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Tamarind

Tamarind
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Member since: 16.03.2008

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      27.06.2010 12:18
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      An account of the life & work of Senator Edward Kennedy

      I do enjoy a good biography and True Compass certainly did not disappoint. This book is the memoirs of Senator Edward. Kennedy who died last year aged 77. He was the youngest of nine children born to Irish-American parents and brother of assassinated American President, John F. Kennedy. Despite the large age gap between them it is obvious how much he adored and looked up to his elder brother.

      Kennedy was born in 1932 into a wealthy Boston family. His father Joe was appointed American Ambassador to the Court of St. James shortly before the outbreak of World War II and Edward (or Ted as he was more commonly known) spent part of his early childhood in London. However, when war was announced, he and his siblings were quickly return to the United States for their safety.

      Ted paints a picture of an idyllic and privileged childhood. With family homes close to the sea in both Florida and Cape Cod, sailing was a passion that stayed with him throughout his life. He often competed in races with his more famous brothers namely, JFK and Bobby. However, although he had a happy home life, his experiences at school were not the same. As the family often spent the summer months in one location and wintered in another, the young Ted was constantly changing schools. This made him feel as if he was always the "new boy" and never really made friends. However, this changed in later life when he went to Harvard Law School and the friends he made there became lifelong friends.

      Once he decided on a career in politics we follow Ted on his first campaign to be elected as a US Senator. Just because he was the brother of the sitting president it wasn't a foregone conclusion and he had to campaign long and hard to obtain the outcome he hoped for.

      The youngest Kennedy covers the early demise of several of his siblings. The assassinations of President Kennedy and presidential candidate Bobby have been well documented elsewhere so Ted tends to focus on how the family felt as these events unfolded on the world. . He also covers the early deaths of other siblings but I will leave the book to reveal how and when they died.

      Each chapter covers a meaningful part of his life and due to his political career quite a few revolve round the US Presidents of the past 50 years. Not only does he discuss whether they agreed or disagreed on certain legislation but also his actual feelings about them as a person. Just because someone was a Republican didn't mean to say he didn't them personally although there was one notable exception, namely President Richard Nixon.

      On a more personal level, he covers his long marriage to Joan, the birth of his three children and subsequent divorce. He grew accustomed to bachelorhood again and, although not looking for love, found it many years later when he met and married his second wife Vicki whom he describes as his soul mate. She obviously brought great joy into the Senator's otherwise boring personal life.

      You gather from the book that the Kennedy clan was, and is, a very tight nit family. Ted felt responsible for his dead siblings' children, as well as his own, and became the patriarch or the family. Since his death, they will find him a hard act to follow as the book conveys a man who lived by the strong moral principles instilled in him as a boy by his parents. He was also a tireless worker for racial equality, equal opportunities, healthcare reform and the poor. Having said that, don't think the book is all about telling the reader how wonderful he was. He also covers the various low points in his life including the famous Chappaquiddick incident in 1969 when a young woman who was travelling in his car drowned when the car went off a bridge. and he failed to report the accident until many hours after it happened. He takes full responsibility for his actions.

      You may not have considered reading this book if you are not into politics. However, don't let this put you off as I am not really interested in politics either yet still found it a really interesting read.

      True Compass is currently priced on Amazon at £9.99 (paperback) and £21.99 (hardback) , however it can be bought second-hand for considerably cheaper.

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      • Hotpoint BU72K / Oven / 94 Readings / 93 Ratings
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        06.05.2010 19:35
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        Great option if you want a built under double oven

        I recently bought this Hotpoint double oven and am really pleased with my purchase. I searched long and hard to find a double oven that fitted under my kitchen worktop as most double ovens tend to be of the built-in type rather than the built-under type.

        **Top Oven & Grill**

        The top oven has a usable volume of 27 litres and is able to be heated to a temperature of 220º Centigrade. It is a conventional oven (i.e. not a fan oven) and is handy if you only have a small quantity of food to cook or heat up. The grill is located within the top oven and the oven has been designed so that the grill element operates at a reduced heat along with a heating element situated underneath the floor of the oven. It is therefore important that you do not place anything on the floor of the oven otherwise it will be directly above the element. There is only one shelf in the top oven but this is fine, If I was cooking more than one item I would use the bottom oven anyway.

        A word of warning, if you have the bottom oven switched on the top oven will heat up quite a bit, even if it is switched off. However, on the plus side it is a great way to heat up plates without burning any extra electricity.

        The grill is not just a conventional grill but a specially developed high speed grill developed by Hotpoint. It takes less time to heat up from cold and is designed to reduce grilling times. You have the option of being able to heat either half the grill or the full grill which I find great if I only have one slice of toasted cheese to make. The grill knob is turned clockwise if you wish to heat the full grill and anti-clockwise if you only wish to use the half grill. It really is simple to operate. The grill element is protected by a wire mesh so that it stops you from touching the live parts when you are grilling.

        A grill pan is supplied along with an anti-splash tray which fits inside the pan. This is basically a sloping metal tray with holes which allows any excess fat from food you are grilling, to drip through. It also prevents excess fat from spluttering and filling your kitchen with smoke!

        **Bottom Oven**

        The main oven is a fan oven and I find it heats up and cooks more quickly, than the smaller conventional oven. It can be heated to 230 degrees. Due to the even distribution of heat, it cooks food satisfactorily on any shelf and two shelves are supplied with the oven along with a large non stick tray.

        There is a digital clock in the centre of operating knobs and this also doubles up as a timer which you can set if you wish the oven to switch on at a pre-set time. The clock is easily set using buttons marked with a plus or minus symbol.

        You can use the oven to assist in defrosting food. There is a defrost setting and it aids defrosting by circulating the air in the oven. The oven does not heat up. However, I find it is much better if you defrost the food naturally rather than using this option as I don't think it is any quicker. Also, it is only meant for things like quiches, bread, cakes etc. and should not be used for meat or poultry. If you wish to use the oven for slow cooking then all you need to do is select slow cooking temperature "S" by turning the function control knob clockwise.

        Both the ovens and the grill have pilot lights to let you now when they have reached the desired temperature . The ovens also have internal lights and stay clean liners which is a plus as far as I am concerned as it's a job I hate. All the control knobs can be pushed in (i.e. recessed) when not in use and this makes them flush with the cooker, so again this saves me cleaning time as I can just wipe the surface over rather than trying to clean round each individual knob.

        The cooker cost in excess of £400 and although I could have purchased a cheaper model, this one had all the options I wanted and was happy to pay for them. I have not regretted my choice as I am more than happy with all the features it provides. Hopefully I will have it for a long time - after all, a cooker isn't just for Christmas!

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        22.03.2010 20:26
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        Lift off technology takes some of the strain out of ironing

        I purchased this iron when my last one suddenly stopped working. I didn't want to pay too much having recently had the expense of replacing several major kitchen items. I checked many brands including Teffal, Black & Decker and even supermarket own brands. However, I ruled them out on either price, colour, weight or comfort. I have quite small hands and found that a lot of them had quite wide handles, making them hard to hold.

        I have a factory store locally that sells end of ranges, excess stock etc. for discounted prices and as I had been successful in buying my last iron there, decided to have a look before making a final decision. I am so glad I did. They had quite a large choice on offer and I finally settled on a make I had never heard of before namely Domotec-Oliso. It was in the sale for only £20 having been reduced from £30 and even that price would have been a saving as I searched on the internet when I got home and found the full retail price is actually £71. There is no way I would ever pay that much for an iron, in fact I would expect someone to do the ironing for me at the price!!

        The main reason for my choice is the auto lift feature on this iron which I had never seen before. Basically, instead of always having to stand the iron upright on its heel between each use, you just let it go and two lifter plates (one at the heel and one at the pointed end) drop down and raise the hot surface off the ironing board. The iron handle is touch sensitive so when you want to start ironing again you just touch the handle and the two plates retract again. It does make a slight whirring noise as it goes up and down but you soon get used to this. If you do not wish to use the auto lift technology it can be over-ridden and I find this useful when I want to stow the iron away. To deactivate the auto-lift you set a switch on the back of the iron to the Off position and it will act like a normal iron. If you wish to reactivate the auto-lift you just slide the switch back to the On position. I find it helpful to leave the auto lift in operation as that way I am less likely to burn anything.

        To fill the iron there is a flip funnel under the handle. When you open the funnel, a piece of curved plastic pops out which makes it easy to pour water into the tank straight from the tap. Although a small plastic measuring jug is supplied with the iron, I find you really do not need to use this. Once you have filled the tank and plugged it in, a green light will blink on the top of the iron. Once the iron is up to temperature the light will stay on constantly so that you know it is ready to use. The iron is designed to be used with regular tap water unless the water in your area is very hard in which case the manufacturer recommends using inexpensive bottled water or half tap water with half distilled water. Luckily I stay in an area with very soft water so this is not a problem for me.

        At the front end of the handle there are two dials. One is the fabric selector which allows you to select the correct temperature for the clothes you are going to iron and the other is the steam selector. The steam selector is actually more of a slide than a dial and allows you to select the amount of steam you wish the iron to produce. Steam is only produced when the green light is on constantly and the iron is lowered. You are able to slide the steam selector to off if you wish to do some dry ironing. The iron has an anti drip feature which shuts off steam any time the auto-lift is in operation.

        There are two buttons located just behind the fabric and steam selector dials. These are the spray and burst of steam buttons. The spray button should be pressed to produce a fine mist and is handy for removing stubborn wrinkles or creases. The burst of steam button produces a strong burst of steam from the soleplate but can only be used when the iron is heated to the wool, cotton or linen temperature range. An useful additional feature is the vertical steam function and to use this you press the steam button while holding the iron upright and is good for removing creases from hanging clothes or curtains. However, you are advised to wait 3 seconds between each press of the steam button.

        If the iron is not being used while it is still plugged in, the status light will flash red and the iron will turn itself off. The auto shut-off timing depends on whether you have the auto lift turned on or off. If the auto lift is switched on the iron will switch off automatically after 8 minutes or 30 seconds if knocked over. However, if the auto lift is switched off, the iron will switch off after 30 seconds of non use or being knocked over.

        I am really happy with this iron and it is only now, when I don't have to stand it upright after each use, that I realise how time consuming this was. I love the auto lift technology and only wish I had discovered it sooner. Great value for the money I paid but wouldn't pay the full RRP of £71. I would definitely recommend it if you are needing to replace your iron anytime soon.

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          11.03.2010 13:49
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          You get what you pay for and in this case, not a lot

          I have very dry skin and am always buying various moisturisers and hand lotions to keep my skin in tip top condition. I am not a snob as far as products are concerned and I don't care how cheap a product is as long as it does the job it is intended to do. I have to admit that the price was the first thing that attracted me to this hand lotion as it was only £1.50 for 500ml. from my local chemist. I have, however, seen it costing as much as £3.45 on the Fragrance Direct website but I can't see anyone being prepared to pay more than double what they need to.


          The lotion is packaged in a pump action, clear plastic bottle. This allows the pale blue colour of the lotion to show through and is attractive enough to sit out on show in either your bathroom or bedroom. That said, I tend to keep mine in the kitchen next to the sink so that I can apply some after I have washed my hands.


          Initially the lotion was a nice consistency, neither too thick nor too thin. It was easily applied but, over time, it became quite runny. It is now almost like water when you pump it out of the bottle and squirts quite a distance if you don't first cup your hands over the opening in the nozzle. I have just under half left in the bottle so this will give you an idea of how quickly it became runny. Consistency aside, the smell is pleasant enough with the eucalyptus definitely being the predominant odour. It has a slightly minty, antiseptic smell and to be honest, I couldn't smell even a hint of the citrus lime which, given the name of the product, I would have thought would have been the case. That said this didn't detract from the really fresh, clean smell of the lotion.


          It contains extracts of vitamins A, B and C which makes it sound quite healthy - not something you associate with hand lotions however, if that makes you want to buy other products in the same range there are also a hand wash, a shower cream and a bath foam available.


          To sum up, I would say this product is one where you really do "get what you pay for". It is certainly cheap but it comes at a detriment to the quality. Although good when first purchased, it rapidly declines to something resembling scented water if you don't use it up quickly enough. Would I recommend it to others? Unfortunately, I would have to say no.

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            24.02.2010 13:39
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            If this had been one of his interviews I would have been sorely disappointed

            Michael Parkinson is one of my all-time favourite interviewers so I was sad when his show eventually came to an end some time ago. I realised that being in his 70s he had worked past the normal retirement age for most people and deserved to put his feet. However, this didn't last long as he quickly produced his autobiography appropriately entitled "Parky" as he has always been affectionately known.

            I was recently given this book as a present and was eager to begin reading it. I expected it to mirror the easy going style that was his trademark whilst interviewing but soon discovered this was not to be the case. In fact, if I am perfectly honest, I expected better of Mr Parkinson. There are numerous anecdotes of both the famous and not so famous that were funny enough to have me laughing out loud on several occasions. However, on the whole I was disappointed with the book.

            As is usual with autobiographies, he begins with his early childhood. Michael was born and brought in Yorkshire with his father wanting him to play cricket for the county rather than follow him down the mines. Although the young Michael was talented and developed a love of cricket that has stayed with him throughout life, he realised early on that he would never be a professional cricketer. He decided to turn his attention to becoming a journalist and we follow his career as a fledgling reporter on the local newspaper through to his arrival on Fleet Street.

            He documents how his career moves from an unsuccessful stint as a war correspondent to the role he is most famous for, namely an interviewer of the rich and famous. He readily admits this was a dream job as he was able to meet most of the greats of the silver screen whom he used to idolise every week at the local cinema. He touches on his personal life, from his first meeting with a girl called Mary who was to become wife, to the birth of his three sons. However, like most of the book, I felt I was being rushed from this topic to the next. If you are expecting this to be a chilled out, lazy kind of read I would say you will be disappointed. I feel he has tried to fit in too much and by doing so has compromised on the depth and substance of the book. I felt it was more like a collection of short stories rather than a thought provoking biography. Sorry but I wouldn't rush to recommend it.

            It is currently available on Amazon for £4.79 (Paperback) or £13.00 (Hardback).

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              18.02.2010 15:58
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              Drug free solution to travel sickness

              I am one of those people who suffer badly from travel sickness. However, since discovering Acustrap motion sickness bands this has become a thing of the past and a whole new world, literally, has opened up to me.

              Car, boats and planes all made me feel sick with boats and planes being the worst offenders. To go anywhere by plane I usually took lots of travel pills but these always knocked me out, not only for the whole journey but most of the next day as well. My other half was getting fed up having no-one to talk to throughout the journey and he decided to look around for an alternative. Firstly he bought me a pair of travel wrist bands. They were made of a knitted elastic with a rounded plastic button on the inside of each band. They worked by placing one band on each wrist with the button positioned on your Nei-Kuan-Point. If like, me you haven't a clue what your Nei-Kuan-Point is, this is an acupuncture point that prevents nausea. To find yours, place your middle three fingers on the underside of each wrist (almost as if you were looking for your pulse) with the edge of your ring finger next to the first wrist crease. Your Nei-Kuan-Point should be located under your index finger. You should be able to feel a gap between the two central tendons of your wrist. This gap is where you position the rounded button on each wrist. These type of bands helped me a lot and were definitely better than pills. However, over time I found that the elastic became stretched and the bands were not so effective as the buttons were not being held tightly in place. This lead me to look for an alternative and I found Acustraps on the internet.

              These work in much the same was as the elastic bands. By that I mean that you still have a rounded button incorporated into the strap and it is position in the same place on your wrist. The main difference is that instead of an elastic band that you slip over your wrist these are straps that are held in place with velcro. The advantage is that they do not stretch with continued use and you can adjust them to fit your size of wrist. I found this great when I put on weight and subsequently lost it again. The bands fitted no matter what size my wrists were. Although they are comfortable to wear they are slightly rougher to the touch than the elastic bands. However, this would not stop me wearing them as there are no drugs involved, as there are with travel pills. They are suitable for everyone including children. In fact, pregnant women can also use them for morning sickness. I have heard it claimed that they work on motion sickness caused by riding on a camel or an elephant, but having tried neither mode of transport, I can neither confirm or deny their effectiveness. I leave that to someone else to review!

              Although you can put the Acustraps on at any time, I have found that it is better to put them just before you commence your journey. If you wait until you start to feel even slightly nauseous they are definitely not so effective. I have come to depend on them whenever I travel and even carry a spare pair in case I loose one. The thought of a long haul flight used to fill me with dread but not anymore. The world really has opened up to me in a way I could only have dreamt about before.

              They are currently only £3.45 on Amazon.co.uk which is a small price to pay for the freedom they have brought me.

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                16.02.2010 22:56
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                Chicken, stuffing & a chipolata sausage at a great price

                I was looking for something different for dinner one night so I picked up a pack of the Mini Roasts with Gravy from the Simply Cook range in Tesco's. It contained 2 chicken breasts, 2 chipolata sausages and 2 stuffing balls. There was also a separate container of gravy in the pack. At only £3.00 per pack or 2 for £5.00 I thought they were really good value for money and would give them a try. As they were so cheap I did wonder if the taste would live up to the price, however I was not disappointed on that score.

                The food comes in a tin foil container so it can be popped straight into the oven without having to wash up afterwards. This is always a plus from my point of view. Firstly you have to remove the film lid and take out the separate tub of gravy before placing in a pre heated oven (200 degrees) for 20 minutes. After this time you are instructed to drain off any liquid and pour the contents of the tub of gravy over the meat. As both my husband and I like a lot of gravy I added some that I made from gravy granules as I felt there wasn't enough for what we like. However, it may be sufficient for others. After adding the gravy you return the meat to the over for a further 15-20 minutes as instructed on the packet. I have a fan assisted over and found that it actually cooked in a shorter time than stated on the packet so would advise you keep an eye on it to be sure you don't overcook the chicken.

                The chicken breasts are skinless and boneless and once you add the sage and onion stuffing and chipolata sausage you have quite a plateful of food, especially when you add your own potatoes and vegetables. Half of a pack contains only 289 calories which is great if you are on a diet, although the fat content is 12.5g which may be higher than you would like. I found it to be a really tasty and filling meal and for the price I paid, it is excellent value for money.

                The packs can be frozen on day of purchase and it is recommended that they should be used within a month of buying. However, I have kept mine for longer than this in the freezer and they have been fine when used. As with all chicken, please remember to thoroughly defrost before using.

                Some of you may be interested to know that the label states that chicken used in this product is produced on farms that meet all the welfare standards that Tesco require. However, the pack omits to tell you what these standards are so is, in fact, meaningless in my opinion.

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                  15.02.2010 13:26
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                  Modern airport with everything you need

                  I have passed through Newark Liberty Airport on many occasions, en route to other parts of the States. I have always flown with Continental Airlines which means I have always landed at Terminal C. My review, therefore will concentrate mainly on this terminal.

                  Newark airport is the lesser known of New York's more famous airports, namely JFK and La Guardia although it was actually the first in operation. It is located 16 miles south west of New York, in New Jersey, but is actually one of the world's busiest airports. If you are travelling into New York from the airport this is not a problem as you can choose from buses, taxis, helicopters (if money is no problem!) and trains. Trains operate 24 hours a day and three trains run every hour offering good connections into Penn Station. A free monorail service runs from all terminals to the Rail Link Station and takes approximately 10 minutes. If you feel like splashing out, you can pre-book a personal car and a car for 4, plus luggage costs approximately $125. Obviously price will vary according to your destination and number of passengers.

                  On landing at Terminal C you have quite a long walk from the arrival gate to the immigration hall. There are moving walkways part of the way but these are not always in operation. There are usually a fair number of immigration officers on duty but if you are unlucky enough to land at the same time as other planes it can take a while to go through the fingerprinting and photographing process that everyone has to endure. Once you have cleared immigration you proceed to baggage reclaim. This is a very large hall with several conveyor belts. If you are transferring to another flight and have purchased duty free, either at your departure airport or on the plane, please remember to put it into your luggage once you have reclaimed it. If you don't do this it will be confiscated when you go back through security which you will have to do to catch your connecting flight.

                  Once you have your luggage you will need to pass through customs before leaving the baggage reclaim area. Generally you are waved through but they do choose people at random to have their bags x-rayed in case they are smuggling any food etc into the country. If you have shown on your customs form that you are bringing food into the country then you will definitely have your luggage examined. After clearing customs you only have a very short walk until you are at the area where you hand your luggage back over so that it can be dispatched to your connecting flight. Unfortunately, you have to go back through security and all the searches it entails, to reach your departure gate. If you are planning a journey with a connecting flight I would leave at least 2 hours between arriving and departing to avoid a stressful connection.

                  There are 3 levels in Terminal C. The bottom level is for international arrivals and baggage reclaim, the middle level is for domestic ticketing and check-in and the upper level is for international ticketing and check-in. After you have gone through security there is a long corridor with 3 legs leading off it. The leg to the right contains gates C70-C99, the middle leg has gates C101-C115 and the left leg gates C120 - C139. Be aware that the legs are quite far apart and can take you longer than you may think to walk between them so leave yourself plenty of time if you are perhaps eating in one leg but departing from another. (I speak from personal experience here!) However, their are moving walkways along part of each gate so this may help, especially if you have lots of hand luggage. All the legs contain eateries, toilets and shops. There are both fast food restaurants as well as sit down, more formal restaurants. This is New York so if you choose not to go down the fast food route a restaurant it will be more expensive than you think. Two of us decided to have a leisurely lunch in Gallagher's steak house to pass some time and ended up paying £70 for 2 courses. Wouldn't have been so bad if it had been really nice but the food was decidedly average. I haven't made that mistake again and on subsequent journeys have usually opted for a Chinese meal from the food court. There are over 36 restaurants so I'm sure you will find something to suit your taste.
                  Other facilities available for passengers include ATMs, Travelex counters in case you are need to exchange some money, shoe shine services and a meditation room. There are also plenty of book stores and gift shops to help pass the time after if you do not wish to eat.

                  Newark claims that you will never pay more at Terminal C that you would at a local Newark shopping centre. If you feel you have been overcharged you can telephone or email fairprice@westfield.com and they will investigate your complaint. I wish this was the case with UK airports but I don't see them introducing this anytime soon.

                  Newark is a bright, modern airport as far as airports go and you can easily pass a couple of hours whilst waiting on a connecting flight.

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                  • Costco / Highstreet Shopping / 99 Readings / 97 Ratings
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                    14.02.2010 18:55
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                    Save money by bulk buying but not always as cheap as your local supermarket

                    Costco is of a chain of cash and carry warehouses. The majority of warehouses are located in the United States which is what you would expect of an American owned company. There are also 21 stores at various locations throughout the UK. They are not open to the general public and to purchase goods from Costco you must become a member and meet certain pre requisites. It is primarily for businesses to purchase high quantities of low priced goods, for resale. However individuals can also join as long as they belong to certain employment groups e.g. civil servants and teachers. A full list of occupational groups who can join are usually displayed at the customer services desks within each warehouse. You will be asked to provide a recent utility bill, or something similar, to provide proof of address and two forms of ID. Once approved, you will have your photograph taken and issued with a membership card displaying your photo. If you apply in person you will receive your card immediately but if you apply by post it will take approximately 7-10 days. You must show your card every time you visit the warehouse otherwise you will not be allowed entry. Your card will also allow you take another person with you into the warehouse. You are not, however, allowed to loan your card to anyone. If anyone tries to enter the warehouse and it is not their photo on the membership card, they will be denied entry. The cost of Trade membership is £20.00 per year (plus V.A.T) and includes a spouse card. Trade members may add up to an additional six cards at a cost of £12.00 each per year (plus V.A.T). I have got cards for some of my friends using this method. You may be wondering why you have to pay an annual member membership fee and Costco claim that by charging fees, they are able keep their prices lower as the money generated helps towards their operating costs.

                    Costco sell a large selection of goods both well known brands as well as their own branded goods. Costco goods are branded with the name Kirklands and are great value for money. Some of the many departments they have within their warehouses are -

                    *Bakery*

                    They sell trays of pastries, muffins scones etc. which are delicious and are great for freezing if you can't use them all at once. They also sell a variety of cakes for different celebrations and you can pre order these if you wish a person's name to be added. They are great value for money.

                    *Butchery*

                    I have always been pleased with any of the meat I have bought from Costco and often buy large packs of mince, chicken breasts and steaks which I separate and freeze individually once I am home.

                    *Electrical Goods*

                    They are a good source for TVs, computers, printers and white goods. Being an American company they are especially good if you are looking for a one of those large sized, side by side fridge freezers with ice dispenser on the front.

                    *Opticians*

                    I don't know if every warehouse has this facility but my local one does. They carry out eye sight tests and have a large selection of both designer and non designer frames. I haven't used this service so cannot comment on what it is like, however, it always seems busy so I suppose that speaks for itself.

                    *Tyre Centre*

                    The title is, I suppose, self explanatory in that you can purchase new tyres for you car and have them fitted. I have found them to be competitively priced and it saves you time as you can have them fitted while you are going the rest of your shopping in the warehouse.

                    *Books*

                    I purchase a lot of my books from Costco as they are a lot cheaper than the recommended retail price. They also have a good selection of current titles although they tend to be predominantly hardbacks rather than the cheaper paperbacks.

                    *Stamps*

                    I often bulk buy stamps as you can save a couple of pence on each first class stamp.


                    There are too many departments to cover them all individually so I will just give a list of some the rest -

                    Bedding
                    Alcohol & soft drinks
                    Cameras
                    Confectionery
                    Cleaning products
                    Furniture (Home & Garden)
                    Office supplies
                    Beauty products
                    Photo Centre
                    Cigarettes & Tobacco
                    Sporting Goods
                    Grocery
                    Hardware
                    Flowers
                    CDs & DVDs
                    Toys

                    The main thing to remember when shopping at Costco is that the prices do not include VAT which will be added to your bill at the checkout. However, the VAT inclusive price is usually displayed under the non VAT price. It should be remembered that not all items have to have VAT added to them so the price you see is the price you will pay. If buying in bulk, the individual price is usually displayed which I find handy for comparing with supermarket prices. Some supermarkets are so competitively prices these days that it is not necessarily cheaper to shop at Costco. It is best to know your prices before you shop there to know whether you are getting a good deal or not.

                    When you come to pay, please remember that they do not accept credit cards. You can only pay by cash, cheque or Swtich/Delta debit cards. You need to show your receipt to the person at the exit when you leave. They will check that you have paid for the goods and that the amount of goods in your trolley equals the number on your receipt.

                    If you wish a quick bite to eat before you leave, Costco offer a small eating area where you can purchase from a limited selection of fast food items such as hot dogs, pizza and hot dogs. If you buy a coke or other soft drink you can have as many free refills as you like. The food is always fresh and good value for money.

                    Finally, it should be noted that if you are a member you can visit Costco in any country where there is a warehouse. You are not limited to the country where you join.

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                      12.02.2010 21:46
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                      Double ring feature with easy wipe clean surface

                      I recently decided to replace my electric hob and my main priority whilst looking for a new one was to have integrated controls. The dials on my old hob were so close together it made cleaning between them very difficult, so I vowed I would only buy one that had no dials.

                      The next item on my wish list was a double ring. I will try and explain what a double ring is in case you are not familiar with what this feature does. Basically, it is one ring that can heat up to two different diameters. The smaller inner ring can be used if you are heating only a small pan/pot. However, if you need to cook using a bigger pot, you can heat up the inner ring as well as the larger outer ring. The majority of hobs usually have two small and two large rings but as I usually only need small rings when cooking. It is therefore handy to have a ring that can be used for different sized pans.

                      Once I knew what I was looking for in terms of features, I set off to the shops to find the perfect hob that met all my requirements. Unfortunately I found this was easier said than done. Although there was plenty of choice with integrated controls, I only found one with a double ring, namely a Hotpoint CRA641. I liked the look of this one and promptly came home and ordered it online much cheaper than in the shops. It cost £232, including delivery, from www.whitebox.co.uk and I was really pleased with the service from this company. (See separate review).

                      Each ring has its own heat indicator and cooking zone selector. To switch a ring on you first have to press the On/Off button and then the cooking zone selector for the ring you wish to use. Each ring has a heat range from 1 to 9; 1 being the lowest heat and 9 being the highest. To change the amount of heat to each ring, you press the + button when you wish to increase the heat or - (minus) button when you wish to reduce it. If the hob is not being used and you have children in the house, you can press the control panel lock button and then the rings cannot be turned on accidentally. This feature is also handy when you are cleaning the hob. There is an indicator light on the lock button so that you know when it is turned on. To turn it off you just need to press down on the button for a few seconds and the light will go off.

                      The appliance has a safety switch which automatically switches the rings off after they have been in operation for a certain amount of time at a particular power level. For instance if you have a ring set at power level 1 (lowest setting) it will switch itself off after 9 hours of use. However if a ring is set at power level 9 (highest setting) it will switch off after only 1 hour of continuous use. You may think this will cause you problems if you are cooking but it really doesn't. There aren't many things you would cook on the rings for hours on end.

                      Another safety feature I like is the built in buzzer. If you place an object for more than 10 seconds, on top of the control panel (which is located along the front edge of the hob), a buzzer will sound. It will also go off if you spill anything onto the control panel. It will continue to sound until you remove whatever is causing the problem. If you don't remove the cause of the problem the buzzer will keep sounding and the hob will switch itself off. You soon learn not to sit things on the control panel so don't think the buzzer is continually going off, as it isn't. When you switch a ring off after use, it initially displays the letter "H" (for hot), however once it has cooled down a bit it displays "h" (small letter). This lets you know that although it is cooler it is not cold and shouldn't be touched.

                      Although I haven't owned my Hotpoint hob for very long, I cannot find fault with anything and am really pleased with my choice. I would highly recommend it.

                      Colour : Black
                      Width 59 cms

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                      11.02.2010 00:38
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                      Obama's life before politics took over. Jumps all over the place.

                      Where do I begin with my review of this book? To be honest. I'm not really sure. I read a lot of books, covering a large variety of topics and usually manage to finish them. This is the case even with a book I am not really enjoying as I want to give the book and the author a chance before throwing in the towel. However, with this book I was sorely tempted.

                      Dreams From My Father is by Barack Obama and was written in 1995 long before he could have known that he would be elected the first black President of the United States. The book claims that before he became a politician he was a writer. This literary offering makes me glad he decided to go down the political route rather than become a full time author.

                      After he became the first black person to be elected president of the Harvard Review (a legal periodical) he was approached by a few publishers about the possibility of writing a book. They felt Americans were now hungry for any sign of optimism on the racial front. Obama thought he would write a manuscript that included things such as the limits of civil rights litigation, how to bring about racial equality and the restoration of public life through grassroots organising. Very weighty subjects indeed, however I am glad to say that once he started to write he completely changed direction. What we now have is a more personal story including his own internal struggle with race being born of a black father and a white mother. He covers his early upbringing in Hawaii where he is brought up by his mother and his grandparents before his subsequent move to Indonesia when his mother remarries. I did enjoy the story of his early years which he covers in the first few chapters of the book. I found his style of writing, however, very hard to digest. Unfortunately worse was to come. By the time he relates his journey to Kenya to meet the African side of his family, the book becomes decidedly boring. I found it difficult to follow as the story seems to jump all over the place and his prose is very laboured.

                      Further on he relates his move to Chicago to work amongst the poor. I definitely had lost interest by this point. Even his revelation of being a pot-smoking, near drop-out cannot suppress my urge to yawn. If you are looking for some easy bedtime reading, then this is certainly not the book for you.

                      Currently £3.99 (new) on Amazon.co.uk or £0.01 (used).
                      442 pages long.

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                        09.02.2010 22:36
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                        Timeless guitar that will hold it's value

                        Just mention the name Fender, and people know you own a high quality guitar. I recently purchased a Fender American Deluxe Stratocaster and the finish is beautiful. The body looks like it is embedded in thick tinted glass and mine is a 3 tone sunburst with maple fret board. All the components are well constructed and I can see the standard of workmanship is also very high. This means I have a guitar of the very highest quality and it is certainly the best electric guitar I have ever played.

                        The locking tuners make restringing really easy and helps prevent the strings from slipping on the winders which usually cause the guitar to go out of tune. The neck has a great feel, is fast and has great playability. The noiseless samarian cobalt pickups and new S1 switching system can allow almost any tone to be achieved once you get the hang of it. The push-in tremolo is far better than any screw-in tremolo which, if not treated with care, can easily strip and render the tremolo useless. The familiar classic contoured body is very comfortable and allows me to feel the vibrations through the body better. The strap locks make sure that my guitar is secure and there is no chance of it slipping out of the strap and giving me a slap up the side of the head!

                        This guitar compares favourably to other guitars in the same price range or higher. Of course, my opinion is biased but I have heard many other more expensive guitars which don't have the bell tones that the Stratocaster has. The Stratocaster's look is timeless and I don't think it will ever go out of style. However as Fender have recently announced it is soon going to drop this model, it will surely add to its desirability and will make it a much sought after instrument.

                        The electronics on this guitar are extremely easy to use once you get the hang of the S-1 switching system. The tremolo arm is easily installed or removed by just pushing in or firmly pulling out of the tremolo block. Strap locks are included and are easily fitted. I would recommend you fit them as soon as you put the strap on as it easily slips out of the strap holes without the locks in place. If at all possible I suggest you get your local music shop to set up your guitar, such as truss rod adjustment, etc. as it doesn't always come in perfect shape. I would also recommend that you change the strings as soon as possible as the factory installed strings could have been on for some time I use Fender bullet strings as the bullet end is specially designed for use in the Fender tremolo block and will not slip or move when the tremolo is used with gusto.

                        In my opinion, if you purchase one these you should never have to buy another guitar . It is a great sounding guitar which won't go out of style.

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                          08.02.2010 20:23
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                          Easy to use silver cleaner

                          I recently inherited a trumpet that had been up my brother's loft for 30 years. It had belonged to my dad and the memories I had of it were nothing like the black, dirty instrument that was handed to me. Unfortunately the case had disintegrated many years earlier so it had been exposed to the cold and damp in the loft. However I resolved to return this 55 year old instrument back to its former glory.

                          I set off to the supermarket to see what was on offer and I was amazed at the choice on display. I didn't realise were so many silver cleaners on the market as it's not an item that is normally on my weekly shopping list. I settled on a blue and silver tin of Silvo by Duraglit. I actually remembered my mum using this many years ago for the few pieces of silver she owned and it always seemed to produce good results. With this in mind I purchased a tin. I bought mine in Sainsbury but I am sure you can buy it in most of the big supermarket chains. My tin cost £2.01 which I think is a reasonable price for the 75 grams it contained.

                          Silvo is actually a soft wadding material that is impregnated with a silver cleaner. There is one long roll of wadding in the tin, a bit like a Swiss roll. Basically you tear off a piece and rub it on the item to be cleaned. It is very moist so be careful you do not drip any onto a carpet or other non-smooth surface or it may leave a stain. I found I only needed to use a small amount of wadding at a time as it was surprising how much of the trumpet it cleaned. You just rub the wadding over the surface to be cleaned but don't expect the Silvo to leave it with a nice shine. Far from it. It removes the black from the item and your wadding will be dirty very quickly, as will your hands. In fact, if you have an old pair of gloves, I suggest you wear them as I found trying to clean my hands afterwards was quite a task. My fingernails looked as if I had been gardening as they were so black! Anyway, after the wipe over with the Silvo you will then need to polish the surface with a soft clean cloth. I used some muslin I no longer needed as I was able to pull it easily through all the nooks and crannies of the trumpet. What a difference it made. I could not believe the difference in the instrument. The shine was fantastic and I could even see my reflection in it. Be warned, if it is a very dirty item you are trying to clean then you will need a good few attempts before it will be really clean. However, if you persevere you will get good results and not be disappointed. Best of all, I have used very little wadding from the original tin I bought so have lots left for the next time I want to do a bit of polishing.

                          I should add that the tin warns that the wadding can be irritating to the skin, can cause drowsiness & dizziness and should not be used near your eyes. I have to say that I never suffered any of these symptoms so hopefully it would be the same if you used this product. However, I think it is better that you are aware of the warnings.

                          Silvo is not just for cleaning silver. It can also be used on gold and electroplate. I haven't tried it on either of these so cannot pass comment on this claim. However, if it is as good as it is on silver, I would have no hesitation in recommending it

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                            07.02.2010 16:55
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                            Light hearted film for all the family

                            Christmas with the Kranks is based on the book "Skipping Christmas" which was written by John Grisham. If you are looking for the normal Grisham storyline of lawyer takes on bad guys and bad guys lose, you will be sorely disappointed.

                            This is the story of the Krank family. Dad, Luther Krank is played by Tim Allen and Mum, Nora Krank, by Jamie Lee Curtis. The story opens with their teenage daughter Blair leaving home to do voluntary work with the Peace Corps in Peru. They are faced with being on their own for Christmas for the first time in 23 years and are not looking forward to it. This, coupled with the ever increasing cost of the festive season, makes Luther look at how much they spend on Christmas each year and so decides they should give Christmas a miss for the year. Luther hatches a plan on how to avoid all the usual trappings of the season and spend the money on themselves. He decides that going on a Caribbean cruise would cost only cost half of what they normally spend on Christmas, so they would therefore make a saving by going on holiday! Initially Nora isn't keen on his plan but is eventually persuaded that that is what they should do. However as the film progresses we realise that skipping Christmas is not as easy as the Kranks thought it would be, especially when they have to put up with the protestations of neighbours, friends and charities who are going to miss out on the Kranks' usual outside decorations, Christmas Eve party and donations.

                            The film follows the Kranks' struggle on avoiding everything to do with Christmas, at one point even hiding in their basement to avoid carol singers on the doorstep. Tim Allen & Jamie Lee Curtis are well known comedy actors and their casting in these roles, in my opinion, is a good choice. They work well together and the humour just keeps coming and coming. However, there are sentimental moments in the film too. Mind you, it wouldn't really be a Christmas film without some sentimentality, now would it? Dan Aykroyd is also well cast as the interfering neighbour who runs the close-knit community with a rod of iron. However, his softer side is shown later in the film when he rallies the neighbourhood to rescue the Kranks' when their cruise plans are throw awry by an unexpected visitor.

                            This is one of those easy to watch films that you just know will have a happy ending. However this didn't detract from my enjoyment of it. Okay, some of the humour may have been a bit slapstick, but I still found myself chuckling at their antics. Whether it was because I could see a lot of similarities between the Kranks and myself I don't know. My husband and I did actually consider skipping Christmas one year and like the Kranks, almost made it. Almost being the operative word! The film doesn't need to be watched at Christmas to fully enjoy it. I only watched it last night (i.e. in February) and I still found it entertaining. A light-hearted film for all the family.

                            The DVD is currently available on Amazon.co.uk for only £3.38 new or £2.24 used.

                            Duration : 1 hour 35 minutes

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                              06.02.2010 16:41
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                              Handy store cupboard standby but not like the really thing

                              One day whilst doing my supermarket shop I saw Bisto's cheese sauce granules and thought I would give them a try. I have used Bisto's gravy granules for many years and have always been pleased with the results. Although nothing beats a homemade sauce for taste, I find that sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything you want. This includes making cheese sauce. My husband and I both love cauliflower cheese and were pleasantly surprised with the taste of this sauce.

                              **How to make the Sauce**

                              For the two of us I put 4 heaped dessert spoons of granules in a measuring jug and add boiling water. I use a balloon whisk to mix together as I find it makes a smoother sauce and you don't end up with lumps. Trust me, undissolved granules are not a pleasant taste! Although it gives you the ratio of granules to water on the packaging, I find trial and error is the best method as everyone likes their sauce different. We prefer quite a thick sauce so add less water than is recommended. I know some people prefer to add the granules to the water but I never seem to produce a smooth sauce when I mix it this way round.

                              **Taste**

                              As long as you don't think it will taste like homemade sauce you won't be disappointed. It has quite a strong taste of cheese but with a slight artificial flavour. However, don't let this put you off. Once you have poured it over your cauliflower or other vegetables you won't notice it. It only takes a minute to prepare so make sure the rest of your meal is ready before making the sauce. I have found that it cools and congeals really quickly so I now plate up the meal and make pouring on the sauce the last thing I do before serving. It is fine on vegetables but it is not something I would use if making macaroni cheese. I just don't think it's consistency would be up to the job.

                              The granules come in a 200g cardboard tub and a 50 ml serving, if made up as directed on the pack, contains 41 calories and 2.3g of fat. A 200g tub is approximately £1.25 in Tesco but a cheaper option would be the 300g tub which I have seen online selling for £2.49.

                              If you are looking for a time saving method of making cheese sauce then I would recommend these granules. They will not, however, replace homemade sauce by a long shot.

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