More Christmas short break ideas in the UK

More Christmas short break ideas in the UK >

* Aston Hall by Candlelight, Birmingham > Beautifully lit by over 300 candles. 3rd-12th December (closed 7th December).

For additional details visit >

* Cheltenham Christmas Market > Discover a wide range of festive crafts and gifts. 20th November-6th December.

For additional details visit >

* Wincanton Racecourse > Blow off the cobwebs at an exciting Boxing Day meet. 26th December.

For additional details visit >

* Taste of Christmas 2009, Excel, London > Taste of Christmas runs from 4-6 December. Tickets from £19.

For additional details visit >

Hot Christmas Gadgets include Nintendo Wii, Sat Nav and iPods

Christmas, of course, comes earlier every year. For retailers it starts earlier than most as they try to identify the year’s ‘must have’ gifts. In order to give them a bit of a hand, we’ve spent the last week analyzing search data in order to make some predictions as to what we think will be this year’s hot gadgets, entertainment, toys and fashions.

First a word on the methodology. Search term analysis provides great insight into people’s habits and desires, so we analysed the top 2,000 search terms that sent traffic to a Hitwise Custom Category consisting of the top 100 online retail websites in the UK during the four weeks ending 22nd September 2007. Gadgets are up first, and our defintion encompasses a range of consumer electronics products including mobile phones, computers and peripherals, games consoles, in car entertainment and navigation systems, and audio-visual equipment,

The Nintendo Wii is the most searched for gaming console in the UK, ranking as the sixth most popular gadget heading into Christmas, ahead of the Xbox 360 at number 7 and the Nintendo DS at number 8. There were 5 times as many searches for the Nintendo Wii as the Sony Playstation 3, which did not make the top 10 gadget list.

Mobile phones are the most popular gadgets in the UK, capturing 46% of all searches, followed by computers, iPods, satellite navigation systems and high definition televisions. The success for the TomTom brand of satellite navigation systems continues, with the number of searches for ‘tomtom’ double that for the generic term ‘sat nav’. Searches for ‘external hard drive’ have increased by 15% year on year, reflecting a desire among UK consumers to back up their precious collections of digital music, photos and video.

The Nokia N95 multimedia phone captures almost one in ten searches for mobile phone models in the UK, making it the most popular handset. It is followed closely by the stylish Nokia 6300, with 8.7% of searches, and the Samsung G600 5 mega pixel camera phone, with 8.5%.

The top mobile phone manufacturer by share of UK Internet searches is Nokia, which receives 35% of searches across the top 5 brands, followed by Sony Ericsson with 29% and Samsung with 24%. Motorola is at number four with a 6% share, followed by LG with 5%.

There are 14 times as many searches for the Apple iPod as for all the other MP3 players combined. Two thirds of searches are for the generic iPod, while one in five searchers is looking specifically for the iPod Nano, which has seen searches increase by 67% year on year.

The new iPod Touch and the UK release of the iPhone were announced too late to have a significant impact on the retail search data, but there is a huge amount of internet buzz about both products. For example, the volume of searches for ‘iPhone’ sending traffic to News and Media websites has increased 5 fold over the last month. With Apple the most searched for gadget brand in the UK, it seems likely that both products will find eager fans amongst British consumers. Dell is the second most searched for brand, receiving almost four times as many searches as its nearest rival HP.

Via > DigitalMediaWire

Pricey toys

Posted On December 19, 2006

Filed under Presents&Gifts

Comments Dropped leave a response

You better watch out: this holiday shopping season could be one of the priciest ever as the most tech-laden and expensive gifts for kids of all ages, from the $299 (232 euros) animatronic pony Butterscotch to a $300 (233 euros) pinball machine, show up at your neighbourhood store.

Even if Santa doesn’t leave the elusive $500 (388 euros) Sony PlayStation 3 under your tree, there’s still Hasbro’s $249 (193 euros) Nerf Showtime Hoops, a basketball “gaming system” with an electronic scoreboard and a recorded voice that can announce whether your child has launched a “brick” or hit “nothin’ but net!”

Or you can go to Wal-Mart Stores Inc to pick up a red Ford Mustang Power Wheels, a $250 (194 euros) battery-operated car for children 3 years old and up. The Mustang is a Wal-Mart exclusive made by Mattel Inc’s Fisher-Price division, though many other models can be found at other retailers, such as Toys “R” Us.

“Every Christmas season, there’s more expensive toys,” Scott McCall, Wal-Mart’s chief toy officer, says. This year, toymakers are pushing prices up even more, he added. Toys have gotten more expensive for several reasons, industry executives and analysts said. The demand is there: Parents have shown a willingness to spend more on children’s gifts. Meanwhile, toy companies are able to make more sophisticated toys because computer chips and robotics keep getting cheaper. The companies can then charge more for those high-tech toys.

Higher prices don’t seem to be holding back sales. “I would say that Butterscotch has exceeded our expectations,” McCall said, referring to the newest member of Hasbro Inc. ‘s “Furreal Friends” product line.

Chris Byrne, a contributing editor for Toy Wishes, a consumer publication, said that expensive toys have always been available at high-end stores such as FAO Schwarz, which emerged from bankruptcy protection two years ago.

What’s notable this year is that mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Target Corp are stocking their shelves with more toys costing $200 (155 euros) and above than they ever have. One factor behind the trend is the global decline in the price of high-technology parts, such as computer chips and robotics. That allows toy makers to offer sophisticated toys at surprisingly low prices considering what the toys can do.

The Butterscotch My Furreal Friends Pony, for example, is three feet tall with moving eyes, ears, head and tail. The pony can whinny and snort and can be “fed” a carrot, and if children sit on her she will “gently bounce,” the company said.

“There’s a lot of technology, chips and capacity sensors… that the kid’s not interested in… but that makes the pony feel very real to them, and that’s magic, and the Mom sees value in that,” said Sharon John, general manager of Hasbro’s Tiger Electronics division.

“Even five to six years ago, some of the stuff that we’re doing… for the prices that we’re doing would have been technologically unfeasible,” she added.

Butterscotch follows the animatronic Furreal Friends cat, dog and gorilla, John said. The idea for a pony came partly from consumer research. “What little girl doesn’t dream of having her own pony?” John asked.

For older children, the so-called “tweens” in the 9-to-12 age group, toy makers are offering higher-priced products that mimic adult high-tech gadgets, such as cell phones, DVD players and even video cameras.

For example, Hasbro’s ChatNow is a $75 (58 euros) two-way radio communicator that looks like a flip-style cell phone and comes with colourful stickers and faceplates. It even allows users to take and store up to 30 digital photos. Then there’s the $249 (193 euros) Zoombox projector, which can connect to DVD players and video consoles. It projects movies and games on walls or ceilings with images as large as five feet.

For kids of all ages, including those who are only kids at heart, Zizzle LLC, a two-year-old toy company, has introduced a freestanding pinball machine that it expects to be almost as popular among adults as children. The Zizzle pinball game, like the Zoombox, illustrates another aspect of this year’s pricey toys: in many cases they’re cheaper than the full-blown adult alternatives.

Scott Goldberg, public relations and promotions manager at Zizzle, said their pinball machine has the bumpers, flippers and flashing lights of a real pinball game – unlike the cheaper tabletop versions – but at a much lower price. An arcade-style pinball game is likely to cost thousands of dollars, he said.

One holdover from holidays past is that many parents consider the educational value of some to ys a good reason to splurge. But we’re far from the erector sets of old: Lego is selling the $249 (193 euros) Mindstorm NXT, a wireless-enabled robot that kids can program over a computer.

Musical gifts for Christmas

The true Spirit of Christmas is generosity, so what could be better than a lifelong gift of music. Children, particularly, can be inspired by gifts which stimulate their music learning.

Children love films, especially if there are a lot of catchy tunes and movement involved. There are CDs which outline in a fun way the lives of important composers which can be followed in book form. The ultimate gift is probably the opportunity for children to learn a musical instrument, which will instil in them a deep appreciation of music, as well as discipline, and assist in their cognitive development. Adults too can reward themselves with this gift of learning an instrument, it’s never too late and opens many other interesting avenues. Or, what about joining a choir?

Subscriptions to music societies are a wonderful gift, which is mutually beneficial, both for the recipient, as a gift which lasts a year, and for the society, as they receive funding to bring out top artists. In Cyprus, the Pharos Trust and the Ledra Music Soloists both offer annual memberships. If it’s ballet that you love, the newly formed professional company Dancecyprus would be ideal. There are also courses in music appreciation held by U3A, with the next starting in January in Paphos.

Movies for Children >
Mary Poppins >
About two unruly children, Jane and Michael and their new nanny, Mary Poppins, who transforms their lives of these of their busy parents. Songs in this film will delight children of any age.

The Sound of Music > The story of Maria, a young nun who left the convent and went to work as a governess to seven high-spirited children. Their widowed father, Captain Von Trapp is a naval officer who runs his family military style and they fall in love. Lots of beautiful timeless music this is a must.

The Wizard of Oz > The story of a Dorothy, whisked away from her hometown by a tornado and transported to a strange place called Oz. She meets strange creatures and finds some real friends along the way. A classic adventure filled with memorable tunes your child will love.

Annie > The classic story of a red-haired orphan girl named Annie, who sings of her dreams to break away from her life in the orphanage, run by a very strict matron. Annie wins over the affection of a billionaire, who eventually adopts her. The songs featured are catchy and adorable.

Singing in the Rain > A funny film with lots of lively song and dance numbers, with great characters and a hart-warming story the whole family can enjoy. An of course, the unforgettable song Singing in the Rain.

CDs for Children > From the First Discovery Series, these CDs come with a book which follows an easy version of the life and music of composers like Vivaldi, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Debussy. They are available at £10 from Partassides Music House in Nicosia.

Games for Children > Domino type game where the whole family can join in to match the sounds on separate blocks (glockenspiel).

Subscription Offers
Pharos Trust – > £40 annual membership for individuals, with various packages for individual and corporate sponsors. Corporate sponsors receive TV advertising and can also pass their benefits to employees as additional perks, while widening the cultural circle. Discounts on concerts, books and CDs for individuals.

Ledra Music Soloists – > £15 annual subscription to be a Friend, as well as Sponsorship opportunities, or even part of the Elite circle. Discounts on music, books, travel for Friends.

Dancecyprus – > £25 annual membership to be a Friend, with company and patron opportunities. Discounted tickets, email updates, and invitations to meet artists. Company Member (£200 yearly), Patron Member (£2,000 yearly), Benefactor or Corporate Member (£5,000 yearly).

Online Magazine subscriptions > For those who are computer literate, it is easy to join the mailing list of radio stations like ClassicFM, who send weekly newsletters about concerts and special offers as well as societies of classical music, opera and ballet.

Books > Here, the list is truly endless, if you have no idea about classical music, an easy and light-hearted approach to the subject is definitely the Dummies series, Classical Music for Dummies. Or if you want to increase your existing skills, why not study the scores while listening to the CD, these come in a pack and offer popular works such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Mozart 40 etc. With the internet, it is very easy to search and find almost any book you want, either new or second hand at greatly reduced prices.

CDs > For a Lifetime is a CD by Marilena Solomou, a young and extremely talented singer whose CD reflects a classical crossover genre. Easy and accessible listening making a perfect gift, available from All Records, Nicosia. My favourite website for classical music is where you can find box sets for incredible prices. Good recordings can be found with these box sets for 40 cents per CD. The best CDs for an introduction to classical music are compilations of excerpts covering a broad spectrum. 

DVDs > There are some wonderful DVDs which the whole family can enjoy, outlining aspects of specific composers, with their most well known works in the background. Handel, Bach, Rossini, Bizet and Johann Strauss available from Partassides Music House in Nicosia. Or, what about watching entire operas from the comfort of your home?

Instruments (based on prices from Partassides Music House) > Guitars > full size only and range in price from £30-£320. Mandolins > £75 and vary only in the decoration. Keyboard – from £100 for a full piano sized keyboard but an alternative could be to rent a piano. This eliminates large initial outlay. Woodwind instruments as well as brass instruments are also available.

Courses on Music > Pat Bates is beginning a new course in Paphos from January 2007 as part of the U3A programme and will take a light hearted look at “classical music” from Bach to Bernstein. It’s aimed at people interested in music and who would like to delve a little more deeply into the subject as well as be introduced to composers whom they might not otherwise have listened to. For further information, contact Pat Bates at or telephone at 99-922946.

Voluntary Work > If you are a musician, performing for those who are unable to go to concerts is very satisfying. What about arranging a concert at an old age home?

Radio > A portable radio makes a wonderful gift for young children and old alike. With the advent of television and the visual media, all too often the radio is forgotten but the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation offers classical music every day across its four radio channels. As you drive to work every morning, from 7-8am, tune into 88.2FM for an uninterrupted selection of the most popular classics. PMClassics on Channel 2 every weekday from 1.45pm-4pm. Programmes on Channel 1 (in Greek) every weekday from 9pm and Andreas Iacovides Monday to Saturday from 9.30am-10am.

Top five gift picks for 2006

Posted On December 17, 2006

Filed under Presents&Gifts

Comments Dropped leave a response

Here are the treasures I’m encouraging everyone to add to their gift list this holiday season.

A song in my heart 2007 desk calendar
The minute I laid eyes on this beautiful date book, I fell head-over-heals in love. I haven’t seen anything at the national gift markets for under $20 that I have wanted to own and give to others more than this hardbound calendar, which features a cloth-like cover, leatherette corners and a satin ribbon marker.

I love the size and the artwork, which is a gorgeous collage of vintage bird drawings, sheet music and antique ledger pages. If you’re partial to butterflies, marbled paper and luscious brown tones, you might go ape over The Nature of Things 2007 desk calendar, which is made by the same group.

Interesting books
Even though we don’t have any more room in our bookcases, I always pick out a few books at Christmas. If you love a reader, you should do the same this holiday season.

Instead of just nabbing the latest bestseller, select a book that celebrates your bookworm’s passions and interests. Get your sister who is green thumb a book on container gardens. If your brother loves to travel, select a beautiful travelogue on his next port of call.

Most book lovers also appreciate antique or vintage books, both to read and to use in their decorating. Find an old cookbook for your favorite chef, a set of leather-bound history books for the family scholar and children’s books for your buddy who is sentimental about nostalgia.

Decorative trays
I firmly believe you can never have enough trays. That’s why I frequently give these entertaining and decorating building blocks as gifts. You can find fabulous trays to fit everyone’s lifestyle and look. How about a playful Lucite tray for your friend’s outdoor patio? Or an ornate silver tray she can use in her bathroom to hold toiletries? This year I’m recommending a darling black wooden tray embellished with hand-painted images of birds. This beautiful tray looks perfect as a base for still-life displays, leaning against a kitchen backsplash or on the wall as artwork. Trays make wonderful gifts for anyone on your list who loves to decorate and entertain.

Apothecary jars
I’m drawn helplessly to these glass works of art because they are so affordable and versatile. They look just as gorgeous holding mundane items like cotton balls and dog treats as they do filled with antique glass Christmas ornaments. I’ve even filled them with plants to make darling terrariums.

Antique store finds
Forget the mall this year and hit your local flea market to scout for unusual gifts for those hard-to-buy-for folks on your list.

One of my most cherished Christmas gifts is an old mirror some friends found for me at an out-of-the-way antique shop. If your friend is a collector, search for unique pieces he or she can add to his or her set. If he/she doesn’t yet have a collection, perhaps your antique discovery will inspire him/her to start one.

Germans bottle Christmas, and it smells like apples

Posted On December 14, 2006

Filed under Presents&Gifts, Shopping

Comments Dropped leave a response

Gift Idea > “The Roasted Apple Aroma Experience” (€19.80)

A company near Munich called Primavera this week released what, for Germany anyway, is the smell of Christmas: roasted apples.

The set, called “The Roasted Apple Aroma Experience” (€19.80) includes a spray, an aromatherapy bottle, a travel-size apple-scented rock, and spices that can be added to punch (recipe included).

But why apple? “Lots of people put apples in the oven with spices, so we decided to capture this smell in a spray,” spokeswoman Daniela Hemmerle said.

Related Links >

Put that cloth down. Now! It’s mine!

Posted On December 13, 2006

Filed under Presents&Gifts

Comments Dropped leave a response

Men’s clothing for gifts > Giving a man a gift of clothing is both easy and difficult. Sure, most of them have definite gaps in their wardrobe that need filling, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have their own sense of style. Here’s a few suggestions and a few elegant basics for the fellows on your list.

Room at the Top > Men wearing sweaters. It’s not always been pretty. Fifty years ago it fit in fine with the zeitgeist, a nice cardigan and a pipe made for an enduring icon of masculine domesticity. The decade following saw the shedding of many traditions, including clothing. After that, sweaters got the reputation of being stodgy and dull, and when you could find them, they were usually cursed by the unfortunate combo of loud colors and fuzzy yarns. I think we’re safe now. We’ve gone back to basics. Classic designs made from the best fabrics. Here’s a fine example, in premium cashmere. Lightweight, low-key colors, and a universally flattering crew neck. Looks good on absolutely every guy.

Leather Report > To my mind, Columbia Sportswear is the best outerwear company going. The Oregon-based outfit is rightly known for it’s expert hand with ripstop nylon, cotton canvas, stretch fleece and moisture-wicking linings. Whether you’re skiing, fishing, hiking or kayaking, you’d be wise to reach for a Columbia. Now, their leather jacket is something else again. You get all the toughness of the brand name, but in a more refined package. The handsome look gives you instant swagger year after year, and knowing the longevity of this company’s products, I’d wager decades. It’s truly a wearable American icon.

Dry Me a River > Aquis now makes a robe that matches the innovation and performance of their towels. I’ve been a long-time fan of the latter, and love the unique spin they put on familiar bath-time essentials. The secret is in the material they weave their plush terry from, it’s a superfine microfiber, with a greater surface area to absorb moisture quickly and thoroughly. So, not only is this stuff softer and lighter than most other fabrics, but it also gets you dry in half the time. You can buy it for him for the pampering “spa” factor and he’ll love it for its efficiency. It’s luxury with a practical side.

Hand it to ‘Em > In 1828, an industrial town in upstate New York changed its name from Stump City to Gloversville. You can guess what product its factories turned out. For a good while, one out of every three gloves in the world came from there. These pairs are made by Grandoe, based in Gloversville for 120 years, and they do its history proud. Made of supple lambskin and insulated with 70-percent polyester and 30-percent goose down for superior heat-retention, they’re finished with subtle topstitching at the wrist and available in either black or brown. For some things, you just gotta go to the source.

Too Good to Be Shoe > This pick includes a bit of genius engineering, but I didn’t immediately hit on the idea of suggesting it, since shoes don’t easily spring to mind when mulling over gift ideas. Which is odd, because through the years I’ve often bought dress shoes for friends and family of the masculine persuasion. And they love ‘em, and wear ‘em. Most men need these in their wardrobe, and most ignore that need. Or, they buy one pair post-college and leave it at that. Oh, and the bit about genius? It’s the Nike Air technology hidden in the heel. He’ll feel like he’s in his favorite sneakers. But look much better.

Next Page »