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It's a curious thing that, of the people I know, it's never the women who are desperate to equip their kitchen with the big, American-style fridge freezers; it's always the blokes. My mother's partner is mad keen to get one, even though they'd have to knock down a wall in their tiny kitchen to accommodate it, but my mother refuses and insists on sticking with the 4 freezers she has running in the garage (I should point out that there's only two people in the house and one of the appliances is the 'soup' freezer. The others contain entire sides of beef. And humans, possibly. My mother is demented.) My step-brother has a mega-mega fridge freezer, you know the kind: the size of a pick-up truck and using roughly the same amount of fossil fuel to run. He lives in Texas, though, where their two major obsessions are food and the death penalty so the desire to keep things on ice is perhaps understandable.
I was never that enamoured of this style of appliance. I always found them ugly, hulking and a bit unnecessary for a two-person household. When we bought our new house, though, the sellers were taking their small Smeg fridge with them and it was going to be tricky to find anything that would fit the gap it left behind. My boyfriend REALLY wanted an American style fridge and, as he's the most easy-going man ever made and rarely makes demands, I told him if he could find a reasonably priced, energy-efficient model made by a reputable brand then I'd consider installing it in the utility room and rebuilding the gap in the kitchen with shelved baskets. After a few weeks of research (and managing to politely ignore my mother's texts of 'helpful' advice) he came up with this, the excitingly named Samsung RSA1UTMG. At the time it was on sale for £1200 but he'd arranged a half-price deal with the salesman in Currys which seemed too good to pass up so we duly bought it and arranged delivery to our new house.
===Samsung blue, everybody knows one===
To be fair, it's not blue, but you know how it is: you get a Neil Diamond song stuck in your head and you just have to use it in a review. Samsung are a well-known brand and I was happy buying an appliance from them, especially since our washing machine was also a Samsung and they would match. I like it when things match. Apart from that I was confident that we'd get a decent warranty and good customer service should things ever go awry.
===A design for life===
My apologies: I wouldn't normally inflict The Manics on you but I seem to have started a musical theme with my headings and there's nothing for it now except to continue. The style of this fridge appealed to me immensely as it was a nice, sleek, unfussy looking beast in a glossy gunmetal grey shade that wouldn't show every mark and smear. The handles run from top to bottom and the overall look fits well in our modern house. Although it's a behemoth it's quite unobtrusive and fits in nicely in our utility room.
Inside the shelves are flat and made of safety glass which seems like an obvious thing but I once had a fridge with plastic shelves that had ridges and grooves in them. The minute you placed anything heavy on them they cracked and were a nightmare to clean. By contrast, Sebastian's shelves slide out easily and are quickly cleaned with a once over from a wet wipe. I frequently put huge pots of soup and stew in there, along with leftover casseroles and pasta bakes and there's never been so much as a hint of protest from any of the shelves. At the bottom are two large, clear drawers for vegetables which, although made of plastic, move easily on their runners and comfortably accommodate quantities of veg that would make lesser appliances shudder. To give an example, the bottom drawer currently holds 2 bags of spuds, a large bag of carrots, 2 leeks, a bag of onions, a bag of 6 peppers, 2 garlic bulbs, 5 beetroot, a bag of baby potatoes (I'm Irish. Any less than 3kg of potatoes in the house and I start to get a bit twitchy), a turnip and a parsnip. I could probably get a few more bits and bobs in there if I needed to.
The shelves can be moved around a bit but the permutations are finite because there's only a certain number of runners. If you needed to store something very large you could always remove a shelf or two. The door has four racks which are all sturdy and deep enough to ensure that your bottle of wine won't fall out if someone wrenches the door open. To give an idea of capacity, in one of ours we have two bottles of 2 litre pop and two cartons of 2 litre milk. The others hold bottles and jars whilst the top rack has a fold-down cover and so is used for cheese and spreads.
===Ice, ice, baby===
The freezer is to the left of the fridge and is a bit smaller in capacity as quite a lot of room is taken up by the ice making unit at the top and the chute in the door. One of the things I wanted was ice and filtered water so I'm happy enough with this, but if you wanted the extra room I believe this model is available without.
The design of the freezer is broadly similar to the fridge, with glass shelves and two clear plastic drawers at the bottom, although it's worth bearing in mind that these are quite a bit narrower than the fridge and are therefore a bit more tricky to organise. There are three racks in the door but these are quite narrow and close together and so aren't really useful for holding bulky or tall items. The one at the top in particular is a waste of space as it's only really large enough to hold a small tub of butter or two. Personally, I'd rather have done without the door racks and had three large drawers and just two shelves as it would have made it easier to fit everything in. As it is you have to play a kind of freezer jenga to make sure everything's neatly stacked on the shelves or you run the risk of it all sliding out.
===Cold as ice, you know that you are===
This appliance has got quite a few bells and whistles, the most obvious being the ice and water dispenser. This is operated by two levers that you simply hold the glass against to fill. It's tall enough for a pint glass which is handy for parties and those who like really cold drinks. The ice that comes out is a weird kind of oval shape, but you can opt for crushed if you want to pretend you're Tom Cruise in Cocktail. The water dispenser is a useful gizmo but incurs the added expense of the filter which needs to be changed every 6 months or so, depending on how much use it gets. I use it to fill my water bottle for work but apart from that it rarely gets used as our tap water tastes quite nice.
The other function that I really like is the LED display which tells you what temperature the fridge and freezer are running at and allows you to adjust it by means of pressing a button. With previous fridges that had a wheel numbered from 1 to 6 I struggled to remember what that translated to in terms of temperature so this is very straightforward by comparison.
There is a door alarm which is great if you're absentminded and prone to grabbing the milk and then forgetting to shut the door, but immensely annoying if you're putting away a big grocery shop as it bleats insistently at you every few minutes and will only be silenced by closing the door. If the door is only slightly ajar the alarm doesn't seem to go off and we've found that if you stuff the freezer too full its door will open slightly every time you close the fridge door. So far this has only happened to us a couple of times and nothing has defrosted overnight but it does create a big ice monster around the door and obviously it puts additional strain on the motor.
This is a no frost appliance (unless you're an eejit and accidentally leave the door open, like us) which means that even if you store loads of packets of meat in the freezer they won't all stick together. Similarly, fruit and veg placed in the fridge doesn't get freezer burn and is easy to get apart. No more will you have enormous clumps of frozen peas that begin to resemble minor land masses.
===You fill up my senses, like a trip to Tesco===
The freezer has a capacity of 144 litres while the fridge can hold 357 litres. Those are pretty meaningless numbers but in actual usage we find that we only need to go shopping once a fortnight with a couple of top-up shops in-between. I cook all our meals and lunches from scratch so we generally have a lot of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables in there. A full grocery shop will fill the fridge to two-thirds capacity with a bit of space remaining for pots and containers of leftovers. The freezer has enough room to hold about 3 weeks' worth of frozen food.
===We gotta move these refrigerators*===
If you decide that Sebastian is the boyo for you then there are some practicalities to be borne in mind. This is a really large appliance with a width of 92cm, a height of 179cm and a depth of 74cm so you need to make sure you have adequate room for it with appropriate ventilation. It weighs a ton so make sure the delivery people place it close to where it will be situated.
When we bought it we were advised that delivery included installation of the water and ice functions, but be aware that this is limited to a straightforward hookup. We knew that the location of ours would either mean lifting floorboards or else running a pipe through a wall so we had prearranged with our builder to do the fitting.
As it's a large appliance it takes quite a while to get to temperature - ours took almost a full day - so either make sure you've used up all your frozen food or arrange for your old fridge freezer to be collected after the new one is at operating temperature. Similarly, the ice maker takes a while to work and accumulate enough ice for everyday usage.
===Money can't buy me love===
But it can get you a great big fridge. The price of this has reduced considerably in the year since we bought ours and Currys are now selling it for a snip under £900. I suspect you could find it cheaper if you haggled or shopped around but even at full price I think it's a good deal for such a reliable and well-designed appliance.
*Did you know that the person singing 'I want my MTV' in an astonishingly high-pitched way at the start of Money For Nothing was Sting? No? Well, it is. And he got a writing credit. I bet Mark Knopfler totally doesn't send him Christmas cards because of that.
In general, it has been very easy to furnish our house: the rooms are all generously proportioned with few awkward corners or oddly positioned doors and windows. The only area that proved a bit of a challenge was under the stairs. Our staircase is mahogany and has open stairs, so closing it in to make a cupboard wasn't an option. Nor could we fit a table or anything sizeable underneath as the staircase spans a corner and so has a very large supporting post. In an ideal world, I'd have had a beautiful antique writing bureau on which to store our phone, broadband router and wireless thingy but, realistically, even if we had that kind of money the 7 cats would doubtless turn it into the world's most expensive scratching post in a matter of days. So off to Ikea I went.
===And what did you buy in the windowless and overheated world of Swedish furniture?===
I bought one of the variations of the 'Expedit' shelving range. The littlest one, to be precise.
Because, if I'm honest, I quite like Ikea furniture and the reports of it being impossible to construct are overblown. I've got a lot of their stuff and I've always managed to make it on my own, albeit often with a lot of lateral thinking.
This shelving unit was also generously proportioned, with four deep cubbies that I knew would hold our larger books and ornaments easily. The style of the unit is plain and unfussy which I thought would suit our large and open hall.
As ever with Ikea, you need to make sure that the thing you select from the warehouse is the thing you actually want, as often there are many colour and size variations. If you don't have good strength and mobility in your hands/arms I would consider either ordering online or bringing a friend as the box is quite large and awkward and weighs in at nearly 16kg. I managed fine but if I hadn't I'd have been stymied as the warehouse staff in Belfast seem to view customers who need help with lifting as an irksome interruption to their career in mastering Candy Crush Saga.
It costs £35 but I'm pretty sure I paid a few quid less than that in their post-Christmas sale.
From flat packed to completely built took less than half an hour and that was with me watching telly at the same time. It honestly is ridiculously easy to put together and I think that even a complete DIY novice would struggle to make a mistake. All the fixtures and fittings are included, along with an Allen key. The instructions are pictorial but it really is glaringly obvious how everything fits together. As it's reasonably heavy it's wise to construct it near where you want it to go or enlist someone to help carry it.
Ikea say that it must be affixed to a wall but as it's only waist height and very solid we've never bothered. However, if you wanted to use it as a wall-mounted unit - by that I mean one that's chest height or higher - you could but you need to a) buy a separate fixing kit and b) be very confident in the strength of your walls.
We found out by happy accident that each shelf/cubby is just slightly larger than the cardboard boxes that crisps come in when bought at a wholesalers. Incidentally, when I say 'happy accident' I mean 'Jellybean the cat got stuck head first in a box and after running into more walls than you'd think possible, he eventually charged into the shelving unit'. The bottom two shelves now each house a crisp box with a cat bed in it, while the top two shelves hold my old textbooks from Uni, because although I spend a lot of my days mired in glitter/paint/mud/wee/blood/play doh/snot (sometimes all at once!) I like to kid myself that I could knock out an essay on matriarchal inheritance systems and kinship rites any time I wanted to.
Ikea say it will hold up to 13kg which means you could plonk my dog atop it, but not your arse. I think this is probably a conservative estimate as it seems a really solid piece of furniture but it's probably not a good idea to test it out with your baby grand or anything.
Ours gets tough love, cleaning-wise, as it's never so much had a whiff of Mr Sheen and instead gets a rub down every so often with a kitchen wipe and it still looks grand 8 months down the line.
This is a great unit which can either be used alone or with the larger units in the Expedit range to create a storage system that looks sleek and modern. Given the quality and ease of construction, £35 is a reasonable price to pay. Highly recommended.
The pluses about moving out to the country were many: peace and quiet, a much bigger house and garden, no neighbours overlooking us, great views. One of the few minuses, though, has (literally) reared its ugly head in the last month or so: the fact that we have a lough at the end of our lane, along with living opposite open farmland means that we have seen horseflies that are more like Zeppelins than insects. Non-biting flies don't bother me, we don't really have any mozzies and whilst we get the occasional midge, it's not really a problem. The horseflies are different. If you've never had the misfortune to encounter one, imagine Vinny Jones crossed with The Terminator: they are stupid, annoying, persistent and incredibly aggressive. They also, unlike most flying bitey things, actually saw your skin open when they bite you meaning that it's painful as well as unbearably itchy and is also more prone to infection. It also turned out that I'm mildly allergic to their bites and get huge, hurty red lumps whenever I'm bitten, which is often. Something had to be done. My boyfriend works in the city so I dispatched him to Boots to see what he could find.
It's a pretty plain but functional aerosol can. The colour has changed from Dooyoo's pic and it is now light blue.
===How To Use===
You spray it on any exposed skin, avoiding eyes and lips, from a distance of 15cm. The blurb on the back advises that it will need reapplying every 5 hours and after swimming. It's not suitable for babies under 6 months, it shouldn't be applied to children more than twice a day and, weirdly, it shouldn't be applied to the hands and feet of children under two. It doesn't need to be rubbed in, it's non-greasy and it claims to offer protection against mosquitoes, midges and other biting insects.
===Did it work?===
I was initially dubious because the product doesn't contain DEET and I really feel that, for horseflies, you need all the chemical big guns available in your arsenal. Keen to give it a fair trial I sprayed it all over myself before going out to cut and strimmer the lawn (horseflies hide in long grass so I knew there'd be lots around). The first thing to note is that this stuff will make you cough in the manner of a 60-a-day smoker, so if at all possible I'd recommend that you apply it outdoors. I found it so noxious that the only way to do my face was to hold my breath, spray and then run forward out of the cloud of fumes.
For the first 45 minutes or so of being outside this stuff seemed to work well: I could see horseflies buzzing around me but they weren't biting me. After just less than an hour, though, I felt the first bite through my cotton trousers (despite the fact I'd sprayed my clothes as well as my skin) then I got one just above my elbow, one on my back and after that it was a free for all. There were so many that it was impossible to keep flicking them off and I had to make good my escape. I tried reapplying but it was as if the horseflies had worked out they had nothing to fear. Eventually I picked bunches of lavender, which horseflies hate, and duck taped them to my arms and legs. Obviously, I looked like someone who was out on day release, but it certainly worked a lot better than the spray.
===Any good points?===
Well, I didn't get bitten by anything other than horseflies but I'm not sure whether that was the spray or the fact that there just weren't many around.
I wouldn't recommend this. The non-greasiness is a plus, but if it isn't effective against horseflies it probably won't work against mosquitoes or midges either. Stick to lavender oil or Avon Skin So Soft spray.
We have cats. A lot of cats. Seven, to be exact. Two of that number are feral kittens that we rescued. One of them, Ninja, hates us with a passion that burns brighter than the sun (but is still happy to eat the food we buy her. Cats are hypocrites). Her brother, Roobarb, loves everything and everyone but is still skittish and runs off at speed in response to any loud noises or sudden movements. Last week I was giving him a cuddle when I managed to walk into a light. The bang and the swinging light meant that he took off out of my grip in a manner which suggested he'd dined on nitroglycerin. Initially, I thought he'd just bruised and scraped my arm. Then I looked down and saw that my hand was bleeding really heavily and was starting to throb in the manner of a deep cut that you just know going to be a sod to heal. The bit of my hand that he'd slashed open was that awkward bit where the skin stretches between thumb and forefinger so I knew right away I'd need more than the bog-standard plaster. A quick rootle around in the medicine box brought me to this, adhesive strapping.
===What is it?===
Essentially, it's the sticky bit of fabric plasters but without the cushioned section. It's about as adhesive as plasters and is stretchy and flexible. Unlike plasters, it comes on a roll - like Sellotape - so you can cut off as much as you need.
===Did it work?===
I put a silver-impregnated plaster over the actual wound as I thought the combination of it being a cat scratch and in an awkward place would make infection a lot more likely. I'm not someone who ever uses rubber gloves for work around the house so I knew that plaster would fall off almost immediately, therefore I decided to bind the fabric strapping around my whole hand to ensure the dressing stayed on.
Because it's stretchy, you have to be careful to let the strapping go loose before you apply it; the first time I didn't and my fingers were starting to go a worrying colour after half an hour. Second time lucky I wound it slightly more loosely around my hand and had no problems. The flexibility of the strapping was better for this kind of injury than something like microporous tape because it had a bit of give and I could still move my hand and fingers.
I'd say the strapping lasted for around 24 hours before it needed to be changed. I was very careful not to get it wet, even going so far as to wear a latex glove in the shower, but by the next day the adhesive was weak and the bandage was coming loose. As it's a fabric product it also picks up stains and mine was starting to look a bit grubby. I wasn't that impressed, to be honest, but I suspect that it would have lasted longer somewhere like my arm where it was less exposed to moisture.
This is a useful product for holding a dressing in place or for strapping an injury, but be aware that it will lose effectiveness rapidly if exposed to any moisture.
My mother has a lot of talents. It's part of being mental, I think. It's as if, in order to make up for all the crazy stuff, evolution felt she should have some kind of compensation. One of her best skills is the ability to stop any conversation dead in its tracks with the use of just one sentence. Don't believe me? Read on:
Mum: how was your week at work?
Fiona: busy but good. I've got all my planning done and...
Mum: sorry to interrupt, but I really am excellent at falling.
Fiona: we tried that new place near us for dinner. Pretty expensive, but really nice.
Mum: was it? I nearly became a nun but I got thrown off retreat for cheating, so then I didn't.
Mum: who did you get to do your decorating?
Fiona: a guy called Gary. Do you want his number?
Mum: I watched a really funny programme about a man yesterday. Actually, wait, no it wasn't funny at all. He had both his legs amputated.
Recently, she utilised this to great effect when talking to me about ferries. Here's how that conversation played out:
Fiona: 'yes, the 'Plus' lounge is actually pretty good. No kids and you get complimentary food and drinks'.
Mum: 'did you pay for the upgrade?'
Fiona: 'no, it was a freebie.'
Mum: 'I was up at 5am this morning blow-drying a joint of pork.'
Honestly, you need a brain that's had 33 years of the most extreme kind of training in abstract thought not to be utterly bewildered by that statement. Luckily, I've had my mother as a parent so that's exactly what I've received. It turned out, after some tentative questioning, that she'd woken up with a mad urge for roast pork and crackling. In her addled head, she knew that you had to have the skin dry to achieve optimum crunchiness. Anyone else, anyone sane, would have simply dried the joint with a bit of kitchen towel or not got the damn thing wet in the first place. None of that kind of logic for my mum, though; evidently seeing herself as a proto-Heston Blumenthal, she decided to amp things up a notch by toting the lump of dead pig upstairs, settling it on her dressing table and blow-drying it until the house smelled like a crematorium. Honestly, I worry that it's a matter of time until she prepares a bacon sandwich with a pair of GHDs.
Anyway since she and I own exactly the same hairdryer, I thought I was now uniquely placed to offer you an opinion on how well it works on humans and dead animals. Well, humans really. I've never used it on dead animals. I have used it on live ones, though.
===What is it?===
It's the Babyliss 5529, which sounds like it should be a robot but is in fact a silver (grey) hair dryer. I bought mine around 7 years ago, I think, from Argos if memory serves me correctly.
===Why did you buy it?===
I'm not one of those girls who requires a lot from a hair dryer. I have very fine, shoulder-length hair that tends to dry quite quickly so I didn't need one with multiple speed and heat settings, nor did I need one with a diffuser or other terrifying-looking attachments. This one was from a reputable brand, claimed to offer 2000 watts of power and had something called 'ionic technology' which promised to leave my barnet sleek and shiny. For under 20 quid, that seemed like a bargain.
===Is it effective?===
Well, it's been going strong for 7 years which tells you that a) I'm fundamentally lazy and can't be arsed to replace it, or b) it's doing a pretty good job. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. As previously mentioned, my hair is very fine and the Babyliss dries it thoroughly in under ten minutes so that all I have to do is quickly run the straighteners through it. On thicker hair I suspect it would take rather longer than this as it turns out that the promised 2000 watts isn't *that* powerful. It came with a shaped nozzle to direct the airflow downwards on to the hair but I lost it almost immediately and its absence doesn't seem to affect the dryer's performance. It advertises itself as having three speed settings and for this you've really got to admire Babyliss' chutzpah: one of the settings is 'off'. The slower speed is handy for drying my long fringe and the wispy bits around my face; I use the full speed setting for everywhere else. There is a 'cool shot' function for those who want to set a style but with my levels of flyaway-ness that would just be blind optimism, so I rarely use it. I was abysmal at chemistry so I'll confess complete ignorance as to what 'ionic technology' is and to be entirely truthful I notice no difference in levels of shininess between using this and letting my hair dry naturally.
===How does it fare on drying knickers?===
In my pre-tumble dryer days, I could quite regularly be found using this on my smalls and it did sterling work.
===How does it fare on drying a Neelix?===
Takes a LONG time to get him thoroughly dried, but it gets there in the end.
===How does it fare on drying cats?===
Tried it once, thought I was going to need a transfusion.
===How does it fare on drying a whopping great joint of pork?===
I dunno, but I can put you in touch with my mother if you're really dying to know.
While it does have a handy loop meaning it can be hung up on a dressing table, the cable really isn't as long as I like meaning if you're not within a couple of metres of a mirror you'll have to keep setting it down and trotting back and forth to make sure you haven't accidentally made yourself look like Siouxsie Sioux.
Well, it's not the kind of sleek and snazzy appliance you'd be pleased to have on your dressing table, but it does a reasonably good job for a bargainous price.
Sarah Millican steals all my jokes. I've never met her so she must somehow be doing it psychically, but still, I think she owes me a few quid. In this instance, the thing that tickles both of us is how supermarkets and bargain stores re-brand well known games in order to avoid copyright. For instance, 'Guess Who?' becomes the slightly Spanish Inquisitorial-sounding 'Who Is It?'. 'Connect 4' transmogrifies to '4 In A Line'. The best one, though, as revealed by Ms Millican, is the bargain basement version of 'Cluedo' which morphs, amusingly, into 'Who Did It and In What Room?'. On a par with those is Spears' 'Stack 'Em' which is (to everyone except Jenga's lawyers) Jenga.
===How to play===
It's hard to believe that there's anyone who hasn't played Jenga, but, as with all the best games and puzzles, the basic idea is ridiculously simple. Wooden oblongs are stacked in alternately facing groups of 3 to make a tower. The aim of the game is to remove a block on your turn and place it on the top. Sound simple? Well, it is at the start but it gets progressively more and more difficult with each round as the tower becomes more unstable. The loser is the person who causes the whole lot to hit the deck with a clatter.
This is a game that's billed as being suitable for ages 6 and up and I'd say that's about right. Any younger than this and most children won't have the manual dexterity to keep the game going for more than a couple of rounds which will quickly frustrate them.
This is a great game for developing fine motor control skills, particularly the pincer grip, as the children must carefully manoeuvre blocks out and then place them gently back on top. Whilst a certain amount of deftness is required it is possible to slightly adapt the game to make it easier or harder; if children are struggling to put blocks back on top you can do it for them, or you can play a version which involves throwing a 1-3 dice and children must take the number of blocks the dice shows. If you want to make it even trickier, you can ask times tables facts (or any quiz topic) and the children take one block if they get a right answer and two if they get a wrong answer. The games I offer the children as a reward are (the cheapo versions of) Connect 4, Hungry Hippos, Ker-Plunk, Wobbly Chef, Wobbly Monkeys, Operation and Stack 'Em. Stack 'Em is the favourite by far. There is something about building towers up and then destroying them that appeals almost universally.
===Quality and durability===
Although made by Spears, this set seems to only be on sale in Tesco where I bought mine for £4.99. It is essentially the same as Jenga: the wooden blocks are roughly the same dimensions, but they're not quite as nicely made; edges aren't rounded and the blocks are unvarnished pine. Still, it doesn't affect gameplay in any way and young children won't give two hoots whether it's branded or not. At around a fiver cheaper it's certainly a cracking bargain. Mine is played with at least 5 or 6 times a day and the blocks look as good as new. The box is starting to get a bit tattered after being taken in and out of my work bag so many times, but I tape it up every so often and it's grand.
This is a game that I love playing almost as much as the kids and I'm struggling to think of any negative aspects. Every home should have one.
This perfume was one of my 'pot luck' buys, where I add a (reasonably) cheap bottle of fragrance onto whatever I'm ordering from Fragrance Direct or Amazon. I have had a couple of stinkers with this method but mostly I've been pleasantly surprised.
It's quite a squat, flat little thing with clear glass showing the amber coloured perfume inside. The cap is shaped a little like the belfry of a Russian Orthodox Church and is made of a brassy coloured plastic. It's by no means a thing of beauty but nor will it look cheap and nasty sat on your dressing table.
The spray is just about perfect: it covers a decent area without drenching you in the scent. I find a spritz on each wrist and one on the neck is plenty.
===The Top Notes===
The first thing I get is a huge wallop of vanilla, but not the sickly, synthetic awful stuff so common to many perfumes; this is more like the aroma you get when you split open really good quality vanilla bean pods. After a couple of minutes I get a very slight floral edge although no fruit at all, despite peach being listed in the 'official' notes. A strong presence throughout is a kind of dry, musky smell - a bit like walking into an incense shop. At this point you get a feel for how expertly blended this perfume is: these are 'big' notes and could be incredibly overbearing but I find Casmir to be extremely sophisticated and wearable.
===The Middle Notes===
On me, the middle notes start to develop within around 20 minutes or so. The vanilla and musk have stayed consistently strong and there's still absolutely no hint of any fruit but there is a real gourmand edge to the fragrance with incredibly rich, chocolatey tones starting to come to the fore. The white floral is still just about clinging on but has been very much consigned to the background which is no bad thing as I love the creamy, spicy headiness that is created by the development of some cinnamon notes.
At this stage the perfume's sillage is very impressive and, whilst it's not going to be overwhelming for the people around you, you certainly know when someone in the same room as you is wearing it. With some perfumes I feel the need to reapply in the middle stages in order to make it last but this has never been the case with Casmir: a couple of spritzes in the morning will comfortably get me through the entire day.
===The Base Notes===
After around 2 hours the sillage has started to stay a bit closer to my skin, although there isn't a great deal of change in the way of the notes with vanilla, musk and chocolate still being what I smell the most. A very faint flowery tone has crept back in although now it's less of a white floral and more something that is almost like rose.
The base notes linger on my skin for a good 6-8 hours and quite often I can still smell it faintly the next day. On clothing it lasts a lot longer, weeks in fact. For me this is a massive plus as I struggle to find perfumes that will last the distance.
This is a strong and assertive fragrance that won't be for everyone, but I love it. To me, it's a comforting scent that I most often want to wear when the weather turns a bit dark and nasty. It's a sexy, womanly scent and one that I'm very glad I have in my collection.
As mentioned in previous reviews, this has been a bit of a plague-filled year in which I seem to have succumbed to pretty much every bout of lurgy doing the rounds. From September onwards I managed to get every cold, flu and upper respiratory infection going, making for a pretty miserable winter. Oilbas Oil was something I hadn't used since I was a kid but seeing as I was throwing pretty much every other remedy known to man at my ailments, I thought I might as well add this to the arsenal.
===What is it?===
Non-technical explanation: one of the most pungent and long-lasting smells ever, alongside garlic, petrol and other people's trumps.
Technical explanation: Olbas Oil is a mixture of plant oils, including clove, juniper and eucalyptus although the latter is the one that really lingers and which I most associate with the product. It acts a reliever and decongestant for the stuffy noses and bunged up heads that often accompany colds, flus, hay fever, sinus infections and the like.
===How do you use it?===
I tend to keep a bottle in my bag and dab a few drops on a tissue to inhale whenever my snot levels reach a mission-critical stage. Alternately, you can pop a few drops in hot water and use it as a steam inhalant, or put some on your pillows/PJs to help you sleep at night. I believe you can also use it as a muscle rub to soothes aches but I've never done this. My parents always put this in my room when I was poorly as a child, but I'm not sure I'd do that personally: this is strong stuff and might be a bit overwhelming for a little'un. I believe Olbas make a version specifically for sprogs which would probably be a better bet.
===Does it work?===
The effects aren't long-lasting, but it does give relief for around half an hour and certainly clears the nasal passages enough to be able to breathe comfortably. On me, the effects of inhaling it from a tissue last around 30 minutes. You only need a couple of drops, though, and a bottle seems to last forever so that's a pretty good level of effectiveness and value for money from a product that can be picked up for less than three quid.
Pregnant women shouldn't take it unless they've consulted a doctor first. Pretty much everyone else should feel free to Olbas Oil themselves up with gay abandon.
Remember those verbal reasoning tests you used to have to take in school that went along the lines of 'if all quarks are snarks, and most snarks like spelunking but only some quarks like philately, is it true or false to say that all quarks like philately? (Answer at the bottom) Well, here's a version more pertinent to me. 'If all teachers like labelling, and tallulahbang is a teacher, is it true or false to say that tallulahbang likes labelling stuff?' The answer is, of course, false: I don't merely *like* labelling stuff, I bloody love it. Hence why I have this gadget living in one of my kitchen drawers.
===Where to buy?===
Randomly, mine came from Lidl during one of their great 'let's sell the most bizarre items we can alongside the bread and peas' extravaganzas. I'm not sure if this is a feature common to all Lidls or just an Irish thing, but I've seen wetsuits, chainsaws, circular saws, guitars, USB microscopes, giant plastic birds and saddles. I can't remember what I paid but it was almost certainly heavily discounted as I'm a skinflint and a quick scout around the interwebs has told me that the RRP is £40 (although it can be procured for half that on Amazon).
===What does it do?===
It prints labels in black 'ink' on strips of tape that are just over a centimetre wide. Theoretically, the length of the label is limited only by your verbosity and the amount of tape you have left in the machine. Before you decide you're going to label everything you own in an incredibly lexicographically specific way it's worth bearing in mind that tape refills come in at around a tenner each.
I assume the printing is done with either heat technology or black magic as, handily, I've lost the English instruction book (and yet carefully filed away the one giving explanations in Greek, Hebrew, Polish and Russian) but there is no cartridge for ink. The tape that's in mine is down as 'white, 12mm, laminated' which means you get a shiny gloss finish and the writing doesn't smear. The length of time it lasts depends on your mania for labelling: I've done all the shelves in our dressing room, a few bits and pieces for work, some food canisters and all of our herbs and spices and it shows no signs of running out.
===Ease of use===
As previously mentioned, I lost the instructions pretty much immediately but it's fairly straightforward to use. Essentially, you have a keypad and number pad and a variety of function buttons that enable you to toggle through menus to get punctuation, accents etc. The font on the labels can either be full height or you can use the return key to get two lines of text per label. Once you're finished, press the blue print key and the label emerges out of the top right of the machine and can be taken off using the integrated cutter button. The labels are sticky and the backing paper is easy to peel off so long as you gently bend each label in half lengthways; trying to pull it straight off like you would do with double sided tape is doomed to failure. After 6 months all my labels are still where I put them and the writing hasn't faded at all. The machine takes 6 AAA batteries, which is a lot, but on the upside they haven't needed replaced in well over a year of ownership.
===An essential gadget?===
Not really, no. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without mine but ultimately it does nothing that you couldn't achieve for less money with a biro, some post-it notes and a roll of Sellotape.
In my case, this is the year that I've finally come to terms with the fact that I am incredibly particular, hyper-organised and with a passion for orderliness that makes Monica out of Friends look like The Dude out of The Big Lebowski. Labelling stuff is vital for me, particularly in my work where it means that my classroom assistants find it easier to organise everything the way I want it (I started off by being easygoing about how the classroom was laid out but after several minor meltdowns when the pencils weren't in what was, CLEARLY, the right place, we all agreed that my way was best with only minimal bribery and threats of violence). Similarly, it would be fair to say that whilst my boyfriend is a true gem of a bloke he is also possibly the most absent-minded and scatty person since Frank Spencer so labelling our office and dressing room has done a great deal to ensure domestic harmony.
A few, but nothing major. In an era of smartphones and tablets, the black and white screen looks very old fashioned indeed and there's only room on it for 11 letters so you will have to scroll back and forth to check what you've written. Similarly, I'm used to my various devices auto-correcting my spelling and switching between upper and lowercase as necessary. This will not do that so you need to take time before printing to check that everything is as you want it. Finally, there is quite a lot of blank space printed out either side of each label, even on the lowest margin setting. This is annoyingly wasteful of tape so I tend to plan ahead as much as possible and print multiple labels in one go, cutting them up with scissors afterwards.
*False. No one likes philately, least of all quarks.
This has been a bad year for me for sickness. I usually have the constitution of an ox but over winter and early spring I seemed to get every infection, cold and tummy bug going. Normally I rarely take more than a couple of days off work per year, but 2012/2013 I managed to rack up over 2 weeks' sick leave. At one point I was so poorly with flu that, upon my return, our school secretary flung her arms around me for a gigantic hug and she's REALLY not the touchy-feely kind. After the second or third cold I decided it was time to up my vitamin intake. I really didn't feel multivitamin tablets were doing anything for me, so I bought a few packets of Berocca.
Berocca comes in a green plastic tube which I really like as it keeps the tablets safe and secure. It's also the perfect size to pop in your handbag or desk drawer. The plastic top can be a bit of a sod to get off and I usually resort to using my teeth. My classroom assistant is less cack-handed than me and seems to have no problems. When first bought there's also a green cardboard box but I always recycle this as it serves no useful purpose.
===What does it do?===
The advertising claim is that it helps you feel 'like you, but on a really good day' by giving you a blend of vitamins and minerals in a tasty drink which is available in orange, tropical and mixed berries flavour. The drink is made up by dissolving one of the effervescent tablets in water. Usually I hate effervescent drinks but this is quite nice and I don't mind taking it in the slightest. I think you're supposed to make it up with 250ml of water but I never bother measuring and just chuck it in my work mug. I find them much nicer when made up with hot water, particularly in the winter, but it's up to individual taste. They're all quite palatable but the orange and berries flavour are my favourite. Both taste like diluted cordial with a slightly tangy edge and so they're not at all unpleasant to drink.
It's very hard to prove one way or the other whether these kinds of supplements are actually beneficial, which is obviously part of the secret of their success. Psychologically, though, these are quite comforting to take and, if nothing else, the placebo effect can be quite a powerful thing. If I'm feeling run down or hungover these do perk me up a bit, particularly if I take one in the morning just before I start teaching. I find I also tend to use them if I've had one of those weeks where I'm not eating particularly balanced meals in the hope that they'll make up the shortfall.
For me, these are a handy thing to have around during those times in the year when my immune system's taken a bit of a battering. They give you a good dose of vitamin c which has long been proven necessary to help stave off colds. I find they make me feel better but it's worth bearing in mind that these cannot make up for a poor diet and lifestyle in the long term. If you feel seriously under par for weeks on end Berocca probably won't do you a great deal of good and it might be best to speak to your GP.
These are available in most supermarkets and chemists for around a fiver for a 15 tablet tube. It's worth shopping around as supermarkets often have them on a 3 for 2 deal.
Over the years I've become quite a fan of the Joseph Joseph range of gadgets and utensils as, while expensive, they are often very cleverly designed and well-suited to the job at hand. A while ago Achica was having a sale on their kitchenware and this was one of the many things I picked up.
This has a yellow and grey colour-scheme; not the most exciting of the J&J range, but I like it nonetheless. The yellow part is the actual reamer that you press into the fruit and twist to extract the juice. The grey part is the handle and cup. The cup has several small holes in it so that the juice can filter through but pips are kept behind. It's made of a matte plastic that feels quite sturdy and is dishwasher safe.
It's pretty straightforward, really: you press the reamer part into the half of the fruit you want to juice, twist it round and the liquid comes out through the holes into whatever bowl/pan you've placed underneath while any pips are caught in the cup part.
I've found when using it that it works pretty well as it's supposed to, although the holes in the cup part tend to get clogged up with pips and bits of fruit flesh meaning the juice doesn't drain out as quickly as it should. It's not *that* big a deal though - just requiring to be scooped out with a teaspoon or piece of kitchen towel - and I'd still rather use this reamer than the traditional kind as it's easier to wash up and there are fewer bits to lose.
I get a lot of use out of this particular gadget: it's handy being able to juice fruit directly into the sauce pan or cake mix and it has coped admirably well with everything from mega-big grapefruits to teeny-weeny limes.
===Price and availability===
Currently this is available on Amazon for £9 which I think is far too much. Don't get me wrong, it's a handy item but it's not worth that. J&J sales crop up regularly on Achica or their products are often discounted at large department stores so it may be a better idea to look out for that if you really want one.
To get maximum juice from your citrus fruit, stick it in the microwave for 10 - 30 seconds and then roll it around on the kitchen counter a bit with the heel of your hand. You'll find the yield is much higher.
In my class last year I had a severely autistic little boy who couldn't write, had little communication, poor muscle tone in his hands and arms and who could be very disruptive and vocal. My assistants and I had to devise a completely separate curriculum for him that involved very short (1-2 minute) practical activities and tasks and that incorporated lots of movement breaks. I saw this in Tesco and thought it would be ideal for him, as he liked ordinary-sized bubbles.
The packaging is quite appealing for children as it is mainly transparent plastic and therefore they can see the bubble solution and wand. It's designed to look a little bit like a sword (albeit a very rounded one, which is just as well as that particular child could be quite aggressive) which makes it enticing for little boys. Size-wise it was a little longer than the length of my forearm so it looks really quite impressive, despite coming in at the rather bargainous price of £2 when I bought it. The child I got it for was 9 but refused to hold it because of his problems with gripping although if I held the base he was happy to wave the wand part around. Other children in the class were able to use it completely independently. I'd imagine that very small children (under 5) might struggle to use it without help, especially since the best bubbles are made by waving the wand quite slowly in big arcs; younger children tend to shake bubble wands and this will just result in everyone in the vicinity being spattered with bubble solution.
The bubbles it produces are really fab: huge and they last for quite a while without popping. One sweep of the wand creates a trail of impressive bubbles that the little boy in question loved chasing and trying to catch. For a child with his level of special needs it also created a good opportunity to encourage his ability to visually track an object which is something he struggled with. Having the bubbles pop around and on him was a great sensory stimulus, although it took him a while not to squeal every time one touched him!
This bubble wand is probably best used outdoors as when the bubbles burst they do leave a small wet mark where they land. This doesn't leave a stain and cleans up easily but it can get a bit sticky if loads of bubbles are popping on the same surface.
The only real complaint I have is that the wand is a thin oval shape and once you've used up more than a third of the solution it can be tricky to get the wand fully coated. We got round this by topping the solution up with undiluted Fairy liquid which seemed to work well.
Overall, for the price this is a great garden toy as long as you don't mind your supplies of washing up liquid diminishing a bit.
Ever since I was quite a young child I've suffered with headaches. As I hit adolescence I also developed crippling migraines that would see me confined to a darkened room until the pain, nausea and visual effects passed. Thankfully, as my teenage hormones settled down, so did the migraines and I now only get one perhaps every couple of months. I still get regular sharp headaches for which I usually rely on ibuprofen or paracetamol. However, in case I get a particularly severe one, I always keep a packet of Paramol in the cupboard.
===What is it?===
Nhs.co.uk tells me it contains both paracetamol and dihydrocodeine, which, as well as being a seriously kick ass word on Scrabble is effective in dealing with moderate to severe pain. Certainly I've found that these tablets work more quickly than either paracetamol or ibuprofen on their own.
===What are they used for?===
I tend to think of these as the heavies of the non-prescription painkiller world so I try not to use them unless I feel I really need to, or if paracetamol and ibuprofen haven't worked (a word of caution here: as this painkiller contains paracetamol it's wise to err on the side of caution if you've already had a couple of other headache remedies prior to taking it). In my case it's serious, pounding headaches and migraines that I mainly use it for although I did also take it when I was laid up with flu for a couple of weeks.
For 9/10 of my headaches I find these tablets have done their work within half an hour, leaving me pain free. With migraines, I find if I can take them within the first ten minutes of the visual effects starting they clear the headache completely and I don't get any nausea or dizziness either. Taken after that they ease the pain considerably but don't remove it completely.
===Anyone who shouldn't use it?===
The packaging recommends it as suitable for anyone of 12 and up, with the proviso that you read the warnings thoroughly and do not take if you have any of the medical conditions they list. Personally, I'm not sure I would give it to a child under 16 without consulting my GP as it is so strong. It's also worth bearing in mind that the manufacturers warn that the stated dose should not be exceeded and that it shouldn't be taken for more than three consecutive days because dihydrocodeine is an opiate and therefore pretty addictive. When I had the flu I took it for a couple of days longer than I should have (nothing else was working on the fever and aches) and I found that I was starting to look forward to taking it because it gave me such an intense feeling of calm. Since then I've been really careful only to take it for a maximum of a couple of days.
===Where to buy===
We always get ours in Boots in a 32 pack which costs around £6. I believe there is also a soluble version but I've never used them.
This is a very handy analgesic to have in the cupboard, as long as you're careful about how you use it.
Usually when I buy perfumes I go on reviews or simply reading what the notes are and deciding whether or not they appeal. I hardly ever go on actually smelling them, mainly because that means running the gauntlet of the terrifyingly orangey made-up ladies that stalk the halls of department stores hoping to peddle perfume (or else suck out your very soul). However, I received a sample of this one in a magazine and the moment I smelled it, I loved it. After hinting strongly to my boyfriend, I got a bottle as a present.
It's a bit of a disappointment really as it's plain and very similar to Clarins' other perfume bottles. In fairness, it errs more on the side of 'classic' than 'boring', but I'm one of those people that wishes manufacturers would go back to the days of beautiful, Lalique-style bottles and this just doesn't cut the mustard. Still, what matters most is the fragrance inside and this bottle is at least practical for keeping the perfume safe in your handbag as it's very solid and the lid affixes firmly. On the 100ml bottle the spray works fine and dispenses a decent amount without saturating you. The smaller, 30ml bottle which I also own is a screw top, though, which is fiddly and annoying.
===The Top Notes===
Upon first spray the thing I immediately notice is what a lush, green and fruity scent this is. The whoosh of harsh alcohol that is immediately apparent on spraying almost all fragrances isn't present here and so the first scent I get is strong tones of grapefruit. I love this smell but, as mad as it sound, I suspect it might share a compound with stale perspiration as often I find that grapefruit scented products are horribly reminiscent of unwashed gym kits. Thankfully, this doesn't have that problem and the tart, fruity essence of grapefruit comes through with harmonising orange and lemon and a pleasantly sweet note that reminds me of watermelon but which is probably the blackcurrant.
===The Middle Notes===
Quite quickly - within 5 minutes or so - the initial citrussy blast has died down a little and I get notes coming through which reminds me very much of The Body Shop's 'Fuzzy Peach' range. This was a scent I always quite liked and it blends with the citrus top notes very well to give a nice background warmth to the fragrance. After half an hour I get a refreshing hit of mint and cucumber which I love as it reminds me of one of my favourite scents, Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca. At this stage the lemon and grapefruit are still playing starring roles although the orange has disappeared from my skin. According to the published notes lime is also present, but this doesn't seem to be terribly evident on me.
This stage lasts for around 3 to 4 hours with the perfume having enough of a presence to make sure that I regularly get compliments on it, but it isn't so strong that it overwhelms a room or makes people sitting beside me cough.
===The Base Notes===
I find that an hour or two after application the strength of the perfume fades quite sharply. I can still smell it on myself but it wouldn't be terribly evident to anyone else in the same room as me. The citrus notes that have been present from the start are still there but there's also a white floral element in the background along with a clean, grassy smell and a green herb smell that I can't quite place. Overall, I'd say that if I apply this fragrance just before leaving for work at 7am, I need to start topping it up by lunchtime.
This is an eau, rather than a parfum so it is alcohol-free and many of the harsher chemicals have been removed. On the plus side, this means it's safe to be worn in the sun and won't irritate or stain skin. On the minus side, it has nothing of the sillage and longevity you'd expect from an eau de parfum or even an eau de toilette. The marketing spiel posits it as an aromatherapy blend rather than a traditional perfume and proclaim that it will moisturise the skin. I can't say I've noticed this as I only ever apply it to my wrists and neck.
I love this perfume and never grow tired of how fresh and summery it is. It sounds horribly cheesy, but Clarins market this as 'uplifting, refreshing, captivating' and when I spray it on first thing in the morning I genuinely find that it perks me up and improves my mood. The longevity isn't great but at £30 for 100ml it's reasonably enough priced that I don't mind reapplying it throughout the day.
As I may have mentioned before, I'm not generally a fan of Body Shop fragrances: they're too uncomfortably associated with the awkwardness of my teenage years. However, every so often there's a really good online deal for which you need to spend a certain amount to qualify. Last December one of these offers came up and, having bought all my Christmas presents I decided to make up the price by throwing in a couple of fragrances. One was the wishy washy 'Love, etc.' which I've already reviewed and the other was Kistna which I bought for my boyfriend. I'm not averse to dabbling in aftershaves every so often as I sometimes find they work really well on my skin. Also, I was curious as to what Peter hated so much about this one as it had sat forlornly on the shelf for months with just a couple of squirts used.
It's about on a par with what you'd expect from the Body Shop: a khaki green frosted glass bottle with a plain cap. There's nothing exciting or interesting about it, but it won't look out of place on most blokes' shelves.
===The Top Notes===
If you sniff this just after spraying, the first thing you will get is a great big huff of raw alcohol, which isn't entirely pleasant. Seconds after that there's a burst of lemon and lime citrus notes with a faint aquatic undertow which reminds me a bit of Cool Water, albeit in a rather diluted, cheap and nasty way. I think there's supposed to be a hit of grapefruit but it's so synthetic and processed that it just smells a bit unpleasant and musty. I also get a spicy sandalwood coming through which fights too hard with the citrus notes and, for me, makes it a confused opening. Even at this early stage, the fragrance stays close to the skin and within minutes of being sprayed there's no hint of it in the room.
===The Middle Notes===
It's actually quite tricky to describe the middle and base notes, because this is a fragrance that really fades fast. A mere twenty minutes after spraying I have to press my nose right against my wrist to get more than the merest hint of Kistna. By this stage there's still a hint of the citrus notes but they are really very faint, which is odd given how dominant they were initially. There is the vaguest whiff of mint but it's barely there, which is a shame as its a note I really like in fragrances and it may have helped to make this concoction slightly more interesting. If I really put my mind to it, there is a note of basil, but this tends to only come through when my skin is warm from being in the sun. Under normal conditions it's just not evident at all.
===The Base Notes===
After just an hour and a half on my skin this has all but vanished. It lasts slightly longer on my clothing but it still could only charitably be described as 'subdued'. At this stage I actively dislike this fragrance: all the citrus has gone and what's left smells like a knock-off cheap copy that you'd get on a market stall. The last notes are of an oddly sweet and powdery patchouli. For me, it clashes with the notes that have gone before and is a disappointing end to a less than impressive beginning.
This is trying too hard to emulate citrussy aquatics like Cool Water and Aqua di Gio and fails miserably to even be a decent copy. The only thing in its favour is how little it costs. One to avoid.