If your Christmas cards are still in their packets, maybe it's time to switch to the web to make sure your greetings arrive on time. The Electric December site, which is showcasing the work of creative types in Bristol, is a good source of offbeat eCards. The site has 24 boxes, each of which contains an eCard linked to a virtual gift. The gifts include games, animation, video, poetry, prose and visual art. Aardman Animations, BBC Bristol and the University of the West of England are among the contributors. As in an Advent calendar, a new box can be opened and viewed every day.
You need no special software to send a greeting, but recipients will need some of the standard plug-ins such as Flash, Shockwave and QuickTime to view their presents. To send an eCard, all you have to do is go to the site at www.electricdecember.org, choose a card and present, type in the recipient's name and email address, type a personal message and submit.
Hedingham Fair, a cottage industry based in Essex, celebrates rural crafts, wildlife and hedgerows in beautiful, hand-made cards. Its Christmas range includes the 2001 Calendar of Traditional Customs (pictured), a handy classroom reference illustrated with glowing, jaunty woodcuts by Karen Cater. It celebrates country life and charts a year of Christian, Jewish and Celtic festivals from Twelfth Night (swiftly followed in East Anglia by Plough Sunday, Tractor Tuesday and Straw Bear Day - January 13) to New Year's Eve and the Tar-Barrel Parade in Allendale, Northumberland. pound;4.75 plus pound;1.50 pamp;p from Sunnyside, Southey Green, Sible Hedingham, Essex CO9 3RN. For catalogue, tel: 01787 462731. Fax: 01787 463393. Email: email@example.com Cross a Furby with a Tamagotchi, and you'll get something that looks and acts very much like a Norn, one of the virtual lifeforms that inhabit the Creatures Village - the edutainment CD-Rom series from Creature Labs. Creatures Playgroud is the latest in the series, and even before it reached the market it had been nominated for an interactive Bafta award. At the start of the game you hatch your own personal Norn and give it a name before teaching it how to survive in a world of adventure. You lead your newly hatched Norn through a series of intuitive games and landscapes, which include a playground, a haunted house, a big wheel and a pirate galleon.
Creatures Playground is not just about getting from A to B to pick up pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - exploring the environment, and finding solutions to problems, are also part of the process. To keep young players on their toes, they must always keep their Norn warm, fed and rested. Creatures Playground doesn't really have a place in the curriculum, but if you're looking for a lavish treat for the downtime before the holidays, this is an excellent choice. Creatures Playground is aimed at four to eight-year-olds, costs pound;14.99 and is available from gaming and technology stores. Website: www.creaturelabs.com Two very different recordings of live concerts come from the West Country. "ConCerto" is performed and produced by inmates of Channings Wood prison in Devon. Dealing movingly with such themes as child abuse and dreams of life outside, the music understandably frequents minor keys. Part of the proceeds go to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. From Salisbury Cathedral school comes "Celebration 2000", performed by current and past pupils. Ranging from Mozart to a samba party, it shows how great talent linked with good fortune can produce magnificent sounds. "ConCerto" costs pound;6.99 from Mary Stephenson, writer in residence, HMP Channings Wood, Denbury, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 6DW. Tel: 01803 812361. "Celebration 2000" costs pound;10 from Sarah Flanaghan, Salisbury Cathedral school, 1 The Close, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2EQ. Tel: 01722 322652. Fax: 01722 410910.