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JohnCleese

JohnCleese
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Member since: 12.06.2008

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      12.11.2009 12:57
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      Fill it, smooth it and you are ready 2GO

      This is a review of Kenwood Smoothie maker SB055 which got a nick name Smoothie 2GO form his beloved parents. You would expect from the nickname that it has MP3 player, GPS navigation and silly iPhone-type of games installed and you can play and get lost while sipping (sucking, better said) a smoothie on the way to your cosy cubicle at Slough industrial estate. So better to explain the nickname first and set right expectations. Smoothie means that you can make smoothies in the smoothie maker (clever), 2 means you have 2 cups and GO means that you can go with both cups in hand(s).

      Is it a smooth operator?

      'He move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy'
      That's true - it does not take much space.

      'No place for beginners or sensitive hearts
      When sentiment is left to chance
      No place to be ending but somewhere to start'
      It is definitely not for beginners and sensitive hearts - it is only 300W and don't use it with nuts or harder stuff or it will die. Also instructions say that dry stuff is not good but ice and frozen fruit are OK to use. It is not intended to be ice crusher but in recipe book ice can be added together with fruit.
      I already destroyed one blade unit. The reason was that I used it once to chop walnuts and it was against Kenwood rules for S2GO and small damage became a hole after some time. Liquids started to drip out... Kenwood service parts department was quick and replacement was cheap.


      'Coast to coast, LA to Chicago, western male
      Across the north and south, to Key Largo, love for sale'
      Sounds nice but nothing to do with this little machine.


      'A license to love, insurance to hold
      Melts all your memories and change into gold
      His eyes are like angels but his heart is cold'
      Insurance policy is not necessary as it is a cheap product. Kenwood recommends that you don't use it longer than 30 sec in one go. It nicely melts fruit but his heart gets hot very quickly.

      'No need to ask
      He's a smooth operator
      Smooth operator, smooth operator
      Smooth operator'
      It is simple to operate - there are 2 speeds and pulse. You have to be gentle with it but if you intend to use it occasionally for smoothies it will be your smooth operator, smooth operator...

      I bought it to process food for my little son and it did its job. I didn't want something huge to take up the space in the kitchen so this one was fine (31.3 x 16 x 15.2cm, 1.75 kg). Both mugs have drink-through lids and can be easily stored in the fridge or be ready 2GO. The capacity is 0.5 l. The only downside is that it is not dishwasher friendly. Not a huge problem with fruits/vegetables if you rinse it straight away though...

      You can find it under £20 on various sites. I bought mine in Tesco while on special offer. Instruction booklet has few useful recipes to set you 2GO from the very first minute (if you lose your smoothie inspiration in the new-product-unpacking-excitement).

      ...and now for something completely different...

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      • Skiing / Discussion / 343 Readings / 334 Ratings
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        21.05.2009 13:08
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        My skiing life in 933 words

        When I ski I feel like I am in the heaven eating vanilla ice cream, laying on the huge mattress while twin brunettes ... well, pour hot chocolate over ... well ... ice cream, obviously. Occasionally tension in my knees and surrounding muscles get me back to reality where I am surrounded by faster and slower bundles of fashionable clothes and various pieces of equipment which are in stark contrast with the pristine, white mountain. The freshness of air and cold temperature adds to the heavenly atmosphere. There is only one other thing on Earth which gives me so much pleasure as skiing but I don't want to bore you with the most overrated activity. (There are too many words written about football anyway.)

        I have started skiing at 4 and although equipment was much less reliable and conditions were much less comfortable back then I have enjoyed those rare moments of going down the slope and being stable on both skis. Most of the time I was spending climbing up the hill, retrieving my lost ski or shoe, fixing the binding ... so those rare moments when wind was behind me were really precious and well remembered. Only other things I remember from my first skiing holiday were great omelettes I ate in the modest hotel and the beautiful girl who were in our group. She was already going to the school and she taught me few rhymes.

        My parents were taking me to skiing holidays every year. Places were very modest but we were always together with the same group of children which was great. We all started training for the same ski club and started going to the youth competitions. We were so young that it took us some time to understand even simple rules of ski competitions. My sister was not watching sports on TV and on her first race she stopped at the finish line instead of racing through the invisible line which stops the stopwatch. You forget many things and some weird ones stay in your mind. One of the guys had a nickname 'omelette' as he was able to eat the biggest omelette in the morning. I also remember very well that we would take off our jackets before the race start to have better aerodynamic shape - like we were professional bikers or swimmers. Then you would wait for someone to bring you jacket down to the Finish area while shaking from the tiredness and cold. The beautiful girl from the previous paragraph became the best skier in her category and won all gold medals on all competitions. I was not that successful partially because there was much more boys competing and partially because I was not that strong and talented as she was. I won one silver medal in slalom in one of the competitions and it was a great boost for my self esteem.

        During my student years I became a member of student ski club at my University. The club had mountain house which was always in need of extension or rebuild (after fire destroyed part of the building). I would be helping in rebuilding projects during the summer which would give me free stays during winter holiday. One winter I even worked as a barman in the house. Those memories are great and we did not want to spend much time sleeping. The days were spent on the slopes and nights around the fireplace. The ski equipment, slopes and lifts were much improved. Also I was able to understand that feeling I had in my stomach, while learning rhymes from the beautiful girl back then, when I was 4, is called love. All that made this period of my skiing career most enjoyable...

        In the perfect story I would meet the love of my life on the slope and we would live happily ever after. It was not exactly like that but after 10 minutes of my first chat with the love of my life it turned out that we were both at the same time, at the same resort, skiing. Next year we went together on a skiing holiday and she was well impressed with my skills. Skiing skills, obviously.

        Nowadays I spent more time as a 'daddy-lift' or retriever of various pieces of clothing or equipment my 5-year old son manages to lose while skiing down the hill. Although my skiing is slightly restricted by the financial and physical limitations you face when you are big daddy I still enjoy it very much. I still have those two imaginary brunettes around me + a real one. My pleasure is now on 150%. Although, seriously, the biggest pleasure is when you see that your children are having the same enjoyment from the skiing, nature, life, omelettes (got carried away there...)

        At the end I have to add few lines on helmet debate. I never wore it but I will have them for my children. I don't think that they can help you much in the close encounter with the tree. Even odd landing on the softest area of your body can cause brain injury. Helmets can help but responsible skiing is the most important. Skiers should know appropriate slopes for their skills, the maximum speed they can handle and do some physical exercise before they hit the slope. If you are 21 safer skiing means that you have to take the condom with you but if you are much younger or much older you have to stick with the helmet. That's life...

        ... and now for something completely different ...
        http://www.gift-ideas.org.uk/

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          01.05.2009 14:40
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          Come fly with me, come fly with me...

          I have been travelling on business recently and quiet naturally here is the review of Dallas - Fort Worth international airport. I have been flying through Dallas airport twice in last two years and I had no problems and enjoyed decent service.

          The airport has 5 terminals (A, B, C, D and E). The terminal A is home of American Airlines, the biggest domestic operator, and D is the international one, opened in 2005.

          When you look at the airport from the air the main shape you notice are three circles made by high speed train tracks. Each terminal is encircled by train tracks and there are two stops at each terminal. The train is very useful and you need few minutes to go from A to B (well, literally terminal A to terminal B), waiting time included. The train is called SkyLink and is fully automated. I know you wouldn't believe this but it is the world's largest high-speed airport train system. (Americans would invent something else if it was not the largest high-speed airport train system, like: the largest seats in the first two rows in any slow moving train...)

          In terms of passenger numbers DFW is a 7th busiest airport in the world. In terms of land area it is second after Denver in US. It has 7 runways, which is quite a lot as only Chicago O'Hare has 7 runways.

          The airport has very clear signs and it is very difficult to get lost. Even if you are lost there are volunteers in green uniforms which are very helpful and always smiling. They are mostly elderly members of local communities. There are a lot of fast food outlets but if you want to have a decent meal I would recommend you to go to international terminal D as you can find the best choice of restaurants and they look cleanest and slightly better overall compared to domestic terminals. Even if you don't fly international the SkyLine will make you hop between terminals a breeze. If you are for a really exclusive meal you can enjoy it in the new Hyatt hotel at terminal D. The same applies to shops. The best and most expensive are on terminal D. You can find all kind of Texas souvenirs if you missed to buy things elsewhere. Apart from that I would only recommend Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at D26. It is not particulary cheap but it has some unusual chocolates.

          I was also pleased that it was easy to recharge mobile or notebook at many points. There were also free of charge workstations with web access. Web access is limited to 20 mins use but if nobody is breathing down your neck you can spend 2 or 3 sessions getting to know what is going on outside of SkyWalk rings. Otherwise you can get access to internet from your notebook but it is not free of charge.

          Overall I had no problems and had a pleasant trip to and from DFW. My advice is very simple. If you have to spend some time at DFW airport, even if you are flying on domestic flight, head to terminal D using SkyLink and you will find the cleanest, quietest and most interesting parts of this airport there.

          ... and now for something completely different ...

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          • Panasonic NN-E255W / Microwave / 219 Readings / 211 Ratings
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            06.02.2009 13:55
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            Almost exactly what I want from a microwave oven

            There are quite a few appliances I want to review these days and I expect them all to start with the sentence: 'I have bought a new one because my old one died silently while on duty...'

            The first one sent to the recycling site is microwave which lasted longer then expected as it was very simple and small one with no famous brand name on the front and with only two simple mechanical controls. Well, one of them decided to give up the hard work and made itself voluntarily redundant.

            Our search for new one coincided with the pre Christmas period but we managed to get a new product quickly thanks to Amazon and their special delivery.

            Our demands to Santa were that our new microwave should be:
            - small as we only use it for reheating (milk, soups) and have limited space on the kitchen top
            - simple for use as we don't need to make anything sophisticated (or soft-isticated)
            - slightly stronger build than the previous one

            I was surprised that there are not so many small microwaves (20 l) on the market. Among 3-4 models our choice was Panasonic NN-E255W.

            We are now proud owners of small, simple, does-what-it-says-on-the-box microwave. There are few unnecessary buttons for our liking but overall control panel is simple and clear. That makes it very easy to use. It is not particularly silent when works but nothing unusual or noisy. The only small problem is the signal that it had finished. There are 5 high pitched sounds which you cannot stop unless you are next to the oven and press Cancel. That is a bit over the top alarm - like a baby which needs attention. Although I have to say that my boys (1 1/2 and 5) love that sound and run in anticipation of the hot milk.

            Another small gripe would be an internal light. It stays on if the door is open and becomes hot after few minutes. So better keep door closed once dish is taken from the oven.

            It has five power levels including defrosting and 6 preset programmes. It has digital display which shows time when not used for cooking. The power is 800W and dimensions are (WDH) mm - 455x315x260. It is easy to clean inside or take turning plate out and wash it (but pretend you didn't notice it is dirty and leave it to your OH to notice first, same advice applies for nappy changing - advice taken from my best seller "1001 great advices for avoiding chores and ruining your relationship"). The price is around £50 mark. Ours is white acrylic colour and I think it is the only colour they make it but don't be put off by that. You can paint it or put stickers on it if you think it is a clever and nice thing to do. Or you can switch it off turn upside down and use as a flower pot. But I can assure you it is best used as a simple microwave oven. It does exactly what it says on its control panel and announces that job is done quite loudly.

            I would recommend for not so adventurous cooks/users of microwaves.

            ...and now for something completely different...
            http://www.gift-ideas.org.uk/

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            • Scotch Magic Tape / Homeware / 218 Readings / 212 Ratings
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              16.01.2009 14:52
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              Magic tape

              Scotch magic tape is a magical thing - as its name says. You would probably think that some famous Scotsman invented it or some Scottish factory started producing them. No. It is a product of a huge American manufacturing conglomerate 3M from Minnesota. The product has been invented in 1930s to be used with, then new material, cellophane as it was not possible to stick together sheets of cellophane using existing sticky tapes on the market. Cellophane was a big hit with food distributors at that time as it was moisture proof. 3M engineer Richard Drew with his colleagues spent a year developing new cellulose tape. The cellulose tape backing curled near heat, split when it was machine-coated and didn't accept adhesive evenly. At the end of each day, 3M needed a truck to haul away the spoiled material. They succeeded eventually. In the first year company sold $33 worth of Scotch tape. Soon after someone invented heat sealing process for cellophane packaging and product looked almost obsolete. Fortunately companies found many other uses of the new tape in the packing process. Consumers discovered the product as well and sale of the product helped 3M to survive Great Depression without laying off employees.

              If you wonder why it is called Scotch - the first sample tapes had adhesive only on the edges and fell off. A customer told to 3M employee to go back to his 'Scotch' bosses and tell them to put adhesive all over the tape. The tape improved, but the name stuck. 400 varieties of the product hit the market since then with the Scotch and 3M branding. The Scotch Magic tape has been introduced in 1961.

              Back to the present time - they have at least one happy customer who is writing a good review for them. I like the tape as it is much stronger than standard sellotape-type tapes. It can be easily reapplied without leaving marks when unstuck. It is much easier to find starting point if you do not use it from the dispenser. My sister is an architect and I know that she used it a lot in the days when plotters were not so common. The main benefit was that when you copy two pieces of paper stuck with the Scotch tape you won't be able to see the tape edges on the copied paper. Very often it can be used instead of Blue Tack as it tends to hold well on variety of materials.

              The most common use is Christmas gift wrapping. There is a Giftwrap variety which blends better on the glossy gift papers (opposed to matt finish on Magic variety) but that doesn't bother me that much.

              For all fans of miscellaneous facts here is another one - If you took all the Scotch tape sold to homes in the US between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it would go around the world 30 times. Those would be very sticky times at equatorial belt countries. And all gifts would run wrap free around the US. And I would be watching all that on funny videos on You Tube. We should make it happen one Christmas... Until then, watch out for something completely different...

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              • Tummy Tub / Baby Care / 170 Readings / 161 Ratings
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                09.01.2009 17:21
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                Buy it if you want to be in trend with the latest hype

                It is one of the biggest fears of every new parent how to handle baby baths. Most of the people I talked to were apprehensive of getting so precious and tiny creature into the bath for the first time. Company behind Tummy Tub took that into account and 'invented' natural tub for bathing babies.

                With the first child we opted for usual equipment and occasionally had problems getting baby into the water (depending on the mood). For the second baby my wife got excited about Tummy Tub and we got it as a present from her brother.

                We used it quite a few times and I will try to compare it with normal plastic bath for babies by commenting claims from the official site of the product (www.tummytub.co.uk)

                - Bath time enjoyment from birth.

                Still not confirmed as my son is year and a half old and cannot tell us. We noticed some quiet baths but some were very loud.

                - The special design of the original Tummy Tub ensures babies relax in the familiar foetal position. Soft baby-friendly material.

                Position is different than in the standard bath but I wouldn't say it is too natural either. Baby gets confused as parents are in unnatural situation trying to reach dirtiest parts of the body and - oh, surprise - baby is sitting on its bottom.

                - The baby can be immersed in the water up to shoulder level and will therefore remain warmer for longer.

                That could be achieved with the standard bath as well with just slightly more water. Apart from that we usually bath our baby in the warm bathroom not in the garage anyway.

                - Babies feel warm, reassured and secure.

                Babies also feel squeezed while parent try to get around it to wash all parts of the body. My theory is that some babies love water more than others and according to that they feel more or less secure.

                - Especially recommended for premature babies.

                Cannot comment on this but don't get the point. If baby was premature the time spent in the womb was shorter so no reason to believe that they are more used to open space not tight bucket.

                - Helps babies settle and sleep, and is excellent for colicky babies.

                I think this is true but for any warm and gentle bathing of the baby. Nothing to do with the design of the bath.

                - Stress-free bathing for babies.

                Sometimes yes, sometimes no - in our experience.

                - Easy handling, ergonomic hand grips for carrying, and lightweight even when full (very important for new mothers).

                Buckets are easy to handle generally so this one is not different. I would be surprised to find plastic bucket with difficult remote control to handle or sharp edges or weight over couple of pounds... So this one is not special

                - Takes up less space and is easy to transport.

                Yes it takes less space than real bath or even child's bath but after 3 months it gets small. Very limited product life.

                - Wide rim to support parents' arms, allowing a relaxed position for the mother.

                I've learned so far that mother is never relaxed around bathing hours unless we use this bucket to put on mother's head and ask her to meditate until father does the job in the proper bath.

                - Polypropylene material allows easy viewing of your baby.

                Well, you never look at your baby through the walls of the tub.

                - High stability with an anti-skid base.

                Have to agree with this. It is anti-skid but overall standard bath is more stable simply because of the geometry. The base is smaller and the whole tub is higher so it is easier to knock it down.

                - Tummy Tub is fully recyclable, uses less water, and saves energy.

                It is true that recycling comes very quickly as your baby overgrows it quickly. It is true that you use less water but the price for that is limited space in the tub.

                You probably noticed that I was quite cynical about the product. That's because I think they made big hype about simple plastic bucket. No, it does not resemble mother's womb (at least I wouldn't be so brave to compare it with my wife's womb). The only thing baby feel is discomfort of limited space which he felt in the womb. And that's not the happy memory I would say. The product is priced around £17-18 and it is outrageous for a simple plastic bucket which should cost 3 times less. I believe many people are happy with the product and I don't want to spoil their fun in using it. I am just annoyed that I didn't invent such a simple product which could be marketed so well to all new parents.
                I can recommend you to explore other options for bathing babies and try to make bathing experience pleasant for all involved/immersed in it but not necessarily with the Tummy Tub.

                ...and now for something completely different...

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                  05.12.2008 17:50
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                  Waste managers tackle the rubbish head on

                  I recently gave an advice on saving and it turned out very popular with the audience (probably because sex was mentioned). This time I'll try to tackle another topic which concerns us all. I am not going to mention sex (or war, as I might be expected to).

                  Why do we call this Waste Management and Recycling? Who are waste managers? Are they guys who shift rubbish around at 'waste disposal sites'? Or these are the guys whose job is to think of most ridiculous name for Waste management company (if possible with lower case 'i' in front, number in the middle of the word and completely nonsensical meaning to look like hi-tech, modern company)? It seems that people don't like to call the things their names when the things are smelly and foul. Kundera says in his 'Unbearable Lightness of Bean' that 'Kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word'. With Waste management I think we are exactly in the kitsch territory. All these euphuisms make these important stories related to the topic funny to me and I struggle to get through them and understand better danger of getting under the pile of rubbish. Okay. I had this off my chest and I'll call it rubbish even if I risk losing few readers on my way to the end of this discussion.

                  I have finished with negativism and I'll try to give few useful advices on rubbish and how to reuse it.

                  Think of a thing you want to put in the bin as a useful item which is relegated to the 'rubbish league'. Try to give it a last chance to get back to life. You can write on your bin 'Give rubbish a chance' just to remind you to think twice before you dump something.

                  Items which usually finish in the bin could be very often reused and given a new life.

                  Plastic ice cream tub can be used as a lunch box, children's boat, flower pot, egg mixing bowl, cash safe... (See my review 'Peelings, nothing more than peelings', if not for recycling tip then for the sake of a funny title).

                  Carton tube from the middle of paper towels is usual filler of recycle bins. But it could be a hearing aid for your Nan (nice Christmas gift idea), trumpet for your child, pirate telescope for your child, cricket bat for your child. Well, very childish thing it is.

                  Egg box is an ideal wall sound isolator. I guess an average household can collect enough boxes in half a year to cover walls in one room. Your daughter would be able to practice for the next X Factor and you (and your neighbours) would be blissfully unaware of that exercise. On top of that she would think that isolation is there for noise elimination during the recording sessions. This will not raise the price of your house but who is selling a house these days anyway...

                  Plastic milk bottles can be washed and used as plastic bottles. They can be used for storage of flour, honey, wine, juice... Clean and empty plastic bottles can be filled with gravel and used for playing bowling or skittles in your garden. Of course, ball would be made of labels taken off the milk bottles. When you don't play skittles you can use them as weights for exercise. If you cut plastic bottle in half you would get a flower pot or cat's bowl on one side and a funnel for motor oil on the other. Some people can even make lamp from the milk bottle. Not me.

                  If you think my advices are rubbish try to think of your own and be gentle with mine. Recycle them, please, with all your waste management skills.

                  ...and now for something completely different...

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                  • Sleuth [2007] (DVD) / DVD / 152 Readings / 155 Ratings
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                    21.11.2008 12:33
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                    Caine, Law, Branagh, Pinter, suspense, witty lines, infidelity, courage, cowardice

                    I watched this movie on the plane and it was a really entertaining piece of cinematography. The first good sign for me was that movie lasts under 90 mins. This is my rule of thumb for a good movie. If director is not able to tell me the story within an hour and half or he is too sentimental to all the shots they made and is hesitant to cut some it is most likely I would feel a bit uncomfortable. I know it is very amateurish rule of thumb but it works for me and the movies I like.

                    This is a remake of the movie from 1972 where main roles were played by Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Jude Law got an idea to reinvent it and the team around remake did it in a brilliant way. I cannot compare it to the original as I didn't watch it but, according to what I've read, it seems that they escaped common traps and made a sleek, modern movie with universal and eternal themes coming to fore.

                    Every remake draws people into discussions which one is better and was there any point in making remake. The interesting thing about this one is that Michael Caine now plays wealthy writer Andrew Wyke, the role which in the original movie was played by Laurence Olivier, while his role from the first version of young Milo Tindle plays Jude Law. Jude Law got an idea to refresh the original play written by Anthony Shaffer. He did it by asking Pulitzer winner author Harold Pinter to adapt the text using his witty, shrewd but above all simplistic writing style.

                    Affluent novelist Andrew Wyke is visited by not very famous actor Milo Tindle who now lives with Andrew's estranged wife. Milo is coming to get a divorce in the name of Andrew's wife. There is a big clash on the horizon. The debate between them takes on a tennis metaphor early on and each of the contestants take one set. I'll leave you to enjoy the tension and constant turnovers and find out who won the match.

                    This is not the first time these two actors are coupled. They did the remake of Alfie (2004).

                    At one point in the film Milo asks Andrew "What's it all about?" This was the tag line for both versions of the movie 'Alfie', each of which starred Michael Caine and Jude Law in the title role.

                    The movie is set in the ultra modern house and the whole action and tension is built on the fight between these two characters in this smart environment. There are a lot of interesting camera angles, close ups and visual effects. The director, Kenneth Branagh, did an interesting and intriguing job. The adaptation by Harold Pinter is great as well. But above all this movie belongs to actors. Michael Caine is acting with such an ease and his face is like an interesting book you read. You can detect very subtle emotional tides from his eyes, from every line on his face, from his already very well known voice. Jude is showing off his full talent and blossom in this garden of creativity. I always respected him but this is definitely the first time I recognised him as a big actor. I am looking forward to see him in many other similar roles to come.

                    I can only recommend you to see this movie even if you have watched the first version from 1972 or if you watched the play in theatre or if you read it as a book. You will enjoy the modern movie full of suspense, witty lines, infidelity, courage, cowardice packed in only 86 mins of action.

                    ... and now for something completely different ...

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                    • Saving tips / Discussion / 199 Readings / 198 Ratings
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                      14.11.2008 13:17
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                      How to sex up your savings

                      We all have some ways of pinching the costs we made in our everyday life. Most of them are very well known and widely used. Money saving folks do not overfill the kettle. They use energy saving bulbs. They buy non-branded products. There are many more well known things. I'll try to explore less known paths which will lead you to great savings. Here are two simple tips.

                      Have sex

                      Sex is very popular activity and many people which have a partner do not do it often enough. If you have sex every day or at least 5 times a week you can make substantial savings. You can cancel your gym subscription. You can cancel your subscription to Sky Movies and Sky Sport. There are great savings on heating and electricity. Perhaps government can create a scheme where couples are rewarded with some energy points whenever they have sex. I know it would be difficult to check validity of the reported data but I am sure the government is capable of creating 'sex tax credits'. They are very good in these things. The only problem is that if you are not careful your budget will be hit in 9 months. As these are strictly financial tips I would not go there and advice you on these techniques.

                      Resign from your job

                      Many people are not happy with their jobs. They feel it is more duty than pleasure. Resigning from the job would make many happy. By resigning many of us would beat the redundancy which is also very stressful thing. So lets see what are the savings. You can slash child care costs. You can sell your office clothes on eBay. Commuting costs would be deleted from your budget. You would be able to eat at home and save on snacks and lunch box type of expensive food. You would save on shoes, socks, shampoo and deodorant. I know that some people will have higher costs for toilet paper this way but I believe that this cost is offset by great savings we have here.
                      The most important thing is that you would have more time for sex which generates complete circle of savings and blissful happiness.

                      I outlined very briefly here my new theory which may one day be published as a book I hope it will be a great success and worldwide bestseller which will generate great income for me. Until then, you guys concentrate on savings and don't forget to buy the book when it gets published. The title will be 'How to sex up your savings' (Money Saving Sexpert and the Chamber of well-known Secrets). http://www.gift-ideas.org.uk/

                      ... and now for something completely different ...

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                      • More +
                        11.11.2008 14:34
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                        Good family car for a modest budget

                        Last year we decided to replace our ageing Polo with something more spacious to accommodate for our family growth. We were expecting to become a family of four. We moved to a new, bigger house but my wives maternal instincts didn't stop there and she suggested that a family car would be a good idea. I quickly adopted the idea as I knew that Polo is getting close to the 10th birthday and although it was a great value for money and served me well during a year of intense commuting it was destined to spend more time in garages than on the road for the rest of its life.

                        We looked at various spacious cars which would suit our budget. The only two left in the hat were Fiat Multipla and Vauxhall Zafira. Our main criterion was to fit 4 of us plus 2 grand parents occasionally in one car. We didn't want something too big as most of the time there will be just 4 of us. Also our budget was not allowing us to go for a new car or most expensive choices. We have established that Toyota Corolla Verso is excellent car but most models were 5 seaters and it was costing much more. Multipla looked perfect as it has 6 separate seats. Many people hate the design so it would be difficult to sell. Also it looks very wide so we finished with 3 year old Zafira. We went for 1.6 engine because it spend less petrol and most of the time the car is not overloaded so it looked strong enough for us. We were thinking between Club (basic version) and Design (few extra options already built in). We tried both cars and it seems that seats are much better, more comfortable in the Design model. There is also a leather steering wheel, better dashboard instruments design, as well as little exterior details which made us to go for Design.

                        We bought from the dealer specialising in Vauxhall Zafiras and he said that most popular colours are silver and black and they always come with 100-200 pounds extra price tag. We had a choice to go for other colours but they were so bad that it was obvious why silver and black were so popular. We got our black 2004 Zafira and we never looked back.

                        I am still teased by my wife that I can always switch to another business if my current career goes in the wrong direction. She thinks black Zafira could be a good undertaking car.

                        Anyway I won't be telling you that Zafira 1.6 makes 0 -60 in 12 or 22 secs, or how much mpg you can make. Sorry, but I am not paying that much attention to statistics when it comes to cars. I'll tell you what I like and what I don't like and you judge for yourself.

                        I like:

                        - You don't have a feel that you drive huge car. Driver's seat height and position is well done so you really feel like you are in an Astra. It is easy to drive and turn. Parking it is easy as well (cannot speak for women as I am male)
                        - Very clever design with 5 standard seats and 2 seats which could be set up in the boot area if needed. All seats are spacious apart from 2 seats in the third row which are not designed to be used by huge adults or all the time.
                        - Classic and simple design of speedometer. Very easy to read and I like seeing big rpm displayed as well.
                        - Design model has commands for radio and CD on the steering wheel which is very handy
                        - Relatively cheap to service, very popular car so easy to find spare parts
                        - Very affordable pricing
                        - Air condition

                        I don't like:

                        - For some reason the engine drinks a lot of oil. I checked everything and heard from many sources that that is how it is supposed to be. Now I just add 1l of oil for every 1000 miles. It looks to me more like a tractor engine than modern car engine but I cannot complain that performance is bad.
                        - Obviously it spends more petrol than smaller cars. It is not that bad compared with other similar cars but for us that would be an issue which could make us decide to sell it at some point in future. That is the price to be paid for a bigger space.
                        - There is no boot space left when all 7 seats are used. Not too bad for us as we don't travel by car very long distances and 6 seats is OK most of the time but could be an issue for some people.
                        - It would be nice to be able to use ISOFIX system for child seats. I hope they implemented them in newer models.
                        - Image of 'school-run' vehicle for mid-class stay-at-home mums. Not a big issue for me as I don't think my car is there to help me make an impression about myself but I know a lot of people are too conscious about cars they drive.

                        All in all very comfortable and spacious car for not a lot of money. Recommended to families with children, people who don't mind driving a car with not so much WOW factor, people who like no-nonsense approach in interior design, undertakers (only black version) ...

                        ... and now for something completely different ...

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                          30.10.2008 18:07
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                          Eating manchego on the Royal Windsor Station and thinking of Barcelona

                          I have to warn you. I know nothing as I am not from Barcelona. I've been few times in Spain. All my visits were with family on summer holidays. We belong to the group of adventurous and brave tourists who dare to step out of the known paths signed with signs like 'pizza -->', 'chips -->', 'watch English football here -->'. That braveness paid off as we got hooked on Spanish food. We enjoyed all kind of tapas, paellas, wines... Once back home we would long for these hedonistic treats. Occasionally we would buy chorizo and manchego in the supermarket. That would make our craving worse as they were not tasting the same like when we ate in that simple restaurant overlooking beach. Perhaps it has something to do with the view. Eating manchego and looking on the rain soaked lawn - doesn't feel right.

                          We couldn't find any great Spanish restaurants in the area where we live. (Probably something to do with the fact that we live thousand miles from Spain.) At the moments of desperation we resort to drastic measures and go to La Tasca. It is a big chain of Spanish restaurants in the UK. There are over 70 restaurants. We usually visit one at Covent Garden, London or one at Windsor Royal Station, Windsor. The whole experience is far from that little restaurant on the beach but still succeeds to bring up right memories and fill the stomach in a reasonable time.

                          The locations we visit are usually on our way to shops or some other activity and it is a convenient place to eat without much fuss and lost time or energy. On the menu you'll find all kind of tapas. Tapas are by definition small portions of various food so you can find big choice of paellas, meats, vegetarian servings, seafood. I also like great selection of breads they offer. Not to waste too many words I'll give you my choice for 2 people and you can get an idea:
                          - Pan de Barra - bread with olive oil and sherry vinegar for dipping
                          - Pan de Aceitunas y Pan de Tomate - mixed olive bread and sun dried tomato bread
                          - Patatas Bravas - fried potato topped with spicy tomato sauce
                          - Berenjenes Gratinadas - fresh aubergine topped with cheese and tomato
                          - Calamares Andaluza - deep fried rings of squid
                          - Jamon Serrano -Serrano ham
                          - Queso Manchego - Manchego cheese
                          - Paella de Chorizo - paella with spicy Chorizo sausage
                          - Paella Valenciana - paella with seafood and chicken

                          With this type of food it is better if the party is bigger as you can make better combinations. The choice listed above would set you off £28.50. Although there are always special offers and as I write (30/10/2008) they have a promotion 'all you can eat for £10' on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also you can get £5 off if you join their club on the web site www.latasca.co.uk. Very often you can find other promotions like the one on www.toptable.com currently.

                          Interior is arranged in traditional Spanish style and it is good enough to remind you of that summer holiday. Stuff is friendly and helpful. We like the Windsor one as it is set in the railway station. We had a great meal once on a cold day, sitting outside under the outdoor heater. They are child friendly and have kids menu and high chairs. Missed the opportunity to mention sangria. Well - sangria is worth mentioning.

                          All in all, not as good as it could get but decent Spanish food with decent service. Should you visit occasionally - Si! - but don't expect too much and you'll be pleasantly surprised (like with everything else in life).

                          ...and now for something completely different...

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                            23.10.2008 16:27
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                            On top of their game

                            Recently we noticed that our 4 year old son is stretching the end of his eye with the finger while watching television. It was a regular thing so we took him to the ophthalmologist. It turned out that he has astigmatism on his right eye which in turn makes his left one tired very often as it was doing double work. They prescribed glasses for him. That was the point where my wife and I searched the whole World Wide Web to find the most suitable frames, lenses etc.

                            We were aware that it is not so easy to make 4 year old comfortable with specs on his nose and that we need something durable, flexible, light, nice and done quickly. Ophthalmologist gave us NHS voucher which is supposed to cover the part of the cost. We visited few small optician shops in the area and saw some nice flexible models which were quite pricey. The NHS voucher is used to cover the cost of installation and lenses and you are supposed to pay for frames.

                            Our presumption was that Specsavers sell standard and simple models as we saw that they have no flex models (the ones which memorise their shape and you can bend them the way you like but after a second they go back to their initial shape). We couldn't find the model we liked in smaller shops so we decided to have a quick look at Specsavers. We were delighted with the choice on offer. The quality of frames was really good. All children models have springs on the arms which keep glasses tight. All glasses for kids are done with plastic lenses and non-scratch coating. On top of that they are all free (frames + lenses + installation) with NHS voucher. On top of 'top of that' they promise to give you second pair free if child breaks the first pair. On top of 'top of 'top of that'' they were all very kind, polite and did installation in a day which was much faster than any small shop can do.

                            As a result, my son is proud owner of blue Mr Tickle glasses (Mr Tickle mischievously stretches his arms alongside the glasses arms) and his father can warmly recommend Specsavers. See http://www.specsavers.co.uk/glasses/childrens-glasses/mr-tickle

                            I understand that they can offer these deals as they are the leader on the market and they can flex their muscles on the small shops. Still, as a customer, I am very happy with the service provided and that is it. As long as they provide that kind of service they will have my vote.

                            UPDATE: 3 weeks later - my son lost a lens, it just dropped from the frame somewhere and we didn't notice. The screw was loose. We went to Specsavers and they repaired it for free within an hour. Well done, again!

                            Apart from my personal experience I have only heard that they got entangled in controversy with their recent TV commercial where Edith Piaf was singing "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No, I regret nothing") and they had a taper running across the bottom of the screen saying "I wish I had went to Specsavers for a bargain". Apparently Edith was blind from age 11 to 14 as she was suffering from keratitis. Someone in their advertising agency forgot to take glasses...

                            ...and now for something completely different...

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                              20.10.2008 16:35
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                              To crunch or munch, that is the question

                              Another cheap exploit of this famous phrase in the title. Secure your seat belts, please. Here it comes. Another annoying story abusing c word. To make it more annoying you can imagine someone reading it to you in Robert Peston voice and using Gordon Brown's laugh to chuckle at funny bits. Well, lets crunch our way through the bag of Sainsbury's Basics Tortilla chips.

                              The package is a simple plastic bag with the known orange logo for Basics range. It is easy to open, even easier to empty (to the bowl or directly to the mouth). The bag is see through which I always like as it means 'you can see what is inside and if you don't like me, please don't take me'.

                              It contains 100g of plain tortilla chips with a bit of salt. Basically it is made of maize flour, vegetable oil and salt. I am not a nutritionist but I think corn is a bit healthier than potato when it comes to snacks like this. Or at least it is a good enough excuse for me to buy tortilla chips and pretend I am eating healthier. Never bothered to check that as I am afraid I would find out the opposite is true.

                              The most amazing feature of this product is the price. It costs 17p for 100g bag. That is 2.5 times less than no name flavoured one and over 4 times less than brand name flavoured one. Is cool or tangy or hint of chilly heatwave worth that much? Not for me. I am proudly crunching my way through the worst financial disaster with the simple taste of wholesome salted tortilla chips on my tongue (no hints of hazelnut and raspberry on my palate and aftertaste of melon and cinnamon on my tongue). Proud to eat something which makes me full and leaves my wallet almost full. Smug to know that I could have bought 5 kg of tortillas for the same price as a 1 kg of chicken fillets. (Not that I would be let in the house with 5 kg of tortilla...)

                              How healthy are they? If you want to take less calories than this is not the best choice as it has 493kCal/100g. The brand name flavoured one has even more - 500kCal/100g. Potato crisps usually have slightly over 500 kCal/100g. The most appealing thing for me is that they are not too salty. I prefer the taste + it is better for my body!
                              It has only 1.2 g per 100g compared to 1.5g in no name flavoured one and 1.8g in flavoured brand name one. Like any other food I would say it is healthy if taken in moderation and combined with all kind of other healthy and unhealthy, organic and sprayed food.

                              I am still struggling to understand paradoxes of modern economy (or which cheap substance they use to make me think it is really tortilla chips, please stop your imagination here) which result is a product which costs 17p. On the other hand it is a good thing they produce something cheap as this so I can crunch on while trying to find the best remortgage deal. Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch....
                              ...and now for something completely different...

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                              • Room 101 / Discussion / 132 Readings / 131 Ratings
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                                30.09.2008 15:22
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                                Intolerant views of a tolerant guy

                                Throughout my life I have been in different phases and I would call this one "can't be bothered with stupid and annoying things - I am ignoring them as much as possible - trying to concentrate and enjoy good things in life". Very long name for this phase helps me whenever I am annoyed with someone's driving habits or dress of TV presenter. (It's like counting to 10 while you pronounce it.) I imagine that I might be on the receiving end of such a thought or shout. I am not a perfect or most disciplined driver. Someone would be able to make a joke of my look on TV as well.

                                It is also the fact that it is not so easy to make me angry - I like Nokia default ringtone, I don't mind if people talk on the mobile while on the train (it is the same as they speak to someone else on the train, isn't it?), I always have an excuse for tailgaters.

                                This is a nice place to vent my anger and pretend I am not in this 'tolerance' phase for a few minutes. The most annoying thing for me is human's stupidity and naivety. It seems that we never learn things from experience, or through history as a society...So here we go...

                                1. First one to go is George Bush
                                Not so much as an individual (he is already named and shamed for so many things he did and said and everyone know 'bushisms') but as a representative of hawkish conservatism in the States, as well as representative of this type of conservatism which exists in every country in some form.

                                2. Next one is Bono
                                U2 is my favourite band but I hate when people are pretentious. I also hate when people laugh and pretend they are ashamed of their hairstyle ten or twenty years ago. Well, you had the idea to have that hair style; girls were screaming for you and now you pretend you are so clever. C'mon...straight to the room 101.

                                3. People with long and untidy nails
                                Of course, I don't count here people who are completely untidy (nails do not stick out then). I am talking about people who look completely clean and have nice clothes but nails are slightly longer and some are with this special dark feature on the top. In my 'tolerance' phase I usually say to myself - 'It must be that he plays the guitar so he needs longer nails'. Here, there is no mercy. Room 101 - this way...

                                4. People who pretend too much
                                This is a tough one to explain. Lets say, these are people who say too much white lies, who laugh on things not funny to them (just to please someone), who pretend that they are in a good mood 100% of the time they are in public. This behaviour I would describe with the word plastic. English would say that for Americans, Americans would say that for English and the rest of the world would say that for English and Americans. Now you get it.

                                5. Attitude of tourist industry workers in Paris
                                Well, it is obvious that they have to go in room 101. You cannot extract the attitude and plonk it in the darkness of 101. As much as I always enjoyed Paris as such I was puzzled by hostility of anyone involved in tourist activities there. If I am God I would engineer some kind of 'Paris-tourist-crunch' so they don't get a single tourist for a year. That would make them think of learning few words in English. (While I am in that role I would make pound stronger so croissants get cheaper after that year...)

                                5. a) Some English tourists
                                These are the ones who eat stodgy pizzas in Spain and never try tapas. These are the ones who eat fries and burgers with loads of ketchup in Greece and never try souvlaki. These are the ones who look out for McDonalds in France. These are the ones who never try to learn a word of language of the locals and try to make communication using louder English. They can be forgiven only in Paris (see no 5).

                                6. Tabloid journalism
                                You know what I am talking about. It is not the format of the papers. It is an attitude in journalism (media generally) to 'please' reader/viewer and 'dumb-down' the content. You can find that in broadsheet and BBC as well. These stories usually feed our lowest, almost animal, instincts.

                                7. Business jargon and abbreviations
                                People like to hide their lack of ideas and creativity behind big words and phrases and puzzling abbreviations. If this whole slang is in Room 101 they would feel like naked and that would be fun... That's enough from me. Have to go to make a brain dump in order to get our ducks in a row. Otherwise we won't be able to push the envelope and think outside of the box while drilling down towards low-hanging fruit. I'll touch base with you guys in number 8...

                                8. My local Post Office (it might be scrapped anyway - and I wouldn't care much)
                                I usually go to my local post office to spare time going to the main one. I always come back cursing and swearing that this is the last time. If queue is long it is a problem as such. If queue is short there is always someone who gets stuck on the counter. I'll spend another two mins in the car and spend 40p on parking but will go to the main one where they have 5-6 counters and people who know their business.

                                9. Queue jumpers
                                These are the jumpers people wear while in the queue... ;-)

                                10. People who read your newspapers over your shoulder
                                It is like they are trespassing through my newspapers. It must be a criminal offence.

                                I was not so careful with the last one so I've slipped in the Rooooooom 1OOOOOOO1.......




                                By the way, I don't mind if someone read my newspapers over my shoulder. I would do the same - I love reading the newspapers).

                                ...and now for something completely different...

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                                  29.09.2008 14:47
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                                  Nice place to dream about as a place to retire

                                  Writing about Zug, Switzerland is like writing on topic 'What would you do if you won the lottery'. I would move to Zug. If you are wondering why just keep reading.

                                  Zug is situated on Zugersee (Zug's lake) between Zurich (22 miles) and Luzern (15 miles) on the north side of Rigi mountain. Sleepy, leafy town with a short lake promenade, old town hall and church parish built in 15th century. You wouldn't notice anything extravagant or unusual compared to other Swiss small towns. Why would you expect extravagance from such a small and quiet place? It could be because about 3% of the world's petrol is traded through Zug and the neighbouring town of Baar. It could be because it has 27,000 registered companies, one for every man, woman and child in the town, leaving a few hundred to spare. It could be because companies like Glencore, Cartier, Piaget, BASF, Shell, Johnson & Johnson are all registered here. Zug is a haven for tax payers, like an island within the Switzerland. It is a smallest canton and it has lowest corporate taxes (around 8.5%). The town decided to lower taxes in 1946 and since then it became the richest region in already very rich Switzerland. No wonder Boris Becker made his nest next to the Zugersee when he escaped from German tax authorities. If you plan to become his neighbour be prepared to pay around £1m for a modest 3-bed flat.

                                  What to do if you visit Zug?

                                  On a nice summer day you can take a boat trip around lake and enjoy beautiful views of Swiss mountains from a crystal clear lake. Children can feed swans and birds when they return on the lake promenade. There is even a small aviary on the lake shore where children can see owls, ibises, parrots and many other bird species for free.

                                  On a sunny winter day take a cable car to the Zugerberg (995m) hill above the town. After 10 mins ride you will be able to take a walk on a snow covered slopes and get a hot drink or soup in the mountain house. Beautiful views of lake and valley underneath. Children should take their sledges and skis. There is a small ski lift and a ski school - suited for 3-6 years old. If you are really tired and cold a good traditional Swiss cheese fondue is the best bet for dinner.

                                  On a rainy autumn day go for lunch at Aklin, Kolinplatz 10 situated in the beautiful old town house dating from 1787. There is a modern bistro on one side and a tasteful historical atmosphere on the other - an interior well worth seeing! Excellent alternative is Zunftstube at Rathauskeller. Wood carvings, Versace porcelain and modern black leather chairs distinguish the elegant classic interior of the Zunftstube. It is situated on the first floor of this lovely old town house. Try local lake fish as this is speciality here. Word of warning - both places are worth visiting only if there is some cash left after you bought that 3 bed flat for £1m. Otherwise you can find good roasted chickens in the local supermarket.

                                  For a bit of a culture you can always find world top art events in nearby Zurich and Luzern.

                                  How to get there?

                                  You can fly to Zurich by BA, Swiss or Easyjet. There are a lot of flights and prices are competitive. You can take a train from the airport and it works like a Swiss train. By car it takes around 45 mins drive from the airport.
                                  Train is in the name of the town because it is an important railway crossroad. You can plan to stay for few days here and it is easy to reach many other attractive destinations - like Milan or Geneva.

                                  What to take from here?

                                  Apart from nice memories, refreshed lungs and clear head you should take with you either Kirsch (strong cherry brandy), as town is known for its cherries, or Zuger Kirschtorte, a delicious buttery almond tart saturated with Kirsch but, oddly, has not a single fruit in it. You can find it all over the town. The best is made fresh daily at Konditorei Meier, Alpenstrasse 16.
                                  They can box up a whole Torte for you to take away in any (or all) of six sizes.

                                  ...and now for something completely different...

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