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Boots No 7 Moisture Drench is currently my preferred lipstick. I do love Clinique's products, but I feel that the No 7 brand gives me better value for money. The last lipsticj I bought from them was £9.50. At the time there was a promotion on where I got a free gift for purchasing two products at the same time (I bought the face powder). You can also often get discount vouchers at the till with other purchases for No7 products. It is worth keeping an eye on the deals if you are looking to buy
The lipstick is in a sleek black tube with the No 7 logo indent and has no other packaging. You simply remove the lid and twist the base to reveal the lipstick. If I am going somewhere special I sometimes use a lip brush, but on a day to day basis I just smooth it on, once in each direction on each lip. At first I am aware that something is there but not so much that I am uncomfortable or want to lick my lips. It is something I get used to after about 30 seconds. My lips feel moisturised but not sticky. The colour has a shine to it, when on your lips, a subtle shimmer but is not glossy.
If I am honest, a dedicated lip balm will give better moisturisation, if that is all you are looking for, but as a lipstick I think this is one of the better high street brands for moisturisation and colour at a reasonable price. The lipstick also has a 15 SPF. They do have a good range of colours, although not every store seems to stock them all, but I love their pinky shades and find them very wearable.
I think this lipstick lasts quite well, and I have been pleased how long it lasts without re-applying. As a dedicated dooyoo reviewer I applied some just before eating some spaghetti bolognese. I was pleased to note that some colour remained on my lips, although the sheen had gone and they were feeling less moisturised. Generally however, when eating a less messy dish, or for sipping drinks the colour does last fairly well, but isn't perfect. I have no problem with re-applying after eating.
Overall I think this is worth trying if you can get a good deal as I think the shimmer and moisturising properties are better than many of its peers in the same price range.
I first tested this fragrance in a local department store, and liked it straight away, but didn't purchase it until I had the opportunity to buy it from Duty Free. Expect to pay £40 upwards for the 30ml Eau de Parfum.
The bottle is attractive, and quite classic in design (short and wide, with clear glass), with a gold lid finished off with a simple black bow at the neck and packaged in a classy black and white matt cardboard box. Even without the bow the bottle looks nice on my dressing table and not at all gimmicky.
As you would expect from a fragrance entitled 'Flora', it is a floral based scent! The top notes are peony and agrums. I can detect the floral part of that straight from the nozzle, but I don't know what agrums are. There is a tang to the first spray, and I would guess that is what it is.
The heart notes are rose and osmanthus flower from China. Again I am unfamiliar with the second scent but the rose is detectable and pleasant. It doesn't smell synthetic or cheap. The heart notes last a good few hours and the scent is strong but not over-powering.
The base notes are patchouli and sandalwood and they are very pleasant and not too strong. This scent can linger on scarves and things and I get a pleasant waft when I put them on again. Sometimes 'old' perfume can smell a bit off on these occasions but I've not noticed that with this fragrance.
Overall I love the perfume but would likely not buy it too often as I like to try other perfumes. I am pleased with the longevity which will last all day. Obliviously it is a premium brand and therefore not cheap, but I think it is worth the investment for special occasions.
The Vaseline Lip Therapy tins are my favourite lip balms. I find the product is moisturising and makes my lips feel soft for a long time. Usually I use the 'regular' product in the blue tin, but recently I have purchased the 'aloe vera' version in the green tin. Each tin is 20g and this lasts me a long time, much longer than the stick lip balms that may be cheaper.
My current tin has a different design on it from the design pictured. I'm not sure if this is a new design or just a limited edition one, but it has a more retro pattern on the lid - a bit art nouveau, with it's turn-of-the-century swirls. I really like it.
According to the Vaseline website the tin contains Isopropyl Myristate (a skin conditioning agent) and Aloe Vera which is well known for soothing skin especially after burns. The aloe vera version smells herbally, it reminds me a bit of tea tree oil but with a bit more 'tang'. I do not find it offensive or over-powering. I don't tend to lick my lips with the product on (it's a bit counter-productive) but I haven't noticed a taste to it. I am fortunate that my lips not crack, but they do get dry and feel uncomfortable. I always keep a tin on my desk, on my dressing table and in my handbag.
The main disadvantage is that to apply it you need to use your fingertips, which means they could be greasy (and of course, a clean finger is also a good idea). A tin in your pocket, or on a hot day can get quite soft and sticky making it hard to get the right amount for application (really you only need a smear). However once it is on, it does last for a good few hours. I don't find it lasts long after eating, so I usually reapply then. For me this keeps my lips moisturised for longer than other stick brands.
I love the size of the tin as it can fit in a pocket or a small compartment in your bag, and it lasts a lot longer than a stick balm. My last tin cost me £1.80 but you can see them from £1.50-£2 in various places. I usually pick one up when I see a good price as they are handy to have.
This book was recommended to me, and as such I didn't take much notice of what it was about when I bought it. When I discovered it was about the Holocaust in World War II I was a little bit disappointed as I felt it was not going to be original. I was also concerned that this could make the book a depressing read. Thankfully I didn't find this as all, and for what it is worth, I felt this aspect was handled sensitively.
The protagonist, who opens the book, is a young Jewish woman called Sage Singer. Since being disfigured in a car crash, she keeps herself to herself and works as a baker at night. Apart from her colleagues, her only real interactions are with her married boyfriend and the people who attend her grief counselling group, which she has been going to since the death of her mother. She prefers to keep her distance from the world, rather than get involved in it.
Interspersed with these parts is italicised text telling a ‘fairy story’ type tale, these parts are short, and don't initially fit into the story. They are the work of 'The Storyteller' of the title, and it is soon revealed to be the work of Sage’s grandmother Minka, who grew up in 1930s Poland.
The other main character is Josef, an elderly German born gentleman who meets Sage through her grief group. Early on the book he confesses to Sage that he was a Nazi and asks for her forgiveness (as a Jew) and her help to kill him. Josef changed his name to avoid detection and we see his story growing up in Germany and his time in the army.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a historical fiction novel, it is very much character led. Obviously the events that occurred in Poland were real, and these aspects are quiet horrifying to read about, no matter how well-read you feel you may be on the subject. I don’t think it is something you can be de-sensitised to, and I found parts quite chilling.
I think this book is a worthwhile read, being both well-researched and an absorbing and informative read. There are interesting themes such as how we deal with our past, not to mention Sage’s moral dilemma as to whether to help kill Josef. I thought the characters were well written, so you get an idea for what makes them tick, each with their own flaws and secrets. I loved how the book was put together, bringing all the strands to an interesting conclusion. It may not be the conclusion that the reader wants, but it was a viable ending. Highly recommended to all fans of fiction books, historical or otherwise.
Westminster Abbey was founded in 960AD and has been the site of many royal coronations, weddings and funerals since. Most recently it was where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge married in 2012. Some royals from history and buried here, as are a number of important people from British history such as Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens, and many others have memorial plaques.
It is currently £18 for adults, £15 concessions, secondary school age children are £8, and primary school aged kids are free. You enter via the Great North Door and you may have to queue at peak times.
I did the included audio tour narrated by the actor, Jeremy Irons, who does an excellent job. It covers construction, architectural designs and key players in its history as well as those interred here, and will start in the magnificent nave with a mix of Norman and gothic styles. Look out for Science Corner with a prominent memorial to Sir Isaac Newton. There are plaques all over the floor, some are people you will have heard of, some less famous but having made a contribution to British history at some point. It is quite fun spotting all the people from history you have heard of.
On from the nave the tour takes you to the Quire area which was smaller than I expected, then the Alter. Henry VII’s Lady Chapel was a highlight, built in the sixteenth century, it is an impressive decorated room containing the tomb of Henry and his wife, Elizabeth of York. To the right of the Lady Chapel are the tombs of Margaret Beaufort and Mary, Queen of Scots amongst others. On the other side of the Lady Chapel is the tombs of Elizabeth I and Mary I.
There are further monarchs as you pass by on your way back. You could even organise a game of Dead Royal Bingo if so inclined. There are over twenty royal graves here including that of Anne Neville, whose royal husband ended up under a Leicester car park and one of Henry VIII’s wives (head intact).
Next up is Poet’s Corner which was another highlight. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet buried here and other writers buried here include Dickens, Browning, Tennyson and Kipling. Others have memorial plaques.
I really enjoyed my visit and had a short wander after the audio tour finished, to check out other parts marked on the free map. All in all we were only here about 90 minutes, which makes it an expensive afternoon out. Visiting, on Saturday lunchtime was also busy and crowded. You need to be patient if you want to explore all the nooks and crannies, and unusual tombs as the place is full to the brim. To get the most out of your visit, if you have the opportunity, have a look at the detailed website to decide who and what you want to see the most. Highly recommended for history fans.
I actually bought this by accident instead of 'regular' adult Listerine mouthwash. It is aimed at kids, but I figured it would be OK for a few weeks use.
Instead of pouring like normal, my bottle had a squeezy feature - You removed the cap and squeeze the bottle and the exact amount (10ml) was dispensed into the neck ready for you to pour into your tooth mug. It's a bit of a novelty but my measure-by-eye method isn't always effective when I use conventional mouthwash. It advises swigging around your mouth for a minute and with a modest amount like 10 ml, this isn't a problem.
I use this after brushing most mornings and evenings (don't tell my dentist I don't use this or floss every time!)
Firstly, the mild mint flavour is much more pleasant than the adult fresh-mint. Having gone back to the adult version I think I will buy this one again, as the adult one has a stronger taste of antiseptic and artificial mint, then the milder children's version, so this version is more pleasant tasting in the mouth.
When I spit into the sink, it tints any left over food it has dislodged a darker shade of green - Bran Flakes crumbs are a regular offender. It seems that I get more crumbs with this than I noticed with the usual Listerine mouthwash.
The main disadvantage is that when it gets low in the bottle the tube cannot suck up the last parts of the mouthwash to extract into the neck dispenser and I couldn't figure out how to get into it any other way, so 2-3 days worth of mouthwash is wasted.
Obviously this is a kids product and I am an adult, but I imagine kids of a certain age could easily use this unsupervised and would see the results in the sink, which is a good lesson in oral hygiene. If you struggle with adult mouthwashes and the sharp taste, then you may find this is better.
Prior to last summer's holiday I spotted the Hilton at Gatwick, for £85. It walking distance from the South Terminal, when most hotels required a shuttle bus. The deal was room only and available at short notice.
I arrived at Gatwick by train, the station is next to the South terminal. It took six minutes to walk to the hotel. There was no queue at check-in which was efficient.
My double room had an en suite with bath and quality toiletries. I had a camp bed as well as a double, but otherwise everything was pretty standard – TV, tea/coffee facilities etc. The window was tiny but the lights were good with convenient switches by the bed. I spotted one spare plug socket. Wi-fi is available for a charge, but is free in the communal lobby areas.
There are various food options in the hotel but on the pricey side. There is a Costa Coffee by the entrance (1st floor), I went to Amy’s bar where I had an open sandwich with chips for £12. I also ordered a vodka and diet coke (large measures seem to be standard), bringing the price up to £22 including service. Other food options include the Sports bar, Amy's Restaurant and Garden restaurant.
There is a small shop containing a limited selection of paperback books, newspapers and magazines, cigarettes, sweets, basic toiletries and gifts.
My room had an adjoining door to the next room (not accessible), but this meant sound proofing was very poor and at 4am I could listen to my neighbours’ conversation. The 5 foot bed was not hugely comfy, it was soft and I seemed to find a dip.
One thing I was disappointed with was cleanliness. As I was getting into bed with bare feet, I could feel gritty bits on the floor, and found a few small stones. The grout around the shower was looking tired and there were rust marks around the plughole. When I checked out, I reported the issues and the receptionist seemed shocked and apologetic and said she would speak to housekeeping.
Overall I was disappointed with a number of aspects, most notably the cleaning. Other issues include the noise caused by the door to the adjoining room. The food is expensive, but cannot fault the quality. The communal areas are comfortable and not intimidating if dining alone. On the positives, my room was pleasantly decorated, well-lit and mostly comfy. Location wise, this would also be at the top of the list, particularly if flying from the South terminal. I am hesitant to recommend the hotel, as I am unsure I would stay here again. However, it is worth considering if you get a good deal as airport hotels are generally pricey due to a captive market, and it is one of the best located hotels at Gatwick South.
The Honey Guide is a crime novel by Richard Crompton. Crompton is a British journalist who lives in Kenya and this is the first in a series featuring his detective Mollel. Mollel is a former Maasai warrior who now works for the Nairobi police force.
I enjoy novels set in other countries, and why should we not get some good crime stories from Africa? This is no 'No.1 Ladies Detective Agency', it is much grittier, and whilst crimes are solved through deduction and legwork, that is pretty much where the similarities end. The novel is set during election time and Mollel is not popular with his bosses and has been moved into the traffic division; however as a national hero following the bombing of the American embassy a few years before, they cannot be seen to let him go.
A few days before the election the body of a prostitute is washed up in a storm drain. She is also a Maasai, so Mollel is called on to lead the investigation. With everything else going on, no one really cares about an unnamed Maasai hooker. Mollel and his colleague Kiunga set about finding out who she is, and what happened to her and track down a friend called Honey. It seems that Honey and Lucy (the dead girl) have had some influential clients and may know something about some of the key figures in the election campaign and Nairobi society, that these people are keen to keep quiet.
I initially liked the character of Mollel, he is tenacious and hard-working but a poor father to a young boy he struggles to relate to. I think there is more to Mollel’s back story than we are given. The character development seemed a bit of an inconvenience to the story and was inconsistent, and I found myself quite frustrated with the lack of revelations in that aspect. We know little about the supporting characters other than what they tell us.
Plot wise I thought the story quite interesting with a lot of potential, but there seemed to be a lot of strands and a lot of lies, so it started to get a bit complicated. I think Crompton tried to be a bit too clever, as there where many red herrings for you to keep on top of, which ultimately got confusing for the reader. However, I liked how he described the city and was able to build up a picture of it in my mind, although I suspect it was not entirely accurate. The parts about the election and its aftermath, were very interesting and brought the story more to life.
Overall I enjoyed the book, but not so much at the end as at the beginning, which is why I am awarding the book just three stars. If you like your crime fiction set in different locations then by all means give this a try, as I suspect the best is yet to come from Mollel.
I have visited Center Parcs a number of times now – more recently Sherwood near Nottingham, and also Longleat. I have always stayed in a Woodland Lodge which is a three bedroom lodge sleeping up to 6 (a double room and two twins) and I think this is a mid-range accommodation with good facilities such as bedlinen, towels, cutlery, crockery, pans and utensils. The beds are comfy and although bedrooms are small the communal space is good. The lodges are self-catering so you have a barbecue, oven, dishwasher, toaster etc. There was one bathroom and one separate toilet. I would have preferred two bathrooms as it was quite tricky to get five adults in an out the shower in the mornings – a bit of flexibility was needed.
You can stay mid-week (Monday Night to Friday morning) or at weekends (Friday night to Monday morning). You can hire bikes or go around on foot. Free activities include the indoor pool area which is well equipped with rapids, flumes, hot tubs and other activities. Or else you can just sit in the warmth in a deckchair. There is a small beach and playground area too. Most other activities you have to pay for and they are not always cheap. We always try and have a game of crazy golf (£7 adults – 18 holes) and it is a very well thought out course. We also did Laser Combat (£28 for just over an hour) which was heaps of fun. You can also do Ten Pin Bowling or hire a segway, and there are plenty of kids activities. It can all mount up though.
Each 'village; has a Village Square with a few shops and eateries. There is a supermarket for the things you forgot (not the cheapest shop), a place that does take-aways, a sports bar with food for all the family and a couple of restaurants and gift shops. It does vary between villages, but we traditionally visit the Pancake House for breakfast on the last morning.
I've always enjoyed my weekends here but prices vary with the seasons (school holidays also) and type of lodge you stay in, and how many in your party. I recommend checking out their website to see if it is within your budget, but it is lots of fun for all ages.
The Trouble with Alice is the debut novel of Olivia Glazebrook. The book has two main protagonists, Kit and Alice, an expectant couple on holiday in Jordan for a last minute break before Alice is too pregnant to fly. The book dives straight in with their car falling off a mountain road. After the crash, Alice suffers a miscarriage and her way of handling this is different from Kit. I thought it was very interesting in how their actions and inactions at this time mirrored how there relationship unfolded over the rest of the book. This is a character led novel looking at their relationship from the outside, seeing only what they choose to reveal. The couple seem to be very different in both age, outlook and background and I did wonder why they got together. At times, I didn''t like either character very much. I struggled with the fact neither of them had a proper job and both seemed quite flaky. As far as supporting characters are concerned I saw some clever links as to the behaviour of the parents, which gave answers to some of the questions regarding the attitudes of their grown-up children. I think the signposts were subtle and something that came to me, after subsequently dwelling on the completed book. This could be an insight into a failing relationship of the ?perfect couple'', but I didn''t see the characters or their relationship as perfect. They seemed to do nothing to save their relationship, or care about that aspect. They certainly didn''t communicate. We hear each side and it is told in the third person. Whilst I was frustrated and initially thought the story a bit weak, I did notice a clever analogy regarding Alice''s relationship with Kit''s dog and her grieving process, but I don''t want to spoil anything for you. As mentioned, I had plenty of frustrations with the book and initially thought it quite a weak book. There was no plot or story to speak of, other than what we read in the opening chapter. The book is about people rather than events or actions, and as such is not going to appeal to everybody. At a teeny bit over 300 pages, I did find this book a quick read, which was merciful at the time. However, as I thought about the book and the themes in it, it occurred to me that there was more to it than I first thought, and it was actually a bit deeper. For this reason I think it would make a good Book Club choice as there is a lot to discuss about it and I have upgraded it from a 3 to a 4 star read. Glazebrook is a talented author, and I found the book easy to read and get into. Language is simple and (on the surface) quite shallow, but the book was more multi-dimensional than I first thought.
The Royal Opera House is one of London''s best venues for the opera and ballet. Situated in Covent Garden, the front doors open to Bow Street. Covent Garden tube is just a few minutes walk away. It is the home of the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet companies. Originally just a drama theatre, built in 1732, the venue has had a massive refurbishment in the 1990s through money from the National Lottery and is truly a fantastic venue.
There is a large cloakroom area. It is free to keep coats and brollies here and I do recommend it, especially if you are in the cheap seats as there is not a lot of legroom. After a quick trip to the spacious and posh lavatories, we went up the stairs to the Paul Hamlyn bar. The glass fronted part of the opera is now a superb sleek and modern restaurant and champagne bar.
We were seated in the Amphitheatre aka the Gods with reasonably priced tickets, and this can be accessed by escalator from the Hamlyn Hall level. There is another bar and a smaller restaurant up here as well as several sets of toilets. In the amphitheatre the rows are quite narrow and you don''t have armrests, so although you have individual seats, your arms and elbows may be in contact with your neighbour. There is also limited legroom, less than a on a budget airline, so if you are in the middle of the row you are pretty much stuck there until everyone else has moved. The seats were well padded and comfortable, but I felt a tad achy at the end, because of my subconscious effort to hold myself upright, with my arms close to my sides, so I didn''t touch my neighbour, and I am only petite. It is worth remembering that the seats are well tiered here, so you won''t have your view down obstructed by other people''s heads. It is a long way down and opera glasses maybe a good idea. Tickets vary in this section and can start as little as GBP 5 for standing room. Mine were GBP 30, including booking fee through an independent organisation but you could probably get them cheaper direct. If you want to sit in the stalls or the front of the grand circle you are looking at about GBP 95 to 185 depending on the production. I would certainly like to try a nicer or closer seat another time, if I was feeling flush.
The building is very ornate within the auditorium, and looks amazing. The contrast with this baroque style theatre and the super, modern bar and restaurant area makes this a really interesting building to visit and my friends and I spent half our time cooing at the decor. You can also do backstage tours for GBP 12 which I fully intend to do one day.
I had never read a self-help guide before this book, in fact I only read this one by accident. It serves me right for not reading the Amazon blurb properly before I ordered it.
The author is called Elizabeth Kantor, an American writer who has published a number of articles previously. This is her second book.
In the beginning Ms Kantor wishes to establish that us women are indeed looking for our Happy Ever After. Our aim is the be an Elizabeth Bennett, rather than a Lydia (characters from Pride and Prejudice for those that have not had the pleasure of meeting them before).
Kantor does discuss (from an Austen point of view) the difference between the sexes and why it is us women who are worrying about our love lives, not the men. I think she makes some valid points here (although I am sure there are those that would disagree), as I found some things did resonate with me. One chapter is dedicated to a number of Fear of Commitment case studies based on characters from Austen''s novels, that were written two hundred years ago. This was kind of what I was expecting from the tongue-in-cheek book I thought I had bought, but for the fact the author thought it relevant to today.
Towards the end of the book, Kantor makes suggestions as to where we may find these modern day Darcys, Knightleys et al. She is at pains to point out that she is happily married, so doesn''t actually need these methods herself. This includes what she calls a ''new-fangled'' method called computer matchmaking, I seriously hope she was being facetious here, and the book had just made me lose my sense of humour. The book was published in 2012, not 1812. However, Kantor knows some people, who know some people who met online, so that must be OK then.
I love Austen''s books, but they are works of fiction. They are probably a very good social commentary of the Regency period, but I really don''t think that they are particularly helpful to single women today. I can''t recommend this book, and I can''t make any comparisons to other books of this genre, but I would imagine it is quite poor.
Based just a few minutes from Kensington High Street, this four star hotel is excellently located for a short break in London. There is parking outside, but I gather it is expensive. However, the hotel is just a few minutes from High Street Kensington tube station (Circle and District lines), so making it easy to access much of London. It is also ideal for events at Olympia or Earls Court, or a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
The hotel has a number of restaurants, including a brassiere, a lobby bar, Asian food at the Bugis Street restaurant and a coffee shop. There was a menu for the Bugis St restaurant in the room. Prices for main courses were between £9-13, and vegetarian choices were poor. There is also room service with sandwiches starting from £9. The coffee shop doubled as an internet cafe as £1 for 20 minutes. There is wi-fi in the hotel but there is a charge for it.
The hotel has a currency exchange service in the lobby, an ATM (I think it charged you) and a gift shop.
My friend arrived before me and checked us both in at 2pm which is the earliest check in time. She said there was no queue, but there was quite a queue when I arrived at 5pm. I gather there was a little wait whilst they found an available room, but otherwise was straightforward.
Our room was on the seventh floor, and one of the five spacious and efficient lifts came quickly. We were a little walk from the lifts but the floor was well carpeted, with nice, soft carpet for when you are walking back from a night out with your heels in your hands.
Our twin room was a good size with light wood finish, and white bedding. There was a small wardrobe with those fiddly hangers that can't be removed, an iron and ironing board, and extra blankets. There were also drawers, tea and coffee facilities, a desk/ dressing table with mirror and a flat screen TV with freeview channels. Over the bed were individual lamps but the switches were together next to one if the beds, which was not convenient for the person in the other bed, who would have to get out of bed and walk around to use them. There was a hairdryer built in, and we spotted two free plug sockets but the one under the desk appeared to be unsafe (we didn't use it and reported it to reception upon checking out).
The bathroom was also a good size, with a shower over the bath that was straightforward and worked effectively. All was spotless, with clean white towels and hotel branded toiletries (supposedly ones that used green tea). I can confirm that the shower cap worked effectively, the soap lathered and the shower gel did its stuff. No complaints here.
We were staying here to attend a black tie function in the Liffey Suite on the Mezzanine level between ground and first floors. It can be accessed by the lifts (level M) or by stairs from the ground floor. The suite had a small private bar area, and plenty of space for 100 plus diners and a dance floor. There was a cloakroom just outside, and large toilets which were clean and spacious.
The staff behind the bar seemed disorganised and inexperienced, at first I thought it was just because everyone was arriving at the same time, but it happened throughout the evening. The range of drinks were limited (you could go to the main bar downstairs if you wished but who wanted to do that all the time?) so there were no beers on tap, nor dark rum. A spirit and mixer was about £6 for a single.
We were served warm bread rolls and butter, followed by a starter of Melon Fan with fruit coulis. This was beautifully presented, but a lot of melon, and many people didn't finish it as the melon was just "too much". I did enjoy the other berry fruits though.
Mains were chicken thighs, which I though a strange cut, but as a veggie what do I know? This was served with potato and a selection if vegetables, and seemed well received. I had an aubergine parcel stuffed with rice on a bed of ratatouille style vegetables. I thought this OK but the aubergine a bit tough, and not quite as the menu described it when I booked. Dessert was chocolate fudge cake with fresh cream, and was a good sized portion that was hard to finish, but was very tasty. Mostly people enjoyed the meal and service was very good.
After the meal there was dancing, although this aspect had not been organised by the hotel. The bar remained inefficient. At the end of the evening (1am) some if us retired to the hotel bar which stays open until 2am for residents. When we approached the bar we were told they were shut. I gave them my room number, but contrary to the guest services info in the room, they insisted they were shut. We returned to our friends and a staff member came over a few minutes later and offered to fetch our drinks as long as we paid cash. We were a bit confused but went with it!
We slept well in our room, only disturbed by someone in the corridor once. We were woken by the cleaners as we hadn't put the Do Not Disturb on (there is a button on the control panel by the other bed, where light switches are also controlled).
Breakfast was served in the brassiere on the ground floor, where you are greeted and seated. A waiter serves you tea or coffee. I requested hot chocolate but this was extra. If you don't have breakfast included it is £17 for full English (hot) breakfast, and £12 for Continental. The breakfast is buffet style, and I thought it quite small for a hotel of this size, many dishes needed re-filling, and it was small and cramped. Cold food included orange or apple juice, four varieties if cereal (adult cereals, no kids ones), fresh fruit (orange segments and a mixed fruit salad), ham and cheese (one variety). There was also yoghurt, pastries and bread for toasting. The hot food selection included bacon, sausages, various eggs (scrambled, fried), baked beans, tomatoes and congee. The latter is not something I see often in my breakfast options. As a vegetarian, I was disappointed not to see any hash browns, which would have made my cooked selection more interesting. Overall, I thought the breakfast buffet experience here, to be pretty poor.
After breakfast, we returned to our room to packs and check out. The checkout queue was short and swift and we used the opportunity to report the dodgy plug socket in our room. Hopefully this was dealt with promptly. We stored our overnight bags with the concierge service whilst we had a mini-shopping trip around Kensington High Street.
Despite my mini disappointment with the breakfast, I enjoyed my stay here more than a similar event I attended at the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. Therefore if the price is similar, I would choose this place over that as I thought the rooms, function facilities and location to be slightly better here.
Maeve Binchy is an established Irish author who sadly passed away in 2012. She has written quite a few novels and I have read quite a few of them with mixed results. The important thing to remember with Ms Binchy is that she will provide you with a gentle read. There will be no complicated plot twists in her novels, which are very much character driven, and you will not find any rumpy-pumpy here. There are some romantic strands, but sex is something that happens and is not indulged. What you will get is a gentle read with some varied characters in a pretty setting.
The format of this novel will be familiar to those that have read Binchy's books before - each chapter takes a different character and builds up the story (such as it is) over a week. In this instance the setting is a newly opened country hotel on the west coast of Ireland, where a variety of people have come to enjoy a week in winter...
Stone House was the family home of the Sheedy sisters. Now on her own Queenie Sheedy persuades Chicky, a local woman who moved to America, to take it on and turn it into a hotel. Amongst the characters that we meet are Chicky, her old school friend Nuala and her son Rigger and Chicky's niece Orla. On top of this we meet the guests of this first week, which include competition prize-winners, a Swedish accountant and a fading American movie star.
Binchy certainly has the skill to create a well-drawn character, as we really only get a chapter to learn about each person. We get background information to their story, which leads to why they are at the hotel, and in some respects the book is a selection of short stories in which each person ends up at Stone House. There is definitely a knack to this type of story-telling and there is no doubt that Binchy has it. I had read some of her books previously and was disappointed that a few peripheral characters seemed to pop up again across novels. Regular readers may enjoy this, but I found it a tad self-indulgent and felt I was an outsider in a clique, wondering if I was missing some in-joke. Thankfully I didn't get that feeling in this book, and there seemed to be only a few references to past characters that I recognised (die hard fans may spot more).
I had been reading quite a bleak book and once it got to Christmas Eve I found I wanted something a bit lighter, so picked this off my kindle as a friend had recommended it to me very highly. For that time of year, when I had some quiet periods relaxing at my parents' home, I was able to take some time out to read and this book really ticked the boxes of what I was looking for at the time. As much as I enjoyed it, I won't say it is the best read I have had recently, just that it was perhaps the 'right' read. If you are not familiar with Binchy's style you may find the book a bit slow and old-fashioned (it makes modern day west coast Ireland sound like it is stuck in a time-warp), and some happenings a bit odd. At 480 pages I was surprised I got through it in two days, but it was such an easy read which sometimes suits the mood we are in. Overall, I think this gentle, unassuming last novel may be a comfort blanket during the melancholic winter months.
RRP - £7.99
Kindle - £2.99
Paperback - £3.80 - check for offers on the web
Some friends of mine are regular pub quiz goers, and their favourite quiz is the weekly Wednesday quiz at the Riverside Inn, Chelmsford, so one week I went along to check it out. The inn is an old seventeenth century coaching inn and mill based on the banks of the river Chelmer (you can sometimes spot canoeists nearby) and they also have a few bedrooms for those staying in the area. It is located just 5 minutes from the town centre and can be accessed in about 6 minutes from the local rail station, and bus services come by this way too.
The Riverside area is easily signposted as there is a leisure and shopping centre nearby with further parking. The pub does not have its own car park; I parked in the public pay and display opposite. Charges were £1 per hour, and £3.50 for four hours or more. I understand that this is the most reasonably priced of the nearby car parks but I have not tried any of the others to be sure. Parking in the streets would be pretty much impossible in the immediate locality due to proximity to the town centre and the station means a lot of places are permit/residents parking or double yellow lines.
The pub is large with wooden beams on the ceiling and lots of wooden tables and padded chairs around, plus a few leather sofas and armchairs. All the furnishings seem well maintained and not torn or scratched, it looks like the owners and their team take pride in their pub. There seemed to be an upstairs area but I didn't investigate. The bar area is big, uncluttered and clean (no damp bits just where you were about to lean) and there seemed to be enough staff on, all who seemed friendly and helpful. There is a neat and well maintained garden area and a blanket box where you may borrow a blanket if it is chilly outside later - I thought this a nice touch as I often feel the cold, but like to enjoy the outside areas in the summer. As it was we sat inside. The loos were off to one corner and there is a disabled lavatory. Although the building is quite old they have endeavoured to make it accessible with ramps at the entrance. Unfortunately when I visited, they were looking a bit untidy (loo paper all over the floor, wet around the sinks) but otherwise were well stocked, with everything in working order). There are just three cubicles in the ladies, so there could be a queue at peak times.
The pub was quite busy when I arrived at 7.15pm (quiz starts at 8pm-ish) and we had one of the last free tables. I got myself a drink (a diet coke was £2.35) and perused the food menu. Like many pubs they had a good range of wines and spirits. It is a Young's pub, so many of the cask beers are from that family.
I went for the veggie burger (£8.25); a few others had the classic burgers, a soup and a pie. The burger was nothing special, although perfectly edible if sauces added (it came with wholegrain mustard on the side), it was served with lettuce, tomato and a pickle on a small wooden tray. The bun was nice, and the burger was easy to pick up and eat, which is just as well as on the tiny tray it would not be easy to cut with a knife and fork. The burger was accompanied by delicious skin on chips in a little metal bucket. I am SO over chips in a bucket. The classic burger was similarly served. The pie (chicken, ham and leek) was a good size and was described as 'nice', and was served on a plate with seasonal veggies and mash. The soup ordered was carrot and coriander (£5.50) and she thought it very nice, but thought the accompanying bread (which looked like regular sliced white bread) was pretty tasteless. Expect to see the usual suspects like fish & chips, scampi and sausage and mash on the menu also. Overall, everyone enjoyed their food but no one was especially impressed. They do roast dinners here on Sundays which are apparently very popular (booking recommended), as well as barbecues at weekends (weather permitting of course!). I wouldn't rule out eating here again. They do 'meal deals' on various days of the weeks, but not on a Wednesday, which is popular anyway with the quiz.
The quiz was lots of fun! It is £1 per person and there is a cash price for the two top teams (we came second and got £15, but that may depend on the number of people who show up). I understand that there are also roll-over weeks, but this didn't happen the week I was there, so I am not sure what that is about. They also do token prizes for the lowest scoring team and a bottle of wine as a random prize (picked out of the hat). Teams were generally six people or less. As well as conventional quiz questions (I knew remembering who wrote the Mr Men books would come in useful one day) and the obligatory music round (of which I knew all the embarrassing, cheesy stuff, but none of the cool stuff) there were supplementary rounds such as pictures, anagrams, guess the lyrics and cryptic clues. The quiz lasted about two and a half hours from start to final prize awarded, with the scoring and prize-giving being a slightly long-winded process where people were getting fidgety (it was about 10.30/10.45pm).
Overall I enjoyed my time here. The pub is well-looked after, the food is nice enough and the atmosphere pleasant. I recommend the quiz night if that is your 'thing', as it was a fun evening.