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Darkstar101

Darkstar101
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Member since: 27.05.2009

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      27.10.2009 15:00
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      Read this before you go and see the movie.

      My 6 year old daughter loves reading and has become particularly disillusioned by the repetitive politically correct books being issued by her school. In a bid to encourage her to continue reading independently we went to our local Borders bookstore to look for something with a little more story content. As she had seen trailers for the movie, my daughter was immediately drawn to "Fantastic Mr Fox" by Roald Dahl so we ended up buying a copy.

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      The book
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      I would say that this book is perfect for independent young readers as it is quite thin, containing just 82 pages which are interspersed with several eye-catching illustrations by Quentin Blake. The story itself is broken down into 18 short chapters with natural break points for children who can only manage a few pages in a sitting. The print is quite large so each page is attractively laid out, not crammed full of off putting text. I think that this book represents a perfect introduction to independent reading, making the transition from picture books to full text books quite a painless one. I paid £4.99 for our copy, but I'm sure they can be found much cheaper elsewhere if you Google the ISBN 978-0-141-32624-5 or even buy it as part of the Roald Dahl box set.

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      The story
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      The story is quite simple, yet young children find it engaging and exciting. Mr Fox and his family live near to three of the nastiest unscrupulous farmers in the valley, farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Boggis owns a chicken farm, Bunce, a duck and goose farm and Bean owns a Turkey and apple farm manufacturing strong cider. Mr Fox steals food from these farms making the farmers wild with rage until they concoct a cunning plan to sort the fox out once and for all. The three farmers ambush and try to dig Mr Fox and his family out of their home, the only way the foxes can escape is to dig further and deeper into the hillside. The three farmers dig the hillside away and along with their workforce blockade the only exit in the hope the foxes will eventually emerge through starvation. However Mr Fox meets up with Badger and thinks up a master plan which involves tunnelling further underground until they are right underneath the three evil farmers' storerooms, which they ransack and take back to the starving underground creatures. Mr Fox and his family host a huge banquet, serving their quarry to the rabbits, badgers and moles and live happily ever after.

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      Conclusion
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      My daughter and I have read this book together several times and she has read it independently as the language difficulty level is pitched perfectly at her age group. We are now on the lookout for more Roald Dahl books and will probably end up buying a box set. By the way, we saw the movie this week and although based upon the book, the majority of it is different, particularly the last half hour or so which is complete fabrication. I would recommend reading the book first, then go and see the movie - it is quite difficult to explain the meaning of the term "Poetic License" to a questioning 6 year old!

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      • More +
        23.10.2009 20:56
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        Worth a try for great smelling hair.

        If you have read any of my other reviews you will by now have realised that I chop and change my choice of shampoo regularly depending which brand is on promotion at the time. Last week whilst shopping, my value for money radar homed in on a bottle of Schwarzkopf Gliss Hair Repair shampoo priced at just 99p in my local Home Bargains store.

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        Packaging
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        The 250ml recyclable bottle is manufactured from an amber tinted transparent plastic, the rather stylish shape of which resembles a faceted cuboid. The gold and yellow coloured flip up top looks and feels quite angular and chunky but it is easy to open and close, even with wet hands in the shower. The front of the bottle bears the brand name in large bold black lettering with a white label on the reverse detailing the usage directions and ingredients.

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        Using the shampoo
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        The shampoo itself has the colour and viscosity of honey, which looks good in the amber coloured bottle. Upon opening the flip top cap you are greeted by a fresh citrus like fruity aroma which is really refreshing and pleasant. The nearest thing I can describe it to is mandarin oranges mixed with fizzy sherbet. I was attracted to this shampoo because it contains Argan and Shea oil, which is supposed to restructure the hair from inside the hair cell and reduce split-ends by up to 85%. But does it work? I have been using this shampoo daily now for over a week and I have personally found that it struggled to form a good lather, it rinsed out easily and left my hair smelling great. When used on its own, I can't say that it gives an amazing root to tip shine, as claimed by the manufacturer, but when used in conjunction with Gliss Oil Nutritive conditioner (this was also bought for 99p in Home Bargains), I found my hair felt clean and tangle free. I would question whether it does actually reduce split ends by up to 85%, but it may be possible that you need to use this shampoo long term to achieve this benefit.

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        Verdict
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        At 99p for a 250ml bottle of great smelling, decent quality shampoo, I can't complain. In my opinion, any hair repair properties this product possesses are difficult to evaluate particularly in the short term. I will continue to use this shampoo in tandem with the Gliss conditioner and will update this review if I notice any ground breaking difference in its performance - but don't hold your breath. I would say that overall it represents good value for money as it leaves hair feeling clean and smelling great.

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        • Maryland Cookies / Snacks / 49 Readings / 48 Ratings
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          21.10.2009 13:32
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          Lovely selection of cookies in one big tub.

          I love biscuits, particularly Maryland cookies manufactured by Burton's Foods. We are all familiar with the choc chip varieties which grace the shelves of the supermarket at around 79p a packet, but the purpose of my review is to tell everyone about the large 675g tub of these yummy biscuits I bought from Makro this week.

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          Packaging
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          The product I bought came in a deep red plastic Tupperware style box with "Merryland Cookies" emblazoned across the lid in large yellow letting with a snowy background. Before you start leaving comments about the spelling, this box is designed and promoted to take advantage of the forthcoming Christmas seasonal market, hence "Merryland"

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          Price and availability
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          The box I bought in Makro cost £2.49 (on promotion)+ VAT , which seemed quite reasonable for a re-usable tub containing over 60 cookies. However, the normal selling price for these is £4.99 which in my opinion is a little on the steep side. With regard to availability, I have only ever seen them in Makro. It is possible that the tubs will be rolled out to the supermarkets and other outlets nearer to the festive period.

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          The biscuits
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          Inside the red tub you will find three individually sealed plastic trays of biscuits - a bit like a box of chocolates. Each layer contains a mixed selection of 21 cookies arranged in stacks of three. The three flavours in this box are Choc Chip, Double Chocolate and White Chocolate.

          The traditional choc chip cookie is golden brown in colour with a generous smattering of chocolate chips running through. It is crunchy to the bite, slightly buttery and nutty to the palate and deliciously moreish.
          The Double choc variety is very similar to the choc chip but the cookie dough is also chocolate flavoured giving this biscuit a lovely cocoa-like colour.
          The "seasonal" white choc chip cookie is absolutely delicious. The cookie itself is visually paler than the choc chip cookie containing a generous portion of creamy white chocolate chips.

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          Nutritional Information
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          They're cookies, so don't expect them to be healthy! However, these cookies contain no artificial colours or flavours, no hydrogenated fats and no GM ingredients. The cookies contain around 500 kcal per 100g of product. Of this 100g, approximately 23g is fat and 35g is sugar. If you're on a diet don't buy them, because you'll end up eating the lot - especially the white choc chip ones.

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          Conclusion
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          As a big fan of cookies, I can heartily recommend these, particularly the white choc chip variety. I feel that this big box format is good value for money, but only at the promotional price I paid as I think over £5 (inc VAT) is a little expensive for a box of biscuits. The biscuits are of excellent quality and the re-sealable container they come in helps to keep them fresh. Go and buy a box now while they're on offer - if you can trust yourself not to scoff the lot.

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            20.10.2009 13:02
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            Take advantage of the Peppa Pig book offer with special packs.

            Although marketed with toddlers in mind, I buy packs of Muller Little Stars Jelly for my 6 year old daughter as a sweet treat for her lunch box.

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            Price and availability
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            Packs of Little Stars Jelly are readily available in most good supermarkets and can be found in the chiller aisle alongside the yoghurt and fromage frais products. At the moment Asda are running a promotion where you can buy any 3 packs of Muller Little Stars products for just £3, which is quite good value for a branded dessert.

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            Packaging
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            The jelly itself comes packaged in 75g small snap-apart plastic pots which are welded together inside a recyclable cardboard outer sleeve. At the moment if you collect 4 special codes from the inside of promotional packs you can go online and claim a free Peppa Pig book worth £3.99. A fantastic offer if your little one is into this lovable character.

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            The jelly
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            The jelly inside the pots comes in three delicious flavours - Strawberry, Orange and Blackcurrant. You get two pots of each flavour. Upon peeling back the lid, you are greeted with a pleasant fruity aroma and visually, the jelly has a lovely wobbly consistency. Each jelly, regardless of the flavour looks appetising, the colours are subtle and the fruity flavours are delicious

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            Nutritional information
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            These real fruit juice jellies are made with 100% natural ingredients with no artificial colours, sweeteners or preservatives. With less than 50 kcal per individual pot, I think they are great as children can enjoy a lovely sweet treat without the calories.

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            Conclusion
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            I would highly recommend Muller Little Stars Jellies as they look nice, taste nice and are a relatively healthy sweet treat that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. Each pack individually priced at £1.48 is a little on the expensive side but if you can get them on promotion for around £1 a pack they represent excellent value for money.

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            • Knorr Stock Pots / Sauces / Soups / 40 Readings / 40 Ratings
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              19.10.2009 13:28
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              Probably the worst stock making product I've ever bought.

              I normally like to cook meals totally from scratch including stocks for casseroles, but last week I was a bit pushed for time so I bought a pack of Knorr Beef Stock Pots in a bid to save time.

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              Price and availability
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              Priced at £1.44 in Asda for a pack of 8, I felt they were a bit expensive compared to products like Oxo, but I was sucked into buying them by the manufacturers blurb on the side of the packaging and the fact that they are semi-endorsed by Marco Pierre White.

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              Manufacturers claims
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              The blurb on the packaging reads as follows - "Knorr Stock Pot is a rich, concentrated, premium stock. Knorr chefs have carefully selected meats, herbs and spices that are gently simmered into a concentrated little pot. Stock Pot melts easily into water to produce a full flavoured stock or can be added straight into your dish to bring outs its natural flavour". Sounds quite good doesn't it?

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              Packaging
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              Inside the cardboard outer packaging, you will find 8 small pots with a thin tear and peel back foil lid - you know the sort which you get on those little pots of UHT milk in supermarket cafes. These are a nightmare to open unless you have vice-like fingertips.

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              The product itself
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              Upon opening the capsule you are greeted with a gooey jelly like substance which is mid-brown in colour and smells like dog food. I'm not joking. It looks and smells vile. The directions on the side of the cardboard packaging say to dissolve this goo into 500ml of boiling water to make the beef stock. I must admit, it does dissolve very easily in the water but it still looks and smells unpleasant. I added the stock to my casserole and put it in the oven to cook.
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              Does it taste nice?
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              No. It doesn't. The first thing I noticed when I tasted the casserole was how salty it was. In fact, the only thing I could taste was salt, the flavours of the beef, vegetables and potatoes were completely overwhelmed by this saltiness, so much that I threw the whole dish in the bin along with the other 7 stock pots.
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              Nutritional information
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              Stock Pots contain no artificial flavour enhancers, artificial preservatives or colours. Each 100ml as prepared contains 5 kcal, 0.1g of protein, 0.2g og Carbohydrate, 0.4g of fat, 0.46g of sodium and 1.14g of salt.

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              Conclusion
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              These stock pots are expensive, tricky to open, look and smell foul and will overpower the flavours of your dish with salt. In my opinion they are not good value for money because not only do you end up throwing these away but you will have wasted time, money and enegy cooking a dish which is inedible. Avoid them like the plague. In fact if I could give this product minus 5 stars I would have.

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              • Bold 2 in 1 / Household Product / 43 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                16.10.2009 12:16
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                Great cleaning, disappointing softening and fragrance

                I normally buy washing powder and fabric conditioner separately as I feel that overall, clothes dry softer and smell fresher for longer. However whilst shopping in Makro recently, I noticed they were selling the huge 90 wash boxes of Bold 2 in 1 washing powder for £9.99 + VAT which seemed like a good deal to me so I bought a box.

                The product I bought was the Bold 2 in 1 Lavender and Camomile combined detergent and fabric softener which comes in a lilac coloured box. The box itself was quite big and heavy, being the 90 wash pack size, but it did have a useful plastic carry handle on top. The box was easy to open with its tear around strip which unzips three sides of the box leaving a hinged edge for re-closure. The powder itself is white in colour interspersed with lots of little red and blue flecks which I assume are the fabric conditioner component. The powder smells clean and fresh with a delicate lavender smell, but nothing too overpowering. The sides of the box give detailed product information including the volumes of powder needed, depending on how soiled your laundry is, and whether or not you live in a hard or soft water area. However, the box I bought didn't contain a measuring scoop. I don't know if there was supposed to be a scoop or measuring cup, but I feel that inclusion of one would have been useful. As it happened, I did have a spare scoop which I used to measure out the volume required.

                As I nearly always wash my laundry at low temperatures, usually 30 or 40º C, I was curious to see how effective the detergent was. I found that the powder fully dissolved in the washing machine, and there were no residual white marks on the clothes, like I've experienced with cheaper own brand laundry products. I found this product particularly good at cleaning white wash loads, but with repeated use, I found coloured clothes faded quite a bit.

                The manufacturer claims that the natural extracts of Lavender and Camomile bring a soothing fragrance to your family's laundry - with the freshness experience lasting up to 7 days. I found that my utility room smelt nice whilst the laundry was being washed, the wet clothes smelled nice, but once dried the fresh lavender smell disappeared almost straight away. I also found that the dried clothes weren't that soft, particularly if the clothes were line-dried.

                Overall, at the price I paid, I would say that Bold 2 in 1 is good value for money as it does clean clothes effectively, but I was a little disappointed by how quickly the fresh fragrance disappeared. I still think that separate detergents and conditioners give laundry a longer lasting fragrance and softness.

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                • Asda Choc Squares Cereal / Breakfast / 52 Readings / 50 Ratings
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                  06.10.2009 15:26
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                  Excellent value for money & and a great choccie fix snack!

                  I have been buying store brand cereals for months now in a bid to save a few pounds on the shopping bill. I have been disappointed by various cheap imitations of the Kellogg's classics but I have to admit I have no complaints about Asdas Choco Squares. Neither do my children, and they are the fiercest critics of all when it comes to chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals.

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                  Packaging
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                  Asda Choco Squares used to come packaged in the purple box as illustrated on the Dooyoo site, but this has recently changed. The new box is still easy to identify in the kids section of the cereal aisle as the basic looking packaging is bright yellow and lilac in colour, featuring a strange looking cartoon dog on a surfboard, alongside a photo of the Choco Squares and the brand name in large purple and brown lettering. The back of the box says "Breakfast Zone " in large red letters and one panel contains four corny jokes, another panel has a spot the difference game and there is also a basic Food Zone recipe.

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                  Price
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                  Each 375g box of cereal costs £1.29 or you can buy 2 boxes for £2, which in my opinion is pretty reasonable for a cereal aimed at children.

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                  The cereal
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                  Inside the recyclable outer cardboard box, the Choco squares can be found sealed inside a stay fresh bag, I recommend using a clip to keep this bag closed after opening because otherwise the cereal goes soft quite quickly (not nice). The cereal itself comprises small biscuit-like squares which are filled with a hazelnut and chocolate flavoured filling. The outer biscuit pouch is golden brown in colour and very crunchy to the bite. Inside each pouch is a generous filling of a Nutella like chocolate spread which is quite tasty


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                  Nutritional information
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                  The flash across the top of the box illustrates a quick at a glance breakdown of the nutritional information, but the key one from my perspective states that each 30g serving contains just 200 kCal when served with 125ml of skimmed milk. In addition to this there are no artificial colours, flavours or hydrogenated fats and the cereal has added iron. As this cereal is primarily aimed at children, I feel that there are far worse chocolaty breakfast cereals on the market. A full nutritional breakdown is illustrated on the side of the box along with allergy advice and ingredients. Definitely recommended.
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                  My opinion
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                  I feel that this cereal represents excellent value for money, given that there are 12 servings in each box. I find that if you like chocolate flavoured cereals, then you will like Choco Squares as they are crunchy, tasty and quite filling - I often find myself snacking on them like mini-biscuits throughout the day. Although the sugar content (16%) is quite alarming, this cereal is a good source of fibre, vitamins and iron and the calorie content is not as horrific as other chocolate flavour cereals on the market. This cereal is rarely wasted in my house, as my kids love it - just make sure you re-seal the packet once open because it can go soggy quite quickly.

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                    05.10.2009 15:12
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                    Try a mixed wash load at your own risk!

                    I recently tried Dylon Colour Catchers in a bid to keep my white laundry looking clean and fresh as opposed to the kind of murky grey off-white colour that tends to develop after a couple of washes. In particular I wanted something that would help to keep my children's school shirts and tennis whites looking good after several washes. In addition to this, I had just spent a small fortune on a new Barbarians rugby shirt for my husband and I didn't want the black to run into the white ruining it like the previous Baa-Baas shirt he owned!

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                    Price and availability
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                    Colour catcher sheets manufactured by Spotless Punch Ltd come attractively packaged in a small red box featuring a rainbow and the words "Dylon Colour Catcher" in large white lettering. They are easy to find amongst the laundry care products in the stores that stock them - I bought my packet of 10 sheets from Home Bargains reasonably priced at £1.39.

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                    Manufacturers claims
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                    The blurb on the box says, "Every time you wash, bright or dark coloured clothes, traces of dye bleed into your laundry. These dyes build up leaving your colours with a dull grubby appearance. Each anti-transfer sheet is treated with special ingredients which act like a magnet, removing loose dyes and dirt during the washing process. Now you can wash with confidence, prevent discolouration of your laundry and keep your colours bright." The box also says prevents colour runs and allows mixed washes.

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                    The sheets and usage
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                    Each box contains ten sheets of white biodegradable fabric which are similar in appearance to tumble drier freshener sheets. Each sheet measures approximately 8" x 4" and it is recommended that one sheet is placed at the back of the washing machine drum before the laundry is loaded. For dark or non-colourfast garments, the manufacturer recommends 2 or 3 sheets. Add the normal quantity of washing detergent and wash normally. At the end of the wash cycle, remove and discard the used sheet(s).

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                    My opinion
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                    When using products like this I am normally quite sceptical, but I must admit I was surprised by the apparent discolouration of the Colour Catcher sheet when I removed it from the drum. The sheet did appear to have caught some of the dye loosened during the washing cycle and I find the sheets are particularly useful when washing clothes comprising coloured and white materials, such as Hubby's rugby shirts.

                    Even though the box says it is possible to wash white and coloured items in the same wash, I haven't personally tried this. The main reason I still have doubts about the complete effectiveness of this product is the small print on the sides of the box masquerading as "Hints and Tips". These "hints and tips" say that carefully selected coloured items may be washed with whites. To ensure maximum effectiveness use 2 or 3 sheets. New coloured garments should be washed separately for the first 5 or 6 washes. Jeans and towels should be washed separately. Effectiveness cannot be guaranteed where large quantities of dye run from non-colourfast garments. Care should be taken if mixing colours with whites. Call me pessimistic, but I feel that the "Hints and Tips" are littered with disguised disclaimers and cover-all-the-bases get out clauses absolving the manufacturer of all responsibility should your wash go somewhat pear shaped. These disclaimers have left a little niggling doubt in my mind causing me to question the complete effectiveness of the product.

                    I have also found that occasionally, the sheet gets stuck between the glass door and the rubber door seal of the washing machine. On these occasions not much dye is caught.

                    It would, I feel be interesting to see what effect if any, an old piece of absorbant white cloth would have on a coloured wash load. Maybe the cloth is simply acting as some kind of sacrificial anode and there is nothing that special about these sheets - who knows?

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                    Conclusion
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                    On the whole I think that this product is quite good, particularly when used with garments manufactured from white and coloured material. However, given the lengthy list of "Hints and Tips", I don't think I will ever trust these sheets to keep my whites clean in a mixed wash load. With regard to value for money, I feel that the price isn't excessive but obviously if you have to use 2 or 3 per washing load, a box of 10 will be used up in no time.

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                      26.09.2009 15:18
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                      Great value quality product that does exactly what it says on the box. Recommended.

                      I must confess that I don't buy or wear make-up very often, as I don't really have the time or inclination and can't really justify spending obscene amounts of money on what is essentially coloured grease. Because of this, I normally make do with cheap and not-so-cheerful products, rarely buying recognizable brands. However, I was shopping in my local Tesco Extra store this week and noticed they were clearing out a discontinued range of Maybelline cosmetic products at sensible prices and before long I found myself rummaging through the bargain bin. The product I eventually bought was a Maybelline 18 hour Superstay lipstick priced at just £3.98.

                      The manufacturer claims that this two-part product will give lasting colour for 18 hours whilst the conditioning balm provides super soft lips. I am always sceptical about such claims, as I have had so many lipsticks in the past that have not fulfilled such promises, but given that Superstay was on offer, I thought I'd give it a try.

                      The product itself is contained in a double ended tube - one end contains the coloured lip gloss with application wand and the other end contains a conventional lip balm-like clear gloss. The fruity smelling coloured gloss is applied first and needs to be left to dry for two minutes before applying the conditioning balm over the top. The colour I chose was rose quartz which is a fairly neutral shade of pink with an almost sparkly wet-look finish which I was delighted with. Apparently, Maybelline manufacture 26 shades in this range so there is something for everyone, particularly if you like a rich moist look. Does it stay on for 18 hours? The simple answer to this is "Yes" and best of all after 18 hours the shiny colour looked almost as good as it did immediately after application. To my surprise there was little fading and few signs of wear throughout the course of the day even after eating. In fact the lipstick stayed on so well it was a bit of a challenge to remove afterwards and I have found that an oil based make-up remover does the trick, you will not shift this lipstick easily with ordinary make-up remover wipes - I've tried.

                      I can therefore conclude that this product looks great, feels great and does indeed last for over 18 hours. How refreshing it is to find a relatively inexpensive cosmetic product that performs so well. Highly recommended.

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                        21.09.2009 16:05
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                        Disappointing compared to the old size, but still good value for money when on promotion.

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                        Price and availability
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                        Nestle Smarties Ice cream cones seem to be pretty much universally available and so far the best deal I have found is available at Asda where you can buy 2 boxes of 6 cones for £3, individually the boxes cost £1.99 each.

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                        Packaging
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                        Smarties Ice cream cones come attractively packaged inside a navy blue box featuring lots of brightly coloured Smarties and the brand name in large bold lettering across the front - they are very easy to identify in the freezer section of most supermarkets because of this eye-catching, fun looking packaging. Each cone is individually wrapped in gold coloured foil-like paper sealed with a circular paper disc on top which features the same colour scheme and design as the outer box.

                        Upon removal of the protective paper disc the first thing I noticed was a one inch deep air gap between the packaging and the top of the cone. It is only when the wrapper is completely removed that it becomes apparent how small these cones actually are. I have been buying these cones for months and the ice cream used to come right up to the top of the packaging, not short filled like these were. At first I though it was a one-off but every single cone in the box appeared short-filled which was really annoying. So annoying in fact that I took it upon myself to contact the manufacturers (R&R ice cream) to request an explanation. After a couple of weeks, they responded saying that these cones weren't short filled but they were a new size aimed at bringing the product in line with competitors products The letter went on to blame the downsizing on the recession and the rising cost in ingredients. Although this is probably a feasible excuse, why present the product in its original sized packaging? This in my opinion is a bit deceptive as kids think they are getting a huge cone only to be disappointed with a piddly little mini-cone once the oversized packaging has been removed. Did the manufacturers really think that customers wouldn't notice this downsizing?Surely they could have put a note on the box along the lines of "New Size" or something.


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                        The cone itself
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                        Anyway, now I've had my rant I will go on to describe the cone itself. Inside the foil is a crisp biscuit cone which contained a very white looking vanilla flavoured ice cream which is liberally peppered with brightly coloured Smartie pieces. On top of the ice cream is a generous portion of whole mini Smarties which kids love - and before you ask, yes there are blue ones. The biscuit cone is quite crunchy to the bite and doesn't fall apart during consumption of the cone. As I said earlier, the volume of ice cream is extremely disappointing and tastes a bit like Mister Whippy but a bit firmer in texture. I find these cones a bit too sickly, but my kids love the taste and the different textures offered by the fragmented Smarties.

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                        Nutritional Information
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                        Each of these downsized 115ml cones contains 210 Kcal, 18.8g of sugar and 9.7g of fat. In my opinion they aren't really worth the calorie consumption, but I suppose they are not really marketed for adults.

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                        Conclusion
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                        Smarties cones represent a relatively inexpensive treat for children, particularly when they are on offer in Asda and in that respect they still represent reasonable value for money. However I still think Nestle are a bit sneaky selling a downsized product in standard sized packaging hence my 3 star rating.

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                        • Cussons Carex / Hand & Nail Care / 60 Readings / 60 Ratings
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                          07.09.2009 16:38
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                          Great soap, good value for money when bought on promotion.

                          I don't know about you, but I can't stand seeing used bars of soap in bathrooms, particularly if they are cracked or veined with other people's dirt and germs. I have always bought liquid hand soaps, and last month I must confess I went through the best part of ten bottles in my house. Before you start posting comments, I don't suffer from OCD and I'm not Lady Macbeth; the reason for my temporary obsession with hand washing was the fact I was visiting my Dad who was seriously ill in hospital and I was paranoid about germ transfer. As I needed a liquid hand soap that was tough on germs yet kind to my skin I opted for Carex liquid soap as this claimed to fulfil my criteria.

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                          Price and availability
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                          The traditional bottle of blue Carex soap is available almost everywhere and the price does vary depending on the outlet. I found the cheapest place was Asda who were promoting it at 4 x 250ml bottles for £3. I don't think you'll get it much cheaper than that.

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                          Packaging
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                          Carex hand soap comes simply packaged in a see through cuboid shaped plastic container which can be recycled or refilled when empty. The soap is dispensed via a press down pump action top which seals the bottle. The soap inside gives the bottle a distinctive blue appearance making the bottle easy to identify on the shelf along with clear concise product brand labelling.

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                          Manufacturers Claims
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                          Carex antibacterial hand wash is gentle yet effective in helping to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness. The product is dermatologically tested with a non-drying formulation. It contains a unique blend of moisturisers, it is dermatologically tested and kills 99.8% of bacteria.

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                          My experience and opinion
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                          The soap is easy to dispense, simply push down on the top and just the right amount of soap is dispensed into the hand. The soap is blue in colour and quite viscous so the soap sticks to your hand rather than dribbling between your fingers before you've had chance to work up a lather. The soap has a clean, fresh aroma which I personally thought smelled like kids bubble bath. Once water is added, the soap produces a pleasant workable lather, not too frothy, but just right and it rinses clean away with no slimy residue. After use, my hands did feel clean and even with the excessive washing described above, there was no irritation to my skin, even under my rings. I cannot say whether 99.9% of germs are killed, as I don't have access to microbiological facilities, so we'll have to take Cussons word for it.

                          There are two very minor things I don't like about the product and these relate to the bottle itself. Firstly, after the soap is dispensed, the pump seems to run on a little, leaving a thin blue trail all over the washbasin - perhaps some tweaking in the design of the nozzle outlet would remedy this. Secondly, I would prefer it if the bottom of the bottle was a bit wider because the base of the current bottle has a small surface area and more often than not it topples over when the pump is depressed. As a lot of sinks and hand basins are not horizontal with shaped sloping edges, a wider base would be a useful characteristic.

                          Overall I think Carex hand soap represents excellent value for money, particularly at the promotional price I paid. I was pleased to find that it did live up to the manufacturers claims as it does leave hands feeling clean and soft without irritation, even with repeated excessive use. Highly recommended.

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                          • More +
                            28.08.2009 15:34
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                            Not one of Ben and Jerry's finest products.

                            Whilst shopping in Tesco this week I noticed they were selling Ben and Jerry's 500ml ice cream tubs at just £1.99 instead of the usual £3.99. After perusing the flavours on offer, I opted for Baked Alaska because I'd already tried most of the other flavours and I thought the kids would love discovering the little white chocolate polar bears hidden within the ice cream.

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                            Packaging
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                            This particular flavour of Ben and Jerry's ice cream comes packaged in one of the instantly recognisable 500ml squat cardboard tubs bearing the brand name. The Baked Alaska tub is predominantly yellow and brown in colour featuring a melting polar bear alongside the clever tagline "If it's melted, it's ruined" - a reference to it's attempts to raise the awareness of climate change.

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                            The ice cream
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                            Described as vanilla ice cream with marshmallow swirls containing white chocolate polar bears, this ice cream product sounded delicious and I couldn't wait to get the lid of and get stuck in. The container itself was filled to the brim (possibly too full if that's possible) with a creamy white ice cream that was so hard it was impenetrable, and I had to wait a few minutes for it to melt a little before I could begin digging it out.

                            The ice cream itself is pale and creamy in appearance with a multitude of tiny brown vanilla specks and is visually very similar to Carte d'Or vanilla ice cream. Once the ice cream in the serving dishes had melted a little, it was possible to see the cute little white chocolate polar bears - the kids loved this. However the marshmallow component was nowhere to be seen.

                            The predominant flavour of the ice cream was vanilla. Not a nice vanilla, but a sickly, overpowering vanilla- which tasted a lot like Carte d'Or. I must point out at this point that I hate Carte d'Or vanilla ice cream, hence the reason I never buy it. The little white chocolate polar bears, although delicious were very few and far between and I reckon there were no more than about a dozen in the whole tub. The marshmallow component of this product was conspicuous by its absence. I felt this element was vital, as the ice cream needed a contrasting texture and flavour to break up the sickliness of the vanilla. I also felt that the ice cream melted far too quickly in the serving dish resulting in a visually unappetising sloppy mush peppered with little bits of polar bear that had been amputated by the spoon.

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                            Nutritional Information
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                            Each 100ml serving contains a massive 215kcal, 23g of sugar and 12g of fat. Usually, the calorie content of luxury ice cream is somewhat mitigated by the fantastic taste but I'm afraid to say that this is not the case with Baked Alaska, and in my opinion is a waste of a calorie allowance.

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                            Overall verdict
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                            Extremely disappointing. Having sampled and enjoyed a lot of Ben and Jerry's creations over the years, both here in the UK and in the USA, I had come to expect a unique, superior quality product, but sadly, Baked Alaska failed to deliver. I would simply describe this ice cream as a rich vanilla ice cream interspersed with white chocolate bits. Nothing special, and certainly nothing worth the hefty price tag that normally accompanies it. In fact I feel somewhat cheated at the £1.99 I paid for it and would not recommend it to anyone. Go for Phish Food instead or make your own by adding a packet of Milkybar buttons to a tub of Carte d'Or vanilla ice cream - it will taste the same and it's cheaper!

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                            • More +
                              27.08.2009 16:04
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                              Makes 12 decorated mini-muffins

                              I normally prefer to bake cakes from scratch, particularly if I'm making something as simple as muffins. However, my 6 year old daughter wanted to make some cakes to serve to her friends who were coming over for tea so I went shopping for suitable cake toppings and spotted this Jane Asher Milkybar baking mix priced at just 99p in my local B&Ms store. As it worked out cheaper to buy this than to buy a couple of packets of chocolate buttons, I thought I'd give it a go.

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                              Packaging and contents
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                              The recyclable cardboard box containing the ingredients is cream and red in colour with the unmistakable Nestle Milkybar logo on the front in bold navy blue lettering accompanied by a picture of a baked muffin and the Milkybar Kid. Inside the box are 2 small packets of mini Milkybar buttons, a brown sachet containing the muffin mix, a white sachet containing the topping mix and 12 mini muffin cases.

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                              Preparation & Decoration
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                              In addition to the mix, you will need 1 egg, 25g of butter and 75ml of vegetable oil. The 7 step-by-step "How To Make" instructions are outlined on the back of the outer box and the cakes are very easy to make. In a nutshell, the mix goes into a bowl with the egg and the oil, the whole lot is mixed, dolloped into the cases and baked for 12 minutes. Simple. Even a child can do it.

                              Once the cakes have been removed from the oven (by a responsible adult, of course), they need to be placed on a wire rack to cool. Whilst cooling, the buttercream topping can be made by beating the butter and the contents of the white sachet until smooth and creamy. This topping is then spread on top of the cooled cakes and decorated using the Milkybar buttons provided. Before you ask, there are some spare buttons left over for the little budding chef to eat.

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                              Finished product
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                              The end product is a golden brown, light textured mini fairy cake covered in a sickly sugary buttercream topping, embellished with a couple of Milkybar buttons. Not particularly imaginative, but kids love them. I personally found them a bit too sickly for my palate.

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                              Nutritional Information
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                              Each cake contains 140 calories, 11.7g sugars, 7.9g fat, 2.2g saturates and 0.1g salt.

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                              My opinion
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                              I felt that the mix represented good value for money, as it was quick and simple to do without requiring masses of additional ingredients. It is worth noting that an element of precision is required when measuring out the butter and the oil, because the dried ingredients provide leave little scope for error.

                              Although relatively foolproof, I must have a bit of a moan about the instructions. This mix is described as "My First Baking Mix", the product being marketed as a child's introduction to baking. With this in mind, I felt that the wording of the instructions could have been better pitched, such that small children could actually read the words themselves rather than relying on the supervising adult. For example stage 4 says to "whisk vigorously for 2 minutes". How many small children can read the word "vigorously"? Could the manufacturers not have said "Mix well," or something similar? My daughter had no problems with the instructions, but I suspect that many younger children might. In addition to this, I felt that the print itself was a little off-putting and difficult to read as the typeface used is quite small, and red lettering on a cream background is not the clearest.

                              Overall the mix is definitely worth a try if you want to make relatively inexpensive cakes with the kids.

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                              • More +
                                20.08.2009 19:16
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                                OK for a short trip out if you live locally but not worthy of a special, lengthy journey.

                                As we were nearing the end of the school holidays and I would probably have slit my wrists if I had to watch another episode of Spongebob Squarepants, I was determined to drag the kids out of the house away from the TV with a view to going somewhere different.

                                After much deliberation, I eventually decided on a trip out to Cheshire Candle Workshops because it wasn't too far for us to travel, we hadn't been there before and if it had turned out to be lousy, there was always the nearby Cheshire Ice Cream Farm for back up.

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                                Location
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                                Situated in the beautiful Cheshire countryside not too far from the city of Chester, the Candle Workshops are accessible from the A49, A51 and A534. Follow the brown Tourist signs for Candle Workshops or type CH3 9PF into your Sat. Nav. You do travel down lots of narrow winding country lanes, sometimes feeling as though you've missed the turn off, but be patient and you will get there. One important thing to note is the final turn-off into the car park is located on a blind bend, remember this particularly when you are leaving because it is very difficult to see if there is any oncoming traffic.

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                                Opening Times
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                                The Workshop is open all year round, seven days a week from 10am-5pm including Sundays and Bank Holidays.

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                                Car Parking
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                                Car Parking and entrance to the site is free and there are several car and coach parking spaces on a dusty, gravelly potholed surface. We were able to find a space quite easily but I would imagine on a sunny Sunday afternoon or Bank Holiday Monday it could be quite a fight. On the day of our visit there were a few torrential downpours which turned the dust bowl into a quagmire within a matter of minutes. If there is any message here it is don't travel in a brand spanking new car and do wear sensible shoes. I would recommend that disabled visitors and people with pushchairs park as close to the main entranceas possible to avoid the bulk of this uneven surface.

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                                Access and facilities
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                                The ground floor of the Candle Workshops is ramped to facilitate disabled and pushchair access. The upper floor as far as I could see was reached by a flight of wooden stairs and access for disabled was not obvious. It is possible there was a hidden elevator or something, but I didn't notice it. Assuming access to the upper floor is possible for wheelchair bound people, movement around the floorspace would be very tricky as the gangways and aisles between the displays and gondolas was very narrow. Movement around the ground floor seemed relatively unrestricted in comparison as the main area is much more open-plan. Toilets and baby changing facilities are available, but I can't really comment on them because we didn't use them.

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                                The Make It Yourself Workshop
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                                On the day of our visit, there was a large queue for this activity, which I was told was typical most days. The cost of making your own candle is £1.40, which is payable to the cashier just outside the DIY candle area. Upon payment you are presented with a small home made laminated ticket and instructed to put on an apron or tabard from the coatpegs hanging in the corner of the messy area. These are difficult to access during busy periods and would be better located adjacent to the cashier.

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                                Making your candle
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                                Once you have donned your protective apron you are invited to gather around a relatively small workbench which accommodates about 12 people at a time. A member of staff them gives a short presentation on the subject of wax and candles followed by a quick demonstration. Each person is then give a length of pre-treated candle wick which is held at the mid-point and dipped into the uncoloured wax. Once it is removed from the melted wax, the excess is allowed to drip back into the wells and the wick is dipped into cold water. This process is repeated about 10 times until each end of the wick looks like a thin candle. At this stage each end of the wick may be dipped in different coloured waxes using the same procedure outlined above; the only difference being colouring only requires 2 or 3 dips. Whilst still warm and maleable, the two newly formed coloured candles may be twisted together to make a single two coloured candle. The whole thing is then dipped in clear sealing wax and put into a tub of cold water to cool down before the finished article is hung to dry on a hook for collection 15 minutes later. Take care to note which number hook your candle is on, because when you go back later, it looks pretty much the same as everyone elses creations.

                                Although my children enjoyed making their candles, I felt that the work area needed to be bigger to accommodate the number of people and I also felt that the staff were a little pushy, rushing the smaller children to progress through each stage in order to keep the queue moving. Although candle making isn't rocket science, the staff cannot possibly expect a six year old to progress through the activity as quickly as an adult, and should refrain from chastising the child for taking their time. I felt as though the member of staff in charge of this area effectively took over the projects of the smaller tots just to hurry them to the end point and out of the workshop to let the next lot of would be candle makers into the somewhat restricted space. Talk about we've had your money, so get lost wasn't in it. Whilst I can genuinely appreciate they are running a business, in my opinion it is things like good customer rapport and service that promote repeat custom, thus benefitting the business in the long term. In my view, this blatant hurried throughput of customers has left my opinion somewhat tarnished.

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                                The ground floor
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                                Apart from the DIY candle making area, the majority of the ground floor is a candle and candle accessories showroom. Candles are available in all colours, shapes sizes and aromas complete with or without holders, candelabra and dishes of all shapes and sizes. The choice is pretty much endless.

                                There is also a small section which sells specially shaped and scented soap and bath products. Some of the soaps are a work of art. And come in all shapes, sizes and prices starting at around £1 for a small piece, something to suit every budget. Not only do these soaps look fantastic but they smell great too. I bought a "slice" of soap which resembles the cross section of a Bakewell tart, it is visually stunning and actually smells of almonds. I would recommend a visit to this area if you are looking for an unusual, unique gift. Also available in this area are boxes of bath bombs which are fashioned and presented like a box of luxury chocolates. These aren't cheap ranging from £5.99 for a box of six small bombs up to £11.99 for a larger box but they are novel and would make a great gift.

                                A tiny area of the ground floor houses a small collection of restored vintage arcade games which children can play on if they purchase tokens from the booth at the entrance to this area.

                                Also on the ground floor there is a tired looking café area where basic hot and cold meals, snacks and beverages may be purchased at captive audience inflated prices of course. We didn't bother eating here because it didn't look that great and I begrudge spending money on food for the kids to leave. When we left we went to the Ice Cream Farm a couple of miles down the road and ate there instead.

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                                The Upper Floor
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                                Accessed via a wooden staircase, the upper floor was in my opinion a claustrophobe's nightmare. There was so much stuff up there you could hardly move without risking knocking something off a shelf. The majority of the floorspace is devoted to the promotion of mass produced Taiwanese or Chinese c**p being masqueraded under the banner of "crafts". Admittedly some of the more tasteful items on display were of decent quality but as you might expect, they were ridiculously overpriced. In addition to the plethora of tat occupying valuable floorspace were a number of DIY craft stalls where for around £1.50 a time children could make their own badges and other bits and pieces. I know £1.50 per activity doesn't sound much, but multiply this out by the number of children you have in tow and the outlay really does mount up. I felt these activities didn't really offer good value for money.

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                                Conclusion
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                                If you are in the area then Cheshire Candle Workshops is certainly worth a quick visit. You will not be able to spend a whole day there, in fact you may struggle to pass more than an hour or so, but it is only a couple of miles from the Ice Cream Farm which makes a worthy tie-in. The Candle Workshop offers an excellent selection of candle related products (obviously) and I was impressed by the soap and bath bomb gift ideas. From a child's perspective, the DIY candle section offers the opportunity to try something new and creative, but I did feel an overriding sense of being rushed by the staff in a bid to keep the queues down. Not a bad little trip out, but as my old school teacher used to say "could do better".

                                .

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                                • What's In Your Bag? / Discussion / 67 Readings / 65 Ratings
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                                  19.08.2009 20:54
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                                  Not a very exciting bag of stuff but practical nonetheless.

                                  I am happy to admit that I'm not very fashion conscious and always tend to sway on the side of practicality and this tendency is reflected in the contents of my bag. My choice of handbag has always been dictated by the amount of "essential" stuff I have had to carry around for the kids, but now they are getting a bit older I have been able to downsize from a small suitcase sized bag to a medium sized shoulder bag. The bag I have at the moment is a soft, medium sized brown suede bag which I bought in the sale for £25 from an Ecco outlet store a few years ago. As I take the same bag with me everywhere I go, it was essential that I chose one with a secure zip top fastening and an additional popper fastening flap. I would like to think that a bag with these features would present more of a challenge to thieves/pickpockets when I'm out shopping.

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                                  The contents
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                                  My purse - a small black leather purse in which contains my cash cards and various store "reward" cards. I tend to carry very little cash, preferring to use a debit card wherever possible. If these are lost or stolen, I can always cancel them, with cash if you lose it, its gone.

                                  Mobile phone - I own a bog standard black Motorola Razr phone which was relatively cheap to buy, simple to use and is quite robust. In the past I've had nice looking expensive phones (many of the features never used) which have broken quite easily, so now I ever buy relatively cheap pay as you go phones focussing more on the network charges/deals that meet the needs of my family rather than having the latest must have mobile.

                                  A Pen - I always carry a decent pen, at the moment I have a Stabilo retractable ergonomically designed pen which has been a faithful servant for over a year. I was sick of Bic biros breaking and spewing that impossible to clean sticky inky mess all over the bottom corner of my bag - hence a pen with a chunky tough exterior.

                                  A small notepad - My notepad is only about 2" x 1", and came from a Christmas cracker. It is ideal for scribbling down phone numbers and doesn't take up much space.

                                  A miniature tape measure - again from a Christmas cracker, I carry this tiny tape measure with me everywhere when I'm out shopping. More often than not, when shopping alone, I spot clothes I think my kids will like, but as we all know, sizing between different brands varies greatly so I simply measure the items to see if they will fit before buying them.

                                  Tissues/ wet wipes - I always carry a small packet of tissues and/or wet wipes because it saves the kids wiping their hands on their clothes or my car's upholstery after a McDonalds Drive Through!

                                  A small anti bacterial spray - I have always carried one of these since the kids were toddlers to satisfy my paranoia with regard to hygiene in restaurants and public toilets whilst out. There are many types and sizes of these anti-bacterial sprays and gels available on the market at the moment because a lot of people are now carrying them thinking they will magically prevent them from catching Swine Flu. I will settle for my kids having germ free hands before they eat,

                                  Rennies - I always carry a small blister pack of mint Rennies because I suffer with indigestion thanks to a hiatus hernia and these minty chalky tablets help to keep a lid on the discomfort.

                                  Nintendo DS - at the moment there is a DS in my handbag. As I said earlier, my bag has to accommodate my kids stuff so there is usually at least one console in there at any one time along with a spare stylus.

                                  And that's it. The contents of my bag are not very exciting, some might say boring, but I prefer to use the word practical.

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