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For some inexplicable reason, a few of my wife's colleagues at the Dental hospital where she works as a nurse, were extolling the virtues of breadmakers. Several hints were dropped by my beloved that it would make a nice Christmas present but somehow I didn't think a breadmaker would hit the spot - what do you think ladies? No surprise then that when the Morphy Richards Coolwall Fastbake Breadmaker was advertised as a Makro offer at a ludicrously low price of £29.99 plus VAT, that I trotted off and bought one. This compares to £44.99 in Argos for the exact same model. Check on-line for the latest offers and shop around. Before I go into detail, the most important thing is, does it work? A resounding "YES" from me. My attempts thus far include, Basic white bread - success!! Fastbake loaf - success!! Sandwich loaf - success!! Mixed fruit cake - uhh, hands up, not the very first time, but it was wholly my fault. Rosemary Shrager would have tutted and hit me with her rolling pin for not following the instructions. Picture the scene - 3/4 of a cup of melted butter per the recipe. Idiot here crammed the 3/4 cup with butter and then melted it. Realised after tasting the cake that it was the melted amount that should have been measured, DOH!! Second attempt was much improved. As with all breadmakers, expect a hole in the bottom of the loaf where the paddle has been. Sometimes the paddle disengages within the loaf and you then have a fun game like 'Operation' where you try to get the paddle out without causing too much damage to the bread. Also, don't expect the colour to be brilliant white like the white bread you buy in the shops - that's just a bleaching agent to make it look nicer. More chemicals that are simply not needed. On taking the breadmaker out of the box, it is cream in colour, but what surprised me was quite how big it was. You can see the shape of it from the picture above, and rough measurements are, H.29cm, D.40cm, W.27cm. There are air vents on each side, at the back and two small ones on the flip up lid on the top. The lid has a see through viewing window so you can monitor what's happening in the baking pan. Occasionally it will mist up slightly with the condensation but soon clears. The front has a digital timer window on the control panel with two time delay buttons, loaf size button, menu button to select the appropriate programme, and finally another to set the colour of the crust. Underneath these buttons is a start/stop button. On lifting up the lid inside you will find the non-stick baking pan with handle, containing the metal kneading blade. The pan is located on a rotating shaft and is removed by a small turn counter clockwise and lifting out. Under that you can see the heating elements. The breadmaker sits on four plastic feet to keep it off the work surface. It's called 'Coolwall' and I can vouch that the outside does indeed stay cool throughout. Obviously at the end of the cooking process, the baking pan is very hot and needs to be removed with care with oven gloves. I have got to say that out of the many, many instruction manuals that I have looked at over the years, the one with this breadmaker ranks as one of the best. It is 24 pages long and every single step from first use, down to each of the recipes shown is absolutely brilliant. It also describes in detail each of the recipes along with a separate breakdown of the rising, kneading and baking cycle times for every single one along with the total cooking time. A comprehensive trouble shooting guide at the back covers any attempts where things aren't quite right. Invariably it would be down to not measuring precisely. The idea is simple though, put in the ingredients, press the button and the machine does all the work!! It regulates the temperature increases, sorts out the kneading and rising, and beeps when it's ready to take out. It also have a stay warm facility for an hour so you don't have to remove it straightaway. With the breadmaker you get two easy to read plastic measuring spoons. One has a tablespoon, half tablespoon measure with the other end a teaspoon, half teaspoon measure. The second spoon is simply a 1/4 teaspoon measure. The plastic cup measures 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and one cup along with ounces and millilitres. In short, these items cover every measurement that is shown in the recipe book. The first time you use the machine, it needs to be conditioned and it does warn of smoke being emitted as grease is burned off some of the parts. It certainly did and I had to open all of the windows other wise the smoke alarm would have gone off. After ten minutes it had stopped and there were no further episodes. No ingredients come with the kit so you need to get your own. All the items I easily found in the supermarket and I was surprised at how cheap the bread flour and yeast actually was. Sad that I am, I find it quite theraputic and enjoyable in getting all the ingredients together in the pan, but it MUST be done in the right order per the instructions. I'm not going to bore you with what you need to do, as if you get one of these it's all so well explained and simple (apart from melted butter!!). For most recipes you can select 1.5lb or 2lbs for the weight of the loaf / cake, along with the crust colour, light, medium or dark. There is a time delay of up to 13 hours so you can programme it to cook whilst out to leave the house full of lovely fresh bread smells on your return. A fastbake loaf can be made in just 58 minutes once you switch it on, with the ingredients in of course. A large sandwich loaf takes 3 hours, and I prefer these to the fastbake which tends to be a little too moist for my liking. The recipes provided, and in great detail in the book, are as follows, but please bear in mind that some are preparation of the dough itself in readiness to bake in the oven e.g. hot cross buns. Basic white bread Softgrain bread Brown loaf Italian herb bread Cheese & onion bread Raisin bread Sun-dried tomato loaf Malt loaf French bread Wholewheat bread Granary loaf Banana and nut bread Porridge oats bread Mixed fruit loaf Chocolate bread Fastbake loaf (small or large) White bread rolls Wholemeal bread rolls Hot cross buns Pizza base **** Also, marmalade, raspberry and apple jam, Standard cake mix, Mixed fruit cake, Sandwich loaf, Wholegrain sandwich loaf. As you can see, it is extremely versatile and you can check on the progress via the countdown timer on the front and comparing it with the cycle time for each stage so you know exactly where you are. Powered by a fitted three pin standard plug. My daughter is extremely fussy and hates 'ordinary' bread but she loves what I've made in this thus far so it has her seal of approval and it surprisingly keeps fresh for several days in a bag. Saying that though, it's never around long enough!! I really enjoy using this breadmaker and knowing the bread is made from fresh ingredients makes it even nicer. It's a good job I didn't get it as a Christmas present as I've hogged it since day one and I would thoroughly recommend this model for anyone looking to buy a simple to use breadmaker. Top marks on all fronts from me and I can be hyper-critical. Enjoy.
Unlike Indiana Jones in his quest for the Holy Grail, in my continued search for relief for my lower back pain, I cannot swing through the trees nor cling to the underside for a fast moving truck. No, I simply clambered into my beloved Berlingo Multispace (stop laughing - it's practical!) and headed out from the jungle that is Llanbradach (try saying that when you are drunk). If I was a car, I'd fail the MOT and be trading myself in for a newer model. Also having a sit down job and spending far too much time on Dooyoo, I'd be able to pass for an extra with the part ape/human, standing next to the monolith in 2001 - A Space Odyssey. Alas though, I continue to trawl through the various miracle offerings claiming relief for back pain, and this time, do you know what guys and gals, I've found the Holy Grail of back pain relief!! Unpack the box, and your first thought is, "Is that it?" as it resembles little more than a child's car booster seat without the arms. Don't be fooled. The massager is folded in half and you open it up to find it has a luxurious black leather covering with the middle of the seat having a soft almost string-like interwoven pattern in thousands of tiny squares, as is the main back part of the massager see photo above). The seat part is little more than a padded cushion around two inches in depth. The back part is approximately 63cm in height. Hidden away in this piece are the magic balls (no sniggering please) that are operated via the control pad. A word of warning. Before you rush to use the massager, you must first remove the small screw at the back that holds the mechanism in place during transit. An allen key is provided to facilitate removal. A wire runs from the massager that has a connector on the end that you push into another lead, which then connects to the mains via a combined 3 pin plug / transformer. You have around 8 feet of cable to play with. The back part is fairly rigid rather than flexible due to the mechanism and balls contained within it but it can be easily attached to most chairs via an elasticated velcro fastening. There's a more rigid smaller strap, (no velcro) at the top that quite frankly doesn't seem to serve any purpose. The control pad is wired to the chair and is long enough to hold comfortably in front of your body. It fits away nicely in a little pocket attached to the side of the seat pad. The pad has a power on/off button plus a demo mode. A heat function is optional, and is very pleasant though not hot as such against your body. The balls glow red when the 'heat' button is pressed and can be viewed in the demo mode. The Shiatsu massager element can target your upper, lower or full back and has an auto cut off after 15 minutes. It has a further rolling massage than can stretch and relax your muscles though I must admit I prefer the Shiatsu element. A width adjustment means that you can alter the distance the two balls are apart for maximum effect. Finally there are three separate levels of vibration, unsurprisingly, fast, medium or slow. All buttons have an LED light when activated. When you decide you've had enough, you press the power off button and the unit then 'parks' itself back to the bottom of the back part. You only need to exert minimum pressure against the unit as it is quite powerful and you don't want to cause further injury. If you feel it a bit much, put a towel behind you to lessen the impact. When I first used this, my wife was concerned as there were lots of ohhs and ahhs and I'm sure she thought there was another woman upstairs with me. NO I'M NOT LIKE THAT. The feeling was like having a professional massage as you can feel the balls (one either side of your spine) revolve and move up / down. It feels like someone is pressing thumbs into you but not in an unpleasant way. I don't exactly know how it works but it sure does feel good and my back feels so much better afterwards. There are some no-no's. It must be used on a chair and should never be operated under a blanket or pillow. People with pacemakers or pregnant women should check with their doctor first before using. It cannot be used on children, an invalid or a sleeping or unconscious person. Nor should anyone with sensitive skin or poor blood circulation use it. Quite sensibly never use it directly on swollen or inflamed areas or skin eruptions. I feel so much better after using this that I'm surprised that the book suggests not using before bed as it has a stimulating effect that can delay sleep. Perhaps I'm just odd. This is honestly the best product by far that I have tried and I'm over the moon with it, I really am. Those of you who suffer from back pain will understand my relief. There's a huge instruction manual but don't be put off. The English is only on the first seven pages followed by a pile of the same instructions in different languages. It really is a doddle to set up and operate. It is made by Homedics and there's currently an advertisement campaign on TV. You may have seen it. If not you can check out their website at www.homedics.co.uk. The service centre for the UK is based in Tonbridge , Kent and the unit comes with a full two year guarantee - not bad. I picked this massager up from Makro as it was on offer in MakroMail, reduced to £89.99 plus VAT. A bargain since it is at Argos for £159.99 and a bit cheaper at Pharmacare-Direct at £122.99. There is a cheaper version without the rolling massage effect, just the Shiatsu element, but still covering the three back areas, and with one level of vibration. It's in Argos for £99.99 at the moment. Now if you'll excuse me, I must bid adieu to Miss Jolie as I want to go and play with my balls. See you in the 2012 Olympics in the gymnastics floor event!!
Ahh, my little beauty, come out of the fridge and set yourself beside me on the settee where I can caress you with my taste buds. You are the Queen of all yoghurts in my opinion but, alas, as soon as you are gone I will cast you aside for another. Yes, it's back to my favourite subject, food, and not only that, it's a product that's reasonably healthy for you too. There's a vast array of the standard type yoghurts on sale from the value range upwards but the Muller range is a break from the norm. Pay no attention to the picture at the top as Muller have recently changed the picture on the lid but, thankfully, they have not messed about with the contents. Said picture has been modernised with the words "Muller fruit corner Strawberry" printed within a white swirl (representing the yoghurt) alongside two enlarged strawberries. The ingredients and nutritional information are on the bottom third in white on a green background. Right, enough waffle - let's get to the nitty-gritty. Peel back the foil lid VERY carefully so it doesn't rip and you are confronted with two compartments. The first contains the plain yoghurt itself and is roughly 2-3 times the size of the other, which contains the strawberry pieces in a puree. The pot has a line between the two to facilitate bending it to tip the strawberry up and over into the yoghurt. Where's the fun in that? I prefer scooping the strawberry puree up with a teaspoon to transfer it over - less messy and increases the anticipation of what's to come. For the smell test, I don't know if there is such a thing as a creamy smell but the plain yoghurt exudes a creamy, almost vanilla type smell. The strawberry compartment beckons and gives off a sweet, almost sickly strawberry scent with upper and middle tones of woody fragrance. (The tones bit I just made up - you can tell I've read a few perfume reviews lately can't you?). In my experience of this yoghurt, and believe me, I'm a veteran, the yoghurt part itself can be quite thick rather than runny, though occasionally there can be a little bit of thinness which can be eradicacted by stirring and doesn't affect the taste in any way. On it's own it really does taste creamy and has a slight hint of bitterness to it to set your taste buds quivering. The strawberry element is extremely sweet in flavour and thick, almost like a concentrate, and it's a surprise each time as to what you get. Sometimes there is very little in the way of actually strawberry pieces and it's just a puree, or you get quite a few fruit pieces in it. Either way it's nice, but if there's no pieces I feel a little cheated. It's all down to personal taste. Now when you combine the two, you get a marriage made in Heaven. The sweetness of the strawberry counteracts the bitterness of the plain yoghurt to combine in the most sumptuous of ways. I love mixing the two together until all the plain white yoghurt is completely combined with the strawberry. The taste is simply divine and is incomparable with 'ordinary' yoghurts. A downside is that one is never enough and I have to have a second - probably because I'm a greedy pig. These yoghurts are not cheap but most Supermarkets usually have an offer of 4 for £2 (normally around 54p individually.) At the moment, I believe Sainsbury's have 8 for £2 so get there quick and snap them up. Ingredients are simple, Yoghurt, Strawberries (12%), Sugar, Pectins, Carob bean gum, Guar gum, Flavourings, Citric acid. Each pot is 175g and for 100g will cost you 113 kcals so it's not too bad for you in that respect. The sweetness comes at a price though, and is a whopping 14.9g per 100g, with 3.9g of fat of which 2.4g is saturated. What the hell, it's better than a packet of pork scratchings. Listen though, you also get 0.5g of fibre per 100g, and salt is minimal at 0.1g, so it's not all bad news. To further buck you up, each pot provides 27% of the recommended daily amount of calcium and does not contain any artifical colours or preservatives, nor artificial sweeteners. It always leaves a pleasant creamy aftertaste in the mouth and your brain craving more - well in my case anyway. If you've never tried one before, go on, just buy one and try it, you won't be disappointed. I'm off now for my second, come to daddy!!
I don't wish to appear cynical, but when it comes to insurance it invariably seems that whenever you need to make a claim, you need to make sure that every 'i' has been dotted and 't' crossed. This applies to house insurance, where you are faced with a raft of questions, one being, "Do you have an alarm system fitted?" for which presumably, if you answer "yes" you lower your risk slightly and benefit from a lower premium. We moved house in April and the property we moved to was fitted with an alarm system with motion sensors in all the rooms. Brilliant we thought, until we realised we'd have a little problem. Two cats!! Our two are like chalk and cheese. One is like a teddy bear, she listens, comes when you call, and is easily picked up. The other must have belonged to Freddy Krueger before she was abandoned. She hates being picked up, claws come out, slash, slash, and it's another Nightmare on Elm Street. On top of that, she hides under all the furniture making it really difficult to get hold of her. On some occasions when we've been a rush, we have had to leave her and go out without setting the alarm. Not very good is it? What's the point of having an alarm if you can't use it, and imagine the insurance company if, God forbid, we ever had to make a claim. "Oh Sir, so the alarm systen wasn't operating. That invalidates your claim." We have one room that isn't alarmed, and for any would be burglars, I'm not telling you which one!! Especially in the really cold weather, as we have had lately, we've attempted to put them in there when we go out. Being free spirits, they hate being couped up and almost immediately there is a crescendo of wailing. Also from me with the scratches. Not very satisfactory and not nice for the neighbours or the cats themselves. Our hand was forced a couple of months ago when we had a power cut at 4.30am and the alarm started. Stumbling downstairs in a stupor, and cursing our neighbours car alarm, I realised it was our house alarm. Couldn't switch the darn thing off (I used slightly harsher language than that) and after what seemed like an eternity the power came back on and I was able to re-set the system. Calling out an alarm engineer, he advised our battery was almost dead, he changed it and carried out a service on the system. A shaft of light and a halo appeared by said engineer as he asked how I managed with the cats, as the good one rubbed up against his legs and the psycho one beared her teeth and hissed. I somewhat sheepishly told him the truth. He then asked if I had thought of using pet-tolerant detectors? I never even knew such things existed and after doing my best goldfish impression, said tell me more. For our circumstances, we had two of the above detectors fitted meaning that our living room and dining room / kitchen would be covered and the cats would have free rein. Each detector cost us £36 and that included fitting and testing, so if you were electrically minded and could do the job yourself it would be cheaper. It didn't take him long to do at all. OK, so what does 'pet tolerant' mean in practice? This sensor can dintinguish between the motion of an intruder (I assume this doesn't mean poo!!) and any other disturbance which can cause a false alarm. It also employs Target Specific Imaging to sort between human and pets. The detector will not be activated by animals up to 38kg (85 lbs) moving on the floor or climbing on furniture as long as the activity takes place below 1 metre (3 feet). Above that height, it's immune to 19kg (42 lbs) pets, but this immunity decreases as the pet gets closer to the detector. For intruder purposes, it works up to a distance of 12 metres (40 feet). I was a tad sceptical initially, as the cats, as cats do (bless 'em), jump on worktops and move around, however on carrying out several tests (with the good cat, of course) it worked like a dream. If you did have any particular little hotspot, you can mask part of the sensor off to isolate that particular place - it's a question of trial and error. I'm not going to explain the wiring as the instruction sheet will do that. If you are capable of wiring, then the instructions seem straighforward enough, or if you have any doubts about your capability, ask an expert to fit it - shouldn't cost too much. There is a 'walk test' mode - that's where the red LED light comes on at the front when it is triggered) and you can also set, by moving a switch, whether it is triggered by one event (fast response) or two events, which is the highest false alarm protection available. As you can see from the photo at the top of the review, it is white in colour and oval shaped, but what you can't see is that the bottom half of the lens is opaque. It's a nice funky shape and is smaller than the original sensors that we had in place. It measures H 94.5mm x W 63.5mm x D 49.0mm, and is fitted to a wall by two screws and rawlplugs that are supplied. The shape means it can easily be fitted in a corner or on a main wall, whichever gives the best coverage for a particular room. I'll give you just a summary of some of the specifications, but to be honest, it's over my head (the specs not the sensor!). If you want the full information you can go to the manufacturers web site at www.visonic.com and see it in all it's glory. The following is taken from the instruction sheet, Input voltage : 9 to 16 VDC (huh!!). Current drain : About 8mA @ 12 VDC (wish I'd listened more in Physics). Lens data : 9 curtain beams. Maximum coverage : 12 x 12 m (40ft x 40ft) / 90 degrees Pet immunity : up to 38kgs (85lbs). Alarm output : Solid-state relay, N.C., up to 100mA / 30V, -30 ohms internal resistance. Circuit opens for 2-3 seconds upon alarm. Alarm indication : LED lights for 2-3 seconds. Event counter : as explained earlier, wher you can set to one or two triggers. Tamper contacts : Normally closed, 50mA resistive / 30 VDC. It does say where the sensor should not be sited, some of which are obvious even to me, Do not install outdoors. Do not install behind partitions. Mount on a solid stable surface. Do not aim at heat sources. Avoid sunlight. Do not expose to air drafts. Keep wiring away from power cables. Since having these fitted, we now have real peace of mind when we go out, being able to safely set the alarm when the cats are in. The alarm would also be suitable for dogs up to the weight limits mentioned. I forgot to ask the engineer but would it protect from a cat burglar.....................................LOL? All in all a really great item that is relatively cheap to purchase and means you can get the best out of any alarm system that you have in place. Highly recommended.
Being a man with rugged features (i.e. in my 40's and getting old), I normally use medium to coarse sandpaper to exfoliate my face and get rid of those old and nasty dead skin cells. On a jaunt to my beloved Home Bargains store in Caerphilly, in the 'Star Buy' section was a tube of this stuff - exfoliating daily face wash - along with a pack of deep cleansing facial wipes for £3.49. On the pretence that my wife and daughter would use these, I picked up a pack and hid it in the basket between a pile of men's things and safely negotiated the checkout, hurriedly making sure it was quickly put in the carrier bag first, although not with the same amount of urgency when I have to get 'women's things' for my wife, if you know what I mean!! I have been secretly using this now for two weeks, and do you know what, and I write this with clenched teeth, it's brilliant. Because the tube is opaque you can't really tell how much has been used so my wife is none the wiser, heh, heh, heh, but the time will surely come soon when I will have to confess. Now please bear in mind that this a man's perspective but if it works on my leathery and stubbly features then it will work for anyone. The soft plastic tube contains 150ml and the contents are accessed via a purple flip top lid. Squeeze a small amount onto your wet hands and rub until it forms a lather. The stuff itself is almost clear when it comes out and is almost like runny honey in consistency. Once rubbed into wet hands it turns whitish and forms a gooey type of lather (see you can tell I'm a man) and feels quite gritty. This is down to the exfoliating micro-beads that performs the task of exfoliation. When rubbing on your face, you can actually feel these beads working on your skin surface, quite a nice feeling actually, and so much better than sandpaper). It is not a particularly feminine smell, thankfully, but has a clean, fresh but not clinical odour to it. Once you've rubbed away rinse off with copious amounts of water. By the time you've done that your skin really feels nice and smooth and, dare I say it, invigorated. For some reason, my stubble will now and again, misbehave and the odd strand grows into my skin instead of out and you can be left with a bit of a spot. Initially for the first week, I probably became a little more spotty as it was clearing away a lot of grease and gunk that normal washing wasn't getting off but it's now feeling a hell of a lot better. Following a shave, and using this, it's probably as smooth as a baby's bum. This product is made by Johnson & Johnson under it's Clean & Clear trademark. It's certainly got some ingredients in it, and although my spellcheck may go into hyperdrive, I'll list them just in case anyone is allergic to any of the ingredients, here goes, Aqua (why don't they just say water!) Propylene glycol Sodium laureth sulfate Cocamidopropyl betaine Polyethylene Disodium lauroamphodiacetate PEG-120 methyl glucose dioleate Laurel methyl gluceth - 10 hydroxypropyldimonium chloride Glycol distearate Hamamelis virginiana Farnesol Glycerin Laureth-4, Sodium carbomer Sodium benzoate Tetrasodium EDTA Methylparaben Lactic acid Parfum Hexyl cinnamal You get plenty of chemicals for your money!! Unsurprisingly it is for external use only - even I guessed that, and you should avoid contact with eyes. If you do get some in your eyes, flush with water. If you do get an adverse reaction or excessive irritation then stop using it. Keep it out of reach of children. Should you have any queries you can contact the UK careline on 0845 6012261. The blurb on the tube states that the micro beads remove dirt, oil and dead skin cells that can block pores and lead to spots and blackheads. It certainly does leave your skin smooth and clear (though in my case not beautifully). It's mild enough to be used every day. As it doesn't smell too girly then it can safely be used by both sexes in my opinion. Does it work - yes it does, and I'd recommend it. In man's speak it's bloody good stuff. The only downside is that if my wife reads this the game is up!!
My wife would be the first to admit that her map reading skills leave a lot to be desired and as she cannot link up with the global positioning satellites (GPS) encircling planet Earth then I decided to trade her in for something that could. Despite my best efforts with Amazon, and a final offer of two camels, they finally accepted Pounds Sterling, and last November I became the proud owner of the Binatone Carrera X350 for £79.99. The price has subsequently dropped to £59.99 - more of that later. This version is pre-loaded with GB and Republic Of Ireland maps - for around £89.99 you can get one that has European maps as well (the Z350 if you are interested). Binatone has been around for a long time and produce a range of electrical products and telephones at the cheaper end of the market. I didn't want to spend a fortune and plumped for this model after reading reviews on Amazon , the majority of which were favourable. Before I tell you about the Satnav itself, I just want to tell you about my own experience, as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so to speak. Overall I have been very pleased with it however there may be a question mark over the reliability. My observations. In terms of it getting you from A to B, it does the job and does it well and I have no complaints there. Now I always thought that if I put in a postcode it would get me to my destination but having tried that method it's a little bit hit and miss. I didn't realise that a postcode can cover quite a wide area so if you are doing it that way, you could be left some distance from your desired destination, so using a street name has proved much more accurate. I had one major problem earlier this year. We were on our way back from West Wales, when all of a sudden there was a loud beep and a pile of fatal error messages cropped up on the screen. Attempts to reset the unit failed and we had to navigate the rest of the way home via conventional methods (thank goodness I didn't trade my wife in after all as she hasn't had a fatal error in over twenty years). On contacting the Binatone helpline, they were unable to resolve it over the phone as it looked like a software issue and would need to be sent for repair, or the other option was to contact the seller. Here, I have to say Amazon were superb bearing in mind it was ten months since purchase. They provided me with labels to send the phone back Freepost and within 4 days I received a full refund. How's that for service. I ordered another replacement from them of the same model and that's how I know the price has come down. There does not seem to be an inherent software problem looking at more recent user reviews of the product and I was more than happy to try again. The model I have now appears to have different software installed and to date I have had no problems. What's in the box Gary? For your money you get, A car mounting kit, which consists of a black plastic ratchety thingy with a lever and a suction cup to affix to the windscreen and a holder that fits onto it into which is clipped the Satnav unit, An in-car charger, A USB cable. This is primarily used to update maps, software and safety camera alerts via your computer. The Satnav unit itself with an integrated stylus pen. An instruction manual. The Satnav has a 3.5 inch anti-reflective LCD screen surrounded by a black rubberised finish front and back with a nice metallic looking finish around it. The front has Binatone Carrera stamped in white at the top, with a charge light (red for charging, green for fully charged). The top has a sleep mode button to switch the unit in and out of sleep mode. The back houses the integrated stylus pen, a speaker grille, the on/off switch and a reset button. The right hand edge has holes/ slots for a TMC port (for a dongle and antenna which is optional), a USB port, a SD card slot and finally a headphone jack. It certainly looks expensive!! Before using it for the first time, the battery (a 3.7v 1,300mAH lithium polymer battery) needs charging. This can be accomplished by using the in-car charger for two hours, or five hours via your computer and the USB cable. A word of warning here - some laptops may not have sufficient power through the USB port and could damage the port so my advice would be to use the car charger. Once fully charged the battery runs for 2 - 3 hours in navigation mode. I tend to keep it connected to the in-car charger when using. Once charged you are ready to set up. In all the times I've used this, the suction cup and holder has always stuck and held firm to the windscreen. You simply place the suction cup (made of soft clear plastic) on the windscreen and push the plastic lever to secure and it is instantly stuck. To release, press the switch down and peel the cup away. Turn the knob on the ratcheted arm to whatever angle to want (up or down, right or left) and affix the holder onto three plastic prongs. The unit then clips into place. I'm glad it is so easy as it is not wise to leave a Satnav on display in the car to entice would be thieves. Be prepared to quickly wipe the windscreen with a tissue or cloth where the suction cup was though, as it can leave a tell-tale circle. If you have a car with an athermic heat reflecting or heated windscreen then you may need to purchase an external antenna to enable the unit to get a valid satellite signal. I've no problem with my Berlingo - I'm lucky to have a basic windscreen!! When acquiring the initial signal, it's best to do it in an open area. I've not had any issues. Switch the unit on and it'll go through to a menu screen, showing, navigation, GPS receiver and settings. Click on GPS by tapping the screen gently with the stylus that you slide out of the back, and you'll see the unit acquiring various satellite signals via strength bars. When they go from red to green and you get at least four you are ready to go!! There's a compass circle showing the satellites that are being received. Sad I know but I like that bit. The time is automatically configured when the signals are acquired. Distance can be in miles or kilometres, it's your choice and easy to change. It also has a day/night navigation mode and the brightness can be altered to suit the conditions. The screen is clear and easy on the eye and there have been no problems with glare affecting it. Choose your language and voice, male or female. I personally prefer the female voice - I'm used to being told what to do by a woman!! The volume control has 5 settings and is plenty loud enough to hear above the kids in the back. It has a choice of 2D (flat) or 3D (raised) navigation, I prefer the latter and your route is reflected by a blue line on the very clear map, changing to red (raised above the image) to show which direction to take at a roundabout or turn. During navigation, it is so easy to read. The visual map fills the majority of the screen, down the left, from the top down it gives information such as a countdown in metres to the next action needed. For example, an arrow pointing to the left with 250 yd means you turn left in 250 yards. It counts down from the previous event so if you are on a long road it may start at X number of miles and reduces down as you go along. Below that you have your current speed as calculated by the GPS, then the estimated time of arrival at your destination that automatically adjusts dependent on your speed and progress. The final information is the remaining distance, in miles, to your destination, that obviously reduces as you get closer. The voice prompts are accurate and clear giving advance warning of any manoeuvres you need to make. The screen also displays what road you are on, for example A470 or name, and at the top the battery level. For navigation, it can carry out a full UK 7 digit postcode search but bear in mind my earlier comment. You can also activate a free 6 month speed camera alert in the settings function. To continue after the trial you need to subscribe - details on the Binatone web-site. The unit is very easy to operate and a lot of the functions are self explanatory. I won't bore you with each and every one as it is all explained in the very easy to follow user guide. You use the stylus to navigate around the screen. For those suffering with arthritis or rheumatism it could be quite difficult to hold as it is very thin and around 3 inches in length but you could use either a finger (just as effective) or perhaps a pen. Before purchasing the Satnav I was concerned that it may be distracting and would take my eyes away from the road but my fears were unfounded. It is easy to position for best effect and you could use it quite ably by the voice prompts alone. You don't need to tap the screen once it has been programmed so don't worry about having to drive and play around with it at the same time. Not recommended anyway!! Briefly, on the destination screen, you have a 'find address' screen where you input the address on an alpha/numerical screen. It has a function to prevent mis-spelling by greying out letters that cannot be used. You can add intermediate stops and, using the mode of transportation function, to effectively reduce say motorways from your route, if you wish to keep them to a minimum. You can also, if needed take into account motorbike and/or van restrictions dependent on your vehicle. There is also a POI (point of interest) search facility where you can look for a specific itinerary such as sights, leisure, shopping, cinema, petrol stations, hotels, cinemas, to name but a few. All selected will appear in distance order from your location. The 'map' facility allows you to browse or track. The latter screen displays your actual position, speed, time, sea level and co-ordinates and the number of satellites currently acquired. Another useful feature is if you take the wrong route it will immediately re-calculate a fresh route. I've tried this feature out on purpose and confirm it works well. It has 'favourites' whereby it stores previous routes which you can bookmark without having to go to the trouble of re-programming. Some concerns I read about before purchase was that it was a lot slower than other makes when it came down to calculating the route but I do not find the delay particularly onerous (30 seconds at most in my experience thus far). The unit can also be used as a picture viewer supporting bmp and jpg file formats (500 kb for optimum usage) and a document viewer, txt file format only. They can be read from an SD card (slot on the side). As you can see, you get a lot for your money, and for the vast majority of people, this unit should be more than sufficient for their needs. Any problems with the unit or queries say regarding software updates, you can contact the Binatone Carrera helpline on 0845 345 9677. The manual also has a trouble shooting guide and a FAQ site. The following are some of the technical specifications taken from the manual for those of you that are interested, Dimension of the unit 99.9mm x 84.5mm x 20mm. Operating system : Microsoft WinCE.NET 5.0 Core Version. Central Processing Unit : Atlas II 324 Mhz. Memory : 64 MB SDRAM Built in. Antenna : 16 channels, built in with extra active port. 32bit risc CPU SIGE CHIPSETS. Weight : Only 0.160kg. Speaker : One watt (more than ample for the purpose). If it wasn't for the software failure on my first purchase, I would give it a maximum rating, but even with that fault, I was prepared to give it a second chance. Superb value for money in my humble opinion.
Oh, dear Dooyoo, how I plead, For a single crown, it's not just greed. I'd love but one, a beautiful crown, To ease away this dreadful frown. It's etched deep down in my forehead, Still there when I wake from my comfy bed. I don't know what I have to do, To earn a little crown from you. My film review gave me a fright, My first, and I was up half the night. Tapping away on my keyboard, It's good I thought, so my hopes soared. Nomination after nomination, People agree! Not an abomination. My account still shows a big fat nought, Despite the sweat and lots of thought. For my reviews, I've done a plenty, Numbering now well over twenty. Quite poor ones right at the start, About as popular as a smelly fart. (Can I say that) A useful lesson I have learned, And that is why I've never churned. I always try to do my best, The ratings given seem to attest. I'd love to see my review in lights, To brighten up these dark dreary nights. So please Dooyoo, to give me hope, Give a crown to this sad dope. Update ****** Joy at last, my life's complete, I bow with thanks at Dooyou's feet, A crown at last in beautiful yellow, Perhaps, from now I'll be more mellow. Oh my God, Crowns, I've now got two, So why am I still feeling blue. This ode itself still has a white space, Which I why I'm still right in your face. I'll keep adding verses, it's not fair, My bum is permanently stuck to this chair. It'll not cost you a single Dooyoo mile, But I'll end up with a big fat smile. I've thought of cosying to a Guide, But my conscience is strong, it'd have nowhere to hide. What about the new Guide MarcoG? Integrity strong, he'd refuse a fee. Electricals, I'd consider Nar, But I wouldn't want to push him too far!! Another one is Mumsymary, I'm sure there's also one called Fairy. I'll wipe these thoughts right from my mind, Every Guide is honest, I think you'll find. It rests with Dooyoo that's a fact, Perhaps I'll try and employ some tact. Please then Dooyoo give this ode a break, I'm going mad, for goodness sake. Try and please this little old man, and I promise I'll be your Number One fan. Hugs and kisses!!!!!!
Zulu has to be one of my favourite films of all time. It was released in 1964 through Paramount Pictures by Diamond Films - a company set up by the well established actor Stanley Baker, who was looking to move more into the directing field. The film was directed by Cy Endfield, and co-produced by both Baker and Endfield, each with strong links to the story-line. Endfield was born in South Africa, where the events covered by the film took place, and Baker was born in South Wales, from where a lot of the soldiers involved in the battle were from, being the 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot. I do not intend running through the story in depth but instead want to concentrate on some of the acting performances and parts of the film that make this a cut above the rest. The film, which makes it all the more compelling, is not fiction but fact, based on true events that happened at a small mission station at Rorkes Drift, Natal, South Africa on 22/23 January 1879. The rights or wrongs of the British being there should not detract from the film itself which focusses on the 110 British soldiers who stood firm and fought a force of over 4,000 Zulu's. The previous day had seen over 1,500 soldiers killed at an earlier battle at Isandhlwana, which is covered at the start of the film. Cast **** Lt. Gonville Bromhead - played by Michael Caine. Although Caine has been a household name for many many years, this was his first role and he certainly looks young in this!! He is the Officer in charge at Rorkes Drift, and portrays the typical English gentry type of that era. For the first few scenes I feel that he almost tries too hard to mould himself into that stereo-typical image. His undoubted talent shines through as the movie progresses and the inter-action between himself and the other Officer played by Stanley Baker himself is superb. Lt John Chard - Royal Engineers - played by Stanley Baker. Baker is magnificient, and displays some of his gritty down-to-earth characterisations prevalent in some of his earlier movies, such as Hard Drivers. The initial dislike between his character and Bromhead is plain to see as they are from different worlds and it is fascinating to see the mutual respect forming between the two as the scenes progress. Chard actually takes command as he has a few months seniority over Bromhead and the sniping between the two has almost a comic aspect. Baker is in control, but when his hands start to tremble as he tries to load his pistol, the look of self-loathing on his face is brilliant. Cetewayo - the leader of the Zulu's is played by the Zulu Chief himself, Chief Buthelezi, and obviously the collaberation brings a real touch of authenticity to the Zulu's in this film and ensures that it is a real depiction of how the Zulu fighting strategies were carried out. Otto Witt - Jack Hawkins. He plays a cameo performance as the Swedish missionary but I found his role a little annoying and lack lustre up until his departure from the mission. Steaming drunk, he shounts from the back of his carriage before the main battle, "Can't you see, you're all going to die". It doesn't look much in print but the anguish and contortions on his face as he pleads with the soldiers is truly memorable. Surgeon Reynolds - Patrick Magee. A minor role really for Magee but plays his part well dealing with the hopeless situation of dying soldiers being brought in for treatment. One poignant part is where he asks the orderly what his patient did for a living as he thrashed about on the operating table. When told he was a paper hanger, he says so matter of factly, but with utter despair in his voice, "Well, he's a dead paper-hanger now." Adendorff - Gert Van de Burgh. From the Natal Mounted Police and is the local contact. He hates the Zulu's but also you can sense in his exchanges with Bromhead that he hates the British being there as well. He explains the Zulu's strategies and my favourite part with him is where the soldiers are both physically and mentally exhausted when the Zulu's start chanting again. Bromhead shouts, "Come on, what are you waiting for?". Adendorff laughs somewhat hysterically and says "They're not taunting you, they're saluting you, saluting fellow braves". Private Hook - played by James Booth. A nasty, lazy mallingerer who does not endear himself to the audience one bit. Later you see a totally different side to him. There are a few well known faces, Glynn Edwards for one, you may remember him as the pub owner in Minder. There are so many wonderful individual performances from each and every actor that I could go on for ever. The quivering top lip of Colour Sergeant Bourne as he reads out the role call, with so many dead, leaves a lump in the throat. They were his boys. Maybe it's because I'm Welsh, but the thing that really gets me going and has the hairs on my arms stand up, is when the remaining soldiers are being mentally tormented by the Zulu's chanting, and they launch into Men of Harlech to counter it. Truly inspirational. They are many, many scenes to keep you captivated, such as the soldiers at the final dedoubt, firing in lines, with Caine shouting, covered in grime, "Front rank, fire, reload. " The hand to hand fighting has been very well done when you consider the sheer number of actors and extras involved. But please don't think this film is all about fighting from beginning to end, it's not. There are various scenes within the film that contribute to the overall effect. The scenery is quite simply breathtaking - it was filmed on location in Natal and also at Twickenham Film Studios in London (I couldn't tell you what parts were filmed in the latter - it's seamless). The music was composed by John Barry and complements the film perfectly - it is very stirring yet almost military with strong drums and heavy beats. It is heard sporadically throughout the movie, and in my mind I've yet to come across another score that adds so much to the effect of a film. I've also got to mention the narration. Both the foreward and the role of honour at the end are narrated by none other than Richard Burton. Whenever he narrates, and I'm also thinking of his spectatular narration on Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds, adds so much atmosphere to simple words. A master stroke. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery at Rorkes Drift - the most in any one single engagement. It was a massive task indeed to try to re-create the events of those two days but Endfield and Baker have succeeded in a way that I would not have thought possible. Truly a magnificent film that I've watched time and time again, and will continue to do so as it does not dull with repeated viewing. I have the DVD version which is photographed in Technirama and comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Surprisingly, considering the blood and death count, it is only classed as a PG (parental guidance) meaning it is suitable for general viewing, but some senes may be unsuitable for young children. I cannot praise this film highly enough. Running time is 133 minutes, so it's a long film but the time flies by. Apart from the film, that has the usual subtitles and a whole host of other language options, it has the added bonus of a Theatrical Trailer, a commentary provided by Sheldon Hall, a film historian, and Robert Porter (2nd Unit Director). Finally it has The Making of Zula and Role of Honour containing an interview with Stanley Baker's wife that I found interesting and clips from the film itself. You can pick up Zulu on DVD for as little as £1.55 on e-bay and I've no doubt it'll be on over Christmas (it is every year). If you've never seen it because you don't like war films, please give it a chance. It's a fascinating look and superbreinactment of what actually took place in Rorkes Drift back in 1879. I cannot praise this film highly enough. This was my first (and probably my last!!) film review, hope you enjoyed it. Also posted on Ciao under same name.
I suppose KP Skips fall into the same sort of category as Marmite, you either love them or loathe them. They are pretty much unique in that I haven't found anything else on the market quite like them, and the fact that they are prawn cocktail flavoured probably puts a lot of people off from the start. The supply of Skips in our household comes from a variety pack containing other products from KP such as Hula Hoops, Mini cheddar biscuits and Space Invaders. Invariably, it's the Skips that are left in the bottom of the bag and it's down to the human dustbin - me - to polish them off. For the connoisseurs, they can also be bought as a multi-pack of Skips alone (ten bags of 17g each) for around £2.00, currently on offer in Asda until 31/12/08 where you can buy two packs for £3.00. Description and taste test. ------------------------------------- Each pack is a little longer but a tad narrower than your bog standard packet of crisps. When you open the foil sealed bag, you are confronted by a considerable number (in this pack, 35, I counted them, how sad is that) of oddly shaped little snacks. Due to their compact shape and size you do get a lot in a pack when compared to curlier snacks such as Quavers or Hula hoops. Each skip is slightly concave in shape and vaguely rounded, about an inch in diameter. They are a light golden colour with speckles of orange-red and that colour also emanates out in five lines from the centre to the outer edge. This I presume to be the paprika extract listed in the ingredients. They are very light to pick up and the seasoning does tend to rub off onto your fingers so it can, in that sense, be described as a messy snack. There's the odd broken one in the pack as they snap when broken though don't disintegrate easily. They are about three times the thickness of potato crisps. The packaging describes Skips as "fizzy melting snacks". It's a very strange sensation when you put one in your mouth - very similar to prawn crackers that you can get from your local Chinese takeaway, almost an artificial polystyrene type texture (not that I make a habit of eating polystyrene). There's certainly no fizz when it makes contact with your mouth and the initial taste is almost flavourless. Bite into it, however, and here it does seem to give the impression of melting as it breaks up almost into nothingness - and there's very little to actually swallow. As you attempt to chew, literally only for a couple of seconds, a more intense flavour, seemingly the paprika, then sets the taste buds a tingling but in quite a pleasant way - not overpowering in the slightest. In fact, it gets the saliva flowing and has you reaching for more. The aftertaste is quite pleasant, not as strong as prawn cocktail flavour crisps, and lasts for several minutes. It's the sort of snack that does make you feel thirsty and wanting a drink afterwards as your mouth seems to use up its saliva ration when eating them. I find a pack more filling than say a packet of crisps so as a quick snack they are a good option. Another plus is that there are only 89 calories per bag, when compared to around 131 calories in a standard bag of crisps so you can feel quite virtuous when eating them. What do you get? ------------------------ In common with a lot of snacks these days, they are made using 100% sunflower oil meaning that in this case there's 50% less saturated fat than in 2006. Not bad. I have to say the ingredients surprised me. They are actually made from tapioca starch (remember the tapioca pudding that resembles frog spawn - yuk) but don't let that put you off. There's no mono-sodium-glutamate nor any artificial colours or flavours. Other ingredients are sunflower oil (29% apparently), maize flour (NOT modified), sodium diacetate (an acidity regulator), dried tomato, dried whole milk, dried onion, citric acid, yeast extract, potassium chloride, rice protein, sugar, salt and paprika extract. I've already mentioned the low calorie count. Each bag also provides 1.1g of protein, 9.9g of carbohydrates of which 1.4g is sugar, 5.0g of fat of which 0.5g is saturated so not a lot there, 0.2g of fibre (yes, fibre, so think of the benefits to your bowels), and 0.2g of salt. When compared to other snacks they don't fare too badly at all. The packaging stands out well being a yellow background with Skips written in red inside a red outline of the unique Skips shape. Underneath the Skips logo, it states " prawn cocktail flavour fizzy melting snacks", and boasts of the lowering of the saturated fat, calorie count, and absence of artificial colours or flavours. The back gives the usual - ingredients, nutritional information and a customer careline number and address in case you are unhappy with the product. They are made in England under licence from Mejii Seika, Japan. KP Snacks are based at Ashby-De-La- Zouch, Leicester. Although my youngest son likes them, I tend to be the one who eats them to make a bit of room in the cupboard, and I have to say I do like them. If you haven't tried them or are put off by the flavouring, be brave and give them a go. You never know, you'll either love them or hate them......... I'm off to finish the pack now, bye bye!!.
Three little cringe-making episodes that I now look back on with a certain degree of fondness. Number One. We have been going to church regularly over the past year, and certainly with our youngest, our eight year old son, he never seems to pay much attention to what is being said. A few months ago, the homily centred on the Anti-Abortion Bill that was about to go through Parliament and my son, as usual was practicing his origami on the weekly newsletter attempting to turn it into a fighter jet. I was quite glad as it meant there were no awkward questions. Later in the week, both the kids were down the in-laws after school until we got home from work and picked them up. The mother-in-law wanted a word with us. What had happened was this. She had cooked them chicken for tea. Also in the house at the time was my sister-in-law, Kathryn. All of a sudden my son sent his plate crashing to the floor, held his head in his hands, and shouted out, "What, Kathryn's having an abortion?" His nan was gob-smacked and said, "No, she's not, where did you get that sort of talk?". To which he replied, "If it's not her, then it must be you, nan." By now, the mother in law was getting really flustered hearing this from an eight year old!! She asked him why on earth he would say that and she was also perplexed as to how he'd even know about the word abortion (as they don't go to church). My son replied "But you just said!!" After going over the events of the last couple of minutes, she suddenly twigged. She'd asked Kathryn if "she wanted a portion" (of chicken) and my son thought she'd said abortion. We then had to explain about the church service and what was said. Obviously he does listen after all!! Number Two. Rewind back to 1997. All was well with the world. I was moving office on promotion, and the day after my last day the family were off on a holiday to Tunisia. As was customary, and probably because my team were glad to see the back of me, we went off for a meal at lunchtime taking a half day. Had a taxi to the pub, it was very picturesque with a canal running behind it. I'm virtually teetotal, so after half a shandy I'm normally anybody's, grinning inanely and talking rubbish. (Hang on, I'm like that sober). Had a great meal, people were buying me drinks (rude to refuse) so I was feeling pretty happy, especially thinking about the holiday as well. Time was up and it was suggested we all go to another pub, reached by walking along the canal path about a mile or so away. The fresh air hit me but I was OK, chatting like mad and laughing as we carried along the bank. Next minute, Tony shouted, "Gary, duck". I turned to the canal expecting to see some pretty little ducks - nothing. Turned back round, still walking and my head went smack bang into the lovely little curved stone bridge straight ahead of me. Pole-axed but nicely numb from the alcohol I came round to find muddy, slimy canal water being thrown all over me. My wife was none to happy when I got home especially as my head had a huge lump on the forehead. Had a few quizzical looks at passport control the following day as I looked more like Frankenstein than the photo in my passport. Number Three. Considering we have been married for almost twenty years you'd think we'd got off to a good start. WRONG. On our first proper date as a couple, a few of us went down to Barry Island (a la Gavin and Stacey) and down there they have an amusement park by the beach. Even in my younger days I was a complete coward when it came to fast rides. I was egged on and on until I relented and ended up going on ........................... the waltzers. Stop laughing - yes I was that much of a wimp!! I hate those things, spinning around really fast but on I went. I was plonked in the middle, my wife (then new girlfriend, of course) on one side and her friend on the other. There I was sandwiched in the middle. Well, you know what those sadists who spin the waltzers around are like. If they sense a bit of fear, they home in on you like an exocet missile, and that's what those swines did. They seemed to deliberately target our waltzer. I was feeling sick, disorientated, and full of fear. I started sliding down further and further in the waltzer under the bar. My head sank down and with the centrifugal force - yes it was that quick, my head ended up behind my wife's back. Now even further disorientated I couldn't breathe and wanted to scream. I ended up opening my mouth really wide and bit, really hard. Unfortunately I'd latched onto my wife's back, and she had the biggest bruise imaginable, amazing really how big my mouth had opened. Talk about making a lasting impression. Suffice it to say she never took me on a ride again. Hope you enjoyed!!
Time to start thinking about Christmas presents. If you want to have some variation from all the expensive electronic and console games around and go back to a more traditional game suitable for all the family to play then you can't go wrong with "Frustration". Crumbs, I even remember playing this as a child - yes, I was one once - so it has been around for a considerable length of time and is still proving a popular game today. "Frustration" is made by MB Games, now part of Hasbro International Incorporated, which has an excellent reputation and is a long established and trusted manufacturer of children's toys. It is actually distributed by Hasbro UK Ltd in Newport, Gwent, only around 15 miles from where I live. When you pick up the cardboard box containing the game, you immediately realise that it will not take up much space wherever it is to be kept. It only measures 23.6cm x 23.6cm x 5cm approximately. This is a big plus in itself and means that the game is extremely portable and can be taken away on holidays - very useful if you are staying in a caravan in this country - think rain!! The box lid is very colourful showing the name of the game "Frustration!" in yellow lettering with a red edging and underneath telling you that it is "The game that drives you popping mad!" The main picture shows a none to angelic looking boy smashing the popper (which I will describe later) with his fist with a young girl with her head in her hands looking on with the sort of expression I would have if my six numbers came up on the lottery. The rest of the picture contains a view of the game board with pieces flying out at what appears to be warp speed 9. Do not be alarmed though as this does not happen when you play the game for real. The game can be played by two, three or four players and is recommended for ages 4 and up. This is because it is not suitable for children under that age due to the small pieces and the risk of choking. The back of the box contains the assembly instructions and rules for playing the game so you don't have to worry about losing an instruction leaflet. However, the assembly is a one-off task and the game is so easy to play that once you've played it you won't need to refer to it again. How to assemble. You get the coloured board, which is just made of ordinary cardboard and place the main plastic gameboard over it and align up with the four holes into which you insert the four rubber feet. This not only protects tables from being scratched, but stops the game from moving around and obviously joins the two boards together. That's it, assembly completed, and you don't have to dismantle when you've finished - it fits neatly back into the box. The dimensions of the board are slightly less than that of the box and is square in shape with rounded corners with no sharp edges. The game is virtually identical to ludo. Each player picks a colour, either red, green yellow or blue and you get four pieces of your chosen colour. Each piece is made of a hard plastic, cylindrical in shape, around 2cm in height with a small ridge around the middle to pit into the raised spaces on the gameboard. What I like with this is that the maker gives a spare piece for each colour in case any are lost. On each rounded corner are four coloured holes to match the colour of the counters and if you've chosen red, for example, you'd pick the red corner and place your four counters in those four spaces, each hole marked with a small star. These are your starting spaces. The other players do the same with their chosen colour. The base is also marked with each corresponding colour so it's easy to see where you have to go (see picture). In the middle of the game board is a raised platform containing one dice encased in a hard plastic dome which is on top of a sheet of what seems to be thin metal. By pressing on this dome you hear a 'pop' as the metal is pressed down and when released, the metal sheet pops back into shape and the dice is thrown around in the dome. Whatever number is showing on the top of the dice is the number the player uses. To start the game you decide on the order the game is to be played - let the kids go first you meanies!! To start you need to get a 'six'. If you don't then it's the next players turn, and so on. Once a six is thrown, you move one of your counters out of the starting spaces into the hole marked with an arrow, and you're off. As with most games, if you throw a six you get another go (hehe) and you move around the board in a clockwise direction. The aim of the game is to get all four of your counters around the board, 28 spaces before you reach safety, and when you get round adjacent to your starting spaces there are four numbered spaces, 1,2, 3 & 4 leading up towards the dice. Easy you may think, but here's the catch and the reason the game is called "Frustration". You may be merrily moving around the board but say an opponent has a counter out and is three spaces behind you. If they then throw a 'three' and land on your counter, yours has to go back to the starting spaces, where you need to start again by throwing a 'six' and going all the way around again. It always happens to me. If you are fortunate enough to get your counter all the way around and into the home spaces marked 1,2, 3 or 4 then you are safe and can't be knocked back to the start. The object of the game is to get all your four counters home before anyone else. My children are 12 and 8 and we, perhaps somewhat unfashionably, really enjoy playing this. It is a good way to get the whole family involved and playing a game together. Be prepared however with younger children for the odd temper tantrum as it can be terribly frustrating to be landed on by another player, and you may have to compromise. Nevertheless it is great simple fun. The game can be found at all major retailers for between £10 - £15 dependent on what deals are on offer, and you pick one up on e-bay for as little as £6.99.
Wow, picked this up on offer in Argos a couple of weeks ago for £13.30 (normal price £19.99), get it while you can. When I unpacked this cooker from the box I was pleasantly surprised. You'd be hard pushed to tell it apart from other cookers I've seen advertised for £40+. The main body is oval in shape and is made of shiny aluminium standing on four rubber feet (so no scratched work-tops). As you can see from the photo, it has a black plastic circular piece around the bottom and two nicely shaped plastic handles that are easy to hold and lift. The front has a black circular dial with the Cookworks logo on it, a little red light that comes on when the cooker is in use. This temperature knob has only four settings, off, low, high and warm that are selected by simply turning the dial to the appropriate setting. The shiny black coated stoneware inner pot, in which you cook the food, has a 3.5 litre capacity, and easily holds enough to accommodate a hungry family of four. It is simply placed inside the main body. The other component is the rounded tempered glass lid with a plastic black handle on the top for lifting on and off and is a nice weight. In fact, there is nothing wishy-washy about this cooker at all and is heavy and appears well made with good quality materials. It runs off the mains (220-240V) with a three pin plug and the power is stated as being between 160 - 190W. The 'low' setting aims to cook in 8-10 hours whereas the 'high' setting suggests 7-8 hours, but this is a guide and depends on the amount put in and whether you carry out any pre-cooking such as browning meat. When the cooking is finished, you can use the 'warm' setting to keep the food warm for up to four hours, so you don't have to eat immediately the food is cooked. The inner pot can be washed in a dishwasher or by soapy water in a sink though as it's ceramic it shouldn't be subjected to sudden temperature changes or it may crack. If it has been pre-heated, you shouldn't add cold foods or cold water. There is a separate recipe book giving a nice guide to slow cooking explaining about the effect of pre-cooking or with no pre-cooking, along with general guidelines. The recipes featured are for vegetable soup, coq au vin, beef in beer, Hawaiian pork casserole, ratatouille, brised brisket of beef with vegetables, lamb & vegetable currey, chilli con carne, chocolate and orange rice pudding and finally poached pears with caramel sauce. So there's plently to be going on with. The first I tried out was the curry and here I have to give a word of warning!! The measurements are given in metric and imperial. The amount of stock to use is a misprint and says 2 pints (it should be 1 pint, when you compare with all the other recipes and metric equivalent). I had to impose damage limitation after a couple of hours cooking when I realised something was wrong!!). Happily the end result was quite delicious and the flavours of the meat and vegetables was locked in. Subsequent uses have also produced superb results. I have only one negative point about this, and perhaps a kind reader can drop me a line to say if this is common with all slow cookers? It is that in the cooking phase, the steam does lift the lid ever so slightly and liquid, as it cools from the steam, tends to congregate in the rim and droplets run over the side into the bottom of the main body. It's only a tiny amount but does necessitate have to clean the inside of the main body, and as that is where the heat is generated, does stick and dry out. It goes without saying that the main body should not be immersed in water. I've looked at other makes of slow cookers and the design seems the same, and the steam has to escape from somewhere so perhaps I being a little hyper-critical, and this problem is inherent in most. Notwithstanding that gripe, I believe this to be superb value for money. The beauty as well is that if you're out at work all day, with a little preparation in the morning, you can have a great meal ready and waiting on your return. I don't regret this purchase one little bit.
OK, it's time to face facts - I'm addicted to Dooyou. I'm sat here looking quizzically at a Brita Marella Water Filter, how sad is that? I go through phases and at the moment I'm fed up with tea and coffee, carbonated drinks leave me bloated, and we all know the side effects of drinking too much fruit juice, so that leaves water. Where I live, our tap water is not the greatest. It has a distinct chlorinated smell that makes me retch and every now and again, even with tea and coffee it leaves a tang which results in it being poured straight down the sink. Bottled water on the whole is either expensive, or even if you buy the value ranges, is probably little more than tap water anyway. It's been many a year since I've used a water filter so I made a trip down to our local Tesco to see what was on offer. I was amazed at the bewildering array on offer from Brita, and ended up with the Marella as it was on offer, reduced to £11.91. Being colour co-ordinated, or was it just to impress my wife, I opted for the one with a blue lid and handle to fit in with the kitchen tiles. The first thing I noticed is that Brita have changed the filter cartridge from the cylindrical type that I used before. You get one cartridge supplied with the filter jug wrapped in foil for protection. The cartridge is now called Maxtra and looks like a little white plastic pot with a sealed lid on it with slits. It boasts a 4 step filtration system that sounds pretty damn impressive. Firstly, the water flows through a fine mesh filter - what that does in practice I'm not too sure. Secondly is the ion (not iron) exchange filtration. This reduces limescale (which is good for prolonging the life of your kettle by the way), aluminium and heavy metals such as copper and lead. Thirdly, the carbon filtration reduces chlorine (a ha, that'll do for me) and organic impurities along with certain pesticides. Finally, the fine mesh filter retains particle mixture (again that means little to me) but steps two and three at least sound impressive. The cartridge should be changed every four weeks, after filtering approximately 100 litres of water. The cartridges are available to purchase individually (expensive) or in packs. Again Tesco had an offer of a pack of 6 cartridges (6 month's supply) for £15.98 which represented a huge saving on buying just one. You get the main jug body, made of clear plastic into which snugly fits the funnel, which is made of an opaque plastic. The jug's capacity is 2.4 litres of which the filtered capacity is 1.4 litres, that I've found to be more than ample. The only downside is that it is quite wide-bodied and the ast majority of us would not be able to fit the jug in a fridge to make the water cold. When putting it together, you need to take the cartridge out of the foil and hold under water and shake gently to remove any air bubbles. This is a big improvement on the old type cartridges where you had to stand them in water for some time before being able to use. Once you've done that you just place the cartridge into the base of the funnel and click into place. Easy peasy. You need to throw away the first two fillings (or use for your house plants) to flush and prepare the cartridge. The lid is quite clever. At the handle end is a little plastic flip top which opens to leae a hole to fill up your jug. You don't need to remove the entire lid each time. At the pouring end is a little hinged piece which automatically opens as the water pours through and closes when the jug is upright again. This version also contains an electronic 'memo' incorporated in the lid. You press the start button when a new cartridge is inserted, and hold it down until 4 LCD bars appear in the display. Each bar is marked 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. When set it is at 100% and countdowns by one bar each week. When all the bars have gone, after a month, it's time to change the cartridge. The life of this memo is approximately five years. It's great as there is no need to worry if the cartridge has been used for too long. Said cartridge has a ring pull handle for easy exchange. The manual states that only cold water should be filtered. The cartridge is treated with silver, and it mentions that a small amount of silver may be transferred to the water, but that it poses no threat to health and is within World Health Organisation guidelines. Personally, I'd rather that than some of the gunk that it does filter out. One final note, as a word of caution for people with kidney disease or on dialysis, is that the potassium content may be increased slightly. It recommends discussion with the GP or to contact BritaCare Customer Services on 0870 47 1000. Apart from the statutory guarantee, if you are not satisfied with the product, you can return it to Brita within 30 days for a full refund. For those of us interested in re-cycling, the cartridge is 100% re-cyclable and can be sent Freepost in packs of six to Brita, address is given in the manual. The acid test - does it work? In my humble opinion, absolutely!! The chlorine smell and odd taste is completely gone and I can drink it on its own quite easily and find it refreshing. Body de-tox here I come. I may also post this on Ciao.
Our old TV was on the way out after a good few years of dutiful service and we decided to splash out on an LCD TV. Money was tight however after Christmas last year and then we saw this 32" model in Argos reduced to £299.99 in the January sales. I hadn't heard of this make before, Acoustic Solutions, but with other 32" LCD TV's costing a good few hundreds of pounds more, decided to take the plunge. There is a 12 month guarantee provided by Argos as opposed to the manufacturer, along with a customer help-line number if there were problems, so I felt re-assured by that. In the pack was the TV itself, black in colour, a matching TV stand with three screws (plus screwdriver) to attach it to the TV, remote control with 2 AAA batteries, a red & white audio cable, yellow composite video cable, power cord and plug along with a user manual and thankfully a quick start guide. I won't describe the set up process as it depends on what other equipment you have connected, such as Sky, DVD, video, surround sound etc etc. Suffice it to say that armed with little sticky labels I was able to set everything up quite easily - the manual is extremely easy to follow. I find 32" to be be more than adequate but of course it depends on how much space you have available. It is very slim and there is an option to hang on a wall bracket if desired (bracket not supplied but can be bought separately). The measurements are W80.9cm x H64.5cm x D25.3cm The TV looks stylish with the black surround and underneath the screen is the sound grille running along the length of the TV. It has a LED light on the front to indicate when the TV is on (blue) and changes to red when on standby. I have not found this light to be a nuisance when viewing. The infra-red receiver is also located on the front. Should you misplace the remote, buttons can be located unobtrusively on the side of the TV, these being volume, channel, menu, input and power. The remote is easy to follow and is well explained in the manual. This TV has PPP (Picture Perfect Platform), HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) and can carry up to 5Gbps of combined HD video and audio signals, HDTV component video inputs and 3D digital noise reduction. It has a contrast ratio of 1500:1 with a resolution of 1366x768. Finally it has Teletext. Anyway, enough of the technical jargon - how is the TV? It has an auto-tune function and was very easy to get the channels set up. I was impressed with the excellent picture quality but initially the sound was a little bit tinny on the factory default settings. By playing around with the sound settings and increasing the bass, the sound was much improved. You can also change between the following sounds, surround, live, dance, techno, classic, soft, rock, pop or off!! It also has NICAN stereo. If you have a separate surround system, even better. Originally despite the great picture, the black colour was a little bit un-natural but I went onto a technical forum website (AV forums) and they advised picture settings to use and that sorted it out. If you covered up the make I think you'd be hard pressed to tell it apart from the more well known brands that, as I said, cost a great deal more. Since January, touch wood, we have had no problems whatsoever with it and would recommend as a great purchase for anyone looking for a 32" LCD TV on a limited budget.
The kids are in bed, my wife is preparing for the X-factor results, so time for me to bore you with some info about me. 1.Which do you prefer - shower or bath? And why? Definitely shower as I find it more invigorating. 2. What do you swear you'll never do? Steal anything. 3. What's the most embarrassing thing you ever done? A good few years ago I went with my boss to the funeral of a colleague's mother. We'd got held up in traffic on the way to the crematorium so parked up quick and rushed into the chapel with about five minutes to spare. As we weren't close family we sat at the back. When the family and the coffin came in, and the doors closed we realised we had gone into the wrong chapel and therefore were at the wrong funeral. I also had a painful experience with a trouser zip and a certain part of my anatomy. Brings tears to my eyes even now. 4. What is your favourite quote? You're fired (the Apprentice). 5. What was your favourite holiday? And why? Austria in the summer. Very relaxing and the first holiday with my wife. 6. What was your favourite childhood toy? It was called a juggle ball. It was round and plastic with 9 coloured cups marked 1 - 9 and you had to juggle the ball to get a small ball inside to jump from one cup to the other in order. I was easily pleased!! 7. Do you have any pets? Two cats, one is psychotic, the other really cuddly. 8. Savoury or sweet? Sweet 90% of the time. 9. Hot or cold? Cold, I can't cope when it's too hot and I'm sweating. 10. What's your favourite drink? Alcoholic drink - cider Non-alcoholic - cloudy real lemonade 11. What's your favourite food? Chinese - especially duck & pineapple with special fried rice. 12. Who do you hate the most? 13. Do you have a crush on someone? If so, who? Way, way back in my school days I was in an all boy's school - dreadful. There was this girl I liked and the only way to see her was to take 'O' level Latin as the boy's and girl's school shared the teacher and the classes were combined. I didn't get the girl but got the 'O' level. The only thing I can remember is, "Latin is a language, as dead as dead can be, it killed the ancient Romans, and now its killing me." 14. What is your favourite colour? Black - to disguise my man boobs. 15. What did you do last night? Week's shopping - very domesticated. 16. What's your favourite thing to do? Taking the kids to the beach. 17. Favourite movie, T.V Program, Book? Film : Total Recall, TV : Lost, Book : Watership Down by Richard Adams. 18. Who's your hero? Don't have one. 19. Favourite song of all time? Love is a Battlefield. 20. Have you ever had a supernatural experience? Yes. I lost my dad to cancer in 1995 and was at his side when he died. The next day, I looked at my watch and it had stopped at the exact time he had passed away. Still brings me out in goosebumps now. 21. Favourite Sound? When my children laugh uncontrollably. 22. Favourite Smell? Freshly chopped mint - weird or what. 23. Favourite place to be? At home with my family when the weather's bad outside. 24. Happiest moment in your life? Got to be when my two children were born. 25. Saddest moment in your life so far? My parent died within 18 months of each other. 26. What is your dream job? Working outside as a landscape gardener. 27. What would be your idea of a perfect date? Have to involve a lot of food!! 28. What are your favourite Newspaper/ Magazine? Honesty here - The Sun. I get the important news off Sky. 29. Which celebrity do you like the most? Jeremy Clarkson because he makes me laugh. 30. Do you have any siblings? I would have had an older brother by a year, but he died after a few days due to being premature. 31. Have you ever been in hospital? If so, why? Yes. Appendix removed, eye surgery, moles removed. Lee Majors wasn't a patch on me. 32. Have you ever broken a bone or had stitches? No bones but plenty of stitches and clips. 33. Do you believe in Angels/Ghosts/Demons?. Yes, I do. 34. Are you superstitious? No. 35. What colour eyes do you have? Dark brown. 36. What colour hair do you have? Dark brown. 37. What religion are you? C of E from birth but in the process of changing to Catholicism (nothing to do with Tony Blair). 38. If you could change 1 thing about you, what would it be? Straighter toes. 39. If you could change 1 thing about your personality, what would it be? To be alittle more tolerant. 40. What is your biggest fear? Falling from a height. 41. Do you have any regrets? If so, what are they? Telling my parents I loved them more often than I did. It wasn't the 'in thing' back then. 42. Have you ever been in love? Yes. 43. What's the most important thing to you in the world? Without a doubt my wife and children. 44. What is your most treasured possession? Photo's of my parents. 45. What's your job? Inspector of Taxes, HMRC. Before you shudder, we all hate tax, but spare a thought for me. I'm involved with it every day. 46. What's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you? My wife agreeing to marry me. 47. What's the worst thing anyone has done to you? My wife agreeing to marry me. (Just joking, honest) 48. Dream car? Nothing flash, just a nice convertible for the summer. 49. Favourite celebration? Christmas. 50. Where do you hang out? With two kids, don't have the time to hang out anywhere. 51. What School did you go to? Lewis Boys - where Neil Kinnock went - says it all really. 52. What/ Who annoys you? See my Victor Meldrew rant in my reviews. 53. Do you recycle? Absolutely. We owe it to our children and the planet to try and make whatever difference we can. 54. What's your favourite sport? Cricket. 55. Who was the last person to upset you? My doctor. Had an internal examination, took my blood pressure five minutes later, and had the cheek to say it was bordering on high. What the hell did he expect!! 56. What are your hobbies? If I had the time, golf. 57. What was the last joke you heard? Read the following words in order out loud, and think that you have an Irish accent, Whale Oil Beef Hooked 58. What is the best joke you've heard? Too rude to say here. 59. What's the worst joke you've heard? Q. What do you call a man with loads of rabbits stuffed up his bum? A. Warren. 60. Name 3 places you have been on holiday: Austria, Malta, Ibiza. 61. Where do you see yourself in 10 years time? The way my body is going, hopefully alive. 62. Favourite Season? Autumn, I love the colours, and the temperatures not too hot or too cold for the most part. 63. What's your favourite website? Dooyou now, I'm hooked. It was Amazon. 64. What's your favourite shop? Don't laugh, but Matalan at the moment. 65. What's your worst habit? Snoring, just ask my wife. 66. What's your favourite animal? Dolphin. 67. What is your ultimate fantasy? Next question please. 68. Can you cook? Yes, love it. 69. What is the last lie you told? Told the kids McDonalds was shut for repairs. What a cad I am. 70. Favourite flavour ice-cream? Banana. 71. Favourite take-away? Chinese with Indian a close second. 72. What do you hate doing the most? Having to work. 73. What do you like doing the most? Day out with the family on a nice sunny day. 74. If you were a Super Hero what would your name be? The Magnificent Evans. 75. What is your favourite name? Megan. 76. If you were an animal what would you like to be? Dolphin. 77. What would your animal name be? Ariel. 78. If you could go back in time, what time would you go to? Pre technology era. 79. Any person alive or dead - who would you meet? Pope John Paul II. 80. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Vanuatu. 81. Favourite musician(s)? Too many to mention but the mid 1980's. 82. What was/is your nickname? Gazza. 83. Have you been to college? No. 84. What is the wildest thing you've ever done? Crushed a grape. 85. Can you play an instrument? Nope. 86. What's your favourite Disney Character? Wil-e-coyote from Road Runner. 87. Favourite theme park? Oakwood. 88. What size feet are you? Nine. 89. If you were King/Queen for a day what 3 changes would you make to the world? End famine. End poverty. Ban war. 90. What is your favourite Night Club? Many moons ago it was called "The Club Double Diamond". Long since demolished. 91. Name one thing that most people don't know about you? I can turn my eye-lids inside out. 92. When was the last time you cried? And why? Believe it or not, when I saw The Elephant Man on TV. John Hurt's performance is so believable it gets me going every single time. 93. If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be? That my children grow up healthy, happy and free from harm. Does that count as one or three? 94. Would you ever have plastic surgery? If so, where? No, I'm a bloke, and I'd be too mean to pay. 95. What are you most ashamed of? Can't honestly think of anything. 96. What pet would you love to have? Husky. 97. Blondes/ Brunettes or Red heads? No preference, it's personality that counts. 98. If you won the lottery what would you spend the money on? As long as my family was secure for life, it would go to various cancer hospitals. 99. If you could have a super power/ ability, what would it be? To travel in time. 100. Did you enjoy doing this quiz? Yes, but it made me think a bit.