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I watched Black Swan having wanted to see it at the cinema and finally getting round to watching it On Demand last night. I love ballet and so was interested in seeing it as much for the environment the story is set in as the actual drama.
I was honestly captivated for the entire film. Natalie Portman is quite simply stunning as the ambitious young ballerina desperate to dance the role of the Swan Queen in Swan Lake. She is a sensitive and shy young woman who is bullied by the main protagonists in her life. She lives with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) , a woman who was forced to give up her own ballet career as a result of becoming pregnant with Nina and who is now living her failure through her daughter's success.
She is bullied by the choreographer of Swan Lake, Thomas, a sinister character played superbly by Vincent Cassell ,both in and out of rehearsal, as he tries to find the darker side of Nina so she is able to dance the Black Swan. She is also bullied by Lily, a new dancer brought in who Nina believes is trying to take over the Swan Queen role.
As we follow the progress of her perfecting her performance, so she slowly descends into madness, imagining demons everywhere. The director draws us in to her world so completely that we sometimes don't know what is real or imagined just like Nina herself. Watching some of the darker scenes makes for uncomfortable viewing, almost voyeuristic in the way we observe her torment. Some of the scenes are quite simply shocking. However as the denouement approaches we are swept along with the beauty of the dancing on the outside which offers a stark contrast to the horror that exists inside Nina's head. Set to the background of Tchaikovsky's stunning score for Swan Lake it is a simply breathtaking piece of film making.
This film richly deserves the awards and plaudits given to it. I was completely engrossed in it from start to finish.
I agreed to take my daughters to Blackpool Pleasure Beach as a treat a couple of weeks ago. It is not my favourite place on earth but they like theme parks so we went.
It was a reasonably nice day... not too hot and we had bought wristbands online for £22 each. I wasn't bothered about going on any of the rides so I was pleased to find I could buy an entry only wristband for £5 which is a refreshing change after Alton Towers which charges the full price entry even if you have no interest in or intention of going on any of the rides.
I went with memories of my previous visit which was 24 years ago when I was scared half to death by the Wild Mouse Ride. Encouraging to see that that is still there and still looks as rickety as it was all those years ago. The girls were keen to go on as many rides as possible. I imagine other reviewers will talk about the rides but I thought I would look at the other aspects of the park as I am sure I'm not the only person who can't go on the rides. Many parents with very young children would be in the same situation so I thought I would write about the general condition of the place and refreshments available.
The park generally looks very tired. There are a few areas which look newer...an area where fountains spring out of the pavement and an area next to a coffee type place come to mind but as we were walking over to the Avalanche ride I was struck by the general lack of care and attention. There were lots of areas which just seemed in desperate need of a lick of paint and we walked over one bridge which was extremely worn and in need of resurfacing. I was interested to notice while we were there that there were some apparent management staff showing some visitors around and I wondered what they thought of the general uncared for appearance of most of the park. I wouldn't normally be bothered by these things but we had been to Alton Towers a few weeks' previously and paid a similar price for entry and everything there is extremely well maintained and the whole park is a pleasure to walk around.
I decided to get a coffee. At first glance this seemed promising as I found a coffee bar which advertised that it sold Starbucks coffee. So far so good. I ordered a cappuccino to take away. It seems the guy who served me was being trained. Unfortunately for me the manager training him had not appeared to have shown him how to work the machine before they had a real paying customer. It took about 7 minutes to get my cappuccino. Not good. I walked back over to the Pepsi Max where I was meeting my daughters and realised that the coffee was almost stone cold...not even tepid and totally disgusting. I couldn't face walking all the way back to the coffee place to complain so just threw it in a bin. Having been charged Starbucks prices I wonder if Starbucks know the quality of the service that is being provided on their behalf by Blackpool Pleasure Beach?
We decided to have some lunch a bit later. I attempted to queue to get some noodles but as the queue had about 7 people in it and there was one guy serving who seemed to be making every single dish from scratch one at a time I gave up and went to the hot dogs counter. Next to this was a place where you could buy hot pies and pasties but there was no one serving there and the surly teenager who was serving the hot dogs didn't know where the person was who should have been there and couldn't possibly get a pastie for me from there despite the fact it was right next to her. Having then paid nearly £3 for a portion of curly fries for my daughter and £4 for a hot dog and they didn't even have any onions I decided to give up on the hospitality side of the Pleasure Beach.
There also seemed to be only one toilet place as far as I could see which meant you had to walk back from the other side of the park to nearly the entrance to go to the loo. Again I couldn't help comparing it to Alton Towers which has numerous toilets all over the park.
All in all it is a pretty unpleasant place to spend the day. The children enjoyed the rides but I think the whole enterprise is grubby, shabby, the customer service is quite frankly dreadful and it is vastly overpriced compared to what is offered by the other big theme parks in the UK. I won't be rushing back.
I love this product.....I don't know if I can possibly state how much in this review but it is a LOT!
I used to use Clarins Beauty Flash Balm.....it used to cost me over £20. It was fantastic. I smoothed it onto my face and the skin would literally light up! It was magic....but it was expensive.
Then I discoverd Dove Summer Glow Daily Face Moisturiser. It does the same thing! Exactly the same thing. It is a lovely light moisturiser for daytime use. I had quite oily skin as a teenager and it is still slightly oily so I don't like to use anything too heavy on it. This is perfect. It is very light and glides beautifully over the skin....lighting it up as it goes! The result is a very nice natural looking healthy glow. Your skin looks like it has literally been kissed by the sun!
It also has a built in Sun Protection Factor of 15 which is important as a lot of women forget that we should wear sun protection every day not just on holiday in order to prevent skin ageing or other problems associated with excess sun.
As it has a self tanning element I do advise that you don't slather it on as that would look a little too obvious and although the tanning element is quite subtle I would still advise caution until you have had a few goes with it and experimented as to how much you need to use. Very important to wash your hands after you've applied it or you will get weirdly tanned fingertips...not a good look!
The product comes in a neat little bottle that fits easily into the average sized make up bag and comes out when pressed on the top in a nice creamy consistency. I really love this product...I may have mentioned that. I think Dove have a fantastic range of products aimed at real women with constrained budgets and this is another reason why this is a top buy!
My famiily and I are regular diners at Cafe Rouge, particularly the Didsbury restaurant in Manchester as it is our local one. We have celebrated many occasions there over the years as well as just using it as a handy place for a coffee or breakfast.
We have been twice in the last couple of months and I thought it may be useful to write a review. Clearly we like the menu here. We lived in France for a couple of months and for a reasonably priced French meal Cafe Rouge is hard to beat. When we first returned to Manchester from Paris we used to go to Cafe Rouge to quell some of our hankering to be back in France! Nowadays there seem to be less French pictures on the walls and so if feels less like a French bistro but I still enjoy the food there and more importantly so do my children!
Cafe Rouge, for those who are not familiar with it, is a nationwide chain of French style bistros. They are open from around 9.30 in the morning right through to 11pm and so offer breakfasts, coffees,snacks, lunch and dinner. You can also just sit outside on the terrace and have a nice cold glass of wine or beer. They encourage families and there is a decent children's menu with the ubiquitous drawing/colouring activity sheet and crayons provided to entertain little ones whilst they are waiting for their food. However it feels very much like a grown up restaurant and most of the clientele are usually adults. This is one of the things I like best about it because when your children are small it is nice to feel that you are welcome in a grown up environment and that your dining out are not limited to loud kiddy places or McDonalds.
The breakfast menu is substantial offering a fantastic choice from pastries to the full English breakfast with all sorts of delicious alternatives including a vegetarian cooked breakfast and a children's sized one! They also offer Scrambled eggs with Smoked Salmon, Eggs Benedict or Muesli with fruit. All washed down with their delicious cappuccinos or a hot chocolate for the children!
The main menu has changed a little adding some more unusual choices such as a Souffle and various tarts with Mediterranean style fillings all of which sounded delicious. They offer a wide range of breads to nibble on served with butter or garlic butter. My children particularly like the bread batons which are more substantial than the type offered by Italian restaurants and are useful for toddlers to amuse themselves with before the meal.
They have recently introduced a Petits Plats Menu, similar to Spanish tapas, which offer a selection of small dishes for a very reasonable £3 each or four for £10. These include olives, rillettes de porc (pork pate), hummous and tapenades.
The starters are wide ranging including soups, pates, garlic king prawns,Moules Marnieres and some delicious deep fried Camembert.
As far as main courses go there is a huge selection. My one complaint about Cafe Rouge is that they are quite slow in serving the food but I think that is because it is cooked freshly and when it does come it never fails to please. There is a wide range of smaller dishes and salads, some of which are calorie counted which is very useful if you are watching your weight. They do some lovely baguettes with chicken or minute steak in them and served with fries.They always ask how you want your steak cooked even for the baguette and it is always tender and juicy. Also the fantastic French version of a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, the Croque Monsieur which is my son's personal favourite here. Then there is a wide range steaks, all offered with various sauces, traditional French specialities such as Confit of Duck, Bouillabaisse which is a delicious fish stew or the very scrumptious Salmon fishcakes.
There are a lot of vegetarian options accross the whole menu including tarts, salads an aubergine gratin, a medley of vegetables in a creamy white wine sauce and a twice baked cheese souffle.
The prices at Cafe Rouge are not overly expensive and I think the quality of the food definitely makes the prices seem good value. The entrees range from £4.95 to £6.25, the main courses are from £7.75 to £16.25 which is for a 10oz rib eye steak. The desserts come in between £3.95 to £6.95 and include such favourites as Tarte Tatin and Creme Brulee as well as ice cream sundaes, crepes and an assortment of desserts if you can't make up your mind!
The children's menu is a very reasonable £5.75 which covers a main course, dessert and drink which they get free refills of. There is a choice of sausages,salmon fishcake or cheese omelette all served with a choice of fries, mash or new potatoes. They are served with an little individual dish of vegetables and salad. There is also pasta with a choice of two sauces or a pizza baguette. The desserts on the children's menu are a choice of different sundaes either with ice cream, jelly or fruit....all yummy!
There is always a Prix Fixe Menu at lunch and dinner which provides a cheaper option with a few choices for each course and there are usually a couple of daily specials available which give you yet another decision to make!
I find the staff there extremely courteous and helpful and they always greet you and say goodbye as you leave. We have dined here many times over the years and I can't see that changing anytime soon. My children are growing up....we only have one left using the children's menu now but they all love coming here as much as we do.
We Went to the Crocky Trail today. It's at Cotton Abbots near Chester. Well signposted off the A41 and we found it with no problem. It is a completely unique place....totally unlike the Americanised banality of theme parks in the UK today with their wall to wall burger joints and terrible service.
The Crocky Trail is part adventure playground, part trail with lots of activities for kids and adults to enjoy. Myself and my partner took our two daughters who are both aged 10 years. I think they are pretty much the perfect age for the Crocky Trail as there was nothing they couldn't do and just a few things which were definitely aimed at younger visitors. There were children of every age there today and as we drove through the gates we could hear squeals and screams of laughter coming from the Roundabout which was a large roundabout that loads of kids could climb onto and then got thrown off as it spun round. This sounds a lot worse than it is as they sort of slide down the roundabout on rubber sheeting until they get to the bottom.
We parked the car and the girls ran off in the direction of the large slides of which there were 5 with a few smaller ones for younger children. The slides were really high and really steep although all slightly different. The children had mats to sit on as they went down them. The screams of delight and the expressions on the girls' faces as they flew down the slides were fantastic to observe. As soon as they reached the bottom of the slide they raced straight back up the stairs for another go.
One of the most entertaining attractions for us as parents were the Spider Traps. These were long narrow enclosures set at a steep angle with slippery flooring which the children had to attempt to climb up after they had slid to the bottom. It was really funny to watch them trying all sorts of tactics to get to the top only to slide back down to the bottom again. I don't hesitate to admit that I would never have been able to get up the slope and would have had to spend the rest of the day trapped until being rescued!
Another big hit was Titanic where everybody clambers up to the back of a large slide and it gradually raises up making people slide off and then starts shaking so everybody eventually slides down. I saw lots of different tactics being used to hang on for as long as possible!
It is worth being aware that the Crocky Trail is not a pristine, beautiful fairytale like park....this is no Disneyland! The rides/attractions are rusty, look ancient and are all in need of a good lick of paint but to me that adds to its charm. It is not trying to be something it isn't. It offers children a fantastic opportunity to run around, have fun, fall over, get muddy and do all the things we used to do as children before the advent of computers, facebook and the dreaded X Box!
We spent about an hour or so in the first couple of areas with the girls swinging, spinning, sliding and screaming and then we decided to follow the trail. It is worth bearing in mind that if you have younger children.....probably below about 8 ....then you will need to keep a very close eye on them at this stage because the trail does have some challenging parts which they may not be quite up to doing. The trail basically follows both sides of a stream and there are numerous ways of crossing the stream and various things to play on and explore as you go round. You can choose if you want to cross a bridge or not and you can cross back over if you want to too. There were a few bridges that not even my intrepid and almost fearless daughter fancied attempting but that is why it is so good for older children too.
There is even a jailhouse halfway around where Dads can be locked up by their children but really clever dads may find a way to escape!
We spent about four hours there today but could easily have spent longer and gone around the trail again. There is a very reasonably priced snacks and drinks place where you can get pasties, chocolate, ice creams, cans and hot drinks etc and loads of tables and chairs to sit and eat. They don't mind you taking in your own picnics and there are toilets available
I would think it isn't a great place to go when it's raining as it would become really muddy very quickly and you are outdoors for most of the activities. However our daughters had a fantastic time, running around outdoors, tackling challenges that scared them and feeling proud when they managed to do them. The great thing about The Crocky Trail is that parents and children have fun together and create memories by having good old fashioned fun!
The admission price was £10 per person and I think it was well worth it because we had such a fun filled day.....just planning our next trip now!
I have a company car and so have had four Avensis's in the last three years. I apologise if this is a bit of a girl review but I am not interested in technicalities!
I am a sales rep and do a lot of miles...I love my Avensis. I travel around 400-500 miles per week and have never had any problems with back ache even though I am probably middle aged now!
It is very easy to drive and I find it extremely comfortable to do long journeys in. Mine is a turbo and so has plenty of acceleration when needed. I can easily overtake other vehicles even at the top end of the speed limit. A lot of my driving is in cities and it handles that sort of driving well too.
I do have a couple of gripes with it. The latest model I received - 2009 59 registration has an electronic handbrake and it is very easy to think you have pressed it when you haven't . It is located just to the left of the steering wheel and I have pressed it a few times and not realised that I have not pressed it hard enough to engage it, got out of the car and noticed it starting to move. With a manual handbrake you know you've pulled it on. I have now got into the habit of checking the dashboard to see that the handbrake light is illuminated before I turn the engine off but that is a bit of a pain. The only time it is useful is when you have the handbrake on on a hill or something and it actually releases once you press the accelerator so you do not have to bother with taking it off.
The other slight gripe is the width of the car. It is comfortable as I have said before but it is an extremely wide car and can be troublesome parking particularly in public car parks. I have to find somewhere with quite a large space or without a large car parked next to it. I used to have a Ford Galaxy so it's not like I'm not used to parking bigger cars but I do find the Avensis quite difficult in that respect.
Where do I begin? Well it is a love affair I am describing. A love affair between me and my bread maker. It started one cold December day in 2009 when I found myself finally buying a breadmaker. I liked the size of the Kenwood. I wanted it to be compact enough to be able to sit on my worktop as I knew any appliance kept in the cupboard is left in the cupboard...pasta machine 1994 RIP.
I had a quick look at its capabilities and was suitably impressed....good looking and with the functions I wanted. Particularly the rapidbake cycle...well we don't always want the full monty...sometimes fast is good!
I parted with my pounds and lovingly took it home.
On the way I proudly strutted up and down the baking aisle at the supermarket....yes people....I don't just make cakes I make BREAD! Hah! Equipped with various types of strong flour and dried yeast I eagerly went home dying to put the machine to the test.
Readers....it did not disappoint. The first loaf emerged crusty and golden in an hour! I could hardly believe I'd made it myself. The first slice with butter was manna from heaven. I could not have been more proud of myself....I have three children and I can now bake them home made bread with none of the rubbish added to manufactured bread.
My main motivation for buying the bread was to try and get my children to eat something other than white plastic bread. The instruction and recipe book which comes with the Kenwood is extremely useful.
It has advice on the different wheats that can be used, the liquids and the role of fats and oils in breadmaking as well as sweeteners.
It has basic recipes for a White Loaf, Wholewheat Loaf, French Loaf and Sweetened Loaves. Added in to these are fantastic recipes for such delicious things as Walnut Bread, Caramalised Onion Bread and Fruit and Nut Bran Loaf.
There is a section on cakes and tea breads, recipes for Bread Rolls, Croissants, Pizza Dough and Naan Bread and unbelievably a recipe for Jam making!
You can make two different sizes of loaf....regular or large. I tend to make the large one most of the time as the bread disappears too quickly if I make a smaller loaf. The rapid bake section is incredibly useful as I can now assemble the ingredients and put them into the breadmaker in about two minutes and an hour later I have a fantastic loaf.
However the longer bake options are also really useful as you can time when you want your bread to be ready. I often put a loaf in when I go to bed and it will be ready in the morning for breakfast.
And my children...are they eating better bread? Well after a bit of experimentation with the white and wholewheat flours I have now perfected a recipe that is about 60% wholewheat and 40% white flour so the children eat it up happily and I know they are getting wholegrains! We could not be happier!
So a happy end to the affair. I know I have found a partner in life who will not let me down and who is predictable, reliable and trustworthy!