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The book of the Fifty Shades Trilogy had been floating around at the top of the Amazon charts for a while when I succumbed to the hype and downloaded the first two books onto my Kindle. I wasn't really aware of what the books contained at the time and I really didn't enjoy the first book in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, as I thought the writing style was extremely juvenile and repetitive and the subject matter was not really my cup of tea either. However since I had the second book, Fifty Shades Darker, already loaded into my Kindle I decided to give it a shot. Obviously, being the second book in the Trilogy, this review may contain spoilers. Anastasia Steele was a naïve student when she met the charismatic multi-millionaire Christian Grey. The first book follows their unconventional love affair and Ana discovering that she may not be able to satisfy Christian in all the ways he needs. The second book finds us with the couple estranged. Ana has started a new job and is finding that even throwing herself completely in to her work does not prevent the spectre of Christian haunting her every moment. Unbelievable to her is the fact that Christian seems to be missing her just as much. Inevitably the unlikely couple make tentative advances to rebuilding their relationship and Ana helps Christian to extinguish some of the horrors of his past. The storyline in this book was almost as predictable as the previous instalment but I did think that this time the author did try and make things a little less linear so it did make for a more interesting read. Although it was obvious that Ana's boss was going to have a bit of a "thing" for her the way it was explored was not exactly how I predicted which added to the readability. What made this book much better for me was that there were other threads going on as well as the central one of Christian being obsessive about Ana and Ana floating about thinking she wasn't worthy of this good-looking man. Things happened which added a slightly more menacing feel and I felt that I was reading a proper book rather than a badly written tale that jumped from one sex scene to another which was how I felt when I was reading the first one. Characters that had been briefly touched upon in the first story were used a little more in this version although I still didn't feel that they were particularly well-rounded. One of the people I desperately wanted to know more about was Taylor, one of Christian's most loyal employees. We were given tantalising snippets about his life which I was hoping may lead to a little more information about him later on. It was things like this that made me think the author had taken a little more time to write a more entwined storyline than in the first book. Ana's few friends and her relationships with them still seemed quite two-dimensional and considering how mixed up she was emotionally I am sure she would have wanted to have had a chat with her best friend even if she couldn't give her any details and in these days of technology it wouldn't have been hard to contact her. Unfortunately the book still fell down on several counts in my opinion. There was still the endless repetitions of "Oh My" and lip-biting and the omnipresent Inner Goddess, the mention of which made me want to scream. Christian was always going on about food and making Ana eat. It didn't take a genius to work out that he had once been hungry but I don't think the excessive use of the same themes helped the story along. I did however like finding out more about Christian's background and about what he actually recalled from his childhood. The Prologue sets the scene and he fills in the details later whilst talking to Ana. Unfortunately I can't believe that someone who has such obvious emotional scars can suddenly find he can remove his touching Hard Limits quite so quickly. Once again the book has several sex scenes. This time Ana seems to have more control and although Christian still leads the way most of the time it is obvious that he is trying to involve himself with a more loving and respectful sex life with Ana than he has ever managed with anyone else. Ana has, however, found there are some aspects for Christian's predilections which she really enjoys and entices him to show her more. I was far more comfortable reading these scenes in this book than I had been in the previous novel as it felt as if the whole thing was more about mutual consent and less about abuse which is what I disliked about the first instalment. Ana does seem to grow a bit of backbone in this book and is not quite as pathetic and irritating as she is in Shades of grey but she is also insanely jealous which becomes apparent in several episodes of the story but most noticeably when she has any dealings with the lady she refers to as "Mrs Robinson". Although the writing style still left a lot to be desired I did feel that this was a much more grown-up attempt at a book. The author managed to explore more of the background of the characters and also put them in to a world where they were actually interacting with other people and things were happening around them. This seemed quite an improvement to me so I was surprised when I read other reviews which rate this book far lower than Shades of Grey. Although this would never make my list of top 100 reads I did find it a quick and easy read that provided light entertainment. In fact I became so much more interested in Ana and Christian when I read this that in the end I couldn't resists downloading the third instalment as well.
The drive from Sequoia Forest to Las Vegas was going to be a long one so we decided to look for a stopping point along the way and the first one that jumped off the map was Barstow, this is also a great stopping place between LA and Vegas too. We simply wanted an overnight stop and were not very interested in the location as long as it was easy to access from the main road so doing a quick internet search led us to booking the Comfort Suites. The main appeal was the fact that the room came with two beds and a sofa-bed so it meant that I wouldn't have to share a bed with my teenage daughter. The Comfort Suites was very easy to spot from the road, its garish orange paintwork certainly stood out at what was basically a truck stop in the middle of the desert. Its location didn't look terribly inviting but after a long hot drive we were just keen to get in to a room with air-conditioning and have a chance to make a cup of tea! The hotel has a large car-park which is free. Once we had parked we went in to reception and were immediately disconcerted by a sign telling us that "materials used in this building are known to cause cancer in the State of California". However we found out that we would see this sign all over California but no-one would ever be able to give you information about what it actually meant. When we arrived at the reception there were several people working there. However some appeared to be training and it took a while to check us in as about 4 people had a go at our booking whilst someone supervised them. We didn't really mind this but a quick smile and an explanation or apology would have been polite. Although this is a newly built property the inside was rather dull, certainly not as colourful as the outside! Our room was a good size and as expected had two queen beds and a double sofa bed. It also had a handy kitchenette with microwave, coffee maker and fridge. The room was very clean and there was plenty of extra bedding to make-up the sofa bed, having stopped in several places where this was lacking I was pleased to see it here. One of the things I did disliked about this room was the carpet; it was very cheap and caused all of us to give each other static electric charges which were rather unpleasant! The bathroom was large although we didn't have the large bath that is shown in some of the hotel pictures; ours was just a standard size. The shower worked really well although an inefficient extractor meant that the bathroom mirror was permanently steamed up. We had booked knowing this was a non-smoking hotel and there was not a trace of cigarette smoke in our room or in the corridor either which was good as we have noticed in other places that people have obviously ignored the rules. Wi-Fi internet is also included in the price and we found this to be fast and reliable. This hotel does have a pool. It is very small with just a couple of chairs and although it is walled there are grilles in the wall which make it feel like you are sitting in the car-park. However the pool was clean and it was certainly nice for a quick refreshing dip after a day's travel. The room rate we paid included breakfast for the four of us which was served in a breakfast area next to reception. There weren't many tables and I did see some people taking breakfast back to their rooms, I am not sure if that was through choice or if it was because they couldn't find anywhere to sit. I would have preferred a separate room rather than sitting in the reception area. The food selection however was perfectly acceptable. There were a few cooked items like bacon and egg and then toast, cereal, pastries and fruit with juices and tea and coffee available as well. I am not sure what the tea was but it was the most disgusting brew I have ever tasted so I can't recommend it. We managed to eat a filling breakfast each and also took some bananas to eat later in the day which seemed to be an acceptable practice. There was an assistant permanently filling up the food items and when I asked about something that had run out she was happy to quickly fetch me some more. I did see people complaining about the fact that the plates and cutlery were disposable but for an all-inclusive price for room and breakfast of £88 for four people (two adults, an 18yr old and a 15yr old) I thought that was quite acceptable. This is certainly not a luxury hotel in a beautiful setting. However it is a brilliant, practical stop which is easy to access, gives a nice big, clean room and offers a satisfying breakfast and if we ever find ourselves on that road again we would certainly stop here.
Calico Town was founded in about 1881 in the midst of the Silver mining frenzy in California. It was situated on a rich seam and the population rapidly increased. In total it produced over $86 million of silver and once Borax was also found the prosperous town seemed set for great things. Unfortunately the price of silver suddenly started to drop and like many towns in the area the population started to decline and it soon became a ghost town. In the 1950s Walter Knott (of Knotts Berry Farm) bought Calico and restored the five original buildings that were on the site. Many of the buildings had been destroyed by fire during the boom years and after. In 1966 Calico was donated to San Bernardino County and it is now recognised as a State Historic Landmark Calico is easy to find and is only a few miles from Barstow on the I-15 so it is a nice place to stop for an hour or two on the way to the bright lights of Las Vegas. There was ample parking and we paid entry as we approached the car park. It was $7 for adults and $4 for children but I believe under 5s get in free of charge. The park does give information that it is not readily accessible to people with mobility problems due to the historic nature of the site. We were immediately struck by how inhospitable a place Calico must have been to the early miners. We visited at the end of July and the heat was intense with absolutely no natural shade on the barren hillside, the original miners were certainly brave and hardy men. It seems that originally Calico did not have its own water supply and it used to have to be transported to the site and many people, particularly children lost their lives due to infections in the stagnant, transported water. The main street of the town has been recreated; some buildings are original whilst some have been reproduced in style. The main roadway has a tarmac covering. I can understand that this is necessary to help with access and to prevent slips but I feel it really detracted from the appearance and ambience of the street. The majority of the buildings along the street now actually house shops selling all sorts of merchandise from candles to china. I must admit I did expect more of the buildings to house recreations of the stores and saloons that would have been along the street rather than just being selling opportunities. A couple of the properties contained a few historical items as the park office and Lane House but I would also have loved to have seen a recreation of a typical miner's property and seen how families would have lived at the time. There is a wonderful replica of the School House which reminded me of Little House on the Prairie but unfortunately that wasn't open, you could only view the outside. Calico promotes itself as having lots of activities but these all cost extra and for a family it can certainly bump up the cost of the trip. There was gold-panning which we didn't do as we have done that at other places. There was the Mystery Shack which said it walked you through an amazing adventure and showed natural mysteries, my children turned their nose up at that so we didn't opt for that either. Maggie's Mine is one of the original mines and my husband and daughter chose to go down there, I can't remember how much it was. They enjoyed doing this although it didn't take them very long as I was sat outside and it didn't take them long to re-appear. It was only after they had paid that we discovered that there is a combined activity ticket which would be better value if your family wanted to do everything. We all wanted to go on the Calico/Odessa railroad. I can't remember exactly how much it was but I think it was about $6 each. We sat in a little steam train and journeyed around the far side of Calico where most of the mines used to be and also where most of the miners lived with their families. There is not much left to see but there was an excellent commentary which told us lots about the town and it was very impressive to see how far the area stretched. The train ride probably lasts about ten minutes. The town has several places to buy food and general refreshments as well as many gift shops. There were also several Restrooms and these were all nice and clean. Calico also has a campground and staying there gives you entry to the town. Overall I enjoyed my visit to Calico and it provided some wonderful photo opportunities. However I was disappointed in the lack of historical displays, I expected to see far more things that would help me imagine life in the late 1880s rather than just tourist shops. Considering that entry covered nothing more than walking up a street of shops and that everything else would soon add up I didn't feel it was particularly good value for money either as we were probably only there about an hour and a half.
As part of our Californian Road Trip Adventure I knew that we would need to make a stop in Las Vegas. I know a few people who had travelled there and I took on all the information that I could and came to a few conclusions. I knew that we would prefer a hotel that didn't have a Casino, I am not bothered by gambling but I had found out that the casinos get very smoky and the hotels can smell because of it. I also prefer to self-park so wanted a hotel that would give that option rather than just valet parking. I also felt that I wanted to be quite central and near the Strip as lots of hotels seemed quite a way out. The final consideration was that with a teenage son and daughter, the option of at least 3 beds would be good rather than me having to share with my wriggly daughter and my husband sharing with my bed-hogging son. After spending hours on Trip Adviser and other such sites I eventually opted for the Platinum Hotel which is on East Flamingo Road. It didn't appear to be too far from the Strip and looked centrally located. The hotel offered free self-parking and also had the advantage of not charging a Resort Fee which is quite common for many hotels which can easily add $25-$50 a night to the bill. This is a suite hotel so we opted for the middle range room which was called the Princess Suite as it had two queen beds and a sofa bed. Driving in to Las Vegas was an experience like no other, there were cars everywhere and obviously most people had no idea where they were as there was manic lane changes and sudden breaking all the time. The hotel was easy to find as it was behind Ballys hotel which is on the main corner of the Strip by Bellagio and Caesars palace and we could see it from the road. We pulled in to find that the garage had a sign saying "Valet Only" and we were approached by one of the valets. My husband said we were checking in. We were then told it was far too early (we had mistimed our drive to Vegas) and to go away for an hour and a half and try again. I felt he was very rude and since the traffic was so bad it would probably take an hour and a half to simply drive around the block. I said that I would ask in reception and left hubby having a battle of wills with the valet whilst he waited. The receptionist was lovely and I apologised for being early and he said our room was ready and we could go straight up, he asked what we had planned and I mentioned it was my daughters 18th so he went and got her a free bag which I thought was sweet of him. I went out to the car and unloaded and handed the keys to the very grump valet, I was amazed we got it back without a huge scrape down the side! The reception area was quite small so it seemed busy even though there weren't many people about. The lifts were conveniently located right next to the Lobby so we immediately headed up to our room. The first thing I noticed about the corridor was that the carpets were very dirty. However after a few days in Vegas I realised that the streets were filthy and our shoes were always completely black on the bottom so I think the state of the carpets probably can't be helped even with regular cleaning. On entering the room we were struck by how large the suite was and it was nice to have a bit of space to spread out in. There was a full kitchen with a washer/dryer which was really handy as we had been on the road a week and it was great to get all our clothes washed. There was then a large open plan lounge area which also had stools up to a breakfast bar attached to the kitchen. The most bizarre thing here was the fact that there was a large wall mounted TV below which was a fire. The day we arrived it was over 40 degrees and it certainly wasn't something I thought we might need! There were sliding doors which opened on to a small balcony with a table and chairs. We were at the back of the hotel which gave us a view across to the mountains and we could also watch the planes coming in to the airport although we didn't suffer any noise. Looking to the right you could just about see the Stratosphere tower. I wasn't bothered by being at the back of the hotel since the front view would have only been the back of the Strip hotels. The balcony was a bit grubby with no sign that it had been swept in weeks. The master bedroom had two queen beds and just one small bedside cabinet between the two beds. There was plenty of room for a cabinet on each side and I did find having to put my watch and glasses on the floor on my side of the bed a bit of a nuisance. There was a cabinet with a TV on it and then a built-in cupboard in the corner. I felt that this left the room feeling a bit bare really and the furnishings didn't seem to be of a particularly good quality considering the hotel sell itself as being luxurious. The built-in cupboard contained the safe but it was so high up that I could only use it by standing on a stool which was a bit ridiculous really. The bathroom was enormous and was entered via the door in the bedroom or the one in the lounge. Unfortunately the doorlocks were a bit loose so we had to tell each other when we were in the bathroom as it were easy to walk in on someone. There were two sinks in a surface but no shelves. There was also a shower cubicle and a large sized spa-bath. The bathroom also contained a built in cupboard which we used as a wardrobe. There were plenty of toiletries and a good number of large white towels too. When we returned to the hotel in the evening we started to have problems. I went to make-up the sofa-bed to discover that there was no spare linen. We tried all the cupboards and searched in the base of the sofa but there was nothing. Luckily my daughter was only using a sheet as it was so hot so we managed to cobble together a sheet from her bed and a cover from ours and then a couple of pillows so that my son had something to sleep with. We then said goodnight and turned out the lights, only we couldn't! The kitchen light simply would not turn off, we tried every switch and even pulled the key card out of the slot by the door to turn all the electric off but nothing worked. We ended up phoning maintenance who were sending someone who would be 10 minutes, needless to say 45 minutes later we phoned again and they didn't know where he was (the hotel isn't that big!). I got really cross and tried thumping the flat switch by the wall and eventually the light turned off so some very dodgy wiring there. We never did see the maintence man, maybe he is still wandering around. One thing we were very pleased to see in the kitchen was a kettle, this is a rarity in American hotels and for any Brit who craves a decent cup of tea in the morning it is a godsend. It was at this point that we noticed that we only had 4 of everything by way of kitchen crockery and utensils. There were only 4 of us but considering the room sleeps six it seems a bit strange. Las Vegas is very much a tourist area but it does have a large homeless problem so I was a little nervous about walking around off the Strip, particularly at night. The location of this hotel didn't prove to be a problem for us. It is a few minutes' walk from the back of Ballys hotel which you can walk through to access the Strip. A couple of times we did have to walk past homeless people on the derelict ground by the hotel, they did shout but it didn't bother me although my son was more upset by it. If I was travelling on my own with children I would probably have made sure I chose a hotel that had direct strip access as I wouldn't have been keen to walk back at night. Once through Ballys you are really in the heart of the Strip and seeing how large some hotels are and their location I decided ours wasn't too bad. The position on E Flamingo road also meant it was really easy to get out of the hotel when we wanted to drive out of Las Vegas to visit other places like the Hoover Dam. The hotel has a swimming pool which is on the 5th floor. When we visited it was so hot and extremely humid that I couldn't even face going to the pool area. We looked at it once but the temperature was intense as there was no shade and it was surrounded by walls which were radiating heat too and we couldn't even contemplate the idea of sitting there although it looked fine and there was an inside/outside bit of pool too and it had a nice view. We rapidly scurried back in to the air-conditioning though! When we checked in we were told that wireless internet was only available in the lobby and on the 5th floor by the pool and restaurant. We were on the 14th floor and we managed to get wireless fine so I don't know why they told us that. There was wired access in the rooms but of course that is not suitable for all devices. We didn't try the restaurant as we were trying to stick to a budget and there were other places in Vegas that we were planning to eat so I can't comment although the room service menu that I looked at appeared to be rather expensive to me. The hotel also boast a Well Spa but I am not really a Spa sort of person and the prices ranging from about $60 for a pedicure to $250 for a massage just didn't appeal to me. We stayed at the Platinum Hotel for 3 nights at a cost of £324 for the four of us. The large size of the suite meant that we had plenty of space to relax after a very busy first week and the air-conditioning was always on full since the weather was really hot. If I was travelling with my husband I would probably consider staying here again, the housekeeping left a bit to be desired but the quiet, non-smelly nature of the hotel was absolute bliss after the manic monstrosities that make up the Strip. I liked having a balcony and there was also a large window in the bedroom which gave us great views too. Being set a block and a half back from the Strip would mean that if I was travelling as a single female I would feel a bit more vulnerable and I would probably choose somewhere else.
Like many women I am always on the hunt or my perfect lipstick. I never seem to be truly happy with the colour, the formula or the longevity so I will often treat myself to a new product to see if I can find the illusive, perfect product. When I was last in Boots I was having a look at their make-up range as I had plenty of points on my Advantage Card and I had decided to use them on a new lipstick. Revlon is not a brand I tend to buy makeup from frequently but I was not very happy with the colours I could find in the other ranges so I gravitated towards the Revlon stand eventually. I do use Revlon nail Varnish and have always liked those so I decided the make-up would probably be an acceptable quality too. I tend to us a long-life lip stain product when I am at work but I was looking or a more gentle product for everyday use instead. I do find the stains a bit drying so I was after a more moisturising lipstick instead. Revlon seemed to do several different lipsticks but I was drawn to the Super Lustrous Lipstick as it said that it had silk and vitamins for a smooth, conditioning colour. This sounded exactly what I was looking for so I had a closer look at the colour range. There seemed to be lots of colours in the range going from subltle, barely-there hints to some really bright colours. I wanted a natural everyday shade so I opted for Blush which is a pinky brown colour. The lipstick was selling in Boots at about £7.50 which is about what I am willing to pay for a general lipstick and I chose to pay with my points which meant it was a freebie that time. The packaging is not very exciting. It is a standard lipstick tube and it is black with a gold coloured band with the name Revlon around it. Unusually the top of the tube is clear so you can see the colour of the lipstick. This is nice until the first time I shove the top back on without remembering to wind the lipstick down and it will have an ugly splodge on the window. The tube also feels a little bit shorter than the No7 lipsticks that I have been using lately although at 5g I think there is actually more product in this smaller tube. On opening the lipstick the body is gold coloured and it looks nice. The traditional twist-up mechanism feels very smooth and solid and it felt good quality. I have used some lipsticks in the past and the twist action feels very flimsy and you just know that it will break before you have used even half of the lipstick. I had no worries about this Revlon one. I was pleased to find that the lipstick does not have a strong aroma; in fact it barely has any smell at all. I have a real dislike of strongly perfumed cosmetics, they always seem old fashioned to me and I dislike being aware of the fragrance when they are on my face. Having wound up a small amount of product I applied it to my lips. During the day I don't bother with a lip brush and just apply my lipsticks straight from the tube. This one glided on to my lips really smoothly and left a subtle hint of colour with a nice sheen. There was a pearlescent finish but it was very light and didn't look ridiculously sparkly which is another problem I have suffered when buying the wrong colour for the day. I don't mind sparkles for the evening but as a woman in her forties I do think a light shine is much more flattering in the day. The lipstick didn't feel at all heavy or greasy when I applied it. In fact it felt very much like I had just used a lip balm instead. There was no stickiness so no problem of hair sticking to your lips with the first gust of wind either. The pointed shape of the lipstick allowed for an accurate application and an even coverage and I was immediately pleased with how it both looked and felt. The lipstick also had no noticeable flavour. I find that if products are sweet I tend to keep licking them which doesn't do my lips any good and also means that the product juts keeps wearing off very quickly. The manufacturers do not make any claims for the longevity of colour with this product and in fact they do suggest wearing it over lips that have been completely filled in with a Colourstay pencil to maximise the life of the shade. They do however claim that the colour with wear off evenly. I do blot my lips after applying lipstick and I found that there was a small amount of transfer to other surfaces such as glasses when I used them. I also found that the product seemed to disappear very quickly when I was eating. I found that if I put the lipstick on and was then just pottering about without eating or drinking it would still be visible after a couple of hours but would then need reapplying. It also needed to be reapplied after eating and drinking if I wanted to maintain a fresh look on my lips. Even though the colour wore away quite quickly I didn't ted to get that dreadful look where the outside of the lips are still coloured and you have a bare patch in the middle, the fading was pretty even. Since I had selected a fairly natural colour it was quick and easy to apply another coat whenever I needed to so that I could top up the colour and I never ended up with my lips feeling caked in product. Although Revlon say that this product is moisturising I was a bit sceptical as I often find any lipstick with a pearl finish seems to have a drying effect on my lips. I must say that this is probably the first one that really never makes my lips feel dry at all. I am happy to keep using it throughout the day because if I wasn't applying this I would have been applying a lip salve instead. If anything I would have to say that my lips are feeling in better condition now that I am using the Lustrous Lipstick more often. Overall I would say that I could recommend the lipstick to anyone who want a moisturising colour and who is happy to reapply frequently throughout the day. It is a shame it is not more long-lasting but if it was then it would probably be more drying too. I am happy with the shade and the coverage but I am still on a quest to find the perfect product as this still isn't it.
Several months ago I was shopping for sanitary products and there was a special offer which gave a packet of 50 Pop-ins free with the towels I was buying. Never one to miss a freebie I dropped them in my basket even though I would not have bought them normally. The box is quite discreet. It has a purple, flower design on it. You have to push out the small perforated area at the front, just like you do on packets of tissues. In fact this does look rather like a tiny box of tissues in use with the pop-ins logo very small and discreet on the sides. The box contains 50 bags with a size of about 16cmx18cm excluding handles. These are fragrance bags designed for the hygienic disposal of towels and tampons since it is not a good idea to flush them down the toilet due to problems of blocked sewers. Once the box is open you gently pull a bag from the top. I have found that it is actually quite difficult to only get one bags at a time, I always seem to end up with several ad I have to stuff them back in to the top of the box again. The bags themselves are purple with a rather strange bumpy surface and tie handles. I find them a bit tricky to open and I have to rub the top between my fingers several times before I find that they open. I did expect the bags to be more opaque than they are. The manufacturers state that the colour disguises the contents. I can't say that this is true as really they are rather thin and you can see what is inside. This is alright for a towel that has been neatly rolled but may not be ok for one of those dreaded days when things have got a bit messy (I am sure all you ladies know what I mean) and it certainly wouldn't disguise a tampon, that would definitely need another wrapping as well. The bags are very lightly fragrance which is supposed to hide unpleasant odours. The fragrance is certainly very subtle; it does not have any nasty, overpowering smell. The tie handles are easy to use and I am sure it is the tying that would prevent any odours rather than the fragrance but since I empty my bins very regularly I don't know whether it prevents escape of odours or masks them. I have used most of the box now but I do not think that I will be rushing out to buy more as I do not think that they are an essential. I use Always towels which, with a bit of clever folding, can be securely wrapped back into their presenting wrapper and secured which I actually found more acceptable than the bags. The time I found the bags most useful was if I was using a public toilet that was lacking any disposal facilities as I could wrap the item up and pop it into my bag until I could find a suitable bin. I actually found the bags rather large so tended to twist them and then tie a tight knot rather than using the handles to secure them. I was quite surprised to find that these are nearly £3 a box. If they are free again I would pick some up as they have their occasional uses but they won't be making it on to my shopping list.
I am always on the lookout for the perfect mascara. I am quite fond of one of the Boots No7 range but when I found myself in need of a new mascara recently and there was no visit to a local Boots on the agenda I had to select something else. I happened to be in Tescos so I had a look at the Max Factor stand and decided to opt for the Xperience Volumising Mascara which I think cost me about ten or eleven pound which seemed quite expensive to me so I was expecting miracles. My lashes are rather thin, sparse and pale so any mascara has quite a job to make them look respectable. I always choose a volumising product in the hope of seeing at least a little improvement in the appearance of my lashes. Due to being a redhead I don't wear black mascara as it is too harsh for me so I liked the fact that I could have black/brown instead with this one which suits me better. The mascara is presented in a perfectly cylindrical black tube with a green cross on it which seems to represent an X for the complete Xperience range as it is also on the foundation and lipstick. I don't think the packaging is particularly attractive or striking, I would prefer something that looks better quality for the money I paid. The tube gives obvious information about the manufacturers and also a few symbols which seem to indicate that it lasts 6 months after it is opened, that the packaging is recyclable and that it is for use on the eyes. However there is also another symbol which consists of a printed book with a hand on it, I have no idea what this represents so would be impressed if anyone could fill me in! The mascara was wrapped in a layer of clear plastic which took ages to get off, there was no perforated line and I ended up having to gnaw at it with my teeth to break in as I didn't have a handy pair of scissors at the time which was a bit inconvenient when I was rushing to get ready for work. The tube is easy to unscrew and there is a reassuring "pop" as the wand is pulled out of the case which indicates that there is a nice air-tight seal and it also usually means that it will produce a nice even layer of mascara rather than a thick lump on the wand. I thought the aroma of the mascara was quite strong as I opened the tube, I don't tend to notice the smell of a mascara when I open it normally so I was surprised by the inky type of scent that this had. The wand has a relatively narrow tapering bush which appeared to pull out of the tube with a nice coating of mascara and it didn't look at all clumpy. When I came to use the brush on my eye I realised that it was actually rather hard plastic spikes and didn't feel like a brush at all. The very short end bristles were great for getting to the tiny lashes in the corner of my eyes but I didn't feel that the spikes seemed to grip the lashes or spread the mascara through them particularly well. I felt like I had to do a lot of the normal zigzag action to get any sort of coating at all. The hard spikes also seemed very rough if I accidentally caught my eyelid at the base of the lashes. Getting a nice even coat seemed to take quite a while, it wasn't a case of a quick sweep through my lashes, I felt I had to work quite hard to cover them properly. The product however did not have any lumps or clumpy bits and I have been using it for a while now and it has still stayed nice and smooth. I do wear contact lenses sometimes so it is important to me that the mascara does not have bits that fall in my eye when applying it. The manufacturers claim that this is a mousse formulation which is very lightweight but provides up to 3x the volume of natural lashes. I really didn't think that this mascara provided much volumisation at all. However once I had an even coating my lashes did look lovely and natural with a slight sheen. They also felt very soft and certainly there was no feeling of excessive weight that I have experienced with some products. I usually only wear one coat of mascara in the daytime but I did try two coats to see if it provided a more dramatic effect. There was definitely an increase in volume with the second layer but I wouldn't say I experience the "lift" that the manufacturers promised. I found the product stayed on my eyes really well all day. I didn't feel any need to apply a second coat during the day and I didn't experience any flaking either which was great. There is nothing worse than coming home from work to find little spots of mascara all over your cheeks! I use make-up wipes to remove my make-up and these coped very well with removing this mascara cleanly and without any scrubbing. As mascaras go then I would say this one is ok. For the price I did expect a slightly more impressive performance. With a little work the spikey brush provides adequate coverage and my lashes look natural and healthy and they stay that way all day. However there is no noticeable curl, definition or volume and I certainly wouldn't recommend this one if you want a dramatic effect from your mascara and you would need several coats to produce that sort of look. I would probably buy it again if it was on offer at a good price but it was not impressive enough for it to become my new favourite.
Many years ago I tried wearing gas-permeable contact lenses and I could not get on with them at all and I was told that I have poor tear production. Contact lenses have moved on a lot since then and I now have daily disposable lenses that I use for high days and holidays. My vision isn't corrected enough to wear them all the time but I do like to have the option of using them occasionally. However my tear product is now even worse than it used to be so I do find that, in some circumstance, I need drops to make my eyes more comfortable. The problem with many eye drops is they contain preservatives to provide protection from infection when using the bottle multiple times. This is brilliant from a health point of view but the preservatives can be absorbed by the lenses and cause damage. This isn't a huge problem with daily lenses but since the bottle has to be thrown away after a month usually then it is not very cost effective if, like me, you only need to use the product occasionally. I decided that I would look for a product that would be more suitable and came across the Blink range of single use eye drops. There are various products in the range but the Contacts one immediately caught my eye. At £5 a box these aren't cheap but I bought them at Boots so I did get my Advantage card points as well. The Blink products are all packaged in white boxes with a circle design that immediately makes you think of an eye. The packs are colour coded and the Blinks contact consists of a blue circle and a green band at the bottom. The blurb on the box refers to these as soothing eye drop that are specifically formulated for contact lens wearers and will refresh dry, tired eyes. It clearly states that the product is preservative free and the active ingredient is Sodium hyaluronate which is a lubricant. These are suitable for wearers of all types of lenses and they don't have to be removed first. Upon opening the box I found 4 strips of 5 plastic containers. Each container consists of a small plastic vial with a flat plastic lid. Each vial could be easily snapped away from its neighbour. The vials look almost empty which isn't really surprising since they only contain 0.35ml in each one. The plastic of the vial is clear and soft. The flat top gives the product name and also has the expiry date printed on the back which I think is useful since I often carry one or two loose in the car or my bag and it is nice to know that they are still in date. To open the vial you simply twist the flat cap and it comes away leaving a small hole in the top of the vial. Putting these in your eye is very simple, I tend to try and put them near to the inside corner of my eye and then blink slowly to disperse them across my eye or I pull down the lower lid and squeeze a drop or two in there being careful not to touch the dropper on to the eye.. Since the vial is small it is easy to hold it over the eye and squeeze gently to remove the drops. I can get about 4 small drops from a vial which means that one will be enough for both eyes. You should throw the container away immediately and not try to keep any solution for later in case it gets contaminated. As soon as the drops hit my eye I feel a cooling sensation and my eyes start to feel more comfortable. Due to the lack of preservative I do not find that these sting at all when put into my eyes even if they are very sore and red. Once the surface of my eye has been lubricated and my lenses rehydrated my eyes tend to feel comfortable for several more hours. I find them particularly helpful when I am in a lot of air-conditioned places on holiday as the atmosphere seems to dry my lenses very quickly. Sometimes I have found my lenses to be perfectly comfortable but when I have come to take them out at the end of the day I find they are dry and have stuck fast to my eye. These drops are extremely useful then as I pop them in my eye, blink a few times; wait 2 minutes and then my lenses come out comfortably. It says on the leaflet inside that you can put a couple of drops onto the inside of your lens before inserting it but I never have any discomfort when first wearing mine so I have not bothered. I have also found these drops to be generally soothing even when not wearing my lenses. I have two cats and unfortunately I do suffer allergies because of them. I am ok unless they scratch me or if I ouch my eyes after stroking them. If I haven't washed my hands and inadvertently touch my eyes I start to get an intense itching which I can't help but rub which just makes matters worse. I have discovered that if I empty the contents of a whole vial straight in to my eye as soon as I realise what I have done I can often prevent my eye swelling up and going red. I think the fluid must wash the allergens out before they take hold and the cooling effect keeps the redness away. This washing out has also been useful when we have been on holiday and someone has managed to rub their eyes after applying sun cream and we are nowhere near a tap to wash their eyes out. I have found these really useful to keep at home but I also tend to carry a few with me. There are a couple in the car and some in my handbag. This means that I can always use them quickly. My daughter wears fortnightly lenses so the preservatives in drops are more of an issue for her so these are ideal. She also carries a couple around with her as you never know when you may get something in your eye that will irritate your lenses and these do a great job of washing stuff out of your eye as well as just making them more comfortable. I would recommend these to anyone who wears contact lenses as they just add that extra comfort when needed. I don't use them every time I have my lenses in but it is nice to know that they are conveniently available when I need them.
The World of Top Gear is one of the exhibitions at Beaulieu Motor Museum in Hampshire. The first exhibition that you arrive at as you walk through the doors is the World of top Gear; it is to the right of the main path by the Monorail station. The outside exhibit area had some easily recognisable vehicles from the show. I am not the greatest fan of the show but I did recognise some of the cars and my son filled me in on the details. There was Jeremy Clarksons Mercedes Cottage, the Motorhomes, the cars for train tracks and the highlight was the Indestructible Hilux which even I recognised. The other easy to spot exhibits were Reliant Robin Rocket and the Snowbine harvester. Having seen the real space shuttle take off I must admit that the Reliant Robin did make me smile. The inside area was closed and we were told everything else would open at 10.30 so we came back to the area a bit later. I was a bit disappointed by what I felt was a lack of exhibits but I agreed to come back to see inside the dome. In the meantime we had a look around some of the other exhibits and attractions. When we got back we headed to the small dome structure and we were told that the show would start in about 10 minutes so we could wait in the corridor. This had boards all along one wall with true and fantasy facts about the show and the presenters which made entertaining reading. There were a few seats along one wall and then I realised that there were a few more cars in a display area. These cars were the ones from the Indian Challenge. Unfortunately, because everyone was waiting to go in and people were sat down in front of the windows you felt a bit awkward standing in front of them to look over them to the exhibits. The only way to see them properly was to come around the queue again when the next show started to have a look at them in comfort. When the doors opened we want into a small dark room and were told to stand anywhere that we could see a small and large screen. Being more a Richard Hammond size person than a Jeremy Clarkson I stood near the front but actually there was great viewing all around and everybody fitted in easily and I think everyone could see. It was then that I had chance to look around and realised that it was a small mock-up of the Top Gear studio with the Cool Wall, Stig hanging Posters and the Lap times chart. There were also three cars; the Suzuki Ice-Hockey Car, the 24 Hour BMW and the Ski-jump Mini. We were then given a film show made especially for the Beaulieu audience by the presenters. There were lots of clips from the TV show but the whole thing was well done and very tongue-in-cheek and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You were allowed to take photographs inside but unfortunately you didn't get much time, you were pushed in and out quite quickly. We managed to take a quick photo by the Cool wall when my husband realised his car was there (not surprisingly mine wasn't even on the Uncool bit!). Once we left the show we realised there was an inside exhibition area as well where there were plenty more of the presenters extreme make-over cars. My favourite was the Stretch Fiat Panda which I remembered seeing on the show. The other things I recognised included the Amphibious Cars and the Christmas Specials. This area was quite busy but everyone was very good natured about getting out of the way for photographs so everyone managed to get good pictures. Outside there was a coin-operated remote-control car track and the Stig Simulator. The simulator was £5 each so even with the 50p voucher that we were given when we entered it would have been quite expensive so we decided to give it a miss. I ended up being much more impressed with what was on display than I first thought and it was presented in a fun manner that appealed to both adults and children alike. This is only a small part of the Beaulieu Museum which offers a great day out for anyone with even a mild interest in cars.
Whilst on a recent trip to Tescos I ended up browsing in the make-up aisle. I don't wear lots of make-up but I do like looking at what is on offer and buying myself an occasional treat. I had recently been using my daughter's blusher as mine had run out so I decided I would have a look at the selection. I have never bought Tescos Barbara Daly make-up before as I had presumed it would be poor quality and the packaging had never appealed. I don't know where I had got the idea about the quality but I think the name had always put me off, it sounds rather old ladyish somehow. However I do prefer a powder blush over a cream one and there didn't seem to be much selection on the other stand of powder products so I ended up gravitating to the uninspiring looking Barbara Daly display unit. I spotted the Cheek-to-Cheek powder blush near the bottom of the stand. It was priced at about £4 which seemed quite good value. I am not sure how many colours were available as I had immediately spied the Nude colour which looked perfect for me. The blusher is presented in a small, flat black box with a clear window in the top. It is only 5cm square and contains 3.5g of powder blush. The clear window showed two shades of blush and when I picked it up I realised that the darker colour had an almost matt finish whilst the paler shade was very pearlescent. There is more of the darker colour than there is of the lighter shade. The product does not come with any applicator. This doesn't bother me as I feel that powder blusher is always best applied with a large brush to prevent obvious lines so I usually throw away the tiny ones that come in the compacts anyway. The lack of a brush means that the pot is really small so is ideal to jam into a packed make-up bag as it doesn't take up much room. The box opens and closes with a reassuring click. It is quite firm to open but not difficult and this means that it doesn't fall open accidentally when in your make up bag. There is nothing worse than opening the bag to find everything covered in powder from pots that have opened when they shouldn't have. The product has virtually no aroma at all, I am always very conscious of how make-up smells and I love products that have no noticeable scent at all. I have been known to just throw products away that are too strongly fragranced for my liking. This product is great as it can be used in a number of ways. You can just sweep a large brush around the whole surface to collect both colours to provide a natural glow to the cheeks. You can also concentrate on one side of the compact and then the other to produce more of a shade and a highlighted look. As a teenager in the 80s there was a real thing about having to always wear three different shades to shade, blush and highlight and most of us went out looking extremely stripy so shading and highlighting is not my thing but I do see some people wearing it very well. It is also possible to use a small brush and just pick up the shiny lighter shade and use it more carefully around the brows etc. to produce a subtle highlighting effect. I don't suffer from sensitive skin and this has not caused me any irritation at all. I do still suffer from occasional spots but this blusher does not seem to have caused any problems with blemishes on my skin at all as it feels very light when applied and doesn't seem to cause any problems with blocking pores. I find that I don't need to use lots of this product to produce a nice natural look for every day. It blends really well and doesn't leave any obvious lines after application. I find the colour is really well suited to be as anything that is too pinky makes me look permanently embarrassed and some of the shades that have too much brown just make me look sallow. The Nude is just a pretty enough shade to sit happily in between the two. I find this has an average staying power. I think cream blushes are longer-lasting but I am not good at achieving a natural look with them so I tend to stick to powder. However by its very nature powder will gradually disappear throughout the day so I find it will need a little reapplication by mid-afternoon to keep the same look. It does seem to disappear quite evenly though so I don't ever end up with a patchy look. I remove my make-up using make-up wipes and this comes away easily, leaving no trace. With its cheap price I wasn't expecting very much from this little blush compact but I have been pleasantly surprised. This certainly does not have the depth of colour of the staying power of some of the very expensive products I have purchased in the past but for day to day wear I have been very impressed. I do not mind the lack of an applicator but that may be an issue for some people. This is a nice colour and it is a flexible combination which allows you to produce different looks. It blends well and lasts reasonably well too. I use so little of it that I think it will go on for a very long time. It has a recommended disposal of 36 months after opening and at this rate I might still have some left by then so it really is a bargain! My success with this product means that I will certainly give the Barbara Daly range a closer look next time I am in need of something else.
Although I am a 40 something mother of two I still enjoyed reading the Twilight series. I wasn't really the target audience but who can resist a good love story. A little while ago I heard mention of Fifty Shades of Grey. I saw it in Waterstones and it was positioned near the Teen fiction. Having heard that this was based on Fan Fiction related to the Twilight Saga I thought I would give it a try. I decided to buy it for my Kindle as it was cheaper that way. I also downloaded the second book in the series too as I had only heard positive comments. I like Science Fiction and over the years I have read quite a bit of Fan Fiction based around the Blakes 7 series. This was usually really well written and I loved the twists on a theme so I expected to be impressed with what a fan had produced around Twilight. Anastasia Steele is just about to Graduate and move to Seattle with her best friend Kate. She has never had a boyfriend although she isn't short of admirers but they just don't seem to be her type. Whilst doing a favour for a friend she meets the secretive, young, multi-millionaire Christian Grey. Christian is immediately drawn to the awkward young lady but she seems oblivious to how he feels although she is immediately taken with him. The story progresses as a rather predictable love story until we start to find out a little more about Christian and his lifestyle. Suddenly the story takes a dramatic twist and we wait to see what Anastasia makes of her new discoveries regarding Christians background and tastes. The first thing that struck me with this story was the dreadful writing style. The author E.L.James is a mature married woman but the limited use of language, the constant repetition and the poor grammar make this read like something a barely literate teenager would write, it just seemed terribly juvenile. It has obviously got to the top of the Amazon chart by the hype but I think many readers have been disappointed with the readability. I got the feeling that if I read the phrase "Oh my" again I would scream. The constant lip-biting and jeans being worn "in just that way" became very boring very quickly and I found myself skimming through the book at speed. The author also uses lots of e-mail messages between the characters which means that some pages have very few words on at all so this book is a fairly quick read. The two main Characters seemed extremely two dimensional. Christian has many of Edwards tendencies so I can see the Twilight influence; he is very protective, secretive and obsessive when in love. Anastasia has Bellas annoying way of not realising that she is attractive and of being a bit stupid about her own safety. Their behaviour was predicable but not necessarily believable. The other characters that feature are so poorly described that they really have no personality at all, about the only person who seems a little rounded is Ray, Ana's Step-father. What I hadn't realised before I started reading this (and probably my own fault for not researching it) was that it was erotic fiction. I don't have any problem reading erotica but I hadn't realised some of the themes that run through this book. I am not comfortable with BDSM and I found parts of the book a bit disturbing. I have now noticed that Fifty Shades has been moved in Waterstones and it is now in the adult section. I am sure that most parents wouldn't want their teenagers reading this. I don't have a problem with them reading sexy scenes; I remember as a teenager that everyone had a well-thumbed copy of Lace or Riders lying around. What I found distasteful was that it was being seen as expected that Ana would be quite happy to stay with a man that she was actually seeing as abusive some of the time. It was the old story that she could "change him" and that is a dangerous idea for young girls to have in regards to their self-esteem and with the increase in relationship violence amongst teenagers. Also any virgin reading this may have rather high expectations of their first lover, obviously they should expect several earth-moving orgasms on the first night or he just isn't worth his salt! I think that Kindles have led to an explosion in people reading erotica as no-one else can see what you are reading but I wasn't even aware that was what I was buying. Entertainment Weekly said it was "in a class by itself", I now realise that this may not actually be a compliment. I didn't read the entire blurb on the back when I saw it on sale, if I had read it all I may have realised what I was actually going to be reading. I quickly became very bored with the story. By about two thirds of the way through I was finding it quite tedious as the same phrases and descriptive sentences were used again and again. Most of the "vanilla"sex scenes were also rather repetitive, I always seemed to know exactly what Christian was going to do next before he brought out his "foil packet", I started to be desperate for the author to use the word condom just for varieties sake! I rarely give up on a book so I did read this one o the end. I was very shocked when I read other reviews saying that this was the best book they had ever read, I presume that must have been written by people who have never read another book. The theme wasn't really my cup of tea but I could have ignored that if the writing had been great but it was the childish nature of the use of English that really started to wear me down as I read. I did finish it and as I have said it is not a very long book. Since I have already downloaded the second book I will probably read that too as I would like to see what happens to Ana and Christian but I am just hoping that it will be a huge improvement on this first book
Rush Hour is a sliding puzzle game played with small plastic cars and lorries on a grid. The cars are positioned according to a selected game card and then the player has to try to extract the red car by sliding the other vehicles out of the way. Rush Hour 3 is actually correctly called Card Set 3 as it is only a supplementary pack, it cannot be played as a stand-alone game. It is currently selling on Amazon at £4.50. You must have the original board and the original cars from Rush Hour to be able to use this card set. Card Set 3 consists of a box containing 40 more challenge cards. These are split into four categories: Intermediate, Advances, Expert and Grand Master. The pack is also presented with a white Limousine with silver windows. I think it was this flash car that first attracted my niece's attention who owned this game for several years before passing it on to my chilren. It is the same length as the Lorries in the main Rush Hour game, which means that it occupies 3 squares rather than the two squares of the red car. This means that the game designers have managed to make the next 40 levels much more challenging as you try to manoeuvre the larger car out of the traffic jam in some of the levels whilst using the original red car in some of them too. If someone enjoys playing rush hour then this expander pack will add some new challenges and the fun of sometimes trying to manoeuvre the larger car. However it will not add any appeal to players who are not keen on the original version as the logical gameplay is exactly the same. The cards are supplied in a small box in which they only just fit so the box got tatty quite quickly from putting the cards in and out. Unfortunately the drawer underneath the board where the original game cards are kept is not large enough to keep both sets. The limousine was quite an attractive piece (as plastic cars go!) when it was first purchased but it hasn't stood the test of time very well. It has yellowed quite considerably and looks very old although it is not broken. Although some of the cars from the original set have lost some of their colour I feel that the Limousine is by far the most damaged from light. In my previous review I mentioned that Rush Hour isn't terribly easy to store although you could leave the cars on the grid if you put it on a shelf but once the Limousine has been added that is not possible as it doesn't fit as the grid is already full. I keep the cars in a separate box now which is where the white car and the extra set of cards is stored as well. I didn't think the packaging made it really clear that this was only an add-on pack; I imagine it is easy for people to buy presuming that it is a card-game. If you can get this set of cards cheap enough it is a nice little addition to Rush Hour but I think the original game has good longevity anyway so unless you are a genius who always needs new challenges you may well manage perfectly happily without it.
Last Christmas I received a tube of the Avon planet Spa African Shea Butter Hand and Cuticle cream as part of a gift set which included cotton gloves as well. As someone who seems to suffer a lot with dry skin on my hands I am always on the lookout for effective hand creams and I love to try new ones so I was pleased with my present. I do not suffer dreadfully with dry skin but my hands do often feel tight and as I am getting older they look drier. I suppose it is a combination of things that cause this but I am dreadful at remembering to wear gloves whilst using household chemicals and since I work in a healthcare environment I wash my hands a lot during the day as well which probably doesn't help. The cream is presented in a soft 75ml plastic tube which is a rather uninspiring beige colour with a small white pattern. I have not seen any other Planet Spa products but I presume the whole range is packaged in a similar way. The manufacturers claim that this cream will sooth dehydrated rough skin and soften cuticles. The extensive ingredient list is on the back and this product does contain methyparaben which is a common allergen. It also contains denatured alcohol which surprised me as alcohol is a drying agent on the skin so I wouldn't expect to see it in a hand cream. The shelf life once opened is 12 months and the packaging is suitable for recycling if facilities exist. The tube has a clear, flip-top lid. I always prefer my hand creams to have a flip-top lid as they are so much easier to use with greasy hands than trying to screw an ordinary lid back on and I also find that they seem to get less messy. This lid has a very definite click when opened and closed and it has never come open accidentally in my handbag or toilet bag. The soft tube is easy to squeeze to dispense the required amount and has not shown any sign of splitting. Upon squeezing a little cream from the tube I was immediately greeted with an adorable aroma. It smells very sweet and rich but not as synthetic as some hand creams. This smell stays on my hands for quite a while after I have applied the cream which I like. The cream itself is white with just the right consistency. It is not so runny that it slides straight off the skin but it is not so thick as to require a real effort to rub it in. I found that it absorbed into my skin very quickly and although I thought that it felt quite greasy as I was applying it to my hands and around my nails I did find that it was actually quite non-greasy after application and it didn't leave my skin at all sticky. Straight after application my hands felt soft and I liked the residual scent. However this sensational was not very long lived and within an hour or two I did feel that my hands needed more moisturising. I did use the cream regularly for a couple of weeks but I really didn't notice any change in the condition of my hands or cuticles. I always spent a little extra time massaging the cream around my cuticles and nail edges to help to keep them tidier but this didn't seem to have much effect either. Avon do state that this cream will improve the strength of nails by making them less brittle but my nails have always been very strong so I can't comment on this claim as I had no problem in that area before using the cream. As I stated I did receive some cotton gloves as part of the gift set so I tried applying the cream last things at night for a while and then wore the gloves overnight, this didn't go down too well with my husband but need must! This did seem to aid the absorption of the cream and my hands felt lovely when I awoke but by the time I had got washed and ready for work any residual effect had obviously disappeared and my skin felt tight again. I still apply this cream occasionally as it is pleasant enough to use but I don't think it is a rich enough cream for me to use all the time. I tend to keep a tube in a drawer in the lounge and apply the cream quite thickly whilst I am sitting watching television and then I can use it to give my hands and cuticles a good massage and can leave the thicker layer to soak in for a while and this seems to work better for me than applying a small amount at a time. The regular selling price for the 75ml tube is £3.50 but as is quite common with Avon it is currently on offer for £1.75. At the reduced price I suppose this is a reasonable buy and if you don't suffer from very dry skin then I would recommend it for the delightful fragrance but there are more effective hand creams available if you need something more long acting. The packaging is practical and easy to use but unfortunately the contents are not as good as I had hoped for.
Although the world seems to be full of coffee shops and fancy coffee machines I am not a fan and I would much rather have a nice cup of tea. Unlike many of my friends I usually make my tea in a teapot, I only resort to dunking a teabag in a cup if I am at work or if no one else is joining me in a brew. Tea always tastes better made in a pot, it is less bitter and due to the longer brewing time it is also supposed to contain more anti-oxidants as well. I have owned many teapots over the years and I now have a traditional teapot made by Stellar. Stellar is a brand name of Horwood Homeware and has long been associated with good quality products. The company provide a lifetime guarantee for their tea ware. I think I purchased my current Teapot at least 5 years ago and possibly longer ago than that. I was out shopping with my mum for a new pot when we saw the Stellar range in a large cookware shop in Stratford-on Avon and she started telling me how pleased she had always been with their products. My eye was immediately drawn to a beautiful Art Deco style pot but they only had the small and large sizes in stock and I needed something in the middle. I then noticed a less stylish model that was about the right size so I decided to buy it. I remember thinking it was quite expensive at the time, I remember it being over £20 and it seems to sell now for about £30. The pot I selected was called the Traditional Teapot and it is easy to understand why this is its name. It has a slightly curved body with a strong handle, round lid handle and chunky spout. It feels solid in construction and when empty it weighs just over 500g. It very much represents the quintessential image of a teapot. The teapots they are selling now are very shiny but I think mine always had a more brushed finish. I have the 40oz version of this teapot although there are other sizes on the market. This size is perfect for a family as it makes a generous four mugs of tea without having to be filled to overflowing. The lid of the teapot is attached by a solid metal hinge. This is not at all stiff and allows the lid to be opened easily and fully and it then rests on the handle so cannot flip back and burn you. The handle on the lid is a large ball shape so is very easy to grip. It is extremely firmly attached to the lid and is not showing any signs of loosening at all. The manufacturers put this down to Argon welding. The lid has one vent hole to allow the escape of excessive steam. The lid is very large, virtually the size of the top of the teapot which means that the inside of the teapot is easy to clean as it ii easy to get your whole hand inside. The good quality manufacturing means that there are no sharp edges around the pot or lid either. The handle is also really firm. It is thicker where you actually hold on. This makes it comfortable to grip and it also feels very secure whilst pouring. It is slimmer where it attaches to the body so it looks neat. Although the pot is all metal I do not find that much heat conducts along the handle and although you can feel it is a little warm it is not at all hot when in use. The spout is probably the most impressive part of the teapot. It is brilliantly designed and does not drip at all. There is nothing worse than a dribbly teapot. This teapot pours perfectly, it is accurate and the tea comes out at a reasonable speed, I used to have a nice teapot once that poured at a snail's pace which used to get on my nerves. The inside of the pout has a filter to prevent teabags blocking the spout and it also keeps the larger bits of scale at bay which is useful for our very hard water. Due to the teapots design it stands solidly, there is no danger of it being knocked over as the squat design provides stability. Due to the large lid this teapot is really easy to fill from the kettle and the large body provides plenty of space for the tea to brew. The metal body keeps the tea really hot and so provides a lovely cup of tea. I do not use any sort of Cosy (that is far too traditional even for me!) and I have never felt it was needed. The teapot is dishwasher safe and that is how mine is usually washed. The surface is starting to look a little marked now but I think it would clean up perfectly well if I decided to give it a good scrub by hand. Due to the chalky water that we have I have been very impressed that the pot hasn't developed any scale marks around the lid or spout. Considering I make at least a couple of pots of tea every single day I have been amazed at how well this teapot has stood up to wear and tear. I even dropped it on the floor once and there wasn't even any sign of a dent. This certainly wouldn't have been the case with my china pots. I can't recommend this teapot enough. Its shape may be slightly boring but it is extremely functional. It is easy to fill and pour with. The handle and lid are really well designed so I have never suffered even a minor accidental burn. The metal body produces a steaming hot, flavoursome cup of tea every time which is, after all, the whole purpose of using the pot!
I have lived near Aylesbury for nearly twenty years and I must say that I was very surprised to find that when I moved here there wasn't a decent theatre. As the County Town of Buckinghamshire I did expect there to be such a thing but the best Aylesbury had to offer was the concrete monstrosity called the Civic Centre which had the cultural appeal of a McDonalds milkshake with seating and acoustics to match. I visited the Civic Centre many times over the years and my daughter even performed there but it was never a particularly exciting evening out. Over the last few years there has been lots of building and rejuvenation work going on in Aylesbury and in about 2007 there was talk of a proper theatre. I was never convinced that this would actually happen but eventually work began on a site in Exchange Street. Although it seemed a building site for a long time it became apparent that a rather unusual looking glass and wood structure was emerging and the Waterside Theatre eventually opened towards the end of 2010. The theatre does seem to offer a real variety of performances; for example there is Jimmy Carr, Julius Caesar and the Bolshoi ballet in the next couple of months. There is a second part to the theatre called the Second Space but I have not yet visited this part and I am not sure where it is located. ===Getting There=== Unfortunately ticket holders for the first performances found actually getting to the venue tricky. There used to be a large multi-storey car park opposite the site but this was attached to the old Civic Centre and it all got demolished as part of the New Aylesbury Plan. This left people having to find parking elsewhere in the town which was not always easy for evening performances as the large shoppers car park also closed at night. The parking situation has now been resolved with a large, flat car park on the cleared land which also serves the cinema and a couple of local bars/restaurants. And we have found that it is only £1 to pay and display in the evenings. We have never struggled to find a space, even when arriving quite close to show time although obviously we did end up with a space in the farthest section of the car park. The walk to the theatre is down a rather steep, wide path which is fine and useful for wheelchair access but I think may prove very dangerous in icy conditions. The imposing wood and glass frame always puts me in mind of a boat as it is vaguely hull-shaped. The front of the theatre has some concrete seats but I was surprised that no pull-in area has been built at the front. I took my parents to a performance and I expected to be able to drop them near the door whilst I went and parked as the walk from the car park was a little hard for them due to ill-health. This wasn't possible and you certainly can't pull-over at the side of the road as it is a very busy road and someone is likely to plough straight into the back of you. I don't know if there is another access point for people with severe disability, I couldn't find any information on the website to suggest so. ===First Impressions=== Upon entering the theatre you immediately find yourself in a large, spacious foyer that seems to be the full height of the building. You enter to one side and then the bar area and seating takes up the majority of the area to your left. I always seem to have managed to visit when it is quite cold outside and unfortunately the doors and design seem to mean that the foyer is quite chilly, not cosy and welcoming. I never buy a drink once I get to the theatre (don't want to have to have a comfort break!) so, unfortunately I have no idea what the prices for drinks are like. I have noticed that they do seem to sell things like Panninis before the performance too. I know that the small tubs of ice-cream that they sell during the interval are currently £2.50 which is expensive for the tiny tubs really. When we visited on a night when the theatre was very full I found it very difficult to get past the bar as the tables occupied the majority of the space and with people waiting to buy drinks it was quite awkward to get through. This is not a problem for men as their toilets are on the same side as the main door but women have to battle through to get to the washrooms. The washroom is always clean and well stocked with liquid soaps and toilet rolls. I have visited several times and I think they have always been pristine. There are about 10 cubicles which seem adequate as there are more facilities upstairs. However, what strikes me as strange is that there are an excessive number of washbasins. Whilst waiting for my daughter I counted that there were more basins than toilets which I don't think I have seen before. There are hot air dryers and paper towels but the dispensers are very high. I didn't notice any lower ones and children may have trouble reaching them. There are stairs to the higher level of the theatre. These bring you to another bar and more toilets but this area is much more peaceful and the mezzanine floor means that you can people watch and also benefit from the warmer air higher up! ===In House=== The first thing that strikes you as you enter the auditorium is the wood. The whole place is covered with wooden slats; the entire walls look like they are made of thin wooden bricks and the uneven nature of the design adds a real feeling of warmth and luxury to the building. The Stalls area has a large bank of seats at the front with no central aisle and then there is a smaller bank of seats at the back and there is also a balcony. Having been to a few performances I have now managed to try out a few different seats. On our first visit we had opted for expensive seats a couple of rows back from the front. I was very disappointed with eth view. The seats were hardly staggered at all so you were sat almost directly behind the person in front and there was also hardly any slope. Being only 5'2" tall I found that I could hardly see anything and my poor mother, who is smaller than me, actually had trouble following what was happening as there were large portions of the stage she could hardly see. The seats themselves however were quite comfortable although a higher back would have been nice. Our seats were near the middle and since there is no central aisle we had to pass a lot of people to get in or out of them and I would have struggled to have got out in an emergency. On my second visit I opted for one of the much cheaper seats position around a small ledge that runs from the balcony along the side of the theatre. These tickets are listed as not suitable for children and there was some mention of restricted leg room but I didn't think that would be a problem. These are some of the cheapest seats in the house so I wasn't expecting much. I was very much surprised to find myself in an extremely comfortable, high-back seat that felt like an armchair. These seats swivel which meant that it was very comfortable to twist round to see my daughter and have a chat before the performance and I certainly thought there was enough legroom. These seats are also well spaced out so you are not close to the people next to you. There is only one row of these seats so there is no-one blocking your view but being positioned at the side the view is partially blocked of the side of the stage nearest you. However you are quite close to the stage and I thought we could see very well. To see more of the edge of the stage I had to lean forward and realised that I may have been blocking the view of the people in the next pair of seats but since they were a reasonable distance from us I presumed they could lean in and see fine too. Our next visit saw us choosing seats at the front of the rear section of the Stalls. These seats are staggered and the floor is quite sloped so we had an excellent view. We were very impressed with these and they have become our preferred position. They are cheaper than the stalls but allow great visibility of the whole stage. Once the performances started I have always been impressed. The stage has been designed to be large so that it can accommodate the professional travelling shows. The lighting has always been very effective and the acoustics also seem very good. Recently we saw An Inspector Calls and although the cast appeared to be miked up there was a problem with the sound and they had to perform without microphones. Theatre staff came to the back and asked us if we could hear all right and I was very impressed to note that we could hear every word clearly. ===Final Thought=== The theatre is under the management of ATG so all tickets have to be purchased through them. I have found the purchasing very quick and easy online and you are able to see all the available seats and prices and it tells you of any restrictions with each seat. You can select whichever ones you feel best suit your needs. The tickets are then delivered very promptly; mine have always arrived within a couple of days. Unfortunately the prices are quite high. The prices are not as high as the West End but the dearest seats for productions like 42nd Street are still £35. The cheaper swivel eats and rear stalls are certainly better value than the over-priced front seats and in my opinion they offer a better viewing experience. The theatre is small enough that it still feels quite intimate, even when you are near the back. Overall I think the Waterside Theatre is a great asset to the area. I have some qualms about the seating in the front stalls but elsewhere the seats are great and much better value. I think the design of the foyer and the way people have to struggle through the crowds is rather inefficient but the auditorium itself is lovely and provides a great theatre going experience.