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Newfloridian

Newfloridian
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    • More +
      10.11.2006 17:37
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      The third component for your irritation free vacation travel bag

      I am an experienced traveller to Florida and I am very well aware of the need for care in the strong hot sunshine particularly through the summer months. I use sunscreens where necessary but more often than not I stay out of direct sunlight during the fiercest hours. I am also aware of the need for another preventative spray to be used when the sun is going down and when out and about at night.

      Biting insects come in all shapes or forms. The most well known of course is the mosquito but you will soon become aware of the tick, chigger and 'no-see-um'(a tiny midge or gnat). I am sensitive to any of these bites that initially produce very itchy blotchy red lumps and which over the course of several days turn into hard and painful blisters. It is unlikely that apart from the itching irritation that you will end up with anything more serious from an insect bit. Malaria is almost unknown in the State but there are outbreaks of West Nile Fever every year which can occasionally prove fatal.

      Over the years I have tried many of the insecticides found which can be found on the houseware shelves of the supermarket or general store (other Cutter products; Backwoods OFF). So often these have left either an oily slick or a coating that felt like shellac on the skin. They may have caused staining to skin or clothing and usually the smell kept the rest of the family at arms length!


      CUTTER SKINSATIONS

      Cutter produce a variety of insect repellents. Skinsations is housed in a plastic bottle containing 6 fluid ounces (177ml). It is a pump action non pressurised aerosol. I used it twice a day - before going out to the parks in the morning and again on venturing out in the evening. The spray action works as easily with the bottle held upside down making it simple to reach every part. My regime was to apply Skinsations to all exposed skin (neck, arms, legs) and then the collar and cuffs of my shirt, short bottoms and socks. The spray dries almost on contact leaving skin feeling smooth and clean. There was no sensation of grease, film or irritation. It has an unobtrusive fragrance with hints of citrus and roses.

      The active ingredient is DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) which is the safest and commonest used insect repellent. DEET disrupts the ability of biting insects to detect carbon dioxide (from breath and skin). Mosquitoes and other biting insects are not killed. They just cannot locate us. Skinsations also contains Aloe extract and Vitamin E as skin moisturisers.

      TEST RESULTS

      Our Florida vacation this year has provided us with an ideal opportunity to test out the efficacy of this product. I can confirm that used twice a day according to the instructions on the bottle, we achieved a 100% bite free rate while using Cutter Skinsations. Over the same time period 67% of the non users were bitten.

      SCIENTIFIC AND STATISTICAL DISCLAIMER

      OK! OK! as with any cosmetic or pharmaceutical advertisement you really need to read the small print to make any sense out of the statistics. Here are the facts behind our "test group". We are a party of three and spent three days in Florida prior to buying the Cutter. During that time both my daughter and I received three bites each. After purchase I was the one to use the Cutter and I have not been bitten again. My daughter has had a further five bites (from one evening in the theme park watching fireworks after an afternoon thunderstorm). She is allergic to DEET and came out in a very fiery rash after using one of these products several years ago. My wife has never been bothered by bites in the past and therefore sees no reason to use this product.

      Our results were arrived at this way. One user - no one bitten: 100% success. Three non-users (this included me prior to the start of the trial!) - two people bitten: 67%.

      We were able to check the forecast mosquito activity around the Orlando area on line at the Weather Channel. During this two week period the risk fluctuated between moderate and high (with 'very high' spikes on three evenings). Although metropolitan areas are regularly sprayed, the danger times in the theme parks are in the evenings (standing for periods waiting for parades or fireworks) especially when it has rained earlier in the day.

      (www.weather.com/activities/homeandgarden/mosquito)


      THE BOTTLE

      Although I am not a great believer in the regurgitation of the packaging in reviews, there are a number of statements on the rear of the bottle which make interesting reading (if you can translate the tiny turquoise print). Firstly I was quite surprised that the usually almost paranoid American obsession for labelling every last possible constituent in foodstuffs comes up on this bottle merely as Active Ingredients DEET - 7%; Other ingredients 93%. The American National Institute of Health Household Products database (http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm) notes that it contains 50% ethanol. The label does mention Aloe and Vitamin E (to moisturise the skin) but there is no indication of amount.

      Also consider the following:

      Directions for use: It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labelling.

      Container disposal: If partly filled, call your local solid waste disposal agency for disposal instructions. Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain.

      Precautionary statements: Hazards to Humans and Domestic Animals: Warning: Causes substantial but temporary eye injury. Harmful if swallowed. Wash hands before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco or using the toilet.

      CONCLUSIONS

      An insect repellent is a mandatory component of my travel bag anywhere that I may have to share with biting insects. In many respects it can be as important to maintain an irritation free vacation as a properly applied sunscreen.

      I have been delighted with Cutter Skinsations in use. It is easy to apply, dries quickly, smells pleasant, leaves no obvious trace, moisturises the skin and does not stain or damage clothing. A small test spray (on the forearm) is advised before first use to exclude a possible allergy.

      It is safe to use on a child's skin although it is recommended that an adult apply it and keep the spray off hands and fingers.

      I brought home a supply with me which has done admirably duty fending of those pesky biters in the wilds of Scotland and Northumberland this autumn.

      We bought ours at Publix: 6fl oz. $3.49

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      • More +
        31.10.2006 19:44
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        A seasonal ale promising an aromatic finish from the addition of juniper berries .

        I guess you know that winter is just around the corner when the stores start putting out the Christmas decorations (in the UK this happens sometime in September although in the US at least this is ameliorated somewhat by the displays for Halloween until the latter days of October) and the shelves start to fill up with seasonal brews. We were lucky enough to escape to San Diego last year at this time so we enjoyed pumpkins rather than holly and ivy.

        When we got back home, we were faced with a couple of really hard frosts overnight in the North East leaving early mornings with an unexpected coating of ice to remove from the car windows. As if to celebrate that enterprising firm, James Clay & Sons, had been “going its ends” stocking up the shelves in the approach of the festive season with a bumper crop of import beers.

        I have enjoyed a couple of the labels from the Rogue Brewery (Oregon) in the past (Rogue Amber, Dead Guy Ale) and have reported my enjoyment on these pages recently. It seemed only appropriate to give this third visitor an appreciative nod. I have to warn you here and now that the label on the bottle last year may well not be the same as the label now. The Rogue Brewery renamed this brew at the end of last season and now call it Juniper Pale Ale. I have not seen it over here in this new guise but did sample a drop on the West Coast. So, for the moment I will tell you of this brew under its old soubriquet - in case there are still some bottles lurking at the back of the shelf. In any case the old name is also the more intriguing.

        I have always had a sneaking liking for beers and ales that have been spiked or enhanced with extraneous flavourings. I have enjoyed glasses of seasonal ales that have benefited from the infusion of blossoms or winter fruit. I have to say that, linguistically at least, I could have dreamed up a more appetising appellation. I don’t know whether North Americans do it any differently, but everyone I have asked around here so far came up with similar ideas for creating Yellow Snow …!

        THE BREWERY

        Rogue Ales was founded in 1988 by a trio of industrialists who set up a brewpub (a microbrewery that also has a hostelry that sells its own produce) in Ashland, Oregon. Theirs is an extensive catalogue now of 25 different labels. Of particular interest to us in the UK is a Scottish inspired Younger’s Special Bitter (named after a local publican not the Younger’s of Scottish and Newcastle fame!), Imperial IPA and Shakespeare Stout (a replica English oatmeal stout). They also produce a number of Belgian monastery and German bock look-alikes. They have experimented with flavoured beers (hazelnut, chocolate, soba bean and buckwheat)

        The brewmasters pride themselves on using only the finest hops and barley malt, free range coastal water and Pacman top fermenting proprietary yeast. They guarantee that there beers are preservative-, additive- , chemical- free. Rogue beers are not pasteurised. The ales are bottled using an oxygen absorbing cap, brown glass for better shelf life, and plenty of malted barley and hops to provide stability.

        They say of this brew “John Maier and his crew are up to their old tricks. They brewed a new beer called Yellow Snow in anticipation of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.” Yellow Snow uses Northwest Harrington, Crystal Triumph, C-15 and Maier Munich Malts; Amarillo and `Styrian Golding Hops, top fermenting Pacman Yeast, and whole Juniper Berries. It is available in 22-ounce bottles, 64-ounce jugs, and on draft.

        THE BOTTLE

        In common with other Rogue brews, Yellow Snow Ale arrives in a tall and bulky dark brown glass bottle (650ml). The front and rear labels that are “painted” onto the glass. The mainly black crown cap bears the name “Rogue” and the mantra ‘Dedicated to the rogue in each of us”.

        This ale’s label shares many of the attributes of Rogue Amber Ale. It features a tough looking muscular roustabout wearing snow goggles pushed up onto his forehead and making a clenched fist salute. He has his right arm around his dog (?black Labrador). Next to them is the mantra “Together We Can Do It” (What – make yellow snow?) The colour scheme is red, yellow and white. It is brewed to 5.3% ABV.

        The label also notes that it (the bottle? The beer?) is “dedicated to common sense”. The bottle contains “a pale ale, saffron in color with a smooth malt balance, a floral aroma with a dry spice finish from whole juniper berries”. It is brewed in Newport, Oregon As before this supply has been imported into the UK by James Clay & Sons of Elland, West Yorkshire. (I wonder if they have any vacancies on their import beer auditioning team? ‘Ecky Thump, that’d be a labour of love!!).


        THE DRINK

        Although the bottle did not recommend any particular storage environment I kept it in the fridge until serving. Well the name suggests the frozen wastes and it does come from a cold climate. It was at about 8ºC when opened. I took the top off with a bottle opener. (I must remember to find out how the cap absorbs oxygen!) Yellow Snow poured a mid amber colour with a slight bloom in the glass. Saffron it is not. There was no deposit left in the bottle. It produced good carbonation but created little head.

        The nose was moderately hopped with vague hints of spice, spirits and the hedgerow. The first taste is quite bitter with fairly strong hints of blossom (elder), pepper and spice. There was also a vague hint of aromatic oils. This is a medium bodied ale that is quite smooth on the tongue. The bitterness developed during drinking and persisted gently on the palate long after swallowing.

        I drank this bottle as an evening beverage alongside a bag of bar snacks. The flavour is perhaps a little quirky to sit comfortably with most mealtime menus. By the same token for my taste there are many better defined brews out there – including the other two Rogues. The near continent (particularly Belgium) is well known for the addition of spices (coriander) to its beer. I was initially intrigued with the idea of adding juniper berries to the brew. There is an aromatic quality to the bouquet of Yellow Snow. However this is stronger in the blossom rather than the berry register. I am well aware of the flavour of juniper in alcohol (for strength try Bombay Sapphire or any of the Dutch Oulde Genevers) and in cookery (it is a classic addition to game casserole or game pie). There was little of that juniper quality here. In this respect, Yellow Snow disappoints. In future I’ll stick to the G&T when I need a juniper fix. Similarly a far more pronounced, rounded and mature elderflower and pepper brew can be found in Golden Champion Ale from England’s West Country Badger Brewery.

        Like the other members of this stable Yellow Snow Ale is perhaps on the expensive side in the UK. Although not as strong as Dead Guy given the large size bottle you probably wouldn’t want to drink more than one or two at a sitting.

        AVAILABILITY:

        Rogue Yellow Snow Ale. 650ml bottle. Intermittent supplies at various supermarkets £ 2.99

        POSTSCRIPT:

        So why the change of name? The website doesn't say. Maybe jibes like mine finally got through to them and they felt a more moderate name would be helpful. Whatever the reason, they have declared that the beer is just the same.

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        • Listerine Vanilla Mint / Oral Care / 26 Readings / 25 Ratings
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          31.10.2006 18:34
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          Another flavour to add to the increasing range - perhaps

          One of the less welcome aspects of our vacation in Florida this Summer was that I suffered an attack of gingivitis. Although I have no proof (and therefore I will not be naming names) I have my suspicion that an unfamiliar make of toothpaste could have been responsible. We ran out of our regular brand and I used my daughter's 'trendy stuff' for a few days. Anyway I was condemned to painful, swollen and bleeding gums.

          We made our way to a local branch of the drugstore, Walgreen's, in search of a remedy. I had used Listerine on a couple occasions in the past and I headed for the Dental Care shelves. Twelve months ago I picked Cool Citrus which was a newly introduced flavour both in the US and at home bringing the Listerine range to five. This time I discovered "New" Vanilla Mint, the sixth variety, and curiosity pricked I decided to give it a try.

          THE LISTERINE BRAND

          I am sure that most people are aware of Listerine if only by repute. You may though be surprised by how long a history the brand has. It has been promoted as a powerful adjunct to regular brushing and visits to the dentist to protect again plaque and bad breath. The name is derived from Joseph Lister (although he had nothing to do with the product) who introduced antiseptics into surgical practice in 1865. The first Listerine formula was made in 1879 as a surgical disinfectant and came into general use as a dental antiseptic in 1891. It became available for purchase over the counter without a prescription during the First World War.

          Original Listerine has a reputation of being a powerful killer of the bacteria which reside in the mouth. Indeed the human oral cavity is a particularly unsavoury place harbouring many organisms (streptococci, lactobacilli, staphylococci, corynebacteria and anaerobes, such as bacteroides). Dental plaque consists of about 60% bacterial cells. A human bite wound is often infected and can be difficult to treat.

          Listerine is also well known for its powerful chemical taste. Perhaps this is in keeping with the old pharmaceutical mantra that if a medicine tastes nasty then it must be doing you good! Over the years the addition of different flavours may well have been a marketing ploy to make the perceived taste more acceptable to a wider audience while maintaining the aura of effectiveness.

          COMPARISONS

          I brought the remaining half bottle of the American bought Vanilla Mint back with me to the UK and have compared it with Coolmint and Cool Citrus Listerine (both of which are available in the UK) in preparing this article. Listerine is a registered trade mark of Pfizer Consumer Health in the UK and of Warner-Lambert in the States. The most striking feature is that all varieties in both countries are housed in the patented plastic Listerine bottle which has a special 'pinch-and-twist' childproof cap. The labelling is also remarkably similar even down to the eight digit product codes (see below).

          The active ingredients are Eucalyptus 0.092%; Menthol 0.042%; Methyl salicylate 0.06%; Thymol 0.064%. The bottle also contains 21.6% alcohol, preservatives, colourings and unidentified flavourings.

          There are a number of 'Anglicization's' in the wording of the labels ("Milder Flavour - Same Powerful Listerine Action" (UK); "Less Intense Equally Effective" (US)) but the ingredients, indications and directions are virtually identical. The only difference I did find was that Vanilla Mint was recommended for the prevention of gingivitis whereas this was not mentioned on the UK brands.

          A TASTE TEST

          We carried out a small trial in the preparation of this review. Coolmint was one of the first alternatives to the Original Listerine but maintained the taste strength. Cool Citrus was the first 'milder' flavour. These were compared with Vanilla Mint. The trial is purely subjective and has no scientific basis. For each of the three flavours we recorded its smell, its 'one drop' taste and its 'mouthful sloosh' taste.

          All three have a distinctly chemical smell (descriptions ranged from Dettol to toilet cleaner). Cool Citrus had a vague overtone of fruit, probably tangerine. There was a hint of sweet spice (my wife thought Coriander or Aniseed) about the Vanilla Mint.

          The "one drop on the tongue" test did separate out the varieties. Cool Citrus did suggest the sourer fruits of grapefruit and again tangerine. Cool Mint was, well, minty. Vanilla Mint did taste of vanilla - and to my own palate was probably the most pleasant.

          There was very little difference in taste between the three in the sloosh test. All had the overpowering burst in the mouth chemical effect which tended to cause tingling on the tongue and blunt the taste buds. They all left a rather cloying sweetness on the palate after the initial burst had dissipated and surprisingly the Cool Citrus left the strongest and longest-lasting 'sucked Polo' taste.

          IN ACTION

          The instructions call for a 30 second mouthwash with 20mls of undiluted Listerine twice a day. I followed these instructions. Because of the initial inflammation I also took a five day course of ADVIL (an anti-inflammatory agent). I did stop using the offending brand of toothpaste. After that time, the pain and bleeding had stopped and the swelling was subsiding. I did not need to see my dentist.

          Each bottle warns that Listerine should be spat out and not swallowed. It was also not recommended for children under the age of 12 years.

          Since my return to the UK I have continued to use Listerine as a mouthwash morning and evening. I have had a tendency to plaque formation in the past (regular scale and polish visits). So far there has been little build up.

          AVAILABILITY

          Listerine Vanilla Mint. (07-0713-18)
          8.5 fluid ounces (250 ml) about $3 Walgreens and drugstore

          For comparison:
          Listerine Coolmint (07-0705-03) 250ml £ 1.95 Sainsbury
          Listerine Cool Citrus (07-05-10) 250ml £ 2.35 Sainsbury

          When it is released in the UK I would expect Vanilla Mint to be priced the same as Cool Citrus.

          CONCLUSIONS

          From the point of view of my recent painful episode, Vanilla Mint served its purpose admirably (5 star action). Would I buy it again? Well, yes. In our tests we could differentiate the three flavours by smell and by drop. It has to be stressed that this is not the reason for buying Listerine in the first place!! I am not convinced that there is the great difference in taste in use between flavours that is claimed by the company. I was also surprised by the tiny percentage of each of the active ingredients in the formulation and still wonder what contribution any of them make to the strength of the taste. The need to introduce new flavours has to be a marketing gimmick. (Hence the dropped star from my rating). Now, if they could introduce a 'non-chemical' variety, then that would be a breakthrough. Gin and tonic, perhaps ….. ?

          Vanilla Mint Listerine is not available yet in the UK (although you could order it over the internet) and this article is more of a preview. However if the experience of other flavours is anything to go by we should find it reaching the shelves of our chemists and supermarkets by the New Year. You can always say that you read about it first here!

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          • Rogue American Amber / Beer / Cider / 25 Readings / 24 Ratings
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            27.10.2006 14:27
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            Not all American beer is pale and insipid. This one proves the point

            Spurred on by a trilogy of labels, I’m off on the second part of my journey at the moment (figuratively speaking of course) in search of pastures new, of lands over the seas, of foreign shores and also to seek out and enjoy new bibulous pleasures. I also promised that you would be able to travel with me in spirit at least on this voyage of discovery and I would try to indicate which local emporium would be able to supply you with liberal supplies of the current libation.

            I found quite a pleasant little haven to rest my weary bones yesterday (play on words if every I saw one! I entreat you to have a look at my previous posting if you haven’t already done so) and I enjoyed my bottle of Dead Guy Ale. So I have decided to stay on to investigate another of the fine brews from this north western United States brewery.

            THE BREWERY

            Rogue Ales have been brewing beers in Newport Oregon since 1989. Theirs is an extensive catalogue now of 25 different labels. Of particular interest to us in the UK is a Scottish inspired Younger’s Special Bitter (named after a local publican, not the Younger’s of Scottish and Newcastle fame!), Imperial IPA and Shakespeare Stout (a replica English oatmeal stout). They also produce a number of Belgian monastery and German bock look-alikes. They have experimented with flavoured beers (hazelnut, chocolate, soba bean and buckwheat)

            The brewmasters pride themselves on using only the finest hops and barley malt, free range coastal water and Pacman top fermenting proprietary yeast. They guarantee that there beers are preservative-, additive- , chemical- free. Rogue beers are not pasteurised. The ales are bottled using an oxygen absorbing cap, brown glass for better shelf life, and plenty of malted barley and hops to provide stability.

            They say of Rogue Amber Ale: “Enjoy this spicy, playful ale with a distinct character. Brewed in the Oregon Coast to the highest standards. Sea Otter Amber was a special 2001 bottling (22 ounce) of Rogue's American Amber Ale. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this ale supports the Oregon Coast Aquarium and its mission to expand our understanding of the oceans. (OCA is where Free Willy, aka Keiko, was rehabilitated before his return to Iceland)”

            In the States, the beers are available in 22 fluid ounce single bottles, 12 fluid ounce six-packs and, in selected areas, on draft.

            THE BOTTLE

            In common with other Rogue brews, Amber Ale is sheathed in a tall and bulky dark brown glass bottle (650ml). The front and rear labels that are “painted” onto the glass. The mainly black crown cap bears the name “Rogue” and the mantra "Dedicated to the rogue in each of us”.

            Rogue Amber Ale features a tough looking muscular roustabout standing in front of the Star Spangled banner wearing a “Rogue” cap and showing a clenched fist salute. He is holding a large tankard. The colour scheme is red, blue and white. It is brewed to 5.3% ABV. The label also notes that a portion of the proceeds of sale will be contributed to charity (although the recipient is not disclosed this year). It is brewed in Oregon from basic ingredients (“Klages, 95-115 and 135-165 Crystal Malts. Kent Golding and Cascade Hops”)

            My sample bottle was imported into the UK by James Clay & Sons of Elland. (I wonder if they are sitting in a brewpub even now working their way down that list to decide what to ship in next. Ee!, that’d be a labour of love!!).

            THE DRINK

            I stored the bottles in the fridge during the day prior to opening. They had a day longer than Dead Guy! Even so, they were Sunshine State cold when I came to drink them. This is an “oxygen fixing cap” (their description!) and required the use of a bottle opener for its removal. Rogue Amber produced an exuberant froth and poured a slightly cloudy deep amber colour. It created a moderate head which soon receded. There was no deposit left in the bottle. It had a good sparkle in the glass and there was a modest tracery left as it was drunk.

            The nose is a fragrant combination of malt and citrus with vague hints of coffee and dark chocolate. It is a mid bodied ale with a smooth creamy texture. The first taste is more bitter than sweet with strong malt and grapefruit citrus flavours. There are also hints of Seville oranges. As the bitterness develops, so does that sensation of marmalade. After swallowing Red Amber the flavours persist with a refreshing moderate bitterness on the palate.

            I drank mine with a good old fashioned southern fried chicken and fries. The robustness and citrus overtones of this beer well complemented the spicy flavourings of the food. I guess it would be just as happy supporting the pretzels and nachos given half a chance.

            This is another fine example of American brewing. Rich, full flavoured and strong it confirms that this side of the water too does not only brew beers that are not thin, pallid, weak and insipid. Like its partner, Dead Guy Ale, it is perhaps on the expensive side in the UK (but it is a fairly recent immigrant and that may improve with familiarity). Although not quite as strong as the other label, once again given the large size bottle you probably wouldn’t want to drink more than one or two at a sitting. I did get the chance to sample a glass on draft when I visited the West Coast of America at the end of last year.

            Once again I encourage you to pop out and give it a try. This is another first class American beer. Write me a comment if you like it (you can always ask Proxam to point you in the direction of some wonderful Belgian brews if you don’t!!).The extra sales may well tempt Mr Clay and his offspring to bring more New World microbrews to our shores.


            AVAILABILITY

            Rogue “Amber Ale”. Intermittently available at various supermarkets. 650ml bottle £2.99

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            • Rogue Dead Guy Ale / Beer / Cider / 20 Readings / 16 Ratings
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              26.10.2006 19:26
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              Excellent example of American brewing

              I have to say that I have had quite a piratical time over the last few months, what with the re-opening of the Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt DisneyWorld, Florida; the second coming of Captain Jack Sparrow in the movie sequel and now an operatic visit from the denizens of Penzance. To celebrate I am going revisit a rather interesting brew that I first came across a couple of years ago (interesting by name and interesting by nature) and which I had the pleasure to sample on tap on a trip to Southern California last year.

              This is the first of three reviews of the products of a single brewery. So I hope that you will come along with me if not in actuality, then at least in spirit (or some other ethanolic derivative) and I shall endeavour to indicate which of your local emporia will be able to supply you with a liberal supply of the daily target libation for a few coins of the local realm.

              The United States of America is literally littered with ale houses and breweries right across the fifty one. This example comes from the end of the old frontiersman trail – Oregon. Forget the gruesome connotations, the piracy, the skeletal hauntings – here is a taste of the New World that will send shivers through the staid establishment of the Old One.

              THE BREWERY

              Rogue Ales was founded in 1988 by a trio of industrialists who set up a brewpub (a microbrewery that also has a hostelry that sells its own produce) in Ashland, Oregon. The next year another brewpub was opened in Newport. Over the following years, they diversified in beer type, strength and flavour and now they produce an impressive 25 different labels.

              The brewmasters pride themselves on using only the finest hops and barley malt, free range coastal water and Pacman top fermenting proprietary yeast. They guarantee that their beers are preservative-, additive- , chemical- free. Rogue beers are not pasteurised. The ales are bottled using an oxygen absorbing cap, brown glass for better shelf life, and plenty of malted barley and hops to provide stability.

              They say of Dead Guy Ale: “Gratefully dedicated to the Rogue in each of us. In the early 1990s Dead Guy Ale was created as a private tap sticker to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead (November 1st, All Souls Day) for Casa U Betcha in Portland, Oregon. The Dead Guy design proved popular and was incorporated into a bottled product a few years later with Maierbock as the elixir. Strangely, the association with the Grateful Dead is pure coincidence.”

              In the States, the beers are available in 22 fluid ounce single bottles, 12 flouid ounce six-packs and, in selected areas, on draft.

              THE BOTTLE

              The Rogue brews arrive on these shores in a tall and bulky dark brown glass bottle (650ml). The bottles have front and rear labels that are “painted” onto the glass. The mainly black crown cap bears the name “Rogue” and the mantra ‘Dedicated to the rogue in each of us”.

              Dead Guy Ale is decorated with a skeleton sitting atop a barrel of Rogue beer and announces that it is Oregon brewed. The colour scheme is red, black and white. It is brewed to 6% ABV (“A handcrafted micropiece by Rogue Ales, Oregon) from the simple basic ingredients (“Pacman” ale yeast, Northwest Harrington, Klages, Maier Munich and Carastan malts and Perle and Saaz hops). Your friendly importer happens to be James Clay & Sons of Elland. (I bet they have fun deciding which brew to bring in for your delight and which to keep for themselves!!)

              The bottle under examination was said to be best before July 1st 2006 (or was that January 7th 2006? – depends which side of the Atlantic you happen to be reading the label!)**

              THE DRINK

              I stored the bottles in the fridge during the day prior to opening. You should know by now that I chill (even over chill) my beer the American way. They store their beers in huge refrigerators in Publix, Albertsons etc – particularly in Florida so you can pick up an ice cold six pack ready for the beach. I pulled the cap off (with a bottle opener – I never trust these bottle tops to come off by finger pressure) and was greeted by a gentle hissing sound. Dead Guy Ale poured a rich red amber colour that was crystal clear in the glass, leaving no sediment in the bottle. It produced a good lasting sandy red head and generous sparkle.

              It has a delightful malty nose (a mixture of malt extract and crushed malted milk biscuits – I know, I tried it) and wafts of honey. It is a smooth, rich, quite full bodied brew. The first taste again is strongly laced with malt. Its alcoholic strength is immediately apparent on the tongue. It starts as a mid bitter, slightly sweet burst in the mouth. As the bitterness develops further there are also hints of flowers and delicately scented fruits. After swallowing it leaves a refreshingly lingering gentle bitterness on the palate.

              I drank mine perched on a high bar stool, dipping alternatively into a bowl of mixed nuts and pretzels (freshly poured I hasten to add – you have all heard the story about bar nuts haven’t you?!) and “Extra Cheesy” nachos with a chilli tomato salsa. Spot one!

              Once you have got past the somewhat threatening aura of the label, Dead Guy Ale is a delightful brew. Rich, full flavoured and strong – reminiscent in may ways of the amber German or central European ales. It’s perhaps a bit pricey in the UK (but it is a very recent immigrant) and, given the large size bottle you probably wouldn’t want to drink more than one at a sitting. Go on, go out and give it a try. This is a first class American beer – not thin, pallid, weak or insipid. The extra sales may well tempt James, or whoever else is doing the importing, to bring more New World microbrews to our shores.


              AVAILABILITY

              Rogue “Dead Guy Ale”. Intermittent supplies have been seen in both Sainsburys and Morrisons. Last price: 650ml bottle £2.99

              (I’m staying in Oregon for the moment. Next time I’ll bring you Rogue Amber Ale.

              BTW: The date reads 01/07/2006. English dates read the second digit as the month number; American dates read the second digit as the day number – hence the cause for transatlantic confusion. )


              [POSTSCRIPT: Sniff! - This review has had me hankering back to the days of the old TRS-80 – my very first computer. I remember playing a D&D game – with rudimentary graphics but devilishly addictive game play – called “Rogue” in the mid 1980s. I don’t think I ever found the Amulet of Yendor. I vaguely remember Pacman too – but I didn’t realise it was a type of yeast!]

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              • More +
                25.10.2006 20:58
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                Simple and pleasant to use, effective treatment for minor sunburn

                It is ironic that while we were away in Florida this summer, the UK experienced its hottest July day for one hundred years. We were not immune from the extremes of weather either and were acquainted with the vagaries of the Bermuda High. First it was a tropical wave which caused sustained thunderstorms and up to six inches of rain each day whilst temperatures remained a rather cool low 80s F. Then the wave cleared the state and was replaced with dry hot air from the Bahamas. Mid afternoon temperatures went up to the mid 90s F with a relative humidity of below 50%. The heat index around the pool was 107ºF.

                We brought with us two sun screens which had sun protection factors of 20 and 30 which we have used frequently and liberally whenever skin was likely to be exposed. We tried to avoid the most intense of the sun's rays (between 1pm and 5pm) and have covered up with shirts or tops after 30 minutes or so of exposure. Even with these precautions I developed a very mild case of sunburn: a small triangular patch on the bridge of my nose and forehead (this was caused by reflection from my metal framed spectacles), over the tops of both shoulders and over both shins. Although this has caused some temporary discomfort which probably did not require treatment, it has prompted me to contemplate this topic further and also to review this, the third product in my tropical kitbag.

                SUNBURN

                Burns are classified according to the depth of the skin which has been affected. First degree (superficial partial thickness) burns affect only the superficial layer, the epidermis. Typically the area is pink and painful with some local swelling. The skin remains soft without blistering although there may be some superficial peeling. Healing occurs without scarring within three to five days.

                The second degree (deep partial-thickness) affects the epidermis and the underlying dermis. Superficial second-degree burns may be pink to bright-red in colour. Deeper burns appears dark red to mottled yellow-white. Both may blister. The level of pain suffered depends on the degree of damage to the skin nerves. Healing time depends on the depth of damage. It may take up to six weeks and can cause scarring.

                The third-degree (full-thickness) burn damages the epidermis and dermis. The skin may become pearly white or charred. Nerve endings are destroyed and the area is not painful. Treatment consists of excision of the destroyed tissues and skin grafting. Scarring is inevitable.

                SELF TREATMENT OF MINOR SUNBURN

                Most sunburn is a first degree burn but when severe blistering occurs may represent a superficial second degree burn. Extensive blistering and lack of pain can be bad prognostic signs as are dizziness, faintness and collapse. These symptoms may require formal medical attention, even hospitalisation.

                Self treatment consists of pain relief (analgesics by mouth or applied to the skin), keeping cool (staying indoors in air conditioning, taking cool showers), keeping hydrated (drinking plenty of non-alcohol fluids) and soothing the skin.

                HAWAIIAN TROPIC: THE COMPANY AND THE RANGE

                'Ron Rice, who founded Hawaiian Tropic, was originally became a teacher. On a trip to Hawaii he saw women on the beach using natural oils to protect their skin. Having looked in vain all his life for a product that would shield his extremely fair skin from the sun, Ron was determined to create a product that would allow him and others to achieve a tan like the native Hawaiians. With $500.00 borrowed from his father, Ron set up business in his garage. He mixed coconut, avocado, kukui and other secret natural oils in a garbage can, bottled the formula and set out to sell it. "I had an old Ford Mustang convertible that the salt air had just eaten apart. I drove to pool decks and lifeguard stands and sold my original suntan product. I was obsessed," Rice says. The new product caught on immediately--no one had ever heard of a natural tanning formula before!'
                [Abridged from the Hawaiian Tropic web site]

                Hawaiian Tropic advertises an astonishing range of 36 suncare products divided into a variety of categories. There is the Sun Protection range with lotions and an oil that contain sun protection factors (SPF) between 15 and 70. There are formulations specifically for the children (Baby Faces - SPF 50; Kids Splash - SPF 30; Barbie SPF 50 and 30). There is an oil-free water and sweat resistant Sport block. There are 'Tanning Amplifiers' which have little SPF but do have carrot extracts (beta carotene) which can boost the tan colour.

                There are three Lipcare Lip Balm sunblock lipsticks (SPF 45) with Aloe Vera extract and cocoa butter in Original Tropical, Citrus and Vanilla Mint flavours. There is even a lotion for use of sunbeds!! They also produces a range of five after sun care products in pump action dispenser packs ranging from an Aloe Vera Gel, Cooling sunburn gel and skin moisturisers.

                HAWAIIAN TROPIC I.C.E. WITH LIDOCAINE

                Hawaiian Tropic Cool Aloe I.C.E. with Lidocaine Burn Relief Gel Extra Strength - to give the product it's full title (herewith HT Lido) is packaged in a clear plastic squeezy bottle topped with a red cap. The front of the bottle has moulding which hints of a cresting wave. The contents are an intense turquoise blue shot through with suspended bubbles.

                In use, the gel is quite viscous. It has a faint but pleasant aroma - initially smelling slightly of liquid soap but this is overtaken by wafts of menthol. The feel on the skin - even the scorched parts - is of coldness (I.C.E. stands for Instant Cooling Effect). The gel is absorbed into the skin quite quickly leaving a slightly sticky but lubricating film which persists for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Pain and irritation is relieved after ten minutes or so and this effect lasted for three to four hours.

                The rear labelling is comprehensive, listing indications and directions for use, warnings and ingredients. As this is an American product the latter is exhaustive. The active constituent is Lidocaine 0.8%. This is a local anaesthetic agent which provides the pain relief. There are 27 'inactive' ingredients including alcohol (12%), menthol (together they produce the I.C.E.), allantoin, extract of Aloe Vera, various flower and fruit (mango, guava and papaya) extracts and colourings.

                Allantoin (which is an excretory by-product of all mammals except for man and the higher apes!! - but which is now manufactured for human use) is added to many cosmetics to soften skin and encourage new cell generation. Aloe Vera has long been used to sooth burned or irritated skin. Vitamins A and E are also added to aid healing and for their anti-oxidant properties.


                USAGE AND WARNINGS

                HT Lido should be applied directly to the burned area in small quantities three or four times a day. It is not suitable for children under the age of two years.

                Local anaesthetics applied topically to the skin are generally safe but may cause allergic or hypersensitivity reactions. It is advised to test a small area of skin before embarking on use. There is also a possibility of increased absorption through raw skin or open wounds. It should not be allowed to come in contact with the eyes and mucous membranes (mouth, nose, "sensitive" parts). It should also be used with cautin in other chronic skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.


                COMMENTS

                So I treated my own sunburn with HT Lido. As noted above, rubbing in the gel is not unpleasant. The slight stickiness soon disappears and pain relief and irritation is happily quick. Unlike other sun products from this manufacturer HT Lido is only lightly perfumed and the user to not have to wallow in an aura of pina colada for the duration.

                I continued the application four times a day for three days. After that the redness was subsiding and the pain had gone. My skin did not blister or peel and I brought home a very modest tan.

                This is a product that I can thoroughly recommend and complements the other items in my 'tropical' kitbag (sunscreen and insect repellent). If all your precautions and safeguards have not protected you from the acute effects of the sun, here is the relief from the pain, swelling and irritation of the burn. It moisturises and may also help healing. It has also proved useful in the management of insect bites, other minor burns and scalds and nettle rash. As a temporary relief it can also help the pain and swelling from a twisted or arthritic joint.


                AVAILABILITY


                Hawaiian Tropic Cool Aloe I.C.E. with Lidocaine Burn Relief Gel Extra Strength: 12oz (340g) bottle - $6.49 (About £4.50)
                Publix, Walgreens (and major supermarkets and pharmacies)


                POSTSCRIPT

                Weather forecasting in Florida is usually accurate and highly focussed. A TV update in Orlando covers an area of about fifty square miles. Although we tourists can expect hot sun and thunderstorms, a little attention to the underlying details can give you a shrewd idea of what is coming your way and when.

                The way in which tropical storms develop, the trajectory of their path and the strength of wind are influenced by a complex interaction of barometric pressure, water and air temperature, and relative wind speeds in the upper and low atmosphere. The mildest disturbance is the tropical wave - which may be a very slow moving area of low pressure but which can deposit large quantities of rain as it passes. The next is the tropical depression which registers maximum wind speeds of 38mph. The third is the tropical storm where wind speeds may reach up to 74 mph. The highest level is the hurricane. A category 1 storm has sustained winds in excess of 74 mph; a category 5 storm in excess of 156 mph.

                The Bermuda High is an area of high pressure which develops over the central Atlantic during the summer months. Its main effect on Florida's weather is that tropical systems which cross the ocean from east to west are pushed firstly along its southern edge and then deflected northwards along its western edge. In years when the Bermuda High spreads further west than usual (as in 2004 and 2005) hurricanes are more likely to be directed onto land or up into the Gulf of Mexico. When the High is less developed systems will tend to spill over the Bahamas and stay off the Atlantic seaboard.

                The weather really has been bizarre - and against all predictions the tropics remained quiet right through the season. Can't blame it for the persistent warm autumn in the UK though! Now that El Nino is developing again, who knows we might need more of products like this over here in years to come.

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                • Tusker Lager / Beer / Cider / 26 Readings / 24 Ratings
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                  25.10.2006 15:45
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                  Exotic origins but a pale toothless import

                  If, like me, you keep in mind the possibility of scribbling a few well chosen words about a product or purchase, supermarket shopping becomes a voyage of discovery. When you keep your eyes open all sorts of oddities pop up that you might otherwise have ignored or not even noticed. Such was this label – a collection of half a dozen bottles looking somewhat forlorn and abandoned at the end of the beer shelf at one such emporium.

                  The name and the label conjures up exotic locations, the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, wild frontiers, Kilimanjaro, big cats, elephants. Surely its contents will exude with similar properties.

                  THE BREWERY

                  Although claimed on the bottle by Kenya Breweries Ltd, Tusker finds itself as one of eleven brands sharing the East African Breweries website (some with a distinctly non-Kenyan sound to their name - Heineken?; Guinness??) . Given the historical notes below, this is to say the least somewhat confusing.

                  “East African Breweries Ltd is East Africa's premium beverage Group dedicated to delivering world class beer to the market. EABL is the largest brewing Group in East Africa with an annual turnover of Kshs 26 Billion and it has the largest share of the beer industry in the region. The group employs more than 1600 people across the East Africa.

                  Kenya Breweries Ltd is formally incorporated as a private company in 1922. The first Beer is brewed. The first batch delivered to the Stanley Hotel where it was opened to a mixed reaction. George Hurst, the company founder, is killed in an elephant hunting accident in 1923. In 1934 Kenya Breweries becomes a public company. The following year it acquires Tanganyika Breweries and the Company name is changed to East African Breweries Limited. The name East African Breweries is dropped in 1988 and the company reverts to its old name Kenya Breweries Ltd."

                  [Abridged from the Company website: http://www.eabrew.com]

                  THE BOTTLE.

                  Tusker comes swaddled in a 500ml brown bottle (which has the words “beer only” embossed around the upper body) stopped with a crown cap bearing the mark of an elephant. There is a large front label (black, yellow and white) on which the elephant logo is repeated and which declares the contents to have been brewed in Kenya to 4.2%ABV. There is a chevron shaped neck label which announces “Tusker Quality Lager”. It also proudly boasts of Kenya’s Heritage Since 1922 and the slogan “Bia Yangu, Nchi Yangu” (my Swahili is a little limited but I believe it means “My beer, My country”)

                  The bottle should be stored in a cool, dark place (the beer shelves at Morrisbury's perhaps?)

                  THE DRINK

                  Off comes the top. I poured my drink at about 8ºC having kept it since purchase in the fridge (that’s cold – and dark until you open the door!). It is a mid gold colour, quite frothy but not producing any appreciable lasting head. It is also a clear brew and there was no sediment.

                  Open any bottle of standard lager and what do you smell? The smell of standard lager! It is quite nondescript, neither particularly pleasing nor (hopefully) particularly unpleasant. So it is with Tusker. Taste-wise, it is also undistinguished. There is modest bitterness with light malt and hops. There is no other hint or nuance of other flavours (citrus, blossom, fruit, spice) – again so like the vast array of interchangeable, indistinguishable other brews of this type. Swallow and you are aware that you have washed your mouth out. What little flavour there was did not linger for long.

                  What would you drink this with? Well, any hot, spicy, well flavoured dish (curry, chilli). It’ll keep you moist but won’t complete with the food.

                  Overall, this really is a disappointing brew for all the pale, insipid reasons that characterise so many other inadequate brands that are consumed in such huge quantities. No wonder the bottles were hiding away as they were – hedged about by full flavoured ales from the UK and beers of Belgian and continental heritage. The blurb states that this is the biggest selling product in Kenya. That may be so, but does it really justify transporting it 4000 miles to these shores, any more that it would transporting some of our lesser brews (“the task of filling up the blanks I’d rather leave to you”*) to Africa.

                  AVAILABILITY:

                  For what it’s worth at the time of purchase:

                  Tusker Lager. 500ml £1.55

                  *In the spirit of one of my other series of reviews, these words are by W.S. Gilbert from The Mikado: Ko-Ko’s song “As someday it may happen that a victim must be found”

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                  • More +
                    24.10.2006 19:12
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                    Will power, supplements, placebo, a journal - successful weight loss

                    I have to acknowledge that I have accumulated a touch of extra baggage in my passage through life. My wife feels that this has been at least in part due to my dedication to Food and Drinks pages of certain consumer review sites a couple of years ago. The weight of over eighty beer opinions preceded me wherever I went.

                    I have long been fascinated by the way life is lived on the other side of the Atlantic. I am also intrigued by the commercials that punctuate American television and the subject matter must surely be a reflection of the state of the target audience. Tucked in between the plea to attend the annual close-out sale at the local Nissan (pronounced Nee-Sarn over there) dealer and the invitation to sue the nursing home for negligence now that 105 year old great aunt Maudie has died come the weight reduction plans, exercise apparatus and diet pills. The latter use a variety of blandishments such as "Reduce Stress Inducing Cortisol and Lose Excess Belly Fat" (Relicore) and "When Is A Diet Pill Worth $153 A Bottle?" (Leptoprin). There is even a telesales campaign for "The World's Best Fat Burner… Period" (Wu long tea: 60 servings $37)

                    During our holiday this summer we furthered our education by visiting the local branch of Walgreen's. There were shelf upon shelf of dietary supplements and weight loss aids promising to be "Ephedra Free" (the American Food and Drug Agency has banned the use of Ephedrine in diet medication), help to "Stimulate Your Metabolism" and "Lose Up To 20 pounds In Six Weeks". We chose Mega-T's Ultra which is based on a concentrated tea extract.

                    WHY TEA?

                    Tea has been used throughout history as a medicine in China. They recognised a long time ago that tea can help to control body fatness and an old pharmaceutical book "Bencao Shiyi" states, "Drinking tea for a long time will make one live long and stay in good shape without becoming too fat and too heavy."

                    There has been some scientific evidence to confirm this too. A recent paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that a green tea diet increases metabolism and oxidizes fat without raising heart rates.

                    Another study published in the Journal of Medical Investigation from the University of Tokushima School of Medicine, Japan found that people who drank two cups a day of Wu-Long tea experienced 2.5 times greater calorie-burning results than those who drank the same amount of authentic Japanese green tea

                    It has been shown that the polyphenols in tea are effective in controlling body fat, activating the enzyme that dissolves triglyceride. In another clinical test, 75 overweight individuals between 22 and 68 years drank two packs of Wu-Long tea twice a day for six weeks. They did not diet or take any formal exercise. At the end of the test the thickness of the subcutaneous belly fat layer had decreased by an average of 4 millimetres.

                    THE MEGA-T PORTFOLIO

                    Mega-T is a range of formulations based on tea extracts which are manufactured by CCA Industries Inc., in America. The company also makes skin, hair, dental and other beauty products. Green Tea is their standard formula. Ultra is blended as a sustained release tablet designed for maximum weight loss. Also available are Green Tea Liquid Drops which can be added to any other beverage and Mega-G Grapefruit which has added fibre.

                    The tablet varieties are delivered in a white plastic bottle, tamper-sealed across the neck under the screw cap containing a 45 day (90 tablet) supply. They all carry the characteristic dark blue and green labelling. They are claimed to curb appetite to reduce food intake, boost metabolism to burn off calories and fat, increase energy and eliminate excess fluids. Also included in the box is a leaflet which gives an introductory guide to daily calorie intakes based on age, sex, height and frame size. There is also a suggested fourteen day meal plan and the Mega Exercise Plan.

                    The regime consists of taking one tablet half an hour before breakfast and another half an hour before lunch, each time drinking a pint of water.

                    INGREDIENTS

                    The Ultra Mega-T tablet is a "horse tablet" of a brute. Sage green in colour, it takes a good swallow of water to ease it down. If sucked it does have a vague tea leaf taste. I didn't try chewing one! Each tablet contains extracts of green, white, black and oolong teas in total 775mg per tablet.

                    Chromium is a metal and essential trace element which is taken into the body in food. It is required for the proper metabolism of sugar, the control of fat levels in the blood and enhances the action of insulin. The recommended daily amount (RDA) is in the order of 30 mcg. This product supplies 500mcg.

                    Garcinia Cambogia (Brindle Berry, Malabar Tamarind) is a tropical fruit tree native of India may interfere with the storage of fat in the body and aid ridding of fat in food from the gut. It may also help the mobilisation of fat stores for energy during exercise.

                    Guarana is a berry bearing bush from Venezuela and Northern Brazil. Guaranine is an extract similar to caffeine which is used to flavour colas and soft drinks. Indeed both Coke and Pepsi have their own South American brands which promote this ingredient. It is an appetite suppressant and stimulant.

                    Eleuthero is the root of a plant (also called Siberian Ginseng) and is used in herbal remedies to increase stamina and energy and reduce stress and depression.

                    Bladderwrack (a seaweed) and Fo-Ti (Chinese knotweed) are mild laxatives, mild diuretics and may have anti-oxidant properties.

                    The actual amount of each of the lesser ingredients is not stated. The rear label also notes that none of the benefits have been evaluated by the American Food and Drug Administration.

                    MY REGIME

                    I bought one box of Ultra Mega-T tablets and resolved that I would resolutely take them twice a day as directed for the duration of the six week course.

                    I estimated from the calorie chart that I should be looking at an intake of about 2000 calories a day. I have to admit that I looked at the Menu Plan and immediately rejected it; it being repetitive, not particularly adventurous and - split into six small meals a day - did not fit in with my routine. Instead my wife and I made the positive decision to regulate our diet ourselves. We have persevered with either Weetabix or Bran Flakes with semi-skimmed milk for brunch and then a main meal of fresh seafood or poultry served with salad or boiled vegetables. For hunger we allowed fresh fruit or carrot sticks. I also gave up alcohol but replaced this with carbonated water.

                    I take regular prescription medication (a statin, an anti-hypertensive, a diuretic). I checked my blood pressure on a home monitor. On Day 1 I weighed myself. I recorded my initial collar size, chest, waist and thigh measurement.

                    I have not taken up any additional activity or formal exercise. I did however start a daily journal with the intention of using it for the basis of this review.

                    RESULTS

                    The first point of assessment was as I was coming to the end of my six week Ultra Mega-T regime. Did I lose the promised 20 pounds? Well, not quite - but I had lost 17½ pounds. I was quite happy with this figure as most authorities agree that slow and steady weight loss is more likely to be maintained in the long term than sudden crash diets. More significantly though is where the weight has gone from. I had dropped one shirt collar size, one inch of chest, one and a half inches of waist and three quarters of an inch of upper thigh.

                    Given my training and background I have to declare my innate scepticism for all things herbal or alternative. I did read around the subject and looked up the listed ingredients in the tablets to check on warnings and possible side effects. The level of chromium is quite high (although no dangerously so) and well above the RDA. Because of this I would not wish to take multiple courses of Mega-T products. Six weeks is probably enough. If you haven't lost weight by then, well it isn't going to work for you. There are no particular dangers with the herbal ingredients although many authorities counselled that there was no scientific proof of their efficacy in the uses described.

                    We have significantly altered our eating habits with a greatly increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. We have not noticed the lack of fats - no pizza, chips or cream. After the first few days I have not wanted beer in the evenings.

                    By twelve weeks, my gentle weight loss has continued. At the last weigh-in, I am pleased to announce that the poundage shed has reached twenty nine!! Yes: just over two stones. I am now at the stage when I realise that a second extra hole has to be made in the belt and trousers are getting distinctly baggy.

                    I did not recognise any complications or side effects whilst taking the tablets. My blood pressure has stayed stable.

                    CONCLUSIONS

                    So, does Ultra Mega-T work? From a pharmacological or active ingredient point of view in all honesty I do not know. I would be quite prepared to accept that it does what it says and that the usually sage Chinese have known these truths for centuries. Actual proof has to be the preserve of a large properly controlled trial and as far as I can ascertain that has never been done. The claims made in the advertising of these products does appear to be largely anecdotal.

                    However I can confirm that I have lost an agreeable amount of weight (and have trimmed my beer reviewer's appendage in the process). We did not count calories rigorously but probably did not exceed 1500 a day.

                    There is no doubt that whatever method of dieting you choose the most critical component is willpower. Anything which helps to bolster that willpower will also help your ultimate goal. It is just as likely that Ultra Mega-T works as a placebo; certainly just drinking that increased amount of fluid tends to suppress your appetite. Once started, a journal was also a powerful incentive to keep going. It became my 'debt of honour' to persist and it was quite surprising how comforting "fifteen days since last alcohol" was to me in the early days. I can now share these conclusions with you.

                    As for the future, my ultimate target is to reduce my weight by a further 10 pounds or so. We will maintain our current dietary regime and will continue to shun the alcohol and most fatty foods. There will be two changes. Firstly I shall not be taking any further supplements for the reason given above. Secondly as we have access to a treadmill, I will now start a graduated but regular exercise regime.

                    I will also keep the journal going so watch out for future developments. As for this review I think it's worth five stars - and those are awarded to me for effort!!!

                    AVAILABILITY

                    In the United States:
                    Ultra Mega-T 45 day supply (90 tablets) Walgreens, drug stores, major supermarkets $16.99

                    By internet: Amazon.com $14.12 plus p&p

                    POSTSCRIPT 1. MEAL PLAN DAY 12

                    Breakfast: 6oz Vegetable Juice; Boccoli & ham frittata; Decaffeinated tea or coffee
                    Mid morning snack: 1-2 Turkey roll-ups (turkey breast slice with romaine lettuce)
                    Lunch: Greek salad; Sugar free jelly
                    Mid afternoon: 6 small mozzarella cheese balls
                    Dinner: Grilled shrimps, grilled tomatoes, steamed asparagus
                    Dessert: 4oz Lemon zest ricotta

                    POSTSCRIPT 2. THE MEGA EXERCISE PLAN

                    In two parts, the flexibility warm up exercises consisted of ten actions (arm circles, achilles stretches, trunk benders) followed by eight callisthenics (pushups, side leg lifts). You should do 10 repetitions of each exercise resting for about 30 seconds between each set.

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                    • More +
                      23.10.2006 19:36
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                      The source of a huge hit and a huge controversy

                      The opening song "Bittersweet Symphony" from the album "Urban Hymns" by The Verve was one of the most haunting sounds of 1997. It dominated the charts and airwaves that year and has continued to be used as background music in television programmes and advertisements, including those for Nike and Vauxhall. It is one of those tunes that you will surely have heard even if you cannot place its origin. The song became a bittersweet experience for its author Richard Ashcroft. The refrain he used was taken from, at that time, a little known arrangement of a Rolling Stones song (NOT the original) which had appeared on an album long since deleted from the catalogue.

                      When it was first released in June 1966, "The Songbook" was the fourth in a series of albums recorded by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. It was subtitled "Instrumental versions of their greatest hits". Perhaps because of the notoriety which the affair generated, perhaps because of the persistence of this one tune, DECCA records reissued "The Rolling Stones Songbook" in CD format in 2004. It should come as no surprise why I bought this album. I already owned The Verve CD and I was intensely curious to hear the original and to see what all the fuss was about. This is your opportunity to 'sample' it too.

                      THE MAN

                      Andrew Loog Oldham was born in 1944 and raised in London. He left school at the age of 16 with every intention of going into show business. His early experience was with Brian Epstein and The Beatles. In April 1963 he was introduced to the Rolling Stones and became their manager until the end of 1967. He was flamboyant in style and was instrumental in promoting their aggressive appearance and sound.

                      Although he had no musical background he 'discovered' and produced the early efforts of Marianne Faithful, co-writing "As Tears Go By". He set up his own record label (Immediate) in 1967 which produced, amongst others, Rod Stewart, Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton. He 'retired' to Bogota in Colombia in 1983 but still has links with the music industry.

                      THE ORCHESTRA

                      Early in his career Oldham was influenced by the US producer Phil Spectre and he put together his own orchestra which bore his name. In 1964, DECCA records allowed Oldham to produce a series of singles which featured his orchestra on the 'B' side. As the Rolling Stones developed their repertoire, so Oldham used rearrangements of their songs as a different medium to help 'grow' the band. Although he could not read or write music he worked very closely with arranger David Whittaker to produce this series of albums.

                      As well as employing session musicians, the Andrew Oldham Orchestra also featured guest 'pop artists' of the day including John Paul Jones, Big Jim Sullivan, Jimmy Page and Nicky Hopkins. The Orchestra ceased functioning during 1966 at a time when the Rolling Stones horizons were rapidly expanding.

                      Oldham reports: "I loved the old orchestral style and enjoyed adding that dimension to a form of music that was regarded as new, trashy, non-lasting and disposable".

                      THE ALBUM

                      The following is the running order and track length with some thoughts about the content of each.

                      1. Blue Turns To Grey (02:58)

                      A short string cadenza leads to piano chords and then the main theme of this opening track. Horns, strings, throbbing and a cow bell gather together like a merging of Phil Spectre and James Last. There are some indistinct voices adding a chorus. The whole effect is rather muddled. This track appeared on the LP "December's Children".

                      2. Satisfaction (02:57)

                      Way down groaning and growling from the bases and then the lower register horns introduce a rather bluesy jazz rendition of "(I Can't Get No …)". The main theme starts on a trumpet which sounds as if it was at the back of the studio. 'La la' voices, clanking percussion and a tinkling piano join muted brass in the chorus.

                      3. You Better Move On (03:11)

                      Tinkling cymbals preface a Duane Eddy style guitar theme which is accompanied by Herb Alpert brass. It is taken at a fairly slow, laid back pace. This track was also featured on the Stones album "December's Children"

                      4. Time Is On My Side (03:18)

                      The Stones elements of this tune are almost entirely lost. This is a swing-style rendition that could have featured a lead from Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or been part of a 1960s film soundtrack. The backing rhythm is jaunty. The song is not a Jagger / Richards composition and appeared on the Stones album "High Tide and Green Grass". Sorry, I've forgotten this one already!

                      5. Heart Of Stone (03:06)

                      This track is taken at a fairly slow pace with an incessant drum beat. The verses are given as a dialogue between lead and bass guitar. There are some high pitched humans lurking in the background chanting 'This heart of stone'. Again the main theme is rather muddled and at times, I was convinced I was listening to "Anyone Who Had A Heart"

                      6. As Tears Go By (02:34)

                      Woodwind take the lead into the melody which is given a pleasant lyrical rendition. This is closer to the Faithful than the Jagger version, which is perhaps not surprising as Oldham was a co-author and also produced her record. The song appeared as the 'B'-side of "19th Nervous Breakdown" in the UK.

                      7. Play With Fire (02:23)

                      Percussion, tinkling keyboards and guitars play against each other in this version which sounds as if it were recorded in a large cavern. The track fades out to the chime of bells. The tune is recognisable and is taken at about the same pace as the original. This was the 'B'-side of the Stones single "The Last Time".

                      8. Theme For A Rolling Stone (03:15)

                      This is credited as an Andfrew Loog Oldham composition. The first half is a fairly nondescript middle of the road string ballad. About half way the pace is dramatically speeded up for a moment for no apparent reason. I was reminded for a moment of The Shadows without the twang.

                      9. Tell Me (04:02)

                      Clanging bells introduce what becomes a slow raw "wall of sound" arrangement. Tinkling piano ripples feature in the middle 8. This was a track from the 1964 "The Rolling Stones" album. It was released as a single in the US reaching number 24.

                      10. Congratulations (03:02)

                      Not Cliff Richard or even The Traveling Wilburys, this appeared on the 'B' side of "Little Red Rooster" in the US and on the "12 x 5" album. This is yet another slow, nondescript amalgam of sounds and instruments which leaves no lasting memory.

                      11. The Last Time (03:47)

                      After an announcement on the side and bass drums the theme is introduced on chiming bells. Rolling string refrains pick up the verse. The chorus is a restrained series of hanging chords accompanied by an insistent tambourine. The tempo and rhythm are so different from the original.

                      COMMENTS

                      It takes some thought to come up with a simple conclusion about this offering.

                      Let me start with the last track first. This version of "The Last Time" is the stand-out track of the album by miles. It has a haunting quality to it that demands repeat exposure. I am not in the least surprised that it got its hooks into Richard Ashcroft. It is crying out to be completed with a vocal refrain. Listening to it now it is obvious that the two versions are different and I doubt that if you know "Bittersweet Symphony" you could avoid running its words through your head while playing this version. For this alone I consider that it was worthwhile tracking the album down.

                      As for the rest I have to ask whether these do constitute "The Stones Greatest Hits". I have to try to consider this question from the perspective of the mid 1960s rather than the present. Even back then, apart from "Satisfaction", I would contend that at best we are given renditions of a couple of early successes padded out with some less well known 'B' sides and album tracks.

                      Despite his lack of musical experience Andrew Loog Oldham was the leader of his own orchestra at the age of 19. Regardless of these limitations it would still have been possible to arrange and produce an album of attractive and innovative sounds featuring what was to become one of the world's biggest and longest lasting supergroups. The mid 1960s was a time of experimentation in popular music. The James Last Orchestra had a huge following and he arranged the hits of the day in his inimitable style. As the decade proceeded groups turned more frequently to "classical" arrangements (The Moody Blues "Days Of Future Passed" is an example)

                      Unfortunately for the most part, although the original Stones melodies are still discernable, the arrangements are nondescript, the recording quality is poor and the overall sound tends to become a muddle. There are passing references to the style of other contemporaneous bands (as I have mentioned in passing). There are some moments which are quite pleasing but these are few and far between. Apart from "The Last Time" there is nothing memorable about the package.

                      Would I buy this album again? I was looking for the origin of "Bittersweet Symphony" and I found it. In that I was successful. I do play this one track from time to time but the remainder of the album is forgettable. The paradox is, I guess, that had it not been for Richard Ashcroft and his meddling, the whole album would have remained out of print and buried in the archives.

                      My recommendation at the end of this review merely reflects this one track and its fascinating story.

                      AVAILABILITY

                      The CD is packaged in a standard jewel case and this is over-wrapped in a cardboard sleeve. It is this cover which is the photograph above. The rear of the cardboard cover credits The Verve's involvement in creating "Bittersweet Symphony" from "The Last Time". Inside there is a fourteen page booklet which contains a historical commentary of Oldham, his orchestra and its works written by Mark Paytress in 2004. The rear cover is graced by a rather bizarre undated diatribe penned by Oldham himself which concludes: 'Have you noticed how even umbrellas in the south are black / dreaming of their day of revolt / when then they refuse to open / and their condemned white owners are reduced to non-people / in a sea of acid / that fell from the sky / and said Hi / in a silk tie / (and if I'm not careful Sonny Bono will sue me / see if I Cher) / My hair's not too long / and neither is the ellpee. /'

                      "The Rolling Stones Songbook" - The Andrew Oldham Orchestra. DECCA 9816711

                      Amazon.co.uk - £ 6.97

                      Samples of all eleven tracks can be found at:
                      http://www.cduniverse.com

                      A BITTERSWEET POSTSCRIPT

                      "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, this life
                      Trying to make ends meet
                      You're a slave to money then you die"

                      There are various versions of the story of "Bittersweet Symphony" but the details given below appear to be the most generally accepted.

                      Ashcroft used the Andrew Loog Oldham arrangement of "The Last Time" as the basis for this track. Some accounts credit him with sampling the refrain and then overdubbing it; others that he rewrote and rearranged it himself adding further strings. Ashcroft further believed that he had a licence agreement to use the sample but after the album was released it was challenged that he had "used too much" of the music and led to a protracted legal battle. The lawsuit was initiated by Allen Klein, Chairman of ABKCO records, the company which owned the recording rights to the Rolling Stones songs. As a result, copyright for this song reverted to ABKCO causing Ashcroft and The Verve to lose control of "Bittersweet Symphony" and the rewards from it. The song was nominated for a Grammy which went to Jagger and Richards. The band split up fairly soon afterwards.

                      It is reported that both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were approached at the time of the record's release but declined to get involved in the argument. In retrospect, Andrew Loog Oldham appeared philosophical about the affair and is quoted as saying: "I'm more than proud to be the backing track to one of the best and most played records of the '90s."

                      It is because of this that the sleeve notes of that album credit "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (not "The Last Time") as written by Jagger and Richards; performed and published by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra with vocals by Richard Ashcroft. It is all the more curious that of over 20 reviews of "Urban Hymns" that I looked up only two mention that the tune was sampled from a Rolling Stones song; and only one other mentions the name of Andrew Loog Oldham.




                      [Chart information and track content has been gleaned from "The Great Rock Discography" - Sixth Edition (2002) by M.C.Strong]

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                      • More +
                        16.10.2006 16:00
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                        A champion standby for a quick salad or celebration dish

                        I'm a sucker for all things crustacean. Fresh lobster, shrimp, crevette, crab - whatever it is, bring it on. I guess what I'm travelling my ultimate favourite winter treat is the Floridian stone crab. This delicacy is made all the more attractive because only its huge claw is harvested and the animal is thrown back into the ocean to grow a new one. Unfortunately it only has a short season from mid October to mid May.

                        In our part of the world cooked shrimp and prawns are available at most supermarkets. It is somewhat unusual though to find other than dressed crab - a half shell packed with miscellaneous flake white and coral meat, covered in a piece of polythene. Recently I found an alternative source of white crab meat which is almost as delicious as fresh caught and which can be used equally cold with salad or as an ingredient for several fish dishes.

                        Sainsbury's white crab meat comes from crabs caught by fishermen and prepared locally in Vietnam. The meat is taken from the claws and legs (there is no pink or coral used here). It is lightly simmered in salted water and added sugar, citric acid and preservatives. The meat is then broken up into thumbnail sized chunks, canned, labelled and shipped to the UK.

                        The label has a predominantly yellow background while the contents of the tin are identified in white and orange print. There is a picture of the silhouette of a shrimp boat. With the top removed the crab meat is protected with a layer of greaseproof and gives off a dainty and light salty seaside aroma. The meat has a pleasant sweet and salty crab flavour and a firm texture. To date I have not found any shards of shell in any one of the tins.

                        This is a very low calorie and low fat foodstuff. The drained weight of flesh is 120 grams (gross weight in the tin with the liquid is 170 grams) and 100 grams provides 77 kcals. One tin is sufficient for two people.

                        The price: £ 2.17 per can

                        A MENU

                        Here's a delicious serving suggestion now that you have opened the tin of crab and admired the contents. The supermarkets still have good stocks of fresh asparagus. Combined with chicken and crab this most English of vegetables is very quick and easy to prepare but wonderful and filling dinner dish.

                        The origin of this recipe is attributed to King Oscar II of Sweden (1829 - 1907) who was reputed to thoroughly enjoy escallops of veal dressed with crab and asparagus. This alternative version using chicken is considered to be more politically correct.

                        Classic Chicken Oscar (Serves 4)

                        1 tin Sainsbury's White Crab Meat
                        4 chicken breasts (boned)
                        24 asparagus spears
                        1 small onion
                        1 tomato
                        Seasoned flour
                        Seasoning to taste.
                        Small quantity of Oil
                        Knob of butter
                        1 jar Sainsbury's Hollandaise sauce

                        Place each chicken breast between layers of cling film and beat flat with a rolling pin. Season flour with freshly milled pepper and dip both sides of the chicken to coat. Place the asparagus in slightly salted boiling water for about three minutes - the stalks should be tender but still slightly crisp. If used, you could tie the asparagus spears into a bundle and boil in an asparagus pot.

                        Melt the knob of butter with a small amount of oil in a skillet. Place the chicken breasts in the skillet, turning once, until cooked and each side is browned (about four minutes per side) Keep warm in a hot oven. In the mean time, finely chop the onion and the tomato. Add the onion to the skillet and cook over a moderate heat until it starts to caramelise. Then add the chopped tomato and season with a little more pepper (I also added a small quantity of paprika, mixed herbs and ground cinnamon), turn up the heat and mix together to dry off. Don't let the mixture burn! Turn down the heat again and add the drained crab meat. Stir thoroughly. Heat through the Hollandaise sauce.

                        To assemble the dish:

                        Place the chicken breast onto a plate Arrange six asparagus spears on top of the chicken. Then place a mound of the crab meat mixture on top of the asparagus and drizzle Hollandaise sauce over the assembly. Serve with boiled new potatoes

                        Irresistible! You could try making your own Hollandaise sauce if you have the time.

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                          15.10.2006 18:42
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                          An excellently updated recording

                          I am taking you back in time over thirty years for this review - back to the days of "Tommy", flower power and the concept album.

                          The Moody Blues produced two studio albums in 1969: this is the first and was also the last that was issued on the DERAM label. It is programme music in the sense that the tracks run one into the next without a definite end. Indeed on the original vinyl LP the final strains were recorded into the run-out track so that if the stylus was not lifted the music never ended. I well remember finding myself fast asleep in the armchair under its influence.

                          In 2003 Universal Music embarked on a project to re-master the first five of the Moody Blues albums from the original tapes using modern production techniques. They also decided to issue additional tracks - alternative takes and versions - which were not included on the final album. This is the 2006 deluxe SACD edition and this review, the third in the series.

                          THE ALBUM

                          There is also a loose thematic concept running through "Threshold". There are suggestions of the dream like quality of life with psychedelic overtones. The first few tracks start cheerfully enough but the atmosphere becomes increasingly introspective as the album proceeds. Many of the arrangements are complex and the sounds experimental and adventurous for the day. This album needs to be listened to in its entirety and may need several plays for its full impact to be felt.

                          The line up is the familiar five of the first period: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Mike Pinder, Graeme Edge, Ray Thomas. The album reached No.1 on the album charts in the UK in April 1969, and a peak of No.20 the following month in the US. The original album is short even by Moody Blues standards (37 minutes).

                          The following is the play list and my personal rating (out of five) of each track

                          1. In The Beginning (2:07) ***

                          An ethereal, 'music of the spheres' sound initiates the album. This leads into a Graeme Edge spoken verse which is broken up into several different vocal types (human and digitised).

                          2. Lovely To See You Again (2:34) *****

                          A rousing Justin Hayward song with happy sentiments sung by voices in unison. This is accompanied by chiming guitars and the Moody Blues familiar 'wall of sound'

                          3. Dear Diary (3:56) ****

                          This is a slower Ray Thomas song with his usual lighter hearted slant on life ("Someone exploded an 'H'-bomb today but it wasn't anyone I knew"). The voices have been filtered and modified. They are accompanied by a complex synthesiser, flute and string arrangement with jazz overtones.

                          4. Send Me No Wine (2:21) *****

                          John Lodge sings an upbeat ballad with a good melody and flowing harmonies.

                          5. To Share Our Love. (2:53) **

                          This is a very different John Lodge sound which does not work for me. There is a discordant beginning with an intrusive bass track. The voices are out of step. Not a typical Moody's sound.

                          6. So Deep Within You (3:07) ***

                          A moody but romantic song from Mike Pinder accompanied by Mellotrons.

                          7. Never Comes The Day (4:43) *****

                          Justin Hayward has continued to develop his 'two tone' brand of songs. These often start with a slow plaintive verse which he accompanies on his guitar and then there is a build up to the crescendo of the chorus. This romantic song is of such a mould. The chorus exhibits soaring guitars, soaring vocal harmonies and string sounds.

                          8. Lazy Day (2:43) ***

                          Again a Ray Thomas song with a similar feel the 'Dear Diary' although the voices are recorded 'straight' on this occasion. The words are simple reflecting an uncomplicated way of life where expectations are not high. ("That Sunday roast is something good to eat. Must be lamb today because beef was last week") A harmonica supports the middle section.

                          9. Are You Sitting Comfortably. (3:30) ****

                          This is a collaboration between Justin Hayward and Ray Thomas and is a slow, melodic song with a dream-like quality (there are references to visiting Seven Wonders of the World, Camelot and Merlin). The backing is a melange of horns, flutes and synthesisers.

                          10. The Dream (0:57) ***

                          Graeme Edge reads a verse which could be part 3 of the spoken part from 'Days of Future Passed. He is accompanied by an unearthly backing.

                          11. Have You Heard (Part 1) (1:28) *****

                          This and the following two tracks make up the last part of the album. The track starts with descending cello cadences and then leads into a slow rolling drum and guitar riff. The lyrics are reflective and carry forward the dream concept.

                          12. The Voyage (4:10) *****

                          The middle section is an instrumental blend of Mellotrons, strings and cymbals which rises in a slow crescendo. There are ethereal and celestial sounds with long sustained chords and low rumbling cello effects and flutes. The atmosphere is reminiscent of 'House of Four Doors' from the 'In Search of the Lost Chord' album. There is an overall modern classical feel. The track fades back with a piano continuum to …

                          13. Have You Heard (Part 2) (2:36) *****

                          Descending cello chords lead to the remaining verses of the song. When these are through, there is a slow fade away of the 'music of the spheres' sound.

                          EXTRAS

                          The following is the running order of the bonus tracks.

                          14. In The Beginning
                          15. So Deep Within You
                          16. Dear Diary
                          17. Have You Heard
                          18. The Voyage
                          19. Lovely To See You
                          20. Send Me No Wine
                          21. So Deep Within You
                          22. Are You Sitting Comfortably

                          14, 15, 17 and 18 are presented as the original full "takes" of the tracks in the recording studio. It has been noted before that much of the ambience of the Moody's album comes from the way in which the individual tracks are mixed down and cross faded. The first two tracks are complete here; the first with its ending, the second with it's introduction. On the album, "The Voyage" is spliced into the two halves of "Have You Heard". This is a fascinating way of hearing both elements as separate entities. 16 has an alternative voice part by Ray Thomas.

                          19, 20 were recorded live for John Peel's programme "Top Gear" from February 1969.

                          21, 22 were a session recorded for the BBC programme "The Tony Brandon Show" in April 1969.

                          THE TECHNOLOGY

                          As before I now have copies of both versions of this album in my collection. The disc is a dual layer hybrid CD. The universally accessible layer contains the Stereo CD mix. I have to admit that even this version played into the inputs of a Dolby 5:1 capable amplifier produces a remarkable clarity of sound and a pleasing three dimensional ambiance to the performance.

                          My current equipment, a Denon 2800 player, is not equipped with SACD circuitry. The SACD layer has the version from the 1972 quadraphonic master tapes remixed into a full surround sound output. I have my SACD player on order!!

                          THE PRESENTATION

                          Unlike the first two SACD albums in this 2006 series, "Threshold" has been remixed onto a single disc. Probably because of this, the accolade "DeLuxe Edition" has been dropped and there is no slip case to protect the digipak. Even so they have crammed another nine tracks on to the CD.

                          The 24 page booklet reproduces the original album cover right down to the purple ink, the songbook, photographs and the (now) rather trite eulogy from Lionel Bart (musical luminary of the time). The rather surreal cover illustration, spreading front and back, is again by Phil Travers and components within suggest elements of the songs. The booklet also delivers another chapter in the story of the Moody Blues and how this album came about and recaps events from the previous two albums.

                          AVAILABILITY

                          ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM - Moody Blues (1969)
                          Hybrid SACD (2006) DERAM 983 215-3
                          Amazon.co.uk £10.99
                          Sourced from Amazon Jersey £ 9.89

                          COMMENTS AND CONCLUSIONS

                          The tracks from this album do not figure largely in their current repertoire. I think I recall Ray Thomas playing 'Lazy Day' at a concert we attended a couple of years ago.

                          If you have never listened to the original Moody's this is perhaps not the album to get you started. It is an offering that takes a little bit of effort to get into. I first bought this it in its original incarnation 40 years ago and well remember periods of reverie submerged under its hypnotic effects. I had not listened to this album for several years but I have to admit that I was pleasantly by how well this remastering has "polished up". Maybe it didn't produce quite the same "buzz" in me today as it did when I first heard it - but then I have aged those 30 years; the album has not. It still gave me a warm comforting glow of familiarity.

                          Is the new version worth the extra money (the old CD is still available)? Yes it is. Funnily enough (again I've bought a copy anyway!!) there is enough new material and an excellently updated recording to make this a strong recommendation for the firm fan who already owns the album.

                          I am an inveterate Moodies collector - it has to be in there!

                          Chart statistics from "The Great Rock Discography" 6th edition. 2002 Strong M.C

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                          • More +
                            12.09.2006 16:11
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                            A complete resort hotel for the business traveller, conference goer and dedicated vacationer

                            There are two reasons why we make Tampa our gateway to Florida: its airport (Tampa International in favour of the crowds of holidaymakers and queues that bedevil Orlando International) and this hotel. There are two Hyatt hotels in the city (the other one, the Hyatt Regency, is downtown) and we have stayed at both of them before. Including our most recent visit (July 2006) we have stayed at this one on eight occasions.

                            I have been a member of the Hyatt Gold Passport scheme for a number of years and have been very impressed by the standards that are maintained in their premises both in Europe and the States. Founded in the mid 1960s on the West Coast of America the companys mission statement has been to create hotels that are more opulent, more spacious and more attentive to the needs of the business and discerning vacation traveller. The hotels are usually sited in city centres or close by major airports. They also tend to be built around impressive multi-storey atria and many have distinctive water features.

                            THE HOTEL

                            The Grand Hyatt Resort, Tampa Bay is a multi-storey building (it stands next to an office block of similar design) which occupies a triangular area of land on the western coastline of old Tampa Bay adjacent to the Courtney Campbell Causeway. This is one of three bridges which carry the road connections between Tampa and the cities of St Petersburg and Clearwater on the opposite shore. On the landward side of the building is Tampa International Airport and the hotel is clearly visible from planes taxiing to and from the runway. The hotel is approached from SR (State Road) 60 either from the Causeway or from the Veterans Expressway.

                            A long drive winds from the main road up to the lobby entrance. The hotel stands in its own 35 acre nature reserve looking out over Old Tampa Bay. The main building houses 445 rooms and suites and there are a further 30 Spanish style Cassitas at the far end of the grounds.

                            On arrival, the main entrance and valet parking stand are to the right, the entrance to the multi-storey car park to the left of a cul de sac in which is also situated a taxi rank and the terminus for the hotel shuttle buses.

                            Huge glass double doors (almost always manned by a cheery bell hop) open up into the air conditioned interior. The large atrium is an impressive creamy-sand coloured marble clad area with pillars and a vaulted decorated ceiling painted with palm trees. The reception area and check-in desks are to the left, to the right is a casual seating and waiting area. Beyond reception is the concierge desk, a small gift shop, the business centre and the lifts to all floors. Straight ahead the floor leads past Petey Browns Restaurant (left) and the lobby bar (right).

                            On the far side of the restaurant are reception and conference rooms. The first floor features a fully equipped gymnasium and leisure centre. The hotel also boasts a beauty parlour, hairdresser, nail salon and florist.

                            On the far (glass fronted, west facing) side of the hotel, a series of doors lead out into the grounds. Immediately outside is the main swimming pool, towel hut, loungers and sun brollies and the pool side bar. The area behind the pool which stretches down to the waters edge of Tampa Bay is salt marsh covered with mangrove. This is a haven for many water birds (we have seen flamingos, osprey, heron and sandpipers), crabs, fish and lizards. An elevated boardwalk has been laid through the mangrove, one limb of which leads to the gazebo an observation platform which has been equipped with binoculars). From here there are distant views of the bridges, fishermen plying their trade and, occasionally, a school of frolicking dolphins.

                            The other limb leads down to the south end of the property. From here a path winds through the Cassitas (one and two bedroom detached mini-villas with their own parlours) which are grouped around decorative fish ponds. There is a second, and more secluded, swimming pool and close by the tennis courts. There is also a short pier stretching out into the bay. This is where the motor launch (available for hire for dinner parties and cruises around the bay) is moored. At the tip of the resort is the Oystercatcher restaurant and bar.

                            CHECK IN

                            Our current stay consisted of six nights after our arrival in Florida and then one further night immediately before our departure. It was confirmed to us that we would have the same room for both parts of the stay.

                            We were expected and remembered!! One of the great delights of this hotel is the stability and the cheeriness of its staff. Over the years, we have recognised the same faces (promoted with the passage of time) and they have recognised us. It has been something of an amusement to my wife that I am always greeted by name as soon as I draw up outside the hotel even before checking in. On this most recent visit I saw that Joseph was on duty (resplendent in his new Bell Captains hat) as I drove up the drive. Sure enough, he greeted me in his customary fashion (the title of this review) as soon as I alighted. The cases were swiftly unloaded and we were ushered in to the lobby to check in.

                            We were greeted, again by name, by Celeste, the Front Office Supervisor. Our reservation was confirmed. As a Diamond Gold Passport member we were able to trade in a complementary four day suite upgrade voucher (we had already booked a suite and so our tariff was adjusted accordingly). We were also entitled to a Welcome Amenity which gave us the choice of two items from a menu which included chocolate dipped strawberries, cookies and milk, bottles of beer and a basket of fruit.

                            Room keys are of the credit card type and ours granted access to the Regency Club. We would be entertaining friends during our stay, so a booking was made at the Oystercatcher.

                            OUR ROOM

                            We were a party of three my wife and I and grown-up daughter. We were allocated a Regency suite which consisted of adjoining rooms (1401 and 1403). These were at the far end of the top floor of the hotel reached through double doors opposite to the foyer of Armanis.

                            Opening the door to room 1401 leads into a short corridor off which opens a wardrobe with double louvered doors (contained a hanging rail, suitcase stands, iron and ironing board). The room itself was rectangular measuring some 25 feet by 20 feet. It was at the corner of the hotel and windows looked east and south over the airport and the sweep of the city of Tampa in the distance. The room was well double glazed and sound proofed and once drawn the curtains were efficient in cutting off the light.

                            This room had two double beds (we were given the option of using room 1405 which had a single king-sized bed). The mattress was deep and comfortable. The bed was made up with sheets, a blanket and a throw. There was a lattice headboard, fixed to the wall and a number of pillows and cushions. The furnishings were predominantly buff in colour. The walls were decorated with a pair of photographs of frangipani blossoms. There was the expected television in the armoire and there was a night stand to the left of one bed and to the right of the other.

                            The rest of the furniture consisted of a fully stocked but locked mini-bar on top of which was the coffeemaker, glasses and a complementary bottle of water, ice bucket and a pot of boiled sweets. Opposite this was a glass topped desk with writing materials and a telephone (there was another telephone by the side of one of the beds). In between was an easy chair and foot stool and an occasional table bedecked with a with pot plant.

                            The bathroom, next to the main door, was fairly modest in proportion. The bath had a rather ordinary shower over it and a drying line. The basin had a large mirror over it illuminated by two lamps. There was a large supply of bottle green towels. Also supplied was a hair drier and copious soap, bath wash and shampoo.

                            In room high speed internet access is now available at all Hyatt hotels. The Grand Hyatt, Tampa Bay uses a T-Mobile hotspot service ($9.99 per day)

                            Our daughter was given room 1403. This was dressed out as a parlour when we arrived with two seater settee, desk, easy chair, occasional table and television console. There was also a separate wash basin. The sleeping arrangement consisted of a Queen sized Murphy bed (this folds up into a recess in one wall) which quite appealed to her. This room had its own wardrobe and drawer space as well as an en suite bathroom. We were provided with a refrigerator for the duration of our stay which was stationed in this room.

                            The air conditioning was the expected ultra-efficient American standard. We had a nightly turn-down service which left chocolates and a rose corsage on the pillow. We also received six chocolate dipped strawberries and two bottles of Ybor Gold beer with a personalised message of welcome from the management.

                            THE RESTAURANTS AND BARS

                            The Grand Hyatt, Tampa Bay has three full service restaurants. We have dined more than once at all three. Indeed I cannot think of another hotel where I could quite happily eat on property for the whole stay.

                            Petey Browns

                            Approached up a flight of six steps, Pete Browns occupies the left hand side of the ground floor of the hotel. Its size is deceptive as tables sweep away around the corner towards the conference rooms. With its double height ceilings it is a light and airy atmosphere, heightened by the pop art paintings of beach scenes which adorn its walls. Petey Browns is open for all three meals and each is served from a menu or as a serve yourself buffet.

                            Breakfast is available between 6:30am and 11:30am (noon at the weekend). The buffet ($17.95 a head) consists of the cereals, fruits and juices, breads and pastries. There is a hot bar serving eggs and bacon with the expected sides. There is also an omelette station where chef will prepare your choice to order. There is also a menu with such staples as waffles with syrup and strawberries ($12).

                            Petey Browns buffet lunch ($13.95 per head) is renowned around the Tampa Bay area. The buffet display is laid out with over twenty different selections including salads, cold seafood, assorted pastas, savoury vegetables and cheeses. Alongside this are pots of hot soup. There are also hot platters of the day (sometimes pasta, sometimes oriental in style). Again this an all you can eat serve yourself feast.

                            There is also a lunch menu serving the standard American fayre of sandwiches (Cheeseburger; Chicken fillet each $9.50; chicken Caesar salad ($11.50)

                            The lunch menu is available from the end of breakfast until 2:30pm.

                            The evening meal is American-style casual dining. We have tried aged Iowa steaks, baby back ribs and blackened grouper. I was also impressed with my surfnturf (a 9 ounce rare fillet mignon steak served with four of the biggest and juiciest crevettes I had come across) ($32.95) The meal can be completed with a trip to the Haagen Dazs help yourself ice cream bar.

                            Armanis

                            Armani's Restaurant is situated on the fourteenth floor of the hotel. From here windows look out across the panorama of Old Tampa Bay, the city skyline and the airport. Its food style is northern Italian. Dress is somewhat more formal but not obligatory. You would not be out of place in a jacket and tie. The restaurant is closed on Sundays.

                            Its lounge has a well equipped bar with an extensive (and expensive) imported Italian wine list but without draft beer. Nibbles are accompanied by music from a grand piano.
                            The focal point of the restaurant is an amazing antipasti bar, which features an extensive display of cold appetizers where each guest can create their own selection. Their own publicity describes this course as: Antipasto is so stunning that entrees can be anticlimactic. The speciality of the house is veal with Scaloppine Armani its the signature dish. We have also tried the steak and the rabbit. If you can find the room (or if you have the will power to keep some) there is also a damn-the-calories pudding menu laden with chocolate and sauce. I have usually chosen the crème brulee. With a glass of wine, we would expect to pay $75 a head for a three course dinner.
                            Armanis Restaurant has a statewide (and beyond) reputation. It is a place where you may find yourself dining next to a celebrity. It was even once listed in a Sunday Times World Best Ten Restaurants article a couple of years ago. Amongst a wall full of awards it has received a Mobil Four Star; AAA Four Diamond Award and a Zagat - "Extraordinary" plaque.

                            The Oystercatcher

                            At the far end of the grounds is another restaurant which is a regional favourite. The Oystercatcher, as its name suggests, offers an array of fresh fish and seafood dishes with a Key West-style flair. It has a small bar which in the evening employs the services of a guitarist to serenade the diners. There is also a cigar balcony over which fly the aircraft on their final approach to the airport. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and tables offer views out over the bay and, at night, fantastic sunsets.

                            Ove the last few years we have dined here quite regularly and have developed our own particular favourites from the menu. Their shrimp cocktail is superb with huge crevettes served on crushed ice and two varieties of dipping sauce. I usually choose the sushi grade tuna which is sliced very thin and served almost raw with shavings of pickled ginger and wasabi cream sauce. The catch of the day is guaranteed to be fresh and varies throughout the year. Some we recognise (red snapper, sea bass, grouper); some are unfamiliar (New Zealand orange roughy). We do try to make at least one trip to Florida during the winter. October 15th to mid May is Florida stone crab season. This delicacy is made all the more attractive because only its huge claw is harvested and the animal is thrown back into the ocean to grow a new one. The Oystercatcher serves some of the best there is.

                            This restaurant is also renowned for its Sunday brunch and because of its popularity you really do have to book ahead. For about $35 a head you can munch your way through a three course hot and cold buffet (seafood, pasta, steak, chicken, roast vegetables) accompanied by ever flowing champagne

                            The Lobby Lounge

                            The main hotel bar is on the ground floor of the hotel opposite Petey Browns. It stocks a full range of domestic and imported bottled beers, wines and spirits. Guinness and beers are also on draft. The head barman is also a long serving member of staff and he too has a lexiconic memory for clients favourite tipples. (Ybor Gold and Bombay Sapphire, easy on the ice?). There is always a fresh plate of olives and mixed nuts awaiting each new arrival.

                            The bar is seated out with brown leather armchairs and settees. Mounted on pillars at diagonals from the bar are two large plasma screen televisions continuously tuned in to a high definition sports channel. We were able to see the live broadcast of Englands demise from the World Cup!

                            THE REGENCY CLUB

                            The Regency Club is on the twelfth floor. You need special access permission from the front desk and then your room key will stop the lift at that floor. It is a members lounge which has its own concierge desk, seating for reading and quiet contemplation and superb views across the bay.

                            A complementary continental breakfast (cereals and fruit, bagels, Danish pastries) is served from 6:30 to 11am. Plates of hors doevres are laid out at 5pm and then chocolates and sweetmeats appear at 08:30pm. Coffee and soft drinks are provided free of charge but alcoholic beverages are served on a room charge basis.

                            Once again the permanent Regency Club staff have been in place for as long as we have been visiting. The evening server was originally from Essex and always takes the opportunity of swapping news and tales from the Old Country!

                            THE ENVIRONS

                            The hotel is well served by the road network. A very pleasant fifteen minute drive away across the causeway will bring you to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach. Inland beyond the airport is the new International Shopping Mall and behind that is the Raymond James Stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Glazer organisation owners of Manchester United)

                            The highway south leads to the interstate (I275). Westbound leads you over the Howard Frankland Bridge to St Petersburg and its beaches. East will take you to Busch Gardens and then to the I4 (for Orlando and Disneyworld about 75 miles away). Downtown Tampa hosts its business district, the Florida Aquarium and the cruise ship terminal.

                            BOOKING

                            We book through the Hyatt.com website but do also check with the hotel front desk prior to our arrival for any special offers. On this visit our two bedroom suite was quoted at a rate of $450 per night. However by the time of our arrival this had been reduced to a Summer special of $375 per night. With our suite upgrade card we were charged only for a King sized room for four nights of the stay.

                            The current Hyatt.com rates for a King sized (double occupancy ) room in May 2007 are $229 per night (Monday to Thursday) and $179 per night (Friday to Sunday)

                            This hotel is very popular with organised tours and conferences. At the beginning of our stay we found ourselves amongst the Annual Convention of the Royal Order of Jesters!

                            The Grand Hyatt, Tampa Bay is a five star resort hotel, but it is an establishment with a heart. It is comfortable and comforting. Its superb food makes going out of the door a chore. It is unusual to be recognised and to be remembered - and this is a testament to the quality of the staff. It really does feel like coming home. I can heartily recommend it.

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                              08.09.2006 18:14
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                              "Just open your eyes and realize the way it's always been"

                              I have to admit that my first view of the Moody Blues playing ‘live’ was on BBC television’s “The Lulu Show” back in 1970 when they performed the title track of this album. I had of course experienced their previous studio offerings and was well versed in the Moody sound. “Question of Balance” remains a firm favourite from their early years and is a good introduction to their musical style. It also demonstrates the distinctive vocal styles of each of the group. The lyrics are less “acid” than some offerings but still plumb the depths (the “Whats”, the “Whys”) of man’s condition in life.

                              “Question of Balance” was their fifth studio album and recorded in 1970. In 2003 Universal Music embarked on a project to re-master all five of these early Moody Blues albums from the original tapes using modern production techniques. They also decided to issue additional tracks, alternative takes and other versions which were not included on the final album. This review is of the 2006 SACD edition.

                              This album is perhaps the best example of the all round, all pervading sound of the Moody Blues from its climactic start to the final note. The Moodys gained the reputation of building a distinctive ‘orchestral’ wall of sound. The tracks tend to run one into the next. The opening of the next track is usually subdued and gives a (temporary) feeling of anti-climax but it too develops into its logical and majestic conclusion.

                              THE ALBUM

                              At 38½ minutes this is a fairly short album but is packed with dynamic rock at its best. The line up is the established one from the early period: Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Mike Pinder and Graeme Edge. They all contributed songs and the cover notes indicate that all instruments were played by the Moody Blues.

                              Question was released as a single (coupled with “Candle of Life” from “Children’s Children’s Children” as the B-side) reaching number 2 in the UK and No 21 in America in April 1970. The album reached No.1 in the UK album charts in August 1970 and No.3 in the States the following month.

                              The running order and my personal appraisal of each track (marked out of five) is given below.

                              1. Question *****

                              The most remarkable and dramatic start to the album with belting guitars, strident strings and vocal harmonies, this is the Moody’s ‘wall of sound’ at its best. Justin Hayward describes how he had two songs, both in the key of C that he could not complete and he eventually combined them to this one. There are such contrasts between the aggressive choruses “Why do we never get an answer when we’re knocking at the door with a thousand million questions about hate and death and war” and the tender longing of the verses “I’m looking for someone to change my life. I’m looking for a miracle in my life”.

                              At one point there was a suggestion that the song was a protest against the Vietnam War and a video of the time (included on the “Legends of a Band” DVD) also hints of this.

                              A real “goose bumper” of a track!! It has always been one of my own favourites.

                              2. How Is It (We Are Here) ***

                              A song from Mike Pinder which demonstrates the anti-climactic beginning. There again you wonder how anything could follow “Question” but in its own way the song does. The track is accompanied by Mellotron and guitar with string sounds in the chorus.

                              3. And The Tide Rushes In *****

                              Ray Thomas starts his first song on the album quite quietly with an acoustic guitar accompaniment. There is also a short instrumental middle section with complex guitar melodies before with final crescendo.

                              4. Don’t You Feel Small ****

                              Again the feeling of anti-climax is heightened by the change of key and rhythm. This is one of Graeme Edge’s best songs. The vocals proceed initially in unison with a whispered voice giving an uncomfortable emphasis to the words. There are flute trills in the background. The tempo progressively increases throughout the track.

                              5. Tortoise And The Hare ***

                              Another change of key! John Lodge’s rocker has a driving drum beat and chiming guitars but quite understated vocals.

                              6. It’s Up To You *****

                              This is another classic Justin Hayward composition and shows off his distinctive voice in the lyrical romantic verses “When the breeze between us calls, love comes and lingers into our lives” counterbalanced by rhythmic chiming guitars. The other group members provide a distinctive descant harmony.

                              This song was the great opener to Side 2 of the original album.

                              7. Minstrel’s Song *****

                              The second John Lodge song is a slower ballad with a gentle beat. There are many complex vocal harmonies in the verses which lead through a slow crescendo to the vocal refrains of the chorus sung in unison.

                              8. Dawning Is The Day *****

                              This is a slow song from Justin with quiet reflective verses. These are offset by an emotional chorus with Justin’s voice accompanied by Ray’s flute and the background ‘wall of sound’.

                              9. Melancholy Man ****

                              A self-explanatory song from Mike Pinder using voices coming down the scale both in unison and descant. Again the track is a long crescendo to its conclusion.

                              10. The Balance ****

                              This is Graeme Edge’s once customary monologue. He is accompanied by muted guitars and vocal harmonies. There is a mystical, possibly religious, slant to the words of the verses and a hint of hope for the future “Just open your eyes and realise the way it’s always been … Just open your heart and that’s a start”.

                              THE EXTRAS

                              There are six previously unreleased tracks appended to the album. The play order is as follows:

                              11. Mike’s Number One
                              12. Question
                              13. Minstrel’s Song
                              14. It’s Up To You
                              15. Don’t You Feel Small
                              16. Dawning Is The Day

                              11 is a curiosity in that it is a Mike Pinder composition and is performed live but incomplete during one of the recording sessions for the album. Mike ceased performing with the Moody Blues in the years between their seventh “Seventh Sojourn” and eighth “Octave” albums. This tape was rediscovered during the restoration work in 2003.

                              12 is an alternative recording of “Question” which formed the basis for the single version of the song. It does feature a rather different arrangement with much less prominent orchestration than the album version.

                              As with many of the early Moody Blues albums it was the post recording mixing and engineering work carried out by producer Tony Clarke that produced the characteristic feel of the whole. Tracks cross faded into one another without gaps between the songs. 13 – 16 are the original recordings prior to that editing and fading.

                              THE PRESENTATION

                              Unlike the first three SACD albums in this 2006 series, “Question” as “Threshold Of A Dream” had been before it is remixed onto a single disc. There is no protective slip case and the accolade “DeLuxe Edition” does not appear here either. There are a further six bonus tracks on the CD.

                              The sleeve reproduces the original gatefold album cover complete with the artwork by Phil Travers. This time it has a planetary and pollution theme with an earth encircled by clouds of smoke, motorcycles, Einstein and rocket ships. The 20 page booklet continues the story of the Moody Blues into the early 1970s and recounts the background to the creation of this album. A songbook is printed over photographs of the members of the group. The rear page gives details of the origin of the additional tracks.

                              THE TECHNOLOGY

                              I have followed the Moody Blues almost from their origins. They write my kind of songs and play my kind of music. I bought copies of all five of these new releases even though it duplicated the CDs in my collection.

                              Does this remastering make any difference? Bearing in mind that I was making the comparison using a Denon 2800 player which is not equipped with SACD circuitry there is a very noticeable improvement in clarity, channel separation and bass tone when the stereo output is passed into a 5:1 surround capable amplifier. There is also a very pleasing three dimensional quality to the while performance.

                              This is a dual layer disc. The universally accessible layer contains the Stereo CD mix. The SACD layer has the 1972 quadraphonic master tapes remixed into a full surround sound output. I can’t wait for my new SACD player!!

                              AVAILABILITY

                              A Question Of Balance Moody Blues 1970
                              Hybrid SACD (2006) THRESHOLD 983 770-6
                              Amazon.co.uk £10.99

                              COMMENTS

                              If you haven’t listened to the Moody Blues before or you want to renew your acquaintance with the band then this re-release is an ideal place to start. Is the new version worth the extra money (the old CD is still available for about £4)? Yes it is. Funnily enough I think there is enough new material and an excellently updated recording to make this a strong recommendation for the firm fan who already owns the album.

                              Mind you, maybe you could say I’m biased. When are they starting the remastering of the next five ….. ?

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                                07.09.2006 23:32
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                                A major evangelical publishing phenomenon without preaching

                                Rayford Steele is an airline pilot. Approaching middle age, he lives in middle American suburbia and has become disenchanted with his job. He has drifted away from his wife who has been spending increasing periods of time at Church and quoting the Bible at him. He has a rebellious twenty year old daughter – Chloë – and a twelve year old son upon whom he dotes.

                                On a routine overnight transatlantic flight to London, Captain Steele is idling away the hours considering whether to arrange a tryst with his senior stewardess – Hattie Durham. They have exchanged flirtatious glances and hints for some time but had not done anything more about it.

                                Before he can make up his mind, Hattie comes into the cabin to report that several of the passengers are missing – that they seem to have just vanished. Where they were sitting were now neatly folded piles of clothes. An incredulous Rayford tells Hattie that initially he does not believe her and then that he does not know what is going on. However he can only think of the warnings that his wife has been giving him over the previous months and deep down in his heart knows only too well….

                                THE BACKGROUND TO THIS BOOK

                                “Left Behind” is the opening salvo in a literary saga that is still unfolding. It is set in the near future and is a dramatisation of perhaps the most terrifying horror story ever written – the Book of Revelation; the final book of the New Testament. This is a work which has generated controversy for nearly two Millennia; about who wrote it, why it was written and what it all means. In simplest form it is a vision about the return of Christ to take his people into Rapture and to create his everlasting Church. It also describes the Great Tribulation – the series of terrors and calamities that mankind will have to face, the rising of the Antichrist and the ultimate battle between good and ill (Armageddon).

                                Go into any branch of the major bookstores in America (Books-a-Million, Barnes and Noble) and you will find large displays of the “Left Behind” phenomenon. Apart from books – hardback and paperback – there are reference books, audio cassettes, videos, calendars, trivial pursuit packs. The flash on the front cover of the latest instalment shows the penetration of these books worldwide: "Over 50,000,000 sold in series”. The first book was published in 1995, and further volumes have been released at regular intervals. The series of twelve books is now complete.

                                THE PLOT OF THE FIRST BOOK:

                                At the start of the story, there have been ominous manoeuvrings on the World’s political and economic stage. A major war has broken out in the middle east with the threat of a full scale invasion of Israel. Major geographical blocks are coalescing to protect trade and in their own defence. The pound has been subsumed into the German Deutschemark (remember this was written in 1995)

                                Then in one cataclysmic instant, millions of people all over the world disappeared. They simply vanished, leaving behind everything material: clothes, glasses, hearing aids, teeth fillings … Millions vanished. But millions more remained – adults, but no children. All babies, including the unborn, disappeared – some during birth.

                                World chaos ensued. Planes, trains, cars crashed. Ships sank. Grieving survivors committed suicide. A transportation and communications gridlock left most to fend for themselves.

                                Some said the world had been invaded by aliens. Some that it was the result of an enemy attack. Rayford Steele’s wife and son disappeared. He and his daughter were left behind. The warning that his wife had given was that Christ had returned to take away his own.

                                Within weeks of the vanishings a mysterious, hypnotic and charismatic figure from Romania charmed his way into the spotlight and swept to power as head of the United Nations promising to unite the devastated globe as one peaceful village. He had a formula that would make crops grow in the desert and as an inducement for its use he persuaded the major world leaders to scrap most of their nuclear weapons and armaments and put the rest under his UN control.

                                In the meantime Rayford and Chloë are introduced to a church minister who was left behind. Between them they start to unravel the mystery of what has happened and come to develop their own faith. They put a small band of similar minded people together as the Tribulation Force, a core group determined to challenge the forces of evil during the Tribulation period predicted in the Bible.

                                Their studies show that the Tribulation will last for seven years and that only one person in four of the Earth’s population will survive. The odds against the Tribulation Force must be far greater.

                                DRAMATIS PERSONNAE:

                                Important characters in the book are:

                                Rayford Steele, Chloë Steele, Hattie Durham.

                                Nicholae Carpathia: former President of Romania , becomes secretary general of UN, takes Hattie firstly as his secretary and then lover. The Antichrist.
                                Cameron Williams: Journalist, founder member of the Tribulation Force, later marries Chloë
                                Tsion Ben Judah: rabbinical scholar and Israeli statesman.
                                Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli botanist and Nobel prize winner.

                                THE AUTHORS

                                The series is by Dr Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Tim LaHaye is a doctor of literature and doctor of ministry. He is an author, minister and international speaker. He is a renowned scholar and researcher on the Bible, prophecy, the Rapture and the Tribulation. It was he who conceived the idea of the “Left Behind” series.

                                Jerry Jenkins is a prolific writer of both fiction and non fiction subjects (biographies – including Billy Graham - and marriage and family matters). He also edits a sports comic strip which appears in American newspapers.

                                THE LEFT BEHIND SERIES AND OTHER MATTERS.


                                The titles (and bye-line) are as follows:

                                LEFT BEHIND: A novel of Earth’s last days
                                TRIBULATION FORCE: The continuing drama of those left behind.
                                NICHOLAE: The rise of Antichrist
                                SOUL HARVEST: The world takes sides
                                APOLLYON: The Destroyer is unleashed.
                                ASSASSINS: Assignment: Jerusalem; Target: Antichrist
                                THE INDWELLING: The Beast takes possession.
                                THE MARK: The Beast rules the world
                                DESECRATION: Antichrist takes the throne
                                THE REMNANT: On the brink of Armageddon
                                ARMAGEDDON: The Cosmic Battle of the Ages
                                GLORIOUS APPEARING: The End of Days

                                The titles have also been gathered together in a variety of boxed collections.

                                There are now two prequels to the Left Behind series.
                                THE RISING: Countdown to Rapture 1
                                THE REGIME: Countdown to Rapture 2

                                There is an accompanying reader entitled: “Are We Living in the End Times”.

                                There is a spin-off series for younger readers (“Left Behind – Kids”) which has to date reached twelve episodes.

                                There are a number of cinematographic projects and one minor movie studio did issue “Left behind – The Movie” starring Brad Johnson in 2000. This was a low budget film which has been released on video and DVD but as the accompanying documentary explains there was hope that they could attract a big name Hollywood director to take up the series.

                                CONCLUSION.

                                “Left Behind” and the rest of the series are a monumental phenomenon. They can be read at several levels. As pure fiction, the story line races along at a frenetic pace. The writing style is very easy to get along with. Once started, it is most likely that you will want to obtain the next volume. The sense of excitement, terror, frustration and anguish is palpable and ongoing. The characters are quite believable – whichever side they are on. Nicholae Carpathia is a classic plausible ingratiating but vicious villain. The interweaving of world events, particularly those from recent history, into the scriptural timeline of the Book of Revelation is uncanny and often unnerving.

                                Clearly there are very significant religious overtones throughout this series. It is after all a dramatisation of part of the Bible. It is put into the context of the interpretations of the mysteries by Evangelical church (I have since read some of the author’s book “Are We Living in the End Times”). However there is no attempt here to thrust religious messages, thump tubs or carry out mass conversions. The storyline starts with the assumption that Christ has returned to take away his chosen people (The Rapture). This is the story of those who are “Left Behind” and the terrors and choices they have to face in the final battle for the Earth (The Tribulation). Where you, the reader, fit into this is entirely your own choice – as indeed it will be IF AND WHEN – this actually happens. Let me put myself into context here and state that the nearest I could come to describing my own religious doctrine would be as a lapsed agnostic with evangelical existential leanings. I WILL certainly be left behind. I strongly commend this book to you.

                                Bear in mind that this is a serial (and not a series) and really should be read in the correct sequence. It is available for order on line from Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk). The format is hardback or large sized paperback.
                                Prices vary through the series but average £ 6.59 per volume.
                                The boxed collection containing the first five titles is currently on offer at $40.92

                                Left Behind – The Movie is available from www.amazon.com (the American branch) on DVD about $4.00
                                Left Behind II - Tribulation Force is also released as a DVD for $ 17.99

                                There is a whole website dedicated to the series and interpretations of the prophecies that underlie it at www.leftbehind.com

                                Dr LaHaye also has a highly personalised and informative site describing how he conceived the series and an account of his ministries at www.timlahaye.com

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                                  07.09.2006 17:39
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                                  The fourth Moody Blues studio album given a superb 2006 makeover

                                  In 2003 Universal Music embarked on a project to re-master the first five of the Moody Blues albums from the original tapes using modern production techniques. They also decided to issue additional tracks – alternative takes and versions – which were not included on the final album. This review is of the fourth of the 2006 deluxe SACD edition series.

                                  “Children’s” was the second of two albums that the Moody Blues recorded in 1969 and the first to be released on their own Threshold label – the label that still hosts their releases in the UK. Interestingly the initial Moody’s releases were the odd numbers. I recollect the even numbers were assigned to emerging bands. THRESHOLD 2 was ‘In the Realms of Asgaard’ by ‘Asgaard’ (Does anyone remember that album or group now?). There was initial talk of them signing the rock outfit King Crimson.

                                  It is another concept album. There are traces of psychedelic influences again (not surprising for the time it was written) . There are orchestral sounds and experimental arrangements. The lyrics are often open to interpretation. There is a theme pervading the whole disc which is pre-occupied with space, time, heredity and eternity. There are hints of the relativity and fragility of the lifetime of man, the lifetime of a planet (seen as a man) and the lifetime of the universe. It is also a programme album in the sense that the songs run one into the next without audible breaks between the tracks. The line up of the band remains Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Ray Thomas, Graeme Edge and Mike Pinder.

                                  The album reached No.2. in the UK album charts and peaked at No.14 in the US. The single release in the US was “Watching and Waiting” but made no impact. Curiously “Candle of Life” was issued as the ‘B’ side of “Question” (from “A Question of Balance”) the following year.

                                  DISC ONE: THE ALBUM

                                  The running order and my personal assessment of each track follows:

                                  1. Higher And Higher. (4:06) ***

                                  An explosive opening sound (lasting 1 minute 20 seconds) is gradually replaced by high flying voices. This is a rocker with an incessant driving beat and contains a Graeme Edge monologue memorable for its “Blasting, Billowing, Bursting Force with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes”. The song announces early man’s arrival with the discovery of fire.

                                  2. Eyes Of A Child. (3:23) ***

                                  A John Lodge song with a slow verse and a gentle upbeat chorus., There is a harp continuum countered by flutes.

                                  3. Floating. (2:58) ***

                                  Ray Thomas provides a standard song with his simplistic words (“Bouncing about on the moon guess you’ll all be up here soon. The candy stores will be brand new and you’ll buy rock with the moon right through”) but with pleasant enough harmonies. This gives a less serious, lighter counterweight to the surrounding songs.

                                  4. Eyes Of A Child (Part 2) (1:23) ***

                                  The final verse of the song is a rocker (clearly distinct from track 2) with soaring voices in the harmonies.

                                  5. I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Hundred. (1:05) ***

                                  This is a short enigmatic song from Justin Hayward sung to a solo guitar accompaniment.

                                  6. Beyond. (2:58) ***

                                  This is somewhat of a rarity – the Moody Blues instrumental track. Composed by Graeme Edge, it comes with short bursts of sound, synthesised noise and interludes driving rhythm. There is also good stereo engineering and channel separation on this track.

                                  7. Out And In (3:47) ****

                                  Again there is the allusion to the passage of time and the journey through life theme here. This is a haunting, melodic sound backed with synthesisers and Mellotrons.

                                  8. Gypsy. (3:33) ****

                                  Justin’s mystical song has a driving beat with then backing of flutes and guitars.

                                  9. Eternity Road (4:19) ***

                                  A gentle song with much more meaningful words from Ray Thomas has upbeat harmonies. It finishes with trills on the flute.

                                  10. Candle Of Life. (4:14) *****

                                  If any, this is the seminal track of the album. It is one of John Lodge’s most haunting song containing such sentiments as “We’re only in the hands of time … burn slowly the candle of life”.

                                  11. Sun Is Still Shining (3:39) ****

                                  The track from Mike Pinder has an eastern sound and rhythm with sitar, percussion and synthesiser.

                                  12. I Never Thought I’d Live To Be A Million. (0:33) ***

                                  A 32 second counterpart to track 5. Presumably the first song refers to man; the second to planet.

                                  13. Watching and Waiting (4:16) ****

                                  This is a wistful and mystical song from Justin and Ray. The words suggest the lonely earth waiting for the eventual companionship of man. It has slow string sounds and a pulsing bass.

                                  Apart from ‘Candle of Life’, there are no single stand-out songs on this disc. However this album is far more than the sum of its parts and for this reason I have made less comment about each individual song than in previous reviews. However all the essential elements of the Moody Blues are there to hear; the soft melodies, the ‘wall of sound’ accompaniments, the complex arrangements, the driving rhythms, the soaring vocal harmonies. Many of the songs exhibit a palindromic structure (verse 1, verse 2, middle 8, verse 2, middle 8, verse 2, verse 1)

                                  DISC TWO: THE EXTRAS

                                  I don’t intend to describe the bonus disc in any great detail but rather give an overview. The running order of disc two is:

                                  1. Gypsy
                                  2. Candle Of Life
                                  3. Sun Is Still Shining
                                  4. Gypsy
                                  5. Sunset
                                  6. Never Comes The Day
                                  7. Are You Sitting Comfortably
                                  8. The Dream
                                  9. Have You Heard / The Voyage / Have You Heard
                                  10. Nights In White Satin
                                  11. Legend Of A Mind

                                  1, 2 and 3 are ‘complete’ versions of tracks which appear on the final album and which were compiled and cross-faded with the tracks that followed them. Each has its full fade out, being some 45 seconds longer than the edited result.

                                  Tracks 4 – 11 comprise a live recording of the band playing a shortened version of their concert of the time. They appeared before an invited audience at the BBCs Paris studio theatre and the show was broadcast as part of the Radio One “David Symonds Show” in December 1969. The songs are taken from all four of their recorded repertoire of the time. It is complete with introductory comments and applause. The quality of the recording is a little suspect in places (there is appreciable tape ‘wow’) but it is a quite remarkable historical commentary of the group at the end of the 60s. It is to be remembered that the remaining three active members are starting their 2006 UK tour this month!

                                  THE TECHNOLOGY

                                  The DeLuxe version is the second copy of this album in my collection. I must admit that I did have some initial reservations that my auditory capabilities would be up to the job of any enhanced performances – I’m of the same vintage as the original vinyl! However I need not have worried for the sound generally is appreciably more rounded and smoother. The bass tones are also more pronounced without being overpowering. Played into a 5:1 surround sound amplifier, the sound effects were stunning.

                                  My current set up (a Denon 2800 DVD player) is not equipped with SACD circuitry. The second layer of Disc 1 has an enhanced digital 5.1 surround sound mix which have been remixed from the 1972 Quadraphonic master tapes. I can’t wait for my new SACD player to arrival!!

                                  THE PRESENTATION

                                  The two disc set is housed in a fold-out “Digipak” style enclosure. For additional protection there is a plastic sleeve printed with the mantra “Deluxe Edition”. The artwork on the sleeve (again by Phil Travers who designed many of the early Moody’s album covers) encapsulates the then and now, ancient and modern, past linked with the future by the present in the juxtaposition of an ancient and a modern hand painting cave sketches complete with rifles and skis. On the back are photographs of the members of the band as well as the track listing of both discs.

                                  The accompanying 20 page booklet contains a history of the band and the album along with more photographs from the time. There is a very primitive songbook on the inside back cover listing the words of the songs. The is also a single page listing giving an indication of the source of the tracks on the bonus disc.

                                  AVAILABILITY

                                  TO OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN’S CHILDREN – The Moody Blues (1969)
                                  THRESHOLD 983 215-6 DELUXE SACD HYBRID EDITION (2006)
                                  Amazon.co.uk £ 12.99
                                  Sourced from Amazon Jersey £ 10.89

                                  Amazon have a page that includes playable excepts from the first five of the tracks.

                                  COMMENTS

                                  This is one of the defining discs of the first Moody’s period. If you haven’t listened to it for a long time (or never heard it before) give it a spin now.

                                  The old CD version of the album is still in the catalogue so is the new version worth the extra money? Without a doubt, yes it is. More than that the superb quality of the updated remastering and the new material make this a very strong recommendation for inclusion in the collection of any firm fan who already owns the album.

                                  [Chart information has been gleaned from “The Great Rock Discography” – Sixth Edition (2002) by M.C.Strong]

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