I'm just so fed up with all these sites on the internet with admittedly really gorgeous, but incredibly expensive toys and other items for children. They taunt us with handmade, environmentally friendly, wooden toys that have price tags higher than what we spent on our last car. Well last tank of petrol perhaps (and at these prices, that's a lot).
Not On The High Street was going to be one of these online retailers, I just knew it. I mean, look at that, twenty quid for a sailboat? Hang on a second - a wooden, properly weighted sailboat with sails made from real sail material? For only twenty quid? Well £22 to be exact, but - seriously? There has to be a catch. Like it's tiny. Nope, the clue is in the name - the Skipper Junior Contender 10in.
If, like my husband and my son, you have a deep joy of sailing boats on ponds, you'll know just how good a value this is. And if that applied to the boat, then what were the other items on this site like? I got four varied items from the site to review, to find out. Read on to see how Not on the High Street fared.
Skipper Wooden Sailing Yacht
The picture above shows the Skipper Junior Contender 10inch Wooden Sailing Yacht (£22)sliding elegantly across the surface of the pond on Greenwich common in London. This is the same pond where my husband spent his childhood with his sailing boats. And now it is where he takes our son.
Although it doesn't look it, this was a few weeks ago, and it was a really windy day. Also, not long after the photo was taken, it started to rain. Much to my son's delight. He'd been hoping for rain for his new boat, to see how it would fare.
His previous boat, which frankly wasn't that much cheaper at £11.95 all things considered, was plastic, and it didn't have enough of a keel to keep it upright. A good gust of wind and it would be over on its side. The wind pushed the Skipper over a few times, and it bobbed right back up again.
It's sold out on the site, and it might be that our jaunts to the pond are responsible for this. We were instantly surrounded by parents wanting to know where to buy one.
The Skipper has a crafted, wooden hull and adjustable rigging. The sails are made from real sailcloth, and the keel is steel. It is also balanced and weighted correctly, making for an excellent, all round sailing experience. If all the other wooden toys on the site are half as well made as this, then they'll be excellent value.
Pros: forget any other sailboat. Take your children to the local pond with one of these.
Cons: there aren't any. Really, there aren't. Maybe more sail options - red or blue polka dot or stars are all you get. A solid colour option would be nice.
Overall verdict: 10/10
The sailing boat was my husband's treasured childhood memory. But what about mine? Not on the High Street acts as a sort of shop window for tiny little retailers, crafts people, and toy makers who might not be otherwise able to reach such a wide audience.
When I was a child, we used to get those little tin kaleidoscopes with our pocket money, and I loved them. My first choice was a kaleidoscope, the kind you twist the end, but the site contacted me after my order was place to let me know that it was no longer available.
I took them up on their suggestion, the Octoscope Toy for £8. We weren't disappointed. this is a beautiful kaleidoscope-ish toy, and the only difference is that it has a bulbed end, so you just turn or move the tube around to make it change.
It has a fish/sea theme on the outside, and when you look through the tube you get a kaleidoscope version of the room you are in. I have to say, it was really unusual looking at the computer screen this way!
It is lovely to look at, and fun to look through. My son was happy, as was his best friend. It was smaller than I thought it might be (it measures 20cm by 3cm) but all in, great value for less than ten pounds. I've seen toys of this quality on the high street and I would expect it to go for twice as much there.
Pros: beautiful toy, fun to look through
Cons: doesn't seem robust enough for heavy handed children
Overall verdict: 9/10
Not everything on the site is for kids. There's plenty for the grown ups too. Like this Box Appetit Lunch Box Bag (£6.50). This was the first item in my order to arrive - you don't get everything at once, as they are sent directly by each individual retailer/maker.
I was actually a bit surprised to find it was really flat. No thicker than a sheet of thick cardboard. How was this going to keep my lunch fresh? I gave it to my friend, who is a primary school teacher, to test out.
"I popped the entire bag in the fridge in our staffroom. This was handy straight away as it made it very clear that it was my lunch, and was easy to pick out from all the store carry bags. I had to eat my lunch that day in the classroom, as there was just so much end of the school year stuff to get through, and I had a poorly child, who was waiting in for her mother to come and collect her. Really handy to just open the bag up and have a little table cloth. Made it feel like a proper meal, and I'm slightly ashamed to say, I was in such a hurry I just spread it out over the top of the books I was marking."
Her overall verdict? If you're looking for end of term presents for teachers, this is the sort of thing to consider. "We all tend to eat our lunches indoors, and it is just so nice to have an instant 'grown up' place setting".
Pros: beautifully well made, love that it just opens out into an instant table setting
Cons: thinner than would have liked - more padding/insulation perhaps?
Overall verdict: 8/10
My final item was something that I was sure would be a total waste of cash. Fabric Party Loot Bags measuring 15cm by 15cm. These cost £15 for 10, or £1.75 each if you order individually. There's ten different patterns available too, although most of them seemed to aimed at younger children.
Now that seems awfully pricey for a party bag to me, and even if it is made of material, it is still just a party bag. My friend, who sews, was quite dismissive of the quality of the bags. She didn't think the seams were that great, bits of cotton not cut off, that sort of thing. I think that her view was coloured by the cost, and also by the fact that, in her words, "it's just sewing a few straight lines."
To someone like me who can't sew to save her life (honestly it is like I have sewing dyslexia) they are genius. I'm in love with them.
They're drawstring, so make a good part of the actual present itself. Throw in a some sweets and a piece of cake and you're sorted.
Pros: much much nicer than plastic tat bags
Cons: if you can sew and have a sewing machine, you could do these yourself easily, and cheaply
Overall verdict: 7/10