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Botanics Organic Rosewater Toner used to come in a tall bottle with a screw top and a rather wide neck. Although it was a lovely, refreshing skin toner to use, you had to be really careful not to knock the bottle over while using it. The product has since been re-launched in a spritz bottle.
The Boots Botanics range always strikes me as a slightly odd range, because it's marketed on its natural plant extracts, and yet many of the products in the range have ingredients that I try to avoid. However, within the Botanics range, certain products are marked as organic, and these have much simpler ingredients and are of a generally higher quality, so I tend to look for the organic products. In its old format, Organic Rosewater Toner was really just rosewater from what I remember. The new version has a slightly longer ingredients list, but is still based on organic damask rose, and has a lovely, relaxing, natural scent.
I tend to use toner after cleansing my skin and before applying moisturiser, and I also occasionally use it to quickly refresh my skin. This one does the job of removing the last traces of makeup and tightening the pores slightly before moisturising. Of course, as with all toners, I suspect a splash of cold water would have much the same function, but this is a pleasant and indulgent toner to use and the scent is a definite selling point.
Now to that bottle re-design. The label says to avoid getting the toner in your eyes, and I can vouch for the fact that it's not something you want in your eyes or in your mouth - rosewater might smell delicious but it's not a pleasant taste. Even with my eyes closed, I find it impossible to aim a spray like this at my face and not end up with some in my eyes and mouth. I've taken to spraying the toner on to cotton wool pads and dabbing it on to my face that way, which means I'm not really using it as a spritz at all. The old bottle did need re-designed as there was just too great a chance of spilling half the toner, but for my money I'd rather they had gone for one of those bottles with a tiny opening so that you could control how much of the toner was dispensed.
Rosewater Toning Spritz costs 4.99GBP for a 150ml bottle. As with many ranges from Boots, it's worth looking out for offers as I have seen it with money off or in '3 for the price of 2' offers just recently. I'd buy this toner again despite reservations about the spritz design.
I bought Boots Botanics Rehydrating Body Butter recently when it was part of a "3 for the price of 2" promotion, and I fancied trying some new products. The body butter normally retails at 7.49GBP for a 300ml tub, but it is quite often included in the various promotions run by Boots.
The first thing I noticed about this body butter is that it's not really what I'd call a body butter at all. It is more of a thick cream: I associate the term 'body butter' with the kind of very dense, smooth cream that actually resembles butter in texture, whereas this is the kind of thick, gloopy cream that you'd scoop out with your fingers. I feel that the name of the product is a bit misleading.
However, as a body cream it's fairly pleasant to use. I tend to use this product most often when I've had a day of walking around, as it has a nice cooling effect on the skin and feels refreshing. It contains moisturisers including shea butter and coconut oil, and does provide a decent amount of moisture to the skin which lasts well.
On a more negative note, the Botanics range is marketed on its inclusion of natural plant extracts - this one includes vetiver, and between that and the coconut oil and cocoa butter present, I'd expect a product that has a beautiful natural smell and appearance. Instead, this cream has a uniform bright white appearance and an artificial scent (yes, they have included the dreaded 'parfum' as an ingredient, and it smells like they have gone for the most generic 'mild, inoffensive parfum' they could find - it is more like a talcum powder smell than anything natural).
I'm giving this product three stars. If 3.5 stars was an option, I would probably go for that, as it is a decent enough body moisturiser and has that cooling property that I enjoy. However, it loses points for the artificial fragrance and for not really being a body butter as such. At 7.49GBP, I feel this is a bit overpriced and I would be unlikely to buy this cream again, as there are better ones on the market.
I'm a fan of Arran Aromatics and was already familiar with the Eydis range before trying this body cream - the full range includes Eau de Toilette, hand and nail cream, hair products and so on, if you're into co-ordinating beauty products. I'd been wanting to try this shea butter cream and when I saw it with a 25 per cent discount in the Arran Aromatics shop, the time was right! I paid just over 10GBP for the cream, compared with its usual price of around 14GBP.
Eydis Shea Butter Cream comes in an attractive round tub with a clear base and a pale coppery lid. It looks very classy for sitting out in the bathroom. The tub contains 150ml of the body cream, which is of quite a firm consistency. I like quite firm creams as I find it much easier to control how much I'm putting on, and there's less chance of spilling any! The cream is easily absorbed and leaves my skin feeling cared for, as well as smelling great.
Ingredients-wise, I'm pleased to see that shea butter is the second ingredient on the list (after water). The cream also contains Vitamin E, and it doesn't contain any parabens. The lovely fresh, citrus scent comes from the inclusion of bergamot and lime peel extract. Eydis is a good scent for wearing during the day, as it is so uplifting. I don't usually bother to match toiletry items by scent, but I am really enjoying having the Eydis scent in body cream form.
Arran Aromatics shea butter creams are a bit more expensive than some body creams, particularly considering that the tub contains 150ml and is a little smaller than some high street brands. However, this is a genuinely good moisturiser, with high quality ingredients and a lovely scent, and price-wise it certainly sits in a reasonable position when compared to the creams you would get from perfume manufacturers. If you are lucky enough to be close to an Arran Aromatics shop, it's worth looking for bargains, as the one near me is always offering discounts.
As a vegetarian who avoids buying leather, it can be hard to find a handbag that's durable and made of non-animal materials. Non-leather handbags are often the ones that fall apart within five minutes. I was delighted to find these Cath Kidston box bags, which are made of cotton coated in PVC and are very tough, and am lucky enough to own two of these bags now - one has a white background and red flowers, and the other is a dark navy bag with pink flowers. The patterns of the box bags vary from time to time, and you can currently get polka dots, several floral designs or one that's covered in London landmarks. Cath Kidston's style isn't for everyone, but I think these bags are very pretty. The box bag has a zip-shut design and my two each have an inner pocket for small items such as mobile phones, although I believe the newer bags have a zipped pocket on the outside of the bag. Apart from this one pocket, the bag is plain on the inside - not one for those who love lots of compartments. I can handle having everything in the one space and rummaging through my bag when I want something, but this bag may get on your nerves if you're an organiser! I find that the design of these bags means I can carry quite a lot in a bag that's not overly large. The fabric of the bags means they are very easy to maintain - the label states the bag shouldn't be washed, but I give mine a wipe from time to time and they have stayed in good condition. I also like the fact that these bags have small handles and are definitely for carrying in your hands, not being a fan of shoulder bags. (This is a shortened version of the intended review).
I've been a fan of Organic Surge products for a while. The range includes products made with high-quality ingredients which I find to be genuinely good for my skin, and doesn't contain any parabens, artificial perfumes or chemical nasties. It's also suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Tropical Bergamot Shower Gel is one of my favourites as I love fresh, citrus scents. (it won't post the whole review, sorry!)
I became interested in reading 'Stoner' when it was hailed as a 'lost classic' last year. The novel tells the life story of William Stoner, who comes from a poor farming background and goes off to university. His parents want him to learn about the latest farming methods to try to improve their lot, but Stoner falls in love with English literature instead and goes on to become a Professor in the English faculty. A life well-lived, you might think, except that Stoner's experiences are mainly sad ones that fail to live up to his hopes. He marries a woman, Edith, who it's clear from the outset is going to be unable to reciprocate his feelings, and his work life is marred by a career-long feud with his senior, Lomax. Stoner's tale is an engrossing one, with an almost unbearable sense of melancholy at times - not one to read if you are looking for something uplifting! One major problem I had with the novel is that a couple of the characters are almost caricatures and not well-developed enough. Stoner's wife, Edith, is painted at times as a cartoon version of a difficult woman, and I think the early scenes from their marriage would have been more powerful if she had been presented as a more well-rounded character, rather than just a device for letting us see how miserable Stoner becomes. Similarly, the feud between Stoner and Lomax begins with a disagreement over the potential of a student, Walker, with Lomax believing Walker is an excellent student and Stoner believing Walker to be incapable of independent study. Walker is painted in a very black-and-white way, almost as if he has been dropped into the novel just to antagonise Stoner, and once the feud has been ignited, we don't get to hear what happens to Walker, which disappointed me. Stoner's life does have one happy period, in which he finally finds love, and we get to see a different side to his character in this part of the book. It's a pity there isn't just a little more light and shade throughout the novel (for example, as English is his great passion, there could have been some happier passages concerning his work at the university). I think if anything, the sadness of the story would have been more powerful had his life not been one disappointment after another. 'Stoner' is an involving story, if you can stick with the fact that there aren't many happy moments in it. I'm not completely convinced that it deserves to be called a 'classic', but it's certainly a good read and I'm glad it has had some attention.
I received this Russell Hobbs toaster as a gift a few months ago. I'd been wanting a four-slice toaster for a while, and this one has plenty of features to recommend it.
I like the fact that this toaster has two sets of controls, so you can use just one side of the toaster, or make lighter and darker toast at the same time - you get the idea. Each set of controls also includes a bagel option, which I haven't used yet - apparently this allows you to toast one side only of the bagel. The controls on the toaster are intuitive and easy to operate and get the toast exactly as you want it.
This Russell Hobbs toaster comes in cream and metallic red versions. Mine is the metallic red. It's a very nice looking toaster with a chunky design, and it looks both contemporary and built-to-last.
The toaster slots are fairly large and wide, which is ideal in my house as we make our own bread and it's not always cut to the same width. If you're a fan of doorstop-style slices of bread, this toaster will handle them.
The toaster retails around £40-50. I think this is a reasonable price; it takes the toaster out of the 'so cheap you don't expect it to last six months' bracket, yet it isn't too expensive either.
I've been happy with this toaster so far, apart from one thing which happened when I'd just got it. I tend to store my toaster in a cupboard when it's not being used. With my old toaster, I would lift it by putting my fingers just inside the toaster slots, and lifting it using the chrome trim. However, as I discovered, the inside of the trim on this toaster has extremely sharp edges. The first time I lifted it, I ended up with blood everywhere! I've learned my lesson and now lift it by putting my hands flat against the outsides of the toaster, but one improvement to the design would be an indent or something to make it a little easier to lift.
When our Miele fridge freezer stopped working recently, it was time to look for a new one. We'd been happy with the Miele one for over ten years, but as we no longer earn Miele wages, we decided to shop around, and we arrived at the snappily-named Siemens KG36VVW30G.
We got our Siemens fridge freezer from the John Lewis website, where it was initially priced at £486. There was a discount on offer for trading in an old fridge freezer though, so off went our broken Miele and the whole thing came in at just over £400. Looking around online, it looks like you can buy this Siemens model for about £400 anyway, but we were happy with the price we paid, which included delivery to our top-floor flat and removal of the old fridge freezer.
This Siemens model had the storage capacity we were looking for - 94L of freezer space and 215L fridge space. The inside of the fridge freezer is much as you'd expect - three glass shelves in the fridge, veg/salad box at the bottom and the usual bottle and cheese storage bits on the inside of the door. The freezer has three drawers with the middle one being the biggest. One thing I was pleased with was the extra large veg/salad box in the fridge - this is much more capacious than the one we were used to and hopefully might influence our shopping habits in a good way!
This fridge freezer has a very simple appearance. When the doors are closed, all you see is the Siemens logo on plain white doors. The handles are slots in the sides of the doors (there are slots built into both sides of the doors, so you can ask for the doors to be reversed at the point of ordering if required). The doors are slightly curved, giving the fridge freezer a slightly classier look.
When you open the fridge door, along the top of the inside there are buttons to press to select the fridge temperature - you can choose from 2,3,4,6 and 8 degrees C. There's also a booster button for when the fridge needs a bit more oomph (for all those balmy days we get in Scotland). There is no corresponding temperature selector in the freezer, which presumably just freezes to a set temperature. We were used to a fridge freezer that had an exact temperature display, but so far so good with this one - the only slight drawback is that it would take a bit longer to notice if things weren't quite right with the temperature.
The Siemens KG36VVW30G has an energy rating of A++, which I'm sure is better than our old one - one of the advantages of getting a new model is that these things have improved so much over the years. The fridge freezer is also very quiet, and I haven't been aware of it making any operating noise at all.
We were also surprised to see that this fridge freezer only needed to stand for an hour before being switched on - gone, it seems, are the days of leaving them for 24 hours for the gases to settle. Because we're quite cautious about these things, we left it for the 6 hours recommended on the John Lewis website.
So far, we're very happy with our Siemens fridge freezer. Whether it lasts longer than the old one remains to be seen, but it does have a 2-year guarantee and it seems to be a well-built model.
When I bought my first all-in-one printer, copier and scanner, it was very exciting to be able to do things like photocopying from my own home, and the machine cost over £100. Times have moved on, and all-in-one printers have become much more commonplace and much cheaper over the years, so when my old Hewlett-Packard machine finally gave up the ghost a few months ago, it was time to see what the newer printers had to offer.
The Canon Pixma MG3250 retails for around £40 from places like PC World, a price that would have concerned me had I not shopped around, read reviews and realised that printer prices have indeed come down as far as this. What's more, the MG3250 has the added advantage of wireless printing over my old machine. As both my partner and I use laptops, this seemed like a useful function to have.
This Canon printer was easy to install on both our laptops, using the installation CD provided (this seemed a little old-fashioned - I'm used to 'plug and play' devices now where the computer just finds the necessary files online). My partner's laptop is a MacBook, and I had read that some people experienced difficulties when trying to get wireless printers to 'talk' to these, but I found that the installation was just as easy as it was on my Acer laptop.
Having used the print, scan and copy functions on my printer, I'm very happy with the results from all three. The print resolution goes up to 4800x1200 dpi and the print quality is very good for both colour and black and white printing. I initially found the scan option slightly confusing, as you have to select a scan type from your computer; for example, document scan or picture scan. Each type of scan has a file type associated with it, so I had to mess around and scan my documents a couple of times using the different scan settings before I got them to save as the file types I was looking for. This is something I'll get used to in time, though.
The wireless printing option is handy (the printer is also supplied with a USB cable, if you prefer wired printing). However, if like me you tend to switch all gadgets and broadband connection off at night, the wireless function needs to be re-established each time you want to use the printer. This is simple enough, but it does involve going through a sequence of button presses, so keep hold of the quick guide to using the printer! I can remember the sequence easily enough now, but you may need to look at it a few times to start with.
The MG3250 installation disk does also put a lot of photo printing software on your desktop. While some of this has proved necessary (for example, the interface that allows you to specify a scan type), some of it is stuff I haven't used yet and it opens up on my desktop every time I start up the laptop, so I'll probably remove some of it in time.
Overall, this Canon all-in-one printer does a very good job for a low price, and it also came with black and colour ink cartridges. The ink would normally cost around £25-£30, so I'm assuming that it's with the ink cartridges that the company actually makes its money. As I'm a relatively light user of printers, I don't imagine I'll be breaking the bank on the ink, but it is something to be factored into the overall cost if you print documents regularly.
I've suffered on and off with IBS for many years, and this has recently been made worse by working constant night shifts (a job I've now left, thankfully). Just about every working night involved me having abdominal bloating, cramps, upset stomachs and a very gurgly digestive system that kept my colleagues entertained throughout the night.
I've long been a fan of peppermint products to ease some of the symptoms of IBS. Years ago, when I was first diagnosed with IBS, the GP prescribed me peppermint capsules, which I wouldn't take as I'm vegetarian and avoid gelatin products, but I got the idea that peppermint was a good thing to include in my diet. Whenever IBS strikes these days, I fight back with a variety of products including peppermint oil tablets and peppermint teas.
My partner recently bought me some Clipper Organic White Tea with Peppermint to try. These teabags are different to herbal peppermint teas, in that they contain organic white tea infused with peppermint. White tea is a Chinese tea that isn't white as the name suggests, but is a paler colour than black or red tea (and in my experience, doesn't suffer from the 'stewed' taste you sometimes get if you leave a teabag in the water for too long). From reading online, it appears that white tea does contain some caffeine, so if you're avoiding caffeine it would be better to stick to a herbal tea. White tea's also high in antioxidants, which have protective health benefits.
Although these Clipper teabags are a different twist on peppermint tea, they've quickly become a favourite of mine. The white tea with peppermint has a lovely refreshing taste and I found that I didn't need to add anything to the tea, but then I drink unsweetened tea anyway; those with sweeter tastes may want to add sugar or a sweetener. One disadvantage I've found with herbal peppermint teas is that they can have a strong diuretic effect, meaning that I have to balance the benefits of the tea with the hours of running to the loo afterwards, but I didn't experience that problem with these Clipper teabags. This is somewhat surprising given that white tea isn't caffeine free, but perhaps it is peppermint itself that's the diuretic. In any case, I found that I could drink this Clipper tea without the unfortunate frequent toilet trips afterwards!
Clipper Organic White Tea with Peppermint did appear to have a soothing effect on my IBS symptoms, and sipping a cup of this tea at the start of my night shifts appeared to be more beneficial than any other dietary measure I took to control my symptoms. I felt as if this tea was doing me good, and it was certainly a pleasure to drink it.
Clipper Organic White Tea with Peppermint costs just under £2 for a box of 26 teabags. The Organic White Tea range is available in several different natural flavours and I may work may way through the others as well, but I'll certainly be buying more of the peppermint variety. Whether you're looking for a tea with specific health benefits or just a refreshing alternative to generic black tea, this makes a delicious cuppa and is one I'll be drinking for enjoyment now the dreaded night shifts are finished.
I recently received a pot of Sanctuary Crème Souffle free when I purchased another Sanctuary product in Boots - Sanctuary quite often run these promotions with full or trial sized products being given away when you make a purchase. To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Sanctuary's 'orange lid' range, which tends to be overly perfumed in comparison to their other ranges, but I'm also nosey enough about trying new products that I wanted to give this a try.
Sanctuary Crème Souffle is a body moisturiser which, although it comes in a large tub like body butters, has a completely different texture. As suggested by the name, Crème Souffle has a whipped texture and contains air bubbles, so when you scoop some out it is a bit like scooping chocolate mousse. The novelty of the texture is something I like, and the crème goes deceptively far when applied to the skin - I've been caught out applying a bit too much of it a couple of times because it has such a light texture.
So....the smell. As anyone who uses Sanctuary products will know, the range with the orange lid is their main range and it has a signature scent. I think it must be a 'love or hate' scent, because my mum and sister are both fans, but I find it overpowering and unpleasant. I like fragrances that are natural or evocative, but this one just hammers me over the head and yells 'PERFUME!!!' at me. It is a formal, stuffy, old-fashioned, strong floral perfume if you ask me. However, the Sanctuary range is very popular, so I may be in a minority here. It is disappointing for me that this product contains extract of mango and jojoba and yet has such an overpowering smell.
Is it a good moisturiser? I would say yes and no. The crème does go a long way and is deceptively rich. However, after it's had time to soak into the skin, I can't detect any of the luxuriously soft feeling that you get with a really good shea butter or cocoa butter cream. My skin just feels back to normal - not dry, but not like it has been treated either. Although Sanctuary have avoided using parabens in this product, it does contain a lot of chemicals, including the aforementioned parfum and some colours.
Sanctuary Crème Souffle retails at just over £10 for a 475ml pot. This is a large tub of crème so, for anyone who particularly likes the product, it's not a bad buy and lasts for ages. It is always worth looking out for Sanctuary's offers in Boots, too. I personally won't be buying the crème for myself, as the most positive thing about it for me was the novelty texture, while it's just an average moisturiser and too highly scented. If I received a freebie again, I'd pass it on to Mum or Sis next time, as at least they'd enjoy the smell!
I'm a fan of facial wipes for cleansing my face quickly when I've just finished a 12-hour shift. Wipes are certainly not the most environmentally-friendly products, but they are ideal for doing a quick clean-up job when you're short of time (or in my case, in post-night shift zombie mode).
I've been using the Good Things brand of facial products on and off for a couple of years now, after discovering the brand in Boots. You can sometimes also find the Good Things range in branches of Superdrug, but my favourite place to buy these now is Sainsburys, where the range seems to be almost permanently on a half-price offer. The RRP for this pack of 25 wipes is £3.49, which would place them outside of my budget for facial wipes, but at half price I tend to choose these above other brands.
The selling point of the Good Things range is that the products are free from certain 'nasties', such as parabens, animal ingredients and SLS. Although these are not perfect in terms of ingredients (for example, they contain 'parfum', an ingredient that always baffles me in products that are functional rather than there to provide a fragrance), they are certainly an improvement on many of the products to be found in mainstream stores.
The blurb on the Good Things packaging also mentions that the range was developed with 'young skin' in mind, but I can report that the range is suitable for 43-year-old skin in my case, so I wouldn't be too put off by the age reference! In fact, I think the marketers may have done this range a disservice by suggesting it's for a particular age group.
Good Things Total Wipe Out wipes are noticeably stronger, thicker and sturdier than other facial wipes I've used. They feel rather like reinforced facial tissues, rather than the thin material-like texture of some wipes. Because these are so thick, I do feel a little guilty that they're disposable wipes. They are, however, biodegradable. These are also very moist, and appear to contain more cleanser than other brands I've used. I nearly always end up using two facial wipes, but I can get away with using one of these. You don't always get what you pay for, but Good Things wipes certainly feel like they're of a better quality than cheaper wipes.
Despite containing extracts of raspberry, cranberry and aloe vera, the scent of the wipes smells more appley to me - I suppose that is where the dreaded 'parfum' comes in. Honestly, I'd rather these smelled of nothing, or vaguely of the fruit extracts used, but I suppose there are plenty of consumers who want a definite fragrance to every product.
Despite my grumbles about artificial fragrance, I am going to give these wipes 5 stars, as they are the most efficient facial wipes I've found, they leave my skin feeling properly cleaned and refreshed, and they're much better in terms of ingredients than many other facial ranges. I couldn't afford to buy these every week at full-price, but the on-going Sainsburys offer means these are my new first choice for facial wipes.
I bought a pair of Skullcandy Dubs when my original iPod earphones gave up the ghost after many years of use. I chose the Skullcandy brand as I'd had previous good experience of this brand in the form of solid headphones. I bought these in HMV and I'm not sure if they can currently be purchased there after the recent relaunch of HMV's stores, but the earphones can still be bought in places like Amazon for around £10.
I'll start with the good points about Skullcandy Dubs. They have a lovely clear sound with plenty of bass, which I enjoy - sometimes inexpensive earphones have a shrill, tinny sound but that's not the case with these. The lead for connecting to your device is a reasonable 1.3 metres long and seems well enough made, and the earphones came with three sets of silicone tips in different sizes, which I thought meant I'd safely find the right size to fit my ears.
However, here begins and ends the major flaw with these earphones. Despite trying all three sizes of silicone tips, I just can't get these earphones to stay in place in my ears. I tend to use my iPod when walking to work, and with these I find that I'm having to reposition the earphones every few steps. Firstly, the sound begins to lose its bass notes and sound tinny, which lets me know the earphones are working their way out of my ears. A few seconds later, one or both will pop out of my ears completely and I'll be left flapping around trying to catch them, which is neither a good look nor a satisfactory listening experience.
I'm not sure if my problem with these is down to the size of the earphones or the design. When I've previously used in-ear earphones, they've had more of a flat, disc-like shape sitting in the outer part of the ear. I can't help feeling that the bud shape of these contributes to making them more unstable in my ears. I've tried pushing them further into my ears, but this doesn't help them stay in place and it just feels sore. I've dug out the silicone tips from my old earphones, thinking this might solve the problem, but no luck.
I struggled with how to give these earphones a score out of five. I can see that, if they fit and stayed in place properly, I'd be giving them four or five stars. The problem with them not staying in place might just be me, although I've never had this problem with other earphones. Because these are essentially unuseable for me, I don't feel I can give them an even average rating, so I'm giving them two stars.
I started studying with the Open University in 2005, and completed my Masters in July 2013. This review will cover my experiences as a student with the OU, organised into sections which I hope will be helpful to anyone considering signing up as a student.
***Website and course search***
There are several ways of using the OU website to find suitable courses. You can browse the online prospectus for undergraduate or postgraduate study, can click on quick links to fields of study (eg social sciences, arts and humanities) from the main page or, for those who know what they want to study, can perform a direct search for a topic. The OU provides many different undergraduate and postgraduate courses; for example, I've just finished a Masters in Psychological Research Methods and my partner has just signed up for one in improving healthcare practice. Unfortunately, with recent budget cuts, some social science Masters have been withdrawn (including the one I've just completed), but there is still a huge range of courses on offer.
***Prices and funding***
To put it bluntly, studying with OU is not a cheap option. To give an example, the last part of my Masters, which was a 60-point course, cost around £1400. However, the OU website does give lots of information on funding options including available grants. As there was no funding available in my case, I took out an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA), a payment arrangement that lets you pay in monthly installments. Spreading the cost of my course over a year only added around £30 to the total, so it was worth doing. One obvious benefit of OU study is that you can combine work and study - this was the only way I'd ever have been able to fund my way through a Masters.
During my years with OU, I noticed a definite move from printed study materials and physical copies towards online-based materials. During the last year of my course, I received only a basic study guide in paper form, and everything else was available online; this included copies of papers I needed, the OU online library and all the forms I needed to submit my coursework. I'd go as far as to say that it would be extremely challenging now to undertake OU study without having access to a computer and the internet. However, the real beauty of OU study is that everything you need is at your fingertips; there are no library trips and no hunting down important papers - it's all provided. Most courses do have textbooks that you need to purchase, and these can generally be obtained from places like Amazon or eBay.
I'd say that the tutor support provided by OU is variable. Some tutors seem to go the extra mile and encourage lots of contact with their students, while others do the bare minimum and take ages to mark assignments. This became an issue during my last course, when the assignments were 6-8 weeks apart and my tutor was taking 4-5 weeks each time on marking (I needed the marked assignment each time to proceed with the next one, so this made for a more stressful study experience than I would have liked). I think OU needs to do some work to standardise the tutor support and turnaround times.
Of course, OU study is fundamentally different from real-life study in the sense that you can't chew the fat over a drink with your fellow students. However, the courses do provide forums for students to discuss relevant issues, and these are generally moderated by course tutors and can be a handy way to get any questions answered. On my last course, some of the students also set up a private Facebook group, which has been a brilliant avenue for socialising and letting off steam, and I have come out of the course with a few interesting new friends.
There seem to be two schools of thought regarding OU study. I get the sense that some universities in particular look down their noses at the OU (I was asked at a PhD interview, and not in a very nice way, why I'd chosen to study with OU). Thankfully, I think the majority opinion is actually the opposite - that OU study demonstrates that you're able to keep yourself motivated and organised and work independently. I got a lovely reference from my local OU office emphasizing the challenge I'd taken on in doing a Masters while working. I've read that lots of employers will favour an OU graduate because of the qualities you need to have to succeed at distance learning.
I'm glad I studied with OU, and would recommend it to anyone who's determined to complete a qualification but can't afford to be a full-time student. It is expensive and sadly the sources of support for students are declining, but I found that the OUSBA account helped make the cost just about manageable. Distance learning isn't for everyone and you need to be fairly resilient and self-motivated to keep with it, but the OU is a great resource for making qualifications just that bit more accessible in this challenging time when few of us are able to go off and study full-time.
I was given a gift of eight gels from SBC, having never heard of the company before. Apparently the name stands for Simply Beautiful Collection and the products have featured on the shopping channel QVC - admittedly, this made me a little wary of the gels when I received them, as I tend to associated shopping channels (perhaps unfairly) with overpriced, unheard-of brands.
A 125ml bottle of Lavender Gel was included in the collection I was given. Also included were gels such as Cucumber, Aloe and a couple I didn't want to try from the offset, Collagen and Propolis Gels. Having done a little research into the company, it seems that the collagen used in their gel is not animal collagen, and they've provided information on how the collection of propolis is not harmful to bees, but as a vegetarian I still found the thought of these gels too 'icky' and avoided trying them.
SBC gels are designed to be used in a variety of ways, unless otherwise instructed on the bottle. Most of the gels can be used for body or facial moisturising, and the gels can be combined.
I've used the Lavender Gel for body moisturising purposes, rather than facial. This gel has extracts of lavender and witch hazel, and is reported to reduce itching, irritation and skin redness. A combination of hot weather and working night shift had left me with some red, irritated skin on my legs, so this is mainly where I've been using the gel.
I find that the Lavender Gel does have a soothing effect, and it certainly seems to be a gentle enough product to apply to skin that's a bit irritated. Because it's a water-based gel, it is very pleasant and cooling to use in the summer, and it's quickly absorbed - I find that some moisturisers and body butters just sit on my skin in this weather, but this is much lighter and provides moisture without leaving my skin feeling greasy.
There is a pleasant, natural lavender smell from the gel, which also makes it ideal to use at bedtime or, in my case, in the morning at the end of a shift. SBC don't use too many chemical nasties in their products, so there are no parabens in here.
The downside to this product is the price. The 125ml bottle I have, if bought on its own, would cost £11 according to the SBC website, with a 500ml bottle being £34.50. I would say this is over-priced, and it's certainly outside of my budget. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that SBC is one of those companies whose products are often priced highly to begin with and then reduced for 'offers' - the person who bought me the gift set said it was a special offer on QVC. I've also seen these gels on sale on ebay at competitive prices.
I'm giving this gel four stars, because it is very pleasant and soothing to use. It loses one star for the price tag, but I'd probably buy it again at a more reasonable price, and it doesn't seem too difficult to find it with the price reduced.