Saturday, 31 March 2012

News: "If something's important enough, you make the time,"

said Scotty, when asked by Captain Kirk how Sulu managed to find time to have a family. The following press release makes for slightly depressing reading and discusses new research that dads are spending increasingly less time with their children.

Yes, having enough cash to pay the mortgage and ensure there's food on the table is important. And while I'm sure a holiday somewhere exotic would be remembered fondly by your offspring, I'm equally sure that spending time making Egg-O Egg-O would be even better....even if it takes several weeks to make your 5yo understand the pun.

I was talking to my parents about something similar a while ago. When I was small my dad did a lot of overtime to ensure there was plenty of cash in the bank, and for a period I hardly saw him at all. In retrospect, he says he regrets it. The money was frittered away over time on nothing in particular and he wishes he'd spent more time with me. Which probably explains why now he's retired he wants to spend every possible second with his grandchildren.

While the article states that fathers in the West Midlands spend the least amount of time with their sons, it's worth noting that at our school, at least, the percentage of fathers picking up/dropping at school & attending the PTA events with their children is surprisingly high. I'd place the figure at a third, if not higher. So things aren't all bad.

At the end of the release is a list of simple ways in which fathers and sons can spend more time together. Some may seem obvious but it's worth reading through and keeping in mind when you're deciding between finishing off the mountain of paperwork on your desk or going home and reading a bedtime story.


- One in three dads rely on phone calls to stay in touch with son -

Half of modern day dads (50 per cent) believe father and son bonding time is fast becoming a thing of the past with 53 per cent agreeing that face to face time between fathers and sons is at an all time low.

New research out today from Bandai, toy manufacturer behind Ben 10, shows that nearly half (48 per cent) of fathers cited working late as one of the main reasons why they don’t spend more time with their son, whilst 35 per cent of dads also admitted to working at the weekend. One in three (68 per cent) of fathers revealed that the pressures of work now are greater than ever before with over half (55 per cent) admitting to spending more time in the office than two years ago. 44 per cent said that they were often too tired and exhausted from work to take part in regular bonding activities with their son.

Half of fathers (49 per cent) said that playing with toys was a bonding activity they enjoyed with their son, with a third (66 per cent) agreeing it made them feel nostalgic for their childhood. Other bonding experiences fathers said they enjoy included playing football or other sports (47 per cent), going to the cinema (45 per cent), reading (44 per cent) and riding a bike (32 per cent). However, a quarter (25 per cent) admitted they had not taken part in any typical bonding experiences with their son in the last week or more and a third (33 per cent) also revealed they spend less time with their sons taking part in such pursuits than they did with their own fathers.
The research showed fathers spend an average of just fifty six minutes a day with their son, with nearly a fifth (18 per cent) spending just fifteen minutes or less together. A third of fathers (33 per cent) revealed that they have to rely on phone calls to stay in touch with their son, whilst 20 per cent also said they relying on texting. 84 per cent of dads wish they could spend more time with their son and 79 per cent agreed they would like to build a better father-son bond.

To help fathers and sons bond, maker of the Ben 10 toys, Bandai, have worked with educational psychologist Kairen Cullen to create the top ten tips:

1. Daily play is essential for health and well being for children and adults – so find ways of playing in the house, outside, wherever you are
2. Advantaged children are the ones who have a strong sense of self so encourage him to have his own opinions
3. Demonstrate how important your son is by designating time just to him – if you have multiple children then take turns to spend time with each
4. Share your capacity for fun – be silly and let your guard down, whether it be dressing up or pretending to be an alien
5. Only children really live in the moment so re-create your own childhood by joining your son in his
6. Necessary and natural; play will help your child grow and cope with life - the 'play space' is where true emotional growth can happen
7. Time together when your son is young will result in a stronger relationship when he is an adult
8. Invent and create playful moments through imaginary play and make believe with toys like the Ben 10 range
9. Model the right way to live your life by investing time in your son and he will be able to do the same when he is a father
10. Energy and enjoyment go together. The more you enjoy yourself the more energy for work and play will result

This Easter, Bandai are encouraging dads to spend at least ten quality minutes each day with their children and asking dad’s to submit their own top tips onto their Facebook page (

The research also showed that fathers in the West Midlands spend the least time with their sons with an average of forty eight minutes a day, whilst those in Scotland are most time rich spending an average of sixty five minutes a day with their son. Younger fathers are also spending increasingly less time with their sons with 88 per cent of fathers aged under twenty five agreeing that the pressures of work are greater than ever and putting strains family life and 100 per cent of fathers under twenty five agreeing they would like to build a better bond with their son.

Product Manager for Boys brands at Bandai UK, Andrew Welch says, “Dad’s across the UK are wishing they could spend more time with their sons and with long working hours this is becoming harder and harder. We hope that with the creation of our 10 minutes campaign dads will take the time to play with their son and share a memorable and fun experience, especially over the upcoming bank holiday weekends and Easter period.”

Educational psychologist Kairen Cullen says, ”Dads work harder than ever in today’s stressful world. Initiatives like Bandai’s Ben ’10 minutes’ will not only help father and son relationships to grow but also support the adult and child’s development and wellbeing.”

Upload your own top father-son tips to or tweet to

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Review: Defenders of the Earth

Before the Avengers there were....The Defenders of the Earth!

Actually, that's not true. The Avengers came before the DotE by quite a long way, but I bring the Marvel superteam up because a) there's a blockbuster movie about to be released, and b) the premise is very similar: a bunch of comic book characters team up to defend the Earth.

And with quite a catchy theme written by comics legend Stan Lee, who was also co-creator of the Avengers, funnily enough.

While I said the Avengers beat the Defenders in terms of team-up date, many of the individual Defenders characters were on the scene before the constituent Avengers. Mandrake the Magician and Lothar appeared in 1934 and The Phantom in 1936 - all creations of Lee Falk. Flash Gordon, created by Alex Raymond, was first published in 1934. It was in 1986, however, when all four characters were put together (along with their new offspring) into a cartoon series to face off against Ming the Merciless (who turned green for the cartoon to prevent any possible accusations of racism).

The cartoon is quite interesting. Unlike a lot of cartoons where such topics are forbidden, Flash's wife 'dies' (in fact she is 'murdered' by Ming), and there were episodes focusing on alcoholism and drug addition.

The toyline wasn't extensive. There were figures for the adult protagonists, Ming & his henchman Garax, plus the dragon-like Mongor and a few vehicles. The figures bare reasonable likenesses to their cartoon counterparts, are solidly built (I've never seen any broken figures) and I love the bright colours, however they are let down by the problem of the eara: action features.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Review: Voltron Red Lion & Lance

Some of you have been asking when I'm going to do a review of the toys my children actually play with, instead of the expensive 'collector' toys I've been doing a lot of recently. Well, the thing is I have been reviewing the toys my children play with. This is how I decide what to review next: it's whatever they've left lying about on the floor that I've nearly stepped on and broken.

Take the Voltron Red Lion, for example. Since it arrived last week from MattyCollector my 3 year old hasn't put it down. It's by far his favourite toy.

And that's not just been true for the past week. No, despite him only having it for a mere 7 days my 3yo - and his 5yo brother, for that matter - have been ranting about this toy since last summer. Last fracking summer. You see, this was when I signed up for the Club Lion Force subscription on MattyCollector. The subscription includes five robotic lions, their pilots, plus Keith and was due to begin in January of this year.

At the same time I ordered the 6" Voltron figure, which I mentioned before in my SDCC Haul entry. The boys were a little disappointed when they received it since it doesn't split into the individual lions that comprise Voltron. To cheer them up, I told them that they'd soon be receiving a GIANT Voltron which did combine/come apart.

They were pleased. They were excited. And they haven't shut up about it since.

I'm not kidding here. Almost every single day from last July until Jan I was asked 'when're the big lions coming?' It didn't stop in January since the release of the lion was delayed until Feb. When it finally was shipped, the question just mutated into 'has the Red Lion arrived yet? Why not?' Since it took a month to arrive, I was soon sick of this variation too.

And then, finally, when it did arrive, I was instantly asked 'when's the Blue Lion coming?'

It's going to be a long, long year...

But enough of me justifying the existence of this review and venting my frustrations, on with the review...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Review: City Commander TFX-01

Let's be clear before we start this review: hardly anyone is going to want this. It's an add-on kit for a Transformer sold only in Woolworths in the UK, which now fetches a fair amount of money on ebay. Let's also be clear: those people who do own the Woolworths exclusive, who don't already down TFX-01, are unlikely ever to do so. Not unless you're willing to put down a sizeable amount of money for the privilege.

So really the point of doing this review is in question. Why bother reviewing something you either already own or will never be able to own? Well... I dunno. I pretty much just thought it was cool and wanted to show it off.

Hasbro, bless its cotton socks, tries its best, but at times the toys it produces are lacking a little. There has, therefore, arisen a number of Transformers 'fan' companies which have decided to attempt to fix these lacks. A lot of the time these Lackers are repaints of previously released toys, which Hasbro has done in a different colour to try and get people to buy an exact copy of something they already own.

Take Ultra Magnus, for example. In the 80s Magnus was made up of an Optimus Prime painted white, with a new trailer which gave him some snazzy armour. The armour made Magnus look completely different to Prime in this case, however ever since whenever an Optimus Prime toy has been released, it's been quickly followed by a white version and named Ultra Magnus.

99% of the time this white repaint has come without a trailer/armour.

This was true of the repaint of the Classics/Universe/Generations/Whatever (the name keeps changing) Optimus Prime. The white Magnus was released as a twin pack with Skywarp (also a repaint) solely in Woolworths in the UK. It didn't look great, and I only really bought it because I wanted Skywarp and it was 50% off.

FansProject, one of the 'fan' companies I mentioned earlier, decided enough was enough. It was time to take this white Prime and make him into a proper Magnus.


Monday, 12 March 2012

Review: Transformers Over-Run

Let's get this out of the way straight away: this robot is Runabout. Usually when there's a Transformers name change it's because it isn't an official product and the company behind it fear the Wrath of Hasbro suing them for all their worth. This toy is fully endorsed by Hasbro and the only reason he's not called Runabout is because at the last moment they couldn't get the trademark for that name so had to do a quick change on the packaging. So henceforth in this review, he'll be referred to as he should be: Runabout.

Runabout was (and is) one of a pair of 'battlechargers' back in the 80s. I didn't have either of them then and, for once, I don't have either of them now. I don't really know why then, when it was announced that Runabout and Runamuck were to be the Transformers Collectors Club (TCC) exclusive toys for this year, that I was so excited. Somehow they've managed to get into my head - and many other peoples' - as Cool Characters. There had been a lot of grumblings on the internet about the TCC and a lot of existing members were claiming they wouldn't join up for this year, but I wonder how many changed their minds when this pair were announced.

I know it made me join up.

Runamuck is the 'free' figure for joining the club and won't ship for a few months yet. His partner is an extra exclusive, only available to buy to members. Both are based on the pretty much universally loved Classics/Henkei/RevealtheShield/Universe/Whateverthelinewascalledatthetime Wheeljack mould, which itself is a slight modification of Tracks, which have been previously released in 'regular' shops (and shown in the pictures below). Usually TCC exclusives are simple repaints, but this time they've taken the extra step and invested in a new head sculpt. And I'm extremely glad they did. It looks fantastic!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Review: MOTU Fright Zone

A few years ago, when I was having my 3 year paid holiday doing my PhD, I, for no reason other than 'I wanted to' bought up a number of vintage toys. Some may say that this isn't exactly true - or not the complete truth, at least, because technically I've been buying vintage toys since the time when they weren't vintage but brand new. But this is beside the point. What is the point is that while I was doing my PhD one of the things that appeared on ebay was a Masters of the Universe Fright Zone playset. A boxed Fright Zone playet, no less. In fact it was a cheap, boxed Fright Zone playset.

So I bought it.

Ordinarily I don't go for boxed things since they are usually extremely expensive, but as I mentioned: it was cheap.

What I didn't realise at the time, but did when I started to read about it later, was that not only was this a cheap, boxed Fright Zone but that it also came with its little glove puppet in near-perfect condition (a rarity, I am told). It also came with its original rubber band, but I doubt that's of much interest.

For a few years the set was proudly on display in my flat, covered in He-Man figures (and an increasing thick layer of dust). For the past few years, however, it's been back in its boxed in a cupboard at my parents. For there is only so much room at my house and I figured I could store it there without anyone noticing.

Until one day when two little boys noticed the box...

Monday, 5 March 2012

Review: ThunderCats Sword of Omens

£19.99 from Toys R Us

I had the original ThunderCats Sword of Omens when I was small. I'd still have it now, but some little rascal has claimed it has his. Since Christmas and a failed attempt regain ownership by buying him the new version, he now has two. Curses.

Quick! Glance at the photo of the 'old' version before the little rascal runs off with it again -

The new sword is a near-perfect update of the original. Bandai have, to all intents and purposes, looked at the original role-play toy and redone it but with the advances of 20-odd years of toy manufacturing.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Review: Centurions

When I was younger, so much younger than today Going Live! was essential Saturday morning viewing. Actually, it was essential Saturday afternoon viewing since we always went to the supermarket in the morning so we had to record it (on a specially bought 4 hour tape!) for viewing in the afternoon. But this is beside the point.

As a result of only having one video recorder (ask your parents, kids) what was being shown on ITV never really got a look in. Take Get Fresh, for example. I couldn't even remember the name of it until I did a bit of research. I could, however, remember two things about the content of the show: first there was an alien (who, it turns out, was called Gilbert) and second, it showed a cartoon about three men in special colourful suits.

The cartoon, which caused me to run around assuming an 'X' shape and yelling 'power x-treeeeeeeeeeeeme' a lot was Centurions. And while I never had any of the toys at the time, thanks to a stall at Memorabilia a few years ago, I now have a box of figures and bits.