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    • More +
      16.10.2012 16:07
      Very helpful
      1 Comment



      So, overall a very useful book which delivers exactly what the title promises

      Yes, the next step in our aim to simplify our lives and to be a little more self-sufficient is to get chickens. They are due to be with us in a couple of weeks and in the meantime this book is proving to be something of a gem ~ at least in the theoretical sense. Once we actually get the chickens I suspect that this book will be firmly by my side and not see a lot of shelf life!

      ~ What I love ~

      * Author & writing style: This book is written by an enthusiast who actually remembers what it was like to be a beginner. So many experts (on any topic) assume too much about what you might already know and, if they don't, tend to have such a patronising tone within the information they are passing on, that it's hard to stick with the book long enough to get the info you want. Not so Katie Thear. She writes in a concise, factual tone which is hard to take offence from, even when she is passing on something which is basic common sense. Katie Thear's expertise is well recognised: she is a regular writer for the monthly magazine Country Smallholding.

      * Content: The book is well planned, to ensure that nothing is forgotten. Basic information is arranged across 14 sections:

      ~ Introduction
      This is very concise, factual and easy to read. It points out several issues which are vital to know when considering whether to keep chickens, so you don't have to get half way through the book before finding that your plans might be thwarted! There is also a very sensible 'Are Chickens for You?' Pros and Cons table in this section which helps you to make a more fully informed decision ~ vital when you think that the lives of these creatures will be in your hands!

      ~ History of the Chicken
      Some easily read background information on how the domestic chicken came to be!

      ~ The House and Run
      This section includes information on the minimum requirements / features of a house and run and includes explanations of different parts and features, through a checklist of questions to ask yourself when identifying suitable accommodation for your chooks. Fencing options are also detailed and there are plenty of photos of the various types of hen houses on the market.

      ~ Choosing a Breed
      This section includes a very in-depth look at different breeds, from the breed variations such as Hybrids, Crosses, Pure Breeds and Fancy Breeds, to the individual variations within these. Other basic information, such a a diagram of the parts of a fowl are included so that you understand more when you read the descriptions of individual breeds. It's just a real shame that the photos are mainly black and white in this section (this is the only reason I've deducted a star from this book). However, I guess the book would have been a lot more expensive if all of the breed photos were in colour and at least this way you can then look up photos of the breeds which appeal to you on-line, to check out their true colouring.

      ~ Buying the Birds
      This chapter offers a comprehensive overview of the main considerations when buying your chooks, including AGE, AVAILABILITY, HEALTH and COST, as well as handy tips on introducing your new birds to their new home.

      ~ Feeding
      The feeding chapter is rightfully comprehensive, to the point that it includes a diagram of a chicken's digestive system, to allow full understanding of why you need to ensure that your chickens receive a fully balanced diet. There are plenty of photos of drinkers and feeders in use, so that you can see how these items can be used effectively.

      ~ Daily and Seasonal Care
      This is usefully broken down for easy reference into sections for Daily Care, Weekly and Monthly Routines and Seasonal care. This not only gives you a checklist of what needs to be done, but in the planning and "shall we, shan't we?" stage, it can help you to realise the kind of commitment needed to ensure the proper care for your chickens.

      ~ What to do with all those eggs
      No, it's not a recipe section, just some sensible information on the legalities of selling your eggs, plus information on preserving eggs, which is a useful starting point for then looking up preserving recipes.

      ~ Breeding your own replacements
      If you are hoping to breed from your chickens / eggs, then this section gives an overview of what is involved. Again there are some useful diagrams and photos, as well as a comprehensive section on incubation.

      ~ Showing
      This section's quite interesting even if you don't intend to ever 'show' your birds as, for example, you never know when you might need to bath your chicken!

      ~ Dealing with problems
      Another useful quick-reference section outlining the main problems which can arise when keeping domestic chickens. The information offers a basic, but useful starting point and, in the interests of prevention rather than cure, offers considerable information on how to avid problems in the first place.

      ~ Quirky Questions
      I love this section ~ it's full of the questions that children would ask (such as "how do chickens pee?") and other considerations which may influence your decision about keeping chickens in the first place (such as "how long do chickens live?" and "can you use dogs to control hens?") and means that you'll have the answers you need not just to make an informed decision, but to impress your kids, neighbours or other half too!

      ~ Reference section
      Whilst this section does offer a comprehensive list of references, my copy of the book was published in 1999, so I'm not sure how up to date all of the contact information in it is, some of them offer just a phone number. However, the list does provide a good starting point for an internet search and where these organisations now have websites, it's easy enough to make contact from there.

      ~ Index
      The quick reference section for finding what you need to know in the book.

      * Format: My copy is a paperback edition, about A5 size, so it's the perfect 'grab' size for quick reference, or to take with you when you go to suss out hen houses or feed etc from local suppliers. It's basically a no-frills book, but this adds to its sense of purpose and no-nonsense approach to getting you started.

      * Value for money: I sourced mine quite cheaply through Amazon, but even so it's hard to talk about value for money because this book's for a very specific purpose. However, I have already referred to it a lot and I do consider that perhaps it's already saved us quite a bit of money because we were able to find and buy the right kind of coop, based on the advice in the book. I suspect that without this info we might well have made some mistakes which may have been costly in their own right, particularly if you are tempted to try a route which proves to be a false economy! I'd say that there are still gaps in my knowledge but at least I feel comfortable about where we are now starting from in our chicken keeping quest!

      So, overall a very useful book which delivers exactly what the title promises and I would heartily recommend it.

      * I may well pop back and add to this review once we have our chickens (end of October 2012) so that I can speak for how easy it has been to apply some of the book's advice in a more practical context!


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      • More +
        15.10.2012 16:14
        Very helpful



        Easy to use and clean, costs very little and is guaranteed for a year ~ can't beat it!

        One consequence of some recent health difficulties is that my love of cake making had to slide because it became just too difficult to get the old butter / sugar / egg beating done properly without causing myself problems ~ much to the family's dismay. Without the cash for a complete food processor, my light-bulb moment came when I realised that this little hand mixers are now available without cumbersome bowls and stands (as in my mum's old food mixer from days of yore, which seemed to take up most of her cupboard space). The reduced size of these appliances has happily led to a reduced cost and, joy of joys, require me to do no more than just hold onto the thing whilst it makes up my cakes!

        So, I snapped up this value brand option from Argos during their recent sale and put it immediately to the test!

        Good points:

        * Arrived from Argos Direct well packaged, so no damage (not something to be taken for granted with many 'direct' purchases from a variety of companies). Housed within a box, with each item within plastic. There are four different parts: the hand mixer, two separate beaters which you attach to the mixer by hand, and a well insulated electric cord which is attached to the hand-mixer at one end and is secured to a three point plug at the other. A comprehensive instruction manual also comes with the mixer.

        * White 'no frills' basic appearance which is fine ~ nothing there to dislike at all! The hand mixer has a plastic body which feels reassuringly solid (not flimsy) yet it's not too heavy. It doesn't feel / look cheap and nasty, more cheap and cheerful!

        * Cleaning is easy: a quick wash of the beaters and a wipe down on the mixer and we were good to go for our first cake and to be honest, that's all you need to do each time you use it (plus of course whatever bowl you use for your actual mixing).

        * There are five speed settings:
        1) Fold ~ starting speed mostly suited to mixing dry ingredients
        2) Blend ~ useful for liquid ingredients such as beating mayonnaise or dressings
        3) Mix ~ general cake mixing
        4) Cream ~ great for that butter / sugar beating action
        5) Whip ~ for cream or mash etc
        Generally these five speeds are in order of speed, 1 = slower, then increasing in speed up to 5
        The adjustment is easy, just a flick of your thumb moves the speed selector across to the next speed. This speed selector is also the on / off switch because there is a speed option of 'O' which is the equivalent of no speed = off!

        * The body of the mixer has two sockets into which the beaters can be inserted. There isn't a 'correct' socket for each beater, it doesn't matter which one goes into which as everything's the same, great for when you are in a hurry. There's a beater eject button to pop the beaters out after use, ready for cleaning.

        * Because of its compact size, the mixer itself does not take up lots of room in your cupboards: length = 19 cm, height = 15cm, width 7.5 cm (max) ~ approximate measurements. It weighs a little because of its mechanical insides, however, despite the fact that I have problems with my hands and joints (so much so that I can't sometimes lift pots and pans) I can lift this little baby with no problems and can certainly hold it for long enough to mix a couple of batches of cupcakes before my arms get weary!

        ~ ~ Value for money ~ ~

        There are no bad points about this value mixer as far as I'm concerned ~ it does a very good job considering that it cost me under £6! I can't speak for full value for money yet, as I've only had it for a couple of months but there are no problems so far and if it lasts me for a year (which is the stated warranty period) I would feel well pleased with its value and would be happy to buy another one as a replacement when needed.

        That said, to finish with there are just a couple of things to note with it, not 'bad points', just quirks to be aware of:

        * It can be a little tricky to get the beaters in at times, so it's worth double checking that they are securely in the sockets before you use it ~ sometimes you think they are, but they're not!

        * The speed selector is a 'no frills' sliding switch which can be quite easy to knock with your thumb ~ great if you want to adjust the speed easily, but not so great if you didn't intend to adjust it at all!

        * The instruction manual does have a little section on using dough hooks, because these have to go into the right sockets. However, my beater did not come with any hooks ~ I don't think this model has them as they are not mentioned in the product info on the Argos Direct site, so I suspect that the manual is also one which is used with a more expensive model which should include hooks. To be honest, I don't feel as if I have missed anything here as I always make dough in my breadmaker, but I mention it just to give you the heads up in case you are adamant that you need dough hooks with your budget mixer purchase ~ you won't get them with this value mixer!

        As I've said, I'm very pleased with this appliance as a budget buy and feel that there's not a lot out there to beat it for value. It certainly does what I need it to do and has renewed my vigour in the kitchen (on a good day), without making me pay for it ~ literally!


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      • More +
        10.10.2012 12:43
        Very helpful



        A great buy if you can find it at the lower price, a very good all-in recipe book

        With an extended family which seems to expand and contract from one Christmas to the next, I purchased this book because I wanted to get a 'handle' on Christmas, try a few new ideas and regain for myself a sense of greater Christmas enthusiasm. In particular, I was hoping for something which I could bring out each year which would herald the start of preparations and become a planning stalwart.

        With its tag line on the cover of "A bumper collection of traditional recipes and festive craft projects" and a blurb on the back which detailed that the book includes "easy, colourful craft, gift projects and decorating ideas" and "do-ahead planning and cooking advice and countdown to the big day", I was hopeful that this book would soon become my all-in Christmas planner. Of course, finding this book available on-line meant that I wasn't able to flick through and see what was inside, I just let the blurb work its magic and ordered it.


        * Christmas is Coming
        * Drinks and Nibbles
        * Starters
        * Mains
        * Sides
        * Desserts
        * Baking
        * Reference
        * Index

        ~ oo ~ Good points ~ oo ~

        * It's a lovely book to handle and look at. It's a soft back with a slightly washable feel ~ good for use in the kitchen.
        * In fact, overall the book seems to have been thoughtfully bound for kitchen use ~ I have others which refuse to stay open at a given page without me piling things on top, whereas this one stays open when flat at whatever page you are using!
        * The cover images and those throughout the book are lovely: very clear and festive. These include whole page images of just 'random' festive things, such as a vintage type advent calendar which reminds me of the kind we had when I was about 4 ~ this image alone has re-awakened my enthusiasm for Christmas somewhat!
        * There are images of the end result for each recipe, which is always helpful (to me, at least)!
        * Some of the images also inspired ideas for giving some of the items as gifts, such as some of the truffles and biscuits being shown nicely wrapped as 'open' gifts.
        * The recipes are fabulous ~ I particularly love the nibbles section, there are some lovely easy makes in there which rival the kinds of thing you can buy from M&S's entertaining range, but it costs a fraction to make them yourself.

        Now don't get me wrong, I do love this book (hence I haven't given it any 'bad' points): the neutral points which follow are given from an 'even better if ...' perspective:

        ~ oo ~ Neutral points ~ oo ~

        * For a book which suggests itself as offering organisational tips and planning points, I felt that it did fall a little short of what it's trying to do. It does have a countdown for advance planning ~ from one year ahead; six to three months ahead; one month ahead, one week etc - right up to Christmas Day itself and it does include lots of recipes, but all of this was common sense stuff and the ideas were only joined up in a sparse way. For example, the planning ahead section does give page references for later in the book, such as making the mincemeat recipe one month ahead to prepare for your mince pie making, but I felt that much more of this could have been highlighted within the recipes themselves. Some of the recipes did carry extra info on how to store if made ahead, but I was a bit disappointed that this was the exception, rather than the rule and would have liked more of this information, particularly for the baking and puddings section!
        * There were some crafting projects interspersed among the recipes, but I did feel that these were limited - both in their number and in their type, seeming to require more specialist equipment or purchases - crafting projects using items that you're more likely to have to hand would have been more welcome.
        * A small thing, but given that the book is so lovely and so well bound for the purpose of kitchen use and overall time-of-year-busy-ness, that I expected there to be a fly page (book mark type addition) to one of the front or back covers, to make it easier to use or some kind of pocket at the back for lists and notes, but there was not one. The book really 'feels' like it should be there, or a pocket at the back to slip in shopping lists or your own printed off December calendar page etc, to bring your own planning into the book ~ that would be a welcome addition ~is it very sad of me to reveal that I have stuck my own pocket in the back so that I can max the book's planning potential?

        Overall, I do love this book and am pleased with my purchase. However, I did not pay the cover price of £12.99 for it (I paid £3.99) so to me it does offer value for money, particularly if you regard this purchase as buying a Christmas recipe book with a few extra ideas besides. I think I would have been disappointed if I paid the full price with an expectation of fabulous planning gems and crafting projects. With my own customisations (pockets and bookmarks) I think I now have the Christmas planning stalwart that I wanted.

        If you can find this book at the lower price and are happy with the focus on recipes, then I would highly recommend it!

        This review also posted by me onto Ciao :-)


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        • Argos Slow Cooker / Slow Cooker / 24 Readings / 23 Ratings
          More +
          09.10.2012 12:22
          Very helpful
          1 Comment



          A good value, no-frills slow cooker

          After years of using my hefty 6 litre slow cooking monster to feed an extended family, the numbers in our household have diminished, but my desire for the convenience of using a slow cooker has not, so the hunt for something more suited to a dinner for two was on! Having hunted around a bit and been horrified by the prices of some of the smaller, branded slow cookers, I had a quick check on Argos Direct when Argos had their recent summer sale. The item arrived boxed, with additional internal packaging and arrived undamaged from transit, which I was very pleased about considering the breakable nature of the pot and lid.

          This 1.5 litre slow cooker is one of the more basic in any range, but at under £9 it was just right for us in terms of budget and function. It's a no-frills budget buy (as you'd expect) ~ it's plain white and this version has just a light to show that the power is on and there are no heat settings such as HIGH, LOW or KEEP WARM, this cooker just completes the job on a single heat setting. As with all slow cookers, ingredients need to be hot when they are put into the cooker and, with the speed with which the casserole that I put into it started bubbling merrily away to itself, I'd say that this single setting seems to be of a general HIGH temperature.

          The heating unit does feel flimsy ~ I get the feeling it could easily be dented if you were a bit heavy handed with it, so I always stow it away carefully when not in use so that it can't be knocked. Additionally, whether because the unit's a bit flimsy or because the heat setting is relentlessly 'HIGH', the unit does seem to get a bit hot to touch once the cooker has been on for a while. Now as with all heated items you'd probably approach it with oven gloves anyway when handling the dish / cooker, but it's worth being extra aware of this item getting hot in terms of where you place the cooker whilst it's cooking, particularly if there are children around or if your worktop is a busy place!

          The ceramic cooking pot is fine and I love the glass lid, which makes it easy to check on your grub without having to open the top and let all the heat out. Capacity-wise it's just right for a meal for two, even with leaving the recommended 2cm 'space' at the top to avoid overfilling and allow for efficient cooking. It's worth noting that this recommendation should probably be particularly adhered to as because of that high heat setting, contents which are quite liquid, for example a casserole, can get quite a simmer going and could risk spilling out if you were to fill it right up to the lid.

          The instruction manual which comes with the cooker is basic but useful enough and well worth having a quick read through before using. There is also a short recipe booklet which comes with the 1.5 litre version, which includes recipes for a soup, casseroles and two puddings ~ it's just a shame that none of the casseroles were vegetarian-friendly.

          On the whole I am very pleased with this budget brand slow cooker and have probably used it at least once a week since I purchased it (approximately two months ago). I can't speak for how long it lasts as I've only had it for such a short time, but even if it just lasted as long as the warranty (1 year) I would say it offers good value for money. I would certainly buy it again and I would recommend it if you want a no-frills slow cooker which suits meals for one or two ~ particularly if you can get it at a sale price and reduce your costs further.

          I'm also posting this review on my Caio account ~ PlaysNicelyWithOthers :-)


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          • More +
            01.05.2012 12:16
            Very helpful



            A good bargain-buy for skin soothing

            *** What it is & what it does ***

            Aqueous cream is a pharmacy-based moisturiser - a "dermatological cream for the symptomatic relief of dry skin". Aqueous cream is non-perfumed and lanolin-free and can help to soften and soothe dry skin conditions.

            The product comes in a sturdy tub with a screw on lid. My most recent purchase from Boots was a 500g tubs for just £4.05.

            So, if you are out in your garden a lot now that Spring is properly here, and are finding that your hands are suffering from your hard-work outside, forget fancy, perfumed hand-creams - Aqueous cream is the over-the-counter alternative which will give your hands the equivalent TLC that they have been giving to your plants!

            *** What's to love ***

            * Because it's unperfumed, this cream acts as a 'unisex' handcream, great for gardeners of both genders!
            * Unlike many perfumed handcreams, Aqueous cream is not sticky and a little goes an awfully long way.
            * Because a little goes a long way, you really don't need much - the 500g tub offers real value for money because it really does seem to last forever.
            * Because of the size of the tub and therefore the size of the lid, it's fairly easy to manage the lid even if your hands are still wet from washing. However, we tend to loosen the lid before tottering up the garden, making it easier to manage once we are back in and have washed our hands - just dip into the cream and you're done!
            * Again because of its size, this tub is easily stowed under the sink ready for use- no hand-cream squeezy bottles to fall out each time you open the cupboard, or to get knocked back amongst your cleaning products and get lost - this sturdy little tub stays right where you put it!
            * Has many applications over and above looking after your hands - the whole family could benefit from using this for a range of dry skin conditions and even soothing. In our house we have a popular condition known as 'gardener's neck', which usually occurs when you didn't even realise that the sun was shining that much, so aqueous cream has come to work as an after-sun soother for us too!

            *** Quirks and quibbles ***

            * I'm not too fussy about my nails and they do suffer from the garden of course, but if you are fussy about your nails I'd use a separate conditioning treatment for them after gardening, because I don't think Aqueous cream does anything special to support your nails - mine are certainly no better since using it.
            * You might want to wait for the cream to 'soak' into your skin before attempting to put the lid back on the tub, because you will need your hands to screw the top on securely and you can't do this when your hands are slippery!
            * 500g of this product makes for quite a heavy tub - don't drop it on your bare toes!
            * As with all creams and pharmaceutical products, check for allergies before smothering on liberally!


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          • More +
            01.05.2012 11:44
            Very helpful



            A good all round buy for your hair and your purse!

            *** What it is ***

            I purchase the larger 750ml bottles of this product when it is on offer, so as well as its shampoo qualities, I'm also reviewing the cost-effectiveness of this larger bottle!

            This Avon product is a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, suitable for all hair types. This product is part of Avon's Naturals range and it offers the essences of mango and ginger whose properties help the product to not only "cleanse and revitalise" your hair, but also to smell pretty darn good too!

            The bottle is a sensible design, particularly given that the 750ml bottle's a large one. Heftier around the bottom then tapering in upwards towards the top, the bottle (not me!) then has a flat top so that you can stand it on its top as needed for getting the ends of the bottle out - maximising value and minimising waste! The opening is a flip top and there's a surprisingly small hole through which to squeeze the product onto your hand.

            The scent of the product is more mango than ginger, in my opinion, there's a real fruitiness but with just a hint of the warmth of the ginger, both when you smell the bottle and when it goes on your hair.

            *** What it does ***

            The combination of shampoo and conditioner in this 2in1 seems to work very well - you get the lather that you would want from a shampoo, to give that fresh clean-hair feeling, but you also get a surprising amount of conditioning.

            With other brands of 2in1 I have often had to put on additional conditioner in order to be able to get a comb through my hair afterwards and although I don't get that sleek and 'conditioned' hair feeling with this product when I rinse (my hair still feels a bit coarse and tangled to touch) - however, in reality there are few tangles at all and I can comb my hair through without tangles or knots, making this one of the very few 2in1s that do not require additional conditioner for me!

            The bottle says that after lathering and rinsing once, you can repeat as required, but I have never had to repeat as one lather session seems more than sufficient (my hair is shoulder-length).

            The scent of this product makes it a very pleasant one to shampoo with, but does not necessarily linger much once your hair is dry, if you use a hairdryer. If hair is left to dry naturally, I feel that the scent does last a little longer.

            *** What's to love? ***

            * This large sized bottle lasts for ages. What's more, this large size is regularly on offer in Avon campaigns and if you can buy it then it is exceptional value for money - literally pennies per use if, like me, you don't need a second lather session and you don't need to add any extra conditioning treatments.

            * Remember that smallish hole for squeezing the product through? I love that it's size means that it's virtually impossible to accidentally get too much out, so there's no product waste - ideal for kids if they want to squeeze out their own (although this large bottle might be too much for little hands to hold - see below)!

            * As well as there being no waste when pouring, the whole packaging and product image is minimalist - all functional but no frills. Being part of the Avon Naturals range, this adds to the sense of there being less waste environmentally, as well as to your purse. The bottle is recyclable!

            *** Quirks and quibbles? ***

            * Although I love the large sized bottle from a value perspective, there are times when it is just too much. When the bottle's new, it can actually be quite heavy and bulky to use if you have small hands or weak bones, so although it's a family sized bottle, it might be hard for independently washing children (aka: "I wanna do it myself, mum!") to manage a full bottle. That said, if your child is using the bottle, they are not likely to waste any because of that little pouring hole and the fact that smaller hands can't easily over-squeeze this shampoo out!

            * Likewise, although 2in1s are great for those after-swimming quick showers, this large sized bottle isn't exactly easy to cart around in your swimming bag, so if you like the product you'd probably be better off with the smaller sized bottle (250 ml) if you want to it for post-sporting showers!

            * Finally, although it has the flat cap for turning upside down when the bottle's nearly done, the fact that the bottle's so much wider around the base (which becomes the top when turned upside down), the bottle becomes not so much top-heavy as bottom-light, meaning that it is very easy to knock over. Of course the flip top opening prevents spills, but it's frustrating to leave the bottle 'draining' and then find that the slightest breeze in the bathroom has knocked the bottle over so you have to start again!

            So there we have it, a good all-round buy really! I only buy this large size when it's on offer and I do find it to be excellent value for money that way. It does exactly what is needed, clean and fresh hair and good value for your purse and (to some extent) for the planet too!


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          • Sony NWZB162 B Series / MP3 Player / 40 Readings / 39 Ratings
            More +
            21.02.2012 14:41
            Very helpful



            A great player with useful extra features

            This was a gift purchase for my husband as he's never had an MP3 player to call his own! I wanted specifically to buy him a Sony model because my own mp3 is an older model Sony NWD B105 and I love both its reliability and its sound quality. I chose this Sony NWZB162 model for my husband principally because it has a clip facility, which is the one thing that I wish my own mp3 had!

            As you know, I'm not technically minded, so I'll just give you the basic blurb and then speak for how we have found this mp3.

            Product: Flash-based digital player with voice recorder function.
            Size: HWD = 2.3; 9; 1.5 cm
            Weight: 28g
            Colours: Main enclosure is black, but model is available in black, red, blue varieties.
            Memory: High speed USB with Flash memory of 2GB.
            Sound: Stereo output; bass boost to audio plus 5 band equaliser.
            Display: LCD display and illumination.
            Features: USB memory; Zap feature (to whizz you through song selection); Quick Charge; Power Illuminator; detachable clip and binaural headphones.
            Manufacturers given run time is up to 18 hours and recharge time is 70m mins.

            *** Playing preparation ***

            * The mp3 comes in a kind of boxed / plastic packaging (for rack display) which is protective, but also easy to open. Because this was a surprise anniversary / Valentine's gift for my husband to take on a trip he was making, I wanted to charge up the mp3 and add some of his music to it before giving it to him and the packaging was ideal for allowing me to do this - it was possible to carefully open the packaging and then return the mp3 to it afterwards - not all plastic packaging allows this... so I was pleased to be able to do so. As far as I'm concerned, this useful packaging really added to the value that this walkman has as a gift, because it makes it really possible to personalise this player with music or even a voice recording as a gift for someone and then to package it all back up again!

            * The initial charge and recording was easy - it only took minutes to get the player out of the packaging, slip the cap of the USB and insert it into the laptop for charging. I wasn't sure at first if anything was happening, but then noticed a blue flash intermittently on the mp3's display, which showed that it was busy.

            * Recording was easily facilitated through Windows Media Player on the laptop. I uploaded some of my hubby's CDs to the laptop, then organised these into a sync list in the media player and then just syncronised to the device - all very easy! Once finished and the mp3 was fully charged, I just repackaged and waited for the right moment to give it to him!

            *** Listening and lovin' it ***

            * The first thing my OH did when preparing to listen to the mp3 player was to fix the detachable clip to it so that he could clip the whole thing into his breast pocket - so I knew I was right to get one with a clip facility! He found it a little tricky to attach the clip to start with (possibly because of his large sausage fingers) but also perhaps because it is actually a bit fiddly. However, once secured it certainly worked well and the mp3 was safely clipped into his pocket for the duration of a train journey in which he was bending and stretching as he got things out of luggage racks and bags etc.

            * Optimum sound quality is facilitated well through the combination of the quality earphones which come with the player and the sound quality of the player itself. Throughout the eclectic mix of my OH's music: from Jacques Brel to Louis Prima to The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, he did not feel short-changed in terms of listening through the ear buds supplied rather than through speakers at home. Volume control is easily facilitated through a little button on the top and once he had located this and used it a couple of times, he did not need to unclip it from his jacket to adjust the volume as needed.

            * My husband was also impressed with the Zappin' facility. This is basically a search function which zaps through your music, playing just a snippet of each. You can let it stop where it likes to 'surprise' you with a track it stops at, or you can stop it yourself on a track you want to listen to. I also had a play with this and found that the downside is that the machine 'speaks' when it is doing its zap thing, which we both actually found a little annoying but not in a desperate kind of way - the zapping itself is a nice feature to have, but it just would feel nicer to whizz through the music without the commentary.

            * Battery life was good - the mp3 was used for at least 2 hours a day across a five day period and has not yet needed a recharge. We haven't had the chance to try out the manufacturers (up to) 18 hour stated battery life, but with his use of it so far, my husband reckons he's getting pretty close to it.

            *** Anything else? ***

            * The blue LCD display is pretty good - there's a kind of chaser-light which whizzes around the circular part at the front of the walkman, so that you can see when it is busy.

            * There is a useful hold button which helps to avoid the buttons being accidentally pressed and this works well when using the mp3. However, I would also recommend setting the 'hold' button after you have switched the mp3 off, if you are continuing to have it in your pocket or bag, because until we hit upon this as a solution, we found that the walkman kept being accidentally turned on when in pocket / bag. It's a small issue but in terms of battery life it could turn out to be significant if you are away from home and cannot charge up the mp3 often - you could easily waste battery life with an accidental turn-on! You just have to remember to re-set the 'hold' before turning the walkman back on yourself.

            * This Walkman's reasonably priced for a 2GB and this does allow quite a few songs to be stored. However, it's surprising how quickly it fills up, so if you do like a whole range of music, you might find the capacity of this mp3 a bit on the small side for you, particularly if you want to leave memory free for voice recordings as well.

            So, in all a very good item which we are both pleased with - me for its gift value and ease of use in preparing it in a personalised way, whilst my husband's very happy with sound quality, portability and functionality.

            I'm just deducting one star for the combination of minor details that make this ever so slightly less than the perfect player - the faff with the clip; the ease with which the player can be accidentally turned on; the annoying 'zap' announcer! However, none of this affects the sound quality of this walkman, which is of course the main reason you'd buy it, so to that end I would totally recommend it as a good value, high performing mp3 walkman.


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          • More +
            10.02.2012 16:03
            Very helpful
            1 Comment



            A good value basic digital photo frame

            I'm a great one for having my photos around me and the move into the digital age has made me shift from traditional frames and photo albums to more digital means of both storage and display. As such, this frame was given to me as part of this shift and, although I have to say that I haven't made the maximum use of it, it gave me the idea of an on-going gift for someone else which has benefited her no end, so let me explain ...

            *** What it is ***

            * Comprises of a basic plastic frame: 7 inch visible screen with resolution of 480 x 234 and facility for either memory card and / or USB memory for photo storage. A power adaptor and instruction booklet also come in the box. Do be aware that you need to purchase a memory card or USB memory stick separately - although these can be sourced incredibly cheaply now!

            * Compared to some of these frames available out there, this Clarity model is a basic brand, which does little apart from store and display your photos, although it does have a calendar and clock facility. However, for a value brand, the display quality of the images and the additional features of clock and calendar actually make this a good value item.

            *** Using the frame ***

            * The frame itself can be wall mounted (the holes are moulded into the back unit for fixing onto screws) or there is a flap that pulls out so that the frame can stand onto a flat surface. The whole unit does need to be plugged in to run, so this needs to be borne in mind if you do want to wall mount it, as the height of the mounting could be restricted by the length of the wire from plug to the frame.

            * All the buttons for use are along the top of the back of the frame, making them easily accessible if wall mounted or shelf standing. The buttons control: mode; forward; backwards; up; down; return; enter and power. Depending on which mode you are in (photo, calendar or clock) these other buttons have different functions. However, these are usefully detailed in the booklet and even if you don't have it, the whole thing is very easy to navigate and works quite intuitively, so it's easy enough to work out for yourself.

            * From the basic, main menu when switching on the unit, there's a choice of functions: photo; setup; calendar and clock. Setup gives you options for changing the interval time between your photo transitions, as well as the transition effects themselves. You can also adjust settings such as contrast and brightness within the setup too.

            * Photos can easily loaded into the frame using the USB or memory card and once you press 'photo' as the mode you want to view in the frame, the photos load surprisingly quickly. Do be aware though that some of your photos may not fill the whole 7 inches of the viewing window, for example portrait style photos tend to be framed around the sides.

            *** Our own use of this ***

            Now as I said, I haven't really used this frame as much as I should have: largely because I don't really sit down long enough to 'watch' the photos, I think, although since Christmas I've made much more effort to have this frame up and running, because it's so easy to keep it up to date with your latest pics.

            With that said, our main use of this frame has not been through our use of it but through the fact that, having received it as a gift, it inspired us to buy one as a gift for a relative in a nursing home. Her room is very small so wall space for photos is very limited and there is not enough shelf space for her to store photo albums, even the mini kind. This all contributes to her feeling a little low at times, because she does love to be able to look around the room and feel 'surrounded' by her family. So, we bought her one of these Clarity frames and have bought two memory cards to use with it: one that stays with the frame and one that stays with us. Each time we visit, we update the card we have with a new set of photos which reflect everything the family's been up to. Then on the visit we swap the cards over so that she has a new set of up to date pics to look at. This frame in particular has made this work particularly well for us to do this, because:

            * The in / out of the cards facilitates quick swap overs: it doesn't take over our visit to her, just adds to it!
            * The fact that this is a 'no frill' frame, means that the functions of the frame are fine for this older lady who can be quite easily confused - she can navigate the basic functions easily and doesn't get overwhelmed.
            * And if she does? Just switching the power button off and then back on instantly takes you back to the main menu, so even if she gets lost with it, she can just go back to viewing the photos from the main menu by switching off and then on again.
            * The buttons being based along the top of the back of the frame make it easy for her to just press the buttons she wants, she does not have to handle the frame as a whole (important on days when she is feeling a bit wobbly).
            * Two of my husband's sisters live abroad. They frequently email us photos which we add on to the card, so that these can be shared as well, giving her up to date images of what everyone in the family is up to.

            So, a photo frame and a little more besides, for our family. Of course if you want frills and bells, this frame's probably not for you, but for a user-friendly, basic function photo storage / display device, I think this one is hard to beat in terms of value for money, particularly given the on-going pleasure it is giving our elderly relative.


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            • More +
              10.02.2012 14:34
              Very helpful



              A great value for money set of speakers with a surprising sound quality.

              This review is on the speaker set which we have in our living room. To get this review in the right context, you need to know that we don't have a TV so all of our entertainment (DVDs, music etc) is played on the laptop, with the sound being played through this speaker system. Therefore, we not only rely on this set for improved sound quality of our audio / visual (as everyone knows that laptop speakers are not the best) but we also give this speaker set very regular use - daily in most instances I should say.

              This set is my husband's set (my own Logitech speaker set is in the dining room) and this Trust set came to us because he purchased it for his eldest daughter when she went off to uni. Interestingly, she did not get on with it - could not get it to work properly with her laptop set up. As a gift, he swapped it for something else for her, but he kept this set to use with his PC and since we've been together we have used it with our laptop, as described above and it has it worked fine for us, so this review is on how we have found this set in daily use.

              *** What it is ***

              This is a three item set:

              * A wooden sub-woofer, HWD: 19.5; 16; 18.5 cm (approx) which houses all of the controls. Power output 15 watts.
              * Two speakers, HWD: 9; 8;8 cm (approx) - slightly abstract cubes!
              * The usual input / output wires are attached to the wooden control box
              * All items are black and all speakers / box have four little rubber feet at their bases to help stability and to avoid marks on your furniture.
              * All items could be wall mounted if needed and the whole thing is very quick to set up and start using!

              *** How we have found it ***

              * Overall this has been a very useful and functional speaker set. Sound quality is good and the volume control (at the front of the control box) has a wide range which, when cranking it up, is surprisingly powerful without too much compromise on quality. The volume is easy to adjust, as the control works on a rotation, you can adjust it with just one finger if you wish and still with some surprising precision once you become familiar with the levels of sound output that work for your room!

              * The set could easily be used as part of a desktop arrangement with PC / laptop as the speakers themselves are small but powerful and quite easy to hide away amongst shelves or a desk area. However, the control box is obviously more chunky and not so easy to stow away. However, this chunky aspect does have the advantage of making the unit feel substantial and stable and therefore quite durable. We keep the control box on a bookshelf where it works fine and appears quite discreet ... until you need to turn it all on, then it becomes a bit of a pain. Whilst the volume control is placed at the front of the box, for easy change of volume, and there's a blue LED light at the front of the box to indicate that the set is switched on, the actual on / off switch is at the back of the box. This means that you have to pull it forwards each time to turn it on / off. There's probably a design reason for this, but really it would be much better if the on / off switch was at the front of the box - even more so if you were using this speaker set for a desktop PC, where space is usually even more limited and you want to be able to tuck things away without pulling them out again each time you want to switch on!

              * One more little foible with this set is that I find that it hums continually when plugged in and the power's on - even if the control box itself is switched off. Due to having ear troubles, I find this hum quite loud and irritating, so I have to keep the unit unplugged if I'm in the room and not using the speakers. Overall, turning it off at the plug is a better process for us anyway as switching it on / off at the plug is easier than switching it on / off at the box (see above) but if you're wanting to use this speaker set around your PC and your plugs are fairly inaccessible once set up, then you might want to bear this in mind.

              * I do like the fact that all wires are black and we have minimal intrusion from wires with this set - in that respect, as well as sound quality, this speaker set is highly recommendable. However, do bear in mind that we have this set on shelves where the wires can be tucked away behind books etc - I'm not so sure the hidden wire look would be so easy to achieve if you wall-mounted this set, which the blurb that comes with it suggests you can!

              Although I do prefer our other set of speakers, I would still recommend this Trust speaker set because it is currently available for around £12, which is great value for the quality of the system itself as well as the sound quality that you get from it - even if it does hum to itself when you're not using it! The reason I've deducted a star in my rating is because of the inconvenient location of the on / off switch, rather than anything to do with the quality of the output, which I guess is the main reason you'd want to buy a set of speakers!

              Finally, my husband paid a bit more than £12 for this set because it was purchased more than four years ago, but given the use that this set has had since it's been with us (we've been married two years come Valentine's!), we have had brilliant value for money from it on a cost-per-use basis!


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            • More +
              10.02.2012 13:24
              Very helpful



              Although outdated and chunky, this camera's ideal for simple shots and learning to 'go digital'.

              If you've read my other review on the Sony Cybershot camera that I've ended up using lately, then you'll know that this Canon PowerShot A400 has been the digital piccy-taking love of my life in recent years! Now I'm not a technical person, so the fact that this camera has 3.2 mega pixels was not a criteria for me for choosing this camera, although it has helped with the image quality that I have enjoyed from it! So, this review is not a technical know-how review, it's purely on how I have found this camera in everyday use!

              *** What's to like ***

              * Although this has all the digital components that you would expect, overall this camera is a very basic digital model, but this does mean that it's very easy to use. For me, it made the transfer from 'film' cameras to digital very easy, from the logical and well designated buttons on the back to the very easy set up and transfer of digital images to your PC or laptop.

              * Image quality has been absolutely fine. There is the facility to zoom in or widescreen your photos, which makes having the right set-up very easy. I like the fact that you have to do this manually for yourself - the automatic settings I have been subjected to with other digital cameras have led to some very disappointing results from those one-off moments. With this camera though, I felt in control and that the pictures reflected what I felt I had seen and 'set up' rather than the camera doing an alternative 'thing' - particularly where an automatic setting may or may not include the flash, I like to control this myself as lighting in a photo can be very subjective. There's no automatic red-eye function to this Canon Powershot either, so there is the danger of red-eye in your pics, but as most photo processing packages (such as Picassa) allow you to remove red-eye, I never found this to be a problem.

              * My comments for image quality also cover the use of this camera for taking short videos. This camera is simple to use and set up for taking videos: just turn the small dial at the top left of the back of the camera to the film camera icon and off you go. When playing back via the camera itself or through your hardware, both image and audio quality are absolutely fine. I had no problems with taking video footage properly - you can easily tell when the camera is recording (unlike some others that I have used) which have been less obvious and less intuitive.

              * One of my favourite aspects of this camera that I used endlessly is the timer function. As with the rest of the camera, this was very easy to set up and the approximate 15 secs delay for the shot is usually just right for setting up the camera and running into the shot yourself. As we take most of our dog walks and outings as a couple, the timer facility allowed us to take many 'couple' shots without having to harass passers by! There's a tripod screw facility in the base of the camera for setting up in this way if you wish or for adding stability to other shots.

              * Overall, battery life has been pretty good with this camera. We use two AA rechargeable batteries each time and always carry two spare. This covers most eventualities on outings. However, as the camera has become older, I've found that the battery life has become less consistent (although this may be down to the life-span of my rechargeable batteries themselves than the camera).

              *** Other comments ***

              To be honest, I have been very happy with this camera so I was disappointed when it decided that it had given up the job -showing me instead just a white screen and no action after six years of pretty consistent use. My understanding is that repair would be more expensive than replacement, so my immediate thought was to replace this camera on a like-for-like basis. However, whilst I've been using my husband's Sony and my school's camera in the interim, I have realised that this Canon A400 is already a bit of a dinosaur compared to other models (some of which are themselves already a couple of years old). More recent models are far slimmer - this Canon's a bit of a chunky monkey and I had not realised how small the viewing screen on this Canon is compared to the relative size of the camera and compared to other models, and these are mainly the reasons why I've deducted one star from the rating, rather than usability & functions.

              However, the Canon PowerShot A400 can be obtained relatively cheaply now, particularly second-hand, so if your camera budget is very tight or you are looking for a first digital camera for a child or someone who wants to try their hand at digital photography, I'd recommend this camera wholeheartedly and I still have a pang for it when I have to try to work out how to get the shot I want using the Sony!


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              • More +
                08.02.2012 14:23
                Very helpful
                1 Comment



                If you like your CK accessories, then these babies are a snip!

                OK, I make no secret about my love of all things pretty, pastel and floral! No surprises then that my household scissors of choice are my CK haberdashery scissors! However, whilst these are marketed as 'haberdashery' scissors and indeed are useful as part of your sewing case or knitting bag, they also have a wider use for all of those little snipping jobs around the house.

                What you are buying is essentially a pair of handy-sized scissors within a PVC cotton coated case. The pictured item offers the lovely Hampton Roses design, but CK also offer a range of other designs, for example they are currently selling Chelsea Roses as well as this Hampton Roses design. Seasonally, CK also offers a 'fun' version of the case and scissors - this season it's an owl, with the rings of the scissors forming the eye-outline to the eyes on the case - very cute! The floral designs also tend to change seasonally and these often match a range of other sewing or knitting accessories, useful if you want to build up a set.

                The case measures 18.6 x 8.4 cm and accommodate the scissors perfectly. It's easy to slide the scissors in and out but the scissors don't necessarily slide out of their own accord - perfect to help avoid accidents if you are carrying them around! The case is well put together and seems very durable - certainly I've been one of my sets of these for approximately two years and the case is showing no signs of wear or tear. It probably helps that the case has a PVC coating, making it both wipeable and water-resistant, so if you are using the scissors in the kitchen, the case will both protect the scissors and the case itself stays looking pristine for longer.

                The scissors have a useful plastic coating around the finger holes, so that the scissors aren't cold to use. They are supplied in a usefully sharp state, just right for most general household jobs. I have two pairs, one in this Hampton Rose design and one of a red sprig rose design from a couple of years ago - one for household use and one in my knitting bag. Now I know that the need to resharpen scissors can depend on what you have been cutting with them, but I have not yet had to resharpen either of my pairs. I find the ones I use for yarn cutting to be particularly 'satisfying' to use, because they do not catch or snag the yarn which can cause fraying - awkward if you then need to thread the yarn through a needle. the cut of these scissors has always been clean and reliable.

                I would totally recommend these scissors. They retail at £8 from CK and their usual outlets, however, I bought both of my pairs when they were in 'sale' and each cost me £4, making them very competitive with other branded haberdashery scissors. You can often find the coordinating sewing items in the sale too, making it a great way to put together a great little set for yourself, or to give as a gift, at quite a thrifty cost! Certainly there's no question of the quality of these items, they are of the usual high standards that we are used to from CK and I would totally recommend them!


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                • More +
                  08.02.2012 12:44
                  Very helpful



                  The best way I've found of keeping hot drinks on the go whilst working!

                  This is the one item that I'd be hard pushed to be without in my day to day life: my Thermos Rome Carafe - I've been using it every day since I purchased mine just over a year ago and it's still going strong, being used every day as my on-the-go tea pot!

                  What it does: keeps hot drinks hot for up to 6 hours and cold drinks cold for up to 12 hours.

                  What I like about it:
                  * This carafe's not one of those ugly push-top table-top 'airpot' monsters! This carafe actually looks like an elegant jug / carafe and not like a flask with a tap on it. Does not look out of place in the working environment, nor does it look ugly if you take it out into the garden for a picnic or if eating at an outside table.

                  * It's easy to use, fill up, cap on and then press the button and pour when you want a drink! I just stick my red-bush tea bag in there, fill it up and enjoy my tea 'breaks' as I work.

                  * The chrome design means that it's easy enough to give it a wipe around to keep it clean, so it stays looking good over a considerable period of time even if it's being kept on the busiest kind of desk.

                  * The large spout is actually quite useful for me as I'm quite clumsy and shaky handed, anything smaller and I'd possibly miss the cup, whereas I can ensure that this spout is clearly in place before pressing that button. To that end, I'd possibly suggest that someone who's not very dexterous might be able to use this carafe without difficulty.

                  * As with all Thermos items, you don't submerge it in water for washing inside. I just give it a good rinse with hot water or occasionally soak a Steradent in there for a short while to give it a good once-over!

                  * I did not pay full price for mine so I would consider this to have given me seriously good value for money (on a cost per use basis). If you use it as much as I do, then I guess that even at full price this Thermos could quickly earn its keep because you don't have to keep re-boiling the kettle for just one cuppa at a time!

                  * The Thermos does feel a little flimsy, in a 'plastic' kind of way, but I do't really know of any 'thermos-type' item that it's certainly a robust enough kind of item. I've dropped the lid several times and it's still working properly, so it's possibly not as flimsy as it looks / feels.

                  Just the one quirk (of course, there had to be!):
                  * Once you've used about 2/3 of the liquid up, the cap starts to make little noises as it's obviously releasing some of the air / steam built up inside: to me it sounds a little like a squeaky submarine sound. This can be a little disconcerting at first, but once it starts, all you need to do is just press the button periodically (with the jug upright position, you don't have to move it or pour) to stop the noise for a bit

                  So, there we have it, second only to the washing machine and hand-in-hand (for obvious reasons) with the kettle, my most-loved kitchen item: my Thermos Carafe!


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                • More +
                  08.02.2012 12:40
                  Very helpful



                  A lovely item to look at, but not so lovely to use!

                  This was part of my Christmas gift from my hubby, because I've wanted something more substantial (and pretty) to use as part of the dinner table setting and general household use - we like candles! Although we have a faithful old candelabra, our house is very draughty and the candles blow out easily, so I was really drawn to the hurricane lamp design of this Laura Ashley model because it would not only be more effective against our indoor draughts, but would also make the lamp useful for having meals out in the garden in the summer (weather permitting)!

                  ***** What it is *****
                  * A cream coloured two arm candle holder with decorative florals trailing along the arms. There are two glass hurricane lamps, with fluting-type shape, which clip around the candle holders, to protect the candles from draughts and knocks.

                  * HWD: 45; 31; 12 CM (max)

                  * Sturdy circular base, which is covered in a rubber-like material, to help add stability.

                  * I'm not sure of what the actual candle holder is made of, but it is a metal type, which has been painted cream. The fact it is metal means that it feels very solid (quite substantial in fact) and is less prone to
                  being easily knocked.
                  ***** What we've found .. *****

                  Looks: Good, both when it is being used and not. It's certainly decorative enough to have on your table / mantelpiece even if you're not into your candle-lit dinners - it could certainly be used to accessorise a room if you wish. The arms & base are easy to wipe clean, so don't let the cream colour put you off!

                  When in use, the candle holder looks very effective. Depending on what other lighting you have in the room, the glass of the hurricane flutes can be quite reflective both of the candles or other light sources, which means it can give quite an attractive glow. I actually find the light from 'plain' candles to be too bright at times but the glass flutes add a subtle diffusion of the light which I actually find to be a bit gentler on my eyes.

                  Use: Ok, there are good and not so good points to this ....

                  We were quite surprised to find that the item did not come boxed, when we bought it in the Laura Ashley shop: I'd assumed that because of the fragile, glass components that it would be safely packaged - I can only guess that if you buy this candle holder from an online source, then it would have to be boxed for protection. However, my point is that I don't know if the item comes 'assembled' if you get it in a box. For us, the three items were separate - candle base and two glass hurricane lamps, so a small amount of assembly was required: we had to put the glass hurricanes onto the arms of the base.

                  Now, this does not sound tricky but, my goodness! The glass lamps slide onto the candle arms and are attached by two little 'spring' clips which are fixed around each actual candle holder (just visible in the item picture). In theory, you pull the springs in towards each other, put the hurricane lamp into place and then release the clips which, now back open, hold the glass lamp in place. My husband tried doing this first, but his hands are so big that it made it impossible - we really thought that he was going to end up breaking the glass lamps before we'd even had a chance to use it. I took over and thankfully with smaller hands was able to complete the manoeuvre - but it wasn't easy and I too felt that I was going to end up breaking something.

                  Still, you'd think that once you'd done this, the matter was sorted, but of course when using long candles, they burn down and sometimes on subsequent lightings the candle may only be a couple of inches long, which means you have to be careful about re-lighting - it's not safe to lower your hand into the lamp to light the candle, nor does it feel safe to take the glass lamp off, light the candle and then do the manoeuvre with the clips to try to get the glass lamp safely back on - not with a naked flame close by. Our way around this has been to buy the extra long matches and turn the holder onto its side and light shorter candles that way.

                  Additionally, what happens when your candles are burned all the way down? It's necessary to take the whole of the glass lamp off, remove the remains of the candle and replace - all of which looks like a simple sentence as I write it but, trust me my friends, is far easier to write than to do. This is not helped by the fact that if you let the candles burn right down, it's very tricky to get the remains out of the little holding cup - we always need an extra implement of sorts to help welly the remains out, so you'd be best advised to replace the candles when there's still a bit left to burn - wasteful I know, but far easier to make the changeover (until you come to the clip kerfuffle of putting the hurricane lamp back on that is)! On a happier note though, I use these short remains in the old candelabra to avoid the waste.

                  One more issue we have noticed when using this lamp is that, particularly when you are relighting half-used candles, the glass hurricanes can become quite sooty inside. Now this can totally add to the aesthetics of a shabby chic dinner setting, but does mean an extra cleaning job every so often. Of course the soot does come off easily with a rinse or wipe so it's not a major cleaning task, just something to be aware of alongside the difficulty in getting the lamps on and off each arm!

                  We do enjoy this item and I do like having it (although I'm a very 'Little House on the Prairie' kind of girl so this lamp does have a natural appeal to me)! It does look good on the table and can be a real feature if you use silver or cream taper candles in it. However, as described, it can be a bit of a pain to change the candles over - my husband actually wants to cut the clips off so that the lamp can just be lifted on / off and the candles lit easily, but I am worried that this will affect the overall stability of the lamp and whether the glass could just then fall off - especially as we all know how clumsy I am ....! So, perhaps also beware that this item can also invite some interesting domestic discussions!

                  Value for money? I would not have paid full price for it (we didn't) because it's too much for a decorative item and if I'm paying that kind of money for a practical item I'd expect it to be easy to use and not this much faff to get the lamps on and off. That said, because we got it in a pre-Christmas event it was a very reasonable price which we have definitely had plenty of value from already.

                  If you like your Laura Ashley / Shabby Chic / nostalgia type items that are purely decorational, then I'd recommend this item because it does look stunning. If, like me, any addition to your home has to be practical as well as pretty (not sure I actually applied this criteria to my hubby, hmmm) then you'd be best to be aware of the niggles we have found with it, particularly if you are buying online. If you can, I'd recommend that you visit an outlet which sells these so you can try out those clips and see for yourself! Try for a sale event, because I wouldn't recommend paying the full price (£32) for this! So, although I love this hurricane lamp in itself, at least one star has to go, I'm afraid!


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                  • Logitech S-220 / PC Speaker / 29 Readings / 26 Ratings
                    More +
                    06.02.2012 16:13
                    Very helpful


                    • Reliability


                    If you need a set of speakers but don't have much cash, these are seriously worth considering!

                    These speakers were purchased as an 'add-on' to my old desktop PC system, to help improve the sound quality and overall audio experience when using the PC. It has to be said, that not only did these speakers do exactly that, and improved the sound quality immeasurably, but they have also proved particularly durable, outlasting the PC and now working very well with either mine or my husband's laptops.

                    Now I'm not a technical expert, so I will just be commenting on our experience of these alongside the basic technical information that came with it, asterisked as follows, and of course the value for money that the set offers:

                    * Logitech 2.1 stereo speaker system which offers 17 W RMS

                    The system comes as four basic items: 2 speakers, each HWD: approx 15; 7; 6 cm (max); amplifier HWD 19;9;26 cm (max) and round control pod - 5cm across; 2.5 cm high (max). All items are black and are very discrete when set amongst your computer hardware. The amplifier is just the right size to tuck out of sight on the floor and the wires supplied are long enough that you can have everything else at desktop level if you wish. We don't have a study or anything so we use this set in the dining room. We have the box on the floor, speakers on top of my husband's grandma's bureau (not really an antique, but lovely dark old wood) and the control pod inside the flap of the bureau. One of the things we love about this set is that although it has several components, the technology doesn't 'take over' - either the bureau or the room, yet we haven't had to compromise on aesthetics by just making do with the laptop speakers, this set proves that it is possible to have both sound quality and minimal hardware!

                    Power lead feeds to the amp box, the speaker wires feed into the amp box and the control pod wire links amp box to control pod. From the control pod there's a dual wire fitted in, with two basic jacks which attached to your sound-providing hardware - laptop, PC, CD player etc. The whole thing takes only minutes to set up!

                    I'm not a techie as I said so I can't comment on what the 17 W RMS is or does, all I can say is that the performance of this set is absolutely fine and it is easy to use and does not intrude on a room. The dining room's a standard double room size and it's not a case of having to crowd around the speakers to hear anything!

                    * Sleek black satellite speakers with ported subwoofer, to provide full and rich audio performance

                    All of this is true - sleek speakers indeed, easy to wipe off when dusty. Possibly the 'sleek' look could be interpreted as being just shiny plastic on the front of the speakers which is actually a little less attractive than the matt black of the rest of the speaker casing and the main amp. However, because the speakers are so small, this shiny aspect of the speakers is easy to ignore if you don't like it: for us, against the polished surface of the dark wood there's no problem with the speakers' appearance.

                    There's a 'filter' material across the front of the speaker, behind which the subwoofer's busy working away to provide the sound (I guess)! Although obviously hard-wearing and the appropriate material to use in respect of audio equipment, this 'fabric' covering is harder to keep clean as, being black, lighter dust seems to show quite easily on it - especially given that electrical items / static seems to attract the dust. I wipe occasionally with a damp (no, not wet) cloth or give a gentle brush over if it needs sprucing up.

                    Sound quality is indeed superb across both speakers, across any of the whole range of music genres particularly that our family listens to.

                    * Convenient wired control pod designed to minimise desk clutter

                    This is indeed a small: it's not much to look at and it does feel pretty fragile, but it's a mighty useful part of the set. The box is wired directly to this control pod (only 5cm wide), so you don't end up with lots of wires across the desk (a major plus for me as this set is used in our 'living' area, not in a study or office). The control pod does sit discretely on or in our bureau.

                    The only slightly negative comment that I'd have to make on it is that because it is small and lightweight, this control hub is easily knocked, so you do have to be 'aware' of it. At times this seems to be because the wires that feed into it make it difficult for it to stay 'sitting' on the flat surface, although having said that, we are an amazingly clumsy family and as a result, this little pod has been frequently knocked down the back of the bureau and even caught up in the flap on occasions, yet it continues to work unfailingly, so it's proved itself to be extremely robust despite being so small and having such a fragile 'plastic' feel to it. I don't actually know how the design could be improved to improve stability, because of the need for wires (until they develop a wireless one, I suppose)!

                    * Control pod with headphone jack, microphone jack, volume and power controls
                    As above, only the wire from the box feeds into the control pod, with another dual fitted wire to link the control pod to your hardware (green and pink fixtures as standard). The control pod also offers ports for your headphones or microphone, marked with the relevant symbols.

                    The on / off sliding switch for the system is also on the control pod - great if you keep the box on the floor as it saves crawling around when you want to turn on / off. A small orange light comes on at the front of the pod so you know if the system's on or not. Be aware that the on / off is tiny though!

                    The volume control is also on the pod and this takes the form of a disc at the top of the pod. This has a small finger 'groove' as a marker and you spin the disc to change the volume. On the front of the pod, next to the headphones port, is the label 'MIN' and next to the microphone port is 'MAX'. Spinning the disc in either direction raises or decreases the volume as appropriate. Do be warned that if you do crank up the volume on this little baby, it's surprisingly powerful (and loud) but without compromising on sound quality (although degree of this actually depends on what you're listening to)!

                    As a set up, this volume control within the pod is incredibly easy to use, but sometimes it's just too easy and if you are just moving the control pod to one side it can be too easy to knock the volume control so that you then have to re-set it. This isn't really a niggle or a complaint, it's just something to be aware of. On the contrary to being a bad thing, if you are arthritic in your fingers or have problems with dexterity, this is an easier volume control to adjust yourself than many dials etc from radios and sound systems and I would recommend it from that aspect, particularly as the on / off also works by a sliding switch.

                    * Simple installation and easy connection to PCs, CD and MP3 players
                    Yes, no problems with this. The basic leads / jacks that you might need are supplied and any others that you may need seem to be readily available on Amazon.

                    * Available with EU (220V) or UK (240v) power supply
                    We have (and use) the UK adapter and generally we keep the system plugged in and ready to go, just turning it on and off from the control hub. However, I do suffer with ear problems and sometimes find that even with the control hub turned off, the amp box makes a gentle hum which, if my ears are playing up, really irritates me! At these times, unplugging the whole unit stops the humming! It has to be said that this isn't anything that anyone else in the family struggles with - it's just my ear sensitivity and of course it is easily remedied by unplugging the power, so don't let this put you off, just something to be aware of.

                    [If you do suffer with your ears in this way, you might be interested to know that my husband's 'Trust' speaker system that came with him into our marriage makes an even worse noise when just plugged in / on standby. The Trust one's in the living room and always has to be switched off unless it's actually playing music, so if your ears are an issue, this Logitech one is much more bearable out of the two].

                    * 3 year manufacturers guarantee
                    Well, I've had this set for just over that now and it's still going strong, despite our clumsy ways! When purchased back in 2008, this system was around £23 I think, so it's given me very good value for money just on a pay-per-use basis alone. When you also consider the sound quality that this system offers, and the fact that you can now by the whole thing for under £18 on Amazon, this system represents extremely good value.

                    In relation to cost per use and durability, extra info you might want to consider is that we do not have a TV or a 'stereo' system. All of our audio / visual entertainment comes from the computer, so these speakers do get used virtually daily in some form: listening to the news / music / watching a DVD etc, which I think says a lot about our use of these speakers and their reliability.

                    Finally, if you do like your music but your sound system is limited to listening to CDs, radio or Spotify on your laptop or PC (like us) then, as good as you think your PC / laptop speakers are, you'd be surprised about how much your listening experience would be greatly improved by the addition of these incredibly cheap, but fantastically cheerful (and tuneful) speakers and I'd thoroughly recommend them!


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                  • More +
                    03.02.2012 16:49
                    Very helpful



                    One of the more useful books in this genre around this price range.

                    I've had this cook book for quite a while now, since I had to rethink my diet due to health and dietary issues - can't have one without the other it seems!

                    I wasn't drawn to this book because of it's 'Dr' element and I'll happily leave aside any discussion on Gillian McKeith, who appears to be the Marmite of the nutrition world: the truth is, I was drawn to this book because, out of all of those in my price range that I picked up in the bookshop, this one seemed to be, at the same time, the most understanding of my nutritional quandry and the most easy to understand and use. I'll explain why ...

                    * There's enough background, but not too much, on both where Dr. GM is coming from in terms of nutrition and on the basic principles of having a healthy food philosophy. I had already returned to the bookshelf tomes that seemed to have more intro and principles to follow that it offered in recipes and solutions. Although this book does offer guiding principles, these are in fact very simple and very sensible, although one is a little too anecdotal for my liking, but it does make the point that if you are serious about your health then a positive change can be achieved if you stick to the main principles. I especially liked the guide on not getting fixated on weight, as I know that being hung up on this issue can quickly negate any positive effects that a healthier diet can be starting to achieve.

                    * The principle on starting with a body check and a detox is a sound one and these are very clearly explained in the book, are easy to follow and do of course include the suggestion that a radical diet change should be discussed with the GP - sound advice indeed. I also particularly liked that the self- check for areas of your health immediately offered you points of reference for recipes in the book to help address the issue, so that you could get started in small steps immediately if you wanted.

                    * The section to help you get organized to start the revamp of your diet is also useful, but did have one glaring ommision where I was concerned (see my even better if comments below)! However, there are lots of useful lists as to what might be needed to create a basic, healthy store cupboard.

                    * The book also offers good general overviews on useful herbs, different teas and their uses as well as spices and natural flavourings that could be used - vital if you are withdrawing salt-laden convenience foods from your diet.

                    * There's also a useful menu plan before you get to the recipes themselves, which is a great starting point. I quickly adapted this to fit the fact that I'm a vegetarian and have food allergies, but this wasn't too difficult as the book offers lots of alternative recipes. In fact, the thing this book did get me doing was making home-made soups in advance and taking them in a flask to work , something that has made a real difference to my health and energy levels.

                    * Recipes are sectioned out and include:
                    - juices & smoothies
                    - breakfasts
                    - soups
                    - salads and lunch boxes
                    - main meals
                    - quick bites
                    - snacks
                    - treats
                    - stocks, sauces and dressings
                    This generally covers most meal areas and additionally covers most of the basics for organising your workday lunches so that you don't have to compromise on your good work with the diet by having to get a soggy canteen sarnie. The 'fresh start' approach that comes through from the getting organised section earlier in the book certainly does help to actually get you into the routine of doing this.
                    As a veggie, I found that the recipe section was not too heavily weighted towards meat eaters and does include a lot of veggie options, another reason why I chose to buy this one rather than others that were available around a similar price range.

                    Recipes are colourful, clearly set out, instructions and quantities are all very clear, whilst there are plenty of images and blank areas on pages for scribbling your own notes about substitutions you make etc (doesn't everyone do this or is it just me)? No problems here at all - as a cookbook this gives you everything you need.

                    * The book's a useful worktop / shelf size, easy to grab for reference. The only thing is that because it's softback and the spine's not overly wide, it's a bit tricky to keep the book open where you want in when following recipes - I usually have to put a tin on one side to stop it flipping shut!

                    * Finally, although I know that some people have an issue with Dr. GM's general tone and turn of phrase, I think that for this book the tone of her narrative is right (if just a little anecdotally heavy and wearing in places). For a book like this, I feel her slightly bossy tone is needed to instil confidence and a sense of purpose when making what can be really dramatic changes to your diet (and lifestyle).

                    Even better if:
                    Taking the idea that someone might buy this book because they want to effect positive change where their health / diet is concerned, I was surprised that, whilst the early guidance recommended speaking to your GP, it didn't include a note on speaking to your family or others in the household. Particularly as a busy wife and mum, I couldn't really make the adaptations I needed without tweaking everyone else's diets and meals in some ways (as I wasn't about to cook three or four different dinners a night) so speaking to your family, for support on those off days if nothing else, would seem to me to be a vital step.

                    So, I'd recommend this book if you are looking to revamp your diet into a more health-conscious one or for if like me, it's already fairly healthy but medical issues mean that you need to seek out more appropriate foods to include regularly within your diet.


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