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Nigel1

Nigel1
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Member since: 21.01.2009

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    • Hell's Kitchen / TV Programme / 121 Readings / 116 Ratings
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      21.04.2009 19:54
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      Be afraid.....Be very afraid!

      Rambo, aka Marco Pierre White is back, and has his most deadly mission yet. Forget about trekking through the dangerous terrain of Afghanistan, or venturing forth into war-torn Burma with a group of mercenaries intent on rescuing Christian Aid workers, risking life and limb to do so. No, this time he has been sent on a missive of far greater importance and urgency, which is to infiltrate an East London restaurant, code name Hell's Kitchen, where a group of eight raw recruits, who go under the guise of 'c' list celebrities, are eagerly awaiting his arrival, for, crucially, within two weeks, they must be transformed into reasonably adequate cooks..or incur his deadly wrath should they show the slightest weakness in boiling the potatoes or frying the fish.

      Of course, as far as Marco-Rambo is concerned, he has no need for large hunting knives, machine guns or bows and arrows to whip his recruits into shape. Instead, preferring to rely on his eight inch kitchen knife, a black and white bandanna type tea-towel, a chef's uniform, and his secret weapon......a stare from his piercing eyes, which can burn right through to the soul, invading the very molecules that make up the human body. Anyone caught in this stare is trapped like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to move or utter anything coherent, until they finally wilt and wither, reduced to a blubbering blob of jelly, completely submissive to his commands.

      Obviously, Marco Pierre White, is in reality, a Three Star Michelin Head Chef, renowned throughout the world as one of the best chef's ever to use a chopping block. But, for this TV reality show, Marco seems to have decided to go down the Rambo-lookalike route, hence the bandanna and kitchen knife, which he constantly and menacingly slaps between the palms of his hands, ready to use at a moments notice!

      He has two weeks to try and make his eight 'celebrities' into something that they are not....better cooks!

      Marco will 'sack' the first four celebs himself, judging their willingness to please himself and his ego more than how good (or bad) they can actually cook food, I suspect. The remaining four victims will be judged and tried by the jury that are the faithful following of television viewers. Voting costs £1 or (£1 plus standard charge if choosing to vote by text)...A nice little earner here for Marco &Co!!

      For anyone interested.....Yawn!.. Here is a run-down of the eight minor 'c' list celebrities that are desperate enough to be thrown into Marco-Rambo's rather large and sweaty hands!

      1..Adrian Edmondson.. (actor/comedian)
      2..Bruce Grobbelaar.. (former Liverpool goalie)
      3..Danielle Bux.. (fiancée of Gary Lineker)
      4..Jody Latham.. (acted in Shameless)
      5..Niomi Daley.. (aka Ms Dynamite)
      6..Linda Evans.. (ex-Dynasty star)
      7..Anthea Turner.. (wife of Grant Bovey)
      8..Grant Bovey.. (husband of Anthea Turner)

      As can be seen from the above list, it is not very inspiring or earth shattering, now is it!

      Adrian Edmondson, to my surprise, seems as sly as a sly old fox, taking every opportunity available to him to berate at his pleasure, anyone who he thinks is grabbing more 'air time' than himself. He called poor little Jody Latham.....Who?...You know, that well known and popular star out of that programme called Shameless...Ah. yes, that Jody! Well anyway, our Ade called him a 'tosser' because Jody fed a group of people who were at the restaurant, despite Marco-Rambo telling him not to. Ade got upset that he had been lied to and refused to accept young Jody's apology, probably because he didn't have the gumption and thinking-power to take the initiative himself!

      Of course, Jody handled the situation appallingly, by tweaking the truth and then confessing to his misdemeanour's, which did not go down well with the rest of the cooking team (much like most of their cooking, in all honesty).

      All this hullabaloo and commotion then seemed to spark off Brucie the ex-goalie, who up until that point had seemed entirely disinterested in the whole affair. However, grabbing the opportunity in both hands (unlike what he was capable of doing with the ball during his time as a goalie) to make a name for himself, he refused to accept Jody's apology and also refused to shake his hand, instead deciding to spout on at Jody about morals and virtues and the importance of being truthful. This impassioned speech seems odd coming from a man who once was accused of alleged match fixing. Pot, kettle and black springs to mind here!

      Meanwhile, the gruesome twosome, husband and wife, Anthea and Grant, or 'Granthea' if you will, were indignant with rage. The male part of Granthea was upset that Jody had called his wife a 'bitch' and a 'dick', berating bemused Jody, and warning him not to call his wife that ever again, while the female part of Granthea snipped and sneered at Jody, accusing him of being a massive shirker and how he was letting the team down by being lazy. She spouted on endlessly, adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, again which seems justifiably out of place when you consider that Anthea was dumped, unceremoniously by the Macmillan Cancer Charity for failing to attend fund-raising events.

      Take note the Brucie's and Antheas's of this world. There is a saying from the bible which says 'Do not judge the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye, when you have a plank in yours'.

      Hilariously, on first meeting his wannabe chefs, Marco-Rambo decided he wanted to get to know all about them....by asking them all to make a sandwich....which apparently, is his preferred method of analysing personalities! As a result, millions of people world wide are deleting their profiles from sites such as Yahoo and Facebook, and are placing a picture of their preferred sandwich there instead!

      Not only has Marco morphed into Rambo, he also appears to have adopted the Zen religion, which in essence, is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly, without being misled by logical thought, or language.

      Preferring to spend most of his time spouting these Zen-like prophetic cliches, rather than concentrate on the actual food making process and all that it entails, Marco-Rambo seems to be gradually sinking into a type of Mystic Meg of all things kitchenalia, quoting these chinese-like proverbs and words of wisdom to his terrified and captivated victims. " I will know within two hours what you are capable of doing" he advises, or more accurately, warns the celebs, reinforcing the point with a long stare from his well-chiselled face, which could turn even the most hardened criminals into big softies.

      "The less you know, the less you'll fear" he warned the already petrified celebs, adding that they must overcome their fear of.......the stove!

      After Marco-Rambo analysed the celebs personalities via a lettuce sandwich, he then decided to probe deeper into their lives by asking them to make something that reminded them of their childhood, reminding them with another of his Chinese proverbs that 'a tree without any roots is but a piece of wood'.

      Niomi Daley made a couple of little dumplings which Marco-Rambo found intriguing. Yes Marco, just like the rest of the red-blooded male population, we too find her dumplings intriguing!

      Brucie proffered some scrawny chicken feet, complete with bone and claws, with two side dishes consisting of a soup of some sort, and a further dish with a grey Polyfilla-like substance. Through tears that were not unlike those of a crocodile, Brucie explained to the bewildered Marco-Rambo how they were eaten, proving the point further by taking one of the hideous feet out of its resting place and dipping it in the blood-like soup and then placing this grotesque dripping foot and rolling into the grey Pollyfilla mixture and from there into his not so small gob, crunching and chewing through bone, gristle and skin, advising Marco-Rambo that by tradition, all this had to be done using the right hand only. What he probably forgot to tell Marco-Rambo was that the reason for this is that the left hand was probably used to hold the sick-bucket ready!

      The show itself, is rather disappointingly hosted by Claudia Winkleman of Strictly Come Dancing fame. Unfortunately, Claudia seems to be suffering constantly from bad hair/eye/dress sense days!

      Here choice of dresses for the show seem almost to beggar belief. She wears massive ball-gown type dresses than seem to overwhelm her thin, frail body, and on last night's show she seemed to have got hold of one of Val Doonican's white woolly jumpers, cut off the sleeves and wriggled into what was left of it, setting this off with a black T-shirt.

      And what on earth has she done to her eyes, They seem blacker than the Hole of Calcutta and do her no justice whatsoever. Top this whole setting off with her hair that seems in dire need of attention from a hair-dresser, and we have the most bizarre host ever to grace Hell's Kitchen!

      She confessed to Marco-Rambo that she gets confused even trying to make a simple piece of toast, failing to tell him her equal confusion when it comes to make-up or wardrobe!

      Her predecessor, Angus Deayton, was, in my opinion, perfect for the job. One raise of an eyebrow from this cheeky-chappy spoke volumes. Unfortunately, Claudia seems to be attempting to follow some of his traits, but she raises both eyebrows which is a gesture of surprise, Claudia, and not bemused sarcasm, as only Angus could portray.

      Throughout each show, the 'c' list celebrities have to cook, and supply meals for at least sixty equally pathetic, limelight-grabbing and attention-seeking 'stars' of yesteryear.

      Smugly sitting at their seats, despite knowing what is going on around them, they constantly criticise the food, and moan when it is five minutes late in arriving. Some complain that their venison is slightly overcooked, while others complain that there is too much asparagus on their plate, or the sauces accompanying their food is either too thick or too thin. Some even deign to confront Marco-Rambo over their dissatisfaction of the fayre, but are readily cut down to size by this overworked and similarly overheated Head Chef who will inform them in not too pleasing a manner 'where to go!'.

      That well known gourmet and food critic...err...ummm.. Joe Swash, (the one who acted in EastEnders and won I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here) showed his true talents by reasoning that he wasn't knocking the soup, but the FISH soup appeared very FISHY! I think poor old Joe may be suffering from jungle fever, or at the very least, over exposure to Ant & Dec.

      Marco-Rambo parades up and down his kitchen, bandanna on head, slapping his kitchen knife ominously in the palm of his hand, all seeing and all knowing, grunting commands to his underlings, who try to avoid his penetrating stare at all costs. Yes Marco, no Marco, three bags full Marco, they try to do and say exactly what they hope will please Marco-Rambo, lest they incur his terrible wrath and anger.

      Sweating profusely, with long bedraggled greasy hair swept back in that 80's Heavy Metal style via his bandanna, you would be forgiven if you thought Marco was some sort of mercenary rather than a top quality professional chef.

      And as for the celebrities themselves, well, they may have arrived in Hell's Kitchen as reasonably respectful entertainers of varying degrees, but there is more than a slim chance they will be leaving as fools and buffoons!

      This dreadful mire of ego's, attention seeking has-beens and desperado's have spilled gracelessly into my living room nightly, leaving me heaving and foaming at the mouth. The never ending stream of garbage and nonsense spewed forth by these inane celeb contestants had me gagging for breath and reaching for the phone number for the Samaritans.

      It obviously goes without saying that I am now completely obsessed with the show. Damn you, celebrities, damn you, Marco-Rambo and damn you Hell's kitchen. In fact, damn every vile second you are on!

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      • More +
        09.04.2009 21:58
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        Captivating captives!

        Bristol Zoo is an oddly designed structure in that it is totally enclosed within Clifton Town itself, its high perimeter walls preventing man from entering and indeed, more importantly for the inhabitants of Clifton, prevent beast from escaping.

        Situated between Clifton Down and Clifton College, Bristol, this quirky and quaint zoo was first opened to the public in 1836 and has seen many changes over the years during its long and interesting history.

        The zoo caught the nation's attention during the 60's when Johnny Morris and his institutional series Animal Magic was broadcast on television. Johnny would act as a zoo keeper and have a voice for all the animals there.

        Present day prices for entry are £12.50 per adult and £7.75 for children between the ages of 3 and 14. Children under the age of 3 are admitted for free. There are concessions available for the disabled, and for those who are going in a group of 10 or more, so it is well worth checking out the prices for reductions.

        The zoo has its own car park that charges £2, but to save on this expense you can park your car further up from the zoo along one of the side streets, thus avoiding this added expense.

        As a young boy I spent many enjoyable trips to Bristol Zoo. My father was a collier from the South Wales Valley and during the 'miner's fortnight' my family and I would happily travel the considerable distance from Wales to Bristol to view the wondrous animals that were on display.

        In those long gone days they had polar bears, giraffes and rhino at the sanctuary, but alas, these type of animals are no longer exhibited at Bristol zoo.

        I remember seeing those giraffes with their incredibly long necks, and eyelashes that any Hollywood actress would die for, puckering their lips and stretching their elongated necks to reach the lush green leaves that were temptingly dangling from trees that, as a youngster, seemed to reach the bright blue skies towering above Bristol itself.

        My fondest memories of those young and innocent days however, were of the two enormous elephants. One was an Asian elephant named Wendy, who was brought to the zoo from a logging camp in Thailand at the tender age of just twelve months. The zoo then brought over a companion for her, an African elephant called Christina.

        These elephants are gigantic in their own right, but being a toddler they seemed appreciatively larger, and I was always fascinated and astounded at their sheer gigantic size as they used to lumber and lurch over to the edge of their enclosure and inquisitively offered out their lengthy trunks ready, as I thought, to scoop me up with.

        I clutched mum's hand tighter, hoping to negate this threat, feeling confident that if it came down to a tug of war between the elephant and mum, with me as the rope, then good old mum would win the day for sure, wouldn't she?

        Over my many visits to the zoo since, Wendy the elephant always held a special place in my heart and would always be my first port of call. Her female companion Christina died after being her constant companion for over twenty years. The zoo tried to get another companion for Wendy but unfortunately they bullied and upset her so it was decided to leave her alone.

        Wendy never seemed the same after her companion's death. You could almost feel the sadness emanating from Wendy, and the once mischievous sparkle that was always present in her eyes that had endeared her to many appreciative visitors, was now sadly replaced by a sorrowful stare.

        I last saw Wendy at Bristol zoo in 2001. As far as I could discern she appeared lost and frightened. Her trunk, that threatened to drag me away from my mother's grip all those years ago, now flopped listlessly and uninterestingly towards the floor. She could barely walk and seemed to be in some sort of pain.

        A year later she sadly died. She had been suffering from a joint pain, but despite all attempts to ease the pain, poor Wendy could not even have some restful sleep due to the incessant pain and it was reluctantly decided to have her put to sleep.

        **************************************************************

        Bristol zoo has changed almost out of recognition since those early childhood memories of elephant, giraffe, rhino and polar bear.

        Oddly enough, when you arrive in Clifton, brown elephant signposts point the way proudly to the zoo despite there being no elephants inhabiting Bristol zoo since Wendy the elephant's sad demise.

        Going through the zoo's entrance, the owner's have 'thoughtfully' placed the gift shop in the same spot. Effectively, therefore, you can not enter or leave the zoo without passing through the shop. The gifts there are not cheap by any means, and of course, passing through with your children will inevitably allow them to see that pretty pencil with a rubber monkey on the top of it. If they are anything like I was when I was young, constant nagging would soon have dad opening his wallet, ensuring it was somewhat relieved of a few bank notes!

        Having navigated the shop, hopefully, with children satisfied and the purse or wallet not suffering too many withdrawal symptoms, then you can proceed into the zoo area itself, passing some beautiful trees and shrubbery along the way.

        Food is readily available via The Pelican Restaurant which serves hot meals and sandwiches throughout the day, and The Flaming Cafe, which sells snacks to take away. Both outlets unfortunately, are not as competitive, price wise, as they should be, and my advice to anyone thinking of visiting is to bring your own food, sandwiches and drink along with you.

        The zoo itself is rather small in comparison to others, being only twelve acres in size. As you leisurely stroll around the zoo it soon becomes apparent that most of its smallish size is oddly taken up by gardens, lawns, picnic areas and trees and lakes, not really leaving any real sizeable amounts of space available to the animals.

        I get the feeling of it being a rather pleasant parkland, rather than a zoo, with large lush green expanses of green lawn lined with trees, such as Sweet Chestnut, Limes, Rowan and Corsican Pines adorning the edges and walkways of the grassy areas.

        The animals themselves, for the most part, are housed mainly along the zoo's perimeter walls, with the lawns, lakes and children's play areas adopting a more central location.

        There is however, an abundance of attractions available to keep both infants and adults occupied during a visit.

        These include:

        Gorilla Island, which is home to five western lowland gorillas. Salome and Romina are the females and Jock is the male. Jock has fathered two youngsters, Namoki and Komale. These large, black haired apes are generally active during the day, awakening at dawn to forage for juicy leaves and shoots which they select and peel themselves. I have been fortunate enough during one of my visits, to see the male drum-beating his chest and growling wildly, making noises that can be heard from miles away!

        Another of the must see attractions is the Asiatic Lions enclosure. This now houses two of these Asiatic lions named Moti and Kamal. It is fascinating to watch during feeding time as these large powerful and fearsome predators stealthily draw ever closer to their meal, grabbing it swiftly in their muscular jaws and then running off with it, often climbing a tree or the large rocky incline that has been strategically placed there, in order to digest their 'prize' at their leisure.

        Many other attractions are available at Bristol zoo that includes The Aquarium, Monkey Jungle, Bug House, Twilight World, Zona Brazil, Butterfly Forest, Reptile House, Seal and Penguin Coast and a whole host besides. There will certainly be something of interest here to satisfy any curious and interested lover of animals.

        Overall, I think Bristol zoo is well worth an occasional visit. Children will love the Activity Centre and the Seal and Penguin Coast,where it is possible to view their swimming habits and antics via transparent underwater walkways.

        After viewing the animals there are plenty of benches and seats strewn around the zoo where you can take that much needed rest, admiring the lush vegetation, plants, trees and shrubs as you do so.

        I must lastly acknowledge that despite the obvious advantages a zoo may offer us, I also appreciate that many of the animals have been taken away from their natural habitats and may have no choice of what type of food they can eat and when they can eat it. Combine this with their unchanging environment and they they can soon become bored and stressed.

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        • Internet Censorship / Discussion / 120 Readings / 118 Ratings
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          06.04.2009 01:54
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          Warning: the Internet may contain traces of nuts.

          If you ever wanted to know where to buy the cheapest pink dress for your daughter, or who sang a particular song or starred in a certain film...then, of course, the best place to find out such information is the internet.

          However, by the same token, if you ever wanted to know how to make a bomb from ordinary household chemicals or find a certain type of poison that is almost untraceable to forensic detection or even techniques for breaking into someone's house or car, then, yet again, the best place to find such information is the internet.

          As can be seen from the above two paragraphs, the internet can be an extremely useful tool, yet at the same time can be a destructive, menacing and frightening place.

          So the question has to be asked if the internet needs to be censored in some way, allowing through certain thoughts, opinions and advice that are deemed of value, yet at the same time prohibiting those that are viewed as unsuitable, unjustified or offensive in some way.

          Naturally, what may be offensive or unsuitable to one person may be useful and beneficial to another, therefore it is a fine balance between what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'. There is no black and white. Instead, there are large 'grey' areas of uncertainty which are further clouded by the fact that people have the inherent right to freedom of speech - some may argue that they have the perfect right to express their own personal views, opinions and thoughts however unpleasant or despicable they may seem to the rest of us.

          The internet is no longer a place where a few emails are checked or the latest football scores are accessed. It has evolved into a Global Universe where good stands shoulder to shoulder with evil. On first impressions it can seem friendly, helpful and full of delights, yet lurking in the shadows is a shallow and unreliable digital storehouse of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumours, sleaze, dubious websites and equally dubious people.

          If we were to censor certain aspects of the internet, then who would be responsible for doing so? I presume it would be the Government itself or at the very least an agency of the Government. In effect, we would only be allowed to access and view web pages that the Government of the day thinks is morally 'right' for us.

          Sure, those bomb making sites and the likes will be confined to their rightful place in the cyberbins, but I have a suspicion that forums, bloggs and any other sites that do not adhere to Government morality and values will soon go crumbling swiftly behind.

          The Government is already trying to tell us what is good for us and what is bad for us. Children's lunch boxes are already being scrutinised for the horrors of a packet of crisps or a bar of chocolate that may be lurking there, only to be swiftly pulled out because Government has deemed them unhealthy for our children, and the naughty parents really should know better!

          So woe betide a cookery website that has a recipe containing any fat, salt, chocolate or sugar. Government is sure to take a dim view and shut it down, because, naturally, the Government alone knows what's good for us.

          Big Brother will forever be watching us, breathing down our necks and scrutinising our every word and sentence, allowing us to only voice opinions that satisfy the ego of the State.

          The internet would soon become a lacklustre place, devoid of anything meaningful or opinionated. It would no longer be a place where voices are heard and choices can be made freely, instead it would slowly evolve into a barren land, watered only when the State think it necessary.

          So, if State censorship is not the way to go then what else is there to prevent us from accessing harmful and destructive material?

          Well there's private filtering systems that can be purchased. These work by blocking certain images and key-words that are likely to offend or upset people who may be sensitive to certain aspects of the internet. However, these filtering systems will not prevent and block all dubious images and text, and may also have a negative impact, sometimes being over-zealous in their filtering and blocking sites that are not in the least bit detrimental.

          Also this still does not address the problem of these harmful web sites, because filtering or not, they still exist, and can still be accessed inadvertently by an unsuspecting innocent surfer, or, worse still, by a person intent on using the information gained from the internet to harm or injure another person.

          The trouble is that wherever there is something good, there are people intent on taking full advantage of the situation and will twist and manipulate it to their advantage. The internet is no exception. Originally a technical wonder full of knowledge and shared experiences, it is now being dragged down by those who seek to manipulate, destroy, harm or profit make from it at the expense of honest decent people. They will use any means possible to make our 'surfing' experience as unpleasant as is possible, just because they are able to, or because they can make a few bob from it, uncaring and unsympathetic to the harm and fear being bestowed upon ourselves and our children.

          All things considered, (thanks to these unscrupulous people and their web sites), the internet is no longer seen as safe place. I worry every time my children go on the internet, fearful of what they may unwittingly be confronted with. It is a sad sign of the times that I must now sit them down and explain the dangers of the internet to them much like I explained to them the dangers of accepting sweets from strangers.

          I suspect that when all is said and done, the internet, along with its bomb making instructions, child pornography, and a whole host of other appalling and disgusting web sites are here to stay, hand in hand as it were.

          This being so, then this great and wonderful internet of ours seems to be sliding further and further down the slippery slope of of depravity, an idiotic minority spoiling it for the vast majority, as is so often the case.

          Simple actions such as opening our emails are now fraught with danger. Does the email contain a virus, or by clicking on the link will it take me to a porn web site? Rather than taking an interest in the text of the email and reading it, we are ever more concerned about its safety and genuineness. We scan the email for viruses, worry when we see attachments, and generally treat this simple text message as some sort of ticking time bomb, and inhale deeply as we open the email, with fingers crossed, lest we have opened a cursed tomb of Egyptian proportions.

          We fear web sites with equal disparity. Is this really my usual Banking site or is it a fake one ready to steal my Bank Account number, as we have so often read about in the newspapers. With trepidation, we gingerly type in our passwords and account numbers,and warily click on the 'submit' button, all the time with this slight element of doubt nagging the back of our minds.

          Even the simple act of typing a harmless word into a search engine can have us unwittingly being ushered onto a porn site or some other site with equally dubious connotations.

          It seems that wherever we turn there are dangers lurking in the shadows of cyberspace, ready to pounce upon us at the first sign of weakness.

          I do not pretend to know all the answers. Some may argue that total censorship is the only way forward while others may claim that this action is taking away people's right to freedom of speech, and that a more subdued and softly softly approach is appropriate.

          What I know for certain is that things can not go on as they are. At the moment 'anything goes' as far as the internet is concerned and this is morally unacceptable. Day by day these vile and vicious web sites spit out their venom, unconcerned about the age or sensitivity of their quarry,relentless and ruthless in their quest to force their contemptible and disgusting views and opinions forcefully down the throats of the innocent or unwary.

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          • Cycling in General / Discussion / 113 Readings / 109 Ratings
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            30.03.2009 22:10
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            Cheap, nonpolluting, small and silent...

            I was seven years old when I first attempted to ride a bicycle. I had been lucky enough to have received one for Christmas, which was totally unexpected, because, despite my constant nagging and being as troublesome as possible in an attempt to appeal to my parents sensitive side, I was led to believe that there was going to be no bicycle being brought down the chimney that year!

            Of course, on that particular Christmas Day, there it was, all wrapped up, with the unmistakeable outline of a bike despite my parent's futile attempts in trying to disguise it. So, to the exclusion of all other presents, I hastily tore away the wrapping to reveal the most beautiful white, two wheeled conveyance I had ever had the pleasure of clapping my wide green eyes upon.

            Riding the bicycle at this point was easy, as it had stabilizers on either side to prevent the bike from toppling to the sides. However, my friends seemed to be able to ride their cycles without this 'babyish' addition, and of course I too wanted to be similar to them and therefore lost no time in asking my parents to teach me how to ride and balance on my bike without the stabilisers playing their part.

            Despite me thinking this was going to be easy - it proved to be extremely difficult. My father would gently hold the back of the seat, keeping it upright, while I would try to gain some sort of balance, and gingerly and nervously pedal forward until, satisfied I had proper control and balance, I would urge my father to leave go of the saddle, which more often than not resulted in me parting unceremoniously with my cycle and slumping to the ground in wails of anguish and frustration.

            Over the weeks I gained in confidence, and my balance seemed to have improved enough for a further attempt at manoeuvring this contraption forwards without the aid of my father holding onto the back of the saddle. So, with dad holding the seat, I pushed forward and sat on the seat and began to pedal, fully expecting to be catapulted to the ground as soon as dad left go of the seat. I was in full flow and turned around apprehensively with the intention of telling dad to let go when I suddenly realised that dad wasn't even holding onto the seat. It suddenly dawned on me that I had actually rode the bike totally unaided.

            The sheer joy and elation I felt was immense. I had finally tamed this beast, and more importantly, had joined that exclusive club that only the young know about - The bike riders without stabilisers club!

            Becoming ever more confident and assured in my bike riding skills, I would now be able to join my friends and, with my shiny white steed, everything now seemed possible. I could explore the world.. which for so long had seemed unreachable.

            My first bicycle ride of any importance was going to be the colliery where my father worked. I had often been to the colliery canteen on a bus with my older sister. As a treat during the summer holidays we would visit the canteen every Friday to have our dinner. Although for the miners, the kindly dinner ladies would also serve children as well. I used to have beans and chips and a large fizzy mug of orange 'Corona' pop. I would greedily tuck into this wonderful fare while watching in amazement as the colliers arose from the surface with their blackened faces, and sometimes even with their white safety helmets, Davy Lamps and torches, and enter the canteen for their food.

            So, the first Friday during the summer holidays, and now free from the restraints of my sister and that bone shaker of a bus with the wooden slatted seats, a group of young boys, myself included, could be seen cycling over fields, tracks and meadows, showing off by swerving in and out of cow pats and talking about conkers and comics, gradually eating up the ground on our trusty bikes until the colliery canteen came into clear view.

            We were young and fearless, and now, through our bikes, we had total control as to where we could venture in this world of ours, confined only by our imagination (and the warning from mother to be home for tea).

            Sitting at the canteen table having safely ordered our beans, chips, and mug of fizzy orange pop, we would excitedly discuss the next planned route of our wonderful bike journey. Over a mug of pop, I suggested we ride around the colliery, looking for conkers and maybe even catch some butterflies at the same time.

            With our bellies full to bursting (more from the fizzy orange pop than the actual food) we left the canteen hurriedly, striding our 'mounts' like a posse from a John Wayne film, and ventured around the back of the canteen towards the colliery itself - our very own Wild West!

            We stared up in awe at the massive winding shaft, and its huge wheel and thick steel cable that would carry the miner's deep down into the belly of the earth. I visualized my very own father being lowered down to the coal seams in this cage and it filled me with utter dread at the very thought of it.

            Anxious not to waste to much time because we had a lot of exploring still to do, we rode our bikes around the colliery, weaving in and out of huge wooden reels that once held steel cable, and rode in between concrete pillars, dodging the bewildered sheep at the same time. We ducked, weaved and spun our respective cycles all around the area until we were satisfied that we had given our bikes a thorough testing to which they had successfully passed.

            Content with our days cycling, and with mother's warning to be back home in time for tea, we decided it would be wise to make the journey back home. So now with sore backsides due to the uncomfortable seating, and legs starting to turn into clumps of lead, we reluctantly cycled our way back home to civilisation, leaving behind our adventurous playground, but satisfying ourselves with the thought that we would be back soon enough, once again to weave our way through hill and cow pat like surfers on waves of metal!

            ******************************************************************

            Since those innocent and fun loving days a lot of water (and various bicycles)
            have gone under the bridge.

            Nowadays, long gone is the white bicycle that once was my pride and joy, reduced, I suspect, to rust and rubble, and lying wounded and pitiful in a scrap heap or some sort of rubbish dump, unloved and uncared for, cast aside without so much as an afterthought as I grew out of it, and had love affairs with various other cycles ranging from BMX, Choppers and Mountain bikes right up to my current bicycle of choice, my beloved racing bike with twenty speed Shimano Dérailleur gears.

            This beauty is designed purely for speed. It has a lightweight frame which can easily be lifted with one finger, although ashamedly I have added powerful headlights, water bottles, pumps, various tool kits, bicycle locks and various other 'necessities' to its frame, so now even Geoff Capes would have great difficulty in lifting it off the ground.

            It also has dropped handlebars which allow for better aerodynamic riding positions, and narrow high-pressure tires for minimal rolling resistance and faster speeds. Interestingly enough, it never ceases to amaze me when I am cycling around, the astounded and bewildered looks I get from children, dumbfounded by its wafer thin tyres and oddly shaped handle bars. I guess that most children these days probably have a thick wheeled mountain bike of some sort and have probably never seen a road bike!

            Riding this sort of bike can be an extreme pleasure, although on a blustery and rainy day, and with a steep hill to contend with, the pleasure can soon fade away, being swiftly replaced with feelings of pure dread and exhaustion.

            Riding along, accompanied by bright sun and blue skies, with a warm and pleasant breeze gently caressing my face, I cycle the countryside around me, leaving behind the theatre of the real world, and focus my attentions on the sights that pass me by on my journey of discovery, mentally far away from civilisation, which, just for today, is causing other people misery.

            Onwards I go, and dogs seem just like dogs once more. They are not the savage and snarling beasts that seem to bay for my blood should I be irresponsible enough to try and pass them on foot.

            Potholes, and other bumps and dents in the road, which otherwise seemed invisible or insignificant now take on a personal form, and I am continually aware of that thin edge of danger that constantly keeps me alert and observant.

            I push myself on, cycling uphill, lifting myself off the seat and standing on the pedals to gain more power for the final onslaught, sinews and muscles stretching to their very limits as inch by inch I gradually conquer the hill and can now look forward to the free-wheeling joy of coasting on the downhill journey, giving my wearying legs and lungs a well needed break. The effort of pedalling up and down these hills and roads ensures that I have a reasonable knowledge of the contours and lay of the land. (After all, passing through in a car going uphill will hardly excite or impress you, but the sheer exertion on your body as you attempt a steep incline on your bicycle tends to ensure that you have accurate memories of the peaks and troughs through which you have cycled).

            I finally reach the road which has traffic in abundance. Up ahead is a slow moving lorry. With the precision of a mathematical genius I calculate the clearance I need and swing wide, outflanking it, leaving myself maybe a hundred yards of paradise before I encounter the next obstacle.

            I have fed myself to the traffic and felt the gentle whisper of death on my shoulders, but have come out unscathed. I have inhaled lungfuls of exhaust fumes and almost been side swiped by huge articulated lorries which rattle past me, sending my cycle almost into an uncontrollable wobble, yet, head down, I continue on my journey, gripping the handlebars ever tighter, feeling the road vibrating in their very structure.

            I swing off the road and follow a track which was known to me since my childhood, although I am probably going about ten times as fast as I did in those days. In the corner of my eye I spot an old rusty white child's bicycle lying in the gutter, unloved and wounded. As I reach the top of the track, a beautiful green landscape comes to greet me. Now covered in lush green grass and with a pleasant scattering of shrubs and oak trees, this picturesque and charming vision was once the colliery pit where I spent many happy days cycling around and eating from the canteen.

            I cycle closer, somehow feeling the urge to meander in and out of the cow pats, as I finally reach the point where once stood those awesome shafts and that huge winding wheel which I so held in admiration as a child. Only now it is no longer there. In its place is a concrete plinth on which proudly sits the enormous iron wheel which once spun around, slowly lowering my father and other miners deeper and deeper underground.

            I quickly glance down at my watch thinking that mother is going to be awfully mad if I'm not home for tea, and just as quickly I remember that I am a married man now and of course my mother certainly isn't expecting me to be home by tea time!

            I reluctantly swing my racing bike around and begin the journey homewards, turning back only once when I was almost sure I had heard some children giggling and laughing out loud, without a care in the world. I guess it was just the wind playing tricks with me.

            I arrive home safely, albeit, with a sore bum from the saddle, and tired, heavy legs from those arduous exertions of those steep hills. My seven year old son is there to greet me with outstretched arms. On seeing my racing bike he begins to plead with me if he can have one for Christmas................

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            • More +
              27.03.2009 19:51
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              A racing extravaganza of gargantuan proportions.

              The John Smith's Grand National is the most prestigious horse race in the United Kingdom, which is run annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, usually on the first Saturday in April.

              With almost 600 million viewers from 140 Countries, and close on 70,000 people actually attending Aintree Racecourse itself to view this fascinating spectacle at first hand, for just this one day, Liverpool, the jockeys and the horses become the central attention and focus of the world.

              Run over a distance of 4 miles and 865 yards, with 30 demanding and gruelling fences ahead of them, the horses must have stamina in abundance, and be able to negotiate the fences with all the elegance of a stag, because hitting a fence, or the jockey failing to time his mount's take off point to perfection, can cause the jockey to be thrown heavily to the floor (hurting pride, body and pocket), or cause the horse to lose valuable ground and gradually drain away its much needed energy.

              There are 16 fences in total which have to be jumped twice, except for the 'Chair' and 'The Water Jump' which only have to be negotiated the once, which is just as well because the 'Chair' (which is so named because of its position which is directly opposite the 'seat' reserved for the distance judge) is the most challenging and demanding of all the fences on the course, also being the tallest and the broadest with a six-foot long ditch on the take-off side, which more than any of the other fences, demands perfect timing of the jump. Meet this fence wrong and that's the end of the jockey's dreams of winning The Grand National for sure.

              If horse and jockey have safely managed to jumped the thirty fences without too much mishap, then there remains a gruelling 'run in' to the winning post of 494 yards via a very sharp turn known as 'The Elbow' (for obvious reasons). Grand Nationals have been won and lost on this long and tiring surge to the winning post, as, after an exhausting four and a half miles, horses legs start to turn to jelly as their jockeys drive their horses out, trying to get every last ounce of energy and stamina from their respective equine partners, pushing, shoving and encouraging their horses for that little bit extra that will force their heads over the winning line in first position, thus ensuring horse and jockey go down in the annals of horse racing history.

              Such are the gruelling demands of this unique race that often amateur jockeys are able to upstage their professional rivals. John Francome, Peter Scudamore, and more recently Tony McCoy, (deemed to be three of the best jockey's ever to sit on a saddle), have all failed in their attempts to win this coveted prize, yet amateurs such as Marcus Armytage (Mr Frisk 1990) and Dick Saunders (Grittar 1982) have succeeded where these professionals have so miserably failed!

              Since the equal opportunities legislation came into force in 1976, female jockeys were allowed to take their rightful place in The Grand National, and all eyes were on Charlotte Brew in the 1977 Grand National, as she was the first 'woman jockey' to have a ride in the event. More eyes and judgement were centred on here than on any of the horses or jockeys, as the men, and Charlotte on her horse Barony Fort, lined up for the race. Not many people took her seriously but to her credit she managed to jump 26 of the 30 fences before her horse refused at the last open ditch. She did not have to suffer too much in the after-race interviews however, because that was the year that the brilliant Red Rum won his third Grand National!

              Following Charlotte's brave attempt, five years later, Geraldine Rees became the first woman to actually complete the demanding Grand National course, jumping all thirty fences successfully on a horse called Cheers. Although finishing last of the eight horses that had managed to keep their feet, Geraldine had secured her place in the history books as the first female jockey to complete the course.

              With its demanding fences and gruelling distance, many people think that finding the winner is a bit of a lottery. Interestingly enough, the first ever winner of the Aintree Grand National was a horse aptly named 'Lottery', who won way back in 1839.

              People travel from all over the world to descend on Aintree for this fascinating spectacle, and in excess of 3000 caterers ensure there is enough food to go around, and almost one hundred ground staff spend months before the big race, preparing the fences and topping them with that beautiful spruce which is transported all the way from The Lake District.

              Virtually every year without fail, the winning horse or jockey has its own unique story behind it. For example, in 1992 Party Politics won the race despite a tube in his neck to help him breathe. Then there was Aldaniti's win in 1981 for jockey Bob Champion. Aldaniti had been plagued by injuries and Bob Champion was recovering from cancer. Despite these setbacks both horse and jockey defied the odds and sauntered home to victory. Also, in 1991 The Grand National was sponsored by a firm called Seagram and hence, was called The Seagram Grand National, and guess what the name of the horse was who won that particular years National? Yes, you've guessed it.....Seagram!!

              Millions of pounds are wagered each year, in trying to predict the outcome of the race. Some choose to go down the 'form' route, seeking out horses who will stay, jump well and will be suited to the particular going, while others simply pick a name or colour that takes their fancy. Whose to say one method is better than the other?

              Of course, no review of The Grand National will ever be complete without mentioning the legend that is Red Rum.

              He is the only horse ever to have won the race three times. On the other two occasions he took part, he finished gallant seconds.

              He made his début, coincidentally, in a five furlong sprint race at Liverpool, where he dead-heated for first place.

              The first of Red Rum's Grand National wins came in 1973. That was the year that another horse in the race called 'Crisp' looked to have an unassailable lead as he was almost 20 lengths clear of Red Rum as they jumped the last fence. It is to Rummies great credit and sheer determination that he gradually ate into that enormous lead and managed to force his head in front just yards from the winning line.

              Twelve months later, back at the scene of his famous victory, Red Rum did what only two horses had ever managed to do in the National's rich and glorious history...He did the almost impossible, and won the race for a second consecutive time, with Brian Fletcher doing the steering. This was the beginning of the Nations love affair with Red Rum, the likes of which are only bestowed upon a chosen few.

              In 1975 he met the twice Gold Cup winner L'Escargot and had to give him 11lbs. However he was still in front at the last, but the ground was very soft that day and Red Rum hated the ground, so with combination of giving weight away and the soft ground to contend with he had to give best to L'Escargot, still managing to run a very respectable second.

              In 1976 he took on another top class horse by the name of Rag Trade, and again having to carry top weight for the third successive year he found the task of giving the winner a 12lb weight advantage beyond him. Although he never gave up and closed in on him up the straight he was again destined to finish a gallant second.

              A year later, 1977 and Red Rum, already twice a winner, was now starting to get a little older. He was now 12 years old and many racing pundits and experts believed that Red Rum had gone to the well once to often and really had little or no chance this time round. Still having to carry the heaviest weight of any horse in the race due to his recent exploits, Red Rum took the lead shortly after Becher's Brook and strode away to win by an incredible 25 lengths from Churchtown Boy. This feat of sheer skill, determination and guts ensured Red Rums place in the Nations hearts, becoming a National hero and a household name overnight.

              Red Rum turned up for the next three years in an attempt to win his fourth National, but on each occasion was found to be lame before the start of the races, and being the grand age of fifteen, connections had to admit the inevitable, that Red Rum was now feeling his age and could no longer take part in a race that he had virtually made his own, and sadly retired him.

              This was not the end for Red Rum however. He now had a second life where he would lead the Grand National Parade well into the 1990's. He also attended opening ceremonies, drawing in vast crowds all eager to catch a glimpse of the 'wonder horse'. He even appeared on the BBC Sports personality of the year award.

              Red Rum died on October 18th, 1995 at the grand old age of thirty. His place in the history of the Grand National and of the Aintree racecourse will live on for ever, and a statue was built in his honour at the course. He was also given the honour of having his final resting place in one of his favourite places, and today he lays buried under the Aintree soil, with his head facing the winning post, much like he did in life. A fitting tribute indeed, to the Nation that held him so dear in their hearts!

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              • General / Discussion / 100 Readings / 90 Ratings
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                25.03.2009 19:20
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                Nigel's '57' variety.

                Here is a list of 57 things you all wanted to know about me but were afraid to ask......

                1. What is your middle name?
                Terence...move on please..

                2. Fire or Central Heating?
                Has to be a nice log fire burning in the hearth hasn't it?

                3. What are you listening to right now?
                My little boy whining on about what he can have to eat.

                4. Clubbing or Romantic Meal?
                Meal I suppose...Don't fancy being hit round the head by a baseball bat!

                5. What was the last thing you ate?
                A census taker...I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

                6. Last person you hugged?
                My lovable son.

                7. How is the weather right now?
                As well as can be expected thanks!

                8. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
                It was the very person that rang my phone.

                9. The first thing you notice about the opposite sex?
                That's easy....Face...then boobs...then bum....then...better stop!

                10. Favourite type of Food?
                Preferably the type that is edible. Hopefully a nice hot curry.

                11. Do you want children?
                Want them for what?......I've got 2 or 3 and that's enough thanks!

                12. Hair colour?
                Mousey unfortunately.

                13. Do you wear contacts?
                Only If I have trouble seeing.

                14. Favourite holiday?
                Well I had a sort of Busman's Holiday as a rep in the South of France a few years back. That was great!

                15. Favourite Season?
                Summer.

                16. Have you ever cried over a love lost?
                No, but I have over a wallet lost!

                17. Last Movie you watched?
                Donkey Punch. It was all about things that went drastically wrong for a group of British holidaymakers in Spain. Very good too!

                18. What books are you reading?
                Anything by Stephen King!

                19. Piercing?
                Where? I can't hear the srceam!


                20. Favourite Movie?
                Probably the 1960 version of Psycho.

                21. Favourite Sports Team?
                Usually the one that is winning!

                22. What were you doing before filling this out?
                Thinking about filling this in!


                23. Favourite animal?
                Anything that doesn't savage you to death or want to rip you to shreds is always a favourite of mine. So I guess my gorgeous female husky Xena is tops!

                24. Favourite drink?
                Anything containing alcohol!

                25. Favourite flower?
                Derek Acorah..He seems a really nice flower, bless him!


                26. Have you ever loved someone?
                Yes of course. My partner, my family, and once, even the postman because he delivered a rather hefty cheque to me!

                27. Who would you like to see right now?
                A millionaire who is a sucker for a sob story!

                28. What colour are your bedroom walls?
                Hopefully the same colour as they were this morning!

                29. Have you ever fired a gun?
                No, because I've never hired one in the first place.

                30. Do you like to travel by plane?
                Only if it's got two wings and the pilot isn't too drunk.


                31. Right-handed or Left-handed?
                Right-handed, but the left is handy too.

                32. If you could go to any place right now where would you go?
                The loo, as the wifey is hogging it right now and I'm trying my best to hold it in.

                33. Are you missing someone?
                Yes, I tried throwing stones at my Bank Manager without much success.

                34. Do you have tattoo?
                No.

                35. Do you still watch cartoons on Saturday mornings?
                Naturally...Don't all grown up men?

                36. Are you hiding something from someone right now?
                Yes, I'm hiding me from the Tax man.

                37. Are you 18?
                Only in mind and body...ha ha ha! Double it and add a few years!

                38. What is the wallpaper on your cell phone?
                Flock, but it has a few air bubbles in it.

                39. Are you afraid of the dark?
                Only when there's a killer lurking about in it!


                40. Favourite Hangout?
                The washing.

                41. Three things you can't live without?
                Me, Myself and I.

                42. Favourite songs?
                Any. As long as they have a decent melody and good lyrics.

                43. What are you afraid of?
                Meeting a drunk mass murderer, who has ramping toothache and nothing to live for.

                44. Are you a giver or a taker?
                About 50/50, (give or take...).

                45. Zodiac sign?
                Virgo.

                46. What is your dad's middle name?
                Michael.

                47. What do you sleep in?
                A bed!

                48. Stuck on a deserted island, and can only bring one thing?
                The entire Playboy Mansion...Should keep me occupied for a few years!

                49. Favourite TV commercial?
                The one with the kids, chocolate and dancing eyebrows.

                50. First thing you'll save in a fire?
                My children obviously, and my wallet a close second!

                51. What is your favourite colour?
                Red probably.

                52. What are the things you always bring with you?
                My body, clothes and shoes. (and maybe my mobile).


                53. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
                A bigger kid.

                54. What do you do when the alarm turns on?
                Well, If I haven't even set it I'd run for The Most Haunted team I guess!

                55. What colour is your bed sheet?
                Black...But that could change after a heavy night of drink and curry!..he he he.

                56. Who do you want to meet?
                Anyone bar my Maker will do thanks!

                57. What do you think about before you go to bed?
                I'm tired. I want to go to bed...derrrr!

                Thanks for reading!

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                • Camping / Discussion / 78 Readings / 76 Ratings
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                  24.03.2009 18:53
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                  Intense and in tents!

                  There are basically two types of camping, the 'wild' type where the camper finds his own place to set up tent, cooks his own food on a camp fire and may even wash himself using natures provided rivers or waterfalls. The other form is more user friendly and usually involves a camping site, where showers, toilets, and even restaurants or cafes are readily available to the camper. This second form of camping is usually acceptable to those who are taking their small children along with them, or for those who can't do without their creature comforts for any length of time.

                  For the purposes of this review I will be dealing with the 'wild' form of camping where you survive only by what is in your rucksack and whatever Mother Earth, in Her wisdom, has allowed you to benefit from.

                  Probably, akin to many people, my first experience of this 'wildish' camping took place when I was knee-high to Verne Troyer. I would pitch the tent up in my very own back garden, which would take only a few minutes, as it basically consisted of a piece of not-very-waterproof material which was held up by two wooden poles at the back and front, and tied down by some guy ropes, which were fastened to the ground with some wooden pegs.

                  Of course, in those days only the rich could afford a tent with a sewn in ground sheet, so off I would trot into the house and grab the blankets and pillows from my bed and run back to my tent, strategically placing the blankets around the floor of the tent, secretly admiring how clever I was at making my very own ground sheet, (oh boy, how wrong was I going to be proved!).

                  With the sun beating down, radio playing my favourite tunes, and mother safely visible to me, ironing away in the kitchen, waving and smiling to me, this camping lark seemed as easy as shelling peas.

                  As the sun dropped down behind the horizon, I thought it prudent at this moment to switch on my plastic Batman torch to cut through the darkness that seemed to be creeping on me ever so slowly, trying to engulf me like some black horrid monster that I had read about not so long ago in one of my comics. A glance at my Mickey Mouse watch revealed that Mickey's arm was pointing to the number ten, so I guessed it was somewhere around the ten o'clock mark. A broad grin stretched across my face as I realised it was an hour past my usual bed time, and here I was, still up, and wide awake, alone in this wild jungle of mine.

                  Half an hour later, tucked up safely under my blankets, I soon began to realise the seriousness of my situation. Mum was no longer within safety distance, smiling and waving, and Dad would be in work by now. Who was going to protect me if one of those awful monsters were to creep to the front of my tent, slowly opening it to reveal its hideous monstrous face and those razor sharp, foot long claws that would slice.................... ?

                  I shone my Batman torch around the tent, assuring myself that no evil monster was lurking in the corners ready to pounce. The shadows made by the torch, however, cast large frightening exaggerated shapes on the tents surface and I was almost sure that it was the shadow of some dreadful creature that was intent (no pun intended here honestly) on wreaking his revenge on me for being so silly as to think that I could actually dare to survive in this dark and foreboding jungle without mam and dad here to protect me.

                  Things took a turn for the worse when the radio, which earlier was blurting out my favourite songs, wafting pleasantly and melodically through the bright Summer sunshine, now seemed to take on a life of its own. It started hissing and making weird noises, constantly fading in and out of reception, whistling and choking as it struggled to find its wavelength.

                  To me, these bizarre radio noises was the monster snarling and roaring right outside my tent, ready to rip through it with those two feet long claws ( they've grown a foot longer because I an getting more petrified as time goes by).

                  Of course, the 11o'clock news has just started, and the radio suddenly allows for perfect and clear reception at this point, which is enough for me to overhear the rather sombre newscaster pointing out that a woman has been found brutally murdered in a woodland in Scotland

                  Convincing myself (and not really knowing any better) that Wales (where I live) is only around the corner from Scotland, and that this terrible monster had done its evil deed there, and was now going to do the same to me (I was going to be the report on the 12o'clock news) I grabbed my torch and ran for dear life, swathing through this terrible jungle, hopefully being able to make it to the front door before this inhuman blood-thirsty monster had a chance to catch up with me.......

                  As I banged with the force of a tornado on the front door, the creature was getting closer and closer, I know he was because I could here him rustling in the bushes, getting ever closer....

                  Mum opened the door slightly and I rushed in, ducking my head under her arms, even before she had a chance to swing the door open properly. Panting and unable to control my breathing, I told her of my brush with this monster and of the terrible incidents that had happened during my camping expedition.

                  Mum, naturally, reassured me that everything was going to be fine, and that there was no such things as these dreadful creatures and that it was all probably due to the wind and my vivid imagination.

                  Sitting in front of the fire, with house lights shining brightly, and a cup of squash and my favourite biscuits in my hand, and mum smoothing my brow, I was satisfactorily convinced that mother was absolutely right....Until the next time...........

                  How things have changed since those youthful, innocent days!

                  Today's camping equipment is vastly superior to anything that has ever been seen before. The tents themselves, for example, have evolved out of all recognition since those days of thin sheeting held up by primitive wooden poles.

                  The modern tent has carbon fibre rods, (which are very strong and lightweight), breathing holes, sewn in ground sheets, and come in a variety of shapes, colours and designs ranging from Dome and Tunnel tents, right up to the more modern Geodesic tents which utilises a clever pole placement to increase the tent's rigidity and stability.

                  When deciding on a camping expedition it is advisable to choose the right type of tent before you begin.

                  Family tent:

                  Ideal for sheltered camp-sites, a family tent is bought with lots of space as the key criteria. They may have 2 or more separate sleeping compartments with integral ground sheets for home from home comfort. Camping out of the car means weight and pack size is not the main criteria.

                  Trekking tent:

                  Trekking tents allow you to venture away from the sheltered camp site and out into the wilderness. The dimensions of the tent decrease in favour of reduced weight and pack size. Designs are based on a tunnel or geodesic shape, allowing a balance of weight, rigidity and wind resistance.

                  Mountain tent:

                  If you want to camp in remote locations or in winter a more resilient tent is required. Mountain tents are designed for rougher weather and extended trips. The design will have a lower profile in the wind, often making use of geodesic designs for stability, rigidity and ease of pitching.

                  Having chosen the desired tent then the next step is to pack your rucksack with the essentials needed for camping, balancing what you actually need against the weight of the final, laden rucksack.

                  On one of my typical camping expeditions I normally take the following essential items:

                  1)..... Powerful flash light (with extra batteries)
                  2)..... Wooden matches and a lighter (dip the matches in candle wax to make waterproof)
                  3)..... Some basic tools (screwdriver, hammer and camp knife)
                  4)..... First Aid Kit
                  5)..... Sewing kit
                  6)..... Duct tape
                  7)..... Toilet paper
                  8)..... Bar of soap
                  9)..... Rope
                  10)... Swiss Army Knife/ Multi-purpose tool
                  11)... 1 cup, plate, spoon, knife and fork
                  12)... Lightweight saucepan, frying pan and kettle
                  13)... Camping stove (with enough fuel to last)
                  14)... Water carrier (at least 5 gallons)
                  15)... Fire lighters
                  16)... Roll of black bags (for rubbish)
                  17)... Compass
                  18)... Waterproof clothing
                  19)... Can opener

                  Having made sure these essentials are safely packed away in the rucksack, the next thing to turn to is the gear that you will need.

                  These should include the following items:

                  1)..... Tent (ensure all stakes, ropes and poles are accounted for)
                  2)..... Sleeping bag (and liner)
                  3)..... Camping lantern
                  4)..... A pillow (inflatable)

                  Once these items have been added, the rucksack will be quite heavy, so now is the time to think about the food that you are going to take. Obviously things such as packet soups, biscuits or crisps are preferable, as they do not weigh as much as tinned items. But place whatever food you prefer, always bearing in mind the final weight of the ruck sack, as you have the responsibility of carrying it around with you.

                  What's left now is your choice of clothing. It obviously depends on the weather but always make sure you have waterproof clothing quickly at hand, as unfortunately, the great British weather can never be totally relied upon, and can turn wet and nasty in the twinkling of an eye.

                  Good strong hiking boots make sense, with a few pairs of socks thrown in because there is nothing worse than walking around with your feet squelching in a pair of rain-soaked socks.

                  A lightweight, water proof and wind proof jacket or coat is advisable, and maybe a multi-pocket vest of some kind can be very useful, allowing you to keep all those small little essentials close at hand, such as a compass or pocket knife.

                  Finally I personally have a small tobacco tin which is sealed around the edges with insulating tape. In here I keep some very small items that may come in handy. I keep such things as sticking plasters, pain killers, some thin cord, buttons, sewing needle and thread, a small whistle and compass, extra matches dipped in wax, a razor blade. sterilizing tablets and even a condom ( no, not for that, surprisingly it can hold a fair amount of water), and various other small but useful little items.

                  Having packed all that you need it's now time to set out on your camping trip. Suitably attired and equipped, with ruck sack on back, it's finally time to venture forth to the place you have decided to camp, be it ever so rough and grim, soon to have its attractions and becoming the very centre of civilisation for you!

                  First thing on reaching your destination is of course to prepare the ground for your tent, removing any cow turds, sharp pieces of stone or rock and the odd bits of twigs and wood that are strewn around. It is best to find a nice flat and even piece of ground to pitch your tent, although this is not absolutely necessary, it does make for a more peaceful nights sleep.

                  Make sure the tent is pitched with its back to the wind if possible, and is firmly and securely fastened to the ground, as rain and high winds during the night can loosen the pegs and guy lines.

                  With the tent pitched securely, and your ruck sack unloaded, it is best at this point to roll out your sleeping bag and any other sleeping items you have, and then fasten the tent up securely, which will stop the midges and creepy crawlies from entering the tent which, believe me, you will be so glad you did during your night's stay in your tent!

                  Next on my agenda is to light the camp fire, whether it is warm or not, because I find that this is the main comfort of any good camp site. The camp fire is as well for good spirits and cheerfulness as it is for warmth and dryness.

                  Having gathered my kindling, and bits of sheep's wool and whatever other combustibles I can manage to forage, it is then time to put match to paper for that all consuming uplift of spirits that is fire.

                  Unfortunately, this most simple of procedures can be one of the hardest of tasks known to man. Match after match may be struck without any success, until you have as many spent matches lying around that could build a decent sized scale model of Canterbury Cathedral. Someone once said "How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a camp fire? How right they were!

                  Right, four boxes of matches later and the fire is now blazing away, hopefully. The warmth of the conflagration should now be gently massaging my soul, warming my thoughts, allowing me to think that all the preparation and effort was obviously worth while, and a self-congratulatory smile may even appear on my smoke-filled face.

                  As the embers begin to die down it can then be poked with a wooden stick to allow those soul-warming flames once again to rise from the ashes like some wonderful Phoenix. After all, there is no greater joy than poking a wood fire is there?

                  As darkness falls around me and the embers finally die down, consuming their final gulp of oxygen as if in their last gasp of life, it is time to retire to the safety of my tent.

                  Be prepared here for the onset of some rain, as it always seems to rain on tents when you just don't want it to. It may seem as though the rainstorms have travelled thousands of miles, against very strong prevailing winds, just for the simple pleasure of raining on a single tent stuck out in the back of beyond in some small field.

                  I safely manoeuvre myself into my tent and then into my sleeping bag, albeit, soaking wet, smoky and sticky, with leaves and blades of grass clinging to my wet feet and socks like some green and gruesome leeches.

                  (It is a bad idea to have your girlfriend with you because, should you argue over the mess inside the tent then it is difficult to walk out and slam the flap behind you! How are you going to express your anger in this situation? Zip up the flap quickly and noisily?)

                  Anyway, I am now safely tucked up in my sleeping bag, as snug as a bug in a rug, having discarded all those wet clothes. The burning skin where I sat way too near to the fire, begins to ease. The smoke that has been irritating my eyes and that I have been breathing in. causing me to cough uncontrollably, has slowly dissipated, allowing me to drift dreamily into a state of semi-consciousness. The regular taps of the rain on the tent send me further into an inevitable state that is called sleep, as the pitter patter of the rain sings its Earthly lullaby.

                  As I am just about to fall fast asleep, the radio which I have brought along with me for comfort and company, falls in and out of reception, hissing and whistling like a mass of snakes in severe pain, and then, mystically, gains full reception, coinciding with the sombre newscaster who has news of a gruesome murder that has taken place somewhere in the Country.

                  Snapping out of my almost unconscious state, I hastily reach for my torch. It is a high powered lithium torch, made from space age metals and alloys...but...in the darkness it seems to be made of plastic..and...is that a picture of Batman I can see on it?

                  Shapes and shadows on the side of my tent form themselves into slow-walking zombies and ghouls as I hurriedly unzip the flap of my tent, ready to run the short distance to my front door and the safety of my mothers arms, only to be confronted with a wall of thick darkness and a large, vast empty expanse that, during the day seemed to be a field, but now, at this ungodly hour, has been formed into some sort of cemetery for the living dead.

                  And then it begins..........

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                  • Mothers Day in the UK / Discussion / 80 Readings / 77 Ratings
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                    22.03.2009 14:48
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                    Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.

                    Mothers Day is celebrated on different days, and for different reasons, in many Countries around the world, but the central ideology of honouring your mother is totally Universal.

                    Here in the United Kingdom, Mothers Day always falls on the 4th Sunday of Lent, and by tradition, gifts such as flowers, chocolates, greeting cards and general pampering of one's mother is the order of the day.

                    Of course, I, like most people, will be lavishing my mother with these traditional gifts, as I have done every year without fail, and will also pamper her to the best of my ability, in order to show her my appreciation and genuine love towards her.

                    After all, it's mother that tended to my needs when I was younger, hugging me and wiping away the tears when I had scraped my knee, or tending me when I was sick, tucking me into bed, smoothing my brow and telling me that everything will be fine.

                    Even as you grow into an adult, mother is always there for you with a shoulder to cry on, or some soothing gentle words of advice when your latest love has given you the heave-ho, or things are getting on top of you and you just can't seem to cope any more.

                    Mother continues to worry about her offspring throughout her life time. Continually concerned about our well-being, always wanting the best for us, smiling, and sharing in our happiness when things are going right for us, and sharing in our anguish and tears when things go wrong.

                    However, my mother's mother died of cancer almost 30 years ago, so Mothers Day isn't really a special day at all in my mother's eyes, as, with all the fuss being made over 'mothers' on this day, I can see in my mother's eyes the sadness and feelings of emptiness inside her, almost wishing that she were in the same position as we are, and was able to pamper her own mother in the same way that we are doing to her.

                    So, in this respect, Mothers Day can be a double-edged sword. A great celebration to mothers who are still alive, yet a sad miserable day for those of us who have lost our mothers.

                    Despite all this, my mother smiles appreciatively, thanking us for our cards and gifts that we have bestowed upon her, yet I suspect she is yearning for the chance to do likewise to her mother, but this of course, is not possible.

                    So, a sad day for some, happy for others, but whatever, mother must never be forgotten because she is like a bridge, steadying herself long enough for us to cross safely!

                    Spare a small thought for mothers in Yugoslavia on this day. Children creep in to their mother's bedroom and tie their mother's feet to a chair, shouting 'Mother's Day, Mother's Day, what will you pay to get away?' Surprisingly, she then gives THEM presents!

                    A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. ~Washington Irving

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                    • The Steve Wilkos Show / TV Programme / 73 Readings / 72 Ratings
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                      20.03.2009 18:53
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                      A televised morality play.

                      So it finally happened. Steve Wilkos has been surgically separated from Jerry Springer's backside and has been unleashed onto an unsuspecting and, dare I say it, not so captivated audience. Unfortunately for Steve, during the operation, the surgeons seem to have left that orange skin antiseptic all over poor Steve's not so thin skin and have failed to inform him that it is supposed to be washed off, sooner rather than later.. Well, he certainly seems orange in colour to me, unless it's just me, or maybe my TV colour and contrast needs adjusting.

                      Assuming that my TV is properly adjusted and that indeed, Steve has gone a funny shade of orange (David Dickinson, eat your heart out) then maybe he has deliberately left it on as a constant reminder of that operation which allowed himself to break free of smug old Jerry, and now it serves as a constant and continual reminder of from where he was spawned!

                      I suspect that maybe, during one of their coffee breaks, Steve probably asked Jerry how he could earn vast sums of money without too much in the way of any skills or effort. Of course, Jerry replied informing him to become a chat show host, and to inflict as many insults and as much misery on the unfortunate and challenged guests as is humanly possible. Maybe also suggesting that the more extreme and bizarre these miscreants were, then the more money Steve was going to accrue into the Wilkos Bank Account. Possibly also advising Steve to give the title of his shows powerful, soul-searching and meaningful titles to capture the viewers imaginations, possibly suggesting a few titles for him such as 'I Want Your Baby', or 'I Hate My Mom', and, if the readies weren't flowing in fast enough then how about 'I Left My Boys For The Bar' or a guaranteed and sure-fire money spinner 'Yes Sir, I Hit My Pregnant Wife'.

                      After all this advice from the astute and ever-willing-to-help Jerry, (Dollar sign in eye), a star was spawned, errr ..born, I mean.

                      So Steve finally fronts his own show, and on comes the unfortunate, self-pitying and often worthless 'guest' to be greeted by this 6ft 3 inch, Uncle-Fester look-alike, who immediately erupts like a volcano,veins popping from his neck, facing right up to the poor unfortunate (who can probably feel his bad breath and wayward spittle), screaming and howling at them to 'get the hell off his stage' or even inviting them to take a swipe at his rather hefty and muscle-bound body, as howling idiots cheer him on.

                      Deliberately, I suspect, our Steve rarely gives his 'guests' any chance to reply to his rantings, instead preferring to constantly pummel his guests into total and utter defeat by hurling insults such as 'fat bitch', 'pig', or, if the inane audience egg him on enough (or Stevie has remembered his script), even 'baby killer' or 'child molester'.

                      Call me cynical here, but instead of ranting and screaming at these evil-doers, wouldn't Steve (if he genuinely cared) be better advised going straight to the police informing them of what these dead-beat dads and drug-users have 'supposedly' being doing to incur his well-meaning wrath, thereby sparing tearful youngsters from viewing Steve's vicious and humiliating attack on their Mothers or Fathers. I suspect not, because although that would certainly be the right and moral route to take, Steve is deciding not to take this route, instead, deciding to 'play out' the scene in front of an ever 'baying-for-blood' audience, himself adopting a 'mightier than thou' attitude, inciting the crowd into an ever-ascending frenzy, hurling abuse and insults to any ear that is in audible range. And why? Simply because this 'other' route of his earns him the 'big bucks'. The moral route gets him nothing except the knowledge that he has done the right thing, but that doesn't put a steady flow of Dollars in Wilko's Bank Account now does it?

                      Steve has adopted a completely different approach to his alter ego Jerry, instead, deciding to be 'in your face' and taking an almost 'avenging angel' attitude, unlike his nemesis Mr. Springer, who took a somewhat nonchalant and bemused detachment towards his victims.

                      Imposing in stature, and seemingly equally impassioned, Steve does put on his 'look at me I'm really good, honest and kind' mask at times, trying to convince the viewers and audience alike that he really does care about some of his ne'er do wells, showing his lighter side (which is still quite heavy), whilst at the same time attempting to redeem those who want to be redeemed, but his mask soon slips off sooner rather than later to those, who, in his all seeing, great and perfect eyes, deserve nothing but his continuous wrath and fury, dismantling them piece by piece, as the audience whoops with glee and his Bank Manager whoops even more gleefully!

                      Offering his own smug advice, and dishing out his own version of justice to these 'blights' on society, Steve seems to have evolved into some sort of a bald, orange Batman. Now, if only Jerry would willingly offer to be his 'Robin' maybe they could both fly off together, swooping down to save the unfortunates of this world. Maybe not, because the cameras would have to be rolling, and the 'price' would have to be right!

                      '"Holy Strawberries Batman, we're in a jam."

                      Oh, and by the way Batman, how about one of these titles for your next show:

                      " I watched The Steve Wilkos Show and have now wasted an hour of my life!"

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                      • More +
                        19.03.2009 14:30
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                        Would Jerry vulgarize 'Judgement Day?"

                        INGREDIENTS:

                        1) 1 trash talking ex-girlfriend and ex-boyfriend

                        2) 1 or 2 bitch-slapping babes.. (large boob variety)

                        3) A drag-queen.. (decked out in as much finery as possible)

                        4) 1 silver-haired, ripe Jerry Springer (preferably sneering)

                        5) Short skirt.. (shorter the better)

                        6) A few tattoos

                        7) 1 bouncer.. (the orange Steve Wilkos variety)

                        8) Spices.. (to taste)

                        9) 1/2 pint of drivel

                        10) 1 audience.. (over excited, fickle and completely brain-numbed)

                        11) Viewers.. (add as many as is possible here, as once mixed with Jerry Springer it will enhance his bank balance)

                        12) A sprinkling of expletives..( the fouler the better)

                        13) A final thought

                        METHOD:

                        1.... Add the trashy ex-girlfriend to the short skirt, and allow to simmer on a large stage for a few minutes (a few tattoos can be added at this point if desired).

                        2.... Once the trashy ex-girlfriend has been simmering away, it is then safe to add the equally trashy ex-boyfriend, making sure that things are well stirred at this point, and now a few of those foul expletives can be added to the mix.

                        3.... Throw in some bitch-slapping babes (again some tattoos can be added at this point) and stir these in extremely well, making sure they combine completely with the ex-boyfriend, and bring them to the boil (stirring as much as possible).

                        4.... At this point it is advisable to add the bouncer ( the orange Steve Wilkos variety) which will allow the ingredients to settle down a bit, otherwise you may find that the ex-boyfriend may separate slightly from the ex-girlfriend.

                        5.... Gently stir in the drag queen, and allow to simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously with Jerry Springer until the entire mix has become rather tacky and bland.

                        6.... Pour on the 1/2 pint of drivel, adding extra expletives to taste, and combine the entire concoction to the audience, who must be brain-washed, and as fickle as the wind that is expelled from Mr Springer's backside.

                        7.... Allow the entire conglomeration to cool down, and then add the ripe silver-haired Jerry springer, and combine with the final thought, which will try and make sense of the why this recipe turned out a complete disaster!

                        SERVING SUGGESTIONS:

                        This disaster is best served in small doses, to viewers who have been heavily sedated or for those who believe in the tooth fairies. It is best swallowed in small amounts otherwise you may find that Jerry Springer leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. Swallow with a large pinch of salt!

                        FINAL THOUGHT:

                        Working as a City Councilman in America, Jerry was caught using the services of a prostitute, the numbskull paying her by cheque! Oh My God Jerry, how can you dare have a show in which you smile and snigger (and sometimes even pretend to care) about other peoples mishaps and misfortunes, after your own antics!

                        My final thought for you Jezzers is "Do not judge the piece of sawdust in your brothers eye, when you have a plank in yours!"

                        "Please take care of yourselves - and each other."

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                        • Seahorse / Pet / Animal / 68 Readings / 66 Ratings
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                          17.03.2009 21:02
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                          A horse, a horse, a Kingdom for my seahorse!!

                          Having an extremely small life span of perhaps 1-5 years depending on the species, this most graceful and intriguing creature of our seas breaks one of the golden rules of biology. The male, rather than the female is left holding the baby! It is the male, and him alone, who looks after the fertilised eggs via a special brood sac on the front of his abdomen, much like a miniature kangaroo if you please.

                          With a preferred habitat of coastal areas ranging from Australia to the Caribbean, they prefer the beds and coral reefs where they can easily hide themselves away from their predators.

                          These most beautifully coloured and odd looking fish also have no teeth or stomachs, therefore, have to suck their food in like some ravenous old lady who has lost her dentures in a game of cards. They swiftly ambush their prey, chasing it around until caught and then suck in as fast as possible, swallowing their catch whole.

                          Now, I have a couple of these glorious seahorses in my aquarium. It is advisable to have a captive bred one for this purpose because they will accept frozen food such as shrimp, and are not shocked or stressed at being taken out of their natural habitat and placed in an aquarium, unlike their 'wild' counterparts who will only eat live food and would be prone to stress and worry which would, in turn, lower their immune system exposing them to all manner of diseases.

                          It is absolutely fascinating to watch the movements of these graceful and awe inspiring fish as they propel their way through the water using their small dorsal fins, flapping them almost as fast as a humming bird would flap its own wings, which helps them to move backwards and forwards, keeping them upright too. Their pectoral fins are used to control their steering and turning, and watching this amazing creature combine both the dorsal and pectoral fins to manoeuvre its way around is truly incredible and breathtaking.

                          Seahorses can vary in size from the dwarf species that are only about an inch and a half long, to the giant seahorse species which can reach a very impressive length of almost fourteen inches.

                          A few years ago I had both a male and female in my aquarium. Being totally monogamous, they only had eyes for each other and were virtually inseparable. They could be seen majestically gliding through the water together, curling their tails around each other like some love sick teenager clasping his girlfriends hand. They would often come together, dancing and twirling in unison with their tails inseparably linked, like some bizarre underwater Opera.

                          Sadly, a few weeks later my male seahorse died and less than a day later the female died. I suspect this was of a broken heart as they had paired for life and I suppose she couldn't go on without him. It was heartbreaking to watch this almost human-like of emotions going on in such a small watery world.

                          Since then I have acquired more seahorses to adorn my aquarium and find it fascinating to observe them closely. For instance, they can change their colouring much like a chameleon does in order to camouflage itself into the surroundings of the tank.

                          I have also noticed that when they are at rest they will curl their elegant tails around some seaweed or log, I presume this is done in order for them not to float away during their down time.

                          I have also observed, bizarrely enough, that they tend to 'make love' during a full moon. How romantic is that!! During this period the male seahorse will offer his pouch to the female. This 'offering' can go on for hours until eventually, the female will dock herself to the opening of the pouch and place her eggs in there. The male will then sway back and forth as if to distribute the eggs evenly, and perhaps to show off that he is now pregnant!!

                          On closer inspection of these wonderful creations it can be seen that they have heads that are horse-like, independently swivelling eyes similar to that of a chameleon, a prehensile tail like that of a monkey and have a pouch like a kangaroo. Four animals for the price of one!

                          Some called them insects, others called them shellfish, I call them astounding!

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                          • Revo Uninstaller / Utility / 42 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                            17.03.2009 15:51
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                            It does a lot more than it says on the can.

                            Revo Uninstaller which is completely free to use and download, is one of those little utility gems that that can solve all your uninstall problems, while cleaning left over file and registry entries that the normal 'Windows Add or Remove Programs' often leave behind during an uninstall.

                            Did you know that when you uninstall a programme in the normal way via the control panel, it very often does a completely bad job, often leaving scattered files and registry keys still left on your computer, which, over time, can be extremely detrimental to your valued computer, clogging up your hard drive using up valuable disk space, and eventually may even cause your computer to grind to a halt or even crash!

                            Well there's no need to worry about this any more because Revo Uninstaller will uninstall that unwanted programme of yours, and having done so, will then scan again making sure that any hidden files or registry entries that the unwanted programme seems intent on clinging onto, are given their marching orders and banished for good, leaving your computer entirely free of any left-over programme junk files and registry entries that can clog up your system as much as fat can clog up the arteries.

                            Also it can uninstall those problem programmes that seem intent on remaining on your computer however many times you try to uninstall the programme. You know the type. You try to uninstall via the 'Windows Add or Remove' applet only to be told half way through the uninstallation process that Windows could not continue the uninstall due to a 'missing' file or maybe an error code with more letters and numbers to it than a large bowl of Alphabet Spaghetti!

                            Often when this happens we just accept it and leave the unwanted programme alone, not really worrying too much about it. But those scattered files are taking up valuable disk space and it would be far more advantageous to finally get rid of the stubborn programme once and for all which is exactly what Revo Uninstaller can do for you.

                            This great utility does a lot more than this however! It has more hidden gems that I will outline below:

                            1).. Junk Files Cleaner.. This will scan for unnecessary junk files strewn around your computer and delete them for you, freeing up space.

                            2).. Windows History Cleaner.. This will remove your 'history' of recently opened files and documents and any other history items that Windows may have 'saved' without your knowledge.

                            3).. Auto Start Manager.. Speed up the time your computer starts up by stopping certain programmes from loading up automatically during a computer start.

                            4).. Unrecoverable Delete Tool.. This useful tool makes absolutely sure that once you delete a file it can never be recovered, saving you from those 'prying eyes'.

                            5).. Windows Tool Manager.. Useful system tools and options are placed one one screen for easy access and convenience for you.

                            6).. Office History Cleaner.. This removes the history of your most recently used files in MS Office and removes your tracks left after opening MS documents.

                            7).. Browsers History Cleaner.. Erases your web browser history and 'visited pages' history and temporary internet files (that can often cause your browser to crash or hang) from Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape and Opera.

                            So, as you can see, it is far more than just a simple uninstaller. Some of these features you may want to use, others will be of no importance to you. However, it will be in your best interests (and that of your computer) that you definitely use the uninstall application at the very least, if, like I do, you value your computer and want it performing to its best capabilities at all times.

                            Compatible with Windows 2000 up to Windows Vista, this is truly one little application I could never do without. Can you???

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                            • PC Utilities in General / Utility / 47 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                              16.03.2009 21:56
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                              Use the right tool for the job.

                              Utilities are defined as 'software programmes that add functionality to your computer, or will help your computer perform better in some way'. These utilities can be extremely helpful in making your 'computer time' a better experience, although you have to balance these software programmes very carefully, because some, especially the so called 'free' ones can come with a payload of viruses or spyware, whilst others do not do what is claimed of them, despite the publisher of the application proclaiming how no serious computer user could possibly do without their specific utility.

                              Another thing to be wary of is downloading too many of these utilities as they can actually do more harm than good, slowing your computer to a crawl, or poorly written programmes which can cause conflicts with other applications on your computer, rendering them unusable or even crashing your computer!

                              On nearly every website these days there are adverts for downloading registry cleaners or 'free' scans for your computer, or some other utility that proclaim to do wonders for your computer. My advice here is to definitely NOT attempt to download these unless you are absolutely positive that you know the product and its Company, and are sure that they are honest and legitimate, otherwise you will probably be hit hard with a virus or some other nasty that your computer could well do without.

                              It is a sad fact that some unscrupulous people hope that you download their utility with promises of cleaning up your computer by scanning for viruses and spyware, but as is often the case this is not true. Downloading their utility probably means downloading some unwelcome virus or spyware along with the utility, which the programme finds during its scan and then informs you that the programme has found some nasties on your computer and for a FEE you will be able to download a full working version of the utility which will get rid of the nasty for you!

                              Having said all that, there are of course, plenty of 'free' and 'paid for' utilities out there that do a great job of doing what they are meant to do. It's just a case of making sure you can distinguish between the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones.

                              The following is a list of utilities that, over the years, I have personally found to be of great benefit. Some are free, others have to be paid for, but NONE come with any nasty 'surprises'.

                              1)..DESKTOP MAESTRO.. This is a 3 in 1 application that cleans your registry, protects your privacy and optimizes your system. It is a paid for version which costs £39.95, allowing you to install it on up to three computers. I appreciate that there are 'free' registry cleaners available but in my experience they don't come close to finding all the registry errors that this utility is capable of, and as registry errors can eventually disrupt your computers performance over time, eventually causing it to crash, I feel that it is advisable to get one of the better utilities such as this one that will do a thorough job.

                              2).. ESET SMART SECURITY.. This is a four function security suite that consists of antivirus, antispyware, antispam and firewall.

                              Protecting against viruses or malware is vital and it is of utmost importance that you get the best protection available. Currently it costs £39.10 for a years subscription which may seem a lot, but I have the satisfaction of possessing one of the better security suites on offer.

                              There are a multitude of free antivirus applications out there including AVG, Avast and Trust EZ to name but a few, and whilst I know they do a fair enough job I have tried them all with varying degrees of success, and am of the opinion that Eset Smart Security outshines them all.

                              This isn't to say that Eset is perfect. Of course it isn't. Just like any other antivirus application it will not detect and 'cleanse' 100% of the nasties, but it will detect more than the 'free' ones tend to do.

                              Also Eset has a very light footprint, using only around 48 MB of memory. which means that during a full scan you will hardly notice any difference to your computer unlike some others that will cripple your computer into an almost unusable state.

                              3)..SUPERANTISPYWARE.. This comes as a 'free' version and a 'professional' paid for version. The Pro version allows you to have real time protection, registry protection against browser hijackers and automatic updates, so it is advisable to get the Pro version if finances allow.

                              However, even the free version does an amazing job! I had a particularly nasty vundo malware on my computer last year and I found it almost impossible to remove.

                              Norton's scan produced a result saying a couple of files were infected but had no inkling on how to remove it. My free versions of AVG, Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D either failed to detect it, or, if they did, could not remove it at all.

                              All seemed lost, and I thought that a re-install of my computer was the only option. But. as a last resort I Googled 'how to get rid of the vundo' and was advised from a particular forum to try SuperAntiSpyware. After an easy install I ran a full scan and this little gem advised me that I had 8 infected files and 12 registry infections. On deleting them I was informed to restart my computer, which I did immediately. As my system started up I was still very apprehensive because all other attempts at getting rid of this nasty had totally and utterly failed.

                              To my total elation I realised that this utility alone had done the job where the bigger boys such as Norton had completely and miserably failed! It had rid my computer of the vundo and my computer was usable again thanks entirely to this utility.

                              4)..RAXCO PERFECTDISK.. This utility defrags your computer, enabling it to run faster and smoother. Windows comes with its own defragging utility but it does not do a very good job of it unfortunately.

                              When your add a file or a new programme to your computer, the new data is written to the hard drive in one large block. When you need to use that information your computer can access it very quickly because it is all in one place. But, over time, as you add more files and programmes the hard disk starts to fill up. After some time the computer is no longer able to save the information in one large block, and will store it in little segments and empty spaces that are available. The computer has the ability to retrieve all these little addresses of each piece of data and puts it all back together when needed. Obviously the more 'broken up' the pieces are, the longer it takes the computer to access them and ultimately your computer becomes slower.

                              The solution to this problem is a Defrag Utility such as Raxco Perfectdisk which reunites all the little fragments of a file or programme and places them back into one large block which makes data retrieval faster and easier for your computer. Hence a smoother and faster running computer!

                              5).. CCLEANER.. This free utility will clean most of the junk that your computer has accumulated over time.

                              It clears your browser cache, temporary files folder, browser history, Windows log files, and temporary files from third-party applications, and a lot more besides. Also included is a registry scanner although it does not do the best of jobs concerning this part of the utility.

                              All this accumulated junk can be cleaned manually of course, but this free and useful application can do it all for you with just a few clicks of your mouse, so is worth having just to save you the time and energy.

                              6)..REVO UNINSTALLER.. This very useful and free utility allows you to uninstall an application without the need to visit the 'Windows Add or Remove' section of your computer. It also may be able to uninstall a programme that you may be having difficulty getting rid of via the normal route.

                              Before uninstalling a programme, this utility scans the application which is to be removed, and therefore knows exactly where all those hidden files and registry entries are hidden and will delete them all, leaving no trace of any file or registry entry left lying around, which the ordinary Windows uninstaller often does!

                              Even if you have a 'broken' installation Revo will show you where all the application's files, folders and registry entries are situated, allowing you to delete them.

                              So with this utility there will be no more old files and folders scattered around from long forgotten and uninstalled programmes!!

                              7).. ROBOFORM.. This utility costs £29.95 but is one of those applications that once you have, you wonder how on earth you ever managed without it.

                              It is firstly and foremost a password manager that allows you to store your passwords and usernames for any given site. This is a Godsend because virtually every web site these days require you to register with a password and username, and if you are anything like me they can easily be forgotten or I can soon get bogged down with a plethora of passwords and usernames which often prevents me from accessing a website as I can't remember what the password and username was. To prevent this from happening, I then used to use the same username and password for virtually every website, (as I suspect most people reading this review would do) which isn't a very safe or secure method now is it?

                              This is where Roboform becomes extremely useful. Once you have registered with a password and username to any particular site, you save the information to the Roboform application and when you visit the site again you simply click the 'fill' button and Roboform fills the required passwords and usernames automatically for you, without you requiring to remember what they were.

                              This has the added security that if you were sent to a 'phising' website then Roboform would not fill in your password because it would recognise that the website does not match the url address that it has stored along with the password and will not therefore supply the dubious site with any passwords or usernames.

                              Another excellent security feature is that it can defeat any 'keyloggers' that you may have on your system. A keylogger is a little application that 'logs' numbers and letters that are typed on your keyboard, and are then sent to its unscrupulous owner, who then has your password, username, and even your Bank details! By using Roboform you aren't typing in these details and therefore will not become a victim of these nasty 'keylog' attacks.

                              The utility also has the ability to fill long registration and checkout forms for you, and also has a password generator that will offer you strong, safe and secure passwords that will make them extremely difficult to compromise.

                              8).. CURSORFX.. This is a programme that allows you to use and create some amazing mouse cursors by taking advantage of the new visual effects found in Windows XP and Vista.

                              These cursors will look and feel vastly superior to any of the mundane ones found in Windows own supply of cursors, and the utility integrates smoothly into the standard Windows 'mouse' interface.

                              The Stardock website allows you to download thousands upon thousands of cursors varying in size, style, colour and animation, allowing far more flexibility from your cursor.

                              Once a cursor of your choice has been downloaded then you can enhance it further in virtually any way imaginable such as changing its size or colour, have some fantastic cursor trails or shadows, and even adjust the transparency of the cursor.

                              9).. SPYWAREBLASTER.. This free application prevents the installation of spyware and other unwanted software, and can restrict the actions of dangerous websites.

                              Unlike most applications. it does not need to be kept running in the background, instead it works alongside your existing security programmes and thus does not slow down your computer in any way, or use up valuable memory or cpu processing. Simply set it, then close the programme remembering to update it regularly!

                              ***********************************************************

                              Utilities in general should make your computer experience easier, safer, and more beneficial and enjoyable in some way, and not be a hassle. They should co-exist in harmony with other software and not slow down your computer to any noticeable degree.

                              Whilst there is no complete solution for every complaint and glitch that can affect our computers, there are some very useful utilities out there that can at least play a small part in enhancing and making our computer experience that bit more pleasurable and satisfying.

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                              • More +
                                15.03.2009 16:17
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                                If little else, the brain is an educational toy.

                                Here is a list of my personal toys I can remember playing with, and keeping me amused and happy during my childhood.

                                1).. SPACE HOPPER.. I can vividly remember having one of these for Christmas. Bright orange with that weird cartoon style 'happy' face on it, resembling, I presume, a kangaroo. Grabbing the elongated ears I would happily bounce my way up and down the street, showing off to my friends and family.

                                2).. MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. SET.. Again I can remember the lost years of my childhood and the sheer delight on my innocent face as I unwrapped my present revealing this little box with all the gadgets from my favourite series. The box contained a plastic walkie talkie, some plastic handcuffs, a badge, a 'Thrush' gun and a 'magic' pen with invisible ink in it!...Wow!! I could write a secret message and no one would know what I'd written because to reveal the words of world importance you had to put the piece of paper near some heat which would 'magically' make the words appear on the paper. I would go around the village clutching my 'secret' piece of paper, plastic badge on my jumper. handcuffs in my back pocket and talking into my plastic walkie talkie telling Napoleon Solo that I was on my way with the secret message!

                                3).. SPIROGRAPH.. How wonderful was this gadget. I'd spend rainy Sunday evenings continually spiralling the cogs on a piece of paper using various coloured pens. After a few hours I would run into mum showing her my works of art. and after her nods of approval I would go back to the Spirograph and make some more circular designs until I got bored, or ran out of paper.

                                4).. ACTION MAN.. I wasn't so sure about these at first. After all, dolls for a boy? But I was reassured when I could see that all my male friends had them, so I began to take more of an interest in them. You could bend their arms, wrists, legs and knees any which way, and they came equipped with rocket launchers, grenades, commando knives and any other lethal weapon any young boy could desire.

                                5).. ROLLER SKATES.. Now these were large, heavy metal pieces of equipment with thick rubber wheels on them. Impossible to 'ride' with any great accuracy, we adapted them into something more useful. We would extend the bar on the skate to its fullest and place a hard cover edition of the Beano on it for a 'seat'. Then we would climb the highest road we could find and sit on the Beano which had now become a sort of mini turbo charged rocket, and speed down the road, often reaching speeds of in excess of 30 miles per hour, using our feet for breaks, which wore our shoes out in days!

                                6).. KERPLUNK.. Still popular today, this game revolved around marbles resting on sticks inside a tube. The idea was to remove a stick and hopefully, not be the person to cause the marbles to fall. The loud sound of the marble hitting the base would add to the misery of the person who was unfortunate enough to cause the marbles to fall.

                                7).. WEEBLES.. Branded as 'Weebles wobble but they don't fall down', these small, egg-shaped plastic figurines could be pushed in any direction but would always reach their upright position due to weights placed in the base of the Weeble. They could be bought with limitless cartoon characters on them but, try as we may, we could never ever get them to 'fall down'.

                                8).. GAMES COMPENDIUM.. My set contained a few pieces of cardboard with various games on them such as ludo, snakes and ladders and draughts. The game pieces were all made of plastic, and were accompanied by some die and a little black plastic tumbler in which to shake the die. Many a night were spent with my parents and I playing these games with varying degrees of success, although I must have been a bad loser as I can remember crying my eyes out if I had to slide down the snake!

                                9).. ETCH-A-SKETCH.. This was a flat grey screen with a bright red plastic surround. Two knobs at the front allowed you move a stylus that made lines and shapes in the aluminium powder. Turning the wheels together made the lines curve although I never mastered this art at all. When the drawing had been made and you were ready to do another one, a simple shake of the board 'magically' erased the drawing ready for your next line drawing.

                                10).. WESTERN STYLE TOY GUN AND HOLSTER.. Having watched my favourite 'cowboy' films I was more than pleased when I received this toy gun and holster, which would finally allow me to emulate my heroes. The gun could be used with 'caps' which were reels of thin paper with little circular bubbles of gunpowder on them which you threaded into the firing compartment on the gun. The hammer on the gun would slam down on the 'cap' once the trigger was pulled, which would ignite the gunpowder producing an authentic gun shot noise with accompanying realistic gun smoke and smell, due to the explosion of the gunpowder!!!

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                                • Meat / Recipe / 53 Readings / 53 Ratings
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                                  14.03.2009 13:09
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                                  "Good drink... good meat... good God, let's eat!"

                                  The following is a delicious recipe for beef fillet with bacon and potato pancakes. It is a three-fold process involving cooking the fillet steaks, preparing the sauce and making the exquisite, light and fluffy pancakes.

                                  INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

                                  4 fillet steaks
                                  salt and pepper
                                  olive oil

                                  SAUCE:

                                  500ml double cream
                                  200g cheese
                                  Glass of red wine
                                  1 onion (diced)
                                  2 bay leaves
                                  1 carrot (diced)
                                  2 sticks of celery (diced)
                                  Olive oil
                                  Beef stock

                                  PANCAKES:

                                  3 eggs
                                  Half pint of milk
                                  Cold water
                                  150g plain flour
                                  Chopped parsley
                                  500g potatoes (cooked and mashed)
                                  1 cup of double cream
                                  125g butter
                                  200g bacon (cooked and diced)
                                  Salt and pepper
                                  Olive oil

                                  METHOD:

                                  To make the sauce:

                                  1) Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the diced onions.

                                  2) Cook slowly until they start to brown, and then add the diced celery and carrots and cook for a further minute.

                                  3) Add the red wine and reduce by half.

                                  3) Add the beef stock and the bay leaves and reduce by two thirds.

                                  4) Add the cream and reduce by one third.

                                  5) Then pour through a sieve and place the sauce into another pot and add the cheese, stirring until melted.

                                  To make the pancakes:

                                  1) Mix the milk and eggs together and slowly add the flour until you have a thick batter.

                                  2) Add the herbs and the seasoning.

                                  3) Rub a non-stick pan with some olive oil and put some of the pancake mix into the pan, cooking on both sides for about 1 minute, (should make 4 pancakes).

                                  The fillet:

                                  1) Rub the steaks with olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper and cook to taste.

                                  HOW TO SERVE:

                                  Add the chopped, cooked bacon and parsley to the mashed potatoes. Spread each pancake with a good dollop of the potato mix, and roll up into a sausage shape and warm in an oven. Cut pancake into slices, place on top of the steak and pour over the sauce. Enjoy!

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