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This is a National Trust property, and depending which option you choose on your SatNav it's either just a bit further on from Stokesley and quite a nice drive, or it's miles away and out in the middle of nowhere! I know this because I chose 'fastest route' on the way there (one hour 10 minutes) and much of it on winding uphill roads, stuck behind a van with all the engine power of your average milk float. On the way back I opted for shortest route (one hour 20 minutes), virtually the same distance in miles, but driving through nice villages.
According to the brochure I was given, it was created between 1749 and 1757 by Thomas Duncombe II. It's a fairly small site consisting of two temples of classical Georgian design, and a nice little walkway. Sadly, I visited at lunchtime and the temples themselves were closed, but apparently one (or maybe both?) feature ceiling paintings with mythological scenes.
There is free parking, and you have to travel about a mile or so along a very narrow path to get up there. Some people are fitter than me, and they chose to walk - I'm not daft, I stuck to the car! Anyway, free parking at the top, which is great.
At the entrance, there is a little shop where you pay to get in, and also you can buy some goodies. They have some lovely little souvenirs, including wooden ornaments, and books, and other things like tea towels. I was really quite tempted by the sweets and jams, but in the end I decided not to bother as I felt they were very over-priced.
The lady on duty was lovely, and she chatted to me as I browsed, made me feel really welcome, and gave me lots of information about becoming a member of the National Trust. This kind of place is obviously much more popular than I had ever considered, and while she was giving me this little talk, two or three other visitors arrived, and they all chimed in to tell me how wonderful it was to be a member of the National Trust (if I hadn't known better, I'd have thought they were on commission!!).
I was told the walk around the site is approximately one mile, and taking a steady wander (with a few stops along the way to admire the scenery), it took me just a little over an hour. I started with a quiet wander through an absolutely gorgeous wood, which was filled with trees and bluebells. It had the most amazing magical feel to it. I could have stayed there for hours! Then you come out into the open and there is a large grassed area (I think this is the 'terrace' from the place name) with a temple at each end. Personally I was more interested in the wood and the fantastic views than the architecture, but I accept for some people this would be a great attraction. There are a number of park benches dotted around for people to sit and just soak in the atmosphere.
As you walk along the grassed area from one temple to the other, there is a fantastic view overlooking Rievaulx Abbey. Sadly, this is not part of the National Trust, so you would have to pay separately if you wanted to visit there, too. This amazing view was something I could happily have sat and gazed at for hours. The whole place had a really relaxing, and almost other-worldly feel, and was very calming.
There was one thing I really didn't like, though, and that was the way the grassed area just fell away sharply at one side. It was an almost sheer drop and was not fenced off. I thought this was extremely dangerous, and would have said this made the place unsuitable for families with young children (although I did see a family with young children having a picnic in the woods, so perhaps I am just too much of a worrier?).
I was very pleased to note the toilets were clean, and they had a disabled toilet, too. All in all, I was very impressed with this place, it's definitely worth a visit if you like this type of thing. Good for scenery. Personally, I felt there was not enough to occupy children, although I'm sure they would adore playing in the woods.
At the time of writing (May 2009) prices are as follows:
£5 per adult
£2.75 per child
01439 798340 (summer)
01439 748283 (winter)
As I understand it, if you become a member of the National Trust, you get into all NT properties for free (well, I mean as part of your membership), so if you plan on visiting a few different places, it may make financial sense to join.
I don't know what this says about me... but I've been subscribing to New Scientist for well over a decade now! I'm not a scientist, nor a student, nor even all that bright, technically speaking! I do rather suffer from a little thing called curiosity, however, and New Scientist is brilliant for people who are cursed with this terrible affliction!
I've been interested in science since I was a child, probably stemming from my interest in science fiction. I used to love Omni magazine (if there is anyone else out there as old and wrinkled as me, you might remember what a wonderful mix of science fact and science fiction Omni was). New Scientist magazine is perhaps not quite as much fun as Omni was, although to be fair, it does have its lighter moments.
I would say the magazine is primarily aimed at university students and graduates already working in science (the magazine does regular jobs features with entire sections devoted to job adverts and special features for graduates). Sometimes I do feel the editorial attitude is a little elitist, which I never felt with Omni. Perhaps it's not fair to compare New Scientist with Omni, as they are clearly aimed at different audiences. Nevertheless, there is much to interest the intelligent layperson, and judging from the letters page, I am not the only non-scientist to read the magazine.
New Scientist is filled with news features with a scientific slant, and articles on whatever is new in science and technology, and much more. Despite what I said about the sometimes elitist attitude, the articles are actually very readable and quite easy for the interested non-scientist to understand. It's always my first port of call when I am looking for truly authoritative and reliable information.
I suppose, in simple terms, I have always viewed New Scientist was a sort of paper version of Tomorrow's World (again, you'll only know what I'm talking about if you are old enough to remember the programme!). Nowadays, I suppose I'd say it's like a printed version of the Discovery Channel! It's so much more interesting than reading about the latest celebrity break-up. The magazine includes lots of short, half page articles, on new developments and news stories. There are also some fascinating articles which run to four or five pages, which give more detail on, say, a scientific study about (again just as an example), the formation of memories, or ageing. There is also a really interesting section called Histories, which tells a story of a historical scientific mystery or discovery. This is one of my favourite sections.
For me, however, the very best sections in New Scientist are the Feedback and Last Word pages - these are right at the very back of the magazine, so I'm afraid I tend to start there and only go to the front after I've read those bits! Feedback is a page of humorous snippets, often sent in by readers, and deals with (for example) advertising blurbs which try to sound authoritative but trip themselves up by using dodgy scientific terms, or ambiguous (and therefore humorous) signs and notices. The Last Word is a brilliant feature where readers send in questions, and other readers try to answer them. I remember a wonderful one about Brocken spectres and my personal favourite, was where people discussed the old wives tale about warm water freezing faster than cold (yes, in some cases, it's true!) The contents of The Last Word columns have been collected together to create a number of books, including Do Polar Bears Get Lonely? and Does Anything Eat Wasps?
The magazine has an online website, which is invaluable for searching the archives of old issues of the magazine. There are so many times I suddenly remember a snippet of information from an article I read a few months ago, but just can't remember the details, so I want to read it again. The search facility is really good, providing I can remember the correct words to use. Most of the time I do find the article I was looking for, although it sometimes takes a while. For example, my daughter was concerned one of her school friends had told her that clicking her knuckles would lead to arthritis. I remembered and article from New Scientist a few months earlier, which disputed this. So I logged on and began to search. Now, this is where I hit problems. I searched for 'knuckles' and 'click' or 'clicking', or 'fingers' and 'clicking' and so on. It took ages, but I eventually found the article and discovered I should have used the word 'cracking' instead of 'clicking'! So, it does work, you just have to have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for. I also tend to get distracted along the way by other, equally interesting, articles brought up by the search.
The entire magazine is now available online and it's the best place to go if you want absolute up to the minute information, since the paper version is only published once a week. They also send out regular emails with lots more interesting articles. Personally I prefer to read New Scientist in its printed form, I find it more comfortable that way (it's not easy to snuggle up in bed with a computer screen!).
This is a weekly magazine, costing £3.15 per issue at present (Spring 2009). However, if you subscribe you can often find a good discount advertised inside the magazine, so you will end up paying just over £20 per quarter.
There seem to be quite a lot of online survey sites around these days. Onepoll is one of the ones that I signed up with last summer, because I had seen it recommended on the Martin Lewis MoneySavingExpert website.
As soon as you register with them, your account is automatically credited with £2.50, and this tends to give you a nice warm feeling and makes you feel inspired to continue with the surveys. Another way to boost your total is by inviting 5 friends. They don't actually have to join Onepoll, which is useful - you just enter 5 email addresses onto the system, and then your friends each get an invitation email. Then you get £1 added to your account regardless of whether your friends sign up or not.
So, inspired by this great start, you will no doubt be religiously logging in every day to look for new surveys. Each survey you complete will earn you a few pence, usually ranging from 5p to 20p, but I would say the vast majority pay 10p each. If you can manage to get a few done every day then the funds steadily mount up (you'll note I didn't say 'quickly'!). They also have some surveys for which there is no payment at all, where you just get added into a prize draw. Needless to say, I've never won a prize, but I keep filling them in anyway. Hope springs eternal, and all that!
You can see immediately if you are eligible to complete the surveys, as they specify only women to answer, or only people in London etc. This is better than some survey sites, where you can find yourself answering pages and pages of questions and then (after about 10 minutes) get told that you are not in the right category and get screened out. That is really frustrating when it happens, so the fact that Onepoll doesn't work in this way is a real plus point.
One of the reasons I signed up to Onepoll was that I had seen reports from other people saying they had made £40 in six months and that seemed pretty good to me, when you consider it just takes a few minutes a day. However, I've been doing these surveys for about 9 - 10 months now and my total is still less than £30. You can't actually get your hands on the cash until your total reaches £40, so I can't comment on the speed of payment. It will obviously take me a while to reach that amount, but my guess is about a year in total. For some people clearly it is a good way to make money, but it's not right for everyone. At first I thought a few minutes a day would be easy, but after a few months I'm afraid I really have lost interest. I now have to push myself to log on every day, and it's such a chore. In fact, sometimes I do forget to log in, but now that I'm almost at the £30 mark I'm determined to continue until I get enough to get paid!
I think a lot of the problem, for me at any rate is that they ask such idiotic questions! They are usually simple enough, but sometimes they can be so frustrating. For example they will ask a question like:
"Are you miserable because of the recession, or are you enjoying life more than ever?"
And then have a tick box for a simple yes/no answer! Clearly you can't answer this yes or no because it's actually two questions and the answers are mutually exclusive!
Also, over recent months I've felt that they have been trying to skew the results by asking more and more loaded questions about whether we are secretly enjoying the recession, and don't we all secretly love having to stay in and eat in front of the telly because we can't afford to go to restaurants anymore, etc. Makes me wonder who they are trying to sell this 'research' to!
I really find the surveys irritating - in addition to the complaints I've just listed, sometimes they even assume your answers. They asked one question about which season you like best. I ticked winter, and then found all the following questions were based on why do you NOT like winter, is it the dark nights, etc. So they pre-supposed that no-one would pick winter as their favourite season.
Also, the spelling skills of the people who compile the surveys is appalling! Often they can't even get the spellings of celebrities names right! It really infuriates me!
This 'review' seems to have developed into more of a rant, doesn't it?! I'm afraid that just mirrors the way my feelings for Onepoll have changed over the months I've been with them. I started off enjoying the surveys and being generally happy. Now I detest them with a passion! I have to say, despite the ease of registering and the ease of completing the surveys, this one really isn't for me. In conclusion, it's an easy enough way to make a few quid... but not in the short term! For some people clearly it is a good way to make money - for me it's far too slow and I find this, and the dreadful spellings just make me angry and I can't wait to reach £40 so I can get my money and stop doing them!!!
I have to admit I loved the first High School Musical film. It was enjoyable, entertaining and uplifting. As one of the cast once said in an interview, it's what we all wish High School was really like.
High School Musical 2 was fun, although for me it wasn't quite as good as the first film. There were a couple of particularly catchy tunes and after watching it a few times, I enjoyed it almost as much as the first. Have to say, it reminded me a little of Summer Holiday.
I don't think you necessarily have to have seen the first two films in order to enjoy the third, but I think it does help, as you can appreciate how the characters have developed and the history between them.
So, next we come to High School Musical 3, greeted with much eager anticipation (in our household, at least). This one was released in the cinemas first - whereas the other two films went straight to television on the Disney Channel. For some reason, we never got round to seeing it while it was at the cinema, so my first viewing was much like the other two, on television at home (albeit on DVD).
The first surprise is that the scene which has been used in all the trailers, where Troy is on the basketball court, and sees Gabriella standing in the crowd, singing her support for him, actually comes at the beginning of the film. I had always assumed it was close to the end of the film, and that the climax of the film would be them winning an important basketball game. I don't know if it was because I had seen the trailer so many times or not, but this part felt really contrived to me. Yes, I know the whole thing is somewhat contrived, but this was more obvious!
The cast is pretty much the same, although they did introduce a new character called Rocketman (if I remember rightly). I never quite saw the point of his character. There were a few points of interest, as he joined Sharpay in a duet, which was quite amusing in places, but otherwise he was a bit of a non-entity. In that basketball game at the start, Troy suggests bringing this character on to help them win the game, but there is no explanation as to why, or in what way he represents any kind of secret weapon. He does score the winning shot, but this was only because he happened to be standing right under the hoop when Troy passed him the ball - there had been no prior hint that his special talent was in being so dull he would be totally ignored by the other team. It just didn't make any sense. There was also the new (token) English character, who speaks with the unbelievably posh accent that all English who emigrate to American films seem to employ. I found this character mildly irritating, but Sharpay gets the last laugh, which was satisfying.
I felt that the time wasted on these new characters could have been better spent on fully developing the lesser characters from the first two films. Characters like the baking basketball player (given so much priority that I can't even remember his name!) or the girl who loves hip hop (who for some unexplained reason is now a cheerleader). I felt these characters were still on the sidelines and I would have liked to know more about them, given that this is apparently the last film in the series. That said, I have heard that maybe there will be a fourth film, which will feature people such as Rocketman, so this was probably a cynical ploy to introduce them early and give some sense of continuity.
Overall, I found this quite a depressing film. Perhaps that says more about me than it does about the film. I found the first two High School Musical films uplifting and cheery. This one, it seemed to me, was somewhat maudlin, and devoted entirely too much time to the characters pondering what they would do when they graduated, which university they would go to, etc. Perhaps as an adult, I'm approaching the films as escapism and perhaps a look back at how I wish my own school life had been... and all this preoccupation with the real world and its worries, just didn't fit with the (expected) uplifting feel. I also have to say I didn't find any of the songs particularly memorable this time, either.
In places it reminded me of the very early musicals. For example, in Singing In The Rain, there is a scene (supposedly from one of the other films the studio was making at the time) which featured Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly. I always found this the most thoroughly boring part of Singing In The Rain, which is otherwise an entertaining and funny film. This scene always seemed a little pointless as it had no bearing whatsoever on the main story and wasn't even a particularly good musical number (ok that's just my opinion). Anyway, High School Musical 3 featured at least two songs in this sort of vein. Utterly pointless and with little bearing on the story. I was also disappointed at the very brief section showing the High School Prom. From the trailers, I had been led to believe that the Prom was an important event in both the movie and the characters' lives, but it was glossed over with a single song, that wasn't even entirely devoted to the Prom.
Overall, as you can probably tell, I was not impressed and this film left me feeling flat. My 10 year old daughter seemed to enjoy it and she is happy enough to watch it again, so don't let my opinion put you off! It was one of those things I had to see, having enjoyed the first two, but frankly, I don't think I'll bother watching it again.
This review is for the online arm of the Build A Bear workshop. Just to give a bit of background, however, let me explain about the bricks and mortar shops first. We visited the one at the Metro Centre in Gateshead. It has to be said, this is a brilliant marketing idea, and a great way for the business to earn a LOT of money. In the store they have loads of brand new, incomplete bears, waiting to be stuffed. The prices range from £8 for the cheapest basic bears, up to £18 for the special limited edition ones. When we went a few months ago, the latest limited edition one was a Hannah Montana bear (basically a white bear with a few sparkles in the fur, and an embroidered patch on the foot saying 'Hannah Montana'). Oh, and I mustn't forget, it had a Hannah Montana necklace, too, which the little girl can wear herself, or leave on the bear. I think the special limited edition bear changes every few months, another incentive to spend even more if your child manages to find out there is a new one available!
Anyway, you stand in a queue (for absolutely ages if you are daft enough to go on a busy day, like we were!), and when you get to the front of the queue they will actually stuff the bear for you while you wait. This is done by machine, they have a big box with a clear panel so you can see the stuffing being blown around inside, then it's blown through a tube and into the bear, and a staff member shapes the bear as the stuffing goes in, and makes sure it gets spread evenly around. There are a couple of really nice touches here - you can insert a heart, either a battery operated one that plays a tune, or a standard little red satin heart, that you pick out of a big box of hearts. My little girl chose her heart and the lady told her to make a wish on it and give it a little kiss, then it was placed inside the bear and she completed the stuffing. She asked my daughter if she wanted the bear to be soft and floppy or hard, so she controlled how much stuffing went in, and also got my daughter to place her foot on a foot pedal which allegedly controlled the stuffing being blown into the bear. I don't know if it actually did control it, but it was certainly a nice idea for the children.
Then there are a few other touches, like choosing the clothing for your bear and registering the 'birth' on the computer, so you get a Birth Certificate.
OK, that's the background. Apologies that some of the above is a repeat of my separate review of the actual bricks and mortar shop - but I feel it's necessary to know the background in order to fully understand what the whole Build A Bear experience is about.
The thing is, I wanted to get another bear as a Christmas present - and I really couldn't face a trip to the Metro Centre in the run up to Christmas, apart from the masses of Christmas shoppers, it's also quite a long way for us and somewhere we only go once or twice a year.
So, I was really pleased to discover that you can order your bear and all the accessories (like clothing) online. I guess it's not quite as good as actually being there and seeing your bear created first hand, but the website does manage a close second. You can choose a bear from the huge collection on the website, then choose the clothing for it. They have the facility when you order to specify which clothes are to be put on the bear when it's delivered, so it comes fully made up and dressed - oh, and they also put in the little heart for you, so it's a genuine Build A Bear creation.
You also get to name the bear when you place the order, and choose a date of birth so you get a Birth Certificate delivered in the box, and you can log who the bear is for etc., and the experience is as close to the bricks and mortar shop as it's possible to get online. I was really impressed with all these little touches.
The only slight downside of online ordering is that I didn't see any option to state if the bear was to be stuffed really fully so that it's hard, or not so full, so it's floppy. The one we bought in the bricks and mortar shop was floppy, but the online one arrived well stuffed and quite hard, though not unpleasantly so - it's just that given the option, we would have preferred it a little bit more floppy.
The prices are the same as they are in the shop, with the added cost of postage, which is quite reasonable actually. When I placed my order, just before Christmas, they were charging £4.50 for delivery, and this was for everything, one bear, one set of clothing (worn by the bear) and a spare set. The bear also comes delivered in one of those special Build A Bear cardboard box house things that you get if you buy in the shop. I notice on the website now (January 2009), UK postage is just £2.95, so maybe they were charging more when I placed my order because of the time of year.
Anyway, they offered me standard delivery for £4.50 which was said to take about a week, or faster delivery for about £7.95. I opted for the standard, and was pleased to find it actually only took about three days anyway, so the bear arrived in plenty of time for Christmas. The delivery was sent by UPS and was tracked, so I knew what day I needed to stay in and wait for the delivery. All in all, I was very impressed with the service, and would recommend it to anyone.
The funny thing was that I also looked on ebay to see what was available there and noticed people were paying more on ebay for the same outfits I was getting direct from Build A Bear. Even with the postage costs, it would have been cheaper to buy from the Build A Bear website, so I can only assume many people just don't know the website exists.
The going rate for postage now is £2.95 for one bear with or without clothing, and £5.95 for two bears, £8.95 for three or more bears, and £3.95 if you only order clothing. I would say it's probably not cost effective to pay £3.95 postage for one set of clothing, but it is pretty good value if you order a bear and some other bits and pieces.
They also offer a gift card where you pay £5 and then get a gift voucher to the value of £10. This is handy because it's my daughter's birthday soon so she will be able to use the gift voucher when we next visit the shop, and it means I've saved a fiver on what she spends!
Also, once you are on the system, you get email updates on all the latest offers. I registered a few months ago when we bought our first bear at the shop. Now I'm getting emails from them at the rate of about one every week or two, so it's not too bad. The only problem is in making sure my daughter doesn't see them or she'd have me ordering ALL the latest offers and I'd have no money left for those little luxuries like food!
The website is www.buildabear.co.uk and is well worth a look.
They also have a customer service telephone number. It took me twenty minutes to get through but at least it's a freephone number, and I did eventually get to speak to a real person. The number is 0800 542 0635.
This is a fairly new idea on me, but it's very popular with my 9 year old daughter and her friends. I admit, it's a great marketing idea, and a great way to earn a LOT of money. You go into the store and they have loads of these brand new, incomplete bears, waiting to be stuffed. The prices range from £8 for the cheapest basic bears, up to £18 for a special Hannah Montana bear (this is basically a white bear with a few sparkles in the fur, and an embroidered patch on the foot saying 'Hannah Montana'). Oh, mustn't forget, it has a Hannah Montana necklace, too, which the little girl can wear herself, or leave it on the bear.
Anyway, you stand in a queue (for absolutely ages if you are daft enough to go on a busy day, like we were!), and when you get to the front of the queue they will actually stuff the bear while you wait. This is done by machine, they have a big box with a clear panel so you can see the stuffing being blown around inside, then it's blown through a tube and into the bear. There are a couple of really nice touches here - you can insert a heart, either a battery operated one that plays a tune, or a standard little red satin heart, that you pick out of a big box of hearts. My little girl chose her heart and the lady told her to make a wish on it and give it a little kiss, then it was placed inside the bear and she completed the stuffing. She asked my daughter if she wanted the bear to be soft and floppy or hard, so she controlled how much stuffing went in, and also got my daughter to place her foot on a foot pedal which allegedly controlled the stuffing being blown into the bear. I don't know if it actually did control it, but it was certainly a nice idea for the children.
Then you have to choose the clothing - apparently that's obligatory! And the outfits cost £10 a throw, so it's not cheap!!! They have loads of different outfits to choose from, some like little police uniforms, or normal doll clothes, or fairy clothes. They even have a few Disney princess dresses and a couple of special Hannah Montana outfits - oh, and there are pyjamas, too! Then there are shoes at £4.50 a pair, sun glasses at about £3 a pair, mini mobile phones at £4.50 a go and so on. Very smart marketing idea, if you ask me! And the kids fall for this hook, line and sinker - my daughter absolutely loves it!
After all that, you go on a special computer and register your bear's name and you get a birth certificate for the bear when you leave! This also gives you access to some sort of online community where I think the kids can play, but I haven't ventured on that yet (we only bought the bear yesterday so haven't had time yet).
They do birthday parties, too. There was one in front of us, with about 6 little girls queuing up to get their bears made, I think that made the queue longer than it would normally have been. Overall, a lovely idea for those with pure and innocent hearts.
For the cynics amongst us, it's a bloomin' good marketing idea - and everything is way over-priced!
The one we visited was at Gateshead Metro Centre... here's the boring bit in case anyone is interested:
8 Russell Way
Tyne & Wear
Tel 0191 460 8441
The staff were all really helpful and friendly - despite being rushed off their feet as it was a really busy Saturday afternoon when we went there. Even when my daughter decided she wanted to change the name of her bear and we went back after half an hour, they were really good and let her register a different name and print off another birth certificate. The ONLY thing I have to say against this is the cost. I think it's a lovely idea and a great treat for children, I just wish it was cheaper.
This is so much more than your basic aquarium, and it's a really fun way to spend a family day out. We first discovered Blue Planet Aquarium last summer and were so impressed we decided to return this year (2008). In the past we've visited other aquariums but they couldn't hold a candle to this one! It's located at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire (actually just around the corner from the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet, which is kind of handy if you fancy a bit of shopping afterwards!). There's loads of free parking outside the aquarium, and a couple of fun things to get the kids in the mood. I'm not sure these are meant to be activities, but kids will be kids! There's an upright water fountain, with water shooting about six feet into the air. I thought it was pretty - the kids thought it was just there to run though and get soaked! There is also a wooden display, I think it's just an enormous log, but they have put eyes on it so it looks like a giant snake. The kids love climbing on this and we had to take photos of them posing on top of it.
The prices are not too bad considering the amount of time you can spend there. It costs £13.95 for an adult ticket or £9.95 for a child ticket. A family ticket is £46.00, and they do offer some concessions. Grandparents taking two children, for example, would pay £42.00 instead of the family price of £46.00, or individual tickets for OAPs or students are £11.95 instead of the standard adult ticket price of £13.95. This year, I had collected some of those vouchers from the Kelloggs cereal packets, so we used them and got four tickets for the price of two, which was brilliant!
As you go through the barrier you are in a sort of large foyer with access to the aquarium trail on the left, or the gift shop and outdoor play area on the right. We started with the aquarium. They have a large wooden carving of some prehistoric shark's jaw, which is just great for getting your photo taken next to! Then you go past that and are into the aquarium proper. As you wander around you will see all manner of fantastic fish, exotic frogs, giant spiders, and even turtles! The highlight of the visit, however, is the manta ray tank where people are actually encouraged to tickle the water to attract the fish and then stroke the backs of the rays as they swim past. My children absolutely loved this and stayed at the tank for ages! I wasn't interested in stroking them myself, but I have to say they were great to watch. They don't just float around, they seem to dance and tease the children as they poke their noses out of the water!
If you can manage to drag your children away from this section of the exhibit, next they will come to a large tank with a massive perspex panel in the side so we can all see the fish inside. There is a seating area in front of this perspex panel and several times a day they give talks here, explaining all about the various fish in the tank. They also send divers into the tank to help illustrate the talk by telling us how they communicate with each other and how they feed the fish. That is truly an amazing sight as the fish swarm around the food, and a massive manta ray floats down like a big floppy hat on one of the divers - exactly the same thing happened last year so I must assume it's a regular feature!
After the talk you move onto the tunnel, where you can see all the fish you have just learned about, swimming above you - and now you can point out some of the characters amongst them, like the giant Lemon Shark they told us about in the display!
There is a large cafe at the end of the aquarium trail. By this time you really do want to sit down and have a rest, but I felt it was somewhat over-priced. They sold chips, pizza, and various meals or muffins etc. I got a tiny paper cup full of chips and it cost £1.50,
After you have gone round the aquarium, there is a little outdoor seating area, with a play area for smaller children. This is a nice place to just relax, and it also just happens to be where the otters are housed. They are absolutely gorgeous. We saw them playing like kittens, rolling on their backs tossing a little pebble in the air! I wouldn't recommend hanging around the otters at feeding time however. We did this last year and it was gross to see them eating mice!
Then, of course, we come to the gift shop. They have lots to choose from here, cuddly toys, little plastic toys, Blue Planet pens, pencils, notebooks, jewellery, etc. They have some nice items for souvenirs but I did feel they were over-priced. In the end all we bought were a couple of fancy pencils (I think around £1 each), a special Blue Planet plastic cup with curly straw (£2.50), and a couple of paper fans (£1 each), one of which had come apart by the next day!
All in all, however, a good day out for the family.
Please don't rely on these times and prices as they may change, but are correct at the time of writing (August 2008).
Opening times - weekdays 10am to 5pm, weekends 10am to 6pm
closed Christmas Day
Tel: 0151357 8804
This is a fantastic day out for the family. We have visited Knowsley Safari Park every summer for the last three or four years, and still enjoy it! Ticket prices are reasonable for the amount of time we spend there, and when compared with similar venues. It costs £12.00 per adult ticket and £9.00 per child ticket, or you can get a family ticket for £37.00, and children under 3 years old are allowed in for free. This year, I had collected some of those vouchers from the Kelloggs cereal packets, so we used them and got four tickets for the price of two, which was brilliant!
When you buy your ticket you can also buy a glossy booklet with pictures of the animals and information about them. You can also buy a CD to play in the car as you drive round. This costs £5.00, and is basically the Safari Park manager talking and explaining about the animals you see on your drive round the park. It's really good, actually, telling (for example) why the two older tigers are in a separate pen on their own and why one of them may seem to have a limp but is ok really.
Once you have bought your tickets and passed through the gate you will come to a parking area, a sort of last chance to stock up on drinks before the Safari proper. There are machines which sell drinks and even hot chips. There is also a kennel where you can leave your (poor) doggie, as dogs are not allowed round the safari trail (you have to get a key for the kennel at the entrance, and the kennel appeared to be unmanned).
Then back into the car to commence your safari! The traffic moves very slowly as everyone stops to admire the animals and take photographs! However, the road is plenty wide enough for two or sometimes three cars, so you can easily overtake if you want to move on to the next attraction a bit faster than the guy in front. There are wardens stationed all over the place so believe me you WILL be reprimanded if you dare open your window an inch to get a better shot in the lion enclosure! There are some gorgeous animals including, lions, tigers, rhinos, buffalo, camels, etc. Also there are quite a few emus (or possibly ostriches?) wandering around, and they are very curious and perfectly prepared to stick their head in your open window to see if you have any food!
You have a choice whether or not to brave the baboon enclosure. Basically you can drive through it or take the safer route alongside it, where you can enjoy, in perfect safety, the sight of all those reckless fools who DID decide to brave it, having their windscreen wipers ripped off! The baboons are not shy, they climb all over the cars, and run out in front of them. I even saw one going under a car - it terrified me that they would get hurt, but I suspect the cars came off worst! This year they had some baby baboons, which were really cute. What I thought was especially nice (in an evil, car-wrecking sort of a way) was the sight of a mother baboon helping her baby to climb up onto someone's car!
Next you come to the picnic area, where you can park and walk over to see the elephants, giraffes, meerkats, otters, etc. This is a nice place to stop for a rest - but my kids are always desperate to move on to the fair ground, so we never stay too long in the picnic area.
The fairground is really good. I would say the rides are mostly suited to younger children. My son is 12 now and only bothered with one ride (although he was on it for about 4 hours!), but I'm not sure he'll be entertained by that next year. My daughter is 9 and I would say she was the perfect age to enjoy most of the rides. Some are suited to much younger children, but at 9 I think there were more rides to interest her. The prices are not too bad either. The rides cost £1.50 each, or you can buy an all-day wristband for the kids, which costs £9.00 and allows them as many rides as they want. This is excellent value. Very often they let one of the parents onto the ride for free to accompany the child. I was allowed two rides on the carousel, even though my 9 year old daughter didn't really need me there (but it IS my favourite ride!!!).
There are plenty of stands selling ice creams and lollies, and there's a cafe selling food and drink (mainly stuff like chips and coke). Can't say I'm all that impressed with the cafe, it was crowded and a little over-priced, but I suppose most cafes are these days. It cost me £1.50 for a cup of tea in a cardboard cup, which wasn't too bad as it was a big cup.
They have extra attractions within Knowsley, too. Quite a few times a day they have special displays - there was a bird of prey display, and (my favourite) the sea lions. Part of me thinks it's exploitation, but I have to admit they are spectacular to watch. You go into this large building with seats arranged up high like in a theatre - and you look down on a pool where the sea lions are shown to you (the difference between seals and sea lions is explained) and then the sea lions show their amazing abilities at balancing balls on their noses and leaping high into the air to punch a football. They really are fantastic to watch.
There is a gorgeous gift shop on site. It's full of really cute and fluffy cuddly toys, also ornaments, money boxes, special souvenir pens and pencils and notebooks. They also have little toys, jewellery, shortbread, etc. etc. etc. They do have some lovely items but they are very expensive for what they are. They have a notice up declaring that all breakages must be paid for, and believe me they hold you to that, even if you ARE just a highly embarrassed child whose parents are buying nearly £100 worth of goods in addition to the little £5 breakage! Personally I think that was churlish and petty, and it would have made for better customer relations if they had just written off the breakage).
There is a block of toilets at the back of the shop. Early in the day they were acceptable but as the day wore on they got worse and worse and were quite disgusting by closing time. It seemed that no-one bothered to check the condition of the toilets throughout the day.
All in all, a pretty good way to spend a family day out. There is certainly plenty to keep the kids occupied and a few things to interest the parents.
Please don't rely on these times and prices as they may change, but are correct at the time of writing (August 2008):-
Summer opening times (1st March - 31st October) open daily at 10am, last entry 4pm
Winter opening times (1st November - 28th February) open daily 10.30am, last entry 3pm, closed xmas day.
Knowsley Safari Park
Tel: 0151 430 9009
Sporting Lodge / Greyhound Hotel
I spent a night at this hotel just a few days ago, so thought I would write a review while it's all fresh in my mind. Firstly, let me explain how this came about - we wanted a couple of days in the Cheshire area to take the kids to a couple of local attractions (Blue Planet Aquarium at Ellesmere Port and Knowsley Safari Park at... er... Knowsley!). We wanted somewhere that was reasonably priced and not too far from Knowsley as we wanted to go there straight after breakfast. I used one of those internet searches to find a cheap hotel, and this one looked pretty good. We usually stay at a Premier Lodge, which costs around £50-£55 per night. The Greyhound Hotel came up at £50 per night, and on paper it looked a better quality hotel so we thought we'd give it a try. The things that made it look better than the Premier Lodge were as follows:
Sky TV in the room
Leisure facility including swimming pool
American sized 'family' room
So, let's look at these plus points one at a time.
Slightly cheaper - Well, as I said the two Premier Lodges I considered were £51 per night and £55 per night respectively, and the £55 one was demanding an additional £5 just to park your car so that one was out of the equation straight away! The Greyhound Hotel was listed as £50 per night. I actually telephoned them with an enquiry prior to booking, and the receptionist mentioned that the usual cost was £69 per night. When I said I had seen it online at £50 per night, she explained that to get the room at that price I would need to book it online - which I intended to do anyway, so no problem there. Breakfasts were priced at £7.95 per head for a full English breakfast, or £4.95 per head for the continental breakfast. When we checked out and they made up our bill I noticed that they had charged £8.95 for the full English breakfast and when I queried it the receptionist guessed immediately which website I had used for booking, and commented that the website was wrong. Obviously something she had encountered before. No problem though, she simply made up another bill so we didn't pay any more than we had anticipated.
Sky TV in the room - well, I was expecting proper Sky TV, as we have at home. Silly me! You actually get about a dozen channels, including the terrestrial. So the Sky channels were Sky News, and a couple of music channels. I'm not sure if there were other Sky channels but when I scrolled through the channels a few of them were too fuzzy to watch, so we just stuck to Sky News and the terrestrial channels.
Leisure facility - well this was really the clincher for us. My children LOVE swimming and I just knew they would love a hotel with a swimming pool. There is also a gym and a steam room. You get use of these facilities included in the standard cost if you have booked one of those American sized family rooms. The only restriction being that the children weren't allowed to use the steam room - which didn't matter at all as it was the swimming pool they were interested in! The swimming pool is open from 7am to 10pm. As we were guests at the hotel this meant access was free and towels were provided.
American sized family room - well, looking at the photos online and perhaps reading too much into the 'American sized' part of the description, I was just slightly disappointed with the size of the room. Yes, it was larger than, say, a Premier Lodge room, but just not quite as big as I had been expecting. The room was large enough to fit a double bed and a double sofa bed quite comfortably. There was a large dressing area with a mirror, a desk, tea and coffee making facilities and a hair dryer. This space was large enough to fit a single bed. They had a sort of coffee table/pouffe thing, which we were impressed to see actually opened out into a little bed. Unfortunately the one in our room was broken so the children had to share the double sofa bed instead. The receptionist said she had not known the single pull-out bed was broken but would report it to Housekeeping. However, she didn't seem over-keen on replacing it for us - I think she was busy as she did comment that this was 'check-in time'!
The room also contained a mini ironing board and an iron.
The bathroom was an odd arrangement, to my mind. There was a bath with an overhead shower, and a toilet, in a small room, but the wash basin and mirror was in an alcove outside the bathroom, in full view of the room. I couldn't lock the bathroom door. There was no toilet roll holder - we just had to leave the toilet roll on the cistern, which was a little awkward to reach.
Now to breakfast. The options are the full English (basically a fry-up consisting of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, beans and sausages) or the continental breakfast (croissants, toast, cereal, yoghurt, fruit). It's all self service, so you can pile up whatever you want onto your plate, and go and get as many second helpings as you choose. They have one of those rotary type toasters where you put a slice of bread in at the top and it comes out at the bottom when it's ready. Personally I kind of like the self service approach as it means you can just help yourself without feeling like you are putting the staff to any trouble. Mind you, it can be a bit difficult if you want toast but there is no butter left, so you have to wait for them to refill the supplies.
The hotel has plenty of free parking outside. I had been a bit concerned about this as the website said that parking was 'available' on site, and having read some other hotel websites where they had stipulated that you had to pay for parking or that there was a limited number of spaces, I was worried about this - but in the event it was fine.
I would say this is primarily a hotel for business people, but that said, it was fine for us as a family of four. We didn't see any other families while we were there, just business people, but we were there for only one night.
My Mum had asked me to check disabled facilities for her, as she is in a wheelchair. The receptionist confirmed to me that the hotel has full disabled access. They have two rooms set aside for disabled guests and there is disabled access to the swimming pool, too.
The branch of Sporting Lodge that we stayed at is:
The Greyhound Hotel
Tel: 01942 671256
The other branches are:
Tel: 01642 578100
Five Lane Ends
Tel: 01274 611111
There is a new Sporting Lodge opening this year (2008) in Humberside.
I love my Freemans catalogue! I've been a customer for many years and have always been happy with the service and the quality of the goods. Freemans is primarily a mail order company, but you can order online direct from their website, even if you've never seen a copy of the catalogue. Personally I prefer to have a paper copy of the catalogue to browse through, while I'm having a cup of tea. I find I can't really enjoy looking at pictures of clothing on a computer screen - it's just not the same! That said, there are some good features on the website, for example you can zoom in on photographs (which obviously you can't do on the paper catalogue), and this can give a much clearer image of fabric types, and any more intricate details like embroidery or sequins. Also, there is a stock check facility on the website, so if you add items to your basket you can then check immediately if they are in stock or if there will be any delay - and in that case they usually give an indication of how many weeks delay there will be.
The clothes offered by Freemans tend to be quite modern and trendy. I'm a middle aged Mum but I still find quite a few nice fashionable items of clothing, though I suspect it's really aimed at a younger market!
They don't just sell clothes, however. They also sell lots of household goods, bedding, furniture, electrical appliances, gifts, toys, computers, computer games... pretty much everything you can think of. It's like a big department store which you can browse through in the comfort of your own home. As I said, I prefer to use the catalogue, but you can browse online, too.
You can place your order online or over the telephone - personally I prefer online because, although the call centre staff are usually very friendly and helpful, they nearly always try to sell me something else when I ring up! They always have some special offer of the day - which I suspect is just something that head office have decreed they need to get rid of.
They deliver your goods right to your door - you get to try them on at home (I'm talking about clothes here, but this applies to most items), decide over a few days whether you like them or not, and then if not, you simply package them up and return them. They do free delivery and free returns. You can arrange a return by telephoning the courier direct (they usually put a sticker on the parcel with their phone number when they deliver it to you), or you can telephone the catalogue call centre to arrange a return. Or you can book a return online, specifying a preferred time, and this is then passed on to the courier - it's a bit limited, you don't even have enough space to write something like 'please avoid the school run', but the couriers usually get to know you pretty quickly and are very accommodating.
If you decide to keep the items you get to spread your payments over a number of weeks, interest free. They will send you a statement roughly every four weeks, and you can then pay in the bank or online, or even over the phone. It's really very easy.
You also get commission on your payments, which means you accrue a few pence for each payment you make and can then offset this against a future invoice, or have it paid direct to you.
They send out sale leaflets quite frequently but to be really up to date you need to check the website for the latest sale items. Freemans is actually the same company and same catalogue as Grattans - I have both as I didn't realise this when I first requested them. The upside is that every now and again there will be sale items in one that don't appear in the other!
Another plus is that once you're on the system you get email newsletters. Normally I find this kind of thing irritating, but I have to admit I appreciate these - they will send one out in the run up to things like Mothers' Day or Fathers' Day, and suggest gift ideas. They're actually really helpful! I remember a couple of years ago I was really struggling to think of something to get for my Mum, and one of their suggestions was a diamond (well, not real diamonds, obviously!) brooch in the shape of a flower. My Mum loves it! She still wears it and tells me people always comment on how nice and sparkly it is.
I guess we all love Amazon, don't we? Let's face it, it is a fantastic site. You can buy just about anything there these days. Personally I stick to things like books, DVDs, CDs, printer ink, etc, but you can get much, much more.
The reason I chose to write this review is that I've just done a little search on Amazon.co.uk for some DVDs and I was so impressed with the site, I wanted to share it. Firstly, each search I entered returned the results almost immediately, literally within a couple of seconds! Each search result was relevant, even though I only used keywords, not the full item title.
When you do a search the items are presented very clearly. Most item descriptions, though not all, include a picture of the item. Then you get a good description with information such as release date, running time (if it's a DVD), cast list, format etc. You are also told if the item is in stock or not. If not, you are given an estimated delivery date. This is particularly helpful if you are buying a gift and need to receive it by a specified date. The description also gives a price to buy the item new from Amazon, or to buy it new or used from one of the Marketplace sellers. These are outside sellers who use Amazon as a platform - and Amazon acts as a middle-man, so you pay Amazon and they pass on the funds, rather than you paying this third party directly.
A particularly good feature on Amazon is the customer reviews. Of course, the official review is useful, but it's designed to sell the product, so may be just a touch biased. Many items have customer reviews as well and these can be particularly revealing. Another good feature is 'search inside this book', which enables you to browse a handful of pages from a book and get a proper feel for whether or not it's the kind of thing you want. Sadly, this isn't available on many items, but I think the list is growing. It seems to be available on a greater number of items on Amazon.com than on Amazon.co.uk, so sometimes I pop over to the .com site to research a product before buying it on .co.uk!
It's very easy to add items to your shopping basket. The only slight downside is that you do have to register with them before you can do this. However, registration is simple - requiring only an email address, a name, and a password. If you then go on to purchase you will need to add more details such as your address for delivery, and your credit card details for payment.
One particularly useful feature is the 'save for later' option. If you add an item to your shopping basket it will remain there for 90 days, so you can go away and think about it, then return and find the items still in your basket, so you don't have to start searching all over again. Many times, I will add a number of items to my shopping basket, then decide I can't afford them all, so I will click the 'save for later' button on some of them. They are then moved to another list, on the same screen as the shopping basket, but lower down the page. Items can remain here for ages, and I use it as a sort of reminder of things I want to treat myself to when my birthday or Christmas comes around. Items stay in this 'saved for later' list for much longer than they stay active in the shopping basket. The shopping basket limit, as I said, is 90 days - but I have items in my 'saved for later' list which date back to June 2007, which is over 12 months ago.
Next we come to customer service. I had reason to ring Amazon with a query just this morning. There are two options to contact them by phone. The first is to ring an 0800 number given in their help section, which will take you to an automated customer service system. The second is to click on their 'Call Me' link. If you are a registered customer they will then place a call immediately (or later if you specify a later time) to the telephone number you have registered with them. When they ring, you are initially greeted with a recorded message giving options for you to choose depending on the nature of your query. Then you actually get to speak to a real live person. I was on hold for just one minute before being connected with a real person - and in this day and age of call centres and being on hold for ages, I think one minute is pretty good service.
I have also had reason to email Amazon with queries in the past. Generally they respond very quickly, within about 24 hours. However, I was astounded that they responded to my last email query within fifteen minutes! And it was a relevant response, too, which answered my question in full.
Amazon is a fantastic online retailer in my opinion. Their prices, on the whole, are very competitive, and there is an excellent range of products available, both directly from Amazon and from Marketplace sellers.
One negative I have to mention is in connection with the order status. Way back in the old days, you could look at your order, which may have included five items, for example. If one of those items was out of stock, it would say clearly which were in stock and which weren't. That way, if you chose not to wait, you could simply delete the out of stock item and the rest of your order would then be shipped out pretty much straight away. A couple of years ago they changed the computer system and now I find it's impossible to know which item is responsible for the delay in my order. Sometimes I have added an 'in stock' item to my shopping basket, or one which says despatched within 3 days (for example) only to find this changes once it's in the basket. The only way I have been able to find out which particular item is holding up my order was to actually ring them up. I feel this change was a step backwards in customer service, but nevertheless, Amazon still provides and excellent service overall.
OK, another little niggle... if you opt for the el cheapo supersaver delivery (which I always do, being a skinflint!), things usually take about a week to arrive - sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. Personally, if an item is in stock I don't see why they can't ship it out the next day. I bought some DVDs from Amazon just last week and they were shipped from Amazon's Jersey connection (Indigo Starfish), and despite the order saying they would take a week, they actually arrived within about two days. Sadly, if the item is coming from Amazon itself, it tends not to be that quick, and I don't see any reason why not. Maybe I expect too much!
I first saw Aveda on the television shopping channel QVC, and I was attracted to the range, not just because it sounded wonderful (doesn't everything on QVC?), but because it was described as being cruelty-free. It's a lot easier these days to find products that are not tested on animals and contain no animal ingredients, than it was when I first started looking out for that sort of thing - back in the early 1980s. However, it's still not as easy as I think it should be, so my ears always prick up if I hear of a new product that is cruelty-free.
I have to admit money is always a little tight in our household and I couldn't justify spending the kind of money QVC were asking, so I didn't buy any, but started actively looking out for Aveda products.
Then I was recommended to try a local hair-dressing salon, which uses Aveda products. So I did, and they are now my regular hair-dressers! Not only do they use Aveda products in the salon, but they sell them, too.
Again, I couldn't afford to buy everything I would have wanted to. I restricted myself to just a couple of items, one of which was the Confixor - because it worked so well on my hair when the hair-dresser used it.
Admittedly, it's not quite as good when I do my hair myself - but that's me - it's never as nice when I do it myself! It is, nevertheless, an excellent product. It's very liquidy and light, you squirt a little blob onto your hand, about the size of a 10p piece, rub it onto both hands, and then apply to wet hair. This makes the hair hold its style better than it would without. It has a nice consistency on the hair, it's not heavy or greasy, but very natural-feeling.
They (the salon who sold it to me) say it lasts ages because you only use a small amount. Maybe I over-use it but I tend to prefer to use the 10p sized blob to do one side of my hair, then the same amount again for the other side, so it doesn't last as long for me as perhaps it should. Because of this, and the cost, I tend to save it for special occasions - and rely on supermarket own brand mousses most of the time. I don't like the mousse very much but it kind of does the job, and I feel it's not worth wasting the good stuff just for pottering around the house and picking the kids up from school (I guess I have self-esteem issues!!!). Anyway, after a few months of using the own brand mousse I can really feel the difference when I go back to the Aveda stuff - it is such a superior product. It just feels really nice on my hair, and makes me feel more like I am making the effort. It has a really nice smell, too. I'm not sure how I would describe the smell, it's certainly not flowery or fruity - not a smell I can liken to anything other than Aveda Confixor - but it is a pleasant smell.
It costs £12.50 for a 250ml bottle, and that does last quite a long time, even if you use loads of it, like I do!
Now for the science bit... It's described as a Liquid Gel, and the bottle says it 'adds medium hold and definition while fortifying fine to medium hair'.
Ingredients: Aqueous (Water/Aqua/Eau) Extracts/Extraits Aqueux: Quercus Alba (White Oak) Bark Extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed Seed Extract), Smilax Aristolochiaefolia Root, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Leaf Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Echinacea Purpurea (Coneflower) Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Alcohol Denat, Polyquaternium-1, PPG-1-PEG-9 Lauryl Glycol Ether, Glycerin, PEG-12, Dimethicone Polyquaternium-10, Hydrolyzed Brazin Nut Protein, Fragrance (Parfum), Citral, Geraniol, Linalool, Farnesol, Benzyl, Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Citroneliol, Limonene, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Lactamidopropyl Trimonium Chloride, Methyl Gluceth-10, Citric Acid, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopherol, Maltodextrin, Diazolidinyl Urea.
You can get more info on Aveda products at their website www.aveda.co.uk, and at the moment they are doing an offer for 2 free samples with every order.
I notice on the website the Confixor is only £12 per bottle, slightly less than my local salon, but of course you then have to pay delivery of £4.95.
My kids love these! To be perfectly honest, they don't appeal to me in the slightest - they're expensive at over £2 per 350g box, they're loaded with chocolate, and they turn the milk very chocolatey very quickly. Anyone who has read my other reviews will know I commented about Coco Pops Moons and Stars turning the milk chocolatey, but really Moons and Stars only turn it slightly chocolatey, and then it's really just at the end. Coco Rocks turn it really chocolatey pretty much from the outset.
However, I don't buy them for me, I buy them for the kids, and the milk turning chocolatey is one of the things they actually like about this cereal!
The cereal is primarily made up of small chocolate multigrain 'rock formations' with a handful of rugby ball shaped chocolate shapes which have a soft chocolate coated centre. There are always fewer of these rugby ball shaped pieces than the others, and it's always a source of tension when we get to the bottom of the packet and the kids are arguing about who got the most! I think they'd probably be happy if the entire cereal was just made up of the rugby ball shaped pieces.
According to the box, a 350g pack should provide 11 x 30g servings. Maybe we use bigger bowls than they do, I'm sure we don't get 11 servings out of a packet! Mind you, my kids go through at least two bowls a day, one for breakfast, then they usually like another after school while waiting for their tea - and sometimes they'll sneak another bowl for supper! I console myself with the thought that, even though it's loaded with chocolate, at least it has vitamins, and at least it's encouraging them to drink milk!
Oh, and importantly, it's suitable for vegetarians!
I was never aware of the box office release of this film - I just happened by it on one of the cable channels just a few months ago. It obviously wasn't hyped particularly well when it was released, but I think with the right publicity it could have been BIG!
In the opening scene there's a man with a blow up doll. This worried me a little, and I thought perhaps the tone of the film wasn't going to be quite my cup of tea! However, I needn't have worried. The man is Seann William Scott (Bulletproof Monk and Dukes of Hazzard), and he is practicing for his Fire Fighter's exam, so he throws the doll into a little shed in the middle of nowhere, sets fire to it, then proceeds to rescue her! Out of the corner of his eye he sees a meteor hurtling towards him.
He escapes, but being the first witness, he is on the scene when David Duchovny (X Files) and Orlando Jones (Bedazzled) get involved. They are teachers at the local college, although it transpires Duchovny's character has a history in the military and is trying to regain some credibility. I won't give away too many plot details here because the reason he needs to regain credibility in the first place is actually really funny.
Basically, they find primitive life at the meteor site and take a sample. Back in the lab. they discover this life form is evolving at an alarming rate. When they return to the meteor site it has been closed off and taken over by the military - the same military whom Duchovny used to work with/for.
Again, I don't want to give away too many plot details as I really think that will spoil it. It's probably not giving too much away to say that the military, of course, have completely the wrong ideas about how to deal with the evolving life forms, and refuse to listen to the pleas of our heroes (the only ones who have any clue how to deal with the menace).
Our three heroes team up to follow a large pterodactyl-like alien to the local shopping mall. This is, for me, the funniest scene in the whole film. Seann William Scott sees a microphone in the mall and decides to try to attract the alien by making 'ka-kaw, ka-kaw' sounds into the mike. When this fails, he starts to sing. It probably doesn't sound that amusing seen in black and white here, but it really is funny.
Our heroes then team up with Julianne Moore, who had been working with the military but finally came to see sense, and they, together with a few college students set out to win the day - before the military destroy the world!
This review is deliberately vague in relation to the plot as I really believe that having the whole plot laid out in front of you will simply detract from the movie. The overall feel of this, for me, was that it's very like Ghostbusters - there are three heroes battling against the authorities, who want to do the one thing that will make things worse. The irony is that in this movie the Governor who needs to be convinced is actually Dan Ayckroyd, of Ghostbusters fame! It wasn't until after I'd watched the movie that I discovered it is an Ivan Reitman film - a familiar name from Ghostbusters!
There are places, I suppose, where the film could have been better. Perhaps they didn't have the budget of Ghostbusters. It wouldn't have taken much, just a little fine-tuning here and there. Overall, though, I think it's a really funny film, and now it's one of my favourites. I've since seen Seann William Scott in a couple of other movies - he had been completely under my personal radar until I saw Evolution, but now I think he's pretty funny.
The film is rated PG. The running time is 98 minutes. The DVD comes with extra features - Making of Featurette, Production Notes, Filmographies and Trailers.
According to the leaflet inside my DVD case, the script was originally written as a dramatic science fiction thriller, but Ivan Reitman worked with the screenwriters to transform Evolution into a science fiction comedy.
You can pick up a copy from Play.com for £3.99 including delivery, or alternatively you can get one from Amazon marketplace sellers starting from 95p (plus p&p). This one gets my personal recommendation - I really only watched it for David Duchovny (because I'm an X Files fan), but I'm so glad I did - it's brilliant!
Made by Kellogg's, 'Moons and Stars' is a fairly new addition to the range of breakfast cereals and comes under the Coco Pops banner. They've only been available for a few months, and of course, anything new, my kids have to try!
These are chocolate flavoured shapes, with a hint of hazelnut, in the shape of... wait for it... moons and stars! It's a nice idea for the kids, but I do feel these new cereals are somewhat overpriced. It costs just over £2 for a 350g packet, and that doesn't last too long in our house. According to the packet you get appoximately 11 x 30g servings in a box. Well, my daughter usually has at least two bowls a day, one for breakfast, and another when she gets in from school, and sometimes sneaks another in for supper. She is obsessed with cereal, and this is her favourite at the moment.
To be perfectly honest, I don't personally think they taste all that different to any number of other chocolate flavoured cereals, like Coco Pops, for example. They do have that hint of hazelnut which makes them a bit different, I suppose, but not a lot different. They turn the milk nice and chocolatey, which is a bonus if you like that sort of thing.
For those of you who are interested, here is a list of ingredients:
Cereal Flours (Wheat (32%), Rice (19%), Oat (7%)), Sugar, Chocolate (7%) (Sugar, Cocoa Mass), Cocoa Powder, Glucose Syrup, Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Flavourings, Niacin, Iron, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (B2), Thiamin (B1), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12.
In a typical 30g serving you get:
of which sugars 17g
of which saturates 2g
Thiamin (B1) 0.4mg (29% rda)
Riboflavin (B2) 0.7mg (44% RDA)
Niacin 4.7mg (26% rda)
Vitamin B6 0.6mg (29% rda
Folic Acid 58ug (29% rda)
Vitamin B12 0.77 ug (77% rda)
Calcium 288mg (36% rda)
Iron 2.4mg (17% rda)