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My negative opinion of BOL.com derives from the one time I ordered from them. I doubt I'll be ordering from them again. A comparison site told me that BOL had a copy of a triple pack of Hitchcock videos. BOL reported that the pack was usually delivered in 24 hours, so I placed the order. This was 3 weeks before I was due to leave the delivery address to join my family for Xmas. 2 weeks later, and I was starting to think I should check up on them. All the website could tell me was that the order was "in process", which means: "Your books are being sourced from our suppliers or are being prepared for delivery to you." As far as I was concerned, this meant they could arrive any time, so I emailed their customer service for clarification, and received a short email saying "we're getting it from our suppliers". I decided to get the videos from another source (well done Streets Online, who not only delivered it two days later, they were also a quid cheaper!), and then discovered that unlike many other online shops, BOL does not have an online cancellation option. I emailed them to request they cancel my order. Didn't hear anything for two days, so I read a few dodgy opinions of them on dooyooo and decided I'd better call them as well, just to be on the safe side. The guy I spoke to was very polite, and said he'd pass on my request. Two days later, and my order status was still saying "in process". Finally, I got an email from BOL telling me that unfortunately they could no longer get the item I wanted from the publishers, and so they wouldn't be able to fulfill my order. Guess what? Three days later, and my order status STILL says "in process"! I'm thinking at this rate the video's going to turn up in year's time when I'm least expecting it...
Archer's Direct offers not only a substantial saving for those booking holidays abroad, but also enables you to avoid the horror of the travel agents on a Saturday afternoon. Archer's Direct is Cosmos's phone-only tour operator. This means that you can't book via a travel agents and have to ring them in person; personally I don't see this as much of a disadvantage, having often spent time queuing in one only to find the holiday/hotel isn't available. In the past I've also had to prompt travel agent staff to include money-off deals, which leads me to conclude their operating systems aren't too advanced; however, when I rang Archer's Direct, with a list of all the costs in front of me (holiday plus supplement minus £50 off per couple plus travel insurance minus half-price offer - you can see why it's hard to keep track of these costs!), the phone operator rattled off the breakdown of the total to me with no problem, and all the discounts were included. The Archer's Direct brochure can be ordered via their website (www.archersdirect.co.uk) or over the phone (0845 600 1410). It's not as large as most of the other brochures available, like Thompson's or JMC's, so there aren't such a large number of hotels to choose from. Some destinations, for example, only give you the option of one hotel. In addition or prior to browsing the brochure, it's worth looking at the Archer's Direct website. If you've got some idea of where you want to go, there's resort descriptions (which thoughtfully include reasons not to go as well as the plus points!), relevant average temperatures and monetary information, as well as hotel descriptions and photos. My only criticism is that prices aren't included, meaning you have to either phone and ask for them, or have the brochure already. Alternatively, also on the website, there's an online form you can fill in which suggests whi
ch hotels might suit you best. You can request information on hotels that offer half-board, have a jacuzzi and a mini-golf course and are less than 500m from the beach if those are your requirements. The search results will bring up a varied list of hotels in various resorts and countries; unfortunately this list doesn't seem to be comprehensive, just the first ten or so that match your prerequisites. I looked at the Archer's Direct brochure in conjunction with a whole batch I got from the travel agents, and my conclusion was that, for the holidays in the £300-450 price range I was looking at, Archer's seemed to be about £75-£100 cheaper than those in the other brochures. The gentleman I spoke to when ringing to book the holiday was efficient and polite, and the whole process took ten minutes at most, even with the poor guy having to read out the travel insurance rules and regulations as required by law. As far as the holiday itself went, we were treated just like the other Cosmos customers, so there was no downside in terms of not getting the full rep service. (On the other hand, since our rep was a bit of an eejit who turned up at the hotel one night as the entertainment - "The Scott Experience" featured such songs as 'My Way' and 'Mack the Knife' - maybe that's not such a good thing!) UPDATE 27/01/03 Just received a new holiday brochure from Cosmos, and it seems as though whilst they're still offering a smaller range of holidays only bookable over the phone, with great discounts, this is no longer via the Archer's Direct brochure, but has the Cosmos branding. I don't know if this means the two have parted company, but it seems the above summary may no longer apply.
Cambridge's Strawberry Fair takes place in the summer, often coinciding with the local students' exams (which obviously upsets them no end!). This year (2001) it's being held on Saturday the 2nd of June. The Fair, which is free, is set up on Midsummer Common, a large park near the river. In a way it's like a little mini-festival, with dogs on strings included. There are various stages for bands, dance tents and performers (e.g. stilt-walkers, dancers, drummers). Stalls abound with information on various causes, with Huntingdon Life Sciences and other animal rights groups the most prominent. But it's not all serious stuff - this is the place to come to get your henna tattoos (though you'll need to get in line behind a large assortment of 13 year old girls), your colourful t-shirts and your legal versions of illegal substances. The food choice is good, ranging from burgers to Chinese to vegetarian. There are various stalls selling alcohol, as well as the park's pub, the Fort St. George, which unfortunately gets packed out very early on. For kids there is the usual stuff - face-painting, guys selling metallic, Pokemon-shaped helium balloons, etc. - though once it gets dark, and the fair-goers are pretty well hammered, it's probably best to take the little cherubs home.
Before I start wittering on about holiday brochures, I should first point out that often the cheapest holiday will involve buying tickets from one of the low-cost airlines like RyanAir or Go, and sorting out your accommodation using the web. The downside to this though is that if things go wrong you'll have no one to sort it out for you, you'll have to make your own way from the airport to the hotel, and - perhaps worst of all - there'll be no holiday rep around to rope you into a fancy dress karaoke evening. But now onto the holiday brochures. It's best to pick up at least six (but not all in one go, as they're surprisingly heavy). Unfortunately you need quite a few in order to compare prices and so on, but if you don't write all over them and fold over the pages then you can always return them to the travel agents to avoid feeling guilty about the environment. THE BROCHURE: The first thing that will strike a novice brochure user is confusion. So here's a brief explanation of how to translate the brochure information: The price of the room will be based on a) type of accommodation, b) what time of year you're going (low, mid or high season), and c) how many of you are sharing a room. The accommodation will usually be either self-catering (no meals included, but you will get a 'kitchenette', generally comprising a couple of cooking hobs, a fridge, and some crockery and cutlery), bed and breakfast (no kitchenette, but you will get a breakfast, often served at a buffet), half-board (no kitchenette; breakfast and evening meal at the hotel included) and, occasionally, full-board (no kitchenette; breakfast, lunch and evening meal included). Nowadays some hotels are offering 'all-inclusive' deals, where your holiday price includes food and drink throughout the day. Personally I prefer self-catering, not because I enjoy cooking abroad, but because it means you can eat out every night without
offending the hotel chef, and it makes my boyfriend happy because he can store numerous bottles of beer in the fridge. Often in self-catering accommodation you'll have a choice of either a studio apartment (basically a bedsit) or a 1-bedroom apartment (with the bedroom separate from the lounge and kitchenette). Look at the dates you want to go on to find the right price. Usually each row covers about 2 weeks, with July and August (high season) being the most expensive. If your holiday covers two different rows then the travel agents will average out the price. Most of the holiday prices you see in the boxes will be based on a certain number of people sharing a room. It should say somewhere in the box something like "4 sharing". If there's less than four of you, you'll need to look at the bottom of the box, where you'll find the "low occupancy" supplement. The cost of the supplement depends on how many of you there are, and what time of year you're planning on travelling. The supplement will be on a per-night basis, so if you're going for 7 nights you'll need to multiply the figure by seven. Another supplement you need to remember is the flight supplement. These are found at the back of the brochure, and their price will vary according to which airport you're travelling from and what time of day you're flying. A dash (-) usually means that flight isn't available, whereas NIL or £0 means there is no extra flight supplement (this is rare). SO THIS IS HOW YOU WORK OUT THE COST OF YOUR HOLIDAY: Take the cost of the room, add the supplement if there are less of you than the room price is based on, add the flight supplement, and then the cost of travel insurance (you don't have to take the travel insurance offered by the tour operator, but if you don't you'll need to have arranged it before you book the trip, and it'll need to offer coverage as good as the o
ne in the brochure). This is what it will cost one person to go on that particular holiday. HOW TO SAVE MONEY: Either book early or book late. If you book early, a lot of brochures (e.g. Airtours, Archers Direct) will offer you some money off the price of the room. Those newspaper-like discount brochures are usually a waste of time though - if there's anything good in them it'll normally be snapped up sharpish. I think their job is mainly to draw you into the travel agents even though there's little chance of the hotel you want being available. As for booking late, this refers to those fab deals you often see in travel agents' windows. The downside to these is that often all you'll know before you arrive at your destination is whereabouts you're going (not necessarily the resort, but you'll know if you're going to Ibiza or Majorca) and what quality of accommodation you've got (2 star, 3 star, etc.) So only take advantage of these if you're flexible, because you may find that although you've saved a hundred quid you have to take a ten minute bus ride to the beach every day. There are also some tour operators who don't sell holidays via travel agents, and so save you the agents' cost. Travel agents don't stock these brochures so you need to look out for their advertising. One good one is www.archersdirect.co.uk, which had holidays for about £100 less than equivalent holidays in other brochures. THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Flight times - usually you will be kicked out of your hotel room at 12pm. If your flight is at 3 in the morning, that's a long time to be hanging around with nowhere to go, so bear that in mind when you're choosing a flight. The good news is that the hotel will have a luggage room where you can put your suitcases until the coach arrives, and some hotels offer a late check-out option where you pay a fee to have a room till around 5 pm. This won't often be the sa
me room you were in for your holiday though. Does your room/hotel have either a safe or a safety deposit box facility? Because you really don't want to be either walking around with all your holiday money or leaving the whole lot in your room when you're not there. If you're a couple looking for a relaxing break, I'd recommend avoiding those hotels with Kids' Clubs as there are bound to be more families there. Also hotels with those 18-30 type logos by their description are best avoided if you like a peaceful night's sleep. How far is your hotel from the beach? Some are over 3 kilometres away, or up a steep hill. Is your town in a rowdy part of town? Or is it next to the local funfair? You have to expect some noise in most Mediterranean resorts (take some earplugs with you), but some locations are definitely preferable to others. Are you vegetarian? If so, don't expect to be able to try the local cuisine. Unless you visit Italy (which has loads of naturally vegetarian dishes), you may find that the only food you can eat is omelette and chips (believe me, I've been there). For this reason vegetarians may be better off at the larger resorts as they tend to have a wider variety of restaurants. I've found the most honest brochure to be Thomson's. They seem to be very good at telling you the bad points to a hotel as well as the good, and best of all they have a chart showing you how last year's guests rated the accommodation, the location, the food choice and the holiday overall. TOP TIP: before you book the holiday, ask your travel agent to look up the hotel in the Agent's Gazetteer. This will tell you what the hotel is really like, and travel agents are required to show it to you if you ask for it. Good luck, and I hope you find the perfect destination!
You don't have to be a Jackie Chan fan to enjoy this film. You don't have to be a fan of Westerns to enjoy this film. It's set in the days of the Wild West, with a Chinese princess (Ally McBeal's Lucy Liu) being kidnapped by another Chinese noble, one who was defied the emperor and set up business in America, using his fellow countrymen and women as slave labour. Jackie Chan plays Chong Wang (you might need to say it out loud to get the joke), one of the princess's guards, who takes it upon himself to tag along with the other, more skilled warriors who have been sent to snatch the princess back. Despite them regarding him as pretty much a joke, Chan soon proves himself adept at getting the better of the cowboys he encounters. One of these cowboys is Roy O'Bannon, played with great charm by Owen Wilson. The fact that this role wipes his performance in The Haunting right out of your memory just shows you how good he is in this. He and Chan make a great double act, at first regarding each other warily as in the great tradition of buddy-buddy films, then of course growing to respect and like each other. Wilson does get most of the good jokes, but then Chan steals all the action scenes. Liu only gets a couple of opportunities to display her own adeptness at martial arts, but at least her princess is a feisty, 90s kind of waif-in-distress. My personal favourite scene was the one in the bathhouse. You'll probably have your own. But just remember to stick around for Chan's obligatory out-takes at the end, because you just might find them funniest of all.
What Lies Beneath is a bit like a good ghost train ride - lots of jumpy moments, but you come out of it feeling it was all faintly silly. Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford play a happily married couple who have recently moved to a beautiful, lakeside home, close to the university where Ford teaches. Left home alone, her daughter have just started college, Pfeiffer begins to realise she is being haunted - but by whom? Those who had the misfortune to see the long version of the trailer for this film will already know the answer to this question, but I won't spoil it for anyone else. Ford reacts by getting Pfeiffer to see a psychiatrist, whereas her best friend is more inclined to join her for an ouija board session. And eventually the ghost manages to get across her message across... Up to its climax, the film is like a template for scaring the hell out of your audience. It doesn't rely on gore, but on the steady build-up of tension so strong that you end up watching it with your eyes half-shut so it doesn't make you jump too badly. I think I jumped out of my skin at least twice, and one of my friends was so spooked that even though the film had finished another friend managed to make him jump just by saying "boo" loudly! Granted, a lot of these jumps are that horror-film staple where it turns out to be just a cat in the cupboard, or a friend with very quiet shoes, but they're still effective. The only let-down is the final sequence, where things just become silly and implausible. The twist is pretty good, but is spoiled somewhat by making one of the characters behave in a way you just don't believe. However the calibre of the actors is enough to give this one star more than it would have normally got.
The Cell is a film that's beautiful to look at, but hollow inside. It's like the director thought of all these cool, surreal images and tried to construct a storyline around them. The problem is that while the imagery is original and stylish, the plot is not, and it's disconcerting to find such a hackneyed serial killer story within a film that's so unusual visually. Jennifer Lopez, in a role that requires her to do little more than looked a) concerned and b) good in a variety of costumes (including a nifty red rubber number), plays a child therapist hired to take part in a process that allows her to enter the minds of coma patients. The film is clever in that it doesn't require us to believe Lopez designed the machine, and that it doesn't waste time getting the non-scientists to express incredulity that such a machine exists. This is just a world where such a thing can happen. While Lopez is trying to persuade a young boy to come out of his coma, serial killer Vincent D'Onofrio is catching another victim and installing her in his eight-foot high version of a goldfish bowl. The tank automatically fills up with water over a period of time, but D'Onofrio's character doesn't like to be there when it happens, preferring to video it instead to watch at his leisure. However he ends up in a coma just as the FBI bash his door down, and they're left with no way of knowing where is victim is being held, only that she has about 24 hours before the water starts pouring into the tank. Which is of course where Lopez comes in. The serial killer's mind is a dark, twisted place, and not for faint-hearted cinema goers. It's not jump-out-of-your-seat scary, more disturbing, as bizarre things happen to horses (!), Lopez is attacked by female bodybuilders (!!) and FBI agent Vince Vaughn's intestines have a close encounter with a spit. If you like the artwork of Hieronymus Bosch, H.R. Giger and even maybe
Escher it's worth seeing the film as an example of something similar, but if you going to see it 'cos you're a fan of Silence of the Lambs and fancy another tense serial killer flick, don't bother.
Memento is a film that assumes you have a reasonable attention span, and that in itself sets it apart from most of the American films produced these days. You need to pay attention to every detail, and so this is not one of those films for people who like to discuss mid-movie whether or not to get some more popcorn... The film stars Guy Pearce in the main role of Leonard. Previously an insurance claims investigator, Lenny has, since his wife was raped and murdered by two men who broke into their house, been trying to catch the man who got away. Unfortunately for Lenny, while he was defending his wife he was dealt a head wound that left him with a condition known as anterograde amnesia - the inability to form short term memories. Although he can recall everything that happened before the attack, since it happened Lenny can only remember the events of the last few minutes. In what would be described as a gimmick in a lesser film, director Christopher Nolan cleverly manages to make the audience experience life the way Lenny does by playing the scenes in reverse order, so the film ends three days before it starts. This means when we first meet the supporting characters (the mysterious Natalie, played by the Matrix's Carrie Ann Moss, and the shifty Teddy, played by Joe Pantoliano, also from The Matrix), we know as little about them as Lenny does. Both of them are supposed to be helping him find his wife's killer, facts about whom he has tattooed on his body to avoid the risk of forgetting or misplacing them. But can he trust either Teddy or Natalie, or do they have their own agendas? In fact, can he trust himself? He relies on notes he's made on Polaroids of his acquaintances, and we wonder what prompted him to write each comment. In the course of the film we find out. The story is gripping and tragic, a kind of whodunnit played backwards, with a denouement that surprises you without being the kind of relevation you were expecting.
It convincingly replicates in your own mind what is happening in Lenny's, as you constantly reassess the characters based on how they're behaving in the scene you're currently watching, realising you need to forget what you've already seen, and also realising that your current opinion of them may change with what you see next. All three actors are excellent, but Guy Pearce shines most of all, brilliantly conveying a guy whose confusion you can see even through the cynical, controlled mask he wears. Like The Usual Suspects, this is a film that you walk out of and then immediately start to replay certain scenes in your mind in light of what you now know. Unlike The Usual Suspects however, it is less likely to leave you with a wry smile on your face than an uncomfortable feeling of hopelessness.
Estartit is a medium-sized town on the Costa Brava, and like most coastal towns in Spain, it seems to exist primarily as a beach resort for other Europeans. All the menus are translated in English, French, Spanish and German (sometimes even Greek), and you'll find reminders of home on every street corner, what with pubs called the Rover's Return, and chip shops called Nora Batty's. This is not the place to go if you're looking for an undiscovered village full of local flavour. However if you're just looking for a nice beach to relax on during the day, a nice restaurant to eat at in the evening, and a nice bar to get tipsy in at night, Estartit could be the place for you. The beach is huge, and it's easy to find a spot all to yourself. This resort is well-known for its watersports - we went on a snorkelling trip to some nearby craggy islands and saw some great fish and even an octopus, although the trip did make me realise for the first time that if the waves are choppy enough, it is possible to get seasick just from floating on the water. Scuba diving is also popular there, and apparently Tom Cruise hired some instructors during his recent visit to Spain - bet they got a shock when he walked up to the booking booth. The same boat company also do half-day tours up and down the coastline in a glass-bottomed boat (don't bother with these, they never clean the glass - go snorkelling instead), during which you get Sangria poured into your mouth by the guides, and get to take part in a quiz with champagne and other excursions as prizes. Other excursions include trips to nearby Barcelona, to the local Marine Park, and to Aquapark. The latter is good fun if you like waterchutes and slides, with a great slide that drops you in your two-seater inflatable about 30 feet down to the water. There's also a wave machine, smaller slides for the kids, and numerous overpriced cafes and fast food outlets. Unfortunately the fact that the
return coach to Estartit only left once a day effectively meant we were stuck in Aquapark for over six hours when two would've been plenty, and I had one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life when, as I was sunbathing on a patch of grass, an ant crawled into my ear canal and refused to come out for about five minutes. Our idea of a night out was having a late dinner and a couple of cocktails, so I'm afraid I can't recommend any clubs. There didn't seem to be large groups of lager louts (maybe we were in bed by the time they came out), though it was very noisy at night. From our point of view, although there was a large choice of restaurants in Estartit unfortunately very few of them had any vegetarian main courses, leaving me very frustrated as I read menu after menu whose only non-meat or fish option was a margherita pizza. Maybe someone could recommend to me a European town or country with a better range of options, 'cos so far the only one that gives me any kind of choice is Italy. Anyway, if you're vegetarian too, I can recommend the Kontiki, with its nautical décor - they had some very nice pasta dishes. If you get bored of sunbathing, you can take a "walk" up the local mountain, the Roca Maura. I use the term "walk" loosely, because some parts of the rocky path were steep enough that you had to grab onto tree branches to hoist yourself up. The climb took about 45 mins, and knackered us out completely, but the views were stunning. Remember to take your camera. And a large bottle of cold water. The downsides to Estartit were firstly that it's not a very pretty town - although the mountain makes a nice backdrop, and the surrounding countryside is lush and green, the place is full of ugly hotels. Secondly the weather can be very windy - we're talking sandstorms here. I left my towel on the beach and when I returned from the ocean five minutes later, half of it was submerged und
er some newly-arrived sand. I also experienced "the torture of a thousand pinpricks" when the wind blew the grains of sand hard on my exposed skin. Ow.
Although the RRP of this make and model is £179, it's worth checking out online stores, as some (e.g. qed-uk.com) have been offering it for £155. The VCMH722HM is at the high end of the low range of the market. Some cheapish videos can be quite clunky, but the VCMH722HM actually runs quite smoothly and has a nice range of features: - VideoPlus (you enter the programme's number printed in your TV guide, and the video translates the number into the appropriate start and end times and channel - a very quick and easy way to programme your video recorder, even for technophobes!) - PDC (works in conjunction with VideoPlus; if your programme over-runs then the timer settings are adjusted accordingly - especially handy if the programme follows a football match that's gone into extra time, etc.) - auto set-up (whizzes through the channel settings for you; this used to take me 20 mins with my old video recorder after every power cut...) - skip search (will fast forward for between 30-120 seconds) - index search (useful if you want to watch a programme you didn't record at the beginning of the video tape) - security (enter a passcode and you can store your address on the video recorder which the police could use to identify it if it's ever stolen and recovered) - one-touch recording (each press of the 'Rec.' button extends the recording by half an hour) - real time counter - NICAM stereo - Very fast rewind (useful if your tape's due back at Blockbusters in 5 minutes) The counter gives you a few display options - a clock, the real time counter and time remaining on the video tape. The skip search isn't as useful as it might be - most ad breaks are at least 3 and half minutes long, and the skip search's maximum time is only 2 minutes. The fast forward picture search is fine if you've recorded using the standard play speed, but it's quite jumpy and nearly impossible to decipher wh
at's on screen if you've recorded something at the long play speed. The fast forward picture search also isn't as fast as I'd like. Other than that, I'm very pleased with it. It's easy to use, the remote control is nice and straightforward, and the picture quality's good.
I found Ottakars via a price comparison website; I was after a paperback edition which most of the online bookshops didn't even have despite it being a bestseller in hardback. There was a bit of a problem ordering it - when I'd entered my credit card details and clicked on the "submit order" button, I was taken to a page where the alert box "warning: document contains no data" confronted me. I'm afraid I impatiently hit the reload button, and was a bit frustrated to find two order acknowledgements arriving in my email in-box! Luckily all it took was an email to Ottakars' enquiries team and they quickly sorted out the duplicate order. The book arrived the next day, so I was impressed by their delivery times. They say if you order before 11am they'll endeavour to get the books in the post the same day, which they obviously did. Ottakars gives you the option of paying for first class postage and packing (£1.95) or second class (£1.45), with an additional 50p per item. Alternatively you can get the item shipped to your closest Ottakars bookshop, but this sort of defeats the purpose of buying online (unless the item's an obscure one that you can't find in your local bookshops). Their gift wrap is quite cheap at £1.25, but unlike Amazon you don't get to choose the colour or pattern. One way in which they do suffer in comparison to other online shops is that you can't check the status of your order via the WWW, but have to either e-mail or ring them. Ottakars are accredited by consumer watchdog Which - always reassuring - and their terms and conditions for returning books are very good. As long as you return them within 30 days you'll get a refund, and your postage and packing will be refunded too if the items are either returned within 7 days, are damaged, or are simply the wrong books.
I decided to use an online retailer to buy a new video recorder mainly because Argos had sold out of the make and model I wanted, but happily discovered that it was cheaper buying on the Web. BE Direct charged me £11 less than the recommended retail price, and delivery was included in that price. I paid online using my credit card. Their stock is divided into categories which you need to browse to find what you want, but they also have some nice extras, such as a "bargain basement" section for those really cheap items, a "star buy" section for their value-for-money items, and also a reward scheme for returning customers. Importantly, they are also accredited by Which, the industry watchdog. The next day I was called by a representative from their customer service team, who told me that unfortunately they were out of stock of that item - it would be 8 days before they could ship it to me. They made it clear that I was welcome to cancel or change my order if this was a problem, but since my old video recorder was still (just) working, I said I was happy to wait. At the same time she asked for my old address for security reasons, and I was reassured to know they were checking on credit card details. They called again to let me know that my video was on its way. They could only tell me that delivery would be between 8.30 and 5.30 on a certain day, so I asked them to deliver to my workplace which they were happy to do. The video arrived around nine the next morning - unfortunately having installed it I was disappointed to discover that the eject mechanism didn't work properly. (I'd gone for a cheap model, and I wasn't too surprised). I emailed them as soon as I got into work the next day, and was rung a couple of hours later by another representative, who said they'd be happy to organise a replacement, but of course it would be another 8 days. He had a brief list of similar models for the same price range, and in the end I upgr
aded to a different make and model after he offered me £24 off the price they were charging on their website. The replacement arrived the next day at 9.30am, and the same courier took away the faulty recorder. All in all, I was very happy with BE Direct. I don't blame them for the first video recorder not working properly - unfortunately if you're buying at the lower end of the market these things aren't always unexpected - and I was very impressed with the speed in which they resolved the problem and the discount they gave me to keep me a happy customer.
Currently the most recent of the Dark Tower (the fifth book is expected at the end of 2001), 'Wizard and Glass' continues the narrative of Roland and his group as they leave behind the city and enter the Blasted Lands. However this is mainly briefly covered in between long visits to a time about fifteen or twenty years before, when Roland was a young man. Roland and his friends, Cuthbert and Alain, are on a secret mission to uncover the machinations of men who are opposed to the government of which their fathers are members. Disguised as commoners, they under constant threat of discovery, but this doesn't stop young Roland falling in love with local girl Susan. Those readers who are caught up in the latter day story will find this extended flashback quite disappointing, but for fans of Roland it's interesting to see the reasons why he's turned out the way he has. I suspect future books may also run somewhat in parallel to stories about Roland's past, as the fate of his friends Alain and Cuthbert have yet to be revealed... n.b. preceded by (in order): 'The Gunslinger', 'The Drawing of the Three' and 'Waste Lands'.
'The Waste Lands', the 3rd book in the Dark Tower series, begins a couple of months after its predecessor, 'The Drawing of the Three', and we join Roland and his new companions as they journey towards the Tower. This is a long book which doesn't cover as much ground as you'd expect from its length - King goes into a lot of detail which inevitably draws out the story - but as in the previous book, its characters are its main attraction. Whilst Eddie and Susannah grow close, Roland's mind is finding it harder and harder to cope with a paradox he created during the events of 'The Drawing of the Three', and although he bonds with his quartet (made a quintet by the arrival of a dog-like creature called Oy who provides a certain 'ahhh' factor), you can't help wondering what lengths he'll go to to ensure he reaches the Tower... Events in the story will create echos in the memories of King's "Constant Readers" of one of his other, extremely popular books, and indeed the final segment reintroduces us to the great enemy from that same tale. This is what us Constant Readers love, the connections between King's writings, and you won't be disappointed here. The book ends on a cliffhanger, so you might find it useful to have a copy of the next in the series close to hand... n.b. preceded by 'The Gunslinger' and 'The Drawing of the Three'; followed by 'Wizard and Glass'.
"The Drawing of the Three" is the second in the Dark Tower series, and picks up where "The Gunslinger" left off, with Roland abandoned on the edge of the sea. On this beach, after feeding the lobstrosities that pay him a visit, Roland comes to the next stage of his task - he must pass into different universes and different times to collect the three fellow travellers who he will need to reach the Tower. Readers who found "The Gunslinger" quite heavy going will be relieved to find this sequel is much more like the King we know and love. Unlike its predecessor, "The Drawing of the Three" displays a warm sense of humour, as this Clint Eastwood-like warrior is transported to our world and finds himself curiously confused and unsure of how things work. It also introduces us to three characters - Eddie, Susannah and Jake - who are slightly easier to identify with than the stoic Roland. It also draws us, like Roland's companions, further into the world of the Dark Tower, with its fallen cities and strange, post-apocalyptic resemblance to our own world. It's a fun, exciting read, and leaves you eager to learn what happens next... N.B. Preceded by "The Gunslinger"; Followed by "The Wastelands" and "Wizard and Glass"