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~The Options~ I've been using LoveFilm for a few months now. It started with the free trial of course; most companies in the same business do free trials, but I think LoveFilm's way - a two week trial period - is probably one of the better deals. Of course it depends on which option you choose - there are several choices. ~ Lite - 2 per month, £4.99: You're allowed one DVD at a time, and are limited to two per month. ~ Lite - 4 per month, £7.95: Two DVDs at a time, four per month. ~ Lite - 6 per month, £9.95: Three DVDs at a time, six per month. ~ Unlimited 1, £9.99: You're allowed one DVD at a time, with no limit on the amount of DVDs you can have in a month. ~ Unlimited 2, £12.99: Two DVDs at a time, no monthly limit. ~ Unlimited 3, £14.99: Three DVDs at a time, no monthly limit. ~ Unlimited 4, $19.99: Four DVDs at a time, no monthly limit. I opted for the 3-DVD option, the theory behind this being that with careful rationing I could have a different DVD for every night of the week. Blockbuster.co.uk offers similar options to Unlimited 1 and 3, as well as the 14 day free trial, but also has the option of a five-disc deal. I chose LoveFilm over Blockbuster primarily because I'd used Blockbuster before and wanted to try something different, but also because I prefer the uncluttered appearance of the LoveFilm website - Blockbuster's site is too busy for my liking. Screenselect offers the same deals as LoveFilm, although the Unlimited 2 equivalent is a little cheaper at £12.49. The free trial is limited to 5 DVDs however. Since I wanted the three-DVD option, I could have realistically chosen any of these three companies, but the website for LoveFilm attracted me and I wanted to get the most of the free trial. ~Getting Started~ Joining LoveFilm was pretty simple really - choose your DVD package, fill in the contact and debit card details and away you go. All these sites are the same in that although the trial is free your card details are taken at the beginning, presumably in the hope that the hassle of cancelling the subscription will put you off doing it. Before any DVDs are sent, you have to make some selections to add to your Rental Queue. It's a good idea to put as many as possible on there, and there are some handy Top 200/100/50/20/10 lists to give you a head start. The selection process is quick and easy - just click on the Rent Now icon below the DVD image and the title will automatically be added to your list, without having to reload or refresh the page at all, and it will display as Added. If you've been sent a title it will show up as Shipped, and after you return it it will be set back to Rent Now. My first three DVDs arrived within the next two days, each in a separate envelope. It took me a few moments to figure out how to get into the envelopes without tearing them to pieces, but that may have just been me - it's not really that complicated! And then... watch away! ~Rotation~ Returning the DVDs is easy - you remove the front cover that you ripped open to get the disc out, put the disc in, remove the sticky label and seal the envelope, then pop it in the post box - postage is free, and you can put any film in any envelope. Since I started using LoveFilm they've started putting all the DVDs into one package, which frustrates me since I like sending them back one at a time to stagger them in the hope of always having a new one to watch. It's workable though - just send one back as soon as you've watched it and limit yourself to one film a day - if you send them back separately then they have to do the same thing! You can also ask for two extra envelopes to be sent with your next rental, but it's definitely worth keeping any spare ones you have rather than throwing them away. The turnaround isn't bad - it takes between two and three days for you to get the next DVD after sending one back. You receive an email telling you when they've been shipped, but I've sometimes had the email arrive at 7am on the day they arrive, so it's best not to rely on that. ~Quality~ It's worth pointing out that one of the most irritating things about DVD rental is when the disc doesn't work. I've unfortunately had that happen twice since I joined. That doesn't sound very good, but I have rented quite a lot of DVDs in that time, and the good thing about the 3-DVD system is that usually there's another film there to watch if one fails. Most of the films have been fine. If a DVD doesn't work, you can report it either on the site or, more simply, by simply ticking the Damaged Disc box on the front of the envelope when you send it back. You can also select whether or not you'd like the same film again. ~Quantity~ There are apparently over 57000 titles available at LoveFilm, and it claims to have the widest range in Europe. So far I've only found one thing I wanted that it didn't stock, and that was an obscure theatrical production I needed to see for my drama course. The Rental Queue is good in that you can either put your titles in order of preference or randomise them. It's a good idea to have a lot of items on it though, since a lot of the time you won't get your top choices, especially if they're recent releases. That's a bit irritating at times, but it does make it more exciting when you do finally get one of your top five sent through! ~Other Stuff~ The website's simple to use and clean cut, and that's important when the service is internet-based. It also offers downloads, both to rent and to keep, including shorts, some of which are free. FastTrak is an option available on certain titles which gives that title top priority and guarantees that it will be sent before anything else. A lot of these are television series, but there's a growing selection of films with that option too. I haven't yet used the option but it's getting tempting. I'm allowed four FastTraks a month since I'm on the three disc plan, but it's less for the other options. You also have the option of DVD and game combinations, with prices starting at £14.99 to have one title at a time with no monthly limit. ~Overall?~ Overall, I have to say I'm pretty happy with LoveFilm. It is great value for money when you consider that you can theoretically have a different film every night for £15 a month - approximately fifty pence a film as opposed to the £2.50 you'd pay in the average video store. It's hassle-free - you don't have to actually go the the store - and it's a great way of catching up with all the films you've missed. You can cancel the subscription at any time, freeze your account if you're going on holiday or even set an age limit so that titles over, for example, a 15 certificate, can't be rented without a PIN. Once you've set up the rental queue with a good selection you don't really need to visit the site at all unless you want to change your options, so all you have to do is wander to the post box occasionally. All in all... not bad at all.
I've been looking forward to writing this review for a while now! My other half took me away for a weekend a month or so ago, and we went to this beautiful hotel near Winchester. It really is lovely, so if you were looking for somewhere a bit special, read on... ~Location/Parking~ The hotel is somewhat out of the way - one of its few major bad points - being about 20 minutes away from Winchester itself, but the setting and its beautiful scenery more than makes up for this. I wouldn't recommend travelling by anything other than car however! Winchester is also a really lovely place with lots of interesting spots to see, so it's well worth a visit in itself. There were lots of designated parking spaces at the hotel, and we had no trouble at all parking on the Friday night. However it was much busier on the Saturday and Sunday and we had to park a good way from the reception area (not good for me in my ridiculous high heels...!) The main hotel is fairly modern in appearance. It reminded me of a very high-end Travelodge for some reason, but it was nice. The manor itself however, which is in fact an old manor house converted into hotel bedrooms, is beautiful. ~First impressions~ The hotel has a very long driveway with a very unusual 21.2 mph speed limit. The drive runs through fields which at night are taken over by the rabbits. On entering the hotel, there is a smart neat reception which leads through to a very nicely furnished lounge area. The staff on reception were both professional and friendly, and very helpful. We actually chose this hotel because we had a voucher to be used at one of the hotels in the group, but prices seem to range from £90 to £150 per night. Because we were staying in the manor house, we had to drive to our rooms from the reception, which was a bit annoying in some ways but on the other hand meant that we could park close to the entrance and also have a bit more privacy. The manor itself had the added security of a coded lock. We had one key card between us, as is the case in most places, but we weren't asked if we wanted another one. The manor house itself was truly beautiful. We went in to the entrance hall to discover a piano, tapestries and beautifully embroidered chairs (which we didn't dare sit on!). There were no signs once we'd entered the house, which was a little confusing at first, but we soon figured out that the bedrooms were upstairs and I think that to include signs would certainly detract from the wonderful feel of the entrance area. There was a wide impressive staircase with a red carpet; the stairs were a little uneven but this is understandable when you consider that the manor house is 300 years old. ~The Room~ When I entered our room I was truly taken aback and couldn't believe that I would really be staying there! It was a very large room with lots of space and big windows, with proper shutters on the outside. It also had a four poster bed and beautiful old fashioned furniture, to the extent that I really did begin to feel a bit like a high-class lady in her manor house! The furniture included a TV, a lovely soft velvety armchair, a blocked and carpeted fireplace with an ornate mirror above it, huge wardrobes and a beautiful desk. The bathroom too was really nice, and the bath was both very deep and really relaxing, although not very wide. Unfortunately there was also no proper shower; although there was a shower attachment fitted to the taps there was nowhere to hold it up. However the bath filled very quickly and once in a while it's no hardship to relax with a nice hot bubble bath! The TV had the four basic channels, excepting Five, then also had Euronews, 5TV and two European channels which we couldn't understand. You could also choose to watch Pay TV, although this was scheduled rather than movie-on-demand which is easier. The bed coverings weren't great although the pillows were fine, the cover was not particularly attractive and the sheets didn't really reach the pillows. As we were in the manor house this was a premium room, so I'm afraid I can't comment on the cheaper rooms. ~Food~ Dinner on Friday night was really well done. It was beautifully presented but unfortunately really wasn't my kind of food as I'm something of a fussy eater. The menu consisted of four options for each of starter, main course and dessert. I had pepper and tomato soup, which was very nice, and we were offered extra bread rolls which I appreciated as often this is overlooked. The main course was lamb cutlets, which I didn't enjoy, but it was good food nevertheless. Pudding on the other hand was truly delicious and much more up my street white chocolate tort! Breakfast is one of my favourite things about hotels, and it was truly excellent on Saturday. The cooked breakfasts were done to order because there weren't many people in, and there were plenty of other choices, including yoghurts, cereals, and most importantly pastries pain au chocolats, croissants and cinammon whirls. On Sunday the extra people meant that the cooked food was served as a hot buffet, which wasn't nearly so good; by the time we reached the dining room they had run out of bacon, and there were also no pastries, which was a shame. On Saturday night we decided to order room service. We could either choose from the restaurant menu, as I did, or from the ordinary room service menu. I had steak and ale pie and chips, which was really well done the chips were especially good and I'm fussy when it comes to those! We also ordered paninis, which were nice although best eaten immediately! My boyfriend had the club burger, which he really enjoyed. Room service charged an extra £3 for the actual delivery, but as we were on a dinner, bed and breakfast tariff the food was included in the price of the weekend (in this case free!). ~Leisure Facilities~ On the Saturday we decided to check out the swimming pool. The changing rooms were okay but fairly average, and the lockers, which required a pound coin, came with really large, annoying and uncomfortable plastic wristbands! We didn't use either the gym or the sauna but the swimming pool was lovely it was the perfect temperature and had steps all the way in which was nice. We spent over an hour and a half in there, which as I don't usually enjoy swimming that much must be good! We meant to go back on the Sunday morning but were too lazy to head over from the manor house. The jacuzzi was also really good. It wasn't really very big but it was a nice size for just the two of us. ~Other Stuff~ When our keycard didn't work we called reception and they sent over a replacement without asking for any ID or even a name we'd never seen the guy before! So that wasn't exactly very secure... Our waitress on the friday night was really friendly and attentive, but on Saturday morning we stood waiting in the restaurant for nearly 5 minutes before anyone bothered to take any notice of us. On a slightly off-topic but still vaguely relevant note, we saw a yellow bird that looked like a giant bumblebee, although with proper bird-like wings I am dying to know what it was, so if anyone has any ideas from that very vague and useless description I'd love to hear from you! One interesting although somewhat random point is that the rooms in the manor are named after flowers! We were in Daffodil, and as you can tell it's a nice room! All in all we had a really wonderful weekend away, and the little things I've pointed out really didn't make any difference in fact I only really noticed them when it came to writing this! It's definitely somewhere to go if you want a nice break. Thanks for reading! ~For more information go to http://www.qhotels.co.uk
There seem to have been an influx of these reviews lately, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents so to speak. I spend far too much time on the internet, which generally means I get no work done while I'm at my desk unless the computer is very firmly switched off. So this is what I do online. I'm not going to even try to put them in order. ~*Dooyoo*~ ~www.dooyoo.co.uk~ This one's kind of an obvious one really considering where I am right now; I'm getting more and more into it and finding that I really do enjoy reading and rating a lot of the reviews. I got into it because I felt guilty about not having a job (I'm a full time student and as my loan hasn't yet gone through I've been living on my overdraft!) and thought anything would help. As it happens I'm not so bothered about the money anymore - I imagine I'll get more excited if I reach bigger figures but at the moment I'm more interested in simply sharing opinions. Sounds cheesy, but it's actually true. Plus it makes me look at things more critically, which is interesting, and it's nice to get a feel for the community. ~*The Hunger Site*~ ~www.thehungersite.com~ I've written a review on this one so if you really want more information you can have a look at that, but personally I'd recommend that you just go to the site and make a few clicks. The sponsors of this site donate money to charity for every time a certain button is clicked; it's also linked to five other charities for which you can do the same thing. This is my doing-good for each day. It's not what I'd call entertaining but it could save lives. ~*LiveJournal*~ ~www.livejournal.com~ I joined this last year and have sporadically kept a kind of diary there. I have a free account, which means I only get limited picture space (3 images) and themes, but the options are still pretty good and I'm pretty fond of my layout. You can set your journal to be visible to only yourself, to friends (ie. other members on your friends list) or to anyone. I used to just set it to friends only, but I got bored of that and went public in the hope of some comments. It doesn't really work like that - I haven't had any from anyone apart from my boyfriend - but the possibility's there. You can also join communities - I'm part of one which is linked to another website I'll mention - and schools. I'm linked to my old high school, which is pretty cool, although I don't actually know any of the people who have joined that. All in all it's a pretty cool place to keep your memories, and you can set tags to search for topics you've mentioned in your entries. If anyone's interested my user name is _Elioclya_ ~*The Éowyn Challenge*~ ~http://home.insightbb.com/~eowynchallenge/index.html~ This website is one for those Lord of the Rings fans who want to get fit! It's basically a site where you can log the number of miles you've walked/swum/run etc, but with a twist - it can then tell you how that fits into Frodo's journey from Bag End to Rivendell (and beyond, but I'm nowhere near Rivendell yet so I don't like to look beyond it!). It's not really complete so the journey descriptions only reach around half-way to Rivendell and this shows no signs of being updated, but nevertheless it's very cool while it lasts! It's not the easiest site to use and because all the records are stored on one page it takes a while to load, but I find it a pretty good incentive. It helps that I'm using it through another website (see below) so I've got the support of other fans, but even alone it's good for the determined. ~*Google*~ ~www.google.com - www.google.co.uk~ This one's got to be mentioned, although I'm sure the majority of people use it. It's a great search engine, simple as that. I also like using the news section, and although I'm not a regular user of Froogle, the shopping bit, I have looked in on it a couple of times. I'm a particularly big fan of the image search, although I find it a bit annoying as it seems to search for file names primarily so you can sometimes get things which are completely unrelated. The fact that it can correct spellings is pretty cool too... ~*Dictionary.com*~ ~www.dictionary.com~ The amount of times I've used this when reading big complicated books is beyond count. It's so useful and handy! Just type in the word into the box right at the top and hit go. The thesaurus is wonderful too - particularly good for writing essays! It's not exactly the most attractive page in the world, but it's far too useful to worry about that. The only really irritating thing is when you try to start typing before it's loaded properly... that's never good! ~*Amazon*~ ~www.amazon.co.uk~ I'm absolutely over the moon with Amazon at the moment - I ordered four books last night and they arrived around 15:00 today! I've only had problems with them once, which was when I ordered a tape which wasn't in stock at the time. They kept me up to date, but it didn't arrive for months. Most of the time the books (my main purchases) are comparatively cheap; I love keeping an eye on the bargains in the DVD section too, and you can also buy all sorts of other things, from electrical goods to toys. The only problem is that it's far too addictive and that I end up spending far too much money... ~*Hotmail*~ ~www.hotmail.com~ I've been using Hotmail for years and I can't remember ever having any problems with it (except for the chain emails that come round from some of my contacts telling me that if I don't send it on they'll close my account - it's never yet happened strangely enough). It's free, it's easy to use, and it looks pretty good too. Plus the storage is really impressive - I have about 700 emails and I'm using about 16% of my allowance. I suppose it does sometimes decide it doesn't want to work for a little while, but it's the same with any site and I'm more than happy with them. ~*Wild Duck Productions*~ ~www.wildduckproductions.com~ I can practically guarantee you've never heard of this one, and I must admit to a certain bias, as it's the website of my boyfriend's production company. Last year they made a 45-minute docu-soap about three lads who went visiting places in Somerset. The company is currently waiting for someone to buy it or commission another one, and this site explains what it's about and also has a downloadable trailer. If you're really interested you can even buy the DVD, which, although unusual, has had a lot of very positive feedback. I personally love the design of the site, which also has a gallery of images, although it does need some small tweaking in places. It also has a section which talks about what goes on behind-the-scenes. I don't expect you to visit it as this probably seems like a shameless plug, but it is a good site! ~*The Council of Elrond*~ ~www.councilofelrond.com~ As a huge Tolkien fan this is probably my favourite website. It was set up by a lady who saw the first Lord of the Rings film and who instantly got swept up into Tolkien's world. It has a fantastic forum where you can discuss anything Tolkien-related or do role-plays, and it's a really nice community. The admins are really good at keeping it friendly and it just has a really nice feel to it. One feature which I really like is the Realms - these are named after the Valar, who are representatives of the god of Middle-Earth in Tolkien's literature - which are smaller communities within the forum. Each realm has certain characteristics and although you can join any of them, or none at all, people tend to go for those which they share certain traits with. Part of this feature is a competition for points, which can be earned around the site for all kinds contributions, monetary or web-based, eg. making e-cards. Aside from the forum there are all kinds of resources, from images from the films and from artists, to literature essays, to games and decorating ideas, not to mention the amazing Encyclopedia of Arda which covers all aspects of Middle-Earth. I spend hours and hours on this site - be warned though that it really is a site for the fans! So there you go, that's how I spend my time. There are several other sites that I've recently joined as a result of other people's reviews (mycashback and Cosmetic Research Online being two of them) but I can't really comment on those just yet. However I will mention The Unspeakables (www.theunspeakables.com) which is the sister site to Council of Elrond, only about Harry Potter. If you're a Harry Potter fan, it really is great - serious discussions of the plots are in great supply! Thanks for reading!
There've been quite a lot of reviews about this site, but I'm afraid I'm going to bother you all about it again. It's far too good a cause to ignore. The Hunger Site began in June 1999 and since then has been giving food to the hungry across the world every day, amounting to more than 300 million cups of staple food. It works through sponsorship; every time someone clicks the magic button, the sponsors donate a certain amount of food. This is then distributed by Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest to people in more than 70 countries around the world. If I were to be critical, I might say that the large volume of adverts on the page was annoying, or that the layout wasn't right. Both could be argued. But that's not what the site is about, and the adverts are there for a reason - they're the reason the site can do its work. Every click of the button gives around 1.1 cups of food, but buying from the sponsors means a donation of at least 25 cups of food. You can buy clothes and accessories, and handmade items from Africa, but you can also buy things for other people, such as a goat for a family in need. The site has recently been linked with five similar sites: the Breast Cancer Site, the Child Health Site, the Literacy Site, the Rainforest Site and the Animal Rescue Site. These all work on the same principle and it's pretty easy to navigate from one to another (although you do have to return to the home page for whichever one you're on at the time - they don't link directly from the thank-you page). The Breast Cancer Site funds mammograms for women; the Child Health Site provides healthcare for children; the Literacy Site donates books for education; the Rainforest Site preserves endangered land; and the Animal Rescue Site does just that, providing food for animals. So that's six sites in one. To help each one you only need to make 17 clicks in total, and it takes hardly any time. I've put it in my links bar in my browser and try and go on there as often as I can. I've also signed up for the reminder emails you can get, not because I'm likely to forget but because just doing that gives another two cups of food. And if you don't want the emails after that, you can just unsubscribe when you get that first email. It really is that easy.
My boyfriend and I were heading down to London to see the Late Edition being filmed - as it happened we failed to get there due to bad traffic, but we'd booked a hotel room and, well, you don't generally turn back an hour and a half into a journey. So, we arrived in London somewhat harassed and irritated and generally not very happy with the situation, but we were looking forward to a nice quiet night in a hotel room, maybe with a film or something. It didn't work out quite as planned, but it could've been worse. ~Location and Parking~ Situated on the next road along from Queensway Station, the hotel is fairly easy to get to by train. We were in the car though, and to be quite honest probably only got there due to the help of the trusty GPS system. The street which the station is on is a busy high street with restaurants and shops - including a Tesco Express open until 11 at night - but the hotel itself is on a much quieter road, full of guest houses and the like. Unfortunately all the parking spaces along that road were either for residents only or taken, so Tom called the hotel who recommended the car park in the next street. It was an indoor car park, and fairly secure, but for the night it cost us a very-bad-for-tempers £22. The ridiculously small parking spaces did nothing for our moods. We then had to walk to the hotel which took five minutes or so (we went the long way not realizing there was a short cut) and arrived cold and fed up. ~First Impressions~ I have to say that from the outside the hotel did look very nice - the front lawn was lit by green lights and the hotel name spread across the front of the building looked very smart. The reception area too was very well decorated, with polished wooden floors and large comfortable sofas. There was also a small computer table where you could use the internet, right in the corner between the sofas. Above the reception desk was a price board, one of those with the gold pin-on letters, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize that we were saving more than two thirds of the usual £160 by using laterooms.com - we paid only £49 for the room. Only twice what we were paying for the parking. It took a while to check in - the authorization machine for the credit card seemed to take forever. We only got one key card, which often happens but which bothered me as they didn't ask if we'd require another one, and when the check in process was finished we were pointed through a set of double doors which were clearly labelled "Conference Suites". This wouldn't have been so bad but there were no other signs and we had to find our way through a maze of corridors, which included a very odd covered balcony with black iron railings above a tiny overgrown courtyard. ~The Room~ We eventually found the room having made a few twists and turns, and let ourselves in to a small, tidy but not very modern room. The double bed was pushed right up against the outside wall, the window of which looked right into the street on the ground floor - not very convenient for getting changed in the day time as there was no netting, only the large thick blinds. The television was positioned facing the back of the desk rather than the bed, and the drawers it was standing on were fixed to the wall, so we had to turn the television itself which was slightly nervewracking. There was no Pay TV which was a shame as we'd thought we might watch a film, and it only had the five basic channels and CNN. The furniture was decent although not very modern, consisting of a desk, a small wardrobe, the bed and the TV stand. The bathroom was tiny, with a very small bath which you almost had to step over the toilet to get to, but it was clean which is always a plus. ~Food~ After consulting the bar and room service menu we decided to eat out - the food wasn't exactly expensive but the choice was very limited and nothing really appealed to us. I think there were about six different options altogether, including beef bourguignon (there are far too many spellings for that word) and vegetable lasagne. We did have breakfast the next day; the restaurant wasn't particularly attractive and thinking about it reminds me of school dinners, but we persevered. Continental breakfast was included in our rate, but we also ordered some cooked breakfast, which although costing extra was quite reasonably priced compared to a lot of places. The continental breakfast wasn't very well laid out, with nothing labelled and the cereal bowls kept under the warming lights, and there was only a limited choice; two or three cereals, croissants, rolls and juice. When we were brought our cooked breakfast and our tea we weren't given any cutlery, milk or cups and had to go back over to the buffet table to search these out. However the food did taste quite nice, even if the service wasn't up to scratch. ~Other Stuff~ Around 10pm, when we'd just got back from dinner, the fire alarm went off. Sighing we headed outside (incidentally through a very convenient fire door just outside our room - shame we couldn't use it the rest of the time) and just as we did so it stopped. Tom called reception to make sure we were okay to go back to the rooms - as he works in a hotel he's very conscious of fire regulations and he had the feeling that if a hotel has more than fifty rooms you're all supposed to evacuate if the alarm goes off. The reception staff told us everything was fine, and as I can't confirm the number of rooms anyway we'll have to assume that this wasn't an issue! The staff in the hotel were civil but not particularly friendly, and there was a smell of cannabis in the corridors at times which was disturbing. ~My Opinion~ On the whole, this was basically a three-star hotel with absolutely no pretensions for being anything more. It doesn't stand out in my mind as either particularly impressive nor particularly terrible - I've certainly stayed in worse places. So if, like us, you're just in London for the night and want somewhere to crash, it'll probably do, but I definitely wouldn't pay the full price. If you can't get it cheap, don't bother. © Elioclya 2005
In the last six months or so I've started to get into the crafty side of life - with the relatively new scrapbooking craze and the obvious charm of the home-made card, it was only so long before I could no longer resist. My scrapbooking attempts have as yet been fairly fruitless due to the lack of a decent printer to print my photos, but since I started making cards I've only bought one or two, when I'm a) being lazy or b) being forgetful. So, over the last six months I've been slowly increasing my collection of stamps, card, punches, transfers and the like. It's an expensive hobby, but the reactions to home-made cards and the such-like are well worth it. Anyway, onto the shop itself. ~Layout~ The few Hobbycraft shops I've been in seem to have a kind crazy logic to their layout - related items are as a rule usually near to each other, but not necessarily in any obvious kind of way. There's no signpost system, which in a shop as big as these generally are is something of a letdown. In a way it's just a clever ruse, because whilst you're looking for something specific you're likely to catch the eye of some as-yet-undiscovered item which yes, you're sure you could use. Special offers are always on the ends of aisles or in the middle of the main aisle, which is useful, but it also mixes up the system a bit - the Hobbycraft in Coventry, for example, is on two floors, and the last time I visited the scrapbooks were on special offer. You could see them from the entrance, because they were on the end of the aisle on the next floor (a kind of galleried landing), but when I went to look I found that they were positioned with some completely unrelated items - I believe it might even have been furniture for dolls' houses! ~Range~ This is the great thing about Hobbycraft. They really do cover just about every hobby and craft that you can think of. This really does mean all kinds of things: scrapbooks, scrapbook papers, punches, stamps, card, shrink plastic, foam shapes and sheets, art supplies, dolls' houses and furniture, frames, fake flowers, fabrics, embroidery sets... the list goes on and on. On top of that, they usually have a large range of each object, and you can buy them in different forms; card for example can either be bought in packets or as individual sheets. A word of caution, however, is that it can be difficult to find a very specific item. For example, I was looking for a kind of scrapbook paper with a very unique image on it, and there were none. On the other hand though you can usually order the items in. ~Price~ The problem with any kind of craft shops is that they're usually quite expensive. Hobbycraft however, being bigger than most, usually have relatively reasonable prices, and their special offers are quite good. I can give several examples of this; free insert papers with scrapbooks, half price punching and stamping sets, and reduced price stamps. I try to limit myself to this kind of deal - that way I can at least tell myself that another time it would have been more expensive. I usually try to avoid going too far into the shop, however, because if I get past the special offers aisles I'm usually in trouble. The price aspect isn't unique to Hobbycraft however, just a (very irritating) feature of craft shops. Certain smaller shops do special membership deals, which give discounts, but as far as I'm aware Hobbycraft don't do this. (Someone please let me know if I'm wrong!) ~Customer Service~ In my experience with Hobbycraft the staff have generally been very willing to help. There was one instance in particular where myself and my friend were looking at some brass-textured rubbings (or something like that, it wasn't for me!), and we weren't quite sure what they were supposed to be used for. We asked one of the shop assistants, who studied it for a while and, unsure herself, went off to find someone else. I think most of the staff tried to help us in the end, and they were very friendly about it and those who didn't know were very apologetic. I think it was the manager who told us how they worked in the end. The staff have always been helpful and knowledgeable as far as I've seen. ~Other Stuff~ Something I find rather nice about Hobbycraft is that they do free demonstrations of crafts - I think the other day it was die cutting, but I'm not entirely sure what that is - and also free leaflets with instructions for making certain items. These cover all kinds of things, from making cards to activities for children's parties. The only problem I find with these is that they usually rely on specifically pack-bought items, which I generally avoid as they're more expensive than simply buying the tools of the trade, so to speak. Some of them do look lovely though, and are worthwhile if it's a very special occasion. There are Hobbycraft shops across the country; however in the south-west and in the Norfolk area there don't appear to be any. Unfortunately you can't buy things online either, except for gift vouchers. However there is a postal service, which I haven't tried - it's a case of making a note of the product details and either making a telephone call or sending a letter (you can print off a PDF order form from the website). The website, www.hobbycraft.co.uk, does however allow you to browse for special offers and best buys so that you can gauge the best time to visit! You can also sign up for an email newsletter. ~My Opinion~ I have a love-hate relationship with Hobbycraft. I love it because it's so useful and handy and it's just great fun to lose yourself in all the strange and wonderful things you can buy - I'm particularly into the small charms and miniature shapes you can buy for cards and the like at the moment. I hate it because it can eat so far into both my day and my bank account (or, to be fair, my boyfriend's!). If I had the time and the money it would be absolutely wonderful. As it is, though, I have to limit my visits very carefully to avoid plunging deep into debt! © Elioclya 2005
I must admit at this point that I am a big Disney fan. Of the few videos and DVDs I have with me at university, the majority are Disney films. Like everyone I have my favourites - mostly the classics such as Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid - but Pocahontas seems somehow above that. When I think of my favourite films it never comes to mind, but when I watch it I can't help being touched by it. The story of Pocahontas centres around a young woman, the daughter of an Indian chief in Virginia, who meets Captain John Smith (voiced by Mel Gibson) when he comes over to America on a ship in a quest for gold. The Indians and the Englishmen are instinctively enemies, but when Pocahonatas and Smith meet they find a common bond which goes beyond that. As you might expect, they fall in love, and their task is to find a way to bring peace to the two groups. For Pocahontas this is made more difficult by her father's express command that she should stay away from the white men, and there are times when she backs out, but this only makes the storyline more engaging. The plot is very well crafted and switches nicely between viewpoints, always finding a link rather than just changing from one group to another. Unusually for a Disney animated film, Pocahontas is actually loosely based on a true story. Of course in a lot of ways it varies dramatically from the historical facts, but I remember that when I first watched it I wanted to know more and actually went to the trouble of looking Pocahontas up in an encyclopaedia. I found the true version much less interesting, so I for one am in favour of the romanticizing of this story at least. If you do want to know more about the actual story, you can find some information at http://www.apva.org/history/pocahont.html. The film is padded by some highly amusing characters; there is the raccoon Meeko, who provides the almost inevitable cuteness required in a Disney film, and the stubborn hummingbird Flit, who "just doesn't like strangers". There is also of course the villain, Radcliffe, the leader of the Englishmen whose only goal is to acquire as much treasure as possible and make off with it to London. Ratcliffe's pet dog, Percy, begins the story as Meeko's private nemesis, but it's not long before they become friends. Some of the most amusing characters are two of Smith's shipmates, Lon and Ben, the latter of which is played by Billy Connolly. There is one scene in particular where they strike up an impromptu song, with mops and brooms as props, which never fails to make me smile. The Englishmen also have the nervous, anxious-to-please Thomas on their side, played by Christian Bale, and the pompous but harmless Wiggins, Ratcliffe's rather effeminate sidekick. The characters of the Indians are often less prominent. There is Nakoma, Pocahontas' best friend, who means well but doesn't always help the situation, and Kocoum, the brave but stern warrior who wishes to marry Pocahontas. The most noticeable of the Indians is Powhatan, who is wise and good-hearted, although he and Pocahontas do not always see eye-to-eye. The most unusual character in this interesting cast is Grandmother Willow, who is in fact a willow tree. She plays the role of a shrewd if somewhat unorthodox mentor, and injects some of that Disney magic which just makes their films what they are. This film is worth seeing simply for the widely diverse characters, but on top of these and a very interesting plot it also has a wonderful soundtrack. The songs are proper sing-a-long classics with truly meaningful messages, actively promoting inter-racial relations, and Pocahontas' singing voice is very moving. All in all I don't think I actually have anything negative to say about this film, except of course if you are looking for historic fact. To be fair though, a Disney film is not likely to be the place for that; ultimately its aim is to entertain people, especially children, and this film does that beautifully. It actually won two Oscars, as well as another 13 awards. I'm not going to argue with that. © Elioclya 2005
Having received this game as a jokey gift from my other half when I wasn't feeling very well the other day, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. He'd picked it up from a charity shop in a two for £2.50 deal, so however it turned out I was pretty certain it would be worth it, but as the cover itself had somewhat less-than-impressive graphics, I was a bit apprehensive, despite my addiction to The Sims. So, ignoring the less-than-overwhelming packaging, I put the disc into my computer. There was no autoplay and I had to go open the disc to manually find the setup programme, but once I'd located it the installation was a very quick and simple process. I was going to register the product, but when it started asking me questions about modems and the such-like I decided it wasn't worth the product - and anyway, it's now ten years old. The point of the game is to guide a planet through its evolution and development. It gives you several different options for kinds of planet, and also for level of difficulty. As is to be expected the graphics are poor and pixelated compared to current standards, but that doesn't have too big an effect on overall enjoyment. When I first started the game, I dived straight in and tried to evolve a planet... I failed miserably. I had no idea what any of the icons or even the options on the menus meant. When my planet ran out of water and all of my life forms became extinct, I realised I would have to consult the manual. This is on the disc rather than in paper form and is really quite long - it basically tells you something about every possible option. Needless to say it took me a while to wade through it, and I gave up before I'd really got a grasp of it. However I had a much better idea of the main concepts of the game. You have the ability to change all kinds of options, from the amount of rainfall to the allocation of energy to different purposes, for example Science or Philosophy. You can introduce different life forms to the planet, and you can change the levels of evolutionary advancement for the life forms. One of my problems with this game is that I find it difficult to really tell if what I'm doing is right, except when I get a message which tells me very deliberately that I'm doing something wrong. A lot of the time things just seem to go along not doing very much, and unless you're playing on a mode which can reach different levels of civilization (ranging from the stone age to the nanotech age) it's very hard to know what your aim is. As such, the game is entertaining only in so far as you actually have problems to solve - when nothing much is happening you do tend to get a bit bored and open a new window on the computer. On that basis then I'd recommend that if you do play this game, you try and use one of the planets which does allow civilization - the DaisyWorld is particularly boring. Another feature to notice is the Omega energy level - depending on how much of this is available you can change things such as the altitude of areas on the planet. It runs out quite quickly however. I think it's fair to say that this game is a bit out of date - in fact Maxis have developed a similar kind of game, called Spore, where you can evolve a civilization from a single-celled organism. It's not going to be available until sometime next year but I'll definitely be looking into it. Sim Earth isn't brilliant as a game in its own right, but it has a lot of promise and an updated version is something I'm very interested in. If you see Sim Earth in a charity shop somewhere, it's probably worth the sort of price you'll have to pay, but don't expect hours of endless entertainment. © Elioclya 2005
I have the kind of hair that for years seemed impossible to control. Tying it back in a bun was the only way to make it look vaguely manageable, particularly as my hair takes forever to dry - it can take the hairdresser up to an hour with a professional hairdryer, and it's only just past my shoulders. So when the first straighteners came on the market, I was overjoyed. Unfortunately it still took forever to dry, so, being the impatient person I am, I was forced to wait until my hair had dried before tackling it with the straighteners. Then of course it still wasn't up to scratch. As the straighteners available got hotter and hotter, it became a quicker job to make my hair presentable, but it didn't get any easier to dry and so straightening remained a rare thing. Until now. When the wet2straight range first came out, I took one look at the price and thought, there's no way I'm spending that much money on a hair appliance. And my restraint has lasted a good few months (although how much of that is will power and how much is sheer circumstances is debatable), but now, with the price going down and a sheaf of Argos vouchers to use, I've finally given in. The straighteners, being designed for use on thick hair, are quite wide and big themselves which arguably makes them less attractive - they're certainly not slimline. But nevertheless the black finish makes them look rather stylish, and anyway, who's going to be looking? With a warm-up time of only 30 seconds, and hitting high temperatures of 210 degrees, this is a pretty powerful toy. I was very excited about playing with it, and I wasn't disappointed. It took me just over half an hour to completely dry and straighten my hair the first time, and that was with me playing with the temperature dial and revelling in the freedom of the 3 metre lead. You do need to make sure that you thoroughly towel-dry your hair before you start, but the straighteners are really easy to use and because of their size they can straighten quite a large section of hair in one go. I find that the hair still needs to be gone over a few times, but that's probably just my ridiculously thick hair. Another useful feature for the travelling kind is the case included in the box - it's apparently heat-resistant and the straighteners can be put into it immediately after use. I haven't tested this myself yet - I'm a bit apprehensive - but that's what it says on the booklet. The booklet, by the by, also includes full instructions, which strongly suggest that heat protection spray should be used and which even go so far as to describe the best sections of the hair to straighten first. A small point to consider is how you feel about the noise of water evaporating in strong heat - I find it very satisfying, but I know some people find the noise a bit disconcerting, and if you're using the straighteners to dry your hair you will hear it a lot. For me, these straighteners are fantastic, and I would highly recommend them. There is also a slimmer version available for thinner hair. I think as a general rule the wet2straight range is designed for people who either have a lack of patience or a lack of time, and they're certainly good at what they do. © Elioclya 2005
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Principally of the books, but also very much of the films. They've been reviewed over and over again and I'm not going to spend time on the films themselves - they are a great adaptation of the books, despite a number of changes and exclusions in the plot, and as an introduction to the world of Middle Earth they are truly wonderful. They're also full of all kinds of incredible special effects and present a true merging of technology with acting talent and more traditional camera tricks. And that's where the Extended Edition DVDs come in. **Appearance and Presentation** The box set and indeed the individual extended DVDs have a unique style. The cases are presented as old books, entirely fitting to the subject matter, and each individual case is then further improved by artwork based on scenes from the films and also by the inclusion of maps. These maps trace the paths of the Fellowship for each film, and if you want to get your bearings within Middle Earth are indispensable. Each of the individual cases for the films includes four discs: two are the film itself and two are special features, entitled The Appendices. To help you find your way around these discs a booklet is included, which compiles the scene list (indicating where there are new or extended scenes) as well as attractive diagrams which serve as a key to the special features discs. Although they look pretty, drawing on an Elvish theme of leaves and tendrils, these do take a bit of getting used to and only give the titles of the documentaries and other features rather than explaining them. However as this is generally the case with most DVDs, which make much less effort, you can't really complain. **Special Features** There are a LOT of special features. Each film includes four full-length commentaries: one by the director and writers, one by the cast, one by the production teams and another by the design teams. They're all really interesting, and if you want a more light-hearted look at it the cast commentary is really very entertaining. There are also several documentaries on each one, looking at various aspects of the films ranging from the slow process of adapting the book to the design of Middle Earth and the many tricks of the trade used to achieve its effects, including stunts, size trickery and the huge technological advance of the motion capture used to portray the character of Gollum, now known as a piece of movie-making history. As with any selection of documentaries, there are bound to be bits which are less than thrilling, but these are few and far between, and there really is something for everyone, even those who aren't fans of the films themselves. There are some which follow members of the cast around, others which document the creation of the incredible soundtrack, and some which show the arduous process of editing. As well as the film commentaries and documentaries, there are also storyboards and image galleries with commentaries by the artists. **Extended and Additional Scenes** For me this is the major attraction of the extended editions. Wonderful as the theatrical versions were when they first came out, there was always room for more; the fans of the books missed specific scenes and moments, and some others who hadn't read the books felt that they just weren't getting the full story. There are many extra parts to the films in the extended editions: some are those long-missed moments which only fans of the books can fully appreciate, such as the meeting of Faramir and Éowyn in the Houses of Healing, and others are comical; still others simply explain further the rich and complicated plot. The great thing about the extra scenes is that they're already embedded into the films - it's a whole new cut which flows together just as seamlessly, or indeed more so, than the original theatrical version. New parts of the score have been deliberately created to fit with it and in places it almost seems like a whole new film. It is quite simply beautifully crafted. For the fans of the book, there are of course still things that are missed out, but that's in the nature of the film industry and the additions certainly make a big difference. **Value for money** Since it first came out the Box Set of Extended Edition DVDs has of course come down in price, and can in some places be bought for around £30. This is definitely the cheaper end of the spectrum, but even at the higher prices, it's well worth the money. **Other** This is one of my prized possessions and if you are a fan of the films you should definitely look into getting this. Now I've seen the extended editions I wouldn't go back to the theatrical versions - they're a big step down. Of course they're still great, and the soundtrack is breathtaking, but the extended editions far outstrip them. © Elioclya 2005
I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I thought it might be upsetting in places, but apart from that I went in without any real preconceptions. It surprised me. The first thing I really noticed about it, in terms of the writing itself, was the fact that it was written in the present, as if things were happening as I read them. The reason this stood out for me is that, as a rule, I don't like stories to be written in the present tense. It just doesn't work for me. So when I realised around the fourth chapter that I'd been so enthralled by the story that I'd managed to completely miss this fact, I had an idea that I might be in for a very good read. It didn't disappoint me. Written from multiple perspectives, the story is displayed much more effectively than it would be if the narrator were simply an omniscient onlooker. It shows how each of the characters is feeling, what they are thinking and hoping, and the memories they are recalling, moment by moment. In some places this goes so far as to have the same scene shown twice - annoying, you might think, but somehow it's not. The words and actions of the characters might be the same, but the angle is completely different. In terms of the story, there's not really much I can say without giving something away. There's a family - Mum, Dad, a girl and a boy. The eldest girl, Kate, has leukemia, and doctors predicted that she wouldn't live to see her fifth birthday. But her parents went through tests in the hope that they'd be able to produce another child - a perfect donor match for Kate. And so Anna was born. All her life she's given things to her sister - bone marrow and lymphocytes in particular. Now, aged thirteen, she wants to be able to have a choice in the matter. So she hires a lawyer in the hope that she'll be given medical emancipation - so that it's her, not her parents, who have to make the decisions about what she gives to her sister. It's an extremely well-written and moving look at how a family might deal with such a unique situation. From Anna's legal actions to her brother Jesse's forays into more illegal things, all kinds of situations are dealt with. All in all, I'd say it's almost perfect - the only thing that made it less so for me was the ending. It takes nothing away from the rest of the book, and I definitely wasn't expecting it, but it didn't seem right to me. But that's something any other reader might feel differently about, so I'll say no more about that. This is definitely a recommendation - my one caution is that you might want to have some tissues on hand. In dealing with such a delicate topic, it's almost impossible not to make it upsetting in some way; in fact, it wouldn't be nearly as good if it wasn't. It's the fact that you're dragged into the crisis yourself, not knowing what you want to happen, that makes this book what it is. © Elioclya 2005
If you've read the Tortall books by Tamora Pierce (The Song of The Lioness quartet, The Immortals quartet, the Protector of the Small quartet and the Trickster books) then you're quite possibly looking for the same sort of thing. Be warned: these books are set in a different world, with very different characters and a different kind of magic. This might put you off at first (especially if, like my sister, you try reading the second one before you've read the first one) but persevere - the writing is as rich and varied as you would expect from the author. The Circle of Magic quartet, of which The Magic in the Weaving is the first, follows the stories of four young teenagers, with very different backgrounds. Sandry is a noble and an orphan, with a love of weaving and wool; Daja is a Trader, the only survivor of a sinking ship, who has always been fascinated by metal. Tris is a merchant girl, but she has been passed from relative to relative as a freak, with strange power over the weather; Briar is a thief, having been arrested three times, but with a surprising love of plants. The series follows them as they learn more about their powers, guided by their respective teachers. Of course it's not as simple as that, and their magic is tested in many different ways over the series. One of the most interesting things about the series is the way that Pierce looks at the relationships between the teenagers. She does it subtly, but she shows how they are drawn together despite their in-built apprehension and even hatred against different cultures. She also shows how, cheesy as it sounds, there really is magic in everyday life - she said herself, "There is magic in crafts, in creating something useful. I just followed that magic to the next level." This is definitely worth a read; although it is clearly aimed at young adults, it's full of interesting episodes - a good one to read on a lazy day! © Elioclya 2005
It's been a long time coming, but now it's here there seems to be a mixed reception of this book. Personally I loved it. It arrived in the post on the Saturday morning, and I read it in six hours. Unfortunately that six hours was interrupted half-way through by a family party, which I couldn't enjoy quite as much as I'd have liked due to constantly wondering what would happen next. If it hadn't been for the party, I don't think I'd have eaten until I'd finished the book. One aspect to consider about this book is that it is undeniably a lot darker than the others. In fact, it would probably be true to say that it's just a lot more mature in all senses. It has to be; the characters are growing up, and the original readers are now a lot older than they were when it first came out. It's a shame that the books haven't been able to be published yearly - there are people who felt at first that they were growing up not only with the books, but also with the sense that they were growing up with the characters, year by year, following them through school. Regardless, the series has grown to the point where there is genuine horror for the reader in some places, and some younger readers may not be able to follow it right through until they are older. The story in this book is in some ways very shocking, not only in terms of its darker feel but also in what are by some seen as very emphatic twists. Things are changing dramatically for Harry, Ron and Hermione as they continue through Hogwarts, and this book ends with heavy indications that the last book will be very different to the others. In terms of writing itself, Rowling's style is very distinctive and has matured along with the content of the books. I myself noticed a few minor problems with the way some sentences flowed, which annoyed me somewhat, and the start of the book seemed slightly obscure (as often seems to happen with these series) but it all came together. For me, it was a very worthwhile read, and my biggest problem is how long it will be before the final book appears. © Elioclya 2005
This add-in to The Sims 2 is definitely worth the money, as it opens up a whole new avenue for the gamer (and of course for the Sims!). It's designed so that when a Sim reaches the Teenager life stage, they get the option of going to college. Using the phone or the computer, they can apply for scholarships or just go off to university. You can basically turn into a teenager and go right off to college if that's how you want to do it, although it's worthwhile getting the grades up for the extra money first. There are three different colleges, each with a slightly different feel.When the Sim arrives at college, with 500 Simoleons under their belt plus anything they've got from scholarships, they can move into a dorm or into rented accommodation. One of the great things about this add-in is that you now have the option to combine households, both in the university and on the ordinary neighbourhood, but a slight downside to dorm accommodation is that you can't do any building. When at university, the Sim turns into a Young Adult, the new life stage. It's basically the same as the Adult stage, except that getting married and having children isn't an option. Engagements are though, with the slight problem that if one of your Sims gets engaged to a Sim you aren't controlling in a dorm, you have to make the other Sim move in with someone you are controlling in order to ensure that they can graduate and get married. Otherwise they're stuck in that dorm indefinitely. Another new feature of Sims University is that your Sims have the ability to influence people. This runs throughout the whole game, resulting in toddlers being able to influence their parents - but influence is determined by the number of friends you have and which aspirations you fulfil. It is very useful when you want your Sim to do well at college but can't be bothered to put them through the hassle of working - you can influence another student to do your assignment or write your term paper. University life is divided into four stages - Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior. Each stage includes two exams. As each stage ends the Sim gains something different - an extra want, the ability to lock two wants and fears, the one-off chance to change aspirations, and finally a sixth want. The final new feature (aside from new wallpapers, floor, furniture and so on, including drums and guitars) is the lifetime aspiration. Each Sim has one, determined by their aspiration. For example, a Sim with a popularity aspiration might want 20 best friends at once, or a Sim with a family aspiration might want to marry off 6 children. Once a lifetime aspiration is fulfilled, your Sim will have platinum aspiration for the rest of their life, and so you'll only need to worry about their needs. Although this is exciting, it does make looking after them somewhat less of a challenge and does revert slightly to the original Sims! The new features of this game certainly make it more than worth the money, although it will make loading slightly slower. The game is great fun anyway, but it's even more addictive with University. If you don't want to end up staying up all night playing it, it's probably not a good idea to buy it! © Elioclya 2005
It looks good, it's easy to use, it works well. Basically, it's a good camera, at a decent price. I would highly recommend this camera, on the simple basis that while it seems to have a lot of special features, I've had very little trouble getting used to it, and as I've never really used a digital camera in the past, I'd say that's quite an accomplishment for me. With 5.0 mega pixels, it's (apparently) pretty good, and it's just as handy for filming as it is for actually taking photos. Along with the automatic setting, which basically does the work for you, there are also several others, designed specifically for photos of landscapes, sport, or people, and there's also a night setting. Using that, I managed to take some fantastic pictures of the spectacular sunset the other night, although it's not quite so good if you're inside and trying to take a photo from a distance. When it comes to transferring the photos to computer, the program which is included is really easy to use, and it's very helpful for editing the photos too. However, using the program to organise the photos and print them is a bit more difficult - as far as I can tell, it doesn't allow selective printing, so I've had to resort to using the Windows Print Wizard instead. Despite the few flaws, however, it's a good camera, and a good investment. © Elioclya 2005