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Biskey

Biskey
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Member since: 27.04.2013

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    • More +
      19.02.2014 16:47
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      A kettle to brighten up your kitchen

      These days I think we've come to expect a little bit more from our household appliances. As an example, my washing machine puts on a flashing light display and plays a tune when it has finished its programme. We want our microwaves, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners etc to do all they're supposed to do AND make the proverbial cup of tea. But what about the good old kettle, whose job it is to make a cup of tea in the first place? What can we expect of that? Whistling is old hat, of course, as is switching itself off. (yawn). So how about a see through kettle with pretty blue lights inside? Of course. Why did no-one think of this before?

      The Russell Hobbs 15082-10 Illuminating Glass Kettle is just such an appliance. I tell you, my kitchen is starting to look like Blackpool during the illuminations.

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      Features
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      This is a 1.7 litre kettle, which should fill most teapots. If that isn't enough for you, I suggest you invest in a tea-urn. I guess it's about a standard size these days.

      There's a plastic filter inside the spout to stop limescale getting in your drinks and this can and should be removed from time to time for a rinse.

      The catch for opening the lid is on top of the handle - so thumb friendly - which is a feature I like, because it means you can hold it and open it with one hand. The power switch is at the back and bottom. The glass body is graduated so that you can judge the quantity you need depending on whether it's a quick cuppa for yourself, or a pot-full in case you get descended upon by several aunts. There is actually a window at the rear, but that seems rather redundant to me.

      The base is one of these 360 degree jobs, which you simply lift off when it's boiled. This is, for me, perhaps the greatest advance in kettle technology since someone invented the spout. This kind of base not only makes "unplugging" the kettle a one-handed job, it also means that it doesn't matter which hand you use.

      Inside the kettle, the element is concealed, so preventing the build up of lime scale on it, and this in turn should help you to get more years out of it. Obviously, you might still get a build up on the interior base of the kettle. How much of a problem this is will depend on the water in your area. We're pretty fortunate in that respect.

      At 3kw it's a fast boil, so you can save time, if not energy.


      If trailing leads are a problem for you, there is space for cord storage at the base.

      The look is quite swish, with the polished stainless steel rim and base, while the lights that glow through your water as it heats up (they go out when it switches itself off) are a delight to behold. Or is it just that there's nothing worth watching on television these days?


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      Cost and Availability
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      They're widely available. I got mine for nearly forty pounds from Sainsbury's, but I see they're on Amazon for £34.70 right now (RRP £49.99).

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      Recommendation
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      At the end of the day, it's a kettle, and there are cheaper ones. However, this is stylish, quick to boil and while not exactly singing and dancing it does offer some entertainment. I'm pleased with it.

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      • More +
        11.02.2014 12:09
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        A very, very smart piece of technology and well worth the money.

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        iChoices iChoices iChoices
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        So I'd decided that my laptop was taking too much hammer and I was especially concerned that it seemed increasingly susceptible to malware. I wanted to keep my laptop for "office" type stuff and have something else for fast internet access and also portability, for preference. Obviously I was starting to think about a tablet; but which tablet? There are lots out there if you hadn't noticed.

        The word was that androids were fine, but that the ipad was simply the best. I didn't want it for reading books, so dismissed the Kindle et al. However, I did want the bigger screen, so dismissed the mini versions. I started to think about an ipad 2 with 16 gb. 16gb was ok for me, I thought, as I was unlikely to want to download films or keep lots of music on it. It was still expensive, at just over £300, but brought me the Apple experience, with its safer, closed system, its speed and intuitive interface. Then someone pointed out that if I was going to pay that much anyway, why not go the extra yard and get the Air, with the latest operating system, the faster processor and the retina display? Unlike cars, ipads keep their value very well, so if I didn't like it I could probably recoup most of my outlay on resale. Tesco direct were doing an offer that meant I could get £30.00 off, meaning it would cost £369 instead of £399 and I'd get clubcard points as well. Get in! So I did it. I actually did it. I went and bought myself an ipad Air!!


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        But Did I Make The Right Choice?
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        Yes.

        Let me tell you why. (without too much technical stuff)


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        What You Get
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        You get the iPad (a thing of beauty in itself - slim, sleek, light and in white or grey); there's a two-part plug plus lead and a very slim "getting started" leaflet.

        There's a "home" button, a sleep/on/off button, a switch to lock orientation and two buttons for volume. Not over-laden with controls.

        It comes charged up already, so all you do is switch on and it takes you through the set up. That doesn't take long, so soon you're looking at the home screen, which has a number of applications (apps) already loaded, including Face Time, which is like Skype, but better, calendar, notes, camera and, among others, an app for the Apple Store where you can find lots of other apps to download - many of them free.

        There's an icon that links you to Safari, which allows you to search the web, and another that takes you to whichever email account you want to set up on it - so, for instance, I have a hotmail account and this button gives me immediate access to it.

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        What Are The Advantages?
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        It's obviously very handy. I'm not sure that the extra thinness and lightness really makes a lot of difference to the experience, but the reduced bevel and the retina display certainly give you a full, clear screen. The picture is sharp. The speed is highly impressive. It isn't just the speed of browsing, but, for me, the fact that I can go from off to app or website almost immediately, whereas my laptop could take several minutes.

        Taking pictures or video is as straightforward as it would be on your smart phone, but you've got a bigger screen and the quality is high.

        Watching films or videos (say on YouTube) is superb. One of the first apps I downloaded was the BBC iPlayer. Now I effectively have a high definition mini portable tv. I can watch live tv, catch up tv, or download programmes to watch offline. If you have Sky, you could, of course load Sky Go onto it and watch all your favourite stuff on the move. Even though I only have 16gb, I could still download enough content to keep me occupied for quite a while (as an example, a ninety minute film took up about 500mb).

        The battery will give you about ten hours of activity, which I think is impressive and it takes only a few hours to recharge. Using it while it's charging is as simple as it would be with your mobile phone, so no problem there.

        Facetime is a joy. When I was a kid this was the stuff of science fiction - a phone where you could see the person as well, and they could see you. Making or receiving a Facetime call is as quick and easy as making a normal telephone call - easier if anything as you don't have to punch in the number, - it saves your contacts' email addresses, and you simply tap a name to make the call. You don't have to have the camera on if you don't want it -and of course it's up to you what you point it at, anyway.

        I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that it doesn't need any antivirus software, but I'm certainly not complaining. And in the three months I've had it I've seen no problems of any kind.

        Mine is WiFi only, but you can get versions (at a higher price) that also work on the cell phone network. That's handy, of course, but you'd have to watch that you didn't exceed your download limits, which could easily be done!


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        Do I Recommend It?
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        You bet I do. I know several people who bought an Air at about the same time as me and they are all equally thrilled. I use my laptop far less and the tv too, actually. Possibly the most exquisite pleasure is that I can use it in bed - even under the duvet, if I want! In the middle of a miserable winter, that is no small thing. Whether you want to mail, browse the web, watch tv or play games, this is a fabulous helpmate. I can't tell you that it's better than an android, because I haven't used one, but I can tell you that I do not begrudge one penny of the money I spent.

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        • Braun MPZ-6 / Juicer / 115 Readings / 115 Ratings
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          30.10.2013 11:47
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          Makes squeezing pleasing.

          We can choose from a wonderful range of juices on the supermarket shelves these days. If something's capable of getting juiced you can probably buy a carton of it - sweetened, unsweetened, smooth or "with bits" and probably in various blends with other juices.

          This is good; but there's nothing like the "real thing", is there? At breakfast - and indeed at any other time of the day - freshly squeezed orange juice is as sublime as freshly ground coffee and freshly baked bread. It smells good, it tastes good and I could easily be tempted to believe that it does you good as well.

          For this reason I have a citrus juicer in my kitchen: namely the Braun MPZ6

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          Features of the MPZ6
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          This isn't one of those big things with a hopper in the top that you tip a load of fruit in and simply put your jug or glass under the spout. It's a small, compact machine with a 350ml jug sited beneath a cone which agitates when you press down upon it with your half of an orange, or whatever. So in fact it's very much like an old fashioned, glass, manual juicer, except it's powered and there's somewhere capacious for the juice to flow.

          The powering has some subtlety to it in that, as I say, it only activates when you press down, so it doesn't waste power (and, anyway, at 20 watts it hardly guzzles juice, as it were) and you have a lot of control over what is happening. It also alternates between turning clockwise and anti-clockwise, so that juice is extracted more efficiently. In addition, there's adjustable pulp control, which means that you can make it pulp faster and slower.

          The cone and the jug are easy to remove and to clean, and there's a rigid plastic dust cover.

          The jug is scaled so that you can measure the quantity of juice you are collecting.

          The base of the unit allows for the cord to be wound, should you not need the full length, or for ease of storage.

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          ORANGES AND LEMONS
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          What I like about the Braun MPZ6, like so many of the things in my kitchen, is that it is not too big, so not only does it not take up too much space on my worktop, but also I can put it away easily. It does its job efficiently, simply and is easy to clean.

          Some might pull a face at the fact that it is limited to citrus fruits and that there is some, albeit small, effort involved i.e having to hold the fruit in place. Yet surely this is the beauty of the thing: I'm getting a healthy drink packed with Vitamin C and taking exercise at the same time. What could be better?

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          Cost
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          They seem to be selling for around £24.00 at the moment. You can also buy replacement plastic jugs for them, should you need one, retailing at just over £7 online. And I was impressed to see that Braun still sell replacement jugs for some of their older models. That's the kind of thing that, as a consumer, I find reassuring in a company: there's some commitment to their customers and faith in the longevity of the products. I've had mine for over ten years and the fact that they're still producing the same machine with perhaps only one or two small tweaks, suggests that it's been popular and that there couldn't have been too much wrong with it in the first place.

          Firmly recommended.

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          • Gigaset AS185 / Telephone / 99 Readings / 97 Ratings
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            05.10.2013 14:15
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            A phone that rings my bell.

            When I was a lad, ours was one of the few houses in the street to have a telephone and there used to be a stream of neighbours walking through our living room, leaving tuppence on the sideboard for a call. Ok, it might have been sixpence. In those days it still seemed like a miracle that there was a telephone at all, so the fact that it was located in the front room (rarely used, only for best and always the coldest room in our house) wasn't a big issue. These days we're used to greater freedom. We expect to be able to use the phone when we're half way up a mountain. So when my fixed telephone gave up the ghost recently, I decided that the best thing would be to get a cordless one to replace it.

            In fact, I already had one cordless telephone, but that was upstairs. This was a further sign of the modern malaise. I couldn't possibly be expected to carry the phone up and down stairs,could I? So I needed one up and one down.

            The manufacturers and shops, of course, have caught on to and in fact encouraged this trend. It is assumed that most people will want a suite of phones, possibly one for each room, with the facility to act as an intercom system, answer machine, alarm clock, tea maker, personal secretary and goodness knows what else. I just wanted a phone. A single phone. On its own. I didn't necessarily want or need lots of functions, but something that would be reliable, offer good sound quality, not cost the Earth, and bounce when I dropped it, as would almost certainly happen at some point. I didn't regard this as an unreasonable list of requirements and I'm very pleased to say that the Gigaset AS185 answered my call.


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            THE GIGASET AS185
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            This telephone is one of a number that can be bought as a single unit as well as with additional handsets if required (they offer a duo and a trio package). The brand has a good reputation and I felt that I would be buying a solid and reliable piece of kit with enough functions for what I would need. I still tend to be impressed when I see that something has been made in Germany. Unless it's a holidaymaker, of course. (joke) The price at the time of £14.99 from Argos (currently £17.99 from there) made this a very attractive and competitive buy.

            It just seems to come in black and has a slightly chunky look to it. These cordless phones all look pretty much the same to me, and frankly I'm not someone who is overly bothered about the appearance, but more about whether it works well. Something that might attract those environmentally aware consumers is the fact that the power saving adaptor uses less electricity. The handset also automatically reduces its transmission power according to how far it is from the base station. You can reduce the transmission power of both the handset and the base station even more by choosing Eco Mode. Nice to know.


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            FEATURES
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            The power and telephone cables (both provided) fit snugly underneath the base unit and the handset takes two re-chargeable AAA batteries (also provided). The phone needs to be charged for at least seven hours before use; then you use it without replacing it on its base station until the batteries have fully run down again. That's just for the first time. Then you can use it in a normal way.

            They reckon you can get 25 hours of talk time and 210 hours of standby time and it has given me no reason to doubt this. Certainly it was about a week before I put it back on its cradle on that first occasion, and that's with some talk time.

            The phone has a built in answering machine which can be activated if required. It has a total of 12 minutes recording time and a maximum of 170 seconds per message. Messages can be accessed remotely by using a pin from a touch tone dialling phone.

            The directory stores 40 names and numbers and the last number redial facility allows you to scroll back through your previous ten calls. Numbers in the directory can be linked to shortcut keys. The handset will also display the number of a caller if you have this arrangement with your provider.

            From the menu you can set the alarm clock, change the ringer tones and volume, check voice mail, adjust the date and time and check other settings.

            On the handset, there's a mute button and also a button for switching to speaker and back again.

            If you want to add other handsets, the directory is transferable and there is the facility for making and sharing calls with other internal handsets.


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            EASE OF USE
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            I found this a very straightforward phone to set up and then to use. I was a little confused by the black bar on the display window of the handset until I realised that it was a protective plastic shield that needed to be peeled away. The one thing I find about the phone that is a little tricky is the talk key. If you press it once, briefly, you see the last number you called. Press it again and that number will ring, or you could scroll through other recently used numbers. To access the dialling tone, you have to hold the talk key down for a couple of seconds. Until I got used to this I found I was calling the last number by mistake. I think I've pretty much mastered this now.

            A useful information leaflet comes with the phone. It was nice to have something concise with pictures and not several small tomes in every language imaginable - surely not environmentally friendly. Further info is available online.


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            COST AND VALUE
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            As I mentioned, this is currently £17.99 at Argos and as such I would consider it to be very good value indeed. Obviously I'm feeling pretty smug that I managed to pick it up three quid cheaper, but it's still a good deal. It's a sturdy little number from a firm with a good name; its functions are surely more than adequate for most needs; it is sold singly, but can be used as part of a suite; and perhaps the most important factor is that the sound quality is excellent.

            I can't think of a good enough reason not to give it five stars.

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            • More +
              23.09.2013 11:26
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              A delicious dark chocolate ginger biscuit.

              As a diabetic, I have to watch my sugar intake. Unfortunately I have never completely been able to tame my sweet tooth. Diabetic food products are all very worthy, but there's only so much sorbitol and aspartame a man can take. The fact is that my condition, shared by millions, is about control. My diet doesn't have to be completely sugar free so long as I am careful. To that end I try to follow a policy of having a little of something very good, even though it might be more expensive, rather than a lot of something not very good at all. In fact I find this to be a pretty good approach to life in general and applicable to most things, with the possible exception of money, which might not be a very good thing, but I'd rather have a lot of it anyway, thank you.

              When it comes to biscuits there is one in particular that rings my bell, pushes the right buttons and ticks all the right boxes. This is the Border Dark Chocolate Ginger.

              Currently available at £1.50 from Morrison's for a box of ten, this is something of a luxury item to a man who would more naturally be drawn to a value pack of Bourbons, simply on the basis that they are cheap and chocolatey. I am learning to aspire to greater things. I love dark chocolate. I love ginger. And sometimes I have an irresistible craving for something crunchy and sweet. The Border Dark Chocolate Ginger gives me all that, sublimely blended in a little disc of loveliness that miraculously I find satisfying. And that's the special part of this. I find them delicious, but one is often enough and two would be a good blow out. Perhaps it's the sharpness of the ginger or the richness of the dark chocolate ginger that means I can't take too many at once. Whatever the reason, it's a blessing and means that I enjoy what I have, satisfy my desire and get on with my life, happy in the knowledge that I have enough metformin in my bloodstream to cope with my little indulgence.


              OOOOOOOOOOO
              THE PACKAGING
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              I'm not one to talk too much about packaging, preferring to judge biscuits and people by what they do, rather than by how they look. In this case, however, what's on the outside demands discussion. The 175g packet, of which I have been writing, is a rectangular cardboard outer sleeve, holding a ridged plastic tray with a clear plastic cover, wrapped in cellophane. Once the cellophane is discarded, we are left with something in which we can continue to store our biscuits, theoretically. I say "theoretically" because I wouldn't consider this as air tight as my biscuit barrel or a regular tin. Interestingly, the packet advises us that once opened they should be kept in an air tight container, so clearly Border Biscuits Ltd don't have that much faith in the packet to do the job. Admittedly, the fact that I can see them through the clear plastic lid means that I shall be more tempted to eat them sooner than they could go soggy anyway, so possibly an air tight container isn't essential.

              The other thing about all this packaging is the cost. I suppose the point of the ridged tray is to keep the biscuits separate so that they don't get welded together in a sudden rise in temperature. Frankly, I'd rather pay less and take the risk of them sticking together, the consequence of which might be that I'd have to eat two at once - oh horror! The cardboard and tray are recyclable, it seems, so that's good.

              OOOOOOOOOOOO
              THE INGREDIENTS
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              I won't bore you with the full list, but you might want and/or need to know that each biscuit contains 7.7g of sugars, 4g of fat and 83 Kcal. They sound wicked, I know.

              These are suitable for vegetarians, but contain wheat, gluten, cow's milk and soya. As with most such things they cannot guarantee that they are free of nuts or egg.


              OOOOOOO
              THE TASTE
              OOOOOOO

              The texture of these biscuits is almost as important as the flavour. When you take a bite, the first thing you get is the chocolate, of course, quickly followed by the crunch - not too hard - not like a regular ginger nut biscuit. It's nicely crisp, but gives way readily without crumbling too easily (the chocolate is obviously a key player here in holding it together). Then the ginger slowly makes its presence felt. I wouldn't call it hot, by any means, but warming and comforting. They use 1% ground ginger in the biscuits, so you're not going to come across any large chunks of stem ginger in there. Any sharpness in this is quickly balanced by the dark, rich smoothness of the chocolate, which impresses as good quality stuff. There's no suspicion of oiliness and no cloying after taste. As the chocolate melts in your mouth it blends with the biscuit and the result is heavenly. The aftertaste is where the ginger really kicks in - still not hot, although how hot it is perceived to be will vary from person to person, but certainly noticeable. Enjoyed with your favourite brew they make you want to take your elevenses at ten o'clock. I like one (or two) with a cup of freshly ground coffee. Some would prefer tea. Hot chocolate would probably clash. Sometimes, if I've been out in the cold all day and want to reward myself for my bravery, a cuppa and a Border Dark Chocolate Ginger will usually make all the pain and suffering worthwhile.

              It's a blend of tastes and textures that is really rather special. If you don't like dark chocolate and you don't like ginger - forget it. If you like one of those things, be prepared to be converted about the other. If you like both, why are you not at the shops already?

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              • Philips Energy Saver / Gadget / 78 Readings / 76 Ratings
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                18.09.2013 19:46
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                An energy saving, money saving light bulb.

                In a cupboard in my kitchen I have my stock of light bulbs. I have just counted and there are eleven of the energy saving variety. Most of them have been there for between five and ten years. Therein hangs the light bulb.

                I started using the CFL (compact fluorescent light or lamp) about ten years ago. I didn't change them all over at once. I started with the hall and stairs and gradually started to use them in the living rooms and bedrooms as the incandescent bulbs gave way or ran out. It must be several years since I last put one in and I have never had to replace one. That's why my stock of bulbs is gathering dust in a cupboard. This in itself is a great advertisement for using energy saving bulbs.

                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                PHILIPS ENERGY SAVING BULBS
                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                To be honest, the Philips isn't the only make of bulb I use, but I think it sets a good standard of efficiency and reliability. I've been using their 11 watt stick bulb that they say will last ten years for about...well, ten years.

                So I can testify to the fact that they do last. There was a time when I seemed always to be climbing onto chairs and reaching up to light fittings. Those days are gone. I don't "do" bulb changing anymore (well, not often).

                An 11 watt bulb should give out the equivalent of a 60 watt light bulb, which is about 600 lumens. I used to think that a 60 watt bulb would be insufficient for a living room or dining room, but for my modestly sized rooms these are quite bright enough.

                This kind of bulb is commonly available for the bayonet or Edison screw type fittings.

                This particular type is unsuitable for dimmer lights, but bear in mind that since I bought these bulbs the technology has advanced considerably. There are bulbs that are now suited to dimming, to fitting base-up, to providing different qualities of light, to spotlights....the range is impressive and can suit most needs. The tornado spiral offers instant light in a daylight tone; the standard looks more like an old incandescent, offers a soft tone and is slightly less efficient than some of the others; the candle and lustre varieties come in lower wattages and are intended for softer room lighting, perhaps in lamps and wall lights; the globe is produced in a wider range of wattages and can be used to light a room if required and is perhaps a more attractive option than the stick as a bulb that might be visible; their spotlight bulb comes as an 8w (32w).


                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                SO JUST HOW EFFICIENT ARE THEY?
                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                A few years ago, when the EU decided that energy inefficient incandescent lights should be phased out, there were plenty of Euro-bashers who took a dim view, and were quick to complain that their rights were being infringed. However it was what they call, I believe, a "no brainer". The arguments for moving over to energy saving bulbs were compelling.

                The spiral and stick type bulbs, tend to be more efficient than the more conventional looking ones, but energy efficient bulbs will typically use between a fifth and a quarter of the electricity of an incandescent bulb. So that's at least a quarter of the cost to the householder. A quarter of the power. A quarter of the CO2 emissions in producing that power.

                Besides, consider all that energy you're saving by not climbing up and down on chairs all the time!

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                COST
                !!!!!!!

                These bulbs are more expensive than their incandescent counterparts. Online you could buy this sort of bulb for £2-3 per unit, maybe less. The current price with Wickes is £2.49, for instance. Prices really do vary a lot so it's worth shopping around. In the past there have been schemes to promote energy saving that involved free bulbs being given out. I received some from British Gas at one point. Councils sometimes make them available for households on low incomes. There seem to be plenty on offer on ebay. Sometimes people find themselves with bulbs of the wrong fitting type and look to get rid of them cheaply. I've seen them on Freecycle too.

                The thing is that even if you have to pay, say, £6.00 per unit, you're easily going to get that back over the life of a bulb. The Energy Saving Trust reckons that you could save at least £3.00 per year per bulb in the cost of electricity. Add to that the cost of buying replacement incandescent bulbs and assume (conservatively) a lifespan of eight years and you are comfortably recouping the outlay.

                You might want to look at more powerful bulbs. Philips' 18w bulb gives 1100 lumens (82 watts) and is selling from Energy Bulbs .co.uk also for £2.49.


                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                CONCERNS
                !!!!!!!!!!!!!

                Some of the early CFLs were slow to light up, but generally speaking they are much quicker now, and it was never a long time, anyway. I can't honestly say that this has ever been an inconvenience, or an annoyance to me.

                Some people didn't like the quality of light when these first came out, but this is something else that seems to have improved, and there is a better range of lamps available to suit different purposes.

                There have been some health and safety concerns in relation to energy saving bulbs. One is about the higher level of UV radiation emitted. As I understand it this is a) very low and b) only likely to be a hazard if you spent a lot of time very near to the bulb.

                Some types of bulbs are reported as being more likely to cause migraines, but this is apparently less likely with this kind of stick bulb, like the Philips model discussed here.

                CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, but this is not regarded as a hazardous level. When your light bulb does eventually give up the ghost, you should be able to dispose of it safely at your local waste disposal and recycling centre.

                And it must be safer not climbing on those chairs.

                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                RECOMMENDATION
                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                It's five stars from me, both for the Philips product specifically and in general for the idea of using low energy bulbs. Apparently LED lights are even more efficient. I might start looking at them, if I ever manage to use up my stock of CFLs!

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                • George Foreman 13586 / BBQ / 103 Readings / 102 Ratings
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                  29.08.2013 09:33
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                  A George Foreman grill that can help you move down the weight divisions.

                  Some of the greatest inventions are the simplest. The knife is simply sharp and pointy. That is the beauty of it. The dining fork has simply three prongs - not four, which would be unwieldy; not two, or all your peas would fall through the gap. And the greatest of all inventions - the wheel - is simply a round thing.

                  So it was that the George Foreman Grill became one of the most wonderful innovations of the late twentieth century. When someone asks, "What's so great about it?" and you answer, "It isn't flat," it might seem a fairly tame reason. In fact, it sounds like a defect. But like the roundness of the wheel, the George Foreman's sloping hotplates are what make all the difference: the fat runs away from grilling meat and collects in a drip tray. Genius! Not only are you being healthier, but you can see just how healthy you are being. You can pick up the drip tray and feel the weight of all that fat that you haven't put into your body. The sense of virtuousness is almost as tasty as the food you have cooked.

                  The other day I was amazed and delighted to see that one of the smallest of the Foreman range, the 13586, is still on the market. It must be about ten years since I bought mine and I have found it terrifically useful. The fact that it is still going strong is a testament to its sound manufacture.

                  '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''
                  FEATURES OF THE 13586
                  '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

                  When I saw this on Amazon recently, I was surprised to see it described as a sandwich maker. It's true that it can perform that function well, and it's good to boast that you've been four rounds with George Foreman (two on the bottom and two on the top as long as it's a small loaf), but first and foremost it is a compact healthy grilling machine.
                  At height 12.7 CM , width 31.7 CM and depth 24.5 CM it won't cook the family meal in one go, but you can cook a couple of burgers, several rashers of bacon, a couple of portions of chicken or a decent steak. You can also cook fish and vegetables.

                  Another cunning design feature of the 13586 is the floating hinges, which mean that the lid adjusts itself to the thickness of the food you are cooking, whether some thin rashers of streaky bacon, or a chunky rump steak.

                  There is a pre-heating light which goes out when the grill is ready and the warm-up time is short. The fact that you are grilling your food on both sides at the same time also means that cooking time is shorter. The food comes out less fatty, evenly cooked and tasty. Two drip trays and a plastic spatula are provided.

                  If you don't want, don't need, or cannot accommodate yet another large appliance in your kitchen, this compact little fellow could be just the job.


                  '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''
                  WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?
                  '''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''

                  Well to be honest, although I am a huge fan of this piece of equipment, my enthusiasm does need to be qualified. It is a very good buy if the price is right and you never want to cook lots at the same time, but some people might feel that it has drawbacks.

                  So, first of all, it is small. Like I say, it will take two chicken breasts or two burgers or the equivalent. That's fine, if that's all you'll want at one go.

                  There's no temperature control, so this isn't something for fine adjustments. I found that fairly quickly I was able to judge how long each type of food needed - and anyway, I only had to lift the lid to look at it. However, this might be a downside for some people. A really good piece of steak, for instance, needs to be cooked quickly, while something tougher might need longer on a lower setting.

                  Unlike other Foreman grills, the 13586 doesn't have removable hotplates, which makes cleaning them trickier. Obviously you cannot immerse the whole unit, so you have to stand it near to the sink, while wiping it down with a damp/wet cloth. It's fiddly, but manageable and I don't find that it puts me off using it. Placing a wet cloth, or kitchen towel between the plates (once they've cooled a little) is one approach to soaking that you might use which can help prevent stuff becoming hardened on. To be honest I usually forget to do that - I'm too busy scoffing.

                  ''''''''''''
                  VALUE
                  ''''''''''''

                  It comes down to value. There's no doubt that this is a very useful and effective machine that really does help you to cook leaner meat quickly and tastily. At £15 ten years ago, I think it was a bargain. Price Lover, online, is offering it currently for £24.98. I'd say that was still a bargain. Amazon's £38.99 is getting a little steep, while Tesco's £47.99 is too much

                  I'm giving it four stars, because at the right price this is a great aid to someone on their own or to a couple, perhaps. It's sturdy, well-made and looks good. Even if it doesn't knock you out, I think it's a winner on points.

                  If this one ever fails me, I'm up for a re-match!

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                    25.08.2013 10:49
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                    An excellent walking pole.

                    I've always enjoyed walking and I'm lucky to live in a part of the world where I don't have to walk very far before I'm out in the country and climbing towards quite splendid views.

                    Climbing hills is painful but the rewards are sumptuous. It isn't just the views, in fact, but the sense of being closer to nature, to something elemental; and of course it's about endeavour, adventure and achievement.

                    For many years I took the kind of dilettante approach that I take to most things. I would be a Mountain Rescuer's worst nightmare. I'd set off in a pair of cord trousers, stout shoes and a tweed jacket, with a cheese sandwich stuffed in one pocket and an apple in another. It's what comes of reading too many boys' adventure stories that had been written in the twenties and thirties.

                    In time, I learned the wisdom of wearing proper hiking boots and clothes, carrying maps and whistles and enough provisions in cases I needed to bivouac halfway up Helvellyn.

                    One thing I didn't do for many years was carry walking poles. I saw it as something that old people did and when I finally bought my first, about ten years ago, I was a little embarrassed to be seen out with it. However, it wasn't long before I'd bought a second to make the pair and I was asking myself why I hadn't done this long ago.

                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                    THE ADVANTAGES OF WALKING POLES
                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                    The advantages of walking poles are pretty obvious if you are actually heading for the North or South Pole, in which context I'd always thought of them: stability, balance and support. What I had never understood was just how much of the strain they take out of your legs, and more especially your back, even when you're walking on the flat along a country road, never mind when you're tackling a steep fell. The load is spread and you can make ground more quickly with less damage to your body.

                    Another advantage is the feeling of security they give, as you have something that gives you grip and balance. This is particularly true when making a descent. I find coming down a hill far more arduous in some respects than going up it. Poles make it not only a lot easier and safer, but also more enjoyable. The expression, "I'm just enjoying the view" no longer has to be a euphemism for, "I'm knackered and I need to get my breath back".

                    If you intend to walk any distance, or across terrain that isn't absolutely flat, you would be well advised to get yourself a pair of walking poles. But which?

                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                    LEKI TRAIL WALKING POLES
                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                    Leki make good poles. Their range includes some quite expensive ones, with the Trail version sitting about mid-range. If you are not thinking of emulating Ranulph Fiennes, but you do want a strong, reliable pole that will last, then this could be the one for you.

                    The shaft is made of aluminium, as lightness is a key feature of a modern pole. It may be less effective in beating off wolves than the old fashioned walking staff, but it's a lot easier to carry if you want to strap it to your rucksack, weighing in at about 273 gms per pole (roughly 10 oz).

                    It comes in three sections with the Leki Super Locking System, which allows the length of the pole to be adjusted with a few light finger twists, yet leaves you very confident that the pole is secure. The sections are graduated so that you can get both the sections and a pair of poles at the correct relative lengths. These will depend upon you and what you are doing. On the level, you should have the poles adjusted so that when gripping the upright pole your arm is forming a right angle. Going uphill, you would shorten your poles; going downhill, you would lengthen them. Collapsed, a pole is 66 cm (just over two feet) and it extends to 145 cm ( just under five feet)

                    The rubber handles are ergonomically designed and have a very good feel. There are safety straps that can easily be adjusted and from which you can quickly gain release.

                    Towards the bottom of the lowest section is a "basket", like the basket on a sword that protects the hand. In this case, however, the purpose of the basket is to prevent the pole sinking too far into soft ground. These can be removed and replaced, either with new baskets, or with bigger ones if, say, you were to be walking across snow and wanted wider distribution of weight - as with a snow shoe.

                    The carbide tips are very strong, as you would imagine, and if you did meet a wolf, perhaps, or a passing yeti, you could give one a pretty serious poke in the eye. Some poles come ready equipped with rubber feet that you can put over the hard tips for when you want to walk on a hard, smooth surface, like a road. The Leki poles do not come with these as standard but you can pick them up online for as little as £2.95 each.

                    !!!!!!!
                    COST
                    !!!!!!!

                    I've seen these for as little as £40.00 for a pair online, but more generally I would expect to see them at about £30 each with a reduction for a pair. Go Outdoors currently have them at £54 for the pair, and I would recommend that you buy as many poles as you have hands.

                    There is a version of the Leki Trail Pole with their anti-shock system, which features springs in each section. They're only a little more expensive, but they are a touch heavier (not much) and don't extend quite so far. I tend to like keeping things simple, knowing that the fewer features there are, the less there is to go wrong, but it might be worth going into a shop and trying them to see for yourself.

                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                    RECOMMENDATION
                    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                    Don't worry that people will think you're up the pole. You'll be the one who's laughing when you're first to the summit and, much more importantly, first in the pub. You're also more likely to be able to get out of bed the next morning (depending on how many you had in the pub, of course).

                    Highly recommended.

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                      21.08.2013 12:49
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                      A Useful Plant Fertilizer That Will Bring Bigger Crops

                      It's August now and this can be a very satisfying time for gardeners, as we begin to see the fruits of our labours. My shallots are already up and drying and each time I pass them I think dreamily of using them in intense, comforting casseroles this winter, and pickled in cold cuts lunches, such as on Boxing Day.

                      My tomatoes might join them at Christmas if I get enough to make chutney, but first I've got to nurture the crop to full ripeness, and that is rarely easy.

                      I don't have a greenhouse, so in one sense it's marvellous that I CAN grow tomatoes outdoors. Back in the day I don't think we had these hardier varieties. It was certainly rare to hear of anyone growing them outside. One of the problems, however, is in regulating the conditions. Last year was dreadful because so much rain fell. When it's drier, not only do they get the sun they need, but you can be more in control of the water supply, the regulation of which is very important when growing tomatoes successfully.

                      One weapon the gardener has that will help to make tomatoes grow more healthily and crop more heavily is a liquid feed, with Doff's version probably being the best value.

                      OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
                      DOFF LIQUID TOMATO FEED
                      OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

                      This is available in 500ml, 1 litre and 2.5 litre containers. I wouldn't expect to spend more than £1.99 for 500ml or £3.00 for a litre. Judge offers of larger quantities accordingly and remember that it's worth looking in places like Poundland and Pound Stretcher for this sort of product.

                      The feed contains a range of nutrients for your tomatoes.
                      There is nitrogen, which helps with leaf growth; phosphorous that promotes strong roots and potassium which helps the flowers and the fruit to grow. The problem with putting so much potassium into the soil is that it inhibits the absorption by the plant of magnesium, which the plant needs to make chlorophyll, which is necessary for efficient photosynthesis. That's why a tomato feed like this that is high in potassium will also contain magnesium and also, as in this case, seaweed extract, which helps to stimulate chlorophyll production.

                      OOOOOOOOOO
                      HOW TO USE IT
                      OOOOOOOOOO

                      You don't need to apply tomato feed until the flowers have set on the first truss, in the case of greenhouse grown tomatoes. If growing outside, wait for the second truss to set. Add a capful of the liquid to 7 litres (about 1.5 gallons) of water and pour at the base of the plant. This quantity should feed nine plants inside and twelve outside, so adjust accordingly. Inside you can feed every seven days - outside about every ten days, but later, as further trusses set, you can increase the frequency if desired. You can do this anyway if you want a bigger crop.

                      Remember two things about watering/feeding tomatoes. One is regularity and the other is to feed at the base of the plant. There are two reasons for the latter. One, obviously, is that the water/feed finds its way more quickly to the roots. The second is that splashing on the leaves in strong sunlight can lead to scorching and we want those leaves to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible. The lower leaves will yellow naturally as the tomatoes grow and they should simply be removed. Don't worry about that in the later stages, but if it's happening before your toms have appeared you've got a problem. A further thought on watering is that I always water all my plants when the sun has gone down, both to prevent scorching and to avoid premature evaporation.

                      OOOOOOOOOOOOO
                      BUT DOES IT WORK?
                      OOOOOOOOOOOOO

                      Yes it does. Bear in mind that there could be other factors at play if your tomatoes don't crop well. The addition of these nutrients can only help the process and enhance what you're doing already. Other makes of feed may contain higher levels of magnesium, but my leaves have tended to stay healthy.

                      And a bonus is that tomato feed isn't only good for tomatoes. Use it on your courgettes, aubergines and cucumbers too. You can use it on any of your plants, but bear in mind that it is designed to produce lots of healthy flowers and plump fruit, and therefore is high in potassium. If you want to encourage more green growth, then you would be better using a fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen.

                      Growing tomatoes is great fun, sometimes frustrating, but usually rewarding with an abundance of lovely, flavoursome fruits and, as I said, in times of glut you can always make chutney. Use Doff Liquid Tomato Feed and all being well it won't be GREEN tomato chutney!

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                        19.08.2013 09:52
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                        A very good value cassette tape converter.

                        So I managed to get all my treasured bits of VHS onto DVD and then gaffer-taped the old vids together to make large bricks for my granddaughter to play with. Despite the ridicule I received from my daughters, they have turned out to be very useful. One job done.

                        Now, what about that mountain of audio tapes that I shall never listen to again, but which surely contains little nuggets that I can still embarrass the kids with? I'm thinking of those hairbrush diva moments when they used their pink, plastic karaoke machine to cover something like "Tragedy" (so aptly named) by Steps. But also I'm thinking of the times when I recorded them uttering their earliest gurgles and when they sweetly recorded songs to send to their grandparents. I know, I'm a sentimental old git, aren't I?

                        What I needed was something that would play the old tapes and then allow me to digitize the bits I wanted onto the computer, probably via USB, so that I could then save it all to CD. Well, would you believe it, Aldi came up trumps again with the Envivo Cassette Converter. It was just exactly what I was looking for, but I was a little dubious at first, because the previous Envivo item I had bought had disappointed me somewhat. However, their USB turntable had been good, and this was a job that needed doing; plus the price was too good not to give a go.

                        >>>>>>>>>
                        FEATURES
                        >>>>>>>>>

                        The Envivo Cassette Converter looks exactly like the old walkman style portable cassette player, except there is nowhere to fit a strap of any kind and this has a micro USB port.

                        There are play, stop, forward and rewind buttons, as well as direction changing, so you don't have to take the tape out to listen to the other side, and a play mode selector, offering a loop option. There is no recording facility, but then that's what I'm trying to move away from, so that's alright. Rotary volume control is on the side and there is a headphone socket, for which they supply a set of phones, which are not brilliant, but good for purpose..

                        There is a socket to take a DC 3v mains adaptor, but this isn't supplied. They do supply a couple of AA batteries and a USB cable. One of the things I really like about this sort of USB device is that the connection to the computer powers it as well as transferring data. One less plug and lead to mess with, and a fortune saved in batteries.

                        Also supplied is a mini cd with the software, which is the Audacity program, allowing you to edit the recorded sound and then save it as an MP3, Wav or Ogg file. It comes with an MP3 codec, meaning that you don't have to download any additional files in order to save the recordings as MP3s.

                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                        DIGITIZING YOUR OLD TAPES
                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

                        Using the mini cd provided, install the Audacity software on your computer. It takes about 8mb of memory and is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Mac. Installation is quick and straightforward, with the usual on screen prompts (the manual also helps if needed) and then you are ready to connect your cassette converter to the computer with the USB lead.

                        The cassette converter opens from the side, rather like an old camera, with a sliding latch release mechanism. Put in your tape and find a section that you wish to record, using an earpiece to listen.

                        With the Audacity program open, click on record on screen and press play on the converter (or the other way round - it doesn't matter) and when you have reached the end of the section, stop the recording and the cassette. Don't worry if you have recorded more than you needed, because now you can tidy up your recording on screen. There is a visual representation of the sound on screen, making it much easier to find your edit points and delete any bits you don't want. You can even select sections of the recording and save them as separate files if you wish, so in other words you could do one long, continuous recording and chop it up later. Trust me, it is very simple, with enough features to make it useful and interesting, but not so many that it becomes daunting to the non-techies amongst us. The saved files - you'll probably want to "export" the files in the MP3 format - can then be organised and stored on your computer or archived to CD, memory stick, MP3 player, or whatever you use.

                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                        RECOMMENDATION
                        >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

                        I'm glad I overcame my reservations and didn't allow my other recent experience to stop me getting this. As ever with Envivo products, the build seems rather tacky, but the performance is usually very good for the price and this is the case here. It cost me £12.99 from Aldi and it's the sort of thing they bring back from time to time. Actually, (breaking news) I've just been to my local store and they do have some in at the same price. Other online stores do sell them, but I certainly wouldn't be tempted by CoolShop's £29.99 when I can walk into Aldi and buy one for £17.00 cheaper. They will come up on eBay occasionally and in fact there is one on now at the time of writing.

                        Of course you have to record in real time, but that's unavoidable. The point is that you get to keep those old treasures in a way that you can access more easily and store more safely and economically. The final product seems to lose little if anything in the conversion, so I would happily recommend this.

                        All I need to do now is to think of a use for all those old tapes. Maybe gaffer them together like I did with the videos? The new baby will need a set of building blocks, after all!

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                          15.08.2013 17:32
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                          OK for the bedside

                          The fact that I was the last person in the world to own a DAB radio was not down to being a technophobe. Much as I like to savour the nostalgia for steam radio, magic lanterns and the abacus, I think I've been fairly good at embracing technological change and celebrating the new opportunities it brings. No, it's not that. I'm just mean.

                          DAB radios have seemed rather expensive up to now, and I didn't feel I could justify the expense when I had several, perfectly good analogue radios around the house. However, when shopping in Aldi one time I noticed that the Envivo DAB/FM radio was selling for £16.99 and having been quite pleased with the Envivo range of products in the past I thought this was a well-priced opportunity to find out what DAB had to offer.

                          <<<<<<<<<
                          FEATURES
                          <<<<<<<<<

                          The Envivo DAB/FM Portable Radio comes in black and white and at 180 x 78 x 41.5 mm is slim and sleek to look at, but the plastic casing goes with a plastic feel, so that you know you're handling a low-end product. A cheap feel doesn't always mean a cheap performance, of course. I don't buy a radio to look at it, but to listen to it. With other Envivo products I have found that the performance has been better than the build.

                          It comes with a mains lead and plug, but also takes 4 x AA batteries, which are not supplied. The on/off switch is at the back and there is an extendable, fold-down aerial. On the top, there is an array of buttons for switching between DAB and FM, for pre-setting stations and recalling them, raising and lowering volume, and for moving backwards and forwards between stations. There is also a standby button and a headphone socket.


                          A potentially useful feature of this radio is an alarm clock facility, along with a backlit LCD display, making it a possibility for the bedside.

                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<
                          PERFORMANCE
                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<

                          While that lightweight, plastic feel might not be everything, I have found it difficult to get away from; and even setting that aside, I have not been completely happy, I have to say.

                          When I set it up and put it on automatic search it "found" 63 stations, but many of them were unclear and they took some sifting through before I was able to pre-set the ten of them that this radio allows. There were still some that I couldn't find. Recalling them seemed a bit of a nuisance as well. You have to press the pre-set button for a couple of seconds and then press the forward and backward buttons to find the station you want. I have an old car radio that Noah didn't want and I find it easier to find stations on that while I'm driving than I do on this thing.

                          Once you've found a station with a good signal, the sound is clear, but not very loud. This is not a radio for the hard of hearing, unless you're going to use the headphone socket, either for an earpiece or to connect to an amp, but if you have to do the latter, you're largely defeating the object of having a small, portable radio in the first place. I don't find the tone very robust, either. Somehow that "plasticky" feel seems to extend to the sound as well.

                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
                          RECOMMENDATION
                          <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

                          Looking at the market now, I have to say that I made an unwise impulse buy. I'm sure that if I'd looked around a little, then for the same money, or perhaps a little bit more, I could have found something better. I can't honestly say that this is any better than the battered old analogues I've got around the place. In fact, I think it's worse. If this were pink and had big buttons, I might have considered giving my very first DAB radio to my six year old granddaughter.

                          I shall probably end up using this as a radio alarm by the bed. The difficulty there is that the present incumbent is over thirty years old and still going strong. I think I got it with Green Shield stamps!

                          If there are just one or two stations you listen to all the time, you want a clear signal, you don't want to spend much money and you don't have a hearing problem .....this could be for you.

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                          • Screwpull / Kitchenware / 97 Readings / 92 Ratings
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                            08.08.2013 23:35
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                            It's a corker.

                            Up to about eleven years ago I was a complete innocent. I thought I knew a thing or two about the world and how to enjoy its choicest pleasures. Take wine, for instance. I could instantly tell the difference between a red and a white and thought my palate capable of appreciating the finest vintage; provided of course that I could get the cork out of the bottle.

                            Ever tried to impress someone with your knowledge of wine, or simply with the fact that you've bought one that cost more than £4.99? The lights are low, the music is cool, dinner for two is on the table, along with a bottle of plonk that has been carefully selected not to have the name of a supermarket on it. I don't know about you but I always found those moments lost some of their lustre when the wine glass you handed them had pieces of cork floating in it. We've all had those times, I suppose. The cork partly disintegrates, leaving us to dig the thing out with a penknife, or something. And at the best of times it was a young man's game. These days I don't think I could bend myself into the sort of position necessary to hold the bottle between my feet or knees, while I tugged with both hands on the corkscrew. And, thinking about it, that doesn't create a very good impression, anyway.

                            Thank Heavens that someone finally introduced me to the Screwpull. I was an innocent no longer.

                            %%%%%%%%%
                            THE SCREWPULL
                            %%%%%%%%%

                            The screwpull is one of those deceptively simple devices. I have the classic table version. It consists of a long metal screw with a plastic handle, inside a plastic guide that fits around the bottle neck. It looks flimsy. It looks like nothing, but trust me: this is real genius.

                            The explanation of how to work it is even simpler. Position the guide around the bottle neck. Insert the screw over the cork and start turning.

                            "When do I pull?"

                            "You don't pull."

                            "I don't pull?!?"

                            "You don't pull. Just keep turning."

                            And that's all you do. You just keep turning. It's a finger exercise. My old mother could have done this with her arthritic hands. You turn the screw until it is right down into the cork and then when you keep on turning (yes, in the same direction!), the screw is lifted out.

                            I'll be honest. I still don't understand how it works. I can't help feeling that Archimedes might have had something to do with it. He was a clever bloke, that Archimedes, although doubtless Mrs Archimedes had something to do with it too. Very clever. Actually, it was a man called Herbert Allen who invented it in 1979. He was an oilman, so I suppose he knew a thing or two about drilling.

                            The company that makes them is Le Creuset and they offer a five year guarantee, which is very nice of them. There's not a lot that can go wrong, to be honest, although I did manage to break my friend's the first time I was introduced to it. She foolishly asked me to open another bottle and i snapped the guide because I was gripping it too tightly and trying to exert force where none was needed! I bought her another and one for myself while I was about it. It continues to do good service and might well see me out.

                            %%%
                            Cost
                            %%%

                            The classic Screwpull table version by Le Creuset currently retails for about £20.00. To me this would normally sound like a lot of money for a bottle opener. Well, in fact, it DOES seem like a lot of money, but to be fair my Screwpull has paid me back many times over.

                            And now, with Nat King Cole on the gramophone, I can effortlessly slide the cork from the neck of a bottle of Don Cortez and impress beautiful women by the bucketful.


                            All I need is a bucketful of beautiful women.

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                            • Roberts R9994 / Portable Radio / 92 Readings / 89 Ratings
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                              06.08.2013 09:04
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                              A great pocket radio.

                              I've never completely got over the romance of radio. Whether it was the experience of gathering around the old wireless with its glowing valves, or listening to the far flung world through the ear piece of an old crystal set, I'm not sure. But for me it is still encapsulated in those magical moments in the early hours of the morning, hearing the cultured, if slightly crackly tones of Jonathan Agnew and the Test Match Special Team describing the fall of a wicket in some foreign field.

                              Whatever sport it is, I want to know what's going on, wherever I am and whatever time of day. That's why my Roberts Sports Radio has been a great friend and travelling companion over the years. For quite a long time I've been using their R984 and now the R9994 is available, styled on similar lines, but with a built-in speaker.

                              >) >) >) THE ROBERTS R9994 (< (< (<

                              At 105 mm x 70 mm x 30 mm with 90g of weight, the R9994 is chunkier than the R984, but of course it has to accommodate the speaker. The FM, LW.MW bands on this smart black and white radio are clearly marked through a window on the front and the station tuning selector is a rotary action control situated on the top corner. Also on top is the on/off button and a socket for headphones, or an extension speaker, should you want one. The volume control is also a rotary action on the side.

                              There are two band selectors. One lets you choose between FM, LW and MW, while the other allows you to make the selection between FM stereo and FM mono. Stereo and tuning indicator lights help to let you know that you're where you want to be.

                              For a small, personal, pocket radio the build of this is impressive. You feel confident that the controls are sturdy and accurate. It comes with a belt clip, but you can still slip it into a top pocket, which I like to do when I'm using the earpiece particularly.

                              Having the built in speaker is a real bonus now. During the five days of a test match, I have only one ear available to the rest of the world. The other is occupied by an earpiece. However, there are circumstances where I simply have to remove it, such as when I'm in the shower, or bath. Obviously I can't take a mains radio in there with me, but I can leave my Roberts on the side on speaker. There are even occasions when I'm in the company of someone who would like to share the thrills of a Vic Marks analysis. Simple. I just go to speaker.

                              >) >) >) SOUND QUALITY (< (< (<

                              A small, analogue radio is never going to give you fabulous sound, but of its type I'd say it was very good. I've only given it a rating of four for sound, but that's simply because it is what it is. You can't expect the kind of sound you'd get from two good quality speakers. It picks up a good clear signal on Radio 4 LW and on R5 MW, and indeed on many other stations. Although this is promoted as a sports radio, there's nothing wrong with it for general listening, of course. Through the headphones I can get a very full sound and through the speaker, which of course is the unique feature of this model, I feel I am getting a sound to compete with the other small radios that I have about the house. Roberts have done a good job with this.

                              Now, thanks to the built in speaker, not only can I listen to the test match on my travels, or out in the garden, I can annoy the rest of the world with it as well.

                              >) >) >) POWER CONSUMPTION (< (< (<

                              The radio takes two AAA batteries which last a long time when the radio is used with headphones. I assume that consumption is higher when the speaker is in use, but I haven't yet been able to gauge this more accurately for myself.

                              >) >) >) COST (< (< (<

                              The RRP is £35.00 but these are fairly widely available online at around £31.00. A DAB personal radio of the same standard would cost you more than twice that, and from what I've heard, the reception isn't always so good on those. If the stations you want are on FM/LW and MW, why pay more? The belt clip and an earpiece are included, by the way.

                              In this world of satellite television and video phone apps, it could be easy to overlook the excellent sports coverage that is still to be found on radio. Not everything needs to be seen to be enjoyed. Like a good novel, the skilful use of language by the commentators can stimulate your imagination and the experience becomes richer because of it. The Roberts R9994 helps me access such experiences.

                              This is a radio that suits my needs well. I push its buttons. It pushes mine.

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                                05.08.2013 10:18
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                                Great value play equipment for the garden.

                                I bought the Chad Valley Apple Sand and Water Pit about five years ago when my granddaughter was just one and she has made some very good use of it, although last year was a bit of a wash-out for outdoor play. On a fine day, my little back garden can become the seaside without the seagulls. My granddaughter can paddle and build sandcastles to her heart's content, but Grandad doesn't have to get sand in his socks, or have to walk half a mile for a cup of tea. I don't get pestered for candyfloss and ice creams incessantly and if I want to roll my trousers up and wear a knotted hanky on my head, I jolly well can!

                                !!!!!!!!!
                                The Pit
                                !!!!!!!!!

                                The pit is shaped like an apple, not surprisingly, and in two pieces, so that one fits on top of the other, acting as a lid. Fitted together, they do look rather like a squidged apple, only blue. Doubtless they make them blue so that pets, children and stupid grown-ups don't actually think they ARE apples and try to eat them. I figure it works on the same principle as slug pellets.

                                The idea is that one half can hold the sand and the toys (we have buckets and spades, little rakes, watering cans etc etc) and the other, top, half can be filled with water when required. On the other hand, you could fill one half, or both halves, with those little play balls.

                                This 111 litre pit ( (H)107, (W)92, (D)21cm). is made of a very tough polypropylene. Mine has weathered well, not only in terms of being knocked about, but also colour-wise. My garden gets a lot of sun, but there has been no fading.

                                Obviously the bottom half gets quite heavy with the sand, especially when it gets wet, as is inevitable, but the empty half is quite light and manoeuvrable.

                                !!!!!!!!
                                Safety
                                !!!!!!!!

                                Obviously, this is the kind of toy that requires supervision if you are going to use water to any depth. Don't forget that even a small amount of water could be dangerous to a young child.

                                The edges are smooth, so easy to handle and safe for little ones.

                                When we've finished with the play pit, I always empty out the water, partly because I worry about the various dangers of having pools of water around, but also because I don't want to forget to cover up the sand, which could get dirty and/or infested. As we normally only use it in hot weather, I find it handy to use the water for my plants. I'd be watering anyway and it feels like I'm not wasting water; it's also better than having a sudden, random flood.

                                Although the top and bottom fit together quite well they're certainly not secure against the wind, so I keep something else on top to weight it down (Evie has a plastic rocker which does the job usually). The danger here is not so much that the top would blow away completely (unlikely) but more that it would blow off and damage plants.

                                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                                Cost and Value
                                !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                When I bought mine from Argos it was about £17.00, which I regard as excellent value. It is still in A1 condition and I fully expect that my next grandchild (expected January next year) will get just as much fun from it as Evie has. Highly recommended.

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                                  03.08.2013 12:57
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                                  Footcare that's a piece of cake - without the cake

                                  I don't know if it's simply age, or the fact that I spend a lot of time on my feet. It's the golf that's the problem, probably. If I could get that little ball in that little hole a lot faster, my feet would have to do less work, I suppose.

                                  Anyway, those big things on the end of my legs have been hurting and for a long time I thought something was getting in my shoes - such as a piece of grit from the paths on the course. That was until I went to see the podiatrist, with whom I have a regular check up because of my diabetes. I said:

                                  "I think I'm getting something in my shoes, Mrs Podiatrist."

                                  She said, "You are indeed, Mr Biskey." (Names have been changed to protect the innocent). "The things that are getting in your shoes," she continued, "are your feet."

                                  I was astounded. I was almost knocked off said feet. "Cor blimey, Gov!" I said.

                                  Apparently my feet had been manufacturing their own pieces of "grit" in the form of calluses. - hard patches of skin that the foot develops as a defence against hard wear and friction. Unfortunately, these calluses themselves can become painful, as they dig back into the foot when you walk on them. The scales fell from my eyes, if not from my feet. I could see it all now. All I needed was a solution.

                                  ***************************************
                                  BOOTS HARD SKIN, CORN AND CALLUS REMOVER
                                  ***************************************

                                  It's a bit of a catch 22. When you're a diabetic, you have to be extra careful to look after your feet, but a lot of the treatments for these problems are unsuitable. In the case of callus removal pads, for instance, which use salicylic acid, there is a higher likelihood of developing an infection. What I CAN use - and actually it's the cheapest, simplest, easiest and best solution - is a file. It's a bit like the kind of file they smuggle into prisons inside a cake, which sounds appealing, but no good to me, of course, as I'm diabetic. Fortunately Boots sold their Hard Skin, Corn And Callus Remover - without the cake.

                                  *************************
                                  USING THE CALLUS REMOVER
                                  *************************

                                  Actually, it's more like a rasp. It has a plastic handle which is "specially contoured" so that it is relatively easy to reach to do the job. The face is a metal rasp which you draw across the patch of hard skin (gently) until you're left with a patch of soft skin and a powdery deposit (so do it over some paper, or outside in the garden). I soak my feet for a while first, as that's good for them anyway, but dry them off before I use the file. Afterwards, I moisturize to help to keep the skin soft and supple.

                                  It doesn't hurt and it doesn't take long to make a difference to the way your feet feel.

                                  The dead skin can be washed from the file, which should be dried thoroughly afterwards.

                                  Boots do offer the caution that diabetics should consult their doctor before using the product, but really this is about the safest way you could treat your calluses.


                                  ****
                                  COST
                                  ****

                                  The Boots Hard Skin, Corn And Callus Remover sells for £4.49, while other makes are available cheaper online.

                                  I'm giving this four stars because it does its job perfectly well, but I cannot see why a price of £4.49 is justified, when clearly almost identical items can be produced and sold for less. The only justification is that there are suckers like me who will thoughtlessly pay.

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