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    • Nikon Coolpix P100 / Digital Camera / 40 Readings / 36 Ratings
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      24.06.2011 11:22
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      A Lovely camera with good features for its price.

      **Quick background

      I have been an enthusiastic but frustrated convert to the digital photography age. The flexibility of a digital snap has sometimes been weighed down by slow reactive speed and cameras so light and small that accuracy is a problem. The Nikon Coolpix P100 has a good try at overcoming these difficulties:

      **Weight and Comfort

      At 481g this camera might be seen as too heavy for the casual backpacker snapper, but for me the weight renders it solid in the hand and gives me greater balance when lining up my shot. Some of the very light cameras currently available are perfectly efficient and it is probably a personal quirk that makes me prefer the more sturdy, but I definitely get a safer set up and feel more secure with the slightly extra weight.
      The Coolpix P100 has a rubberised hand grip which is another plus in terms of stability and stillness whilst shooting. Its moulded hand grip is a great feature as it allows a firm grip without risk of fingers in front of lens or light filter! The moulding may, though, be a problem for the left-handed user and would need to be taken into consideration in case this affected balance.

      I very personal view of mine is that this camera looks like a camera! Not a popular view in the age of small is beautiful, but I feel more secure with this "proper" looking model.

      **Size

      At 11 x 10 x 8 cms this is a sturdy camera. Not one to pop in your bag as a just-in-case, but solid enough to be a serious instrument. the inclusion of its own integral battery rather than the fujji standard batteries has kept the weight down compared with other cameras of equivalent lens quality, but it is still stockier than many in this range. As I indicated, this is a plus for me but maybe a consideration if you are after an "anytime" camera.

      **Flash

      The flash is a popup and needs to be activated manually. This is useful for the experienced photographer but maybe a hindrance for the beginner or those who want such decisions taken out of their hands. The flash's auto and red eye reduction, slow sync etc are easily navigated the user manual has a good explanation of these functions.

      **Battery

      No need for packets and packets of AA batteries - the P100 uses a Li-ion battery and can be recharged as desired. The downside of this unit, though is that the battery is re-charged through the mains or computer whilst still in the camera. What is really needed is the facilitty to purchase a second battery so that the spare can be ready charged. There is, to be fair, adequate warning of a low battery and so planning is not always on the hoof. There are about 200 full shots on the battery life and once you've worked this out you have more chance of being one step ahead, but there is nothing worse than lining up a shot and missing it through low battery!

      **Shot Quality

      At 10 megapixels and massive 26 optical zoom this is a quality picture. A step up from your standard point and click this makes for a good half way stop on the way to a more pricey DSLR. The rear LCD display is 3 inches in size with a resolution of 460k, making the set up incredibly clear for a camera of this size. The screen has an anti-reflection coating to reduce glare which, when combined with the tilt makes it very adaptable in different light settings. The vibration reduction mechanism is useful especially when you have posed a shot over a period of time without a tripod.

      **Control

      The huge number of features on the P100 are operated using buttons and wheels located on the top right and the reverse of the camera. Zooming is achieved via a traditional lever around the shutter operator and a top mounted wheel shifts through the varioush shooting modes. On the rear, top right is second wheel which allows you to change through a myriad of shutter speeds. Below that is the multi directional button layout around a central OK button which operates set timer modes,as flash and focus options. The menu and operating lists are displayed in lcd form on the rear display and though the manual is certainly initially necessary, the layout is pretty logical and easy to navigate with a little thought.


      **Price

      At around the £300 (or £299 if it makes you feel better!) mark this is a middle range camera, but for the price you are getting one that behaves as well as some twice its price. Many of the features are personal taste though so before you hook up online go and try one for yourself in a camera shop. If you like it - its good value.

      **Verdict**

      A great camera of the middle range with good reaction and lots of extras.

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      • Hemingway DP-201 / Piano / 61 Readings / 56 Ratings
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        16.06.2011 16:20
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        A good digital piano - but should be called a keyboard!

        **A digital piano can't be any good...
        As a piano teacher my first instinct is always towards a real piano rather than a digital "imitation". Up to about grade 1 1/2 or 2 I allow my pupils to practice on a digital keyboard providing it is touch sensitive (ie you can make different sounds depending how hard you strike the key) but beyond that a proper strung piano cannot be replaced. However, things have moved speedily in the digital piano world and the Hemmingway DP-201 I recently had to accompany on was a pleasant surprise.


        **What is it like?
        Described as a compact piano because of its lack of depth this digital still has 6plus octaves on offer with decent width keys. Its is delivered flatpacked like bookshelf which is a little disconcerting, but since all the know how is within the keyboard all you have to do is bolt the frame together.

        The lack of depth is initially disconcerting when you are used to a grand or study upright, but since the key size has not been compromised you soon get used to it.

        The prime concern for me is the efficacy of the sensitivity of the keys. On a real piano the harder you strike the key, the louder the sound; the lighter the strike the softer the sound. Therefore, as well as learning the notes you need to play, you can control the texture of the sound you make. The Hemmingway is surprisingly proficient with rolling crescendos and extreme contrasts easy to achieve - making it a good beginner instrument. I suppose I must shake off my prejudice here and acknowledge that many are happy with the digital in its own right or (heaven forbid!) prefer it to a real piano and in this case the Hemmingway is a decent instrument.

        **Funky Features:
        88 Key´s with Hammeraction,
        LCD Display 8 Sounds,
        1 velocity step thomann sample,
        Reverb,
        Polyphonic: 64 voices polyphone,
        metronome,
        sustain pedal,
        2 track Sequenzer,
        Dualmode,
        transposer,
        headphone jack,
        line out - line in,
        MIDI In/Out,
        speakersystem 2x20 Watt,
        dimensions in mm: W X D X H 1447 x 475 x 780,
        weight 34 kg
        design: natural

        **Voices
        There are a massive 64 voices to choose from on this "beast". Many of them are great fun with chorus sounds and a range of metallics. The 2 piano options are well produced when miked up although somewhat tinny in a medium space. The ragtime voice is fun and it is easy to move between voices. The disappointment is the organ voice which is reedy and would be improved by greater natural reverb.

        **Metronome
        A Fabulous practise technique when first mastering a piece is to play along to a fast or slow metronome. The built in "ticker" here is loud enough to be heard over most of the voices and is easily adjustable. The digital displays are clear and easy to master and this is a definite plus - traditional free standing metronomes costing around the £20 mark and some in excess of £100!

        **Sustain pedal
        A real bonus of this model is the sustaining pedal attachment. The sustaining pedal stops the note from fading rather like an echo and allows you to run note sequences together in a legato style whilst moving up and down the keyboard. This is a skill in itself and a real asset to a keyboard making it more flexible than some of the more clipped sounding reproductions.

        **Style
        This digital piano is produced in a "natural" or light beige finish. Its style is simple giving it a modern and sleek effect. This makes it ideal for a smaller space and, combined with the headphone facility, makes it suitable for a shared living space. It is not exactly portable as it is screwed together rather than stand balanced but is certainly more flexible than a full sized piano case. The buttons are silver and oval shaped - ergonomically it would be better to have more differentiation, but you soon get used to their position and they do look stylish.

        **Price
        This model is available for between £250 and £300. As digitals go this is a fair price especially for such a sturdy frame.

        **Verdict
        Once you have made the decision that digital is the way you wish to go this is a flexible, versatile and stylish model. As a piano replacement you could do worse and perhaps it might even be described as preferable to an old piano in need of serious attention. Remember that there is no real replacement for a piano and the name is therefore deceptive. As a digital "keyboard" this is hard to beat.

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        • More +
          16.06.2011 14:35
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          Find a bargain if you can - or a rich friend - but whatever way its worth giving it a try!

          **The ultimate test
          As many of you know I have recently managed to break several bones and ended up with a plaster cast to the knee for 6 weeks - not the most comfortable of things, but nothing compared to the worry about taking it off and the potential crocodile skin I would find beneath! I received the Clarins hand and nail treatment for Christmas and, knowing its cost, have been using it sparingly. However, I decided that this was a time when caution should be thrown to the wind - needs must - it was time for the product to step up to the mark.

          **What does it contain?

          -Sesame Oil extracts: moisturise and protect against the damaging effects of free radicals.

          -Shea Butter unsaponifiables: protect and revitalise.

          -Japanese Mulberry extract: helps minimise existing age spots.

          -Condurango Bark extract: astringent, helps prevent damp palms.

          -Myrrh extract: strengthens nails (info taken from the Clarins website)

          **Packaging
          The cream comes in a 100ml white tube with the distinctive red clarins lettering. The plastic is sturdy and glossy and the tube is designed to stand on its screw-lid providing easy access to the cream and no waiting for gravity to do its stuff! The gold ring around the lid-stand offers a real sense of class, and you get the feeling you are dealing with a quality product before you even open it. I get quite a thrill from noticing this on my night stand as I am unaccustomed to pricey cosmetics.

          The screw top reveals a dimpled cover with a valley shaped hole for the cream to squeeze through. The valley shape means that the top does not get clogged up with drying out cream and the cream is runny enough to disappear obediently back into the tube meaning less waste.

          **Does it work?
          Certainly. The cream itself is fairly thick and shiny, but there is no grease to it and despite its gloss it sinks in beautifully. Many products claiming to be deep cleansing often take considerable time to sink in and can leave you with a film on the surface. This cream moisturises really well and speedily with no residue.
          And on my feet? Well, from the ingredients list the cream is evidently designed for the hands, but it rose to the challenge of my poor feet with ease. Real luxury and a smoothness which made me feel very pampered!

          There is no deliberate fragrance to the cream but a refreshing clean smell. I find this a bonus as, although a lovely perfume can be uplifting, you can easily end up with so many conflicting perfumes in various products that you can give yourself a migraine! The best way to describe the perfume is "fresh" and the scent does not linger unduly.

          For usual hand and nail application a little goes a long way meaning that although this carries a hefty price tag compared with many creams on the market, there are compelling reasons to splash out.

          **Price
          The clarins website currently prices this cream at £18. As a staple beauty product though this cream is very often included in offers and it is worth searching online for the best offer. It also often is included in beauty sets which are then sometimes split up; the particular product neede removed and the remainder made available on ebay. So, do your bargain searching but - and I never thought I'd say this - I do really think it is worth its price!

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        • 66Fit Elite Foam Roller / Fitness / 20 Readings / 19 Ratings
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          16.06.2011 14:02
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          Relatively straight forward to use; portable exercise equipment.

          **Why do you have one?
          I have recently a) discovered a joy of exercise and b) undertaken too much too soon and broken bones in my foot! My lovely friends have been visiting me house bound and bringing me lovely presents such as sticker books; tartan leg rugs and mini rocking chairs..... who needs enemies?! However, among my lovely friends is a physio who was worried about the amount of calf cramp I was getting when my plaster eventually came off - and she brought me this:

          **What is it?
          The 66fit Elite Foam Roller is a high density piece of blue foam shaped into a solid tube-like shape. It measures 15cm x 90cm (6" x 36"). Apparently a lot of rollers on the market are made from 2 pieces of foam - an inner and outer layer but these are more prone to denting or mis-shaping.

          **What do you do with it?
          Roll! I personally use it to roll my calf muscles along to stimulate the circulation and strengthen the muscle. It is apparently very useful for Iliotibial band syndrome and is used by many runners to warm up and down the leg muscles.

          **Nice?
          The deep blue colour is attractive and does entice you to use it. Because it is sturdy it stands easily in the corner of a room without taking up too much space. As far as useability is concerned, mine came with some useful instructions and there are lots of useful physio sites to help get the most of it.
          http://www.menshealth.co.uk/fitness/sports-injuries/4-foam-roller-exercises
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJLxruO3su0

          It's not what you might describe as "comfortable" to use but it really does hit the spot!

          **Price
          Online prices appear to be between £10 and £15.

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          • Totes Slipper Socks / Clothing / 40 Readings / 38 Ratings
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            07.06.2011 22:07
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            You deserve some.

            **What are they?
            Tote slipper socks are a pair of slippers and a pair of socks which you can wear simultaneously - clever eh?! They come in a range of colours - usually deep dyed - and look like a thick sock. On the base of the foot the word Tote and various patterns are picked out in a white grip material which provides the anti-slip of a slipper whilst shaping well to your foot.

            **Any good?
            Well, first off they are cosy in their thickness and soft feel. Another advantage is that the flexibility of the sock means they are easier to fit to you foot and thus you have none of the problems associated with an ill fitting slipper. They are smaller in size and fit better into your hand luggage or day-out bag than a pair of slippers or casual shoes. They are great on a plane journey as an extra layer!

            **What's wrong?
            There are not many downers to these socks bar the price. At £6.99 a pair they seem a pretty big outlay for a pair of "socks" (unless you are a designer fan!). There are cheaper versions of the slipper sock available for half the price, but, although I have bought the cheaper ones for children who are growing apace, the Tote socks definitely wash better over a long period of time and have much less bobbling or stretching than some of the cheaper types. Also, some of the other brands tend to skimp on the grips and if you have a wide foot there is the chance that the amount of sock at the edge of your foot can make them slippy. My Totes have lasted over 2 years and are still in good shape and as soft as ever.

            **Any other points?
            The one-size-fits-all aspect of these socks mean that they are an easy gift. There are sufficient colours available to personalise your choice and are a great feel-good pressie.

            **Where from?
            www.totes.co.uk have a huge range of slipper socks for ladies / gents / children and are increasing their design range too. Most of the larger dept stores stock them although you may have to look a little harder in the summer months especially since some stores can't decide whether to offer them as shoes or socks or nightwear!

            **Get a grip
            So: a cosy warm sock with a slipper grip able to cope with the shiny kitchen floor.

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            • Lavazza Qualita Rossa / Coffee / 33 Readings / 32 Ratings
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              24.05.2011 13:17
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              A Decent Coffee for a Fair Price.

              **Italian roots**

              Lavazza is Italian. I deduce this from two sources:
              1) The packet says "Italy's favourite coffee" and 2) because www.lavazza.com is written entirely in Italian! The website does have a few indications about the company. I can translate a couple of words such as Tradition of quality and Social responsibility if that helps! (Tradizione per la qualite and responsibilita sociale!) I have managed to discern from the packaging that Lavazza have behind them over a century of passion, experience, research and innovation - that's ok then.

              Somehow the fact that our coffee is either French or Italian reassures us that it is discerning in quality, and in this case I agree.

              **Full bodied**

              No - not me - the coffee! Qualita Rossa is described as rich and full bodied. It is evenly roasted and fine ground for espresso pot or cafetiere. It is described as Medium roast which considering its intensity makes me wonder what a dark roast must be! This blend is awarded 5 beans for intensity - it is vibrant and strong without being heavy and you get a real buzz of flavour without the bitterness. It has a lovely crema top through which to taste the more dense, rich flavour.

              **Vacuum packing**

              Four beans for aroma is also fair. The coffee is solidly vacuum packed to prevent the growth of microorganisms, such that you need to be skilled with scissors in order to fight your way in. Once opened a stunning aroma is released like an explosion of coffee beans. It is pungent and strong but soon settles into a sweeter burnt flavour. It is finely ground almost to the consistency of icing sugar and moulds to your scoop as you drop it into your machine.
              The coffee, now exposed to the air, needs to be decanted into a sealed canister - preferably an opaque one. The packet can't be re-sealed but if you decant and keep in the fridge it should keep fresh for up to 3 weeks.

              **Wine tasting test**

              I didn't understand what was meant by the body of coffee until I began using an espresso machine rather than a cafetiere. Just as a red wine has thinner or fuller textures, so does coffee. This blend has an even fullness to its taste - an almost thickness about it even before you add milk which is really satisfying and almost defies the need for an accompanying biscuit!
              Distinctivity (new word for today!)

              The packaging for this coffee is bright red and with a foil nature to the name label. Once used you will have no trouble spotting it on the shelf. As mentioned the pack is very tightly sealed so that the coffee remains a solid block within.

              **Caffeine fix**

              Qualita Rossa is caffeinated coffee. The strength of the flavour means that you feel you have had a "fix" whether caffeinated or not! The only problem here is that if you try to limit your intake and alternate with de-caff you have quite a bit to get through in your 3 weeks. There are 250g or 8.8oz in a bag - so if you are having trouble consuming it all you'll have to have a coffee morning (... you can always send the earnings to my Race for Life account!!!)

              **Cost**

              Tesco and Asda and Sainsbury and Ocada are all in agreement: £2.67 or £4.82 for two. Beans to grind yourself: £3.38.
              Torino or Middlesex?

              If you have a problem or need more information from Lavazza you can visit or write in your best Italian to:
              Luiga Lavazza S.p.A, C.so Novara, 59, 10154 Torino, Italia.

              Or, alternatively to
              Lavazza coffee (uk) ltd, 2nd floor, 36, Windsor Street, Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 1AB.

              *Your choice!**
              Hope this has been useful. Am off to brew a pot now (instructions also on the packet if you haven't mastered your machine or cafetiere yet!)

              Cutecandy
              Also on Ciao.

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              • Everlast Twist Board / Fitness / 42 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                20.05.2011 13:03
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                Twist yourself toned!

                **All Age Fitness**
                Although I love to try my hand at all kinds of activities, I have never been one with a passion for keep fit for its own sake. Boredom is a big factor (or great excuse) for me and so it was with scepticism that I unwrapped this disc and decided to give it a try. It is less threatening than many fitness gadgets some of which look like implements of torture and its simplicity means that it is accessible to all ages, providing you are able to stand and do not have severe balance issues.

                **How to use it**
                Essentially, you place the disc on a flat floor, step on, use your arms to balance and "do the twist". Twist your body by swinging at the waist and the board assists you. Then change direction with the added resistance of the turning of the board and you have a waist whittling exercise regime for any room in the house!

                **Fun?**
                The action of twisting is so reminiscent of the dance that you can easily con yourself into thinking that you are enjoying yourself! The brave can use the disc in front of a mirror and watch the moves change their emphasis as you, for example, bend your knees a little or swing your arms. As you hget used to the motion, try adding music or placing it in front of the tv for added distraction.

                **Attractiveness**
                The disc is made up of 2 layers of sturdy plastic. The base stays put whilst the top layer spins with you. The top layer has moulded dimples on it for added grip and has a softer rubbery feel. Some versions of this disc have molded footplates which can be comfortable - but only if your feet fit. The generally dimpled plate means your whole foot feels massaged too. It is grey and black and thus somewhat dull - there are coloured versions which are more snazzy, but at least this doesn't draw too much attention to itself in a room where you're eating cake!

                **Portability**
                The whole system is light and portable and can be stored easily upright down the side of a cabinet etc. Be careful not to leave it flat on a floor where it could be a tripping hazard!

                **Results?"
                With a little practice this disc can aid leg; joint; thighs; waist and upper body fitness and toning - not bad for a simple disc-shaped bit of kit!

                **Price**
                Currently £7.25 from Amazon this is a relatively low priced fitness device

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                • More +
                  20.05.2011 10:26
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                  Something very different which will either blow you away; draw you in or leave you cold!

                  **My right to witter!

                  In our country of free speech of course we believe everyone has a right to a voice, but sometimes it helps to give a context to that voice - here is mine.
                  I am a musician in classical terms: I teach piano, run choirs and record in both "high brow traditional", very early musical instruments and electric guitars. I have a huge range of tastes: my ipod has Handel's Messiah next to Coldplay next to African drumming raps next to Purcell next to Madness with the odd smattering of MC Hammer! I also have an English degree and love the challenge of tricky word play in TS Eliot and such weighty writers. I'm not using this as a platform for self focussed wittering: the relevance of my interests will soon become apparent: (honest!)

                  **PJ Harvey

                  PJ Harvey is a forty something somewhat eccentric artist from Dorset who takes her musical composition very seriously. She does not set out solely to entertain: has a message and uses her musicianship to get it across ( - not always successfully in my opinion but more of that later. )
                  Having been a member of several bands and with a mastery of a huge range of instruments including piano, saxophone and voice, she set up her band PJ Harvey in 1991 and has achieved many accolades for her very individualistic works.
                  As a composer she begins with lyrics. In interview she has cited her influences as TS Eliot, Harold Pinter and the artist Salvador Dali. All of these guys are "deep". They all have dark sides to their work and are deliberately challenging - often leaving the reader or viewer unsettled and sometimes disturbed. This is evidently her starting point too.

                  **"Let England Shake" Track Listing
                  1. Let England Shake
                  2. The Last Living Rose
                  3. The Glorious Land
                  4. The Words That Maketh Murder
                  5. All And Everyone
                  6. On Battleship Hill
                  7. England
                  8. In The Dark Places
                  9. Bitter Branches
                  10. Hanging In The Wire
                  11. Written On The Forehead
                  12. The Colour of The

                  **War is not a good thing

                  The basic premise of this album is that war is pretty horrific. Looking at lyrics alone I become a little cynical. Her wording is expressively poetic and I am certainly in favour of music having a political voice or rationale, but I feel that some of her descriptions are deliberately obscure and inaccessible, making them more likely to be ignored rather than embraced. Academia for academia's sake is never a good thing.
                  However, what PJ Harvey is adept at is unsettling the listener. The overall effect is of a mournful questioning yet vibrant lament which is as graspable as fog. This is set against and almost subliminal nationalism in the form of very traditional music. It is disturbingly difficult to listen to yet with snatches of absurdly accessible folk song which serve to further emphasize the strangeness of the rest.

                  **Instrumentation

                  Whereas in previous compositions Harvey has made much use of the piano, here she is focussed on the unusual alto harp which gives a guitar like sound but with a more variable quality. Similarly, she has worked on a more throaty, mellow vocal line designed to match the full effect of the alto harp. She has a clear passion for experimentation with sound and in recording this album in a Dorset Church left quite a lot of rrom for improvisation in its final performance. Much use is made of percussion and once again here she breaks the mould. Although elements of rock and blues styles are present, the rhythms are driving and ever varied. Drummer J-M Butty excels.

                  **How much do I need to know?

                  This album has captivated me as a work of art might just grab you unexpectedly every now and then. It is by no means sugary easy listening and if a general feel is all you're after here, do feel free to skip the next more detailed track descriptions and whizz down to the "exhausted yet?" section. For those with a strong constitution: some more thoughts...

                  **Poignant Tracks
                  The whole album is worthy of not one but several listenings and wordy descriptions will do them no justice. But allow me to try to describe some elements of a few memorable tracks in order to give you an idea of what is on offer here.

                  "Let England Shake"

                  On April 18th PJ Harvey performed this track on the Andrew Marr show. Marr is careful not too give away too much opinion, but is clearly happy to have such a "contentious" star on his air time - contentious in terms of critique rather than in Lady Gaga terms! Pj Harvey stands in feathered black attire and the song begins with a throwback repeated L-P song line "Take me back to Constantinople". This rather bizarre beginning sets the scene for a non conventional style and PJ's first playing of her alto harp and seemingly discordant melody strikes an initially uncomfortable resonance. The song develops with increasingly powerful driving beat and climaxes with her own take on the phrase of the song which finally becomes melodic in the same way as the recording.
                  The debate regarding the efficacy of the passionately written lyrics continues, but even without full understanding at first hearing, there is no doubt we have been taken on an uncomfortable journey - shaken up and then heightened to some kind of understanding or realisation. This is programme-mood music at its very best.

                  "Last Living Rose"

                  "Godamn Europeans, take me back to beautiful England/
                  and the great and filthy mess of ages/
                  and battered books and fog rolling down behind the mountains/
                  on the graveyards of Dead Sea captains".
                  See what I mean about the lyrics? They are undoubtedly deep and worthy of A level study, but a catchy rock song they are not! This song is bluesy and melodic and the listener is drawn in to hear the challenge of her work. Drawn from research and genuine war reports there is a simplicity to this track and with no intellectual ego battling for a voice as many artists attempting political works. PJ is simply out to create the mood in which to highlight the inhumanity of war.

                  "This Glorious Land"

                  Here we have some throw backs to early PJ with a stunning melodic line. It is less raw than earlier works, but the contrast with the bugle call to charge at the beginning is very powerful and, if you'll excuse the not-meant-to-be-pompous-literary reference, is reminiscent of the
                  "Theirs not to make reply,
                  Theirs not to reason why,
                  Theirs but to do and die" WW1 poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. The contrast between the vibrant nationalistic bugle and the subsequent carnage is breathtaking.

                  "All and Everyone"

                  This is another exhausting journey piece. It is strewn with death imagery and has a driving, building quality to it that is nightmarish in its persistence. At first listening you are aware of a drama unfolding. It takes a good read of the words to perhaps understand fully, and in this sense you could criticize the track for not standing on its own. However, there is enough to gain from its musical impact before the added significance of the lyrics to make worthy of a hearing.

                  "The Colour of the Earth"

                  The final song of the album makes most use of the the folk song elements. It describes the disastrous Galipoli battle of 1915 and has an almost Pogues style. The contrast of the accessible folky style with the depth of the subject matter serves to give the track an ethereal sentiment - something you can't quite grasp. The horror versus the simplicity or the simplicity of the horror - all elements combine to mix the regret of war with the holding on to the traditional rights of your country.
                  Exhausted yet?
                  If you have survived my witterings thus far you will have a sense of the complexity of the song writing on this album. PJ Harvey is undoubtedly an individual. She is not overtly political in her writing but does intend to challenge and to bring you along on a journey - not always comfortable but always emotional. Her music haunts, creates, surprises and invigorates.
                  Whether the lyrics are too obscure in their references continues to be a question. Whilst not ego driven, there is a slight question in my mind as to whether PJ Harvey does not want you to entirely understand - this is a theme in this kind of literature. The lack of understanding is part of the dis-ease. I have yet to decide if there is a pomp to this obtuseness or merely another strand of complexity. In some TS Eliot writing the lack of crystal clarity creates a mood of its own and may be the actual intention.
                  Whatever you decide, the music of PJ Harvey is unique and moving. Like it or loathe it, it bears listening to simply because it is so different. The journey is undoubtable and can be draining. If you seek to really get under its skin the lyrics are worth a study as are not always clear above the strands of melody and percussion.

                  **Details:

                  Let England Shake: Audio cd Feb 2011
                  by PJ Harvey
                  label: Universal
                  Guide price: online around £10.
                  Amazon £8.93 + pp.
                  CDwow £7.99 - 10.99

                  **Verdict**

                  Something so different from the run of the mill popular musical entertainment that it is well worth a listen.
                  Whether you "enjoy" it or not remains to be seen. I have the feeling that PJ Harvey is the Marmite of the pop world.

                  (also on ciao under username "Cutecandy" - c u there!)

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                    26.01.2011 20:42
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                    Well designed electric brush that is really worth a try.

                    **As a teacher I often worry what pearls of wisdom my pupils will pick up from me and take into their futures! I have strange little snapshot moments from my school days - one of them being my usually calm geography teacher having a red faced rant about using up the earth's precious resources with their idleness: "Why on earth would you need electricity to brush your teeth? What's wrong with your biceps?" etc. This was 20 (cough) years ago so I guess he was ahead of his time. His passion made me swear allegiance to the manual toothbrush.

                    However, on hitting my thirties my teeth began to squeak and squeal and all around me were recommending electric brushes. I held out with extra vigorous brushing, but when I received this oral B 500 as a gift I couldn't resist any longer....

                    **The oral B professional care toothbrush has an ergonomically designed stalk with thumb grip and on'off button that needs a good press to use and so can't be done accidentally.

                    The top of the stalk handle has a small metal piece sticking out. When turned on this metal swirls from side to side. Simply click a toothbrush head onto this stick and the bristles will swirl and swish for really thorough cleaning.

                    Each small circular brush head comes with a small coloured ring which clips onto the base of the brush to identify your brush head. In this way, all the family can use the same toothbrush mechanism but have their own individual toothbrush. Try not to change your colour ring each time you replace the heads though or you will guarantee to be confused!!

                    **The toothbrush does indeed run on electricity (sorry Mr Geography). A rechargeable battery is encased in the handle which can be recharged by placing onto the small charger which uses a 2 pin shaver type plug. This can cause difficulty since you will need an adaptor for a normal plug if you don't have a shaving plug. This is recommended if you are going away as on 2 occasions now we have stayed in a hotel with a shaver plug too high up to balance the handle! The brush does not need to be plugged in to use, though, so the location of the charge is not too great an issue. A fully charged toothbrush lasts 4 of us about 4 days. As the charge wears down the brush heads revolve more slowly - about an hour's charge will suffice to get back to full power.

                    **The blue and white plastic design is attractive. The plastic is sheer enough to wipe down so it is easy to keep hygienic. On removing the brush heads it is worth rinsing the paste off and tapping them dry to avoid any lime or soap build up inside the handles.

                    **The bristles on each brush head have white and blue markings. When the outer blue bristles have faded in colour it is time to replace your brush head. The brush heads are widely available at high street and online chemists for about £15 for 4. This seems a lot, but when you consider the price of a quality manual brush it is on a par.

                    **The handset itself costs approx £22 for a handset, charger and 2 brush heads.

                    **Gimics:
                    This toothbrush is happily low on gimmics. It has 1 cleaning mode: 3D rotate pulsate technology, 7,600 rotations and 20,000 pulstations per minute. This means it swishes and swirls on your teeth to remove serious quantities of plaque. It does have a timer buzzer - every so often it vibrated apparently to remind you to move along to another section of your mouth. This can be a litttle patronizing, but by the same token, to persist for at least 4 vibrations means a fairly decent brush, and it is sometimes surprising how long a time this feels to be!

                    It is straight forward and easy to use - the hardest part was breaking into the plastic wrapper to get at it!

                    **Does it do the job?
                    YES. Sincere apologies to Mr Geography, but I am hooked on my Braun. I am not too lazy to brush my teeth manually. I simply appreciate that an electric toothbrush cleans my pegs way better than I could alone. My hygienist hardly ever dives in to scale and polish nowadays, saying I am doing a good job myself! My teeth feel really clean and if I ever go away without the clan and take my manual brush overnight I can really feel the difference.

                    **Tingle away!
                    One either plus or negative is that an electric brush can make your nose tingle! It is a strange experience to begin with and the vibrations on your teeth can also be unnerving. But, speaking as one who finds the scrape and vibration and the dentists harder to bear than any pain, it does not take long to get used to - and the rewards are instant.

                    Thanks for reading,
                    Cutecandy

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                      23.01.2011 22:30
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                      A coffee maker that makes coffee!

                      ***Delonghi coffee machine delights***

                      **The Need**

                      Our house is very often full. I am a music teacher from home so there are pupils plus pupils' taggers on and carers; I have several teenagers of my own so multiply by 4 or 5 more taggers on; my hubby's business means lots of meetings chez nous.... most of which I am convinced are scheduled purely for coffee and cake; plus friends and family members = lots of passing trade!

                      I began married life with a small cafetiere, soon upgraded to a posh espresso-type beast, but found that although this provided me with my extra shot with which to start the day, it took too long to reheat between cups to keep up with visiting demand. Enter the Delonghi filter coffee jug...

                      **Style**

                      The coffee maker is fairly bulky and has none of the space age chrome of the coffee shop monsters. However, this also means no polishing! The whole machine is dark brown and fits sleekly into a corner without brashly drawing attention to itself. The jug is attractively rounded and the handle matches the sheer plastic of the main machine. The moulded top is distinctive and the total effect is one of deliberate style. I am pleased to leave it out on the counter top.

                      **Mechanics**

                      The delonghi is easy to operate. The top is hinged to reveal a permanent filter with lifting handle. This sits tightly into a conical shaped dripper which is also easily removed.

                      Remove the jug by lifting slightly and sliding it out. The side of the jug bears a counting scale to measure how many cups you wish to make. The limit is ten and this is a fair guess for small mugs or teacup sizes. Fill with tap water to the desired amount and then pour into the reservoir beside the filter. The outside of the reservoir also bears a measuring scale.

                      It is wise to fill the water reservoir before adding the coffee to the filter although I have, on a groggy morning, put coffee in first and spilled some water on top - the finished product was unaffected, but there is no device to stop the water pouring through without the jug so it could be a very messy mistake!

                      Close the lid, replace the jug onto the warming plate and press the "on" button.

                      Now wait and watch as the gorgeous smelling nectar drips obligingly and somewhat satisfyingly into the jug below!

                      The thermostatic warming plate keeps the jug decently hot for as long as the machine is switched on.

                      **Cleanability**

                      Both the filter (coffee grounds holder) and the funnel below are removable and sturdy - very easy to clean. The jug is made of glass and is described as not suitable for the dishwasher - BUT, over time we have forgotten about this and have let it journey through the wash cycle unharmed on several occasions. We do always take off the flip lid to do this and this snaps back on with ease.

                      A friend of mine advises to be very careful with coffee jug machines that you do not spill coffee into the water chamber as they are almost impossible to get at, but in this instance the filter is wide enough to receive the ground beans without too much risk of this.

                      **Downers**

                      The main drawback of this machine is the danger of pouring badly. The spout is narrow - which should be a good thing as it refines the aim. The hindrance is that if the jug is near capacity the liquid falls at great speed towards the spout and can spill out through the lid. This, though can be overcome by resting your thumb on the tab of the flip lid which raises the lid slightly and prevents this. Once one or two cups have been filled this is no longer a problem, but is just worth remembering as you head towards your posh friend who's dropped in for afternoon tea in her best dress!

                      **Uppers**

                      This coffee machine is stylish and well made.
                      The handle is sturdy and well moulded for easy grip and it is very easy to use.
                      The instruction booklet enclosed briefs you clearly and easily.
                      It is easy to clean.
                      It does just the one job - so less things to go wrong.
                      Takes only ten minutes to brew a full jug of coffee.

                      PLUS
                      The wonderful aroma of coffee hangs in the air as the steam puffs merrily through and remains as long as the hotplate simmers.

                      **Price**

                      At only £14.99 from Argos this is an accessible and worthwhile purchase. Mine is now a year old , used every day and is still going strong!

                      Anyone for a cup?

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                        14.11.2010 21:05
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                        An expensive but worthy purchase which cleanses and refreshes.

                        I am not a big make up and creams girl (- I spent my teenage years climbing mountains and jumping from planes rather than playing with eye-shadows and mascaras as my daughters do!) but now, at my great age of forty something I do wear a minimal amount of foundation to reduce a shiny nose (Rudolph and I must be related!) and a somewhat uneven skin tone. Soap and water now renders my skin dry and with that "over polished" look, so I have tried out a few bottled cleansers. After a friend gave me a small bottle of the clarins one-stop cleanser I was hooked and just had to purchase my own big bottle!

                        The bottle itself is simply designed with straight sides and a clean, sturdy white lid. The bottle is see-through to allow you a good look of the soft-glow peach-coloured liquid inside. The classy design gives you the feeling of clean simplicity.

                        The lid twists easily off, but is well fastened to prevent leakages. Each tip of the bottle dispenses just a small amount of liquid so there is little wastage as there has been with some wide opening bottles. To apply, simply tip a little into a cotton wool pad and sweep gently across your face.

                        The liquid has an attractive peachy smell - delicate rather than overpowering; refreshing rather than heady. Peach essential oil is supposed to brighten ones outlook on life and lift one's mood - it certainly is a bright smell which instantly feels cleansing. The aroma lingers just long enough to maintain refreshing feeling without being too pungent. Apparently peach oil is also used in some weight loss programmes as an emotion balancer so perhaps I should have it handy at snack time too!

                        In addition to the aroma, the main attraction for me is the gentleness of the cleansing. The liquid is a watery consistency which allows it to sweep your face smoothly with no oily or sticky residue. Alongside the soothing peach other plant extracts such as coconut act as gentle cleansing agent sufficient to lift off dirt and make up, and an inspection of the used cotton wool backs up its cleansing ability! Other cleansers I have tried have left my skin tight or as if I need another product to clean off the cleanser! This one leaves my face feeling clean and refreshed.

                        The only negative I can think of is the price. At £17.50 for 200ml this is not exactly a cheap bottle of cleanser, but since I don't spend that much on make-up products, to me it is worth every penny! In the past I would have gone for cheap and cheerful every time and regaled anyone who would listen with an essay on basics over and above brands any day. I still hold with this view in so far as I will not buy a product for name alone, but in some cases I have now been persuaded that sometimes it is worth paying a little more for quality researched items. The Clarins 200ml bottle goes a long way a maximum of 3 tip-ups are required to clean my face and there is little chance over-pour wastage, so it is more economic than perhaps first appears.

                        All in all a gorgeous smelling useful gift - and, ahem, I am nearing the end of my bottle! (just in case hubby happens to read this!!)

                        Thanks for reading,

                        Cutecandy

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                          20.08.2010 21:45
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                          You know you want to have a go even if only for a few minutes!

                          Wooly Willy and his Hairy Head
                          ======================

                          Twenty something years ago (ahem) when I was a mere nipper I remember a toy such as this which kept me amused on a long journey from Yorkshire to Devon. I haven't seen them for years but having come across a Hawkins Bazaar in Bristol whilst on hols I spied my old friend Wooly Willy - he's hardly changed!

                          The general concept of the toy is a picture behind some free floating iron filings. These are guarded by a sturdy plastic cover through which you can use the red plastic magnetic wand to drag the filings into amusing hair styles for your friend Willy.

                          Hours of fun!

                          Sadly, my two 10 and 8 year olds looked at it rather askance for a couple of moments and moved on - clearly unaware in this computer age of the magic of this toy! I couldn,t resist the nostalgia, however, and purchased old Wooly on the spot. Late in the day whilst waiting for a meal I produced Wooly from my bag and a hilarious twenty minutes ensued with each of the family out doing each other's artistic prowess.

                          Downers:
                          Ok, so this isn't endless hours of amusement and there is a limit to its opportunities, but it will nevertheless provide some entertainment and also, of course, provides the science experiment we all enjoyed at school without the hour's detention spent cleaning iron filings from magnets.
                          The plastic wand lives in a plastic tube below the picture which needs to be opened with scissors. This must be done very carefully so as to allow the wand to be returned to its packet after play. If not, the wand would be very easy to mislay.

                          Overall, a fun, attractive, sturdy pocket-money toy -£2.99- which makes a pleasant change.

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                            21.07.2010 22:31
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                            This has doubled my wardrobe space.... I'm off to the shops!

                            Is it finally time to put away the woolies and winter duvets? Do we dare?

                            I used to pack up all my winter wardrobe and cram it into suitcases in the occasionally damp loft. New house has no loft and so a better plan was needed - I had seen the JML vacuum bags on the TV and in the face of overflowing wardrobes I decided to give them a go.

                            I purchased the bags from the website http://www.jmldirect.com/Vac-Pack-Large-PV2010. They are currently priced at £9.99 for 2 Large VacPacks (55 x 85 cm) and they can also be bought in conjunction with other sized bags in a larger pack.

                            How to use: The bags unfold into large plastic gusseted bags into which you place your clothes or duvets. You then simply insert the vacuum hose from your cleaner into the valve, turn on the vac and your items shrink before your very eyes! (Do make sure that your vacuum cleaner has a nozzle attachment before you purchase these!) You are left with what feels like a crinkly crisp bag - half the size of your original item. The valve then seals and the items are moisture and air protected.

                            It sounds a little obvious, but the fact that the bags are transparent is also a good thing - your items may be shrunk but they are still visible so that you can stack them away and still organise them for easy accessibility.

                            My duvets have now been stored for 6 weeks and remain shrunken and dry. For the sake of this review, I opened a bag and checked out the contents - still dry, no mildew and the duvet restores itself to its original condition in no time at all.

                            These bags have been very useful and also as exciting as a magical toy as things disappear and reappear before your eyes!

                            I have seen similar bags in cheaper shops and think they may be worth a try as the JML bags are not exactly cheap, but having used the JML bags I'm pretty sure they are stronger than most of the cheaper models and the zips appear more secure.

                            The bags are strong enough to be long lasting so I hope that my initial tenner outlay will still be working in a year or two's time.

                            Thanks for reading,
                            Cutecandy
                            (also on ciao)

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                              21.07.2010 22:02
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                              Attractive gadget - tasty sarnies

                              "Udderly Tasty Toasties"

                              This is what it says on the box of this Breville toasted sandwich maker and this sets the tone for the item in question - it is a fun product! Of course it works too, but the design cannot fail to bring a smile to your face before you even begin.

                              The sandwich maker has a secure closure clip, unlike some we have owned, and a good quality wipe clean outer which has no signs of heat fade even after several months of use.

                              Open the catch and 2 non-stick plates are revealed. Thankfully these can be released for easy cleaning as, however careful you are, making a well stuffed toasted sarnie is often a messy affair. The slices of bread are automatically sliced by the mouldings and if topping is caught in the chop a leak may occur. My previous toastie maker had non-removable plates and I was eventually forced to ditch it due to significant cleaning issues - as the main machine contains electric elements they cannot be submerged in water and thus can only be wiped. This is fine for overspills beyond the plates, but the plates themselves definitely need a careful scrub. These plates are dishwasher safe so you don't even have to do the scrubbing yourself!

                              The sandwich maker has a 850 wattage which is sufficient to warm the filling through and ensure a crisply browned toastie. The thermostat prevents over burning.

                              The only downside to this toastie machine is the fact that when closed the outer case does become hot. My previous machine was stainless steel and, although this too became hot, it was somehow expected. The cow-cover here somehow has you believing it to be cool and it would be easy to pick it up or lean on it and get a horrid surprise. To be fair, the instructions do warn of this possibility and I guess as a criticism this compares with complaining that your gas fire surround is hot!

                              The 4 feet on the base are non-slip which allows stability as you are opening and closing the machine.

                              After initial heating up, your toastie will be ready in just 3 minutes (if I have used something juicy such as pineapple I do tend to add another minute or two). There are sandwich ideas to start you off, but once confident you can have great fun experimenting with your own recipes. Toastie makers have been great in our family for getting the children involved in cooking and also for sneaking in some healthy ingredients under the guise of a sarnie-snack!

                              My cow-toastie-maker cost £15.99 from comet. The toaster has been largely super-ceded by a similar one complete with cow's head and mooing function so, if you value a peaceful teatime, go get one soon!

                              Thanks for reading.
                              Cutecandy
                              (Also on ciao)

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                                15.06.2010 14:11
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                                Lovely smalling effective handwash

                                **Packaging

                                The pump is distinctive by its oblong shape. It is taller than it is wide and tapers in an arch shape towards the lid. The shape is attractive since it is both different to most currently on the market and aesthetically pleasing.

                                The plastic packaging is transparent yet very slightly opaque and even the label blocks out only the honeysuckle flower design and lettering giving a quality appearance.
                                The soap itself is a warm creamy peach colour and shows through as slightly textured making you anticipate a luxurious creamy liquid.

                                Although I am always glad to find a bargain, many of the "value" range handwashes are abrasive or cheap looking - for an own brand this handwash presents itself surprisingly attractively.

                                **Pump it up!

                                The pump mechanism is easy to open and is so aligned that it is possible for the pump lever to face any way you wish - always a bonus especially since I have ended up in the past with a soap dispenser that will only face to the rear!

                                The plastic is good quality and sturdy and the tap does not drip after use so there is little waste. One pump alone is sufficient for a handwashing dollop.
                                Another bonus is that the drawing straw for the pump extends almost to the base of the bottle. I have previously purchased pump soaps only to find the straw so short as to be rendered useless beyond about half way down the bottle. Not so here.

                                **What is it?

                                It's known to most people as "soap" but apparently it's not! It's handwash! Described on the label as Tesco Handwash Honeysuckle & Silk with added moisturisers and natural extracts, the rear of the label adds that the idea is to leave your hands clean (glad about that!) and soft. "The formulation is soap free, ph balanced and suitable for all the family."
                                Ingredients

                                Not sure which bits come from the magnolia but "hydrolyzed silk" is mentioned!

                                The label also contains handy instructions on how to use the product and details of how to cope whould the product ill-advisedly make contact with your eyes.

                                **How much for how much?

                                500ml of this handwash will set you back a mere 60p.

                                There are plenty of cheap handwash products available from supermarkets these days, but this one stands out as being attractively presented for your money and doesn't have VALUE RANGE or CHEAP MUCK emblazoned across it as a continual reminder of your frugality or stinginess!

                                **Does it work?

                                I have tested this handwash after gardening, before and after making pastry and following ink use.

                                The wash is indeed soft and creamy to the touch. It lathers well and does not feel at all harsh or drying. It struggled a little with the challenge of inky hands but made good headway and was certainly no worse than any of the other soaps, sorry, handwashes I have used hitherto.
                                The handwash has a strong initial floral perfume but as it lathers the aroma becomes sweeter and not at all over powering. My hands are left smelling refreshingly clean.

                                **Downers?

                                I am struggling to find something negative to say. Recyclability is an issue, circumvented as usual by a recycling sign for "where facilities exist". I must admit to removing the pump mechanism and optimistically adding the empty bottle to our plastic bottle banks. I hope the facility copes with such thick plastic - no one seems sure!
                                Beyond that, this is a refreshing smelling, creamy handwash which does the job without over drying and looks sufficiently attractive on your family sink. You could even match your towels with it to complete the effect!

                                Thanks for reading.
                                Cutecandy (also on ciao)

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