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I purchased some flat pack furniture a few months ago, which came with what seemed like glue to stick the drawer fronts on. I was somewhat dubious of the strength of the glue at the time, even more so when the drawer fronts began to drop off and needed shoving back on. In preparation for moving house in a few weeks, I decided I'd better get some stronger glue! I headed off to B&Q to locate some fairly strong glue. After much deliberation/shelf staring, I selected "no more nails" because I'd erm... heard of it. Now would be an ideal time to admit that I know nothing about DIY. A 200ml tube of "no more nails" cost me £4.50 which seemed to be an average sort of price across the different brands. I took it home and found myself a screw driver and set to taking the drawers off the runners. The tube is a squeezy tube and it was easy to squeeze the glue out and onto the wood. The main problem here is that the tube of glue has a wide top and no applicator type device. It made precision difficult, I must admit. Although I was most careful about where I put the glue on the drawer, it needed a bit of a poke into place with the end of the tube. After attaching the bits together, I left the drawers out so that they would dry. The packet told me that I would need to wait at least 24 hours until the glue was completely dry and the maximum amount of time needed; however that it bonds quite quickly upon application. However, after about two hours, the glue (which is white) began to look clearer and clearer, which I took to mean that it was drying. After about 4 hours, I put the drawers back on to the runners, well before the maximum time and they've stayed together so far. So far, so good! No more nails is designed to stick all types of wood, tiling, metal, stone, plastic, plaster and concrete together. I've used it for a few other things as well as my drawer fronts and everything is bearing up well! If you need some strong glue, this is definitely a good one. However, definitely be careful with application in case it ends up going everywhere! Also, remember to wash your hands after!
I recently read "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" after discussing the film with a colleague at work. I had mentioned how sad I had found the film to be and she suggested I read the book. Now, I hadn't even realised that the film was an adaptation of a book, which I'm quite ashamed to admit! I normally prefer a book than a film adaptation! The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is written by John Boyne who has written novels for adults and also younger readers. The story of the novel follows Bruno, a nine year old boy and his family. His father is a high ranking SS soldier and his family in well to-do. His father is relocated to a different role, by Adolf Hitler, referred to as The Fury i.e. Führer, with a child's innocent lack of understanding. They are relocated to a large house, also known as Out-With. We soon establish that his father is a Commandant at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Bruno is not told why they are moving, he is not told of the purpose of Auschwitz or his father's role. He discovers the camp despite being banned from exploring and discovers a large amount of people wondering around in 'pyjamas'. He finds a boy of his own age on the other side of the fence and quickly makes friends with Schmuel. He doesn't understand why Schmuel is so thin, wears pyjamas and can't come and play with him. However, he discovers that they are very similar in terms of characteristics, yet overlooks the glaring difference of one being a polish Jew and one being a German. I will not spoil the rest of the story by going any further with the plot. This novel is most definitely one for a younger reader rather than an adult and I would most definitely recommend it as such.The book itself is an easy read at only 272 pages and quite large print at that. In the main, the book is a haunting portrayal of genocide and a major event in history through the eyes of a child. Specifically, through the eyes of a child who has utterly no idea at the level that humanity could sink to. The innocence of Bruno is actually painful at times and it is entirely heartbreaking that a child witnesses such atrocities which really makes an impact on the reader. On the other hand, the level of friendship shown by Bruno is much more heart warming. As a child, un-impacted by politics and general opinion, a German child (and the child of a high ranking official no less) becomes firm friends with a young Polish, Jewish boy. The book was criticised heavily upon its publication. There has been widespread criticism that anyone could have been unaware of the atrocities occurring and gives credence to the idea that ignorance of the facts is a defence. I find this hard to believe, that anyone could expect a sheltered nine year old to have any understanding of the level of prejudice that is needed to create this kind of situation when a child is born with utterly no prejudice. The book is very well written in terms of making it a novel for a younger reader. Some subjects such as the guards treatment of the prisoners in the camp can be interpreted in different ways. Whilst the older young people and adults that read the novel will gleam its real meaning through general knowledge about the events that occurred during the Holocaust, the younger, less discerning reader will appreciate to some extent the brutality shown towards the prisoners without being too traumatic. Having the book and seen the film, I would urge you to read the book rather than see the film. The book is far superior in the emotions that it evokes. I would highly recommend it to both young adults and adults alike. I definitely felt like I was reading a young adult book; however, it's still a must-read. This book is available on Amazon for the price of £5.03 currently. I'd say it's well worth the spend! Alternatively, support your library and use it!
I'm not generally a candle kind of person, but the one type of candle I do buy are tea lights. Not for around the house, but for my brownie pack. Whenever I enrol any brownies in our pack, I like to create a sense of occasion as I feel it assists with their interest in the organisation and potentially staying in the organisation for longer and being more involved. One way I do this, is with tea lights as I think it makes the enrolment a bit more atmospheric. Before you think I just take liberties with the safety of the girls, I place a tea light in front of each of them when they're already in a circle and just go round and light them myself with matches and giving strict instructions that they do not touch them! After turning out the lights, 30 tea lights gives the church hall a lovely orangey glow. Over the years, I've sourced the tea lights from all sorts of places, however I now prefer the Ikea glimma tealights. The primary reason for this is that its the biggest bag for the most reasonable price (second to Asda!). If I'm going past Ikea, its the most economical way to source the tea lights for the unit. I tend to enrol girls once a term and in one go, so a bag of these tea lights, comprising of about 100 per pack tends to last me all year (unless we fancy toasting marshmallows over tea lights of course!) The candle is unscented and is a small, round white candle in a foil container. With the size it is, it just has one wick and lights easily. Tea lights generally burn for a few hours and these are no different. They burn well and tend to stay lit for the duration of the ceremony (unless 'helped out' by a brownie). For the rest of the pack, their favourite bit of an enrolment is the blowing out of the candle at the end. They are easy to blow out and any liquid wax still in the container solidifies quickly. We don't have them burning for long enough that the tea light burns out completely, so after they've been blown out and solidified, I collect them up again for use on the next occasion. The good thing about a tea light is that the container doesn't get hot which is a key consideration for use (wooden church hall floor + children in the vicinity + hot item = untold disaster!). The price of these tea lights is £1.75 for a bag of approx 100 which I think is an excellent price. I shall most definitely continue to source tea lights from Ikea!
I had heard great things about The Notebook and have wanted to see it for quite a while. I generally don't buy dvds due to my current economy drive, so I was quite thrilled when my chap came back from HMV with a copy of The Notebook for me! My sister and I decided to watch it for our Friday evening film night. The Notebook is an epic love story, which follows the life of Noah (played by Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams), the two main characters in the story. The story begins with an elderly gentleman reading a story to an elderly lady in a nursing home. The story is that of Noah and Allie when they are younger and begins from Noah trying everything (and I mean everything!) to convince Allie to go on a date with him. She avoids him at all costs but finally ends up on a double date with him courtesy of a well meaning friend. Needless to say, they fall in love. What's the saying... "all's fair in love and war"? Not quite, as Allie's parents disapprove of her relationship with Noah and they drag her away, cutting short their summer romance. She soon graduates from university and volunteers as a nurse for wounded World War 2 soldiers. She meets a handsome soldier and is engaged to be married to a 'very nice' man of whom her parents approve. All is good, right? The production crew of this film and Nicholas Sparks, the author of the book definitely know how to reduce the audience to tears. Since the release of this film, it has had a popular response and I've heard numerous excellent reviews and nothing negative. One of the main aspects of the film that interested me most was the class difference between Allie and Noah and her parents reaction to the relationship. At first, they see it as a bit of a summer romance, however they later seem to see it as a threat to the life that they have planned out for her. I thought it was absolutely gutting the way her parents paid such scant regard to her opinions and wishes, to drag her away before her planned departure for university. The main driving force behind this is her mother, played by Joan Allen. She is very well to-do and well placed. It seems as though she has always been well off, born with a silver spoon in her mouth and influential. She is portrayed very well and is easy to dislike based on her character and attitude. We later find out the reason for this and to be honest, it was a bit of a twist in the tale, I must admit. It irritated me that her father was so non-descript and unconvincing. One of the things that I loved about this film was how Noah's love for Allie didn't die, despite years and miles separating them. The time period that this story is set in makes for an actual 'courtship' as my grandparents tend to put it, spending a summer together basking in the sun and enjoying each others company. I thought that this was incredibly sweet, lovely and very romantic rather than the portrayal of lust and the clothes ripping! Also, without wanting to sound shallow, I loved the fashion of the era. Allie looks fabulous throughout the entire film (and yes, well financed leads to well dressed!) but I really loved the innocent glamour that Allie brings to the film. However, my favourite character in the entire film was Noah. He is very humble, sweet and shows an incredible amount of love for Allie throughout the film, even after she moves away. He continues to have undying love for her which is clear throughout, particularly with his lack of romantic progress after Allie moves away. This film deals with some very sensitive issues and does it very well. Firstly, as I've addressed before, love across the class boundaries. However much she cries, declares her undying love etc, she can't stay with him as her parents have arranged for her to leave and upsettingly enough hadn't even warned her that she would be leaving imminently. Secondly, the concept of dementia and those in love; the elderly lady in the nursing home has advanced dementia and hears the elderly gentleman read the same story every day. I won't spoil the ending, but it's truly heartbreaking and will move you to tears. Whilst it appears to be portrayed as a 'girly' film, my boyfriend even cried at the end of this film. This film is definitely a must-watch and I guarantee that you will enjoy it! The film box portrays it as "the most romantic movie since Titanic". In my personal opinion, this film is far more romantic than Titanic! This film is currently available in a 2 for £10 offer at HMV or available for £6.99 which is well worth the investment! The film itself is rated as a 12, but the additional content on the DVD bumps it up to a 15. Along with the film, is a commentary, 3 features and the trailer.
Over Christmas, I had some free time on my hands and decided to read The Thread, which has been on my 'to-read' pile for quite a while. I really enjoyed reading a previous novel by Victoria Hislop so had high expectations for this one too. The Thread begins with Katerina and Dimitri Komninos in 2007 explaining to their grandson the history of their lives together. This part of the novel is rather brief and we are quickly thrown back to 1917, in Thessaloniki. Dimitri Komninos is a long awaited child born to Olga and Konstantinos Komninos. Shortly after his birth, a large fire rages through Thessaloniki, burning his father's cherished shop to the ground and the palatial house that Konstantinos adores so much. Before the fire, we find out that Thessaloniki was a city with many cultures living side by side, where muslims, jews and christians live in harmony. We're aware that the Greeks and Turks live in short lived peace. Olga and Dimitri end up moving to the old quarter, where Konstantinos is disgusted by the area. Greece was plunged into choas when Greece and Turkey ended up at war. The city is thrown into disarray and the Turks unleash violence on the citizens of Greece. During this period, a young girl, Katerina is separated from her mother during an exodus towards ships. Katerina is placed onto a boat and is to be temporarily looked after by Eugenia, a mother who has her twin daughters in tow. They end up in a refugee camp where they cope with adversity and come out fighting the other side. The novel follows the stories of Katerina and Dimitri as they live as friends in a close knit community. I would have expected a novel such as this to be very much a "will they, won't they" get together storyline. However, we know that they do get together because at the very beginning of the novel, we know that they are an old, married couple! During this story, I really developed a feeling of dislike towards one particular character. Konstantinos Komninos is a right-wing racist who has a clear priority - growing his business and making more money. He has little feeling towards his wife, which we know even prior to Dimitri's birth. I was quite stunned by the events that Konstantinos engineers, particularly in relation to his son. It made me wonder if the man even had a heart as his actions are really quite cowardly and spineless. His son Dimitri on the other hand, is an example of how good triumphs over bad and how a young person can grow into an adult with an excellent sense of self and determination. He was intended to be a trophy son and to study law to assist his father advance the business, but fortunately he pursues his intended career path. The other character that I really liked was Eugenia. At a time where the political situation is uneasy to say the least, and where citizens fear for their lives at times, she takes on the responsibility of caring for another young child with two of her own children as well. She is a widow, having lost her husband previously. Whilst she wouldn't have been aware of the fact that she would have Katerina with her in the long-term, she clearly doesn't shy away from the responsibility of treating Katerina like her own child. The historical events that are told through this book actually happened and it makes you aware of what an interesting history Greece has. Now, history is not my strong point but I do find it rather interesting. I was absolutely blown away by some of the events that occurred in Greece as I had absolutely no idea. The storyline is woven around the history of the events in Greece and really holds your attention. Victoria Hislop has a clear passion for writing about Greece and its islands and she is excellent at describing the scenes in which this novel is set. I have never been to Greece myself, but was easily able to summon up a picture of what Hislop described throughout. I really enjoyed reading this novel as I love getting hooked into a book. I found the historical element very interesting but also I thought the storyline was very well thought through and interwoven throughout the historical events. This book is definitely an 'easy read' and it doesn't particularly have you working hard to follow the plot etc and I couldn't put it down. I read it in two days which I was quite surprised with, as I just *had* to know what happened next! I'm going to rate it as 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and did lose myself in it, but I think I prefer a deep plot where you really have to think about what's going on! The RRP of this book is £8.99 but it is currently available on Amazon for £6.29 or £3.49 for the Kindle version. I would say that this book is most definitely worth a read if you want something non taxing to read! £6.29 is a reasonable price for a good book I think!
A Clash of Kings is the second book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire. This book follows on from the first in the series, A Game of Thrones. The series is written by George R R Martin and is an epic fantasy series, based on the fictional continent of Westeros. The end of A Game of Thrones left Westeros in a state of civil war, which is exactly where A Clash of Kings picks up. A Clash of Kings follows the happenings in three places: in the Seven Kingdoms, on the wall and in the East. The Seven Kingdoms of Westeros is in a state of turmoil after the death of King Robert and his hand, Eddard Stark. Previously to A Clash of Kings, most of the continent of Westeros was united under the King of the Seven Kingdoms, with each of the major houses controlling an area. Following the death of King Robert, there are now 5 men all intending to be the King of Westeros. The fight for the throne is led by Joffrey Baratheon, who currently sits on the Iron Throne in the place of his father, King Robert. However, discontent is upon Westeros, due to the events surrounding Joffrey's parentage which we found all about in A Game of Thrones. Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon, brothers to the late King Robert intend to claim the Iron Throne for themselves. Robb Stark holds the North and Balon Greyjoy, the King of the Iron Islands are all fighting to become King of the Seven Kingdoms. This results in all out war across all of Westeros in the War of the Five Kings. Each King plays a game of strategy, trying to take particular steadfasts for tactical reasons or to forge allegiances between different houses. Needless to say, the War of the Five Kings is full of bloodshed and gore. Many are murdered, either during battle or have ended up on the wrong side of King Joffrey and paid the price. The Wall is the most northern point of the Seven Kingdoms, although unmapped territory beyond the Wall does exist. Beyond the Wall lives The Others, which are a supernatural race inhabiting the other side of the Wall. The Wall is guarded by the Night's Watch, a brotherhood sworn to protect the Seven Kingdoms. During A Clash of Kings, some of the Night's Watch begin to advance north, in the unmapped territory beyond the Wall. We do not find out much about the happenings in the Night's Watch as we did in A Game of Thrones, but we do find out that Jon Snow (the illegitimate child of Eddark Stark) ends up infiltrating the Others whilst facing certain death. However, the King beyond the Wall is advancing towards the Wall with an army in tow... In the East, Daenerys Targaryen is attempting to secure the Seven Kingdoms, which her ancestors once held. She was previously in exile after many attempts on her life and her brother's life in order to end the Targaryen dynasty. She is currently travelling and arrives in a trading city, Qarth. I won't give away any more of the plot, as there is much to uncover in the 870 pages of this book! Needless to say, the War of the Five Kings adds a new level of complexity to the series. A Game of Thrones was definitely less complex. I do enjoy the added complexity as its interesting to see the Five Kings battling it out and putting all sorts of tactics into play. However, I did still find myself making reference to the lists of the Houses and the Kings and their Courts as the amount of characters involved certainly gets confusing. This story is told from different peoples points of view, which definitely gives an interesting spin on the War by hearing from different people in different Houses. Having got used to the different points of view in A Game of Thrones, I didn't find this to be difficult. However I would urge you not to have this book as a bit of light bedtime reading, as I think its certainly becoming too complicated and had to skip back a chapter at times as I'd been reading at night and just not taken it in! In the previous book, I'd really liked Daenerys Targaryen and looked forward to what she might accomplish in this book. However, I found the book slightly lacking in the events occurring in the East, with much more focus on the War. One character that I really developed a liking for (although I probably shouldn't have... being a Lannister and all! *boo, hiss etc*) was Tyrion, the Imp. Having been put in the role as the King's Hand, I found that he has incredible intelligence and is certainly holding the fort so to speak in plotting to keep the Lannister strongholds. I think he is previously portrayed as not having too much about him, but I like that he seems to show everyone in Westeros exactly what's what but whilst 'advising' the King. He has certainly been underestimated previously in his life and he does well to overcome that. One character that I don't particularly enjoy is Sansa Stark, she seems to lack the get up and go of the rest of House Stark. She seems to me to be a little simpering at times and I would really like to see her character develop into the strong female that she would be capable of becoming, similar to her mother and younger sister Arya. Overall, I found the book a little hard to follow at times due to the complexity of the developing plots but with a little perseverance I made it through to the end and really enjoyed the story. I made use of the House lists and the Kings and their Courts to find out who was squire to whom etc! But I really enjoyed the entire book and will certainly be reading on to find out what happens next. I didn't need to purchase this, as someone I know kindly donated it to me during a clear out after I read A Game of Thrones and loved it. However, the retail price is £8.99, which for a book of this volume (i.e. 900 pages), it is most definitely worth spending the money!
Last weekend, we fancied a day out somewhere in the Midlands, open during the winter and most definitely a cheap day out. We came across Croft Castle on the National Trust website which ticked both of those boxes. Off we trot. Croft Castle is located in in Yarpole in Hereford. It consists of a manor house, out buildings, gardens and lots of parkland. There is plenty to do and to keep you occupied, whether you're a family with children or just a group of friends or couple fancying a day out. Entering Croft Castle, you follow a long drive to the car park. The entrance is easy to miss if you're not looking out for it as there is quite a small "National Trust - Croft Castle" sign by the entrance. You follow the drive for rather a long time, I wouldn't have fancied walking it back in the day of the Croft family! You enter the car park (free to park), which is quite big as it was rather busy when we were there and yet we still managed to find space to park! There is a small wooden hut which you leave the car park via, so that you can pay your entrance fee or have your National Trust card scanned. You can also purchase a guide book and pick up a map. The castle is located down a long(ish) drive looking out onto the fabulous countryside. It's not so much a castle in terms of ruins, it's a very well maintained manor house. It dates back to the 11th century although it has obviously been altered and restored throughout its history. It was home to the (very large!) Croft family. In the house, you will be able to see the family tree showing the extent of the family! The picture above is a view of the manor house from on the grass, whereas walking down the drive, you approach it from the right hand side. As soon as you enter the foyer, you're greeted by a National Trust guide who tells you a bit about the history of the house and the Croft family. The tour begins by going to your left and into the various rooms of the house. Now I thought the first room was absolutely fabulous because it was the library of the house and full (floor to ceiling) with books. It also had display cabinets in the middle of the room where you could see inside of the books so if you are interested in the history of books, it's a place to linger and absorb the ambiance! Following the layout of the house, you wander through. There is a guide in each room telling you a bit more about either the Croft family, the house or the architecture of the room. Other than the library, I loved the sitting room as being nearly Christmas, there was a musician playing carols and later on, a male voice choir! Heaven... in a day out! The house was really fascinating and what assisted was the National Trust guides being so knowledgeable about *everything*! Also, there are information points where you can have a flick through some literature about the house and the artwork on the walls. They are in folders on the chairs near the door to each room. There was a lot being put on for Christmas during our visit, as well as the above mentioned carols and pianist, there were craft stalls, mulled wine tasting and a large Christmas tree! The manor house has a walled garden in the grounds, which has an 18th century greenhouse which is being restored and many different paths around the gardens. I think it's the wrong time of year to be able to appreciate the gardens right now, but it's still a nice place to wander around. There is a church located on the estate, which you can just about see to the left on the picture above. The church is St Michaels and All Angels and is a must during your visit. It's actually used today and has very few parishioners. The interior of the church is very simple, yet beautiful. There is currently a nativity laid out in front of the altar which is really lovely. Inside the church are the crypts of Sir Croft and his wife. It's quite small, but fortunately, we were on our own in the church which meant you could really appreciate the calm and stillness. The Croft estate has acres and acres of parkland (1,500 to be precise!) and it's so nice, you really should make the most of it! It was rather muddy whilst we were there so I would recommend taking your walking boots! The walks aren't difficult, but it was easy to see where people before us had been slipping and sliding in the mud! There are 3 different walks of different lengths and graded by yellow, blue or red. The yellow route is quite short and takes you on a walk around the lake. I believe that this route is also pushchair friendly! After deciding that the yellow route was a bit sedate for us, we decided to take the blue route (approx 3.5 miles) which was described as moderate terrain but a bit muddy. The time estimate given by the National Trust was a minimum of 2 hours for this route. This route takes you through Croft Ambrey and up to the iron age hill fort on the estate. This was a really nice walk (and certainly not challenging) and gives you some excellent view points of the surrounding areas. Now, I wouldn't recommend this walk if you have mobility problems or a pushchair, but other than that, its perfectly manageable. Plus, the time estimates given are rather over enthusiastic... for a moderate pace, I'd say halve the time (and that's with stopping times to read the information boards, take pictures and generally horse around!) The next route is the red route which takes you all around the perimeter of the estate but follows the blue route for a while. This walk was about 5 miles and takes a bit longer. We didn't do this one as we were conscious of the time, but it looks like a fun walk to do if you have extra time! All of the walks are well signed with posts throughout the course. If you are taking children with you, there are two play areas for their entertainment! One is play area by the cafe and one is a natural play area which is located on the estate just slightly into the parkland. Also, the National Trust had put on extra Christmassy things for the children to do. There is a reindeer hunt (clues on wooden reindeers around the site) and also a santa to visit. There is a cafe on the estate if you fancy a bite to eat. I can't provide you with an opinion on the cafe as we took a picnic! There are also picnic benches outside of the cafe for those less inclined to purchase their lunch! The toilets are also located in the vicinity of the cafe and well maintained for being in a stable block! The prices vary depending on which elements of the estate you want to visit (i.e. all of it, garden and countryside, or just countryside). The price to see all of it is £9.00 for an adult, £4.50 for a child or £22.00 for a family. If you are a member of the National Trust, it's free entry. We are members so it didn't cost us anything; however, I would easily have paid the £9.00 each for entry as its good value for money! The estate seems to be open all year round which is great but I would recommend checking the website as to what bits of the estate are open on particular days of the week. This was a really lovely day out which I would recommend to all!
The Black Country Museum is a living, open-air museum between Dudley and Tipton in the Midlands. I fancied a day out there as I'd been there on a school trip and I've taken my brownies a few years ago but that is about it! The Black Country gets its name from having been a major part of the industrial revolution and the first industrial landscape in the world, where metalworking and coal mining polluted the air, for which it became known for and even referred to by Charles Dickens and J.R.R Tolkien! Forges and furnaces poured black smoke out all over the area, but the Black Country became known for manufacturing and metal work. The anchor of the Titanic was even made in the Black Country! It was even conveniently located for the canal network to be transporting manufactured goods around the country. Obviously, today the industry is largely gone, particularly in light of the decline in coal mining. The mines around the area all closed; although a small amount of metal working still goes on in factories around the area. The massive decline in trades in the area has caused economic decline since and parts of the Black Country are now quite deprived. It's now non-polluted, thanks to clean air legislation and all that, which works well for those of us that live locally! The museum began to be developed in the 1950's by Dudley Borough Council and selected individuals in the community and grew throughout the following years, separating from the Council in 1976 and locating the site on which it now stands. The museum has grown in size and is now a large site with a tramway running right through it and many attractions within the grounds. When you first enter the museum, there is a Hall of Fame, showing famous people who originated from Birmingham and have gone on to achieve great things. There is also a room inside the foyer building which often hosts displays and exhibitions from groups with various historical interests. Upon purchasing your tickets, you are provided with a very useful map! Leaving the foyer building, to your left, is an old motor garage which is pretty cool, cars looked rather impressive and grand back then! You can also get the tram from this area down to the bottom of the museum, which is about half a mile. There is also an engine house around this area, showing how steam engines worked which looks rather complicated! If you are interested in engineering, then it appears to be a really interesting part of the museum, as my boyfriend was transfixed for quite a while! I didn't really 'get it' myself and got a bit lost by the description given by the guide in there! In the same area, is the mine. This was one of the parts of the museum I really wanted to go to. There is a small building over the mine and as it's near the entrance, it's worth checking what time the mine tours are when you first get there! They take a certain amount of people down at a time, they provide you with the relevant hard hats and a torch which gives out the same amount of light as a candle would have done! The mine tour is led by a museum guide but when you are in there, there is a narrated story as though it was by the people who worked in there at the time! Although be warned, parts of the ceiling get rather low! Slightly further through the museum grounds are some old Victorian houses. One that is particularly interesting is the tilted cottage. It's a house that would have belonged to someone relatively well off in those times and it looks grand for the times inside. The guide who works in this cottage is very knowledgeable and can tell you all about the family who lived there and how the cottage was transported to the museum grounds. She looks after that particular cottage, cleans it etc and she clearly takes a lot of pride in the cottage! You will see why it's the tilted cottage though! There is a fairground slightly further down into the museum grounds, which is a must if you have any kids in your group! The rides are not included in the ticket prices though and you would need to purchase them separately from the fairground. There is an old Victorian school located in the museum which is well worth a trip even if you don't have kids in your group. There are guides who act as Victorian school teachers, down to teaching a lesson on a blackboard and slates! There is also another school room where it displays artefacts from the school at the time that it was in use and still even has the tiered benches that the baby class would sit at, before moving up to the classroom. The school room is very well recreated indeed and the guides definitely bring it to life. Next to the school is the fish and chip shop. I highly recommend a visit! They cook the fish and chips in beef dripping, as it would have been done at the time and serve them in a cone of paper. They are honestly the nicest fish and chips you'll have. I kid you not! It can be a bit pricey, at just over £5 for a portion, but it's an absolute must. If the weather is not great, there are benches inside the shop, but we sat outside with ours on a bench and it definitely adds to the atmosphere. Around this area is Old Birmingham Street, a recreated Victorian street, complete with old style shops, including a general store, bakers, pawnbrokers, hardware shop, chemist etc. Again, the guides in the shops are all very knowledgeable and can tell you all sorts of interesting facts! The canal runs through the grounds of the museum as it formed an essential part of industry during this time period. The old lime kilns are alongside the canal and provide an interesting insight into the area. Above the lime kilns is a view point, where you can see for miles from. However, be warned that the view point is not wheelchair accessible. There are Dudley Canal Boat trips which you can go on. I was recommended to go on a canal trip, but in the end, we didn't get time. But I hear it's a very good trip and worth the extra charge! Around the canal area, is an old mill, a blacksmith's shop and a nail making workshop. It's a very interesting part of the museum and it really does give you an insight into the work that went on around the Black Country during the days of the industrial revolution! There is so much to see and do and the Black Country museum, that you can easily spend a day there and certainly no less than half a day in order to really do it justice! I would also recommend getting there early, the museum opens between 10 and 5 every day. We got there about 10.30 and were queuing out of the door! The prices are £15.50 for an adult, which isn't too bad. If you 'gift aid' your ticket, you get free return entry which is definitely worth doing! The price for a child is £8.25 although there are also family ticket combinations available. I would recommend having a look at booking on-line first, as we didn't even think about doing it, until we heard a shout for on-line bookings to make a separate queue. The 'on the door' prices are a bit more expensive. There is a car park at the museum which is pretty big so I can't imagine that you would particularly need to park elsewhere, but you do need to pay to park. It a pay on the way out car park, and you'll need to buy a token for £2.50 before you leave the foyer on the way out. I think the Black Country museum is an absolutely brilliant day out, whether you are going as a family group or with a group of friends. It's one not to be missed.
Last night, my sister and I felt that a girly film night was needed. After collecting the takeaway, we settled down in front of the TV and selected Friends with Benefits from LoveFilm. We chose it as my sister said "ooh that looks funny!" whereas my opinion was "it's got Mila Kunis in it, how wrong could it go?". This film was released in 2011 and I had not actually heard of it! I had a feeling of what we could expect, purely from the title alone. Friends with benefits referring to friends who share certain benefits of a relationship, in the absence of emotions and commitment. Also, with the genre of film, I expected the plot to be fairly predictable, as you would expect in these circumstances! The plot revolves around Dylan (played by Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (played by Mila Kunis). Dylan currently lives in Los Angeles and is something of a hit on the internet in his field of work. Jamie is New York based head hunter, who sees the potential for Dylan's future and recruits him for a job at GQ magazine in New York. After hitting it off with Jamie, accepting the job and moving to New York, Dylan and Jamie soon realise that they could be 'friends with benefits' after establishing that they get on really well, but just 'don't like each other like that'. Apparently, the ideal situation in these circumstances is to be friends with benefits, as apparently, sex is like tennis. Dylan is supported by his sister, dad and nephew, to whom he is very close. He has some family difficulties, however, after being introduced to Jamie as a "friend", they seem keen on Jamie and want them to be together. Jamie was most definitely my favourite character throughout the film. She is friendly, hilarious and strong-willed. I think these traits are integral to the person she is, even whilst having deeper issues. The secondary characters in the film help you to understand why both Dylan and Jamie have the issues they do. Jamie's mum, Lorna, played by Patricia Clarkson, is promiscuous and doesn't know who Jamie's father actually is. In these circumstances, you can imagine how much Jamie wants to find her Prince Charming. One of the characters I really liked in this film was Mr Harper (Dylan's dad), played by Richard Jenkins The plot is pretty straightforward so I won't give away any more, as it will give you the ending. What I expected to happen, happened! The film is rated as a 15 for some general bedroom naughtiness, but I thought it had somewhat of a comedy aspect. I had my sister at my side shrieking "ohmigod!! He's singing to her! Eeew, who would do that, at that moment?? Grow a pair!" which as you can imagine, added to the comedy aspect somewhat. I wasn't too sure about watching a film with Justin Timberlake in, as to be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of his. However, the other options were limited as I'd seen much of what was on LoveFilm. I am a fan of Mila Kunis though. I've seen her in a few interviews etc and she seems to be such a personable character and really one of those people who gets on with everybody! I think that trait helped her out somewhat in this film, as Dylan and Jamie have a fabulous chemistry going on together. You can really tell that they must get on well as they had a "best friend/relationship" going on throughout the entire of the film. Although the plot line was predictable, I still had a bit of an "awww *wipe eye*" moment at the end, as Justin and Mila played out the ending in such a sweet way. One of my favourite scenes involved Dylan and his dad at the airport in New York as for the first time, it made me think that Dylan had managed to throw aside his cares about what people would think about his father. So many people worry about what strangers think that it can hold you back in your life. I thought it was really sweet as his love for his dad shone through so much in this scene. So much so that I was almost in tears! When we first sat down to watch this film, I wasn't expecting it to be thought-provoking, but it really was! I was mulling over the idea of 'friends with benefits'. Personally, I don't think that the concept works, as invariably, someone is going to be adding emotion to the situation regardless of how 'sure' you may be with your lack of emotional connection! I think this film adds to that as both Dylan and Jamie appeared to be very sure of their standing before getting into this situation. Overall, this film was great. Although it was predictable, Justin and Mila definitely had a great chemistry going on between them which made the film flow. I was transfixed throughout which definitely means you're onto a winner! Although we watched it on LoveFilm, the DVD is available on Amazon for £3, which is definitely worth it, in my humble opinion.
I've been to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery many times and get it never gets old. My boyfriend and I had a wander around whilst in Birmingham last weekend. If you fancy a day out, then Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is the place to go. The opening hours for the museum are 10am - 5pm, except for Friday, where it opens at 10.30. The museum is absolutely huge and the picture of the front of it at the top of the page absolutely does not do it justice for how vast it really is. The main entrance is in Chamberlain Square (by the old library, town hall and the Conservatoire). The main entrance has a lot of steps, but there is a more accessible entrance to the left with lifts to the museum. When you enter into the main entrance, you enter into the Round Room. The Round Room is an art gallery with Victorian works of art. There are helpful information boards all around the room explaining about the art works in front of you. The next room along is the Pre-Raphaelite Gallery which is the world's largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite work. One of my favourite parts of the gallery is the Industrial Gallery which is just through from the the art gallery. The Industrial Gallery houses a large collection of ceramics from all over the world, showing the development of work, the art work and even how politics has developed ceramics making, art and stained glass all over the world. Also, this section of the museum houses two stone sphinxes which were originally at Soho House, another museum within the Birmingham Museums group. On the same floor, is a gorgeous Edwardian tea room which is a lovely setting to sit down and have a rest from your trip round the museum. The museum houses the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon treasure. It is currently in a temporary exhibition and there is to be another gallery opening in September 2014 which will be another visit I feel! The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in a field in Staffordshire in 2009 and was inspected by the Coroner and labelled officially as "treasure". The collection comprises of 300 items of varying sizes. There is an information board explaining about the discovery of the collection and the trading routes that were used in the 7th Century. There is a section on the Egyptians, which me and my sister really love walking around. Gruesome, maybe, but interesting! There is a real mummy and equally interesting artefacts and information about the ancient Egyptians. This is a great place to keep a child interested in a museum. My niece really enjoys this section of the museum, even though she's not old enough to understand about the era but there are so many things to look at. There are also children's sections which has small activities and games to keep them fascinated. Going upstairs in the museum, my absolute favourite section is the section on Birmingham and it's people. I have a huge interest in the development of democracy, the development of society and politics etc. This section covers all of this in Birmingham from it's beginnings as a village in the Medieval period right up until the current day. The great thing about this section being so specific to Birmingham is that it includes the development of manufacturing, including factories like the Austin. The display on war time evacuation from Birmingham had me shed a tear or two, particularly the letter from the host of an evacuee to the children's parents in Birmingham. It explained that they were being looked after etc which on the face of it is great, but imagine the heartbreak of your children being sent away for some unspecified length of time... well it had me in bits. If you have limited time at the museum, I would highly recommend starting at the top level because this exhibition is so geared specifically towards Birmingham which sets the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery apart from similar museums. The best thing about the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is most definitely that it has free admission. You can wander around whenever you have a spare hour etc as I frequently do while I'm in Birmingham. My boyfriend hadn't been there since he was about 7 and he thought that the museum was a complete gem that's totally underestimated in Birmingham. The museum building itself is very accessible, there are lifts between the floors and the corridors and exhibition spaces are wide and allow easy access. My sister and I had no space problems getting a push chair around. The one downside though is that we couldn't find a leaflet with a map of the layout in anywhere! It would have been very useful to know which sections were which and it would allow for ease of planning as well! The only map of the layout that we could find was in the foyer. It would have been useful to have either printed leaflets or maybe laminated versions to hand back in on the way out (in the interests of being environmentally friendly and all that!). There is an exhibition space downstairs in the museum which changes topic every few months. Currently, there is a Julia Donaldson exhibition which I am led to believe by my sister is well worth the visit! My niece and I are a big fan of "A squash and a squeeze", so we may have a visit before the exhibition goes! You do however have to pay extra for other exhibitions going on at the museum, so you may wish to bear that in mind! Other than this exhibition, if you're taking children to the museum, you won't have any problems keeping them interested as there are so many 'hands-on' experiences, games etc. Overall, the museum is a really interesting day out and I would highly recommend it!
A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided that we would have a day out on the weekend. My friend thought it was absolutely atrocious that I have never visited the Safari Park, when it is so close to where we live! Well, according to my mum I have, but I certainly don't remember ("of course you've been. You were in a pushchair! Although, now I think, it might have been your sister"). The West Midlands Safari Park is located in Bewdley in Worcestershire. The website contains a helpful list of directions depending on what direction you arrive from. However, once you get to Kidderminster, if there's a line of traffic standing still, you are probably in the right place! I recommend getting there early. We got there 5 minutes after the park opened and we still sat in traffic approaching the park and at the gates. Upon arriving at the Safari Park, there is often a queue at the ticket booths, where people will be trying to sell you programmes and animal feed etc. We figured that there was not really any point buying a programme, as you get a map and a small leaflet with your ticket anyway. The entrance fee is quite steep, at £16.99 per adult (over 16's) and £12.99 for children (although under 3's are free). However, the Safari Park is running an offer at the moment where you get free entry on another occasion when you buy your ticket (although take the same car as they record your registration plate!). After paying, you go through to the Safari Drive Through. Now, I had some idea of what to expect, but when you get there it really is amazing when there's a rhinoceros wondering past your window! The safari drive through has rhinos, elephants, zebras, giraffes, ankole cattle, dholes, african wild dogs, and the bit I was desperate to see, the white lions and that's just to name a few. It is really an incredible drive, seeing all these animals and it was most definitely my favourite bit of the entire day! There are safari trucks driving around, to make sure that the animals don't wander into the road, thereby holding up the traffic. The staff also make sure you're not lingering too long at any point so that the traffic keeps flowing! We went on a pretty hot day, where there were cars overheating and all sorts, but the staff seemed pretty helpful in assisting. Just make sure that you follow the instructions around the self-drive as it tells you when to shut your windows and lock your doors! After the self drive, it leads to the car park for the rest of the site. Once you find a space, you're free to explore the rest of the park at your leisure. There are so many different attractions that it's easy to spend the rest of your day here! Penguin Cove - this was my second favourite bit of the park. The park has a collection of Humboldt Penguins which are native to Peru and Northern Chile. The penguin enclosure is new to the park but consists of a large pool area for the penguins, a house and a mini beach. The sides of the enclosure are perspex so that you can see the penguins swimming around and being incredibly cute! We thought it was pretty good that there was also a member of the park staff giving a bit of a talk about the penguins. How about an interesting fact...? These penguins have spiky tongues so that once they've caught a fish, it can't escape again! One thing that really surprised me was that these penguins are actually listed as vulnerable as they are being gradually threatened in the wild, by hunters and human development, which is an incredibly saddening thought. Sea Lion theatre - the park has a collection of Californian sea lions, which give shows about their skills. They seem to learn pretty fast and they have a whole variety of ball skills etc. The shows are pretty frequent, however you need to book so its worth planning ahead so that you don't miss out on a show. Reptile House - I'll admit I spent most of this peeking out from between my fingers as I'm a teensy bit scared of snakes. But I was put slightly at ease by the helpful chap giving a talk outside of the reptile house on the reasons snakes bite etc as I thought that they pretty much attacked indiscriminately rather than only when threatened. But they still send shivers down my spine! There are a lot of other cool things to look at though, like lizards and other things. I was pleased that I actually went in although it involved some creeping along as far away as I could get from the snakes. Yes, I'm aware they are in tanks and behind thickened glass... they still creep me out though! Bat House - I wasn't too sure what to expect with the bat house, but it's totally worth a visit. You enter through some thick hangings and it's quite dark (and smells horrible!), but your eyes adjust quickly to the light and it becomes much easier to see. There are bats flying around above your head which is really incredible. If you look carefully, you may see them hanging from the walls and flying past you at great speed. I was slightly apprehensive at first, but it was so worth the visit. Meerkat enclosure - this was my all time favourite part of the park... (I'm easily pleased!). There is a pack of meerkats which I think are really interesting and incredibly cute. Also, when we were there, some babies had just been born! There is an information board alongside the enclosure, as meerkats work in a pack, it tells you the job roles and what they do! There was a meerkat sitting on high on the top of the middle bit of the enclosure. Originally, I thought, well he's clearly the dude of the pack, but no, he was the lookout which would protect the rest of the pack when building shelter in the wild. They were incredibly cool. Simples! Lemur wood - there is a lemur wood, which is a short walk through the lemur enclosure. I had thought that they would be difficult to spot, but slightly closer to the end, they were all out of the grass enjoying the sun shine! Goat trail - if you or your little 'uns fancy feeding some goats, I'd recommend heading for the goat trail, which is a short walk around the goat enclosure. You can buy goat feed and the goats eat out of your hands, which is pretty cool in my opinion! Also, park staff and volunteers are wondering around all the time with some of the smaller animals and do mini talks about what the animal is, what they do etc. I discovered that millipedes are rather cool to hold! It's legs cling to the back of your hand and it feels surprisingly smooth! From having known some people at university that were studying animal type courses, I know that the Safari Park does quite a lot of research with students, both undergraduates and post graduates which aims to further the welfare of the animals. As well as this, they have a conservation project to conserve biodiversity and to try and prevent animals from becoming endangered. It's a sad thought that some of these fascinating animals are closer and closer to becoming extinct. All around the park are information boards advising of the animals status, i.e. extinct in the wild, endangered, vulnerable etc. It shows that the captive animals from around the world would assist greatly with reintroduction into the wild, or growing the population etc. It's worth your while taking the time to read the information boards around the park, as they are full of fascinating information. If you are taking children with you, there are rides and attractions at the park to keep them entertained. However, the rides are not part of your ticket and you pay separately for a ride wrist band. The wrist band price for an adult is £11.99 or £10.99 for a child; or 3 ride tickets for £6. Personally, we didn't think it was worth it as we thought it was quite pricey but I can see that it could be a useful additional extra if you have kids (or slightly bigger kids!) in tow. If you're a bit peckish while you're there, there are a number of food outlets and a cafe in the park for you to sit down and have some lunch. The prices can be a bit steep so we didn't have lunch there, but I can recommend the benches around the park if you take your own lunch with you! The useful thing is that all around the park are handwash stations and regular reminders to wash your hands. It's useful being able to wash your hands with hot water and soap after stroking the animals! Overall, I can't believe I've not been to the Safari Park before, its a brilliant day out even if you don't have any children with you. There's so much to do and learn that you can easily use your return trip and not be bored. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and have so many interesting facts for you to find out about. I would say that the biggest drawbacks are the price and also how busy it gets. If you have a free weekday, I'd recommend going then. We went on a bank holiday Monday and it was absolutely packed, even after getting there for very shortly after the opening time! With it being so close to where I live, I frequently see the queues at the weekend so I know that it gets really busy. My advice... arrive early! The opening times for the park are daily from 10am - 9pm, even on the weekends, so you'll be able to fit in all the good stuff!
My friends and I decided to have a low budget night out, i.e. a night in with friends, DVDs and pizza. We narrowed the film field to musicals and selected this one as a cheesy something that we wouldn't have to think too much about! It was sold to us by one of the girls as "don't expect anything and you won't be disappointed". So, with that in mind, we set about watching it! I was apprehensive to say the least, as I'm not sure who would have thrown Christina Aguilera and Cher together to make a film! I would love to have been a fly on the wall when this storyline was cobbled together and when the parts were casted! The story line consists of a small town girl, Ali (played by Christina Aguilera), who has previously been working in a bar in her home town. She ups and leaves when her boss refuses to pay her and she hot foots it to Los Angeles pronto. She's searching for her "big break" moment, and unwittingly ends up in a burlesque club, watching the glittery, spangly, opening number. She is immediately hooked on the glitz and glamour and searches for the owner (Tess, played by Cher). She isn't given an audition by Tess, but the bar tender, with whom she was previously flirting, gives her a job as a waitress. During her work as a waitress, she manages to learn all of the routines and songs and when the next round of auditions happen, she manages to wow the management. The owner, Tess, has her own battle on her hands in order to keep the club going, as there is a large amount of interest from developers who want to be able to buy the club for the view of LA. There is, of course, a love story 'sub-plot' between Ali and Jack. It is entirely predictable and I won't divulge any more than this in terms of the plot, as I assure it would ruin the rest of it for you! When the film first started playing, I'll admit I was sceptical about the quality of the film, as the camera zoomed in on Christina dressed down and doing a musical number. However, as it went on, I decided that it was bordering on good. It was definitely the most cheesy film I've seen for a very long time! Ali begins as a sweet and somewhat naive young girl at the beginning of the film, but somehow (and in the space of 5 minutes!) manages to turn into a sexy vamp of a burlesque dancer. I was quite stunned just how fast the transformation was and couldn't help but think that it was slightly contrived! It would have been good to know what leads her to the instantaneous transition to a sexy burlesque girl, but no. Your imagination will just have to take over for you. The one person I adored in this film was Stanley Tucci as Sean (Tess's right hand man for the shows and the general running of the club). I had no idea he was in it, as Cher and Christina take up the entire front cover of the DVD. He is the gloriously camp chappy from The Devil Wears Prada. He's fabulous dahling. He really is! I honestly thought that he made the show for me! He supports Tess well and yet keeps her grounded and manages to kick her back into touch with reality! I wasn't as impressed with Cher to be honest. I expected Cher to be loud, larger than life and absolutely fabulous. She does the glamour of the club very well, and it's easy to see how she was running such a glamorous establishment. However, she is significantly lacking in any form of facial expression whatsoever! Her face doesn't give anything away about what she's feeling, which in light of the fact that her club is struggling, made her slightly detached from reality for me! There are some immensely spangly show numbers in this film which really make it live up to it's showy flamboyance. I expected it to be more 'burlesque-y' than it actually was, but let us not forget that it's a 12A so needs to be slightly less in your face! But the songs are fabulous and most definitely catchy! I went away from my friend's singing "show me how you burlesque" all the way home. Overall, I'd safely say it's one of those films which is 'so bad it's good'. Don't expect anything remotely high-brow and you will really enjoy it! This DVD is available for £4.25 on Amazon and is most likely available in supermarkets for around the same price. Its a good watch, but don't expect that you will be able to get multiple watches out of this film!
When I began my new job, I wanted to find a cardigan that could go with everything. I wear a lot of black and everything else I wear for work most definitely goes with black! So, it was entirely natural that I went looking for a black cardigan for work! I went to New Look and immediately saw this "Drop Pocket Boyfriend Cardigan". This cardigan is a very light feeling material which is 96% viscose and 4% elastane. It feels quite thin and is definitely a summery cardigan. As it's so light feeling, it it very flexible and easy to wear whilst you are on the go. Also, if its one of those days where you can't work out whether you are hot or cold, I have found that this cardigan folds up well into your bag, or alternatively hangs well over the back of an office chair! I have found that it doesn't crease too much and creases drop out quite easily if you are hanging it up. The shape of it is lovely, the pockets extend all the way to the edge of the cardigan which I think makes it hang on you slightly better and the style goes with almost anything. I have found that it is a very versatile cardigan as I have dressed it up i.e. with a formal dress or with a pencil skirt/blouse just to add an element of less formal; but also, I've worn it with jeans and a t shirt. It goes well with either a more dressy look or a casual look. Being quite tall, I tend to have an issue with sleeves being too short, however I've not had a problem with the sleeves on this cardigan. This cardigan is easy to wash. The instructions recommend washing at 30 degrees, which I usually do anyway and it really comes out well. The thinness of it does mean that it dries quite quickly on a line, so if you're a tumble dryer kind of person, I really wouldn't put it in for long! I've found that it irons well. It doesn't tend to crease much, which makes it easier to iron anyway. Over the last year or so, I've brought this in 3 colours (black, white and purple) which goes with practically everything I own. The black one is the oldest and I've had it for approximately a year now. It's worn well, as it's been washed almost on a weekly basis as I wear it so much! I tend to hang it over the back of my chair and throw it on when I have meetings etc or if it just gets a touch chilly in the office! It is now showing signs of becoming faded and will need to be relegated to casual wear only soon, as the discrepancy between the black of the cardigan and the black of my skirt is now showing. But for a price of £12.99, I think it's an absolute bargain for how well it has lasted. If you are looking for a cardigan for warmth, then I wouldn't recommend this one as it is quite thin and definitely a summer product. But for other purposes, I would definitely recommend it.
A Game of Thrones is the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire Series, by George R. R Martin. My brother in law has been trying to get me to read the series for quite a while now. He'd given me the first book during a clear out he was having, so it went onto my to-read pile. Although it did end up going further and further down the pile as many other things were placed on top of it! I knew it was a fairly popular TV series, but I'd never seen it and it didn't particularly appeal if I'm honest! When I went on holiday recently, I thought I'd take it along, as my logic was that taking a fairly hefty tome with me, was that I would be minimising the amount of books I'd be taking! I added it to my hand luggage and started it on the plane! A Song of Ice and Fire is a fantasy novel series which takes place across 2 continents, Westeros and Essos. There are 7 kingdoms in Westeros which were originally united under one dynasty, but then the downfall of that family led to the events that occur in A Game of Thrones i.e. a power struggle for the Iron Throne of Westeros. There are 3 interwoven stories which are being told through A Game of Thrones. Firstly, the power struggle for the Iron Throne. At the beginning of the book, Robert Barratheon is on the throne, assisted by the King's Hand, Eddark Stark. I won't tell you the rest of this theme as it would give too much of the plot of the first book away! But suffice to say, just bear in mind that it's a power struggle, which occurs between the different noble Houses of Westeros. Secondly, on the Northern border of Westeros, is the Wall. It's an 8000 year old wall of ice, which defends Westeros from the Others. The Others are mythical creatures which pose a threat to the inhabitants of Westeros. The Wall is defended by the Night Watch, a group of protectors who prevent the Others from causing harm. Joining the Night Watch is known as "taking the black", and once you take you vow to be a brother of the Night Watch, there is absolutely no turning back. The punishment for desertion, is death. The third story is that of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled princess and the last of her line. During A Game of Thrones, she is sold into a tactical arranged marriage and we see the beginning of her transformation from a thirteen year old pauper. This story is told in the third person and each chapter is told by a different character from the stories. Each chapter jumps between the three different stories, which really does keep you on your toes. At the end of the book, is an appendix containing the Houses of Westeros. Make friends with this section, as if you are anything like me, you will find yourself nipping backwards to refer to the House listings, to say "aaah, so X is a member of so and so's court. Got it, got it" and delving back into the story. Each House is named, and the head of the House is listed and all the people who form his court and staff. I'm at a relatively early stage of the series, however, I've formed some favourite characters so far! Lady Catelyn Stark is my favourite character in A Game of Thrones. She is the wife of Eddark Stark, the King's Hand and she is the mother of Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. She really has her hands full, yet she handles life, politics and power with what I can only describe as a sense of grace and a large dose of confidence. I like that there is a woman in a series of this nature with such an incredible sense of self. I've also been told that there are other women in the series who are pretty amazing in a similar way! I've been told I can expect much more from Daenerys, which I am really looking forward to as even through one book, you can really see her character developing. I also find Varys, the Eunuch, to be a really fascinating character. If it happens, he knows about it. He has eyes and ears everywhere, yet no-one knows who or how! Throughout the first book, I couldn't figure out what his agenda was, or whose 'side' he was on. At times I thought he was quite slippery and conniving, at times (particularly his conversation with Eddark Stark), I thought maybe his noble side was beginning to show. One thing is for certain, he is definitely cunning, but I'm quite intrigued to find out how he turns out. I know from conversations with my brother in law, that I can expect to gradually find out more and more about different characters throughout the series, I'm certainly looking forward to it! I found the first couple of chapters to be quite difficult going. I was unfamiliar with the style of writing and being such an epic (and I certainly don't use that word lightly!) series, I found it difficult to get my head around the many different houses and Kingdoms. However, I decided to persevere, as I wanted to know what all the fuss was about, as I'd heard a fair few people raving about the tv series. I'm glad I did, as I am completely hooked on the series so far. I've not finished the books which have been published so far (there are seven in the series at the moment and two more are to follow). I was given my copy of A Game of Thrones for free, as it was part of a clear out (my brother in law in a kindle devotee! His large collection of books is gradually being distributed to various charity shops). This was quite clearly a bargain on my part! However, you can get hold of A Game of Thrones on amazon for £3.95 which I think is a fabulous price, particularly as the recommended retail price is £8.99! Even at that price, you get a lot of book for your buck as it's a huge 864 pages long... and that's just the first instalment.
I go camping quite a bit, sometimes with my friends, or my family or with my Brownie pack. I purchased this Gelert camping stool a few years ago for a brownie camp, as I started to feel the effects of sitting on a ground sheet with the girls! What can I say... I'm getting old! I purchased the stool for the cost of £4.99 a few years ago. At this time, a camping chair was still quite expensive and around £10-15, so I brought camping stool instead as it fit in my student budget better! I brought it from Towsure, although now they are available in more places and I have seen them in places such as Go Outdoors. The stool is 3 legged, has a steel frame and a material top. The frame is hollow which makes it very lightweight. The best selling point of this stool is that it is compact. If you are doing the kind of camping where "if you can carry it, you can take it" goes, then this is an excellent product which I would wholly recommend. If your backpack has an elastic for walking poles on the front, they snap easily round one of the legs meaning that you can pack it easily. If not, you may have to find a more inventive way of keeping it attached to your backpack! I find it fits easily to the front of my bag. However, if you are doing the kind of camping where you load stuff in the car, drive to the camp site and then unpack in a car park next to the field, then I wouldn't recommend it quite so well! The main reason is that it's not particularly comfortable in comparison to the other camping chairs on the market. It's far more comfortable than a ground sheet on the floor, but now, I think that a camping chair is preferable as they really seem to have come down in price. This stool is easy to put up as the frame is in one piece and they are kept together with a plastic ring in the middle with a screw through it. To put it up, all you do is grab two of the legs and pull. There is a tension strap so that you know when it's put up correctly (although it won't go down any further than the correct height... unless it's broken of course!). The material top is quite sturdy. My friend owned a less well made stool and the material ripped around where it slots over the poles and she isn't exactly heavy! However, this material is hard wearing. It is 600 denier polyester which is coated in PVC. I've had this stool for a few years and used it quite frequently and there's not even a hint of a tear around the poles. Overall, it's a handy piece of kit if you are limited on space or what you can carry. However, if you're not particularly limited in that respect, I would say it would be worth looking into getting a camping chair rather than a stool.