving on our table, which, as you can see from the photo, looked divine, and I think from this perspective, it’s best to go to this restaurant when your little one can get involved in a high chair.

Our starter - delicious!

Our starter – delicious!

The staff were very accommodating, particularly as we decided not to use the buffet but order from the main menu. The food was really tasty and it was great to get out at lunch time and have a meal out that didn’t feel as rushed as, perhaps, Pizza Hut. This is definitely one to visit when you fancy a treat but cannot eat out in an evening. You are left feeling full from great food and a satisfied from a lovely dining experience.

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Baby monitors

What: BT 350 Lightshow baby monitor vs Motorola MBP11 Digital Audio Baby Monito

Why: Two different types of baby monitors, audio only

Where: Any major retailers

Cost: RRP £69.99 (BT), £34.99 (Motorola)

When it comes to deciding what baby monitor to buy, it is a minefield. With so many different options to consider – audio or video, additional features, cost etc – my husband and I were left with a sense of trepidation whether our choice was actually right for us.

To start with, we purchased the Motorola baby monitor. Convinced we did not need a video stream that would become obsessive to watch, we thought we would go for a pretty basic model. The Motorola monitor has a light indicator to show how loudly the baby is crying and has a range of 300m. Setting up was easy as anything and once the batteries were charged for the walk-around set, we were ready to go.

Motoral baby monitor

Motorola baby monitor

However, in terms of monitors, this was a disappointing purchase and one we discovered where “you get what you paid for”. The massive power button on the walk-around set took ages to respond and even though the base unit was already on, it took even longer for it to link up. Secondly, the batteries did not seem to last very long (at one point, just a couple of days), despite being on charge and only being used for a few hours during the day. The straw that broke the camel’s back came from the fact the hand-set did not pick up Sophie’s crying. Despite being in range and fully charged, I could not hear Sophie at all from the monitor. She was certainly not being subtle about needing my attention and there was no reason why it would not come through the monitor. After unplugging both parts and checking the batteries, it worked again fine, but this was too much of a risk that I wasn’t willing to take. As such, we went for the more expensive option, the BT 350.

BT baby monitor

BT baby monitor

At first I was a little skeptical about how many additional features this monitor has, but we have come to use most of them and find them pretty handy. Firstly, the temperature sensor gives us another idea of how warm the room is (we also have a Gro Egg). Although this reads a couple of degrees higher than the Egg, it is comforting to have a second reading, and we have it placed in a different place in the room. There is the option to override the reading as a form of calibrating the thermometer, but we are happy with it being different.

Other features include a light show which projects stars and planets onto the ceiling, baby music and a talk-back feature. The light show and baby music have complemented having Ewan the Dream Sheep as you can set these options to last for a period of time and they can be switched on remotely from the main set. Whilst we haven’t had much success with soothing Sophie with the talk-back feature, I think it is one that will grow to be more useful as she gets older.

Charging the handset is no problem as the walk-around has a docking station and it is clear when the batteries need juicing up. The only downside is that there is no clip for you to attach it to your jeans, but there is an option to attach a cord (not supplied) should you need to. That being said, it stands up on its own and I quite happily leave it propped up on the table when I am doing the housework.

We have not had a single problem with this monitor and I am relieved we decided to spend that extra bit of money for this product. True, you can spend an awful lot of money on baby monitors and from that perspective, I think this is probably more middle of the range. The additional features have proven surprisingly useful so I would definitely consider this value for money.

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The Cunning Man

What: The Cunning Man

Where: Burghfield

When: Visited on a Sunday lunchtime

Cost: More expensive pub food

Age: Any

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My husband and I have visited The Cunning Man in the past and this time we were returning to celebrate a family birthday. Not only were we now a part of a large group, we also had our daughter to consider in terms of changing facilities and how accommodating the venue would be.

Firstly, the venue. I booked over the phone to ensure the staff were prepared there would be a buggy in our party and requested whether I could decorate the table. Sadly, The Cunning Man is rather strict and did not allow any table confetti. Any one who has decorated a table in a restaurant before knows that this is one of the key things that makes any table look that little bit more special. Thus, we were restricted a fair bit with what we could use and I this I found a little disappointing. Nonetheless, after the table had been decorated with some balloons, it didn’t look too bad and the birthday girl was happy.

One of the charms of The Cunning Man is its mismatched furniture, giving it an old style feel. Whilst this most definitely works, our table was so wonky we had to find a lot of cardboard to prop it up and make it stable. In addition, some of the chairs were deceptively uncomfortable. We didn’t take the pram in with us in the end and used one of the more harder chairs to put the car seat on. Other members of our party just had to put up with a numb bum!

Quirky interior

Quirky interior

The food and staff were really disappointing. It took about 20 minutes for the drinks to arrive because the bar was so busy that it quickly became apparent the venue was short staffed compared to how busy it was. Service was poor and my plate was forgotten about when the rest of the table had been served. It was only when the waiter came to check if everything was ok did they realise that mine was missing. This poor attention to detail was also noticeable when the starters were served. Waitresses from the kitchen served our dishes but practically flung extra cutlery down at the same time. There was no acknowledgement that we already had cutlery and it was simply unnecessary.

We used the changing facilities for Sophie and I am pleased to say they were adequate for our needs. Situated on the ground floor and part of the disabled toilets, they were clean and there was plenty of room for my husband and I to sort out Sophie’s needs. I fed Sophie a couple of times using my nursing apron and she didn’t have any issues with the bustling environment.

The food at The Cunning Man was mediocre and lacked any “soul”. It was evident that a lot of the dishes had not been prepared freshly on site and this was disappointing considering the price being charged. I had roast beef and found I was sweating with the effort of trying to cut the meat; definitely not how it should be. This was the icing on the cake for our visit and one that determined we aren’t going to bother to return in the future. What once was a quaint, charming pub that offered tasty food, seems to have evolved into a typical chain pub restaurant with poorly attentive staff and overpriced courses.

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Willinks Leisure Centre

What: Willinks Leisure Centre, Swimming Pool

Where: Burghfield

When: Visited on a Sunday afternoon

Cost: £9.10 for two adults and a baby, £1 for the lockers, free parking

Age: Any

After our visit to Rivermead, we were keen to try out another pool that was more suitable for Sophie. We visited Willinks on a Sunday afternoon when it was timetabled as ‘Family Splash’. The pool is really large and there is plenty of space poolside. We were able to get changed in a family room that was  clean and had a baby changing table, so this was ideal for the three of us.

Clean changing area for Sophie

Clean changing area for Sophie

The large bench meant we had plenty of space to put all of our things

The large bench meant we had plenty of space to put all of our things

Although it was late on a Sunday afternoon, the facilities were still clean and we were impressed by the staff. The receptionist was helpful and the lifeguards were attentive to what was going on in the pool. If you live in West Berkshire, you are fortunate enough to get a discounted entry, but for the price we paid, this was definitely value for money.

The pool temperature was about 30 degrees. We did have to put Sophie in her body warmer but managed to be in the pool for 30 minutes – a definite improvement from last time! Whilst it was quite busy with families and young children, we kept to the shallow end and were able to “swim” widths with Sophie. The pool had got out large floats and there was plenty to keep older children entertained. We felt safe with Sophie because of the shallow depth but also because of the two lifeguards.

The lockers take a refundable £1 coin, so make sure you take change. You can have a shower after swimming but we preferred to wait until we got home. As the air temperature is so warm, Sophie wasn’t shivering once we had her out of the pool and changed, which meant a lot less stressful experience for us all.

We were really impressed with Willinks and will definitely return in the near future.

The front of the leisure centre

The front of the leisure centre

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Yoga socks

What: Yoga full-toe socks

Why: Alternative to slippers in the warmer weather

Where: www.amazon.co.uk

Cost: RRP £24.90

I received a complimentary pair of these yoga socks in exchange for an honest review.

For someone who doesn’t practice yoga, I thought these socks would be an interesting product to review in terms of going about the house where you have slippery surfaces and as an alternative to slippers, now that the weather has warmed up. Firstly, the packaging is very professional and it was easy to get to the slippers. I liked the complimentary ‘Thank You’ card that was attached to the socks and felt this made the customer feel more valued. However, what was disappointing to note was that the socks are marked as hand-wash only. This is a bit of a let-down as you can’t just throw them in with your normal load. Should you wish to take this chance, I guess it might damage the grippy spots on the soles.

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Clear and simple packaging to give you a feel for what the socks are like

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Putting these socks on, I found it tricky to coax my toes into the socks. Maybe my toes are not happy with being spread out a little, but I found that after a while these socks were getting uncomfortable around the toes. The toe section is quite tight and there does not feel there is much give in the fabric so if you have the right sized foot for the sock, you might want to consider how wide your toes are.

On my foot, ready to go

On my foot, ready to go

Wearing these around the house, the socks are extremely grippy and it meant I could move around quickly. I felt no danger of slipping when walking down my uncarpeted stairs and the laminate flooring in the kitchen. It felt like you were walking around the house in socks and they were quite comfortable, you just have the added bonus of not sliding around.

Very grippy!

Very grippy!

I wore these for about an hour around the house before my toes started to get cold (that might just be due to poor circulation on my part). I liked how well they gripped the floor but realised quite quickly you have more chance of stubbing your toes now that they are separated, unlike wearing normal grippy socks. I feel there are probably better products out there for walking around the house in grippy socks but can see they would work well with yoga exercises.

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Ewan the Dream Sheep

What: Ewan the Dream Sheep

Why: Sleeping aid

Where: Sweet Dreamers and other online retailers

Cost: RRP £29.99

We were a bit skeptical about Ewan, considering there are many YouTube clips that can be used as sleep aids for babies. However, this has proved us wrong and it has really helped our colicky daughter settle down at night.

Ewan attaches to the cot with his velcro tail

Ewan attaches to the cot with his velcro tail

We tend to use the white noise most often and this settles our daughter and helps her drift off to sleep. The bonus is that the noises only last for 20 minutes and we think this is all you would need. It doesn’t take much to keep the noise going for longer but it would be good if you had a setting option for different durations, like you have with the volume. Ewan takes AAA batteries and they have lasted a long time for us. Considering we use Ewan for at least one cycle a night, we had about 7 weeks of use from him.

Ewan isn’t too loud or bright and we have no issues with it playing in our bedroom – it helps us fall asleep too! He is cute and cuddly and easy to move around thanks to the velcro tail – great benefits if your baby has more than one place to sleep.

Ewan doesn't glow too brightly to disturb Mum and Dad

Ewan doesn’t glow too brightly to disturb Mum and Dad

We would certainly recommend this for parents as you quickly see the difference. A little pricey perhaps, it’s definitely one to have when your baby just can’t settle on their own. Although some baby monitors offer these noises too, we think Ewan is more attractive and reassuring for the baby, rather than the sounds coming from a remote machine in the room.

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Cheeky wipes

What: Cheeky Wipes

Why: Reusable baby wipes

Where: www.cheeky wipes.com

Cost: Small expense at the start but cheaper in the long term

Another product discovered when at a baby show (yes, they are worth going if you can stomach the crowds and sales pitches whilst pregnant), ‘Cheeky Wipes’ provide an alternative to disposable baby wipes. Going in the wash with your normal load, no special requirements needed, the wipes mean you are not having to purchase pack upon pack of disposables, nor worry about the wipes drying out.

In short, these wipes are small flannels that are soaked in a solution of water and essential oils. Once you have done using them, they are soaked in a different solution of water and oils, in a net, before you put them in the washing machine. The net was the key thing for me – when they have cleaned up a properly dirty nappy, you obviously don’t want to be touching them if you can help it, and the net solves this issue. Washing them every couple of days keeps the wipes from getting properly rotten and, believe it or not, even the white ones come out of the machine white again! 

Clean wipes box

Clean wipes box

Dirty wipes box

Dirty wipes box

The starter kit on offer gives you everything you need to get started. The 25 wipes are enough for you to decide whether you like them or not and once my husband and I were sold on the product, bought a further 25 to ease the washing turn-around. We also bought a second mucky box so that one can be cleaned and aired properly. Cheeky Wipes offers different wipe types depending on your need and I found the website really helpful when making this decision. We went for the bamboo wipes as they were recommended for hard water areas and so far they have not become crusty and rough.

Attractive boxes with clever branding

Attractive boxes with clever branding

It’s really difficult to find a fault with this product. Travel bags are provided in the starter kit and it is no real effort to get them ready for a day out, nor to prepare the soaking solutions for each box. The website is really helpful and their delivery service is pretty efficient too for a home-run business. We have used these wipes with Sophie since she was a few weeks old, starting out not mixing the oil into the water out of personal preference. Sophie had never had a reaction to the wipes and we feel comfortable knowing what is being used to clean her bottom.

Travel bags are ideal for trips out

Travel bags are ideal for trips out

The large bottle of oils means you can stock up for a while but smaller, travel-sized ones are also available

The large bottle of oils means you can stock up for a while but smaller, travel-sized ones are also available

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Bebe au lait

What: Bebe au lait

Why: Nursing apron

Where: All major maternity retailers

Cost: From £27.50

So, you might be thinking that £27.50 for a nursing cover is quite extortionate, especially when there are far cheaper options on the market. I certainly hesitated over spending the money and shopped around in Mothercare and online, but having used this for a couple of months now, do not regret it in the slightest.

Promotional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9CJ64eAvWo

In its simplist form, you are buying a giant cotton apron that has plastic in the neck for you to see you baby when feeding. The neck strap is adjustable to suit all shapes and sizes and on each corner there is a bit of terry towelling which is meant to be used like a muslin cloth. I haven’t felt the need to use these but am glad they are there in case of emergencies. The apron is double lined but has small holes as part of the pattern to help the baby breathe and not overheat. This is excellent when nursing in the sunshine, particularly if, like me, you buy the black one.

Showing the air holes and adjustable strap

Showing the air holes and adjustable strap

What makes this better than other options or simply using a muslin cloth? Well, it stays in place when you are nursing and I haven’t had to adjust the neck strap either. It’s machine washable, a great plus, and doesn’t take very long to dry (the terry parts are the slowest). I easily screw it up in my over-full changing bag and this doesn’t seem to have had an impact on the plastic top. Finally, the size of this apron means that however much Sophie wants to pull and tug on it, there is plenty of apron to span across you, so there is no worry of anything being on show if you don’t want it to.

A large nursing apron, suitable for all

A large nursing apron, suitable for all

I think this is one of my better purchases as a breast-feeding mum. It has given me the freedom (and confidence) to feed in public without having to worry about things slipping around. This has also been a help when trying to feed Sophie in a busy environment as the apron creates her own quiet world for her to focus on the task in hand. Brilliant!

Terry corners and adjustable strap

Terry corners and adjustable strap

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Prezzo, Reading

What: Prezzo Italian Restaurant

Where: Reading

When: Visited on a Saturday afternoon

Cost: Reasonable priced food

Age: Any

We visited Prezzo after the weekend lunchtime rush, so it was significantly quieter than usual. The staff were immediately accommodating for our party and we were given an area at the back which was away from the general hustle and bustle of the rest of the restaurant. This was ideal as they were aware I needed to breastfeed and that a quieter area would be most helpful. Indeed, halfway through our meal a second family arrived with a similar aged baby so we must have been in the unofficial breastfeeding area!

The staff were attentive to our needs and whilst I fed Sophie during one of the courses, remained helpful, appreciating the fact we couldn’t necessarily finish our food as quickly as we wanted. There was the perfect balance between being served and not being left alone to wait, which was great when you consider how quiet it was.

My husband and I have had very special meals at Prezzo and it was refreshing being able to have a meal there again with a young baby. We had such a nice time and felt so relaxed that we will definitely be visiting again. The food was really tasty, reasonably priced and the environment peaceful. Whilst it might be considerably different had we visited at a busier time, I think we would go again for a late lunch to have the best experience.

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Nappies, nappies and more nappies!

What: Gnappies

Why: Semi-reusable nappies

Where: www.gnappies.com

Cost: Quite expensive at the start but cheaper in the long term

Pack of Gnappies inserts

Pack of Gnappies inserts

When trying to buy nappies for Sophie, we found that leading supermarkets would mostly stock one brand: Pampers. Coupled with the supermarket’s own branded nappies, we discovered there was very little choice to be had. Before Sophie was born, we had gone to a baby show in Bluewater and were interested in environmentally-friendly nappies. Knowing that nappies take a very very long time to degrade (if ever), we were keen to see what we could do to reduce the impact that Sophie’s bottom would have on the environment!

At the show we discovered a brand called ‘Gnappies‘. Not totally reuseable but environmentally-friendly, these nappies used an insert, a bit like a sanitary towel, that would break down in landfill or a compost bin. The insert would sit in a waterproof pouch that would be poppered to a cotton pant (which come in a range of gorgeous colours, so we have no qualms about Sophie running about in her nappy in the summer months when she is older!). Tempted by the environmental impact and the lack of special washing required (pouch and cotton pant go in with your normal load), we opted for the trial pack to see how we got on.

Pant with waterproof pouch attached

Pant with waterproof pouch attached

Once Sophie was large enough to fit the Gnappies, the difference to her bottom was incredible. Before, we found that her skin reacted to the chemicals used in most mainstream brands, giving her such a bad nappy rash that barrier cream would barely soothe it for her. (We had to use the more expensive ‘Naty’ brand which, when ultimately compared to the cost of Gnappies, were a far more expensive option.) The Gnappies are quick to put together and we have a couple of pants on the go at once so we always have a new nappy ready to hand at changing times. Whilst the initial cost is a little expensive, you are sorted for a long time in that size and if you are planning to use them again for another baby, you already have the pants and liners to get you started.

The cotton pant

The cotton pant

What I also really like about the Gnappies is the lack of different sizes. The cotton pants themselves come in the following sizes: Newborn:  2-4 kg (6-10 lbs); Small:  3-7 kg (8-14 lbs); Medium:  5-13 kg (13-28 lbs); Large:  11-16 kg (26-36 lbs); Extra large:  15+ kg (34+ lbs). But the inserts themselves come as Newborn/Small and Medium/Large/Extra large. In my opinion, this helps massively as Sophie grows into the bigger sizes as the inserts can be used across the board!

So the biggest question of them all is, do they leak? Well, if you put the nappy on properly (it’s velcro, very little room for error) and change them frequently, you should be ok. And if you don’t catch the nappy soon enough, you still have the protection of the waterproof pouch and then the cotton pant before it can reach their clothes. True, we have had a couple of accidents but this was due to the pressure of poop that there was nowhere else for it to escape to! When we did have to use Naty nappies, we had far more leaks and were often having to change outfits as a result. At least with Gnappies, if you have another clean pant in the drawer, it’s simply just a new one to put on, not a whole outfit change. 

Nappy with insert, all ready for a bottom!

Nappy with insert, all ready for a bottom!

We honestly cannot rave enough about Gnappies. They look cute and are better for the environment. We would argue that the only mild inconveniences are when you are out and about there is more to pack in the changing bag and also where to buy – Gnappies only sell online. If you plan ahead you will make sure you aren’t without nappies but admittedly we do have a pack of Naty nappies just in case. Fortunately you can buy all of the Gnappies brand from Ocado and, choosing a next day delivery slot for free (if you have spent over £40), really has been a life saver at times!

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