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Diana43

Diana43
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Member since: 08.01.2010

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    • Tesco / Highstreet Shopping / 118 Readings / 100 Ratings
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      15.06.2010 16:26
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      Does Tesco deserve to be at the top of the market?

      Tesco's the largest supermarket chain in the UK holding over 30% of the market share, its next competitor is Asda who hold 16.9% of the market. Jack Cohen started a stall selling surplus groceries in the east end of London in 1919 in 1924 he opened his first store in Edgware. In 1947 Tesco was floated on the Stock Exchange and steadily grew to one of the most successful businesses in the world. Tesco stores are now found all over the world from China to the USA. Tesco sells food, home wear, clothes, gardening equipment, electronics and fuel. It has its own banking and telecoms too.

      I have been a loyal shopper with Tesco's over the years and have benefited from the loyalty Clubcard that they run. It is the most comprehensive of all of the loyalty cards with great offers available. Tesco has its own value brand which in most cases is as good as most of the other leading brands. Tesco are all for creating a greener planet and are front runners in promoting this. Using your own bags in store will give you extra clubcard points and they offer among other things a recycling centre for ink cartridges.

      I have decided to write this review because I am infuriated by my recent shopping experiences with Tesco. Can I firstly point out that I am not racist? I have many friends in ethnic minorities, my mum is German and my brother in law is of black Caribbean descent. I am well-travelled and embrace different cultures and religions. I am however of the belief that everyone in life should be treated equally. This is where Tesco's have slipped up in my eyes.

      I was at a dinner party recently; my host's daughter was back from university and was joining us to dine. During the meal she explained that she was job hunting for the summer holidays, it wasn't going too well either. Amy explained to me that she had been put in a job application but had been turned down by Tesco's. She was angry because someone at her university had just secured the same job but this young lady had been in the UK for only a few months, her English was very bad and she was not as qualified as Amy was. The friend explained that she had applied for the job after being told about a recruitment drive solely for Asian, Black or minority ethnic backgrounds. The link is below.

      http://www.windsor-fellowship.org/Default.aspx?ID=116

      I was totally outraged. My favourite store is racist not only that, it is discriminating against us Brits.

      If you read the link, you are probably furious too.

      The icing on the cake for me was last week I popped into the huge Tesco Superstore at Thurrock, Lakeside. I was looking for Quark, which wasn't with the soft cheeses. I approached an Indian assistant and asked him where I could find the Quark, OK given that it is not your usual everyday product but he couldn't understand anything that I said. I smiled and went to find someone else to ask. The second gentleman (or not), after lifting his eyes from my chest, also failed to understand my well spoken English. I took off in search of someone who could help me, much to my dismay I was followed by the eager breast man. When I reached the third assistant, (yet another Indian man) the pursuing assistant started to talk Indian with him, here I am in England, not being able to understand a word of what was being said. The offending man continued to stare and gestured towards my bosom as they talked, the pair of them shared a private joke and laughed at which point I turned and walked away.

      I found my daughter and we got into the queue at the clothes counter to do an exchange. There were eight people in front of us and one Pakistani man serving. We waited for a few minutes whilst the assistant struggled with the till, it appeared he couldn't even operate it properly and realising it would take a long time before we would get served, I dragged my daughter off to the Customer Services desk. What a relief, someone who spoke English comprehensively. The lady asked if I was okay, she could see that I was obviously upset. I explained that I was quite angry and told her what had happened. I received an apology and she begged me to fill out a comment card and give it in, she was aware that the way that the young men look at the woman shoppers is wrong and had seen it first-hand. She also told me that all the new staff are Indian or Pakistani and most of them new to the UK and can't speak English fluently.

      I am sick to death of not being able to voice my concerns because it isn't politically correct. I am not racist; I just feel that Tesco is discriminating against the British public.

      I miss Tesco's but after visiting several other stores and facing similar problems, I have had enough,

      I want someone to serve me who speaks English, I don't care if they are pink with purple spots but I think that we should be giving priority to British workers first. Can you imagine the uproar if employers recruited just English born workers? Has the world we live in gone mad?

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      • Clicksingles.co.uk / Internet Site / 125 Readings / 120 Ratings
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        29.05.2010 15:38
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        Novel dating dates.

        Do I like being single? Yes. Do my family and friends like me being single? No. I have found that after coming out of a troubled marriage and through a dreadful divorce that I am happy just to be myself. I am finding my feet and confidence. I am learning to be a whole person again. My family however have different views. They think that I should have a man in my life and worry about me constantly. Much to my horror I am continually being introduced to perspective sole mates.

        After being single for two years I thought that maybe they had a point and I should be looking for Mr Right. I didn't really want to go out and meet someone but I started to feel that there was something wrong with me because I liked being single. Eventually I gave in to peer pressure and decided to look round at what was available for singles who were looking for romance. I dabbled with Internet dating and even had a pleasant date one evening. At the end of the evening I explained that I did like him and that I had a lovely time but it had made me realise that I still wasn't ready for dating yet. He followed me home and then stalked me for a week. The experience unnerved me and it was a year before I started to consider it again. My friend and I talked about it and decided to see what else is available for single women.

        I looked on the Internet and found Click Singles Dating. It was a very structured website which comprehensively covered all aspects of dating. There is an annual membership fee of £35 which gives you a good discount on all of the events that are held. Click Singles cover the South East, Bristol, Manchester, London, Birmingham and Newcastle. There is online dating, speed dating, dinner dating, singles parties, social networking events and even holidays. A typical dinner dating ball will cost £45 for non-members and £35 for members. The age groups are specified and ages range from 23-35, 30-45, 43-55 and 50 plus. There is plenty to do if you prefer not to go out in the evening. If you fancy a singles walk, a day trip to France or an amble around an antiques fair, then this website could be really good for you.

        Click Singles offers One2One introductions for a £395.00 annual fee, Introduction membership gives you unlimited Introductions for a full year. They say that if you feel more comfortable going on a one2one date and you would like to choose your own partner via a comprehensive profile then this is the service for you. They explain that you that you will be interviewed at home by an experienced Dateline representative. It provides an exclusive dating and introductions service operating both online and offline for those serious about meeting genuine, like-minded people.

        I decided along with 5 of my single friends to attend an event in a local wine bar. The evening cost was £10 for non-members and £5 for members which we thought was reasonable. When we arrived we were greeted at the door by one of the organisers, I was very nervous and couldn't believe I was even there. We found a table bought some wine and sat down to take in the atmosphere. The bar started to fill up very quickly, I felt quite uncomfortable because men were openly staring at us. My experienced friends unfortunately were openly ogling back. I am sorry if I offend anyone now but there were lots of little, old, bald men with shiny polyester suits who descended on us. I must say that I like little, I like old and I like bald but not collectively and not salivating in front of me. The problem was that we were surrounded and they wouldn't take no for an answer. I will enlighten you; we are a group of well-groomed, tall, elegant ladies in our 40's, there were all nearer to 70.

        Much to my relief the organisers decided it was time to mingle. My relief however turned into panic as we were given a card with a name of a piece of fruit written on it. The idea was to get as many matches as you could with the opposite sex. There was a prize for the most matches. Alarmingly for ample busted lady, I was to be a melon. The whistle went and a frenzied stampede ensued. I ran for cover, hiding behind a big potted plant I looked on in fascination. Everyone appeared to be having a fantastic time. As I looked around the wine bar I could see that there were already a few budding relationships blossoming. One of the organisers spotted me and dragged me out. I begged him to let me help out, he humoured me and so I was presented with a whistle and got stuck into encouraging the other party goers. For me it was a good way to be there but not participate.

        The evening was fun and I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. I did strike up a friendship but it was with a charming lady. The organiser also asked me out which made my day as he was really nice. I declined because yet again I realised that I am still not ready to find romance. One of my friends met a lovely man who she is still seeing 5 months later. As we left there were many couple exchanging numbers, so it was a successful evening for many. I did find out later that the men, who I mentioned earlier, had all swooped down on Sevenoaks which is quite an affluent area in the hope of meeting a rich wife so they fib about their ages to get in.

        Although I haven't attended any more Click Single events my friends have. They have done a variety of things including bowling, casino, cycling and dinner dating. One friend is also considering a holiday to one of the Greek Islands this year. None of my friends have done speed dating but the photos on their website are good and show well organised, informal events.

        Even though I am still not ready for romance and maybe I will stay that way, who knows. Click singles would definitely at the top of my list if I did feel ready to date again. The party night wasn't my sort of evening but there is a great choice of other social events to choose from, it is well structured and the organisers are energetic and friendly not too pushy. A lot of thought has gone into this singles dating site. It offers that little bit extra and presents a lot more relaxed atmosphere in which to meet others.

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          26.05.2010 20:43
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          We are letting our children down with a flawed system.

          My experiences with the CSA are different to the other reviews I have read and I wanted to give a more positive angle on this government run body. It hasn't let me down on the contrary it has supported me and offered invaluable help in securing maintenance for my children.

          The CSA or Child Support Agency is part of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission. They will chase up, find and collect money from non-supportive, non-resident parents. In other word those parents who bring a child into the world but do not want to help the child financially. It recognises that parents have a duty to provide for their children. The CSA have enforcement powers that allow deductions from earnings and will even prosecute a defaulter.

          My ex was a very high earner having worked in the City all of his life. He threatened to give up work when we were separating because he said that he would never support us. He was eventually made redundant as a result of poor performance. He has since worked abroad to dodge maintenance. I do not want to take him to court because I don't want the contact with him, although I would be better off. I contacted the CSA when I found out he had been working back in the City for some time. My ex hasn't given me a penny for the children for three years. They are teenagers and I think it is just that he should be giving them something to make their lives easier.

          The CSA is without doubt a seriously flawed system. It needs to be straightened out immediately. It needs to listen to those who have used the system and have experienced its failing's first-hand and it needs to learn from their experiences. It does however have some very caring people running the operation, these people are as frustrated by the procedures as the users. I have encountered many helpful people who have made my journey easier. I have been handled with care and have been kept abreast of the numerous developments that my ex has instigated.

          The first huge flaw in the system is that a parent doesn't have to volunteer to pay child maintenance; it is the burden of the resident parent to find out if the other parent is working and then inform the CSA or take the case to court. There are a few parents who volunteer to support their children and contact the agency themselves, I admire those few. If the parent has been working for years you cannot claim back maintenance because you failed to notify them. What a fantastic system we have! It is the children who suffer and something should be done to amend this ridiculous rule. Both parents have a responsibility to their children. We should be supporting our children not making it okay for parents to dodge their financial responsibilities. There must be a new law put in place that enforces this. As a mother and a foster carer I know the cost of picking up the pieces financially and emotionally.

          The second rule which I found ludicrous was that the CSA has up to six weeks to enter the case into the system. I was lucky I was told because my case only took just over two weeks. The non-paying parent is then contacted. In my case he pretended that he wasn't the person they were looking for, he tried to delay the initial contact which didn't work because the calls are recorded, so when he did finally admit he was who they were looking for, they had recording to verify they had notified him months before.

          If you think the calculation is unfair, you have the right to oppose this decision; the appeal will go forward and be reviewed in a court of law. If your circumstances change you have an obligation to notify the CSA, this however isn't a legal obligation. When an assessment is made of their earnings it only takes into account the earnings over the last year or however long they have been in that employment if shorter. If they are paid out dividends or bonuses this won't show immediately and won't be calculated. Again it is your duty to ask the CSA to do an update on earnings. I was advised to do this annually. They say it is a criminal offence if someone fails to give the CSA information or gives information that they know is false. Realistically they are not going to chase all parents up or check their salaries. It should be a legal requirement although the CSA will take them to court if they found out and the parent could be fined up to £1,000. They say they are successful in around 95% of these cases. In my ex-husbands case £1000 is nothing, what does he have to loose? nothing! and the financial gains are substantial if he keeps quite about his substantial bonus.

          There is a nice little loophole in the calculations, if you pay into a pension this can't be calculated towards maintenance. My very clever ex-husband discovered this and immediately dissolved half of his salary into his pension fund. I am fortunate that I was made aware of this and I am now appealing. I have been told that because it is an unreasonable amount that he will not be allowed to continue to do so and the pension will be included in the calculations. I have the CSA to thank for advising me and sending me a variation of assets form. I am appealing against this decision and hope for my children's sake that it will be upheld.

          I am fortunate that the people I talked to at the CSA were supportive and very helpful. I felt that they were all against the rules and red tape that govern them. They went out of their way to patiently explain and guide me through the process. Five months later I have had my first payment, it was taken directly from his earnings, and without the CSA I wouldn't have seen a penny.

          My conclusion is, fight for your children. I let them down by not doing anything sooner. It is both parents right to support their children. We have a government body that will help us do that. It isn't perfect but there are kind, warm caring people on the other end of the phone. I had heard many stories over the years, completely annihilating the CSA. Don't be deterred as I was. They care and I was dealt with, with respect and dignity.

          I am giving this a 4 star for the lovely, helpful staff that I encountered and not for the system.

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          • Travel Stories / Discussion / 144 Readings / 137 Ratings
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            26.04.2010 13:49
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            Humility in the face of disaster

            I was laying by the pool of our rented villa in Mombasa, a cold glass of Tusker beer in one hand, enjoying the caressing breeze coming from the gently swaying palm trees above me. Nothing could dampen my spirits as I watched my two daughters shriek with delight from the pool as we watched a monkey jump on to one of the sunbeds and proceeded to eat the cashew nuts that they had left there. Our chef was in the kitchen preparing a delicious smelling lunch for us; could life get better than this?

            We were enjoying a last minute break before the end of the Easter holidays. My son, 18, had decided to stay at home and because we were only going to be away for 9 days, I agreed. Had I known the implications of this decision and the impact it would have on all of us I would never had concurred.

            We were due to fly to Nairobi in the evening, so we had a relaxing day at home and then a stress free journey to the airport. Check in was very quick so we decided to spoil ourselves and went into one of the airport lounges and enjoyed a few refreshments before we boarded our flight to Kenya. Whilst sitting in the lounge, my eldest daughter said that something just had to go wrong; she remarked that things had gone too smoothly and she thought that something bad was going to happen. Naturally we dismissed her prophecy of doom and continued to relax and enjoy the start of our journey.

            The flight was enjoyable, the connecting flight from Nairobi to Mombasa was equally as pleasant and stress free. We arrived dishevelled but happy at the villa around midday. The accommodation was even better than we expected. It didn't take us long before we were covered in sun-tan cream and splashing around in the Indian Ocean. We had a perfect holiday but on the last day as I was laying by the pool I received a shocking text message. A volcano had erupted in Iceland, there were no flights home. It was all very surreal, and hard to comprehend the enormity of the situation. We surfed the net and became more and more alarmed as we realised that this wasn't going to be a short term problem and it was in fact an international disaster.

            On the morning that we were due to fly home we packed up and headed to the airport. We took our scheduled flight to Nairobi where we tried to get some more information as to when they expected flights to resume. The airport staff were indifferent to our situation and extremely unhelpful. We were told to hang around all day and listen to announcements. We asked at another check in desk and were told by the same airline that we should go and find a hotel and then phone in everyday to get updates.

            We sat in a café at the airport and assessed the situation. I had very little money left but I did have my debit and a couple of credit cards on me. I hadn't contacted my bank to tell them we were out of the country because I thought I had taken enough cash with me. Would I have problems trying to use my card? I tried to phone my insurance company but the numbers they had given on my policy documents weren't in use. We were fortunate enough to have free WI-FI so we trawled through the entire hotel booking websites that I could find. We couldn't find any triple rooms available, a double and a single rooms would cost me $300 + per night for B&B, and the prices were rising by the minute. Had we known it was just for a couple of nights it wouldn't have been a problem but with no end in sight I didn't want to accumulate huge costs as I suspected that my insurance company would not cover my expenditure and I didn't want to be left with colossal bills.

            After six fruitless hours and a flat laptop battery we were no nearer finding a hotel. My daughter suggested we contact my friend whose best friend lives in Nairobi. A couple of text messages and an hour later we were in a beautiful air conditioned car being whisked off to a game lodge. Fortunately for us the friend who lives in Nairobi although not there at the time, happened to have a friend who owned a lodge called Acacia camp on the Swara Plains.

            We arrived at the camp slightly bedraggled and still very anxious. Our bags were whisked off to a little cabin; it was basic, rustic but utterly charming and very clean. After freshening up we were given ice cold drinks and some very welcome nibbles. We were told that the camp was also housing three other volcanic refugees' this was welcome news as we had felt very much alone up until that point. The camp was just what we needed, a calm, tranquil oasis where we could collect our thoughts and try to rationalise our situation. There was free WI-FI so we weren't isolated either.

            We spent three days on the camp watching the news, contacting the airline and just generally trying to get booked on a flight home. My son back home was in a terrible state, he completely went to pieces. I felt so helpless and was becoming increasingly frustrated with Kenyan Airways who were giving conflicting information. We eventually heard that we were booked on a flight on 3rd May another 12 days away. I was outraged. The three other stranded people had flown with Virgin and were booked to go home on 23rd April; Virgin was clearing the backlog of people in priority of booking dates. Kenya Airways were bizarrely making those who had already been stranded for up to a week, wait until they had space on later flights. We were told not to go to the airport and on their website it quite clearly endorsed that information.

            On the fifth morning and sadly for her, my youngest daughter's birthday, we decided to go to the airport and see if we could get more information there as I refused to believe that we wouldn't be able to get a flight until May. Whilst sitting enjoying yet another delicious breakfast, the owner David came to introduce himself. He was concerned that we were going to the airport and felt that it would be a waste of time. This charming gentleman promised us that he would make a few calls and see if he could find out anything for us. At 12pm he rang to say that we should take an early lunch and be ready for a car to pick us up at 1pm. He explained that the airlines were giving priority to students taking exams and as my eldest daughter is due to sit her A levels soon we would be eligible. I couldn't pay by card for my bill so they presented me with an invoice that they were happy for me to settle when I got home, that trust was astonishing and meant so much to me.

            At 1.45pm we arrived at the airport, we were greeted by a lady who informed us that they were holding a flight for us and we would have to hurry. Much to my embarrassment and the horror of my daughters, I started to sob quite loudly. I was so totally overcome; the stress that we had been under for the last four days just erupted within me. My sobs were of utter relief and gratitude. I don't know how David managed to do what he did but we will be eternally grateful for his godlike intervention. Twenty minutes after arriving at the airport we were sitting on the plane, upgraded to Business class with a glass of champagne in our hands.

            As we took off the lady in the seat across the aisle from me squeezed my hand, she too had tears in her eyes. When we landed, for the first time ever, I understood why people cheer when they land. The whole experience was a roller coaster of emotions for me. We saw humility and greed. The kindness that we saw was humbling. I thank god that we were exceptionally lucky, we had a roof over our heads, we even done a few game drives, we met some amazing people and were in a position that we could afford to do so. How many others were stranded and are still stranded, without a bed or money for food and drink?

            Having been caught up in this disaster, I like so many others would like to know who is responsible for the mayhem caused by the enforced no fly zones. That decision has cost the airlines dearly, travellers are facing huge bills and the knock on effect will be colossal. I think that the insurance companies should be made to cover some of the expenses and I think those travellers who have suffered as a result should at the very least receive an apology. If it wasn't for BA heading twenty six planes into London, I think we would still be in Kenya on the game lodge.

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              03.04.2010 14:35
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              A must have cleaning product.

              You may have read my review on Mr Muscle last month. If you did, then you will know that after using it I was left with smeary windows, sparkling taps and very frustrated. My quest to find the perfect window cleaner became paramount. Spring is finally here and every time the beautiful sunlight streams into my house it is a reminder that the rest of my windows still need cleaning. I have tried three other products since, they have all promised to provide me with the cleanest windows ever and none have them have delivered. Then I discovered Unger's Liquid and for those of you who are getting to know me through reading my reviews, I do like to share my little secret gems.

              I have spent copious time and money in my search for a decent window cleaner. I have a cupboard full of gimmicky plastic spray bottles promising results that they don't produce. I was therefore impressed when I spotted Unger's Liquid sitting unpretentiously alongside the professional squeegees in my local Homebase; a 1 litre bottle cost £5.49. I had never seen it before but I was prepared to give it a go. It is a professional cleaner in a no nonsense plastic bottle. It is a green concentrated liquid that has a pleasant lemon aroma. On the bottle it states, skin-friendly formula, streak free shine, very economical and biodegradable. Unger's dilutes 1-100 parts water. Realistically you could clean an averaged sized house for a couple of pence.

              Ingredients consist of (as stated on the bottle) 5% amphoteric surfactants, 5% non-iron surfact and limonene perfume. Unger's is non-foaming and does not leave residual. It has tough cleaning powers, is environmentally friendly and after a couple of hours use it didn't even irritate my sensitive skin. Unger's recommend pre-treating the surface and soaking for a short time, then squeegee off using an Unger's professional squeegee. I also invested in their squeegee when I bought the liquid so I was well prepared.

              I do actually enjoy housework; I get such a sense of satisfaction when my home is sparkly clean and smells lovely and fresh. I think that when your windows are clean the house always feels so much brighter. The front of my house has beautiful leaded light windows which reflect the light in the sun but as you can imagine, also seem to frame the dirt. I usually spend hours buffing the tiny panes of glass and then keep running inside and out to try and get rid of all of the smears. I was quite excited about trying my new Unger's window cleaner and will now share my experience.

              I used warm water because it was a very cold day, the bottle didn't specify the temperature required. I mixed probably more liquid than I should have but it is quite hard to judge the amount. I used a cloth to rub the cleaner into my windows. I done three windows consecutively then went back to the first one and squeegeed off the excess water. The windows were very dirty, I found that it sailed through the grime and even the dried on bird droppings came off very easily. I found that because there were no bubbles or foam the process was particularly easy. I used kitchen towel to soak up the remainder of cleaner around the window frame and the small residual around the corners of the leaded light windows. I then used a lint free cloth and gave the glass a quick buff. The three windows took less than 5 minutes and I had an amazing mirror finish that was totally smear free.

              I have never enjoyed cleaning my windows; it is a chore that I have always dreaded. Since purchasing Unger's liquid I am a convert. I have since cleaned the windows in my parents' house and have been sharing my Unger's with friends and neighbours. I am a sucker for any product that makes your life easier and saves time. Unger's is at the top of my list. I don't know why I haven't heard of it before. I feel the need to spread the word. Unger's is an amazing environmentally friendly, cheap, miracle, window cleaner.

              I looked on the Internet and have found a company called Cleaning Spot who sell it for £2.91 a litre. Unger's liquid also comes in 5 litre containers and can be purchased in gel form.

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                19.03.2010 14:36
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                A good investment.

                BELKIN N1 Vision Wireless DSL Router
                For those of you who have drawn a blank just reading the title, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is a cable internet connection (Virgin internet) A router is an electrical device that takes the internet feed from your modem (a device used to connect computers by a telephone or cable line) and sends it wirelessly to other appliances. It enables you to use laptops, iPods, PlayStations etc. without having to plug directly into the modem. I have 3 children so using a wireless router enables us all to be online at the same time. A good router will give you more channels, therefore decreasing the risk of interruptions in your internet connection. The higher the Mbps (Megabit per second) the faster your internet connection will be.

                After blowing up my last, fairly new, router by inadvertently plugging in the wrong power cable, my son and I took a trip to the shops to find a replacement. My son is a bit of a techno geek so I was glad that he came with me to offer advice. We had done some research beforehand and had quite a good idea of what we needed. We wanted a 300 mbps which is the fastest transmission speed on the market at the moment. My son is a Playstation addict so the connection and speed are very important to his gaming, this was his priority and my main concern is fast browsing.

                Most of the 300 Mbps DSL routers that we looked at fell in the £70- £130 price bracket. Belkin appears to lead the market in wireless routers and had the largest choice available. Most of the routers came in the form of a small black box but the N1 Vision stands alone in style. It is 16cm by 21 cm in size, is high gloss black, slim and is mounted on a silver coloured stand. My son was immediately smitten and I have to say that it seduced me not only in looks but in its simplicity of setup and use. There is a LCD screen on the front that displays your broadband speed, computer bandwidth usage and will show you who is connected to the internet at any given time. If I send the kids off to bed I can see if they are lying in bed chatting to friends on their iPods. I can also see the data usage from each device over the past 24hrs. I think that my son may regret this purchase!

                A great feature on the N1 is the ability to plug and play. I am computer literate but for those of you who enjoy advancing technologically but are lost at times trying to install and setup your equipment this is definitely the router for you. I must admit however that we did have to use the CD included to install it as we were unable to run the plug and play. The setup using the CD was still very quick and simple; it didn't have the option of inputting a Virgin network so we are shown as being connected to Telewest, but this has no effect on the performance.

                I love the security features which are accessible on the front of the router as are all the controls. We have lots of visitors who ask to use the internet (mainly my childrens friends) they can find the guest network via their laptop or iPods and enter the password which is the Key displayed on the router under guest access. This feature enables guests to use your internet connection easily without being able to look at any data from your own computer network. There is no need to access the router via your PC to change any security features either as this can also be done directed from the router menu. The connection can work up to 1600 feet or 485 metres, which I thought was amazing but not very useful for all but the grandest of homes with vast gardens. Belkin say that the N1 Vision offers the best in networking performance with its wireless 802.11n 3x3 radio design and wired gigabit ports. Unfortunately you can only have Maximum 253 (LAN), 16 (WLAN) users at a time!

                We installed our N1 Vision 2 days ago. By the next morning I was ready to take it back. I had such a slow connection on the main computer that I had to disconnect the router whilst I worked and just used the main feed from my router. When my son came home he insisted that my system was just getting used to the router and he thought I would see an improvement quite soon. He was right and an hour later I was back to full throttle. Whilst researching for this review I read that someone else had experienced the same dip in connection speed and had taken his router back. I am glad that I persevered as I am now the proud owner of this excellent piece of equipment.

                We paid £89.97 from Currys who have a special offer on at the moment. We did shop around but this was definitely the cheapest we saw on the high street. I have seen it £10 cheaper on the internet but my son needed it immediately!! I'm just his mum so who am I to argue?

                Our package included a CD with user manual the N1 Vision Wireless Router, a power supply cable, RJ45 ethernet networking cable and
                quick installation guide.

                System Requirements
                ----------------------------

                You will need at least one computer with an installed network interface card and a broadband internet connection with RJ45 (Ethernet Connection)
                The N1 Vision operates on Windows 2000, XP, or Vista; Mac OSX 10.4.x
                You will also need an Internet Browser TCP/IP networking protocol installed on each computer you wish to use.
                A computer running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista; Mac OS X v10.4x Broadband Internet with RJ45 (Ethernet) connection
                At least one computer with an installed network interface card
                TCP/IP networking protocol installed on each computer
                Internet browser

                Specifications
                ------------------

                Browser Based Management
                Link Rate - Up to 300 Mbps in 20/40MHz Channel Mode
                Ports - WAN-- 1 Gigabit Port LAN-- 4 Gigabit Ports
                WPA, WPA2-Personal, 64-bit/128-bit encryption, Multiple SSID
                Specifications Standards - IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n draft, IEEE 802.3ab
                VPN Support - IPSec pass-through, PPTP
                You will need a minimum of 4MB of RAM free on your PC.


                Overall I would recommend the N1 Vision to anyone. It is sophisticated enough for the most advanced PC user; it offers peace of mind to parents, it has a quick, clear, fast connection for even the most avid of gamers and fast downloading and surfing for everyone. There is a Wi-Fi Protected Setup and it offers one of the best ranges of channels we looked at ensuring a seamless connection.

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                • Microsoft Lifecam VX-2000 / Webcam / 116 Readings / 110 Ratings
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                  18.03.2010 16:18
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                  Overall this is a good quality product for the money.

                  My mum is a self-taught internet buff and it never fails to amaze me how advanced she is technologically. Her latest craze is Skype. My two sisters and I have been given webcams and bullied into opening up Skype accounts so she can see us and her grandchildren while we talk. Unfortunately it appears to have become an obsession and my mums face is all too often to be seen dominating our monitor in the study. Gone are the days when I can pretend that I have been awake for ages when she phones me at 10am on a Sunday morning and I am still in my pyjamas.

                  The webcam that she bought each of us is Microsoft's VX 2000 which is in their mid-priced range. It has everything that the home user would require from a webcam. The quality and ease of use make it a good buy for even the most inexperienced PC user. It is set up in minutes with Plug and Play. It fits on most monitors, including flat screens and notebooks, or it can sit directly on your desk.

                  Microsoft are promoting the VX 2000 as a video messenger tool for programs such as Window live, Yahoo, AOL and Skype messenger . It is customised for Windows live messenger, so when you complete the installation of the setup disc you will be guided through an account setup if required. It says that Windows Live Messenger lets you chat online via text, voice and video and if you combine these features they promise an unforgettable experience.

                  The webcam takes Up To 30 Frames per Second which means the video images you see are smooth and seamless. The 3X Digital Zoom delivers a realistic, up-close-and-personal video. The camera auto-adjusts for low-light conditions. If you want to take a photo the shot will be a sharp 1.3 megapixel image. There is a built-in microphone which automatically picks up your voice with remarkable clarity.

                  To access the webcam you double click on the Microsoft LifeCam icon that will appear on your desktop after installation. You will see an image of yourself and will be able to adjust the camera in order to centralise yourself in the frame. Much to the amusement of my dear mother there are video special effects. You can access this by expanding the webcam box on your desktop. There is a blue arrow on the right of the image or you will find a camera icon on the taskbar at the bottom of your screen, if you click on this the LifeCam Dashboard box pops up, you can adjust the camera from here but for my mum and other younger users you will be able to play around with your video image.

                  The video special effects are quite basic but provided my mum with a good hour or so of entertainment. We all fell around laughing, not at the image but of her because she was having so much fun playing with the settings. There are 102 different effects which range from bulging eyes, raindrops, silly hats, wigs and cartoon characters that dance across the image to different colour effects. My mum tried the lot!

                  We are fortunate to have a very fast cable broadband but my mum has a slower broadband connection and tends to use her laptop wirelessly to talk to us. The image that we downloaded to her is crystal clear and the sound quality faultless. She has the same camera but the images that we receive are blurry and the sound is erratic, it sounds like she is talking from a badly connected mobile phone. My son assures us that there is nothing wrong with the camera but the image that you send will vary in quality depending on your internet connection. Beware if this is true as it seems a waste of money to pay out for a decent quality camera if you have a slow internet service. My sisters are also projecting perfect images and sound quality from their cameras, they both have a good broadband speed, which leads me to believe that my son is correct. I think it is worth mentioning that the hardware doesn't appear to have slowed down my system.


                  This webcam requires a 25 MB hard-drive space typically. It requires an operating system for a Windows-based PC. You need a PC that meets the requirements for and has installed one of these operating systems;
                  Processor
                  Windows® 7
                  Minimum: Intel Pentium 4 (3 GhZ), 1 GB of RAM; recommended: Intel Pentium (Dual-Core 1.8 GHz), 2 GB of RAM, 1250 MB free Windows Vista®
                  Minimum: Intel Pentium 4 (3 GhZ), 1 GB of RAM; recommended: Intel Pentium (Dual-Core 1.8 GHz), 2 GB of RAM, 1250 MB free
                  Windows® XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) or later
                  Minimum: Intel Pentium 4 (3 GhZ), 1 GB of RAM; recommended: Intel Pentium (Dual-Core 1.8 GHz), 2 GB of RAM, 1250 MB free.
                  You also need
                  USB 1.1 (2.0 recommended)
                  16-bit colour depth or higher
                  2 MB or higher video memory
                  You will need a CD-ROM to install the software
                  Internet functions also require Internet Explorer 6/7 for installation

                  It says on the box that there is a 3-Year Limited Hardware Warranty

                  For me the best part of having this webcam is being able to read my 4 year old nephew a bedtime story, yesterday he fell asleep and I watched him sleep for 10 minutes, it really was precious.

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                    16.03.2010 12:57
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                    A light hearted read that will probably have you nodding off at times.

                    I read every night in bed and the quality content of the book can always be judged by how long it takes me to read. If I am really engrossed in a book I will read to the early hours of the morning, a boring book will have me asleep in minutes and therefore takes months to read. During a stressful time in my life I read (or tried to read) War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I never got past the third chapter in 3 months but had many a good night's sleep. A good Jodi Picoult will usually last me 3 to 4 nights.

                    Thinking of You, took me 2 weeks to read.

                    The story is of Ginny a divorcee, living in Cornwall, whose only child, Jem, flies the nest to go to university in Bristol. Ginny is left alone with her dog , her sex mad, toy boy loving best friend and neighbour Carla and hopeless, girl crazy friend and ex-husband, Gavin. Ginny misses her daughter dreadfully; the house is unbearably empty without her. Ginny realises that she will now have to make a life for herself and has to let her daughter go.

                    After a couple of disasters that rock Ginny's life she decides that she really does need to move on and embarks on an amusing quest to find a flat mate. Ginny also manages to secure herself a job which she adores but for more than one reason. We see Ginny's life change, not always for the better as she becomes emotionally involved and then single again with regularity. Ginny takes on a lodger Laurel, who predictably was another complicating and frustrating character in the storyline.

                    Ginny's emotional involvements are a ridiculous part of the story. I wondered, whilst reading this if Jill Mansell has ever been in love herself? I felt her characters lacked passion. Her portrayal of Ginny's daughter Jem and her relationship was more believable.

                    The story flits from Cornwall to Bristol and follows Ginny, her daughter and their abilities to sabotage their own lives and happiness. It is one of those frustrating reads that has the characters making ridiculous choices. Both mother and daughter mess up in different ways, we follow their journeys as they try and rectify their mistakes. I thought some of the story line was weak and not very realistic, I found it terribly frustrating to read and at certain points in the book I even felt like tossing it aside in disgust.

                    Entwined in this storyline is a celebrity encounter, neurotic parents, back stabbing friends, love triangles, matchmaking, betrayal, cheating, love matches and mismatches and misunderstandings galore. The book does transport you to an idyllic visualisation of Cornwall and a more sedate way of life. Jill Mansell does have the ability to bring her characters to life and you do feel part of this story as it unfolds. Ginny's ex-husband Gavin was an amusing addition to the story, he was tireless in his search for the perfect bimbo and his antics were sometimes quite entertaining.

                    I would only recommend this book if you have nothing better to read or if like me you need to catch up on some sleep. It is an easy simple read and quite witty in parts. Unfortunately whilst reading this book my mind drifted off elsewhere on a few occasions. It is very easy to get into and once you start you will definitely finish it but it is not the sort of story line that will impact your life or one that you will remember for a very long time.

                    I read the paperback version printed in 2007 by Headline Review and cost £7.99.

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                      13.03.2010 12:28
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                      A product that really works

                      My daughter bought "Glamour" magazine last week and was given a free gift with the purchase. It was a 100ml tube of James Brown, Scandalous, Gorgeously Rich, Moisturising Conditioner (quite a mouthful) As my daughter has glossy hair anyway she decided to treat her mum and gave it to me to use.

                      As you are about to discover I am a very needy case at the moment. I was having my hair highlighted on Thursday and as my hairdresser took the foils off huge clumps of my hair came out too. A few remaining highlights stayed in but are very brittle and dry. My hairdresser was chatting so much that she lost track of time and it wasn't until my head started to cook under the foils that she realised that there was something amiss.

                      I am a positive person thank god! And she is friend so I assured her that because I have such a thick mop of hair it wouldn't be too noticeable. On arriving home I studied the damage, because the remaining highlights are so dry, it was giving my hair body, which in turn didn't show how much hair I have actually lost. My dilemma was do I give my hair a good condition but then risk having a flat head of hair or do I leave it dry but full.

                      Scandalous is the new James Brown London brand affiliated with Kate Moss. It comes in a glossy brown tube with gold and red lettering. It promises me silky soft and super-shiny hair to take the spot light. I don't want the spot light I just want to bury my head and cry. It says that it is available from larger branches of Boots. I checked Boots online and they sell a 250ml tube for £5.99 but they are doing a 3 for 2 offer at the moment.

                      The list of ingredients is too small to see on this tube but it says in larger lettering that it contains murumuru butter, yes I done a double take too. What is it? Murumuru is an Amazon palm that bears edible fruit. I assume that the butter comes from the fruit and is said to be well known for its powerful emollient qualities, being both anti-inflammatory and packed full of Vitamin A. This rich Amazonian butter helps to promote glossy hair and moisturise skin. It improves hair flexibility and stops moisture loss. Murumuru is highly recommended for Afro hair.

                      Armed with these useful facts and my tube of Scandalous I thankfully climb into my bath for a bit of much needed pampering. After shampooing my poor brittle hair I opened the tube of Scandalous to apply some much needed moisture. The smell is of tropical fruits and is faintly nutty; it has a slightly heady scent with a subtle musky undertone. I squished a big blob in my hand and gently ran it through the ends of my hair first. I was pleasantly surprised, I usually need to use a vast amount of conditioner for my long wild unruly locks, but this smooth cream went a long way, I didn't need to apply anymore and just brushed my hair through effortlessly. The instructions say to leave on for 2 minutes. I gave it 10 before I rinsed my hair out.

                      I usually leave my hair to dry naturally as it is quite curly and looks glossier when left. When I took the towel off my head I was impressed with the smell, a lovely fresh juicy smell, it isn't overpowering but very subtle. I enjoyed the smell so much that I kept shaking my hair. My hair is layered and curly, so when I read on the tube that Scandalous gives an entrancing layering effect I thought it would be ideal for me. I wasn't prepared for the noticeable difference it has made to my hair though. I think we all pay little attention to products promising us results that we never actually see ourselves. So I am delighted that Scandalous does deliver with a big punch.

                      The following morning I woke up to a pleasant smell that had permeated my pillow. My hair was still silky soft and had lots of body. I never usually get bulk and silkiness together; it is always one or the other.
                      I now understand why the title on the tube is so long. Gorgeously rich, it definitely is. Moisturising, it certainly nourished and replenished the moisture in my hair. Scandalous I thought maybe the price, but it really isn't expensive. The conditioner goes a long way and is probably more economical than a lot of other conditioners as you need so little to soften your hair.

                      I have sensitive skin and have to be careful what products I touch with my hands. I am very happy to report that my fingers didn't blister or itch after using Scandalous; if anything they felt pretty moisturised too.

                      My conclusion is that Scandalous is an innovative exciting new product on the market. It delivers what it promises and more. It has a pleasant lingering fragrance and is easy to use. I highly recommend this product.

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                        08.03.2010 12:11
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                        Fantastic for bathroom taps but not great for my windows

                        I woke up this morning with the sun streaming in through the gaps in the curtains, instead of snuggling down for an extra 5 minute snooze I turned off my alarm clock and happily jumped out of bed. Five minutes later with my beloved coffee in hand I walked round the house opening the curtains to let the beautiful sunshine flow through the house.

                        Snuggling up on the settee in the heat of the sun, I enjoying the peace and quiet before the kids stumbled out of bed and that Monday morning mayham starts. I was dismayed to see that the windows were looking dreadful after the awful weather we have suffered recently. Full of spring energy, I vowed to spend the morning cleaning my windows.

                        Kids fed, packed lunches done and all bundled out of the door to school, and I turned my attention back to the windows. I have a large garden room which is beautiful but the windows are such a chore. Armed with a bucket of soapy water and vinegar, I started on the first window, 5 minutes later and a clean but streaky vision looms in front of me. Frustrated and now remembering why I don't do my windows as often as I should, I attack the next window with a different strategy. Mr Muscle Window and Glass Cleaner. I had half a bottle hidden at the back of my cleaning cupboard, I remembered all of the TV commercials that I have seen, telling me their products love the jobs we hate, well this was certainly the time that I needed Mr Muscle.

                        With a new burst of energy, knowing that I have Mr Muscle to help me, I squirt a liberal amount on the next window; this green liquid has a fresh pine scent, you can definitely smell the vinegar in this but the smell doesn't linger afterwards. I found that the kitchen towel glided through the grime quite easily revealing nice clean glass. I vigorously polished the surface with some fresh kitchen roll and stepped back to admire the fruits of my labour. I was disheartened to see it was quite badly streaked still so I applied another squirt and rubbed again this time with a lint free cloth but there was no difference.

                        Maybe my windows were too dirty, I tried a new approach, the next window I cleaned with soapy water, squeegeed off and then washed it down with fresh water, buffed with a dry cloth then sprayed a light mist of Mr Muscle and buffed again with kitchen towel. The result was clean but still streaky. I sat down wearily and surveyed the results of half an hour's work, and an already sore arm. I know that I can't just walk away from the job at hand, but I haven't the want to continue anymore. The rest of the dirty windows are glaring at me menacingly.

                        I know, I will look and try and find a review for a better product, I type in Dooyoo, search for window cleaners and 2 minutes later I am reading glowing reviews about Mr Muscle. Did I pick up a dodgy bottle? Am I doing it right? I take a look at the instructions, twist the nozzle to the on position and spray directly onto surface it instructs me, wipe with kitchen paper or a lint free cloth, well I had already tried both ways and hadn't got the streak free finish that it promised.

                        I managed to convince myself that it must be me because there were 30 odd positive reviews. I attack the windows again with a determined mind, telling myself that it only looks so bad because it is such a sunny morning. It has taken me 2 hours to finish. My windows have improved without doubt but they are all smeared.

                        So here I am back on the PC, I feel so aggrieved that I wanted to write my own review and let others know that it doesn't always work; my streaked windows bear testimony to that. However whilst sitting down to write this review, I noticed on the bottle that you can also use it on chrome, obviously I should try this out as I am writing a fair review, so off I go to the cloakroom taps to test it. My conclusion is, fantastic! My taps have come up gleaming and streak free.

                        Mr Muscle is made by Johnson. The bottle is an easy grip design that is easy to use. The spray came out in a nice fine mist rather than a wet shower, which is ideal for glass cleaning. The Bottle that I purchased was 500ml and cost about £1.50, it is also available in 750ml bottles. It has a fresh pleasant smell. There is no list of ingredients on the bottle; all we know is that it contains vinegar as stated on the front of the bottle. The instructions are on the back of the label so it isn't very easy to read.

                        My conclusion is that it isn't a fantastic window cleaner; it does leave streaks, although not very bad ones. I love this as a bathroom cleaner though; I would definitely recommend this for chrome.

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                          07.03.2010 17:41
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                          Great shopping, fantastic restaurants and cinemas.

                          Lakeside shopping centre is in West Thurrock, Essex. It is one of the largest shopping centres in Europe and was built in 1990. Lakeside averages 500,000 visitors per week. It is just off the M25 motorway near the Dartford toll tunnel, take exit 30/31; it is well sign posted from here. You can also access Lakeside from A13 and again there are ample directions. Around 70% of visitors come to Lakeside by car but for the other 30% there is a bridge that connects Lakeside with Chafford Hundred railway station and a bus station which services Essex, Kent and London.

                          There is a main indoor shopping centre encompassing 3 floors with over 250 shops and restaurants. There are some excellent department stores. Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser and Debenhams are the most dominant ones. There are 13,000 free parking spaces and over 30 cafes and restaurants.

                          Lakeside is also home to a large retail park boasting a large Tesco with good recycling facilities and a petrol station, Costco's, T K Maxx, PC World, Comet, Curry's, Argos Extra, Toys 'R' Us, Ikea, B&Q, Dansk, Matalan, Halfords, Laura Ashley, Dansk, Marks and Spencer's outlet, Asda Living, Next, a golfing shop, Blacks, several other furniture and electrical stores, eating outlets include TGI Fridays, pizza Hut and Frankie and Bennies. There are several fast food outlets including Mc Donald's and Burger King. There are many other smaller shops that I haven't mentioned but as you can imagine it is a large retail park again equipped with ample free parking.

                          Opening hours are;
                          Monday - Friday 10am - 10pm
                          Saturday 9am -9pm,
                          Sundays 11am - 5pm
                          Bank Holidays 10am - 6pm

                          It is worth remembering that a few of the larger store open earlier for browsing. I have been out of Marks and spencer's by 9.05 one morning with a big basket full of shopping. It was such a pleasant, quiet experience; I don't think many people are aware that you can access these shops earlier than the opening hours.


                          A 9 screen Vue cinema which seats 1,322 people is sited near the lake side and close to its many restaurants. There is a Gold Class screen which is more expensive but has luxury reclining armchair-style seats and a special screen that shows major sporting and music events as well as key films. There is also an Evolution Screen, which has giant bean bags, chairs and sofa pods; this is the first of its kind in the UK.

                          The Odeon cinema located in the retail park is worth praise as they have a Saturday and Sunday club for children, we used to leave our kids here to watch a film when they were a bit older; it is worth knowing that an adult can go in free with each paying child. This is an IMAX and 3D cinema too.

                          There is a large boating lake with a PADI certified dive school; Thurrock Retail Park is also home to various car dealerships and a Carcraft. Test driving a car here is good because there are plenty of quiet long roads behind the complex of Lakeside. So while we shopaholics enjoy this amazing array of shops our bored better halves can do something constructive with their time. When you are both exhausted and happy Lakeside is happy indulge those grumbling tummies with an incredible selection of food. You can stay in the main shopping centre and eat on the top floor, there are many outlets that enable you to all have something different to eat but to sit together and eat. There are a couple of restaurants up there but at weekends be prepared to queue for a seat.

                          My favourite place to dine is The Broadwalk, along the river side. There is the docked Old Orleans paddle steamer which serves a selection of mouth-watering specialities such as Creole and Cajun dishes. I believe that this is the only place you are allowed to smoke in Lakeside. A further amble will take you past a dozen or so restaurants that all have seating outside overlooking Alexander Lake. The whole area is decked and has a holiday atmosphere. Yesterday my daughter and I choose La Tasca; we sat inside warmed by the sunshine and a nice glass of wine and watched the world go by.

                          Lakeside is a lovely place to shop; you will be spoilt with a fantastic selection of shops and restaurants. I would recommend a day here broken up by a relaxing lunch to recharge your batteries and rest your weary feet. Make sure you have comfortable shoes on, wear light clothing as it can get quite stuffy in some of the shops, take plenty of money and in peak times be prepared to sit in a little traffic. If you need something you will probably find it here but be prepared to walk a few miles in the process.

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                          • Garlic / Plant / 180 Readings / 177 Ratings
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                            25.02.2010 21:23
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                            Cheap and tasty, it can transform a meal and also has numerous health benefits.

                            Garlic is a bulbous perennial or biennial herb known to contain anti-bacterial properties. You either love it or hate it but whichever way we sway there is no denying that it is the most widely used herb in the world. Did you know that the Brits now use more garlic than the French? And most of our garlic is produced in the Isle of White.

                            A garlic bulb, or head of garlic, consists of between 9 and 20 cloves; it is native to central Asia where it grows wild in abundance. Garlic also grows wild in the UK but these bulbs are too small to be used in cookery. Garlic is a member of the lily family and is a relative of chives and onions too. Garlic bulbs grow below the ground in well drained rich soil, the leaves can grow to between 1 and 3 foot tall. Clumps of densely packed white flowers appear in July and are followed by small bulbs; these can also be used in cookery. Garlic should be stored in a cool dark place ideally as it sprouts quite easily.

                            There are many folk tales associated with garlic; Dracula knew only too well that it was his only protection. One poor chap with a vampire phobia died in 1973 after inhaling a clove of garlic in his sleep, he slept surrounded by garlic to ironically save himself from being attacked by vampires in the night.
                            It was believed that if you held a clove of garlic in your hand it cured toothache.
                            It was also believed that by putting a necklace of garlic around children's necks it would get rid of worms.

                            Garlic does without doubt help many ailments and is particularly good for reducing blood sugar levels.
                            Garlic is an expectorant and therefore is said to be excellent at treating catarrh, bronchitis and asthma. I would however find it extremely difficult to swallow the garlic syrup recommended, which is probably why it's a not so common cure for the cold.
                            It is a carminative which helps release air in the body, handy if you're feeling bloated.
                            It is also a diuretic; it's also supposed to be good for the thyroid gland it's said to increases energy levels.
                            It is a well-known fact that Garlic has anti-bacterial agents. In World War 1, with a seriously deficient supply of antiseptics, many operations were performed using garlic juice on moss swabs to stop infections occurring.

                            I have always grown garlic along side my roses as it makes the roses smell stronger probably a reaction triggered by their reeking competitors! Garlic will also make blackspots disappear on the leaves and acts as a repellent to black and greenfly. Garlic is a wonderful addition to a vegetable plot and will make your carrots and other root vegetables thrive.

                            If you crush garlic and soak in water it also makes a wonderful natural pesticide against onion-fly, anyone who grows raspberries or grapes will appreciate this. It also kills mosquitoes, flies and aphids that is, if you can tolerate the smell. I wouldn't fancy garlicky raspberries. If you do fancy trying this, take 2 to 3 large cloves of garlic, crush and heat gently for 10 minutes in a pint of water, do not boil, cool then use to spray your plants.

                            I remember reading, about 20 years ago, that a farmer in Japan had produced a strain of Garlic that was odourless. I was quite excited at the time, no more smelly breath, but nothing else seems to have come out of it. It was going to revolutionise the garlic market. If you are a garlic lover and live with a hater, may I suggest a so called remedy to make your partner happy? Apparently if you chew parsley before a meal it stops you smelling afterwards. I have tried this but even though I was told my breath smelt OK the garlic found its way out through my pores and I ended up smelling garlicky all over. Another way to alleviate your bad breath is to swallow a whole clove before your food, I haven't tried this one funny enough.

                            A favourite of our family is garlic beans. It is very quick, delicious and livens up a simple meal.
                            Cook some fine green beans in boiling water for 5 minutes. Whilst they are cooking take 3 or 4 garlic cloves, slice finely and gently fry in butter until they are a light golden colour. Strain the beans and toss in the garlic butter, Heaven.

                            And I leave you in the words of Shakespeare

                            'And, most dear actors, eat no onions or garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.'

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                              23.02.2010 14:13
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                              A wonderful opportunity to offer permanency to a child, for them to become a part of your family.

                              Special guardianship orders were bought into effect in 2005. The idea was to take children from the care system and give them legal permanency with their existing carers. This order gives you parental responsibility for the child; this won't remove all responsibility from the birth parents, however their input can only ever be extremely limited. You may apply for a special guardianship if the child has been with you for over a year and you have been their guardian or if they have lived with you for at least three years out of five. The order was to help many older children in the care system, those who had no hope of ever being adopted and who would probably remain in care. It was also to help those children who are cared for by relatives.

                              In practice, this means that your child will no longer be the responsibility of the local authority. As a special guardian you will have a more defined responsibility for everyday decisions concerning your child. All of the important decisions regarding their upbringing, for example welfare issues and education will be your responsibility. The birth parents still have to be informed of life threatening illnesses, bodily disfigurements, for example, tattoos and if they are out of the country for more than three months at a time, aside from that the child would be your responsibility.

                              If you decide to make an application for a special guardianship, first of all you have to give the local authority three months' notice in writing. There will then be a lengthy assessment done by a social worker. They will interview you, your family and friends. They will build up a profile of you and your family. They will even ask for access to your bank statements and all other financial details. No stone is left unturned as they have to be sure that you will be able to support the child and give it stability.

                              There is usually a financial package available and you may be granted an allowance which can be paid for up to two years. This however is negotiable and there are not strict guidelines. The funding varies vastly from one authority to another.

                              My foster son had been part of our family for 5 years. He had lost all contact with his birth family through choice and longed to be my legal son and to be out of the care system. Unfortunately he was subject to a care order and I didn't have the option to adopt him. We were informed of the special guardianship order and decided to look into it. I was lucky that I had the full support of those around me and was being encouraged by the local authority. This is an account of our journey.

                              I tried to do some research into special guardianship. Unfortunately in 2008 there was very little information available to me. My son's local authority was quite vague as it was relatively new to them and they had only ever done one before us. There is a good website http://www.baaf.org.uk/info/lpp/special/index.shtml#whatreg
                              It offers some basic information and also some links for further reading. There are many sources of information now available but still very little in the way of personal experiences.

                              Armed with very little information, I arrived at the local authority's financial meeting. I was shocked at the lack of structure and the even more dismayed when I was asked what sort of remuneration package I was looking at. I would have much rather been offered a set package rather than have to haggle over money. I found this distasteful and embarrassing. It was eventually agreed that they would match my fostering allowance for 2 years.

                              The next step was to start my assessment. We had a lovely social worker who made the family relaxed and we began to look forward to and enjoy her visits. The assessment was conducted over about 2 months and was fairly intense at times.

                              An application is then filed with the courts with a basic report. You have to outline the care order that is in place for your child and give details of any previous orders and give details and dates. You are given the chance to express the reasons for applying for the special guardianship. My reason was simply that I loved my son and wanted to give him the stability that he longed for. I was then instructed to notify my son's birth parents of my intentions in order to give them the opportunity to contest my application. I was offered a solicitor to help me but I didn't feel that it was necessary as the application wasn't being contested and the whole process seemed relatively easy.

                              The local authority's full report and recommendation was sent to the courts and then we were given a date to attend. My son's social worker decided that he didn't need to attend the hearing and as a result the order couldn't be placed. The judge was very supportive of the application and invited us to come back on 3rd of January last year together with friends and family to rubber stamp the order.

                              It was a very special start to the year for us, my son was the happiest that I have ever seen him; I am shedding a tear just remembering the day as I write this. There was quite a crowd so we were taken into one of the larger court rooms. The event although just a formality was made special for us due to the judge's input, she said such touching things and offered us her blessing, wishing us all the best for the future. She was overcome with emotion herself which showed in the many photos that we took that day.

                              One of the reasons that I wanted to do this review was to share my experiences with any of you who are considering a special guardianship. The actual event and lead up to the event was fine but the problems that I have had afterwards is ridiculous. Firstly there is no governing body, which gives local authorities the green light to put these orders in place themselves. The package that you receive is based on what the borough can afford and quite crudely how good you are at haggling. If you have a problem afterwards, you only have the ones causing the problem, to deal with it.

                              I was instructed that you can claim for child benefits and child tax credits, this money would be taken out of the allowance given for my son. Unfortunately when I phoned to apply for these no one seemed to know what a special guardianship order was and consequently it took 10 months to get this executed. It is a tedious and frustrating process and I had to fight so hard to be understood. I had no support from the local authority and I often felt so angry. My son's birth certificate had been lost and it took over a year to get a copy done. Many times I sent emails and left messages for the permanency and adoption team and it took weeks sometimes months before I got a response. In my opinion once the order is in place, there is very little back up or support. The one contact that I did have in the team, informed me that she wasn't on the accounting side of things and couldn't be expected to work out the finances with me, I had no other contact!


                              Special guardianships are being promoted by most local authorities as it saves them lots of money and takes many children out of the care system. I do however think there is need for a structured system and a governing body to control the way they are handled. The financial side of things is too loose and needs to be properly regulated.

                              For my son and I the special guardianship was right. He would have always been an important member of our family but for him it was imperative as it gave him security, stability and peace of mind.

                              I would give this review a 5* rating if it was purely for the special guardianship order but 1* for the lack of support and after care associated with it. I therefore rated it a 3*

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                              • Pancakes / Recipe / 191 Readings / 187 Ratings
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                                14.02.2010 16:15
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                                A lovely change from traditional pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

                                My mum is German and a fantastic cook who enjoys trying new recipes. We were brought up enjoying a variety of foods from many different influences much to the envy of our friends.

                                On Shrove Tuesday every year, like most homes in the country, my mum would always make us pancakes; our preferred ones were always the crisp, tasty, little potato delights that we smothered with sugar and lemon juice. These delicious pancakes now adorn our table every year on Pancake Day, a tradition that my children will probably continue with when they have families of their own.

                                Kartoffelpuffer, pronounced, Car-taf-el poffer or Potato Pancakes are eaten in many other countries known by different names. I have enjoyed latkas in Israel; these Jewish potato pancakes are usually eaten during Hanukkah and come in different varieties such as cheese, leek or apple. In Poland they are called Placki Wegierskie and are usually served with spicy goulash.

                                Kartoffelpuffer are very quick and easy to knock up and make a lovely change from the tradition batter pancakes that we usually enjoy here. They are unusual because they contain onions and are generally served as a sweet dish. If you make these I would recommend that you try them with lemon juice and sugar or the German way with apple sauce (pureed stewed apples) and sour cream.

                                Kartoffelpuffer

                                Ingredients
                                1lb starchy potatoes
                                1 medium onion
                                2 eggs lightly beaten
                                2 tbsp of plain flour
                                Pinch of salt
                                Oil for frying

                                I always make them just before cooking because the grated potatoes discolour if you leave the mixture for too long.

                                Grate the potatoes and onion, I always use a food processor to do this; remove as much moisture from the grated potatoes as possible by pressing between layers of paper towels.

                                Put the grated potatoes and onions in a bowl add the egg and salt, and then sprinkle in the flour.
                                Mix well.

                                Over medium heat, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Put a good heaped tablespoon of the potato mixture into the pan and flatten slightly (I usually fry four pancakes at a time) Brown on both sides, remove and serve immediately.

                                Makes about 8 to 10 pancakes.

                                My son enjoys eating his Kartoffelpuffer with an egg on top; he thinks they are like Hash Browns. They can also be served like a Rosti as an accompaniment to a meal. My mum always adds grated carrots to her mixture too. There are many different variations of this recipe that you could try, add cheese and leek or maybe spicy sausage, chopped bacon or grated pear, there are many other options.

                                I hope that you enjoy these pancakes if you do make them.
                                Enjoy your Pancake Day

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                                • Linda McCartney / Cookbook / 170 Readings / 165 Ratings
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                                  09.02.2010 13:44
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                                  A good everyday family cookbook.

                                  Linda's Kitchen is a 192 page, hardback vegetarian cookbook by Linda
                                  Mc Cartney. It was first published in 1995 by Bramley Books.

                                  I love cooking and for me a perfect evening is to snuggle up with a glass of wine and a good cookbook. I tend to read from cover to cover taking in new recipes or ideas for future reference and will bookmark things that I want to try out. I was given Linda's Kitchen a few years ago but for some unknown reason it is one of my most neglected and unused books. The kids were all out last weekend so having a bit of peace and quite for once I decided to read it again. I really enjoyed reacquainting myself with this lovely book and have been inspired to try out some new ideas on my family.

                                  Last Sunday I tried Linda's meatless loaf which was a success with my fussy kids. During the week we had Toad in the hole, Tuscan bean and cabbage soup with cheesy dumplings, Shepherd's pie and tonight we are having mushroom risotto.

                                  Linda's Kitchen is a no nonsense simple cookbook. I would recommend this for, obviously, vegetarians and vegans, any new or underconfident cooks and for those looking to eat healthier, wholesome food. The recipes are short and sweet, my sort of cooking. Most of the food is beautifully illustrated and is substantial family fare. Many people consider vegetarian food to be fiddly, unfulfilling and expensive; Linda's Kitchen will dispel these myths immediately. I don't like to follow a recipe to the letter and never really weigh anything so Linda's Kitchen is great for me as the recipes are quite often flexible and she makes suggestions to vary to suit your taste.

                                  There is a brief introduction about Linda and her views on being vegetarian. The book goes straight into menu planners for the four seasons in the year. Each season has 8 suggested menus for various meals. The menus cover a variety of occasions such as formal dinner parties, family meals, international foods, Barbecues and informal dining. They vary from a romantic meal for 2 up to a buffet for 24 people. The menus give the page number for each recipe. The vegan friendly recipes have a V next to the title.

                                  The chapters in the book are standard and cover soups, starters, main courses, pasta, rice and potatoes, pastry, barbeque's, salads, sauces and dips, deserts, cakes and biscuits and basic pastry recipes. There are 4 pages dedicated to Vegetarian questions and answers, which is interesting. 3 pages cover suggested pantry food for the vegetarian and the conclusion before the index is about nutrition for vegetarians.

                                  I know some people buy quorn products and are frightened to experiment. There are many recipes in this book that incorporate the use of mince or chunks of quorn.

                                  I find that a lot of recipe books give tiny portion sizes and you will have to double the quantities for a decent family meal. Linda is generous in her servings. A cake will be a real cake not a muffin sized offering.

                                  A recipe that I took from this book when I first got it and have prepared quite often is spaghettini with sun-dried tomatoes, aubergines and chilli. I have even served this at a last minute dinner party and it well down surprisingly well with some garlic bread and a good bottle of red wine.

                                  There is a lovely recipe for a good old fashioned plum cobbler which is very quick and easy to make, delicious and very naughty with a dollop of cream. There are plenty of mouth watering puds that you would make rather than just look at. There are also some, all too often forgotten, delights such as apple pie, bakewell tart and floating islands.

                                  This book will be enjoyed by both carnivores and veggies. The veggie substitutes could easily be replaced with meat. This is a book for novice and competent cooks alike. It has recipes for some good old traditional food that you would never would have considered possible to be vegetarian.

                                  Linda's Kitchen can be bought for £9.99 from

                                  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lindas-Kitchen-Inspiring-Recipes-without/dp/0316877352

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