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Set in Victorian London - this series of stories is as much about the members of the Greyfriar's Gentleman's Club as the events that unfold themselves.
The setting is matched beatifully to it's time - the list of members are variously dashing, studious or dabblers in the occult, but all at the peak of wit, sartorial dress and apt to take a snifter and a cigar before sallying forth to battle evil.
There are clear signs of the direction the author takes with other works like the bestselling Silver (the religious overtones of the occult material), and Gods & Monsters (Demonic entities, the quest to demystify divine creation).
The 3 stories begin with a museum break in, a journey to the centre of the hollow earth and a classic godzilla-type rampage, followed by an imagined continuation of a classic folk tale that draws heavily from the authors penchant for the Golem, and ends with a poignant tale of Art vs Machines and the attempts of a broken man to bring love back to his empty life. I don't want to reveal too much of the plots - but they really are full of fascinating science, myth, magic, wonder and above all action.
A brilliant series of tales that I hope to see more of once London Macabre (a bumper edition of Greyfriar's tales) is published.
At only 70p on the Kindle, this is a real bargain.
This review previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
Fans of Babylon 5 and Stargate novels will instantly enjoy this ripping tale - which represents but a small part of the growing Scattered Earth series (A whole new setting currently being filled out by this Author, as well as David Niall Wilson and Steven Savile). A relatively short story, this nonetheless delivers sufficient action and tension to be worth the small purchase price.
Set around the Dread Remora, in reality a fusion of two ships led by a decisive and determined crew, the story combines sharp action with detailed and original descriptions of the races that meet, as well as the mysterious and savage Meringians they are both pursuing.
The story follows on the the Birth of the Dread Remora - a much longer story that gives real insight into the ship and their crew, as well as the hope of their race as they take their first steps beyond their planet's watery atmosphere.
A Naval vessel, disguised as a Pirate ship and manned by people that can breathe both water and air is a novel premise, and the story delivers action, intrigue and humour. By setting the story to a tale of exploration by a race new to the challenges and wonders of space, the author manages to inject what would otherwise be a run of the mill space adventure with a sense of excitement and apprehension. Almost everything the ship and its crew does is new and untried - and new contacts could be friend or foe, with the prospect of powerful new alliances or yet another enemy to battle.
Whilst the story is quite straightforward, the author is content not to overload the reader with technical or emotional details and lets the storyline carry the reader forward.
New alliances (no spoiling of the plot here) and an explosive climax will leave you wanting more tales from the Ether.
A real bargain at just 70p on the Kindle.
This review was previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
The second in the Scattered Earth Tales - a collaboration with Aaron Rosenberg and Steven Savile - The Second Veil begins with our hero Euphrankes being banished from the city of Urv for daring to show initiative that runs counter to the established ways, in a scene reminiscent of the Rush epic 2112.
What's needed is a short,sharp shock - which arrives in the form of space debris that crashes through the protective bubble of the First Veil and threatens the whole existence of not only Urv, but the whole planet too.
Euphrankes and his team quickly set out from their Outpost to rescue Urv, and a chain of events unfolds that lifts the tale from harsh repression into hope for survival, and then the grand designs of exploration as the decision is taken to send Euphrankes and his crew of the Airship Tangent out beyond the Second Veil to seek out the mythical Protectors and anyone else that may be out there. We follow the transformation of our hero and his team from dissidents to brave explorers, and an equal change in the High Council and the Priests as they learn to force off the old accepted ways for the good of their people.
Written with energy and flowing descriptions, the story combines a sound explanation of Urv's technology and history, and a unique twist on travel via Veil protected roads and Airships. Countless discoveries and events draw the reader inexorably to the point of departure as the Author weaves the threads of the story into a glittering climax.
The Scattered Earth Tales promise to be a rich universe of action and storytelling, and The Second Veil is well worth reading as you begin it's exploration. Any fans of Stargate and Babylon 5 work are well advised to read this too.
This review previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
Here are Four short stories from a Master Craftsman - written with strong, crisp lines and well rounded characters. The array of needs, urges and desires of the characters suffuse the rich writing and leave you wanting the collection to have more stories than just the four.
Fairground Attraction - an enchanting tale of a young man's desire and curiosity that lead him to the promise of freedom from his imperfection, but the girl who tugs at his heart strings may not be all that he is able to believe.
The First Time - a chilling tale of a young man's return to the memories of his First Love, and her return to haunt his present. The writer really conveys just how unsettling this is all to experience.
Always a Dancer - a tale of two estranged musicians and the passion they shared for a mysterious dancer. It ends in a quite unexpected near-dream, in a whirling, brilliant, musical crescendo.
Angel's Kiss - the emotionally savage tale of an abused woman who is saved by an Angel who shifts her pain away in a gift of healing and love. Powerfully written, especially the ending.
If you like Dark Fiction, read this exquisite collection and then move onto his other works, including the excellent Sally Reardon Mysteries: Of Time and Dust and Missing (co-written with Steven Savile).
Still only 70p - this is a real bargain for the Kindle
This review previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
First released about 15 years ago under the title Laughing Boy's Shadow - but lacking the interest it sorely deserved - Outcasts is an absolutely mesmerising read. If you've already read his bestselling Silver and are hungry for more of Mr Savile's work - then you will not be disappointed with this book.
Where Silver is a high gloss, all-action, rollercoaster of a tale - Outcasts is an atmospheric, intense and troubling journey into the gloomiest reaches of Dark Fiction, and fully showcases the Author's burning talent.
Anyone with a passing familiarity of Newcastle will suppress a shudder every time they revisit certain locations, having read this book and its rich descriptions, such is the quality of the tableaux created.
As the blurb describes - troubled jazz musician Declan Shea kills a tramp with his car, and by the time he reaches the safety of Hospital, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is merely a dark novel about Declan's descent into insanity when he discovers that only he saw his victim.
What happens after he leaves Hospital, however, is best described as opening up that parallel reality that you can only see out of the very corner of your vision and only if you try really hard not to look at it (Dr Who fans will know what I'm on about). You are shoved into the same hole of madness and despair as Declan, kicking and screaming as the Author bombards Declan (and you) with a torture of nightmarish events and tragedies that ultimately shape him into the Monster he was adamant he could never be.
Currently available on the Kindle for a mere £0.70 - this is an absolute bargain.
This review reviously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
Meeting the crumbling, decaying, dying human metaphor of the City, Malachi - Declan is pitted against Crohak, King of the Tramps who he hit in his car, and his brilliantly described army of tramps and beggars. Of particular note, Declan meets 3 murderous henchmen of Crohak's who he names the Oz parasites, cleverly twisting the poignantly human attributes of their Fantasy namesakes into the vicious, callous monsters of the dark streets.
The ultimate manipulation of Declan by both sides involves dragging him through some heart-rending events which will leave you by turns hopeful and desolate, as an astounding array of imaginative horrors overwhelms your senses.
Finally and utterly broken towards the end - Declan becomes the very duality of the City, the ceaseless cycle of decay and renewal, and wins a closure of sorts that will have you applauding the skills of the Author for not choosing the cop out ending that sees Declan win, the bad guys all get it, and having all the good people come back; yet also not totally destroying any joy wrought from the brighter moments of the story.
If you've not had a chance to really challenge your senses with a piece of Dark Fiction, and want to immerse yourself in a gritty urban landscape that pulls at the fabric of reality and questions what a lone man is capable of in the name of love and betrayal, then Outcasts will surely be the best book you read all year. I challenge you to read one chapter at a time and not be tempted to read on a bit more, in the hope that it can't get any Darker....
A star turn from the pens of 2 seasoned writers - Of Time & Dust is the first in the Sally Reardon series - which follow a latent psychic working to solve crimes. The story is full of shocks and twists right from the off, and you quickly begin to feel the same dread as Sally as she uncovers the horrors of the past.
The story fairly bristles with energy and supernatural tension, and the chilling climax will have you desperate to read Missing - the next story in the series.
Tight suspense combines with elegant yet horrific details of the past crimes that occurred in Birkin Hall to create an all-too brief thriller that you will have to finish in one sitting.
Although only available on the Kindle, and a short story - this is well worth the current 70p asking price, and will surely lead you to explore more of these authors works.
This review was previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk
If you want an absolutely unputdownable thriller, that starts with a bang, twists and turns all the way through and climaxes with the promise of more to come, then Silver is for you.
This is currently only available in ebook format in the UK, but hope for a print version for this and the upcoming sequel Gold are high.
A religious thriller, laden with twisted prophecy and stunningly detailed action, Silver drags you along with the Ogmios team for a bumpy ride as they attempt to get to the root of the conspiracy and defeat its protagonists.
The skill of the author is not only in depicting gritty and realistic action with the well constructed characters, but also in not just finishing the book with the good guys clearly on top - it is the first in a Trilogy after all - and no matter how many bad guys the Team take out, there always seem to be more standing behind them ready to take over.
There is genuine worry for the fate of mankind, such is the seemingly limitless power and reach of the protagonists and the thoroughly believable take on the pieces of Silver in question and the beliefs that spring from them.
If you have read the Da Vinci Code or similar - read this, it's better.
If you haven't read any thrillers like this because you don't think a religion-based storyline would interest you - read this - it's well worth the ride.
(previously posted by me on Amazon.co.uk)
Lucky chap that I am, I have a good friend several miles away with a toddler. The child in question is 18mths older than my baby, and so, by good fortune and some wheedling, outgrown toys, advice and tips make their way to me, and thence to other friends who have babies of varying ages. It's quite a nice circular type of affair - once you have kids of your own you'll come to appreciate the benefit of having other parents to talk to and rely on.
The toy in question this time is the Fisher Price Jumperoo - a serious bit of kit that retails at upwards of £75. Suitable from whenever your baby can hold their head up properly (about 4 mths for my daughter) until they are 26lbs/12Kg, this toy should see you through until they can stagger about with aid and get bored of bouncing, preferring to rearrange your DVD collection instead.
Assembly isn't too hard - you have a circular base of tubular steel that interlocks with 3 vertical supports. Onto these you clip the main body of the Jumperoo - setting the height to one of 3 levels so that your child's feet rest on the floor. Our daughter was in fact even shorter than this when she first started to use it, and we put a cushion under her feet to help her.
Onto 2 of the supports you can clip overhanging soft toys - a parrot and an insect (or maybe it's a bird, It looks cute though), and these will soon become tugged and batted about by an enthusiastic arm-waving baby.
The main body has 3 faces, 2 of which are auxiliary (all these technical terms make it sound like a Starship!) One face has a rotating elliptical plastic cylinder, in which resides a plastic insect that rattles when you rotate the cylinder. Noisy - check.
The second face has a similar toy - this time a Sun with a happy face inside a sphere. Below it lurks a tiger's head in some bushes which can be popped up at the press of a big yellow button. This is probably the last thing your baby will work out - age is required to understand the cause and effect of pressing one thing to make another thing happen (there's probably an abbreviated child psychology term for this...). A disc sunk halfway into the jumperoo, and banded with colour is to the right of this face, and can be spun to create distracting swirls.
The main face of the jumperoo is the all action site of the toy. An overhanging arch supports a small plastic parrot and monkey which can be batted, as well as an Elephant who can be twisted to make a noise - a sequence of elephant roar, monkey whoop or silence, each of which sets off the musical tone. There is also a spinning cylinder with small pictures on it, and a rattling noise. Getting this to turn also sets off the musical tones.
Right - those musical tones! There are two slideable buttons for this - one has two volume settings, the other selects one of two music modes. The first mode is a short 5 second or so tune, with about 3 or 4 separate tunes in the sequence. The second mode is a non-stop musical tune of about a minute's length. At first you'll hum it along in time whilst your baby stares at you in rapt attention. Eventually you will hear the tune in your sleep, but it will soon fade into the melange of polytone musical tunes that make up your baby's interaction with all their toys. Seriously - put grown up music on occasionally - if they are asleep in the car, set the speaker balance to 'Forward' and turn up the Iron Maiden. We all need a release from the eternity that is parenting.
To fit your child into the jumperoo requires persistence and some practice. The seat contains a clippable fabric seat, with 2 leg holes and a backrest designed to look like a frog's head. Dangling your baby into the leg holes whilst keeping them stable, especially when they are overcome with the limb-flailing excitement generated by proximity to their favourite toy, is quite some task - but as you've mastered unfolding a pram one-handed, and changing a nappy on the back seat of a car, I shouldn't think you'll have too much trouble mastering it.
The Jumperoo encourages them to bounce as they interact. The body of the toy hangs from the supports on shock cord type fabric straps with surprising strength and flexibility. Don't be surprised to see the supports wobble like a skyscraper in high wind, or the body to shake as your baby discovers how much fun supported bouncing is. You will need to talk more loudly if in adult conversation, and phone calls are not to be attempted in the same room.
You will have endless fun watching your baby giggle and scream in delight as they bounce about, and be encouraged when they dangle quietly and instead play with the various toys, slowly learning what each one does and how to make it noisier. Eventually, with either a cry or grumbling, you will know that your baby has had enough and you can let the jumperoo recover for a few hours. My daughter can easily manage 20 minutes of full on insane action in it, once even falling asleep at the helm. (Do I hear a collective 'Awww').
The Jumperoo isn't that heavy, but is quite wide, and so needs tipping to get through doors (obviously without a baby inside). Taking it out to the garden is a good way to keep them occupied whilst you wrestle with weeds and your veg box, but you'd need a sizeable boot to add it to the essential items to take away with you - even though it can be taken apart.
Get one - borrow one - steal one. You won't regret it, and neither will your baby. It's possibly the most fun a 6-12mth old can have short of blowing raspberries on their belly.
So - you've all been watching Nigella recently? She of the sultry smile and owner of the most cavernous pantry in London who can whip up a range of meals in 10 minutes flat for all those uninvited guests. Her friends must think she's an upmarket McDonalds - perfect for a quick snack on the way home.
Well - I've been studying the shows intently and have managed to come up with one meal to make the most of items you have lurking in hidden corners of your cupboard for when something unanticipated occurs: forgetting to get something out of the freezer, change of plans about your evening meaning you need to whip something up more quickly, or simply because you are having a brainfreeze and didn't get everything you needed in the supermarket. These things happen, we're busy people aren't we? At least, that's all you ever hear from people on the TV who don't have time to cook properly for their children or slow down when driving.
In line with yesterday's rather flash tuna on mash combo - this is another quick and easy meal, but more satisfying and hearty, and all the cleverer for using things you have at home but never think about too much, so that after you've cooked it you haven't really used up anything important for which you'd need to go shopping: like a slab of meat or a stack of veg. So clever is this logic then, that you could make a meal like this every day, and consequently never need to go shopping. Shhh - if evil Tesco hear that they'll be straight round to melt your clubcard.
Rightyho - so you've come home, and it's officially panic time? Good. Let's begin. Stick the kettle on and chuck some Pasta in a pan - penne (tubes) works best, but farfalle (bows) or the conchiglie (shell) shapes are ok too.
Search your cupboard for a can of tinned tomatoes and a can of tuna and put them on the side for later. Cook the pasta with the boiled water and a splash of oil to prevent sticking, then drain and pour into an ovenproof dish - a large one if you have it. Root around for some suitable herbs: Oregano, Basil, Marjoram, Paprika and so on.
Tip the contents of the tuna and tomato cans into the oven dish, add in a random sprinkling of herbs and generally stir it all about. At this juncture, cheese is always a good option. Thin slices spread over the top of the mixture is fine, or grated if you have the elbow strength or are one of those lazy people that buys ready grated cheese.
Stick in a preheated oven (hah! Caught you first go readers out), at about 180C (160C Fan) for about 20-25 minutes, poking occasionally for the sense that you know what you're doing, and adding perhaps some slivers of parmesan or blue cheese right at the end.
The oven time gives you the chance to run about the house tidying up and looking like you are organised and not at all a last minute sort of person who wasn't ready to serve a nutritious and interesting dinner.
When cooked - the pasta should be browned at the top with cheese on, and the tomato and tuna will have bubbled into a tasty gooey mixture with some of the cheese and the herbs should just cling to anything they find, further enhancing the taste.
See - Tuna Pasta Bake - without one of those lame ready pour jars that are full of additives and other nasty gunk, made in about 40 minutes, and rather tasty to boot. If you serve it straight to the table in the oven dish (remembering to use oven gloves and a standy thing to stick it on), then it will look like a complex dish that took thought and preparation - how's that for a bonus!
Have you ever sat watching those Marks & Spencer adverts - with their near perfect clips of delectable food described in breathless honeyed tones by a sultry presenter - and wondered if a) you wish you could make food like that, or b) can the media and chefs stop describing everything with superfluous adjectives and annoying alternative names?
The first is simply a matter of envy, which can be broken down further into its component parts; imaginative vacancy and laziness. Cooking isn't hard - it's like gardening really. You stand there staring out of your window at the overgrown mass of greenery and wonder what the point is - but once you get stuck in the first few times, you remember what you're doing and it becomes far easier, perhaps even mildly enjoyable. The same is true of a recipe that looks exotic and complex on the TV or in a glossy picture, but is no real challenge if you set your mind to it.
The second issue is obviously just obfuscation. By telling you that the slow-roasted, hand picked, specially aged, pan-fried, hand-drizzled joint of select (regional) beef is used in the recipe, you immediately think it must be so special to be worthy of such prefixation as to be far easier to go out to the shop and buy than to make yourself from any old bit of cow you find in the meat section. You can do it yourself - isn't most of your beef either pan-fried or slow roasted anyway? Unless you have a special oven that does a roast inside 20 minutes...
Similarly - as I'm ranting already - how many ways can tomatoes be shrivelled? We have Sun-dried, sun-kissed, sun-blushed and even sun-bronzed.... Seriously....
Right - back to the recipe - before I lose the plot entirely and go off on a tangent from which there might be no return. Where was I... Ah yes - the Spud.
The humble Leek - cleverest and most versatile of all vegetables, yet oft maligned for its boring image. This is entirely of your own doing however. There are so many ways to cook a Leek - you just need to open your mind and let the ideas bubble around a bit
For this recipe - all you need is one large potato that you might use for baking, or 2 medium sized ones instead. Perhaps the bigger ones scare you in the supermarket...there there. And a Leek - a big one...well, any size is fine - just make sure you chop it into thin rings.
Obviously - the potato is merely an accompaniment in the recipe. Spud surprise would be a pretty dull meal in itself. No - for this I recommend a piece of fish. Any would do really - but perhaps something you can fry in a pan (pan-fried I believe they call it), like a mackerel or a chunk of salmon.
Right - take the bit of fish and cook it with some butter, some herbs to taste and a touch of salt and pepper. It only needs 7-10 minutes of gentle frying, turning occasionally, to turn a smelly lump of dead sea beast into a mouth watering slice of cooked fishy goodness.
Whilst this transformation occurs, boil your potatoes (already chopped) until they look ready to crumble when you tease them inquisitively with a fork. Drain and toss gently with butter. I should ask at this point that you leave the potatoes unskinned. It adds to the texture.
Now for the clever bit. Whilst both these items cook, lightly fry the leek, chopped, in some butter and herbs. If you have already got this far without reading the whole article first, then you're too late and you might as well chuck it all in the bin and order a takeaway. Tsk...
So - simultaneously, your leek slices are soft and juicy, your potatoes are drained and steaming away in the pan, and your fish approaches the zenith of its cooking requirements.
Dump the potatoes and leeks in a bowl and mash using a fork. Important this - the fork bit. Don't be tempted to use the mashing utensil. You don't need to remove all evidence that your potato was once real and solid, and not just from the Smash tin in the cupboard. Once soft but still lumpy, with the bits of leek mixed in, serve up in a flattish dollop on the plate. Place the piece of fish gently over the top of the potato - preferably with an artful overhang at each end - and garnish with a sprig of parsley or something else green and herby. You will probably have a bit of buttery sauce left in both the fish and leek pans. Combine these and pour in a circle around your mash beds. Maybe make some striped patterns if you really want to show off.
Not only have you done this inside 15 minutes (crossing out the 'I never have time to cook properly' objection), but the meal is also pretty healthy and delightfully tasty (so that's 'healthy food is too slow to make', and 'I wish I could do something a bit different' dealt with then).
Marvellous. You've just made pan fried, herbed fillet of fish served on a bed of hand-crumbled, unskinned potato mash with a seasonal filling of leek circles, and a hand-drizzled clarified butter jus. How pretentious are you?!
So there I was, pottering around town, slowly working my way through my list of errands (an essential part of a grown-up's Saturday routine) when I came over all peckish. Actually I'll be honest, I'm always hungry, but right at this moment the ravenous jaws of starvation threatened to overwhelm my sense of balance and I was in need of an urgent calorific transfusion. It's lucky that I'm a well honed urban survival expert, the Ray Mears of the North if you will (I'm still working on the belly, but I can light 3 different types of fire and generally know which mushrooms not to eat, despite what the supermarket tries to tell me...).
I hastened therefore to the nearest purveyor of sweetened offerings, and found a Tesco Metro. I usually avoid this store because it is frequented by the roving delinquents of the town, busy practising their shoplifting techniques, and because it's the sort of place where you get stuck in a queue behind someone who wants to pay for a handbasket of shopping with a cheque and they insist on using their pen which is somewhere in their bag, but always requires an aeon to find.
Quickly powermincing my way across the aisle ends (you can't run in stores really, and walking is too slow...seriously, they need to put lanes in) I located the Confectionery zone and scuttled to the middle where the bags of sweets hung. I should point out the logic here: Chocolate is too heavy and leaves your mouth all dry afterwards, which would necessitate an accompanying drink, but that would be a pain to carry about. Large bags are similarly difficult to transport, and would be too tempting not to entirely consume.
No, what was required was a small handy bag of sweeties that I could smuggle away in a coat pocket whilst completing my errands. Something multiple too - not one large sweet, but lots of little ones - allowing individual portion selections (average size, one handful), and possibly in colour options. I do like to have some interaction with my food after all.
And so it was that my eyes did espy the bag of Tesco Value Midget Gems. Or Budget...I forget the words. I was to hungry. From the same range as their other low cost items designed to make rich people feel better about buying the Extra Value products, and the poor people feel that Tesco cares about them, and to just confuse the majority of us who are somewhere in between, these sweets are packaged in the standard white bag, with blue lines and red logos. Simple, no fuss, cheap, Ronseal kind of products (If you're lost, ask...).
I picked up a bag - just one, I need to work at the belly slowly - and took my time sizing up the queues to make sure I got into the slowest one. 10 items or less usually does the trick. That way I get to complain about the grammatical idiocy of the sign, and the paucity of numerical skill of customers ahead of me who think that filling a handbasket with 37 items of 10 different products fulfils the critera as I watch the afternoon fritter away before me.
Finally free of the tyranny of consumerism I gained egress to the pavement and began my route to completing the next item on my list. I examined the bag of Midget Gems as I did so, pleased with myself at getting 200g of sweet goodness for the bargainous price of 28p. And you wonder why, with prices of about 65p per 100g, Woolworths went under...
I would tell you all about the calories per 100g, the amounts of fat and sugar and so on, but I'm a bloke, and ignored that bit completely. I know sugar is bad for my teeth, and that eating too much and exercising too little will make me fat, it's quite simple. I reckoned that at least one handful of the gems would be walked off in the completion of my tasks, so I was unduly worried about the prospect of waking up the next day and being unable to see my feet anymore.
I stole a glance at a handful of gems as I walked along the High Street, and finding myself satisfied with the profusion of colours therein, popped them into my mouth. Instant sugary wonderment flooded through my mouth and into the clever bit of my brain that makes me simultaneously pat my tummy and lick my lips in enjoyment (far cleverer than the bit that controls walking I'd say). Pleasantly firm on the outside, the individual gems yielded to toothy pressure and the magic of saliva, pouring forth their delicious combination of sugar and colourings. Just as tasty as far more expensive varieties, there really is little to tell apart for this brand when compared to the pricier names.
Having enjoyed a few mouthfuls of Midget Gems, and feeling suitably refuelled, I set about the rest of my afternoon, safe in the knowledge that I had a reserve of Gems in my coat pocket for later. It's the little things that matter sometimes, and it can be as small an item as a little bag of Midget Gems that makes your day. (I need to win the lottery, I can offer so much more than this....).
For the money these are unbeatable sweets. High on taste, low on price, and as long as you can avoid the strange sensation that its wrong to be buying budget sweets (if you are indeed silly enough to fall prey to that illness) then you can do no wrong with these lovely sweeties. Hasten forth to the evil Tesco (they do have their uses...) and purchase some forthwith.
Avid readers among you will by now be glued to the reviews page, desperately searching for the sequel to the earth shattering toaster review I posted yesterday. Search no more - for I have come up with a suitable amount of waffle, prose and guesswork to enable the production of said sequel.
Ok - it was a toaster, and this is a kettle. Hardly the same scope for spellbinding descriptions that you can find in the Travel Section, or the same intellectual jousting of the Speakers Corner (well...alright, whining and complaining), but someone has to review these appliances!
If you are mean enough not to have read the previous review - I will briefly elucidate. I've had some wedding vouchers taking up valuable space in my ribbons and assorted wool drawer for months, and the Wife and I finally got round to visiting the upmarket department store that would swop the aforementioned tokens for shiny consumerist products. Deciding on a swish new kettle and toaster combo (eventually), we aimed to make our kitchen look decidedly 'with it' and trendy (and other associated adjectives to denote your willingness to spend money wildly).
Having already snaffled the toaster on account of it's shiny red paintjob, retro dials and profundity of toasting slots, I was convinced (nagged) into purchasing the accompanying kettle in the matching red colour. Delonghi certainly saw me coming - and everyone else in fact, as there are matching sets in Red, Cream, Blue and Silver - as well as a similarly retro Espresso Machine. Luckily for my wallet (the vouchers only covered most of the first two items' value) I already have a fully functioning coffee machine and felt no need to chuck a fine example of German Engineering to satisfy the colour scheme requirements of my fairer half.
The kettle cost £54 - which is a lot of money for a device that makes water hot, when you can quite easily get a budget brand for a third of that price. However - detractors would do well to remember that plenty of people are silly enough to spend thousands more on say a Volkswagen when they can have exactly the same thing by buying a Seat....for instance.
Anyway - economic theory over - back to the kettle. Bulging at its base, and curving gradually to an old fashioned conical teapot lid, the design takes similar cues as the toaster - with a sharp paint colour contrasting against the plain black plastic of the base, the shiny black of the single ended handle, and the brushed steel of the lid and spout.
My only real complaint with the design is that the spout is rather titchy, and the removable lid implies filling of the kettle directly into the top. The drawback here is that removing the lid, which sits inside 3 metal clips inside the top of the kettle, causes a metallic scraping sound, and is more time consuming than simply holding the spout under the tap and turning the tap on. Still - things could be worse, the kettle is quicker to boil than my old one and looks far nicer on the kitchen worktop.
In operation the kettle is rapid (but not one of these trendy super fast kettles that don't actually boil the water and are bought by people who pride themselves on having no spare time to do anything of value, let alone make a proper cup of tea in the morning). The walls of the kettle obviously get quite hot, but the maximum fill line is far enough from the spout that you would have to literally knock the kettle over to express any boiling water. The capacity is a fairly standard 1.7 litres, which is probably 5 or 6 cups of hot loveliness at a time. The base unit features the cord winding lugs that it shares with the toaster design, and is a totally unremarkable round plastic base (I'm not getting into the dynamics of circular bases and their depths this time you'll be pleased to know).
The box was fairly cumbersome, packaged as it was with the offcuts of a dozen egg boxes or so, and with the usual free plastc bag to throw away, the guarantee forms, the multilingual instructions (Fill with water, turn on, wait...pour!) and the little ties that make the cord look all neat and tidy, takes a good few minutes to get ready for first use, but being cuboid at least made packing it in the boot simple.
So there you have it - a kettle, well designed, pleasing on the eye, simple to use, and thoroughly pleasing in every way. Vouchers well spent!
NB. Picture and sound quality? What is wrong with these Dooyoo functions!!
'Ooh shiny' - I believe, is what my Wife uttered when she saw this Toaster sitting proud on the shelf in the upmarket department store the other week. 'Can we have that one?' - she said, and indicated the Red version (Blue, Brushed Silver and Cream also available). I spluttered at the sight of the price tag, but then remembered that we were spending our wedding vouchers which we'd had stashed away since last year, not having had the time or the decisiveness to spend them earlier.
I had to admit - it was a very shiny Toaster, and unlike most gadgets that promise the ultimate in connectivity, width of picture, depth of colour or flexible entertainment options, this one actually does make toast. Marvellous.
I shall point out now that we also bought the matching kettle - but that's for another review. I'm just glad they didn't have a matching freezer and three piece suite in Red, or I'd have ended up trying to fit those in the boot along with the pram too. At least it will make visitors think we're smart and trendy...
The toaster in question is the Delonghi Icona. Aimed at the sort of person who likes statement pieces and thinks £68.75 is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for a small metal box with some heated elements in, this is a spiffily designed hunk of plastic and metal. Attractively curved, with a bright red shell that gets warm but not painfully hot to the touch when in operation, and with 4 slots (the main reason for binning our old 2 slot £15 budget toaster by the way), this is a pretty useful bit of kit. Well - in the realms of tasted goods at least. It doesn't, for instance, put your rubbish out or come with a radio for listening to the Cricket on the sly. (It might though - I just haven't found the button for either yet).
The retro controls are quite nifty. The lowering arms - one for each set of 2 slots - are long metal rods with a scalloped plastic bead on the end, and also have an extra half inch of give above the resting level to allow you to lift smaller toasted items (teacakes and muffins etc) above the level of the top of the toaster so that you don't burn all of your fingers trying to get them out, and obviate the need to stick a knife into the toasted item, but miss and fuse the elements (you've all done it once...).
The dials are probably the best feature for me - again, one for each set of 2 slots - operated by a twisty rod and bead combo and offering browning settings from 1 to 6. This means that you can have a his and hers side of the toaster (Some like it just browned, others cremated).
Also on the front panel are 4 buttons for each side. Cancel is moderately obvious and will spring your limp and warm bread back up. Bagel is the clever option that turns off the outside element of each slot, allowing you to toast only one side of the aforementioned savoury doughnut, or teacake if you prefer, whilst keeping the other side warm. The Defrost button slowly warms a solid lump of bread to a precooked state, saving you from starvation if you managed to forget to retrieve the bread from the freezer the evening before. The final button - Reheat - simply rewarms your already toasted items in the event that you've foolishly made your other half's toast already, but they're still trying to decide which clothes to wear.
Other features include a cord wrap underneath the body of the toaster, which works like those on the bases of kettles, safely stowing away excess cable so that your plug sockets don't become a labyrinthine mess of black leads and tangles. There are also 2 removable crumb trays for easier cleaning - although to be fair, even our budget toaster had one.
Not amazingly heavy, thankfully, the toaster came in a needlessly large and overpackaged box - obviously to allow the sides of the boxes to be covered in shiny pictures and blurb about how amazing the toaster is. Seriously, are we that desperate to be convinced we need it? Inside you will find the usual panoply of multi-lingual instructions, guarantee form and warning leaflet (The Toaster gets hot when in use. Really? I'd best not get this one then....).
Does it work? This is of course the important bit. It'd be little use if it just stood there looking pretty. If I'd wanted that I could just have hired a glamour model to sit on my kitchen worktop and given her a carton of orange juice to keep her quiet (It says Concentrate on the side).
Well - as far as Toasters go, it was very good. The toast came out brown and cooked, as expected, and only mild tweaking of the selector dial was required to find the perfect level of toastiness. Obviously this level will vary according to the thickness of the bread - and Toaster Scientists will need to work hard at this to come up with a sensor that knows the relative density of the bread and toasts accordingly. (If they can put ABS, EBD and ESP in cars, I'm sure they can make a Toaster clever).
Overall I was quite happy with my purchase. As impulsive as it was, we did need a 4 slot toaster - as breakfasts together do take more time if you have to do one round at a time - and with a rapidly growing anklesnapper already weaning her way through porridge and mushed up veg, it won't be long before she demands toasty goodness to satisfy her hunger.
I would recommend this toaster as a luxury treat, or an ideal buy if you have gift vouchers as I did - but it is a considered purchase after all, and you could conceivably get the same cooked satisfaction from a cheaper unit - if not the same elegance in your kitchen.
There are only so many minutes in a day, and so many things to be doing. Sometimes you need to keep your dearest offspring occupied for just 15 minutes whilst you do one of the following: run the hoover round the house, make lunch, have a quick shower (own up, you've not had time all morning), quickly call one of those pesky 0845 numbers to pay a bill or complain at someone, panic about the lack of time, or read this review.
With me so far? As lovely as it is spending precious time with your ikkle baby, eventually you will tire of singing the same song over and over, with the same perma-grin face and waving hands, and feel the need to recharge. It's also important for your little one to learn and develop some skills on their own.
For the very small baby, co-ordination and vision are early developers, and any toy that helps them with this is really useful. The Playskool Kick Start Fold n Go Gym (hereafter called the Gym) is a relatively inexpensive and innovative method of achieving both skill development and child occupation. With musical tones, colourful plastic designs and a rugged and stable design, this is a sure hit in the competitive world of baby entertaining devices. (This covers anything you can get your hands on for when the grandparents aren't available!)
What you basically get is a free standing activity centre, that cantilevers on two legs (held together by a spiffily decorated footplate, and also features a board of flashing lights and hanging plastic birds that hover over your baby's legs, connected to the footplate by two arms. The legs fold up against the arms to store away as a compact unit (handy for travel), and the battery compartment (3x AA) is screw protected. Assembly took no more than 5 minutes - with only some mild swearing at the plastic mouldings and screw alignments required. I should warn you now that 20 minutes of musical activity a day will see the batteries drained in a month or two, and you will soon tire of hearing the music fade into low-powered warbling before switching it off in annoyance. Avoid this calamitous situation by stocking up on AA batteries - you'll need thousands of them over the next few years, for whilst you children are not so cheaply powered, be assured that all of their toys are. (Ironic that your delightful children will often display Duracell-like powers of endurance).
Once up and running, simply place your baby on their back (on a playmat for extra comfort) and encourage them to kick the footplate or reach for the birds. There are two settings for the musical tones. Setting one gives constant operation, whilst setting two will activate when either the footplate or the birds are flipped, slapped or kicked by your baby. The loop of music is much longer on the continuous setting (obviously in an effort to stave off parental insanity), and includes such nursery rhyme classics as 'Pop goes the Weasel', 'Bingo' and some classical tunes you'll recognise from those interminable Classic FM hours on your Parents radio. The interrupted setting uses fewer of the tunes, interspersed with bird tweets and frog croaks when the tune restarts by footplate or birdy contact.
Initially your child may just stare up at the lights and birds without the foggiest of what to do or why they are there, and where is my milk mother for I am hungry....Don't be tempted to add it to the pile of other toys bought for your baby that end up in the nursery settled under the bags of too small clothing, too soon forgotten.
Persevere though, and encourage them by lifting their feet to the footplate or flapping the birds yourself, and they will soon get the hang of the game. The music is not too bad after a while, and of considerably better musical quality than most of the tripe in the charts thesedays, and there will come a time when your baby has played happily with the Gym for half an hour whilst you are oh so busy watching Loose Women or gossiping to your other new mum friends, and you will suddenly wonder why the music has stopped. And lo, you find your beloved offspring fast asleep on their playmate, limbs flung to all corners and the Gym chirping at you every minute to remind you to play with it. That's money well spent!
Ideal for babies from 3-9 months, it will fill in the period between newborn inactivity and crawling monster phase - when they progress through gurgles, flapping, laughing and eventually shuffling - at which point the toy will be far less interesting than re-arranging your DVD collection lurking perilously within reach on the TV stand.
I had planned to write far more about this - but it's actually quite hard to pen endless prose about a fairly basic musical play item, no matter how much enjoyment your baby gets from it!
You can get this Gym from the usual outlets - I think I got this one from Toy's R Us (large money pit sited on retail parks) - for the discounted price of £9.99. It claimed to sell regularly for £20, which considering how much some of the entertainment contrivances can cost, is a fair bargain.
Shopping, again? Honestly, I don't get much free time anymore, what with all this consumerist accumulation occurring in my household. At least you get to read about yet more places to go and spend your hard fought pennies, and I get to writer another toptastic review, full of facts, incisive wit and detached observation without hope that it will be noticed for a Crown... such is life. Perhaps there's a recession in that department too! Moan...whine...
The review header is for Freeport at Castleford, but this is sadly out of date. For a couple of years now it has been operating under its new name of J32. It required thousands of hours and pounds of genius to derive the new brand: taken from the Motorway Junction of the M62 beside which the shopping area stands.
Reached via a series of roundabouts and roads that link together J32 with Xscape (A spiffy indoor wintersports centre that is also kitted out with restaurants and other amenities), and the other usual suspects of the out of town retail parks: KFC, B&Q, McD, ABC (spot the made up one there), J32 has ample parking split into two car parks that allow access to two sides of the J32 shopping court.
The layout is an open air courtyard, with an outer and an inner ring of shops, all joined together in the same white steel and canvas theme, with the odd glaring orange and blue sign hereabouts to remind you of where you are. Because it's easy to forget?
I should endeavour to list the positives first - mainly because the negative points are bigger, shinier and somewhat longer, and I don't want to depress myself before I get half way through.
There is a good range of clothing stores here. If you need designer names at discount prices then you can nose around Mango, Next and erm...some other names I can't remember. It's on the website - don't be lazy! Anyway... you can get a variety of clothes here from different styles of retailer, and there's even an M&S Outlet that seems to sell hundreds of one size salmon jumpers and cream scarves. Underwear is catered for by 2 outlets - although neither of the stores has anywhere for your long suffering partner to loiter without looking like he's staring at the posters of women in frilly lingerie. Every time we go my Wife seems to come away with a bag of clothes, so there must be some good variety and discounts on offer here.
If you need chocolate - there is a Cadbury's outlet. For book enthusiasts, a Works outlet. Crockery your thing? There's several emporia for that including a Lakeland shop and a Le Creuset outlet, where you can laugh at how much they think a powder blue casserole pot is worth. Blokes can go and stare at the fancy machines in the Coffee Shop - which sells all things Gaggia (shiny, metallic and steamy...)
For the outdoors types like me you can meet at least some of your requirements at the Craghoppers store and the Mountain Sports store nearby. There are a profusion of 'sporting' stores - but these cater mainly for chavs who want stylish tracksuits and trainers.
There are a few other stores in their own categories - the ever ingenious goods on offer at Tchibo, an ever busy Sunglass Hut and the ubiquitous greetings Card Shop, and others even less interesting than those.
Right enough of being nice. I don't actually like J32 that much and prefer to go to the nearby Mcarthur Glen in York if I feel the need to carry bags and traipse disconsolately about for several hours at a time.
It's open air: This is a concern during our wetter months. Alright - you can mince between stores in the drizzle, but it's hardly a conducive atmosphere to trying to shop. If you wanted that experience, you may as well go to your own Town Centre...
The variety: Save the few shops I remembered, at least 70% of the stores are women's clothing varities. I know they do the most spending of consumable unnecessary income, but there really should be a greater range of stores if they want better trade.
The Food Court: There may well be a good spread of eateries across the road in Xscape, but it would probably involve taking your car over there if you had a family in tow. Aside from a Burger King and a Starbucks on the J32 site, the only alternative is the Food Court, within which you can find an overpriced, generic baguette and baked potato retailer, in an environment with all the charm of a 40 year old bus station that needs a few light strips replacing.
The Facilities. Two sets of Toilets squirreled away in corners, rarely clean and obviously always busy. Not enough map points to tell you where that store you're looking for is (it's just to your left, no...not that way, you'll end up walking all the way round now...) Cash Machines: or rather the singular....at least it doesn't charge you for use.
The Access: two lanes off the final roundabout between J32, Xscape and the Retail Park, leading out to the Motorway Junction is not enough - when it gets busy the traffic literally queues on the roundabout, partly due to the idiocy of people ignorant of the Highway Code, but mainly because there are too many cars and not enough planning foresight!
I'm sure there are worse ways to spend a few of your weekend hours that involve less fun than J32 - but you do get the feeling that these developers just like collecting their rents and don't think about what ambience or theme they're aiming for when they lump 50 similar stores together, build a road system too small to adequately cope with it, and offer little realisable difference to half of the other shopping outlets in the area.
So there - a lukewarm review for you. You may enjoy J32, you may not, but don't blame me either way. If you happen to have the time of your life, however, remember who sent you there...