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The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy of young adult books by Suzanne Collins. It is set in the land of Panem, a post-apocalypse North America. The land is divided into 12 districts, ruled over by the Capitol. As punishment for a long-ago rebellion against the Capitol, each district must hold a lottery and draw out the names of a boy and a girl over 13 to take part in the Hunger Games. These are live televised games where the 24 participants must fight to the death in a vast landscape specially created with unpredictable dangers. The reward for the winner is a new house for their family and a lifetime supply of food. Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen is responsible for feeding her family after the death of her father in the mines. She resorts to illegal hunting with a male friend, Gale, who also has a family to feed. When she finds herself taking part in the Hunger Games, she sees it as an opportunity to save her family from poverty. Fortunately, her hunting skills give her an edge. But to win, she must be the only survivor and that would mean she might have to kill the kind, gentle Peeta, who she has known since childhood.
There are obvious parallels with Stephen King's The Running Man: the gameshow scenario, and the Roman Arena type of entertainment where people fight to the death to entertain a bloodthirsty audience. This is a society where the poor farmers, miners, manufacturers etc all struggle to feed their families on a pittance, oppressed by an authoritarian Capitol where the decadent rich elite feast on luxurious foods, change their appearance to suit the latest bizarre trends, and dress in the latest fashions. Hmmm.... sounds familiar doesn't it? The whole book is an indictment of modern governments and their willingness to wage war with the supposed aim of keeping peace... but with other people's sons and daughters. But in this story it's not adults killing each other off, it's teenagers, and this makes it hard reading at times. However, this is also what makes it such a powerful story.
Told through the voice of Katniss in present tense, it has an immediacy to it that makes it gripping, carrying the reader along with it. The technique of telling the story in the first person means that secrets can be kept from Katniss and therefore from the reader - if she misunderstands something or doesn't know it, we don't know it either. She is a fallible character who makes mistakes because she misjudges people. It all keeps the reader guessing about what's really going on and what the other characters feel about her. It's not always easy to tell who will be a friend or a foe, and this keeps an edge of tension and fear running through the book which makes it a real page turner. I found it hard to put down.
Katniss is a feisty character, who resists authority, and has no hesitation in killing and gutting animals for food. Although she sometimes comes across as ruthless, she is made likeable by her love of her sister, her close bond with Gale, and her worries about whether she will have to kill Peeta. Though living in a harsh culture that requires her to kill she does not lose sight of her humanity and compassion. It's a book filled with strong characters that leap off the page. The first third is somewhat slow going in parts, and puts a lot of emphasis on preparation for the games, with all the backstage training of the characters, and descriptions of their appearance and outfits ... subjects that would no doubt appeal to teenage girl readers. It's all heavily publicised in a way we're familiar with on reality tv shows, adding a disturbing level of realism to the story. However, the tension builds up and I was really interested to find out how the games would play out. Once it got going with the games I was gripped! I rapidly went on to read the second and third books in the trilogy.
Suzanne Collins really knows how to write for young adults and taps into the subjects close to their hearts: friendship, the confusion of first love, and the perils of finding their way in a society full of adult rules. It's a book I can recommend for teenagers, but it's also highly readable for adults. It's already been made into a film, which is to be released next year, and I suspect it's going to be a hit with young adults... and me.
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Scholastic; 1 edition (5 Jan 2009)
I had my new Hotpoint double built under fan oven fitted when I had a new kitchen fitted by Homebase last summer. I'd been wanting a double oven for some time as the single oven was so limiting. I could use the grill or the oven but not both at the same time, so this time I decided I wanted an oven with as many functions and as much flexibility as I could afford.
The Hotpoint build under oven, as you would guess, is designed to fit under a worktop with a hob on top. I like a built in oven and hob as they make the cooking area look streamlined and neat, and there are no edges or gaps where spillages and crumbs can gather. It has mirrored finish doors, that are beautifully reflective and shiny. I wanted as many shiny reflective surfaces as possible in my kitchen to give the impression of light and space, so this oven works nicely in that respect. On the downside, it shows up smudges easily so I have to regularly give it a spray with diluted Flash and a buff with a paper towel. Each oven has a long bar handle, handy for drying damp towels on if you want to. At the top, there are three control knobs, one for the grill, one for the top oven and one for the bottom oven. There's also an LED clock and oven timer, which shows up nice and clear at a glance, even when I'm not wearing my reading glasses, so it's great for dodgy middle aged eyesight! The top oven comes with one shelf and a grill pan with handle, and the bottom oven comes with two shelves.
What it Does
The top oven is a convection oven, and variable grill, with five shelf positions. As it's a fairly small oven at 33 litres oven capacity, this is okay for fairly small joints of meat and things such as pizzas, scones, cupcakes and Yorkshire puddings. When used as a grill, the door has to be left open. As it's a variable grill, it means you can use the full grill element or just half the grill element. This is very handy for grilling items that cook at a different rate as I can then switch off half of the grill if something has finished cooking. When the grill is switched on a cooling fan emits a gentle flow of air below the control panel. It's worth noting that even when it's switched off, the top oven gets quite warm when the bottom oven is on, so it's useful for warming plates.
The bottom oven is bigger at 51 litres capacity. I can easily fit in a large chicken on one shelf and roasting potatoes on the other, and I had no problem fitting a turkey in there at Christmas. This one is a fan oven so heats up more quickly than the top oven, and cooks things at a lower temperature. As well as the normal temperatures settings it has a fan only setting which can be used for defrosting as it only circulates cool air. There is also a slow cook setting, which is handy for casseroles, and recommends a minimum of six hours cooking. The bottom oven is fitted with a safety device which means it switches off when the door is opened.
The timer can be used as a minute minder and emits a buzz when the set amount of times is up. This doesn't interrupt cooking. There is also a programmable cooking function which allows you to set the oven to switch on and off at the required time.
The power consumption is 5.2 kw/h which is higher than some double ovens, but then again this is a good sized one compared to many built under double ovens.
The ovens have Stayclean oven liners which means at temperatures of 220 degrees or above, the liners will destroy any cooking splatters. I just give them a wipe with a damp cloth to remove crumbs, and up to now it has stayed quite clean. The door glass can be taken out and put in the dishwasher, which certainly saves some scrubbing!
This oven comes with a 1 year labour guarantee and a 5 year parts guarantee, which is very reassuring.
I've been using the oven for a year now and have had no problems with it. It took some getting used to, but there's a fairly comprehensive instruction manual though, with charts showing what settings and shelf levels to use for different kinds of food, so it's very helpful. However, some of it is just trial and error. I've tried pizzas in the fan oven and find they come out fairly limp and soft. They're much better in the top oven where the edges crisp up nicely and the cheese seems to melt faster. Yorkshire puddings are also better in the top oven. They rise strangely evenly and then flatten out in the bottom oven, whereas in the top oven they rise up at the sides like they should and go nice and crispy around the edges. On the other hand, the bottom oven is great for roasting a chicken. It comes out moist and succulent, and evenly cooked. I've also had great success baking cakes and muffins in the bottom oven, so will stick to using it for baking. When using the grill I find it's ferocious when turned up high and will rapidly burn things if I'm not careful. I've never used such a powerful grill! It also throws out a lot of heat into the kitchen, in spite of the cooling fan, so I find I'd rather not grill things that are going to take a long time, as I just get way too hot and bothered. It's okay for quick things such as bacon or cheese on toast though. The defrosting function is very handy for defrosting bread straight out of the freezer if I want to make sandwiches.
Overall it's a very different cooking experience to my old single convection oven. I like being able to use the bottom oven for cooking something at one temperature whilst using the top oven for something at a different temperature. The minute minder is brilliant for reminding me when something is due to come out. I find the defrosting function useful although it doesn't do much when it comes to defrosting thick solid items such as meat. It speeds it up a bit but not a lot. I also like the variability of the grill. I've no regrets about buying this cooker, and would definitely recommend it.
Mobile phones offer so much these days it's hard to decide from the vast range out there. The three things that mattered most to me when looking for a phone were: I wanted a good clear qwerty keypad, a nice big screen, and internet access. After trying out all kinds of touchscreen things I decided I didn't like them - it's too easy to make a mistake texting. I finally came to the Nokia C3, which looks very much like a Blackberry but is a lot cheaper! Mine is the Golden White one, which was amazingly hard to get hold of in most phone shops, and a bit more expensive than the slate or pink for some reason.
The keypad has good sized keys that are a cushion shape and really easy to use for texting and adding notes to the calendar. Texting is something I'm not very good at, as I don't do it very often, but my speed has improved with this phone, and I don't make as many mistakes as I used to with my old flip-phone. The phone has got two shortcut keys on the front which can be set up how you want, so I've got one to take me straight to my inbox and the other one set up for text messaging. A handy feature of text messaging, is that you can have the incoming message onscreen at the same time, so you can keep track of conversations.
It's got a 2.0 mega pixel camera and video. Not the best, but it's okay for taking photos of people to add onto the home screen as favourite contacts. I have a good camera, so don't really need my phone to do anything glamorous. It also has an MP3 player and radio, and comes with earphones. The radio is amazingly loud and clear, but I haven't tried the MP3 yet. It's nice to know it's there if I want it - I'd probably use it when travelling.
If you're interested in communities such as Facebook, it's got an onscreen quick sign-in and you can receive updates on the home screen which is probably very handy, but I don't use it, so can't comment on that. I do check my email now and again when out and about, but that depends on whether I can find a free WLAN connection. Because I have BT broadband at home, I can also use BT Fon or BT Openzone and get online for free with my mobile (mobile phone salesmen pretend not to know about this - they want you to pay for their monthly tariff!) or sometimes get a free connection in cafés. It's a bit hit and miss though, so not to be relied on, unless you've got a regular hotspot you know you can go to. I'm on 02 Pay as You Go, so I'm reluctant to pay for internet connection as it rapidly chews up a £1, and then tells me I won't be charged more than that for a day, but a £1 a day would soon get to be very expensive! If you're likely to be online a lot and moving around it's probably better to pay for a monthly contract.
Overall it's a phone with good clear speakers, it's easy to use and it's got a great battery life. It looks good, but it's got a glossy surface which will scratch easily if you're not careful. I keep mine in a phone sock for protection. I paid £80, so for what it does, it's a reasonable price.
WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE?
I bought my husband a Kindle for Christmas as he has nerve problems in his arms that make it painful for him to hold up a book, especially one of Stephen King's tomes. The problem was deciding which one. The Kindle reader comes in two options, the Wi-Fi option, which downloads books from Amazon using a wi-fi connection, or the 3G option, which can use either wi-fi or 3G and means you're never without a connection. In the end I opted to spend the extra money and buy the 3G one, on the grounds that it's got free internet connection wherever he goes. I helped him set it up as he isn't very computer-literate, and it does help with negotiating your way around a Kindle. To use it on wi-fi you need to input your home hub key, just as you would with a laptop. This was straightforward enough, and we then had instant connection to wi-fi. Bear in mind if you are using an older router and haven't got wi-fi, you'll have to download books onto your computer first, and then link up your Kindle to download books, so then it would be better to have the 3G version.
For us, the 3G really comes into it's own when we're on holiday, as the Kindle has various experimental new features, one of which is a web browser. We've found we can get online with this anywhere, which is very useful when we're on a caravan site for instance, and want to check our email or look up details of places we want to visit. The downsides are that it's slow to load a web page, it's black and white, and the text is so small you have to zoom in. However it's a useful little extra. Another experimental feature is that it's also an MP3 player. We've downloaded various of my husband's favourite albums for him to listen to using headphones, and it's quite decent quality. The other experimental feature is a text-to-speech facility, which enables the Kindle to read a book to you. This isn't available for every book however. I found the voice a bit too robotic, and quite a distraction from the story, but my husband seems to have got used to it, and listens to it through the headphones when he can't sleep.
You can shop in the Kindle store on Amazon, which has an amazing range of free books, some of them out of copyright classics, and some of them new ones by new authors, so it's always worth keeping an eye on the free list. Books to buy are often significantly cheaper than the printed version, but the newer books are often not much of a saving. However we've begun to find it's worth buying them on Kindle to save room in the house, as we really have no more space for books. It's easy to download books with one-click ordering and they appear on the Kindle in about a minute. Another way to order is through the Kindle itself which takes you to the Kindle store, but we find it much easier to browse online. The Kindle stores about 3,500 books, although we've found as the book count builds up it all starts to slow down a bit. It's possible to delete books you've bought on Amazon though, and they are stored online for you to download without paying again.
The most important advice I could give anyone using a Kindle, is start categorizing your books as soon as you start downloading! You can organize them into different collections which makes it much easier to browse through and choose a book. My husband already has nearly 1300 on file and can't remember half of what he's got in there. (some are book files that have been donated). There are different ways of browsing through though. With a couple of clicks you can reorganize them into most recent books first, authors, title, or collections.
Once your book is on screen you can change the text size or font, very useful if, like me, your close up vision isn't quite what it was! You can also rotate the screen and read it widthways. For anyone using the Kindle to study, you can add in notes or highlights, or put in a search for a word or phrase. The actual reading experience is quite restful on the eyes, as it's very much like reading off a printed page with no glare. Bear in mind this isn't backlit, so it's not possible to read it in the dark. A great feature is that it remembers what page you were last reading and will take you straight back to it. If left switched on, it will turn itself off after a few minutes, but you can switch it back on and be back to your page in seconds.
There are page turning keys on each side of the Kindle so you can use either depending on whether you are left or right handed. The big nuisance with these is that it's right where I hold it when reading, so at first I kept finding myself accidentally turning a page. However, I've now got used to holding it at the corners so this doesn't happen so much. As expected, it's nice and light to hold and much easier to read in bed than a thick heavy book. The battery life is fantastic and lasts for a few weeks of reading before needing recharging, although going online uses it up faster.
Now you might be thinking, how come I know so much? Whose Kindle is it anyway? Well, my husband kindly lent it to me to read The Hunger Games series, which I've been trying to get from the library, but there's a long waiting list. I'd much rather read a real book to be honest. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and real pages to turn - a habit of lifetime I suppose. I never really wanted a Kindle for myself... but yet, I'm kind of tempted now by the sheer convenience of having such a store of books to carry around. It's so easy to just stick in a bag or even a decent sized jacket pocket. My husband takes it around everywhere and finds it really easy to handle. He's also got a case for it, which acts as a stand so he can prop it up in front of him on the table if he wants. He takes it to cafes, hospital waiting rooms etc, and people are always curious about it. It's definitely his Best Toy Ever.
I ordered this dishwasher as I was having a new kitchen fitted by Homebase and decided this was a good time to reorganize everything and have a dishwasher plumbed in. It's the first dishwasher I've ever had and I did wonder whether there was any point. There are only two of us in the household, and I always thought that in the time it takes to stack a dishwasher I might was well have washed the pots in the sink. But my hubby wanted one and promised to load and unload it, so I was soon sold on the idea.
The Smeg fully integrated dishwasher is concealed totally behind a door front, and the only thing that gives it away is that the handle has to be horizontal to pull down the door, which looks a bit odd with the rest of my kitchen, as I have long vertical door handles. Otherwise you wouldn't guess what's behind there. Mine is under the sink, which was necessary because of the way my kitchen is plumbed. It's an ideal position as I can stand at the sink to sort out what goes in the dishwasher and what doesn't, and also pour any liquids such as gravy or coffee dregs down the sink before putting things in the dishwasher. On the other side of the dishwasher I've got cutlery drawers, and then a plate cupboard, so it's easy to unload and put things away. I've mentioned this, because it can be really hard trying to plan where to put things when you have a new kitchen, and I find my layout works really well.
Some dishwashers come semi integrated which means the controls can be seen at the top front of the door. The one drawback about having a fully integrated dishwasher is that the controls are concealed inside the top of the door and you have to pull it open to use them. I haven't found it to be a problem, although if I heard something going wrong in there it would be tricky to open it to switch it off without getting splattered.
The controls are fairly simple. There are five different wash options:
1. Soak - a 15 minute cold prewash for pans and dishes awaiting a further wash.
2. Light - an 80 minute wash immediately after use for dishes with light dirt.
3. Bio - a 180 minute wash immediately after use for dishes with normal dirt.
4. Normal - a 120 minute wash for dishes with normal dirt. Although this is shorter than option 3, it is a hotter wash.
5. Super - a 140 minute wash for very dirty pans and dishes, except delicate items. This is the hottest wash and uses most water.
I find I can use option 3 very often, and only use 4 or 5 if I've got messy pans that I've use for a roast, or curry or casserole. Occasionally I find even on the hottest wash that sometimes baked on food doesn't come off and needs an extra scrub. However by this point it's usually quite easy to remove with a pan scrubber. It also depends on what kind of detergent I'm using. This particular model requires salt to reduce the water hardness, rinse aid, and detergent. The salt is poured into container in the bottom of the dishwasher. This has a green indicator which rises to the top to show there is sufficient salt. Once it disappears from view this means the salt needs topping up. In three months I've only used one pack of salt, so it isn't expensive. The door has a container for rinse aid, which it dispenses with each wash, and I haven't even used up a full bottle of this yet, so again that's not too expensive. There's a flip open dispenser in the door for wash powder or tabs. I mostly use Finish wash powder and rinse aid, with cheap Morrisons dishwasher salt and get good results. My pans come out gleaming and my glasses sparkle like new. I've tried using the really cheap tabs, but found my glasses came out scratched, so I suspect the dishwasher throws around chunks of undissolved tab. Fairy all-in-one dishwasher tablets are quite effective, but I've a feeling I'm not supposed to be using them, so won't be buying any more. Some dishwashers have a 3 in 1 program especially for using with these kind of tablets and would dispense them at the right time, but mine doesn't have this program.
This dishwasher has the following energy ratings; Energy: A, Wash: A, Dry: A. It has a 12 place setting capacity, and some foldable racks in the top section, for cups, glasses and cutlery. It doesn't have a delay timer. At 17 litres per cycle on the normal setting, it isn't the most economical dishwasher on water consumption so this needs bearing in mind if you have a water meter. However, I consider that even 17 litres to do the whole day's pots is economical use of water compared with running hot water in the sink two or three times a day to wash pots by hand. For energy usage it's 1.05 Kw/h which is about comparable with most dishwashers of this size. The noise level is 53dba which is a bit on the high side, compared with some which seem to range from around 42dba to 55dba. However, even at that it's not very loud. I can hear it gently swishing around when I'm in the next room, but it's not an obtrusive or annoying noise, and much quieter than a washing machine.
Dishwashers come with a default water softening setting, so it's important to set it to your own local water hardness. The manual comes with a water hardness chart, and instructions of how to reset your machine, and it's quite simple to do. First I had to go onto my water supplier's website to find the water hardness and then I was able to set the machine accordingly. This means I'm using the right amount of salt, compared to the default setting which would have been using too much.
Up to now my Smeg dishwasher has worked well with no problems. I load things into it as the day goes on and set it to wash every night. In the morning I unload all the clean pots and start again. I find it was very worthwhile buying as it's easier to keep the kitchen tidy. There are never any unwashed cups etc lying around as they're all hidden away in the dishwasher. Altogether, a very worthwhile buy, although it worked out more expensive buying it with a fitted kitchen from Homebase. You can buy this for £289 at Appliance City, but I paid about £90 more than this, including delivery and removal of old appliances. I can't see any way around this, unless you ask the kitchen fitters to fit in appliances you have bought yourself. There would still be the fitting charge, but you could save quite a bit on appliances.
UPDATE: A year after buying it I'm not having any problems.
Robert Downey Junior stars as Peter Highman, a stressed out father to be, anxious to catch a flight from Atlanta to be in LA with his wife for the birth of their baby. At the airport he encounters the socially inept aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay, played by Zach Galifianakis. Ethan is on his way to scatter his father's ashes at the Grand Canyon. He is overly friendly in a mildly irritating way but not too much to faze Peter, until a series of unfortunate events lead to them being thrown off the plane and placed on a no fly list. Peter, having left his wallet behind, is left with no option but to accept a ride across country with Ethan. By now Peter's nerves are almost at snapping point, and things can only get worse. It's not only a race against time to get to the hospital, but a battle to stay alive as the needy and incompetent Ethan sucks him into his disastrous life.
I went to see this purely because I like Robert Downey Junior and usually enjoy his quick fire humour. However his films tend to be hit and miss and although I had a feeling this one was going to be a miss, I went along anyway. It doesn't cost anything with my trusty Cineworld pass, so there's nothing to lose. Zach Galifianakis isn't an actor that appeals to me so I wasn't expecting too much from this film - I knew it would be gross and bizarre in places and it was. If you've seen the previews showing what happens to his father's ashes, you'll know the kind of thing I mean, but I won't spoil that by going into detail. But that wasn't the thing that made it a failure. It was the fact that the whole scenario didn't work.
This is a film about two people with wildly different personalities thrown together and becoming friends against all the odds. Peter is portrayed as being irritable and highly strung by nature, and his attitude problem is referred to in conversations with his wife. Ethan is portrayed as being childlike and clearly can't help being so annoying. The story seems to be about Peter being tested to the limit and finding an unexpected friend. But for me it just didn't work. For a start, Peter is not really that highly strung anyway, and is actually relatively normal, although given to acidic comments. If anything he's already remarkably tolerant considering the way Ethan screws up his plans and effectively ruins an important event in his life. He's just not very likeable, and lacks the charm that Robert Downey Junior usually brings to a role.
As for Ethan, he's so dim he spends all their remaining petrol money on drugs, he needs reminding to go to the loo at service stations, and falls asleep at the wheel, resulting in a crash so dramatic that it should have killed them both outright. He's so inept, it makes me wonder how he managed to look so well fed, clean and normal when Peter first met him. The character just didn't make sense and it was hard to feel any sympathy for him. Even his dog wasn't very likeable.
Overall, the script just seems to lack the spark that should have made the characters bounce off each other. The comedy scenes seem too contrived, and sometimes really gross - although some people will enjoy that. This could have been much better with sharper, wittier dialogue and less reliance on overly contrived scenarios that usually involved Peter being almost killed, so weren't exactly funny.
Jamie Foxx puts in a brief appearance as Peter's friend Darryl, but he doesn't play a significant enough role to lift the film. Juliette Lewis also puts in an appearance, suitably cast as a drug supplier. Michelle Monaghan appears as Sarah, Peter's wife, but we don't see much of her.
The film was directed by Todd Phillips, producer of The Hangover, and it has a very similar feel to it - people thrust into a situation where things get increasingly bizarre and out of control. But it just doesn't work as well as The Hangover, maybe because there's just too much focus on Peter and Ethan, and I just didn't find them all that funny together. Neither character is likeable enough to really to make you care what happens to them, so it's hard to imagine why they'd ever like each other enough to be friends. Maybe they just deserve each other. It's not one of Robert Downey Junior's best performances. He seemed to be just walking through the role, with a couldn't-care-less attitude, and just doing it for the money. Zach Galifianakis just seems to be playing Zack Galifianakis all the time, as he was just the same as in The Hangover, crude and annoying.
Not a film I'd recommend, unless you really really liked The Hangover, in which case you might feel this is worth a watch.
I bought the Breville stainless steel jug kettle to match my Breville toaster (previously reviewed) as they both fitted in with the stainless steel and black theme I've got going on in my new kitchen.
The kettle is a glossy stainless steel with black plastic base, handle and lid. The lid has a grey plastic lid release which you pull up to release and lift the hinged lid. The on/off switch is clear plastic. There is a large water level window which glows a funky blue when the kettle is switched on, and turns off when the kettle boils. The base is a 360 degree rotational base so you can easily swizz the kettle around for either right or left handed people. Inside the spout there is a mesh filter, so it's important to fill this kettle from the top rather than the spout. The kettle is easy clean, with a fast boil concealed element.
Using the Kettle
This is not the lightest of kettles, so if you have joint problems and finding it difficult lifting a kettle, it might not be the one for you. I popped it on my kitchen scales when empty and it weights just over a kilo, or 2 lbs 4oz. When filled to the maximum eight cups it's really quite heavy. It's not a problem for me, but my husband has nerve problems in his hands and has to be careful not to lift this when it's too full. On the positive side, it's easy to flip open the lid with one hand when you want to refill it. My last kettle had a pull off lid, so I had to hold the kettle in one hand and yank the lid off with the other. This one is much easier.
The cord is a fairly decent length at 29cm which allows a bit of leeway if you have to plug it in behind another appliance for instance.
The water level window is great as I can see at a glance how much water is in the kettle. My last kettle had a very slim water gauge and it was really hard to see how much water was in there. I also like the fact that the window lights up when the kettle is switched on. Not only does it look cheerful on a gloomy winter's morning, I can see at a glance whether I've switched it on or not if the kitchen is noisy and I can't hear it. It's not a particularly noisy kettle anyway. The fast boil element is great, as I can boil water for two cups in one minute, ideal for tv adverts when I want to dash into the kitchen to make a quick cuppa.
One thing I have to watch out for is if I take it off the base just before it comes to the boil, it will still be switched on when I put it back, and will try to boil without any water. I've made the mistake of doing this, and it cut out for a couple of minutes. My last kettle would automatically switch off if I lifted it off the base, but I have to remember that this one won't and switch it off manually. I do take it off before it boils sometime, as when I'm making green tea this is better made with water below boiling point. The handle stays cool to touch, but as you would expect, the sides get very hot. I find it easy to pour, without sloshing water all over the place.
So far as cleaning goes, I just give it a wipe over with a damp cloth sprayed with a bit of diluted Flash, and then a quick buff of the metal parts with a paper towel so it doesn't go streaky, and it looks fine. I deliberately bought a kettle with a black handle because my last one was a creamy colour and it soon got discoloured and grungy looking no matter how much a I tried to clean it. I will never ever again have a cream coloured kettle!
The inside of my kettle doesn't need descaling because I only ever use filtered water in it. Filtered water makes a huge difference and my kettles always stay looking sparkling inside. However, if you do need to descale, there's no visible element to clean around, so it should be quite simple. The filter can also be removed for washing and can be safely washed in the cutlery rack of a dishwasher. Again this is something I don't need to do as I don't get limescale with filtered water.
Overall it's an efficient kettle that looks stylish and modern in my new kitchen. I've been using it for 3 months and had no problems with it. The one minor quibble is the fact that it doesn't switch off when lifted off the base, but that's not a big issue. I would definitely recommend this to a friend! It's currently priced at £29.95 at Amazon, so not the cheapest kettle out there, but reasonable I think for a modern looking fast boil kettle.
This is a very attractive cookbook, which I suspect a lot of people will be putting on their Christmas wish list this year, lured by the promise of delicious meals in thirty minutes. I'm not so sure about the thirty minute part though! I've watched Jamie's tv series based on these recipes, and although he whizzes about the kitchen and gets everything done, let's face it he knows the recipes and quantities in his head. It's a different matter entirely when you have to keep stopping to read instructions. There's no way I can get these meals ready in the suggested times, so I'm not worrying about that, I'm just trying things out in my own time and being relaxed about it.
The first couple of pages list all the complete meals and their accompaniments, along with the page number. Then we get a few pics of Jamie posing in his kitchen. After that there's an introduction which explains how the book works. According to Jamie he's costed the meals against what you'd pay if you bought a ready meal, a takeaway or a restaurant meal, and he's found they're mostly cheaper to make at home. All very well, but if he's talking about London restaurants they're going to cost a fair bit more than Sheffield restaurants anyway, so I suspect that comparison is going to vary depending on where you live.
He emphasizes that everything has been tested by his food team and it works, so it's important not to swap around with ingredients and measurements, (Gulp! I'm always doing that with recipes!). However, it's okay to use one element of a meal if you don't want the whole lot. He also tells you how to sort out the equipment you need, and gives a whole list of kitchen implements you will ideally need to start acquiring. He's costed this lot at around £300 if you need to start from scratch and buy everything, although obviously most of us have already got saucepans, scales, graters etc. I'm already doomed in that respect because one of the things you will need is a food processor with slicers, graters, whisk and beater and I don't have one (although I'd like one). I have a feeling my little electric chopper and whisk won't do the job. It's also essential to have a microwave for some recipes but I don't own one and don't intend to buy one (I think microwaves destroy nutrients, so I'm against using them). He also mentions a pestle and mortar, but at least I've already got those. Phew!
Then it comes to the recipe instructions themselves. Now these are nicely laid out all on one page, with the list of ingredients at the top. Below that we get the instructions set out in paragraphs exactly in order of sequence that we need them to do the whole meal, so for the Stuffed Cypriot Chicken recipe, you'd be switching from chicken, to veg, to chicken again, to flatbreads, veg, cabbage salad and so on. It's pretty much how I work in a kitchen anyway, getting the slower cooking things going first, then while they're under way, switching to simpler side dishes, so all that makes sense. The paragraphs are clearly headed so if you wanted to just cook the chicken and miss out the other elements, you can just follow the chicken headings and skip the others. The instructions are clear and straightforward, and work fine if you've already gathered all your ingredients together first, so you can just grab what you need. There are several good close up photographs with each meal, so you have a good idea how it should all look.
If you're in doubt about any particular food preparation technique, there are little camera symbols indicating that you can go to his website (www.jamieoliver.com/30MM) to see a demonstration. Very useful!
At the back of the book, there's an alphabetical index of all the different meal elements, with a V for vegetarian.
I haven't yet tried a whole meal, so I can't say whether it can really be done in half an hour. I'm just picking out the meal elements I like at the moment. The Yorkshire puddings I tried turned out great, and mine are usually a flop, so I'm off to a good start!
Jamie Oliver does say that you might run over time with some things until you get the hang of the recipes. I don't think it matters if things take a bit longer, as it's a very nice cookery book with some lovely recipes that cover a range of spicy foods such as Killer Jerk chicken, fish dishes such as Asian Style Salmon, to veggie dishes such as Spinach and Feta Pie. There are fifty meals altogether, including desserts and side dishes, so there are plenty of recipes to experiment with.
Jamie's 30 Minute Meals was recently reviewed on Watchdog, where they tested out some of the recipes, all of which took nearly an hour or more. As I expected, the cooks were held up by reading the recipes. The presenter looked around the devastation in the kitchen and said "not necessarily haute cuisine, more like a crime scene." Hmm! My kitchen always looks like that when I've been cooking anyway!
I think the point is, allow plenty enough time, and just have fun with experimenting with new recipes. I got this book from the library first to see if I liked it, and now I'm hoping Santa brings me one of my own.
I'm happy to give it four stars for being a beautiful and well laid out cookbook with some exciting recipes. However I can't give it five because I think it would be very hard to do these meals in half an hour, especially if you haven't got all the equipment, so the title is quite misleading. Sorry Jamie!
I wanted a compact sturdy camera case to carry around my Olympus X-15 camera, but looking around the camera shops I found some extortionate prices. I found this one on Amazon and was delighted that it was only 19p plus postage and packing. It came to about £4, but it's more like £5 now with free delivery, so it's still a great price. It comes in a fantastic range of colours: pink, red, blue, black, silver, orange and green. As my camera is a very girlie Barbie pink (courtesy of my husband who thinks I'm still about 16) I opted for the pink one to match.
The dimensions given on Amazon are: 10cm X 3.2cm X 7cm and it weighs 32g. They're actually the inner dimensions, so it gives you a good idea whether your camera will fit inside. My fits very nicely and doesn't rattle around.
Inside there is a mesh pocket about half the length of the case, which I use to store the rechargable battery when the camera isn't in use, as I find it drains the battery to leave it in the camera. The inside of the case is lined with a soft nylon fabric, and the outside of the case is a pearlised pink with a black zip. There are two black hoops, one on each side of the case, to fasten on the neck strap that comes with it. On the back there's also a karabiner clip for fastening it on your belt. One drawback I found was that the clips on the neck strap are very hard to get through the hoops, so I don't bother using that. However, I like the karabiner, which clips the case quite securely onto my jeans belt loops. Alternatively I sometimes leave the camera wrist strap hanging out of the zip, and just loop it around my wrist, case and all.
I've had this case for over a year and had no problems with it. It's lightweight, so very easy to carry about or pop in a handbag but it's also firm enough to protect my camera from knocks. It's been stuffed in various bags and pockets, carted around the park, the beach, sea life centres, parties and restaurants and it's still in good condition. It's done a great job of keeping my camera safe and protected from sand, rain and grandchildren's ice-creams, so I'm very happy with it. For the price, it's well worth it, although I do think the neck strap should be easier to fasten on. Hence it only gets 4 stars from me.
My last electric toothbrush was an Ultrasonex, and although I couldn't fault its effectiveness, the handle had a habit of cracking, and I got through several replacements under guarantee before finally giving up and buying the Philips Sonicare Healthy White.
~What's in the Box~
The Sonicare rechargeable toothbrush, a charging stand, 1 standard brush head, a hygiene cap, a travel case, and 3 additional colour coded rings. The rings are useful if there is more than one person in the family with this toothbrush as you can use different colours to tell them apart. The charging stand enables you to wrap the cord inside for easy transport.
~What it Does~
The Philips Sonicare claims it will whiten teeth up to 2 shades in 2 weeks, improve gum health, and is gentle on braces, dental work, veneers, implant material and sensitive teeth. The handle has an on/off button on the front which you can press to choose from three different brushing modes:
Clean: A standard two minute cleaning mode.
Sensitive: Gentle cleaning for sensitive gums and teeth.
Clean and White: Two minutes of clean mode with an extra 30 seconds of white mode to focus on the front teeth.
This toothbrush also has a Smartimer which automatically switches off the brush at the end of the brushing cycle. If you want to stop before then, you can stop it by holding the on/off button down for two seconds. If you press it again, it will resume where you left off. It resets itself when you stop brushing for 30 seconds, or put it on its charger. It also has a quadpacer which means it pauses slightly at 30, 60 and 90 seconds to prompt you to move to a different section of the mouth, making sure you spend equal time in each area.
When I first started with this toothbrush I thought it was actually too gentle compared to the Ultrasonex. It's quite a soft feeling brush head and I wasn't sure it was doing much. However over the next few days of using it twice a day on Clean mode, I realized my teeth were feeling nicely polished and clean. However, my gums started to feel quite sore and irritated, possibly because the toothbrush was cleaning under the edges really well, or maybe I was using it too vigorously as the brush head felt so soft.
My husband had already got one of these and he told me had noticed the same problem at first. He suggested I switch to Sensitive mode for a while. I tried this, and my gums calmed down in a couple of days. I now use the Clean mode most days and it feels fine so long as I am careful to be gentle with it. The toothbrush does most of the work, so I really just need to move it slowly and gently back and forward across my teeth. I also use the Clean and White mode sometimes. This gives a heavier pulse for the last 30 seconds to give the front teeth an extra scrub.
If you've never used an electric toothbrush before one of the problems is that it makes toothpaste really really frothy! It's best not to use too much. I've found that Arm and Hammer Enamel Care for Sensitive Teeth is good with this toothbrush as it's quite a thick toothpaste that doesn't froth too much anyway.
When going on holiday I find the carry case very useful for keeping it safe and clean. I don't bother taking the charger if I'm only going away for a week, as I find it holds a charge for a full week.
I've had this a year now, and overall it's been a great toothbrush. I find I do need to give it the full two minutes each time to keep my teeth and gums really clean. If I give it any less than that I don't feel they're as clean as they should be. My dentist is happy with the cleanliness of my teeth, so it must be doing a good job. As for whether it makes my teeth 2 shades whiter, that's hard to say. I was already using a good electric toothbrush and toothpaste that helped keep my teeth as white as they're likely to get, so I don't think this toothbrush can improve on that. However, I like my red wine and black coffee, but my teeth aren't noticeably discoloured so I think the toothbrush must be helping maintain a normal shade.
A good thing I've noticed is that the plastic handle doesn't seem to have an inclination to crack, unlike the Ultrasonex which must be made of cheap recycled plastic. This one seems to be quite sturdy, even though I've dropped it a couple of times, and hasn't cracked at all.
The one downside of this toothbrush, is that the replacement heads are expensive. For the full price it's £19 for a pack of three. Bearing in mind you need to change the head every three months, this works out quite expensive over a year. However I've found them on half price offer at Boots in the past, and they're currently on at half price at Argos, so it's worth keeping an eye out for offers and snapping them up. The heads are very simple to pop off and replace. However, in spite of the expensive heads, this is a great toothbrush, and I'd rather spend money on looking after my teeth than getting them repaired at the dentist!
The Sonicare toothbrush is currently £59.99 at Argos, which is half price. It comes with a two year guarantee.
Having bought a new kitchen I decided I must have a gleaming new toaster and kettle (to be reviewed later) to sit on my stylish new worktop. I was looking for stainless steel and black and came across the Breville polished stainless steel 4 slice toaster in Argos.
As shown in the picture, it's polished stainless steel at the front with a black plastic casing at the sides and back. At the front it's got two sliding loading handles, one for each pair of bread slots. The loading handles have a high lift feature to help lift the finished bread out. This is ideal as I have often risked life and limb by poking a knife in my old toaster to try and prise out slices of jammed in bread, so breakfast time will now be a lot less dangerous in our house.
The toaster is 27cm wide, 22 cm high, and 28cm deep (including loading handles).
The bread slots are nice and wide, which is great for thick crusts or things like bagels and pikelets. Each pair of slots have their own controls: a cancel button, a reheat button, a defrost button and a browning control dial, so you can just use one set of slots at a time if you like.
There are also two crumb trays which slide out easily at the back. I have started off with all good intentions of emptying these frequently, as I must admit emptying bread slots does not feature high on my list of Important Things To Do Each Day. According to the instructions excess crumbs are not only unhygienic, they could also catch fire! Yikes! Who knew toasters were so hazardous?
~Using the Toaster~
This is the first time I've had a four slice toaster, as previously I didn't have enough worktop space. Now I've got a newly revamped kitchen with more worktop space, I decided a four slice toaster was going to be a lot easier than doing two slices for my husband, then two slices for me, by which time the toaster would be already hot and mine would be overdone.
I often use the defrost button as I tend to use bread straight out of the freezer. In case you've never used a defrost function on a toaster, all you have to do is press the loading handle down to start it toasting, then press the defrost button, and this will toast it for a bit longer to allow for it being frozen. It works like a dream and my bread comes out lightly browned and crispy. The reheat button is also handy if I've wandered off and forgotten about it, as all I have to do is pop the toast back down and press the button to give the toast a quick blast to heat it up. The manual warns not to use the reheat button with buttered toast. I thought that went without saying, but you never know...
An especially funky attribute of this toaster is that the buttons light up a really lovely blue when you press them, so I can see at a glance whether I've remembered to press the defrost button. These match the glowing blue light on the matching kettle. I'm a big fan of things that light up as it means I can see what they're up to even if the kitchen's noisy and I miss hearing the toast pop up or the kettle finish boiling.
From a safety aspect the side and front walls of this toaster don't get hot, so are safe if you accidentally brush against them. It does throw up a fair bit of heat above though, so be careful if you want to place it under a wall cupboard.
The instruction manual suggests cleaning the toaster with a clean damp cloth and drying thoroughly. It also warns against using hard, abrasive or caustic cleaners. I wipe it over with a paper towel lightly dampened with diluted Flash, which brings it up gleaming.
Overall this is the best toaster I've ever had for efficiency and stylish appearance. I've been using it for three months and I've no complaints about it whatsoever and would recommend it to anyone. It doesn't have a bun warming rack, which is something I do like on a toaster, but that's only a minor quibble.
It's currently on sale at £59.99 at Argos, but I didn't pay that much as it was on offer at the time.
I love homemade bread, and although I don't make it every day, I like to have a breadmaker for those days I have time to put together some freshly made bread. My old Morphy Richards breadmaker wasn't very reliable in turning out decent loaves, and the bread pan was becoming increasingly scratched, so I decided to go for a new one in a different brand. The Argos Cookworks Signature breadmaker gets some surprisingly good reviews on the Argos website, considering it's low price. I paid £37.89 but at the moment it's on offer at £32.89. This one is the same as the one in the picture, but it's black and silver.
As well as good reviews on performance, part of what appealed to me was the colour, which matches my other kitchen appliances, and also it's very compact, which means it doesn't take up too much space on the worktop.
The breadmaker has a tall upright baking pan which bakes tall loaves, rather than the traditional long low loaf shape. The advantage with this though, is that you can make a 1.51b loaf, which will rise about three quarters of the way up the tin, or a 2.0 lb loaf which will rise right to the top. It's got a straight kneading blade, which comes out of the pan and sticks in the bottom of the finished loaf. This has to be pulled out of the bread, using a little metal puller which is supplied with the breadmaker (it looks a bit like a long Allen key). The control panel on the top of the breadmaker gives the following options for setting it up:
There's also a numbered list of different types of bread you can make: basic, French, wholewheat, quick, sweet, ultra fast 1, ultra fast 2, dough, jam, cake, sandwich, bake. An LCD display shows the amount of baking time. The numbers on the control panel are easy to see, big and clear, which is very useful if you're over 40 and your close up vision isn't great any more!
The machine comes with a plastic measuring cup and spoon. It also has a very useful carrying handle.
It works very well with white bread, and various flavoured breads such as sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, herbs or olives. Spelt and rye bread came out a bit heavy, but I think that was my fault for trying it on a basic program instead of the wholemeal, when I was in a hurry. It was still edible though.
The machine has a one hour quick bread feature, which is great for basic white breads. I haven't tried fruit bread in it yet. I've also used it quite a lot for making dough for bread rolls, and foccaccia bread, which I then finish off in the oven. These have turned out fantastic. I've never tried the jam or cake recipes in this, so I can't say how well they turn out.
In my last bread machine, the kneading blade was designed to collapse after it had finished kneading, which would leave it lying flat in the bottom of the loaf. However, I always found this a nuisance as it took out a big chunk of bread when pulled off. The blade in the Cookworks bread machine doesn't collapse, but does come out very easily with the little metal puller, leaving quite a slim hole, which is much better. The bread comes out fairly easily, so long as I remember to oil the bread pan now and again. It's also especially important to oil in and around the mixing blade, which stops it sticking to the pan and allows the bread and blade to slide out.
It's not exceptionally noisy to use - it chugs away for the first kneading session, but it isn't as loud as or annoying as a washing machine for instance. The bread machine includes a delay timer which means you can set it to make fresh bread for next morning, or when you come in from work for instance. I don't tend to use that, as I find I'd rather check the bread when it's kneading to make sure there's a good firm ball of dough going around. If it's too sloppy I can add more flour, or if it's too crumbly I can add more water. If it's on the delay timer I can't make any adjustments and that's when things tend to go wrong. However, the instruction book does suggest that you try out a few recipes first, and when you find some that give good results, use these for the delayed start time. Fair enough advice I think.
The bread pan and blade are non-stick so are simple to clean with soapy water. Any baked on bread can be soaked off easily. They're not dishwasher safe though. The appliance itself can be wiped over with a soft damp cloth once unplugged. The lid also removes for cleaning. This is very handy, because occasionally bread goes crazy and rises up too much and sticks to the lid!
The recipe book has 21 different bread recipes, 3 jam recipes, and 2 cake recipes. This is my third bread machine, and I can't say it's a very good recipe book in comparison to previous ones, although it will get you started. There's one recipe, for Cranberry Walnut bread which bizarrely hasn't got any cranberries in it at all, but does have lemon peel!
For the recipes it gives instructions in teaspoons and tablespoons for the small ingredients such as yeast and sugar, which you can measure out with the included measuring spoon. However when it comes to the flour, it gives the weight in grams instead of measuring cups, which is a bit of a nuisance as you then have to get out the weighing scales. My previous recipe books give instructions of how many measuring cups of flour to use which is much quicker and easier.
There are thousands of bread recipes available on the internet though, so if you've got internet access it's worth a look.
I like the fact that the control panel is clear and easy to use, and that it's on the front. My Morphy Richards panel was on the top, so I found was craning my neck over to read it. I'm also pleased that the kneading blade doesn't make a great big hole in the bottom, which tends to ruin the last slice. For what I paid for this I've no complaints, other than the recipe book, which could be better. It's turns out a nice loaf when used correctly and hasn't had any problems in the three months since I bought it.
If you're baffled by the heading, it's the title of a song from 1972, by a band called Bread!
About the Yantra Mat
I've read some positive things about the Yantra Mat in the press and decided to buy one and give it a try to see if it would help with my upper back and neck ache. The Yantra Mat is an acupressure mat, with 8,820 acupressure contact points which apply equal pressure. It's a fairly soft foamy mat, 44cm by 75cm, with little plastic flowers on one side, each of which has a circle of 42 spikes. The mat can be rolled up to carry around with you, and comes with a carry case.
How to Use It
According to the manufacturer you can use it by lying on your back or your stomach, or by sitting with it behind your back. It's advised to use it for 20 minutes a day, to relieve aches and pains, relieve stress, boost energy, and get a good night's sleep. The instructions warn that you may feel slight discomfort and suggest wearing a cotton top while first getting used to it.
First of all, I found that that spikes are amazingly sharp and scratchy to touch and the idea of lying on it was a bit worrying. I couldn't believe it wouldn't penetrate the skin. However, when I bought mine at Holland and Barratt I asked one of the assistants if she'd tried it and she assured me it didn't penetrate the skin.
I first tried it by sitting with it against my back, while wearing a t-shirt. Sitting against it allows some control over how much pressure is applied, so it felt like a safe way to start. It didn't actually feel as if it was doing much. It just felt prickly in the places it was pressing against most and I didn't feel much at all in other areas. I can't say it helped it any way, and just began to feel irritating. I soon decided I wouldn't be able to work with this behind my back.
The next step was to try lying down on it with a t-shirt on. This was more intense, as I felt the spikes over all my back, but I felt the t-shirt was getting in the way of it working properly so I took it off. On bare skin, it makes a huge difference. The instant I laid down I could feel the spikes pressing all over my back. The manufacturers warning of discomfort is an understatement. This hurts! Within seconds I could feel my whole back throbbing, and strangely I could feel my heart pounding in time with the throbs. It really makes you aware of your heartbeat. I managed a few minutes, but could not have stayed there for twenty. It was just too unpleasant and all I could think about was how much longer could I bear it. However, once I sat up, there was a rush of warmth to my back. It did have a relaxing effect, there's no doubt.
After a couple of days building up to it, I tried it for the full twenty minutes. The longer I stayed on it, the more the spikes seemed to sink into my skin, and the throbbing sensation became more intense. After twenty minutes my whole back was red, and giving off heat like sunburn. It was covered in little indentations from the spikes, which took several hours to subside. However, afterwards my back felt as if it had just had a good massage, and it definitely had a relaxing effect. I just didn't feel it was worth the pain! There was no way I was ever going to try lying on my front!
I came to the conclusion that this mat is not for me. I found it just too unpleasant to use. It's an ordeal and, for me, not worth the end result. I seriously regretted buying it and knew it was something that was going to be stuffed in a cupboard and never used. At £39.99 that was an expensive mistake! However, the Yantra Mat website does offer a money back guarantee. I'd bought mine from Holland and Barratt, so I took it back and complained that there was insufficient warning about how painful it is to use. They were very good about it and gave me my money back. I think the Yantra Mat is something that is going to affect everyone differently, depending on their own pain threshold (mine's pathetically low), and it's not something I'd recommend trying unless you make sure you can get your money back.
My garden looks fabulous at this time of year. There are little apples growing on the apple tree, purple and scarlet surfinias trailing out of baskets, golden and violet roses.... and a blooming great nine foot blue and green wavy slide! Not the best feature of my garden.
Well, my fearless four year old twin granddaughters might not agree with that. I bought it with a hope of maybe wearing them out a bit while I sit peacefully on my swing seat (reviewed earlier), but instead I nearly have heart attacks when they balance on the platform without holding on, blowing bubbles, throwing polystyrene aeroplanes or squirting water pistols at their Granddad. Or sometimes the cat if he hasn't already hidden himself in the oregano patch. My neighbours can probably hear me yelling 'hold on!' every five minutes.
Who'd have thought a slide was useful for so many things? Now and again they even slide down it as well. This could be forwards, backwards, upside down, downside up, any old way really. They especially like climbing up the slide and then slithering down. Why bother with steps? And it's quite funny when they just lay down totally and just relax as they slither down, as their whole bodies just ripple along with the waves on the slide.
Although they do scare me silly with their antics, the slide does have quite high safety rails on each side of the platform, so they've never fallen off. It also has rails up the sides of the steps for them to hold onto. And there are no screws or anything for them to scrape their hands on, as these have plastic screw covers (more about those in a minute). See how I'm actually getting onto the practical stuff that you really want to know now? Such as the fact that it's been out there in all weathers for eight months and hasn't gone rusty and it's all still in good condition.
According to Argos website the slide is suitable for age three and over and the weight restriction is 50Kg. It's 169cm high, 150cmwide and 286cm deep. There isn't actually a choice of colours available so you just get whatever they send. Bear in mind it's self assembly. But, you might think, what's so hard about putting a slide together? Well, as we found, it's ideally a two person job. The rails in particular are a bit tricky to align with the holes, so it's quite a fiddly job putting it together. It helps if one person is there to push things together really hard, while the other one puts the nuts and bolts in. That's not to say one person couldn't do it on their own, but two is definitely easier.
We did run into problems when we found some of the plastic screw caps were missing, which was a bit of a nuisance, because I wouldn't want the girls to scratch their fingers on the screws as they slide down. Also the caps tidy it up and make it look nicer. I phoned Argos to complain and was told they can't send spare parts, but they could send a new slide, we could take the screw caps out and send it back. No kidding! I can't fault them for effort, but it did seem a bit daft. Instead, I found a manufacturers phone number on the instruction leaflet, gave them a ring, and they immediately put some spare screw caps in the post. Great service!
For four year olds, this is an ideal slide, and should last them for a few years yet. It's not for the timid though, as it's quite a fast slide and the girls tend to go whizzing off the end, so I have to put a mat at the bottom. Ours is on a slight slope which makes even steeper, so they can carry on down the grass a bit which they think is fantastic. I've tried turning it the other way round so it faced up the slope but then it's just not fast enough for their liking. See? Told you they were fearless.
It is recommended that the slide isn't used on a hard surface such as concrete and I totally agree with that, as children would get a very hard landing when they get to the bottom, or if they fall off. Apart from the missing bits, I've no complaints and I would definitely recommend it.
The nine foot slide is currently £99.99 at Argos and is home delivery only, so there's a delivery charge on top of that. I paid £5 at the time, so it's not bad.
So now you might be wondering, do I ever really get to sit on my lovely swing seat with a cuppa and just watch them? Noooooo! Who do think is running around picking up all the aeroplanes?
Update: A year after buying it, it's still looking good, and we've had no problems with it.
This review is based on a cinema viewing so I am unable to comment on the Blu-ray.
I went to see this with some doubts, as the last film I saw that starred Amanda Seyfried was Dear John, and that was quite disappointing. However as was filmed in Verona (I've been there and seen Juliet's courtyard and balcony), I was quite interested in seeing it. It turned out to be a good choice as I found it more enjoyable than I expected and it made me laugh quite a few times.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a fact checker working for a New York publisher. She has dreams of being a writer, but can't persuade her editor to give her the opportunity. She sets off on a holiday to Verona with her fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) before he launches his new Italian restaurant in New York. But once there, Victor is more interested in visiting wine auctions and food suppliers for his restaurant than actually spending time with Sophie.
Sophie resigns herself to seeing the sights on her own, and goes to visit Juliet's courtyard. She is fascinated to see women leaving letters on the wall relating their romantic troubles and finds out that a team of women called the Secretaries of Juliet are actually replying to every one of them! Then Sophie finds a hidden letter behind a loose brick and discovers it has been there for fifty years. She can't resist replying to the writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), and is astonished when Claire turns up in Verona with her reluctant and bad-tempered grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Claire is determined to find her lost love, Lorenzo (Franco Nero) and Sophie wants to use her fact-checking skills to help. Not only that, she spots the makings of a great story and sees the opportunity to at last have a go at being a writer.
As you'd expect with a film called Letters to Juliet there are a number of balcony scenes, some of them a bit predictable, but it's not really a copy of the Romeo and Juliet story. Elements of it do pop up but they don't rule the whole film. The main connection is the overall theme of falling in love with the right person in the wrong circumstances, and of misunderstandings and love going wrong.
Amanda Seyfried has the right kind of winsome looks for this. She doesn't really have great depth as an actress, and has a limited range of facial expressions, but she pulls this off well enough and her character is likeable and easy to empathise with. Her onscreen relationship with Christopher Egan is funny in a sarcastic way as the two characters irritate each other so much it sparks off an ongoing war of words. It's a gentle level of humour that relies more on witty dialogue rather than some of the over the top viciousness and crude slapstick that some romantic comedies rely on. It made the audience laugh quite a few times, so that's got to be a good thing. Christopher Egan looks uncannily like a young Heath Ledger and reminded me of him in Ten Things I Hate About You (also based on a Shakespeare play come to think of it - The Taming of the Shrew). Egan's acting is a bit over the top at first appearance and his English accent is unconvincing, (he's an Aussie, like Ledger) but he seems to settle into the role, and I enjoyed his performance more than I expected to. Gael Garcia Bernal overplays it enthusiastically as the food loving fiancé - sometimes to an irritating degree.
It's hard to say any of these three's performances were very polished, compared to Vanessa Redgrave's calm, mature and confident performance, but there was an element of fun about it all and the characters all worked well together.
The setting is everything in this film, with dreamy shots of the terracotta coloured buildings of Verona, and country roads winding through vineyard after vineyard, and everyone always seems to be drinking red wine at wrought iron little bistro tables. It's a film for romantics of course, and is hardly going to be a classic, but it's fun and entertaining and left me with a smile on my face (my husband enjoyed it as well, so it's not just a girlie film).
Director: Gary Winick
Running time: 105 minutes
Film trivia: Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero had a son together after making the film Camelot together in 1967. They split up shortly after he was born, but never felt they had really parted, and were finally reunited and secretly got married (though not in an official ceremony) in 2006. (IMDB)