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Busy Christmas

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: November 22, 2012

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IT all starts with the familiar sights and sounds of a Christmas morning.

Children with eager eyes and fingers outstretched wait for the chance to play with the gifts which are tantalisingly close.

Unfortunately, the adults are huffing and puffing trying to extricate them from the often ludicrous packaging into which they have been sealed.

But soon, with batteries found and scissors safely stored away, the real business of having fun can begin.

Members and friends of the Exeter SNUG (Supporting Neonatal Users and Graduates) group – a peer support service that has been set up for parents who have, or have had, a baby stay in neonatal units – have been invited to take part in a review session of the toys which are tipped to be the big things this Christmas.

And with foam missiles flying, Furby's burping and a puppy sliding, the children are more than happy to get stuck in.

"This is epic," shouts Ellis Tagg, seven, as he pounds an opponent into oblivion with a muscular tree while playing Skylanders Giants on the Playstation 3.

Although some of the younger members of the review team seem more interesting in taking small trolleys for a walk or discovering if they can insert themselves into lockers (our test area is the Exeter Toys R Us staff room), the majority are focusing all their attention on the toys.

Lola Angeles, six, looks as if it might prove challenging to tear her away from the LeapPad2 Explorer, which is essentially an iPad specifically for children with a host of apps aimed at improving reading and inspiring creativity.

"There's so much you can do," she beams, while taking my photograph, "I like how there's lots of buttons and it's really easy to use."

The Pet Pad app has occupied most of her attention, allowing her to create and bathe her own pets – Lola's appears to be a combination of a sheep, tiger and lion – a shliger, if you will.

"I'm going to give him another bath," she says.

Meanwhile, Maddy Knight, nine, could not be happier. She only has eyes for the Furby, an electronic toy resembling a cross between a hamster and an owl, which responds to your voice and can be 'trained'.

"It's what I really want for Christmas," she says, indicating that her review might be somewhat biased towards the positive, "It does a few rude things at the moment because it hasn't been trained. But I don't think you'd ever get bored because you can always keep teaching it new things."

But, as it burps, she adds: "I want a well-behaved one."

Back to Ellis and, having taken a quick break from Skylanders Giants – a video game for most consoles which allows you to take a myriad of cool-looking figurines and bring them to life on screen via a "portal of power" – he has picked up a weapon.

The Nerf Hailfire is a battery-powered toy capable of firing 144 foam darts around 75 feet with a rotating ammo pack.

Unsurprisingly, Ellis likes it. "It's so cool," he says, "You can just keep firing. I'd like it because I enjoy shooting my dad."

Enough said.

Our younger reviewers are testing out toys associated with two popular TV shows, Mike The Knight and Jake And The Neverland Pirates. Both have a range of features which seem to keep their attention for a good period of time while Heidi Williamson, four, is occupied with Barbie and the Fetch 'n' Fun Pup Doll & Play Set.

"I really like taking her shoes off," says Heidi, demonstrating that Barbie can satisfy something of a niche interest, although she is having just as much fun with the puppy, ball and slide also included.

So, the conclusion would appear to be that all the toys which Toys R Us have put forward are a hit with the age groups for which they are intended.

And that's perhaps why the store is having such a good year as Lizzie Underhill, who has been directing proceedings today, confirms.

"It's a great and imaginative mix of toys that are selling well this year," she said, "And we have been really busy.

"Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier and customers are getting very savvy about finding the best deals. But we are always competitive, plus we price-match."

She added: "The tablet devices for children are doing really well as is the Furby range. I think it's going to be a really good Christmas period."

For details of the latest deals and prices at Toys R Us, visit www.toysrus.co.uk or visit the Exeter store.

The Exeter SNUG group provides regular meetings and events for parents of children who have, or have had, a baby stay in a neonatal unit. For information, search for the group's Facebook page (search for Exeter SNUG group), where details of meetings and projects are posted. One of the group, Leanna Toms, also provides a regular blog at diaryofapremmymum.blogspot.co.uk

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