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Ellen82

Ellen82
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Member since: 27.03.2008

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    • greenmetropolis.com / Online Shop / 24 Readings / 21 Ratings
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      02.05.2008 01:02
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      Online second hand book seller offers cheaper alternative

      When I moved into a new home with two of my friends a few months ago, our little terraced house didn't have nearly enough storage space to put all the stuff away I'd accumulated over the years. And considering there's only so much room underneath my bed, I was forced to bin quite a few things. However, I've always been of the opinion that before you bin anything you should consider whether you can sell it first and thus I ended up with a stackload of books looking for a new owner and the difficult task of finding a means to get them sold.

      Now I have to admit I'm not a big fan of Ebay - frankly I find the idea of having to pay auctioning fees a little bit ridiculous, especially when you're not looking at a massive profit anyway and you've absolutely no guarantee of selling your lot. On top of that I once had a nasty experience with a hacker on Ebay and suffice to say that kind of put me off for life.

      In dispair I turned to some of my moneysaving sites I frequent and eventually stumbled on a link to GreenMetropolis - an online bookseller where secondhand books can be bought cheaply and the majority of the profit goes to the seller. Plus putting your books up for sale is free!

      Note, as I have never bought books on GreenMetropolis this review will be mainly written from the point of view of the seller.

      The homepage of the site looks attractive and accessible. It features mainly green overtones, as the site also strongly accentuates its environmental purpose - by buying second hand books rather than new ones you are saving paper, and therefore trees, and helping the environment. Buyers are also strongly urged to resell the books they bought once they've read them.

      On the left hand side of the page you can find the different book categories featured on the site, which makes it easy to browse. At the very top there are the options to log in or log out, buy a gift voucher for someone, read the latest news, contact GreenMetropolis or find out all about how the site works in the 'help' and 'FAQ' sections.

      If you'd like to sell a book - as I have done quite a few times now - all you have to do is click on the 'sell a book' button in the top right hand corner and from there on it couldn't be more straightforward.

      On the first page you'll be asked to enter the unique ISBN number of your book and its condition. The handy thing here is that if you enter this number and the database recognizes it - which 9 times out of 10 it will - the next page will bring up all the information already stored on that book. All you have to do then is select the appropriate cover (if there are several options), add some comments with regard to the condition or perhaps a different edition and in some cases offer a discount if your book is in pretty bad shape. Depending on the size of the book, you can also add extra postage. The amount you need can be easily deduced from the table on this page, which gives you the amount of postage needed based on the size and weight of the book.

      As a seller you do have to pay for the postage, but if you stick to second class post this is more than reasonable and considering you get £3.00 for every book you sell - depending on discounts - you will be left with easily more than £1.50 profit, which is far more than what you would expect to sell a pocket book for in a charity shop - or a cheap second hand shop for that matter.

      Once you've filled all those details out, you simply select 'add book' at the bottom of the screen and hey presto! It's as simple as that. Once you've put one or more books up for sale, you can go into 'my account' to look at or edit them.

      The 'my account' part of the site offers the possibility to check the list of books you've sold or the list of books put up for sale and perhaps amend their details. You can also remove books from the list if you no longer have them or can't find them anymore.

      Of course you can change your personal and account details too.

      And lastly you can keep track of your finances. credit your account if you're looking to buy books and cash out any money you have earned from selling. Because of administration fees, GreenMetropolis allows sellers to cash out a maximum of once a month and you can only do so when the money shows up as 'cleared' in your bank account. It takes approximately 7 days for any credits to clear after the book has been sent.

      Something which I've not personally used but which seems very handy is the option to indicate when you're going on holiday so books won't be displayed to potential buyers during that time. As it states in the T&C that books are expected to be sent 2-3 days after they've been bought, this could avoid a lot of unnecessary hassle.

      So what happens when you've sold a book? You'll receive an email stating which book you've sold, the order number and delivery address and in addition the order details, which you can print off and include with the book you send out. It's a bit similar to what you get from sites such as Amazon and makes it look a whole lot more professional than just dispatching a book with no notes at all.

      Once you've sent the book, all you have to do is go into your 'book orders' section to mark the book as sent so a notification email can be sent to the buyer. And then all that's left is to sit back and reflect on a job well done.

      A quick browse of my 'book orders' section shows me that I've sold nine books since I joined the site in February. I know it doesn't seem like much but the objective of this site is not to be a 'get rich quick' scheme. It's a great way to sell your unwanted books for a higher price than you would expect to get for them at most other places and in addition you're helping others to find the books they want at a fraction of what they'd have to fork out in a highstreet shop. And all this while helping the environment. The site is extremely easy to use and I personally find it very fulfilling to get a small profit out of something that would have otherwise ended up at the bottom of the skip. And you're not losing out either. If you look at the difference between the selling and buying prices it's easy to see GreenMetropolis themselves are doing this out of idealism rather than aiming for a big profit.

      If you're tired of Ebay and carboot sales aren't really you're thing, I'd definitely give this a whirl...you've only to gain from it!

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      • More +
        26.04.2008 01:14
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        Good value for money gym in the heart of Manchester

        As my hometown's Bannatyne hasn't featured yet, I'd like to share my experiences, which are quite different to some of the others mentioned here.

        I've been a member of Bannatyne's in Manchester since early March now, when - after about a year of unhealthy eating and minimum activity - I finally decided to do something about my weight and health. It was recommended to one of my housemates' colleagues and when my friend then came back from her induction she was very positive about it, so I decided to join up too.

        Location

        One of the good things about the Manchester branch is that there are two gyms available in different parts of the town centre. I am focusing on the Withworth street gym in this review as that is the one I normally go to. The gym is situated just a ten minute walk or so from the middle of town and five minutes from the central train station. There is little parking available - there is no separate parking lot - unless you are happy to park your car by the side of the road. It has an excellent public transport connection, however, being only a few minutes' walk to the nearest bus stop, with frequent buses to several parts of the city.

        Infrastructure

        The inside of the gym is clean and modern. There are turnstiles at the entrance for which you have your membership card, then a small atrium with TV and drinks machines and a few tables with seats where members are free to sit.

        The gym is built vertically rather than horizontally, which has the effect of making it look quite small on the outside whereas this is really not the case. The gym is divided in three levels. At the very bottom there are the male and female changing rooms, the room used for various aerobics and other classes during the week and the swimming pool. Above, there is the normal gym and the 'spinning' room.

        There are water fountains at various locations if you get thirsty.

        Dressing rooms

        Obviously I can't comment on the male dressing rooms but the female ones are clean and spacious. There are always plenty of spare lockers which are operated with a one pound coin. Rumour has it they will start using padlocks soon which you can rent for a fiver, but I hope a rumour is all it is as I really like this system. The staff upstairs are always on hand to give you some change should you require it.

        The showers consist of little cubicles, not very roomy but the heat and water pressure are just right. Plus, you don't have to worry about bringing shower gel as there are dispensers on the wall in every shower. There are also hairdryers which can be used for free.

        Swimming pool

        The swimming pool is clean but rather small. It is approximately 25 metres long which is less than your public pool would normally be and it's only 4 foot deep throughout. This can be a disadvantage for those who like to dive, although it is a reassurance at the same time. The pool is hardly ever very busy. Even at peek times you will have four people at the most using it at the same time, which is probably for the best as it would get quite crowded otherwise!

        I used the pool in the other gym on Quay Street once and it's a lot bigger. Plus there are several sauna cabins - and a female only one in the dressing room - and two jacuzzi's available whereas the Whitworth Street one only offers one of each, plus a Turkish steam bath area. However, the Quay Street opening times are not as good and the building itself looks slightly depleted. Plus they currently use the padlock system which annoyed me. However, I've not used any of their other facilities so I can't comment on how they compare to my usual gym.

        Gym

        The gym offers the normal amount of cardio machines and weights you would expect to find. There is an area exclusively devoted to treadmills, stepping machines, crosstrainers and eliptical machines. Each of these has a little inbuilt TV screen where you can flick between checking your stats - heart rate, calories burnt, time, etc. - and a range of 12 Freeview channels which can be watched - and heard - by plugging your earphones into the machine.

        The room next door offers the standard range of weight training equipment and more cardio machines. Again, the area is vertical rather than horizontal, with additional downstairs areas for heavier weights, stretching and ab training. Even though some of the equipment stands pretty close together it's still spacious enough to be comfortable. The busiest night is Monday, which is one of my regular nights and it never felt too crowded.

        Classes

        So far, I've only done the Bodycombat class,which I absolutely love, but there are many more available throughout the day ranging from Yoga to Spinning and Bodypump. Bodycombat is an extremely good workout, combining strength training and intense cardio and based on boxing and fighting moves. The main thing is it's fun to do!

        The only downside to the Bodycombat class is you require a pass to get in which you have to obtain each time from reception. They don't have a reservation system in place to book your place in advance and they start handing out the passes half an hour before the start. With the summer fast approaching the passes have now sold out twenty to fifteen minutes before and for those of us who come straight from work that is often too early. This week, I and several other regulars were unable to attend because the passes had all been given out once we got there. Although I don't dispute the fairness of the system it would perhaps be better to implement a 'booking in advance' system. After all, not all of us work just around the corner or have the time to ourselves!

        Price

        Considering value for money and what prices are like in other high profile gyms, I think the monthly subscription fee isn't too bad. I pay £42 by direct debit every month and for that you get unlimited access to classes, gym and pool. When you join, you do have to pay £10 for your membership card and otherwise I think they still have the 'no joining fee' promotion on offer.

        Opening Times

        The gym is open Monday to Friday 6.30-10.00 and 8.00-9.00 at weekends. The Quay Street gym only opens at 9 at weekends, which is not so good for the early birds.

        Staff

        Most staff at my regular are quite friendly and helpful. There's the odd rude one but I guess you get that everywhere. I do find them to be very rigid with the rules, eg no booking in advance, but that's obviously not something the staff can do anything about.

        Overall

        I definitely don't regret signing up to this gym. You get your money's worth and even though I've not been a member for long and can't comment on how easy it is to cancel membership or what it would cost, the T&C I signed states you have to cancel a month in advance in writing. I assume this to be legally binding so would be very surprised if they would go against that, but you never know. Maybe they've changed it recently due to people's bad experiences?

        All in all I'd definitely recommend Bannatynes Manchester if you're a regular gym goer who likes a bit of everything for a decent price.

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        • More +
          22.04.2008 00:08
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          Moral sentiment for children of the eighties

          I fully admit I bought this box set purely out of sentiment for lost youth. Though I'm not strictly that old - 26 going on 40 - watching this cartoon again makes me feel that way a little. Not just because graphically it appears to be a million light years behind what computer technology can achieve with animation nowadays. Also the content is so far removed from what kids get to see on TV recently. And I don't really know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I just find it different and refreshing.

          The Thundercats centres around a group of beings - half human, half cat - from a planet beyond our galaxy called Thundera. After their planet and most of its inhabitants was destroyed, the few survivors board a spacecraft in search of a new home. In the first episode we meet the elderly Jaga, the intellectual leader of the group, the nobels Panthro, Cheetara, Tygra and the twins WilyKit and WilyKat. Each have their own special weapons, powers and skills. The young Lion-O is destined to become their leader with the help of the magical Eye of Thundera, embedded in a powerful sword, which can give whoever holds it the power of foresight and has the additional nifty option to summon the other Thundercats whenever Lion-O finds himself in a tight spot. And there is also Snarf, a catlike animal but with human characteristics, whose main task it is to look after Lion-O...and provide some comic relief.

          Already in the first episode the Thundercats crash on a planet called Third Earth, which has characteristics similar to their home planet, thus enabling them to survive there. From then on, each episode follows a similar pattern. They explore the planet, making many new friends on the way, but also enemies - not least their eternal foes. These are the Mutants (Slithe, Monkian and Jackalman) whose constant goal is to destroy the Thundercats and Mumm-Ra, a decayed mummified creature who proclaims to be the biggest source of evil on Third Earth and can change into Mumm-Ra The Ever-Living whenever required - usually to battle the Thundercats in his eternal quest to obtain the Eye of Thundera and use it for evil deeds.

          The plot of the series is quite simplistic. The Thundercats explore Third Earth, meet new friends along the way and often have to help out those in trouble. Inevitably, they are thwarted by one or more of the 'villains' in the series, a battle ensues and the good guys win. Nevertheless, the bad guys vow to never give up trying.

          Underneath this simplistic veneer, however, the series sends a strong message out to children watching, focusing on the eternal battle between good and evil with a strong moral undercurrent, which is often explicitely mentioned or shown. It happens on more than one occasion that the still young Lion-O gets lead astray by egotism or stubberness, only to discover that it pays to listen to good advice and work as a team. And the message that you get what you give out in life rings through strongly...evil never pays and never wins.

          I do admit that when watching this the blatant morality of it does make you want to cringe at times and some episodes make you feel as if you've seen it all before. Also the graphics, though quite normal in quality for the decade in which it was produced (the 1980's) might seem very poor for someone watching with a critical eye of the twenty-first century.

          But for children of the eighties - like I am one - this is a wonderful journey back to their youth, which offers something else than extraordinary gadgets and gratuitous violence. Yes, it's naive, but it's the kind of naivety that makes you smile...

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          • Capital punishment / Discussion / 15 Readings / 12 Ratings
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            21.04.2008 23:29
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            The death penualty perpetuates that which it says it wants to irradicate

            As I have quite strong views on this subject, I thought it would be a good topic to write a review about.

            First of all I would like to state I definitely think there are individuals out there who do not deserve to live...serial killers and rapists, anyone who harms children and babies, people who kill and torture for their own perverted pleasure and so on.

            Secondly, I am against the death penalty. You see, with me the death penalty really has nothing to do with the crime or the criminal. Like I said in the previous paragraph if it was just a case of deciding if someone DESERVED to die, there would be a very long queue of candidates waiting.

            However, when I consider the pros and cons of the death penalty, I like to look at it from the point of view of the state and government and, quite simply, of plain logic.

            If the death penalty exists to prove that killing/torturing/raping is wrong...how can you justify using killing to prove it? If the state orders a person to be killed, doesn't it then become a murderer itself, thus turning into that which it says it wants to eradicate? How can you logically prove that killing is wrong by killing? That is the main flaw I find in the rationale - if there is one - of the death penalty.

            Of course, I wholeheartedly agree that certain people are not able and should not be allowed to function in everyday society, are a constant danger to others and should therefore be locked away forever. Of course there are people who should not be allowed to have a 'life' in the social sense of the word.

            So why not imprison them for life? And not 'life' in the court room sense, when prisoners get released after ten years for 'good behaviour'. But literally LIFE. Keep them in an isolated cell until the day they die with just the bare minimum necessary to survive.

            This way the government will remain in its role of punisher rather than becoming a criminal themselves. And on top of that I would also personally consider the latter punishment I have suggested a fate far worse than death.

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            • Lloyds TSB / Bank / 13 Readings / 11 Ratings
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              13.04.2008 03:23
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              You could do a lot worse but no doubt you could also do a lot better!

              After reading quite a few of the reviews on Lloyds TSB I decided to share my own experiences with them. I first started to use Lloyds back in September 2005 when I moved to the UK from Belgium. As I was a lodger in someone else's house at the time and was still looking for a job it was difficult for me to get a bank account. Mainly because most banks require some form of proof of address, which would constitute of household bills, tenancy agreement or council tax bills - to name but the most common ones. I didn't have an official tenancy agreement, however, and as my rent was inclusive I didn't have any bills with my name on it either. After visiting quite a number of banks and getting turned down each time - much to my frustration - one of my landlords advised me to try Lloyds TSB as he was foreign as well and had no trouble getting an account set up with them. And this proved to be the case for me as well.

              Now I also have to admit I'm not exactly the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to all things financial and as at that time I wasn't exactly spoilt for choice, I just took the first opportunity that presented itself when I opened my current account with Lloyds.

              The current account itself suits my needs at the moment. Direct debits and standing orders go out fine and at the requested time. I currently have an overdraft facility which has been used on many occasions and has never caused any problems. Only on one occasion was £20 taken out because I exceeded the overdraft, but since it only happened once I let it slide as customers are informed of the penalties when this occurs.

              As I'm originally from Belgium, I've done quite a few international transfers and these have all gone through without a hitch. It usually takes about 5 working days to complete, which I think is standard for most banks.

              About a year ago I was offered a Lloyds TSB Duo Airmiles credit card, which I accepted as it would be my first credit card in England. The card service itself it has been fine, but unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances - and I admit bad financial planning on my part - I racked up quite a bit on there and for quite a few months I was paying off the interest alone, rather than anything of the credit I had amassed. The Airmiles Duo offers %15.9 APR, which could be a lot worse but especially when you've taken cash out on it rather than made purchases, the interest can add up quickly. So a few months ago I paid off what I owed with my savings and closed the account, which happened straightaway and only required one phonecall.

              At that point I shopped around for a better rate and applied for a new card at Barclays, but was subsequently rejected and they offered me one for %24+ instead. Naturally I didn't take them up on that offer and now I have a Lloyds Advance credit card, which has a typical rate of %11.9 APR - purchases only of course - and this will do me for the time being. I'm definitely going to be more careful about my credit card spending anyway. But it's really too early for me to give any feedback on that.

              In terms of customer service, again, I can't really say anything too bad. But then I'm used to dealing with the likes of Orange and BT which are far far worse than anything you could ever imagine. And also I've not had any experience with other banks, so can't really compare. There's often a bit of a wait but not really too long and the people I've talked to have been generally helpful. Too much of the sales spiel sometimes, but that's to be expected, I guess.

              On the few occasions I've visited actual branches, my experience has been relatively neutral. I can't say the staff have gone out of their way for me or been overly friendly - they mostly have an 'I don't really care' air about them - but I've been able to do the bits and bobs that needed doing, which suits me fine.

              So in conclusion, unlike some of the other reviewers I've not had any major disaster scenarios happen with them over the last few years so I can't say I'm dissatisfied with them. And as I can't really compare with any other banks - as I've not had dealings with them - I'm fine to leave things as they are, also considering it would be an enormous hassle to change current accounts as I have so many direct debits and standing orders coming out of it. I did recently open a savings account with A&L as they offered a far better rate than Lloyds so I do agree with the fact that Lloyds is not the place to be for the most competitive rates but barring any major disasters like the ones described in other reviews, I find them not too bad as far as banks go. So fingers crossed my dealings with Lloyds will remain hassle-free for a long time to come. So far they have been.

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              • Nandos / Restaurant / Cafe National / 17 Readings / 16 Ratings
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                11.04.2008 00:30
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                The Portuguese take on chicken

                For the past few years - ever since I moved to England actually - it has been a bit of a tradition for me to, whenever I visit London, drop into Nando's for lunch. Only recently have I noticed them poppin up in various places in my hometown of Manchester and this has been the perfect excuse to sample the Portuguese kitchen more often.

                The Nando's chain originates in 1987 when two friends took over the originally titled restaurant Chickenland in Johannesburg, South Africa and changed its name to what it's now known as across the UK. The first British Nando's was established in Ealing in 1992 and now, more than fifteen years later, you can find one in most major cities across the British Isles.

                Food

                First thing's first and it would be quite impossible to review a restaurant without reviewing what's on the menu. The main theme - for those who are not familiar with Nando's - is chicken, mostly marinated in the 'special ingredient' Peri-Peri sauce. Those who aren't inclined to poultry, however, need not despair as some dishes, such as the salads, there is a chicken-free alternative available.

                You can opt for a small starter, if you want, though there's no need to get over-excited about these. The choice limits itself to such nibbles as a spicy mix and a small bowl of olives and garlic. Having said that, it is nice to have something to snack on while waiting for the main course.

                Even though the menu is centred around one main ingredient - chicken - there is quite a wide variety of dishes available, ranging from the aforementioned salads to chicken burgers - veggie as an alternative -, pieces of chicken and filled pita breads. Each time you'll be asked how spicy you would like your dish to be and you have the choice between lemon and herb - not spicy at all -, medium, hot and extra hot.

                All these can be accompanied by chips or rice and a number of sides such as corn on the cob and coleslaw. Often you will find an option next to a dish on the menu to have one or two regular or fino sides with it for a set price. This can slightly reduce the cost, rather than having to pay for your side dishes separately.

                For those with a sweet tooth there is a separate dessert menu available. And another perk is that every soft drink you buy is unlimited, meaning you only have to pay a set price and can refill your glass as much as you want afterwards.

                How it all works

                I'd catagorize Nando's as holding the middle ground between a regular and a self-service restaurant. Upon arrival you normally have to queue up before one of the staff directs you to your table. At peak times the wait can unfortunately be quite considerable. Once you have been directed to your table you can make your choice from the menu and afterwards queue up at the counter to order. Again, at certain times of the day it can take a while before it's your turn.

                When you've placed your order and paid - no hassle with bills at the end of your meal - you can perhaps already go to the condiments table and get your cutlery, any extra sauces you may require that aren't already on the table and fill up your glass. Usually it doesn't take too long for the food to arrive, which kind of makes up for the waiting times beforehand.

                Prices

                In terms of pricing Nando's is a lot closer to your run-of-the mill fast food restaurant than anything else, though in general it would probably put you a bit more out of pocket than, say, McDonalds or KFC. Still, the prices are quite reasonable. The only downside is that unless you opt for a family-sized meal or sharers the portions are quite small, which makes your meal perhaps relatively more expensive. A bonus, as mentioned before, is the availability of 'unlimited' soft drinks.

                Surroundings and décor

                As you would expect from a chain with Portuguese roots, the décor has an exotic and Mediterranean theme, with bright Southern colours and rustic wooden furniture. You can see the food being grilled behind the counter which also adds to the authentic feel and strengthens customers' belief that they are being served healthy and all-natural food. Usually one or other Latin-American easy-listening song blasts through the speakers. Or what else did you expect?

                My view

                I can't deny that I absolutely adore Nando's. Both in terms of its set-up and surroundings and the good quality food on offer. Like I said before, it does have its drawbacks such as the often long queues and the relatively small portions. If you're absolutely ravished it would perhaps be a good idea to at least opt for a starter or go for a larger dish, Don't be deceived by the portion sizes mentioned on the menu. A quarter chicken really isn't as much as it sounds and usually only comprises of a chicken breast and two wings.

                However, the food really does taste great and different, there's quite a wide choice available and what's also important is that it's a family restaurant. You can easily take small children with you and the menu also caters for then with the Nandinos options for the under 10's.

                Nando's is a back-to-basics restaurant with a difference and - as the increase in branches shows - an ever-growing fan base...with a love for chicken.

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              • Chat / Magazine / Newspaper / 22 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                10.04.2008 01:28
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                My personal favourite of the range of real life magazines out at the moment

                -stands- My name is X, I am 26 years old and I am an addict. I got my first fix only five months or so ago now but I quickly became hooked and now I buy them from my regular supplier a few times a week. Luckily it's fairly cheep and the enjoyment long-lasting. Still...an addiction remains an addiction.

                The quick-witted reader -ahem- will have gathered by now that I wasn't of course referring to drug abuse or alcoholism but that my weekly fix consist of purchasing the whole range of 'real life' magazines available on newsagents' shelves at the moment. It's a cheap thrill, I admit, but those are often the best, right?

                Out of the whole range I'd have to say Chat ranks as my favourite. It's a weekly glossy with an average length of between sixty and seventy pages and though of course the mag mainly consists of real life stories and events, the contents are quite varied.

                The first two pages are devoted to the section 'Chat To Us' which offers ordinary readers the opportunity to send in their pictures and share them with the world. Naturally any picture that will be considered should have a minimum appeal for a neutral reader, be it humourous, endearing or just plain silly.

                It's not the most exciting part of the magazine. Let's face it, once you've seen a dozen pictures of complete strangers in various outfits and states of undress - yes, really, I'm looking at a picture of a naked 69-year-old right now with modesty barely covered - you've seen them all. But the good thing about these mags is that payments are offered for just about any contribution, ranging from telling your story or supplying a newsworthy article to sending in pictures, money-saving tips, readers' letters and so on.

                And just in case anyone's wondering if these payments do actually materialize...I once sent in a little crossword I'd compiled myself which was printed and I got the £20 cheque duly in the post within the agreed time frame of 4-6 weeks.

                Anyway, onwards and upwards...after the introductory pages the majority of the magazine is devoted to - as mentioned before - real life articles...this could literally be anything, from heart-warming 'I met my childhood sweetheart again after 30 years and married him' to near-death experiences, child abuse, killings and cancer battles. Not everything is as suitable for the fainthearted but the most gruesome stories have a clear rating so you can skip the page of you want to.

                Other separate sections which crop up in between these articles are the 'Quick Chats', interesting stories or fait-divers which aren't bulky enough to be moulded into full-length articles; a fashion page in 'This Week's Trend'; the money-saving tips mentioned before in 'Blimey! That's Clever' - I have to interject at this point that, yes, I agree, the titles are often corny at best, cringeworthy at worst -; lists of the best products at bargain prices in 'Cor! What a Bargain' - see what I mean? -; cutesy cutesy baby pictures in 'Ahhh! Don't you just love 'em..?'; a haunted review, spooky story and weekly spell in Oooooooooo...spooky! - tobe honest, I'd never noticed these before, but it is getting slightly ridiculous - and soap and travel news in 'On The Telly' and 'Your Holiday' respectively.

                I personally quite like the haunted section as I'm a big fan of anything paranormal and this section also ties in perfectly with their sister magazine 'Chat It's Fate', of which - you guessed it - I am also a monthly peruser.

                One big bonus with Chat, I find, is that it's so comprehensive. There really is something in it for everyone. Another plus is the space devoted to the actual readers, by which I mean not just the people elected to tell their story but the people writing in with their problems and opinions. None of the other real life mags offer as much opportunity for the weekly reader to interact.

                There is a psychic agony aunt page with a woman called Ruth for those of us who are more paranormally inclined; a section with articles and readers' letters on health; Private Dick who offers advice against cheaters and love rats - another favoured word in this type of magazine - and also your more traditional agony aunt Denise who offers, according to the header at least, 'no-nonsense advice'. It has to be said this is perhaps an overstatement as she's certainly no more 'no-nonsense' than your average Dear Deirdre, but of course it ties in well with Chat's sensationalist slant.

                Last but not least there is of course the horoscope page, although I'm personally not too sure about this Bernard Fitzwalter.

                And I might as well admit to another addiction while I'm at it...I can't help but fill out all the puzzles and crosswords every week and send off the answers, in the hope I might win one of the more substantial prizes on offer one day. Which is not to say another twenty or so wouldn't also be nice. There are mostly cash prizes to be won, from smaller amounts to a few grand, and holidays, both British and foreign.

                In conclusion I would say this magazine basically does what it says on the tin...reality TV in paper format. Intrusive? Yes. Not the highest level of literary entertainment? Certainly not. But like a car crash, you just can't help but look. You wonder who's involved, what happened and what the outcome will be and you just get swept away by it all.

                I wouldn't personally want the entire British population to read private events from my life, but ultimately that's for everyone to decide for themselves, so if they choose to share, why would we not read it and enjoy reading it, perhaps even learn from it and sympathize. And it makes a nice difference from the umpteenth celebrity on a rehab stint and pictures of size zero models and actresses with each turn of a page.

                So if you're quite nosy and like to read about what happens in other people's lives and don't mind a bit of cheese to boot, you might as well give it a try. At a cost lower than a lot of other magazines you might be saving a few pennies too.

                Why not five stars? Well, not every article is as interesting - which is nigh on impossible when catering for such a large audience - and though what I said about the price is true, some magazines in the same range such as Real People and That's Life are slightly cheaper.

                Other than that I wouldn't go without it!

                IPC Media, 78p, available from most newsagents and relevant retailers.

                New issue available every Thursday.

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                • More +
                  09.04.2008 01:00
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                  Decrease your spending and up your income via the internet

                  I first came across the site moneysavingexpert.com by chance. I was at work - a pretty boring temp job at the time - and had little or nothing to do when my colleague at the time advised me to check this site out she used regularly with all kinds of hints and tips to save money and even earn some extra money too!

                  Having been without a job for a few months before and pretty hard up, I was immediately intrigued and looked it up. And I have to say from that moment on I was hooked. To be perfectly honest, I'd never heard of Martin Lewis or his TV programme before - not the biggest television fanatic in the world here - so it was like a whole new world opened for me.

                  What I particularly like about this site is that it basically covers everything to do with everything to do with money - repetition intended. The main site offers a variety of in-depth articles and comparisons on where to get the best deals, the biggest discounts, the highest or the lowest rates - depending on what you're looking for - and so on. Savings accounts, getting the best deal for your utility bills, insurance deals, tax and credit card rebates, loans and travel and transportation are just a few of the topics discussed.

                  I've personally used this part of the site to find the best credit card and savings account rates as I was looking for the best deal for both. Let's take a look a the credit card and loan section as an example.

                  The credit card and loan section - which can be selected from a menu at the top of the page - immediately offers an overview of the articles written on the subject. Within each section then you can select the most appropriate topic for you, whether you just want the lowest interest rate on your credit card, the best cash back offer or the cheapest loan. I was primarily interested in getting the lowest interest rate and therefore clicked on the 'Cut Existing Credit Card Debt Costs' link.

                  Now the best thing about these reviews is you don't have to read them fully but can browse to the relevant section for your query. If you don't have any outstanding balance on your existing credit card, you can skip the 'balance transfer' section, if you're looking for a long term deal rather than having to change credit cards every six months, when the interest-free period expires, there's a paragraph for you. Similarly when you're not opposed to shifting your balance around a few times a year, there's a section that fits your profile too. You'll find a similar make up in the articles of the other topics.

                  Especially when looking at financial subjects, most articles are interspersed with grids and tables providing a handy overview for the best rates and deals so you can decide what's best for you at a glance.

                  The second main part of the site is the forum, which is just as handy as it offers the opposite point of view to that of the professional - that of the consumers. You can access it by clicking on the far right hand side button at the top of the home page.

                  The forum offers a vast array of discussions divided into several topics - 'pure money', which again deals with loans, credit cards, bank accounts and more, 'home, work and play', featuring topics as diverse as travel, tax rebates and alternative ways to up your income, 'for who and where you are', specialized topics according to locality and personal profile, general discussions about the site and moneysaving in general and - my personal favourite - 'bargain buys, sassy shopping and fantastic freebies'.

                  This last section contains a host of alternative ways to make and save money. I'm personally a big fan of the competitions threads where forummers list current competitions being held AND provide the answers. If you are willing to put some time into entering these on a regular basis you should be a winner on more than one occasion. Other than that there are the 'freebies' threads, linking you to freebies being offered anywhere on the net as well as discussing cash back sites and anything else that is 'no spend required'. Threads on vouchers and discussions on Ebay are also worthwhile. And on top of that there are the 'Official Moneysaving Discussions' to look out for, threads posted on the forum by Martin Himself, inviting users to give their opinion on official topics from the homepage.

                  All in all I find the site to be extremely comprehensive, clear and easy to navigate. There is no need to worry about hidden agendas as the site operates completely independently,so the information you get will be a lot more objective than on websites of banks and loan companies, for instance. The forums offer an extra dimension as they allow ordinary people to share their finds and experiences, which can sometimes be even more important than those of the professionals. Also there are clear rules in terms of posting and the threads are closely monitered, without being too stringent.

                  For anyone who is interested in reducing their outgoings and perhaps even increasing their income, I would definitely recommend moneysavingexpert.com as the first port of call.

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                  • Great Expectations (DVD) / DVD / 11 Readings / 10 Ratings
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                    06.04.2008 21:50
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                    Charles Dickens' classic tale is transported into a modern setting

                    I wanted to see this film from the moment I watched its cinema trailer which must have been ten years ago now. I never did end up seeing it on the big screen but from the moment I watched it on television I was hooked and I now consider it one of my old time favourites.

                    The film is based on Charles Dickens' classic tale but quite loosely I would say, taking the basics of the story and transporting them into a modern, yet strangely otherworldly setting. At the start of the film we meet Finn - a little boy raised by his sister and her boyfriend (Joe) - already showing himself to be a promising young artist. One day Joe and Finn get invited to Paradiso Perduto, the estate of local eccentric and madwoman Ms. Dinsmoor - gone insane after her fiancee jilted her at the altar some forty years ago and on a mission to wreak vengenge on all men.

                    Once arrived, Finn comes into contact with Dinsmoor's young and beautiful, yet haughty, niece Estella...and immediately falls in love. The next few years Finn keeps visiting the estate, supposedly to keep Dinsmoor company and amuse her by taking dancing lessons with Estella - but behind the scenes and unbeknownst to Finn, Disnmoor is playing a dangerous emotional game, which will ultimately lead to heartbreak...both for Finn - as intended - and Estella.

                    Now I'll admit I'm not really Gwyneth Palthrow's biggest fan, but somehow she does fit perfectly into this role. I guess her cool acting style is a perfect match for the selfish, ever-aloft Estella. And then there's Ethan Hawke, also not the best actor in the world but the fact that he'll probably always look like an overgrown boy really helps for this role, especially as he's having to portray both the teenage and adult Finn - obviously the fact that he really is cute has nothing to do with it!

                    But the stars in this film - for me - are Anne Bancroft (Dinsmoor) and Robert de Niro (Arthur Lustig, an escaped convict helped by young Finn who then later unexpectedly turns up again in his life - I won't reveal how as I don't want to spoil the film for anyone who hasn't seen it). Bancroft is delighfully insane and disturbingly so. I wouldn't call her demenour evil but her quest for revenge on all men makes her an unsettling character to say the least. And Bancroft portrays it with aplomb.

                    De Niro is perfect casted as the eternally escaping convict who later on in life reveals a softer side towards Finn. Even though his role is quite small in comparison it's integral to the story and leaves a lasting impression.

                    A special mention has to go to Patrick Doyle who composed the film score. The music is both beautiful and haunting and especially 'Kissing in the Rain' - the soundtrack to Estella and Finn's most romantic encounter - must rank in the top ten best film songs of all time.

                    If you're after a romantic tear-jerker, but with a bit of a twist...I would recommend this film to anyone.

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                  • What's In Your Bag? / Discussion / 24 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                    06.04.2008 10:32
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                    The things you need and mostly things you really don't need.

                    Judging by the hight of my pile at the bottom of my wardrobe I must have about 30+ handbags in my collection. Some of them small, clutch-sized ones, perfect for a night out, which contain little or nothing. Most, however, are big enough to contain what can only be described as heaps and heaps of rubbish.

                    I regularly transfer stuff between handbags whenever I fancy a new colour on my arm and what gets left behind in the old one are things that really belong in the bin. This part constitutes about half of the volume of any current handbag and consist of shop receipts, train and bus tickets that have expired, sheets of paper of all kinds - some of which are just 'to do' lists, others which I figured might come in handy one day - wrappers and so on. Thinking about it, it's quite amazing how anyone could accumulate that amount of junk but there you go.

                    The other half of any current handbag consist of your typical female attributes - anything under the sun that you don't really need but carry along with you anyway just in case...combs, lipstick and two types of lipbalm, a mirror, handcream, nasal spray, an array of pens, two markers, nail files, an iPod, the cord to upload my iPod which can only be used when attached to a laptop - and no I didn't stuff my laptop in my bag, though I'm sure I nearly did - my umbrella, a dirty hanky (ewwww), Savlon, a collection of medicine for all eventualities, a letter to be posted that's been in there for days, my diary and facial cream that shouldn't be in there but somehow is.

                    Oh and then of course there are the minor bits and bobs such as my glasses, mobile, wallet and housekeys...and I'm sure there's some loose change in there somewhere. In fact, a few weeks ago I went through all my handbags looking for loose change and came up with more than £13!

                    So have a scurry through your handbag ladies! It could make you rich - or at least let you get rid of all the crap.

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                    • Death Proof (DVD) / DVD / 18 Readings / 17 Ratings
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                      04.04.2008 01:44
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                      Tarantino scores again with clever spoof and fast-paced ending

                      First off, I am a massive Tarantino fan and the man can hardly do wrong in my eyes. But still every film has to be judged by its own merit, not that of its predecessors. Having said that, I won't go as far as to say Deathproof is on the same level as Pulp Fiction and From Dusk Til Dawn (1), my two all-time Tarantino favourites. However, in my opinion the criticism the film has received is largely unfounded. Granted, the dialogues are a little long and stretched at times and the original Grindhouse length would probably have sufficed, but the Tarantino trademarks are still there and he's as witty and clever as ever. Also, though I'm by no means a movie buff, I get the impression that the very things that were criticized were actually intentionally put in there by Tarantino as references to the Grindhouse genre of the seventies. The film is both a tribute and a spoof and corny/stretched/outlandish elements are part and parcel of that. The second part, featuring a group of female car racers is possibly my favourite out of the two. The witty dialogues are now complemented by fast-paced action sequences that left me at least on the edge of my seat. And ladies, if you consider yourself a bit of a feminist, look out for the ending...cruel perhaps...perverse satisfaction definitely!

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                      • Ratatouille (DVD) / DVD / 14 Readings / 10 Ratings
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                        01.04.2008 23:59
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                        Charming and funny Discney film combines old school and modern.

                        I am a film lover in general and aside from thrillers and horror films I also have a real weakness for animation. From the moment I saw the trailer in the cinema I wanted to watch it and I did within the first week of its release. I have to say it didn't dissapoint. Now I have also acquired Ratatouille on DVD as a birthday present and, having watched it again, my opinion hasn't changed. I think one of the things that I find most charming is how the film seems to be a marriage of old school Disney charm and modern animation. The quality and effects are every bit as good as that of its other Pixar counterparts, but aside from that there is also something else...perhaps the romance of Paris as its main setting, perhaps the undeniable humour or originality of choosing rats for the leading roles - first time ever, I think. Perhaps, but I might be biased here as it is probably one of my favourite Disney characters ever - it is simply Remy whose innocent and honest demeanour appeals from the very first second. Whatever it is, it's the kind of good old-fashioned Disney you could watch over and over again. One funny and cute but also sophisticated enough to appeal to both kids and adults. A great all-round family film.

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                        • More +
                          01.04.2008 23:45

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                          Compact and versatile MP3 Player of the highest quality

                          I'm not one for needing to have the latest of the latest or the best - and often most expensive - high-tech gadgets. This is one of the reasons why the iPod Nano suits me down to the ground. It's advanced with a relatively high memory for its size, but at the same time easy to use and pocket-sized compact. I especially like the variety of search options - artists, songs, albums - and the easy to use touch dial as well as the fact that upload space is available for pictures and video files. Due to its compatibility with iTunes the iPod can be logged on to both a Mac and a Windows computer, however I did find it annoying that it can only be compatible with one of those at a time. Though understandable from a commercial point of view, general compatibility would perhaps be even more attractive for some consumers. And also less petty from Apple's point of view. A slight minor point is that the iPod 'freezes' from time to time. Both me and my housemate have had this happen to ours. Luckily it doesn't happen very often, but can give you quite a fright when it does!

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                        • Motorola MOTOKRZR K1 / Mobile Phone / 7 Readings / 2 Ratings
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                          01.04.2008 23:20
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                          The Motorola K1 combines a futuristic design with a variety of practical features.

                          I opted for this phone when I took out my new mobile phone contract, now more than a year ago and when I was shown the model in the shop it instantly appealed to me. Its sleek and futuristic design is combined with practical features, such as a mirror on the outside and the fact that you can close off the keypad rather than having to rely on locking it, which - to be quite honest - I would often forget. In terms of technology it offers standard features such as an inbuilt camera and video recorder, WAP, SMS and MMS, games and much more. The only downside is that I've not been able to send picture messages even though I tried to download the accompanying software onto my laptop on more than one occasion. Then again, this might have more to do with my inferior technological knowledge than the actual phone itself. It might also be worth mentioning that I've dropped my phone quite a few times and everything is still in perfect working order. All in all I'd give this phone a definite recommendation.

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