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I don't wear a lot of make up, mainly through laziness but also because I prefer the natural look. However, my favourite item in my make up bag and the one thing I can't manage without is my concealer. I've actually used the same one since I was 16 and never even thought of changing it! The concealer I'm referring to is Rimmel's Hide the Blemish.
The concealer is a stick and looks much like a lipstick, and is pushed up by turning the bottom in the same way for use. It is packaged in cream and brown and is nice and compact for throwing in a handbag
I generally use concealer under my eyes to hide any dark circles. I apply the concealer straight onto my face and rub it in using my forefingers. It has quite a creamy texture and glides on to the skin easily and is very easy to spread. It is great at covering dark circles but I find that it is particularly good at hiding blemishes and spots. Luckily I don't have many spots anymore but Hide the Blemish was a life saver as a teenager! Occasionally I use a brush to apply the concealer which I do feel gives an even better coverage, but I really don't have the patience to do that every day. I find that using my fingers, half of the make up ends up on my fingers so there are definitely benefits to using a brush, even though the process isn't quite as speedy!
There are five different shades available in the concealer and the one I use is 004 Natural Beige. It's the only concealer I've found that matches my skin tone exactly, or perhaps because I've used it for so long my skin has actually become '004 Natural Beige'! It's great that there are five shades as I know from occasionally using other concealers which have been bought for me that other brands often only have two or three.
The product can be purchased in Boots and Superdrug along with major supermarkets and cosmetic shops and chemists. Its retail price is £4.49 which is a lot more than the £1.99 I used to pay 11 years ago but still quite affordable and one of the better value concealers from a high street brand. I often find that Rimmel products in Boots and Superdrug are on special offer including 3 for 2 deals and buy one get one half price so it's worth waiting for the offers as they are very common.
It's a super product which is probably why it has been available and popular for such a long time. I would recommend it to anyone who needs an everyday concealer for dark circles and small blemishes. However, for more serious problem skin, it probably wouldn't be the best option as coverage is not as good as some more expensive, luxury brands. It provides excellent value for money so I would give this product 4 out of 5 stars!
Around six months ago I picked up the BHS Essentials red kettle on impulse when it was in the sale. When I went to pay for it, the lady at the counter asked if I knew that the matching toaster was on offer. I'm not normally a sucker for a deal but I loved the kettle so went back to pick up the toaster too! It was £20 reduced from £40, a deal I can see is still available on their website.
The toaster is a two slice appliance and it comes in a range of colours; lime green, silver, cream, purple and black and the lovely red that I opted for. As I mentioned, there is a matching kettle which again can be bought in these colours. It's very modern looking with rounded edges and a stylish combination of metallic red and shiny silver on the sides. As with any other toaster, there is a lever on the side which lowers the bread to toast it. It's silver and again fairly attractive and unlike my last toaster, the lever is quite strong and robust. The bread slots are quite wide which is useful as it can toast different types of bread, not just sliced bread.
There are three buttons next to the lever; cancel, reheat and defrost. The defrost function works quite well unlike other toasters which I have felt do not make any difference to frozen bread. The cancel button is responsive and to be honest, I've never used the reheat button! There are 7 time settings on it and I generally stick to 4 which toasts the bread to a nice dark brown colour. I generally stand over my toaster while bread is in it and pop the bread up to have a look after a couple of minutes to check that it isn't burnt, however there is no need to do this with the toaster.
As I mentioned, it's very attractive to look at and in my opinion represents excellent value, but there is one aspect that could be improved with this toaster. While the slots for bread are wide enough for different types of bread, when I toast current teacakes or crumpets, I find that they do not pop up high enough to easily remove them from the toaster. I find myself using utensils to get things out and by the time I have, the bread is cold! A high lift lever would be useful but I've only seen these on much more expensive toasters.
The toaster has a crumb tray underneath which is very easy to remove, it just slides out. It's easy to throw away the crumbs, wipe off and replace. The toaster itself looks very smart and is not prone to getting dirty. I give it a wipe down occasionally but even now after 6 months it looks brand new.
It's an attractive toaster and really adds a bit of colour to the kitchen but more than that it's reliable, sturdy and excellent value for money. I recommend it to anyone, especially to buy alongside the kettle. 5 out of 5 
I had been eyeing up a red Morphy Richards traditional style kettle for months when I stumbled across this gem in BHS over Christmas. Reduced from £50 to £25, it looked almost the same so I bought it on impulse and couldn't wait to get it home.
The kettle itself while in a traditional kettle shape is very attractive and modern looking. It is a metallic red with a comfortable black handle, lid and metal spout. It sits on a black base and swivels 360 degrees on it so that it is easy to use for both left and right handed people. On the side the kettle has a transparent water gauge so that you can see how much water is in the kettle. The kettle has a 1.8 litre capacity (height 31cm, width 18cm, depth 20cm) and easily fills 6 large mugs of hot drinks. It has a removable lime scale filter on the spout which can be accessed by taking off the lid. The cord between the kettle and plug is a couple of feet long but it is possible to hide the cord inside the base of the kettle so that it doesn't look messy on the counter top.
To use, the kettle could not be simpler. The lid comes off, you fill it up and replace the lid before placing it back on the element. I sometimes (often) just fill it through the spout to save time but this really defeats the object of having a filter. The kettle has a 3kw rapid boil capacity but this means nothing to most users. Having timed a full kettle to boil it takes over a minute, but it's much quicker if you are just boiling enough water for one or two mugs. In fact I would say that in comparison with other kettles it is quick to boil.
So, it looks fantastic, it works well but there are a few negatives to mention. The water gauge steams up quite easily and the lid is a bit small for such a large kettle and with it being right under the handle, it isn't ideal. I live in London and I'm not sure if it's the water down here but I do have to descale the kettle every couple of months. Limescale builds up on the base and around the spout but this has been common with both of my previous kettles. This is never an issue though and any descaler will sort it out within 20 minutes. The filter on the spout however is a bit more stubborn and needs a bit of a scrub. It also shows up water stains on the spout and down the sides of the kettle so it does need cleaning quite regularly. It's a little noisy but no more than any other kettle.
The kettle can also be purchased in lime green, silver, cream and black. There is also a matching toaster which again can be bought in these colours. I bought the toaster and the two items together really do add a lovely bit of colour to my kitchen. As I mentioned previously, the kettle is very similar to the Morphy Richards kettle that I had spotted over a year ago. In comparison it's slightly bigger and I have to say, it's a bit more attractive too. I haven't used the Morphy Richards kettle but at £40 I imagine that it's very similar and that the extra £15 is for the brand name.
I've had this kettle over six months now and I've had no issues or causes for concern. I'm a big fan and would recommend to anyone, however much money they have to spend on kitchen appliances. It looks great in my kitchen, works like a dream and despite the few negatives I mentioned earlier, it's fantastic value for money. 5 out of 5 stars from me!
A couple of weeks ago I stayed at the Travelodge at Liverpool Docks with my partner. We love Liverpool but don't get up there very often so we decided to make a weekend of it and fit lots in. We booked Travelodge as it was quite late notice and most other hotels were over £100, including Premier Inn which is my favourite of the budget hotels. We found this one at £59.95 so were happy to give it a try for one night. After a very disappointing football match and result, we got in the car and headed to the hotel to check in so we could leave our bags and go out for dinner and drinks.
=== Our "welcome" ===
The hotel was easy enough to find as we knew it was at the bottom tip of the docks. We had our new sat-nav on and it took us right to the car park of the Travelodge which was at the Brunswick Business Park on the docks. The car park had plenty of room which is something that always worries me in big cities so we parked up and headed to reception. Unfortunately getting into reception was the hard part; the door was locked and we couldn't get in. We knocked on the door to try and get someone's attention, assuming that the receptionist had just popped round the corner and left her desk temporarily. Noone came so we rang the bell hoping that it would attract attention so that we could get out of the freezing cold. It had started to snow and we're just not used to the northern temperatures! We could clearly see that the phone on reception had been removed so we assumed that the receptionist had just popped away to deal with someone and was on her way back any second. Ten minutes passed of us pressing the bells, walking along to try and look through a window and knocking and shouting and we were about to go and sit in the car for a while until we saw some sign of life. Suddenly a side door opens and a cleaner walks out with bags of rubbish. Finally someone to speak to! She was really apologetic and told us that the receptionist hadn't turned up for work that morning and that no one had realised the door was locked. Anyway, we were finally let in and she managed to find her supervisor who was able to allocate us a room and key to get in. Unfortunately even this part was flawed as she forgot to tell us our room number, it wasn't written on the card, so we had to go back and get her to look it up for us!
=== Was the room any better? ===
We arrived at our room at the end of a corridor next to a big fire escape leading to the outside. I'm glad I wasn't there by myself! Now I know I booked a Travelodge which are not known for being the nicest of hotels and I wasn't expecting much, but this room was particularly dark and grim! It was small and very basic with just a bed, little side tables, a desk and a small flatscreen TV with freeview. It was nice to be able to stick E4 on while we were getting ready to go out! I had a quick look out of the window to see if we had a view of the docks but no such luck, we could only see the car park!
The en suite again was very small and far from the Premier Inn modern and clean bathroom, this one was horrible! It has obviously been cleaned but there were bits of black around the shower which looked like old mould and the sticker to say "hot water" had peeled off. I felt like pulling it off all the way! There was one hand towel and one bath towel between us and no bath mat which is a big no no in such a small space with a shower which is almost touching the floor! The sink, toilet, toilet roll supplies were all fine and functional but nothing impressive either.
The one big complaint I have about the room was that the electric radiator did not work. It had a clear on/off button that didn't work even though I checked the wires to make sure nothing was unplugged. Anyway, I wasn't worried because I always get warm in bed after about 5 minutes from the duvet Not in this bed! The duvet was so ridiculously thin - I can't even imagine that it was 1 tog! It might have been suitable for a summer night in Spain but not for winter in Liverpool! I had been out drinking and should have been out for the count within minutes but instead was awake the whole night putting more and more clothes on. I would have got up and complained but we had already been told there was no one on reception from 10.00 p.m. until 6.00 a.m.
=== The facilities ====
There were none. They didn't even serve a breakfast although after my stay I wouldn't have wanted it.
=== Overall ===
You might wonder why I didn't mention any of these things to the receptionist and even ask for a different room. Well, the reason is that I didn't see anyone working on reception the whole time I was at the hotel! I walked past at least six times on entering and leaving the building throughout our stay and did not encounter a single member of staff after the cleaner on arrival. I wanted to say something when I checked out around 10.30 a.m. but instead had to leave my keycard in a slot on the desk.
I realise that Travelodge is a budget hotel but over the years I have been pleased with the standards and have been happy to stay in the hotels. I am not someone who would normally complain, but the second I walked away from Travelodge Liverpool Docks I knew I had to write this review as a warning as the whole episode was a complete disaster. I am really annoyed that I paid £58.45 for such an unsatisfactory stay. I have actually sent a letter to the branch and to Head Office so I'll update this review if I hear anything back!
When I think Newquay I think teenagers drinking and surfing in the summer. It sounds my idea of hell so I've never been and never wished to visit. However, my partner and I are always saying that we haven't seen enough of the UK and I've always wanted to visit Cornwall having never done so before. Last year I subscribed to the Groupon alerts for the South West and finally saw a fantastic offer for a hotel which we snapped up immediately!
=== The deal ===
The offer was a two night stay at the Hotel Victoria in Newquay with breakfast both mornings and a massage for two people for just £99. I assumed it was a mistake and actually meant per person until I read further into the offer and read the terms and conditions. Before actually making the purchase and wasting the money I decided to call the hotel directly and ask for details about when we could stay and their availability. It turned out to be a good plan because they only had one weekend still available. The voucher was valid in October and November 2011 so we made our booking for the first weekend in November and booked a day off work and travelled down on a Friday for a weekend stay. We were presented on arrival with the opportunity to upgrade to a sea front room with access to the terrace for £40 extra which we decided to do as the weather was glorious sunshine (although quite cold!).
=== On arrival ===
Parking was easy although we were surprised to find that when we walked into the hotel that we had to pay £5 for parking during out stay! Luckily we were in great moods so paid it happily and took the voucher out to display in the car. The reception was quite small but very cosy in warm red colours and a large Christmas tree! I'm one of the people who buys a tree as soon as they are available in the garden centre so I loved this in early November! We were greeted by the young receptionist, Ruby, whose name I still remember three months later because she was so helpful and friendly! We were given our room key and she explained where and when breakfast would be served, where the pool and gym were and gave us information about bars and restaurants in the area.
=== The room ===
We definitely made the right decision in the upgrade to the sea view, balcony room. As we walked into the huge room the first thing we noticed was how bright it was which was the benefit of the big sliding doors which led to the huge shared terrace overlooking the sea front. The view was spectacular; the beach in Newquay is actually stunning when there are no drunken teenagers ruining it. The room itself was quite dated but a great size for two people to be very comfortable and with lots of space to spread out. All the necessary wardrobe and drawer space for a longer stay although for two nights we didn't unpack much. The bed was comfortable and really quite big! I slept well both nights and was impressed with the cosy duvet as that's very important to me! The bathroom again was spacious and light with no problems whatsoever. The hotel issued the usual small soaps, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner which were decent enough but not quite good enough to take home!
=== The facilities ===
The hotel pool was great and I loved the setting; it looked like it was in an old barn with the wooden panels along the roof and walls. There were windows right the way around which made it light and bright during the daytime and cosy in the evening which was made even better by the wooden interior. The pool was heated to a nice temperature and even though it was small, there were very few people using it so that was quite nice. The pool was shaped like a kidney rather than the traditional rectangle which makes me feel like I have to swim lengths! This was more like a holiday pool. There were a number of wooden benches and plastic tables and chairs around the pool area which added to the holiday feel. In one of the corners of the room was the Jacuzzi; my favourite part of the hotel! It was gorgeous and warm, exactly what you want an expect from a Jacuzzi. There was also a sauna and steam room which were nice. I wouldn't normally use them as I find it weird when lots of people sit in close proximity sweating but with no one else around it was quite nice!
The gym was basic but functional. I didn't use it during the two days we were there, but the other half went twice, because he "needed something to do while I was taking ages getting changed"!
=== Restaurants and dining ===
We only made it down to breakfast one of the two days which was a shame considering both were included. We were both really impressed with the selection of food which included a full English with nice crispy bacon, well cooked sausages and eggs as you like them. There was also a selection of cereals, fruits, jams and marmalades and pastries. The waiting staff were really nice and friendly and couldn't do enough to help. Breakfast is served in the hotel's restaurant La Rochelle which opens in the evening for dinner.
The hotel was attached to Buzio's Bar and Grill, a sports pub with big screens showing Sky Sports, lots of pool tables, big sofas and cheap drinks. It was a great place to spend the evening relaxing after dinner.
=== The massage ===
We were encouraged to book our free massage at the time of making our initial reservation as the beauty clinic can get very busy at weekends. None of the times worked very well for us if we wanted to spend time exploring the area and also wanted our appointments at the same time so we booked for Sunday morning at 10.30 a.m. just before we were due to leave. Unfortunately one of the beauticians hadn't turned up so they were behind schedule. Luckily the receptionist was able to arrange a late check out for us so we could stay in our room a bit longer so the wait was no inconvenient. It actually took a whole hour until they called to say they were ready for us and the receptionists and beauticians were very apologetic.
The beauty therapists were very nice and invited us into a lovely room with two beds set up in the middle. We were told to undress and lie on our fronts while they left the room. The colour scheme was black and white which looked really classy and soothing and the music in the background was quiet and relaxing. The therapists asked whether we would prefer a more relaxing aromatherapy massage or a Swedish massage to get the knots out! We bo5th went for the aromatherapy massage which turned out to be a great choice as it was lovely and I think I fell asleep towards the end of it! The massage itself lasted just under an hour which I thought was excellent considering it was part of such a great deal. We both came out very relaxed and satisfied! It's just a shame I didn't think about the fact we would have to drive home afterwards! We took a break, ate some lunch, drank some water and luckily it didn't affect the driving!
=== The area ===
The hotel is in the centre of Newquay close to bars, restaurants and shops. The best thing about the location however has to be that it is set high up on a cliff overlooking the seafront and the view are just stunning. On the first evening we wanted to stay local for dinner and were advised on reception that as hotel guests we were eligible for 10% off at Senor Dicks, the local Mexican. We decided to give the restaurant a try and were delighted with the great service and wonderful food, however it was absolutely dead which must have been to do with the fact it was November.
The reason we were happy with Newquay as the location, as well as the great deal we got, was that it was close to some of the other areas of Cornwall that we wanted to visit. It is around 30-40 minutes drive from St Ives which is stunning and you can also get to Penzance and Lands End within the hour.
=== Conclusion ===
Our break at the Hotel Victoria was fantastic, especially for the price we paid. To get two nights' bed and breakfast for that price is great anyway but for the additional massage and the facilities at the hotel made it a really special weekend away. While I wouldn't make an effort to go back to Newquay, if the same deal came up again I would snap it up and use it as a base to visit other parts of Cornwall.
I would recommend the hotel fully, especially if you can find it at a good price. I imagine it's horrendous in the middle of summer but in winter it was wonderful and quiet and made our Cornwall trip so much fun! 4 out of 5 stars!
My old hairdryer was rubbish. I have very straight, thin hair but as the hairdresser always tells me, there is a lot of it. For that reason it takes ages to dry my hair - a mix of tipping it upside down, flipping it about and drying it in its parting. When I went home for a couple of weeks last Christmas I used my mum's new hairdryer and thought it was wonderful! Only 5 minutes to dry my hair?! Magic! I asked her whether Santa had already finished my Christmas present shopping or whether he might be able to fit one more gift in with two days to go until the big day. She said she would ask him. Anyway, Santa came through and I got my hair dryer!
It looks pretty much like most other hairdryers so I won't insult anyone by describing its shape, only to say it is black with a matt finish. In the box it came with a big black diffuser and a nozzle to concentrate the heat where you need it. There are variable heat settings on the hairdryer and I generally go for the hottest option, even though I know it isn't as good for my hair. I find that it dries my hair much quicker that way and is much quicker to dry my hair than any other hairdryer I've owned. The dryer is quite light which was one of the things I liked most about it. Others I've tried, including the ones used at the hairdressers are so big and heavy which puts me off completely. I don't want the additional hassle, I'm too lazy!
As I mentioned, it comes with a black hair diffuser which isn't useful to me in the slightest. The idea is that a diffuser will give curls to your hair and stop it going frizzy. The problem is my hair is so straight that it won't even curl after a night sleeping with rollers in so a diffuser really does nothing. It's only good if hair is naturally frizzy or has waves in it.
The hairdryer comes with a slim nozzle to concentrate the blast on particular areas of the hair. Along with the 'ionic technology' it gives a smoother appearance which is definitely noticeable. The three heat settings are good, although quite standard in a hairdryer. I always use the highest heat setting unless I'm really warm and need to cool down! There is also a cool air button which the hairdressers say is the best for the hair. It's stops hair frizzing and helps to bolster shine. There are two options for speed and again I find the highest setting is the best. The only reason I would use the lower setting is if I'm trying to listen to music or something on the TV!
My only issue with the hairdryer is that it gets very hot very quickly around the inch or so around the nozzle where the hot air comes out. After around a minute of use on the hottest setting the end is too hot to be able to touch it which doesn't seem right. I usually give it a minute to cool down before finishing my hair off each time I use it but with even longer, thicker hair than mine, this could be a problem. Luckily it hasn't stopped working because of it and it's not an area that you have to touch. It comes with a 2 year guarantee if there were any problems, but I'm pleased to say I've not needed to use it.
The hairdryer was purchased for £14.99 at Boots and is still available on their website and in store. I think it's an absolute bargain for such a good hair dryer. It is such an improvement from my old one as it dries my hair quickly without fuss. As I said, the main negative is the fact that it gets very hot, but this has not caused any major issues so far. I do think that I'll upgrade again quite soon and get something a bit more expensive and better for my hair, but this one has been great and comes fully recommended. 4 out of 5 stars.
I purchased my Champney's foot spa from House of Fraser a couple of years ago. It was a real impulse buy with a voucher that I had to spend but I was excited to try it out as I love pedicures and any kind of pampering! I felt comfortable purchasing this product from Champney's as it is a well known and reputable brand, with their spas attracting the rich and famous and offering many different treatments. I had previously received Champney's products such as body washes and body creams for Christmas presents and found them luxurious and of an excellent quality.
~ What it looks like ~
This particular model is white and blue; perfect calming colours for a spa. It is just over a foot in width and is deep and big enough to fit even the largest feet! The nice rounded edges of the foot spa make it quite attractive and the tote handle makes is easy to fill up, empty and carry around and can then be pushed down to make it look like it is just part of the basin. One of the best things about the Champney's foot spa is the pull out pedicure set included which is completely waterproof so can be left in and splashed as much as you like! There are 5 attachments for a home pedicure which can be attached to the end of an electric object which looks like a small hair dryer! Much like a travel hair dryer you press down a button and an electric current runs through and makes the attachments spin round very quickly. The attachments are: a dry heel reducer, stone pumice, metal finishing pumice, nail brush and nail buffer. Again, this is waterproof so it isn't as dangerous as it sounds! The spa also has bright blue 'sea grass' inserts which are on the base of the basin where you place your feet.
~ How to use ~
Well it's pretty simple. You fill up the basin of the foot spa to around half way with warm water and carry it to your desired location. I usually do it sat on the settee in the lounge with some nice music on and put a towel down in case I manage to spill any water. It needs to be plugged in at a power socket, however the lead isn't very long at just one metre so you will need to be fairly close to it. I put my feet it and then press the 'on' button. Bubbles instantly start being released from the base which is lovely as it gently massages the feet. After a few minutes when my feet are feeling soft I usually start to use some of the pedicure attachments. They are very easy to use; they just clip on to the end of the electric device and can be easily removed so that you can swap between them. I like to use the stone and metal pumice on the heels of my feet and then the nail brush on the toes - It feels really nice as well as cleaning the nails!
There is a button at the bottom end of the spa to turn it on and off. When I'm finished I would normally dry my feet off and then unplug the spa from the wall before carrying it to dispose of the water in the bath. Anything smaller like a sink will end up with a flood in your bathroom! I give the pedicure accessories that I've used a quick wash off before putting them back. It's also advisable to wipe down the spa itself, especially if you are putting it back into the box as I do.
~ Is it any good ~
I bought the foot spa as a little treat for myself as I think it's important to just chill out and relax sometimes and it has been brilliant for that. It's a really nice thing to have around the house when you have an evening to yourself. It has been very reliable over the two years that I've owned it with no issues whatsoever and I haven't had to use the warranty to have anything fixed! I would say I only get it out every month or two so with more regular use it probably would not have stayed in such excellent condition!
The best thing about it has to be the pedicure accessories which are included, and the electric thing that they are attached to. I have a manual nail scrubber and buffer and a few pumice stones but none of them work as well as this contraption! It rotates so quickly so it is doing a lot more work but with less effort as you do not have to do anything other than hold it in your hand while it makes your feet pretty! I was scared to use it at first near water but there have been no problems in that area and the attachments themselves have not displayed any wear and tear yet so have not needed replacing.
The sea grass inserts feel fantastic and add to the massaging feel when the vibrations are on. This is another thing that makes it stand out from other spas and I love to run my feet up and down it. The one issue that I do have with it is that it says on the box that the spa will maintain the warm water temperature and this is where it has let me down. I feel it goes cold quite quickly and have been known to top it up if I want to keep my feet in it more than 15 minutes. It is also supposed to have 'super quiet' technology which allows you to enjoy the bubbles and not the noise. Well for me the sound is actually quite disrupting if you are listening to music or have a film on in the background.
~ Overall ~
I paid £60 when I purchased this foot spa a couple of years ago which was reduced from £80. I did a quick search and managed to find it second hand on Ebay for £5 so it definitely isn't worth paying so much for! I imagine there are newer models on the market which are more advanced! I don't use the spa enough at all but it has lasted me well and was worth the money I paid for it. Sometimes I forget about it for a couple of months and then I want some me-time and get it out and spend a whole night making my feet pretty! It is a good foot spa and the accessories really make this model stand out.
I'm quite undecided as to whether I would recommend this foot spa or even foot spas in general. The infrequent intervals at which I use it mean that I could have probably bought something else with that £60 which I would have made more use of, however it nice to have around and I do enjoy it when I bring it out! I'm going to go with 3 stars as it is good fun and does everything I'd want it to, but isn't really a necessary piece of equipment for the home!
One of the reasons I can't bring myself to move away from London is my love of the theatre. I love everything about the West End and whether it's a musical or smaller, independent play I'm there at least once a month. Last week my mum and dad were visiting along with my auntie who hasn't been to London since I've lived there and my partner and I wanted to take her to a musical. She narrowed it down to a few shows and I managed to find a great deal and my dad kindly bought tickets for 5 of us to see Jersey Boys. The show follows the lives of the four men from New Jersey who went on to become The Four Seasons, one of the most popular and successful pop bands to ever come out of America. Jersey Boys has now been running in the West End for four years since it opened after its success on Broadway and is one of the most popular shows in London.
=== The story ===
At the start of the show we meet Tommy DeVito who talks the audience through the beginnings of The Four Seasons. Tommy is a musician who wants to form a band as a way out of his inevitable future in crime. He originally forms The Lovers along with his brother and a friend but with various stints in prison, the group does not hit the big time. When Tommy hears 16 year old Frankie Castelluccio sing he encourages him to join the band along with new bassist Nick Massi and become their lead singer. The group starts as a trio but Tommy is convinced that they need a fourth, composer and musician, Bob Gaudio who was introduced to the band by their friend (and future Oscar winner) Joe Pesci! The rest is history! The show tells the story of their lives, their loves and how the band reforms several times, yet how the four original members of The Four Seasons remain loyal to each other and come together years later to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
= The characters =
Tommy DeVito is portrayed by Jon Boydon who for me has the most authentic New Jersey accent and is my favourite character. In and out of jail, Tommy sees the band as a way of making money and getting out of New Jersey. He started the band and without him they would not have been successful, but he is caught up in criminal circles and owes a lot of money which makes him a liability. Jon Boydon is excellent in the role and for me was the stand out performer both times I have seen it. His singing voice is excellent, but it is his portrayal of Tommy's flawed character which is so compelling that he is likeable, even when he is treating his bandmates badly. Boydon has an extensive background in theatre playing roles in Jesus Christ Superstar and recently completing a two year stint in We Will Rock You and it was evident that he was an accomplished actor as he was so believable in the role.
Frankie Valli is the young trainee barber who is recruited by Tommy to join the band as the lead singer. Last time I saw the show the understudy was covering the fantastic Ryan Molloy so I couldn't wait to see him. Imagine my disbelief and horror this time when Jon Lee, formerly of S Club 7, walked out on stage! Some people may think it's strange that I can identify him but he has been doing the theatre rounds for a while now and I'd heard some good reviews so kept my fingers crossed that he wouldn't let me down! Anyway, I was shocked to find he had an incredible falsetto range and sang the songs perfectly! His voice wasn't the strongest but I was really impressed with how well he performed and all the notes he hit. I didn't think that Jon's acting was brilliant and therefore didn't connect with the character or care about what happened to him as much as the others!
Nick Massi is an old friend of Tommy's who he becomes the bass player in the band. When Tommy is sent to jail, he asks Nick to take Frankie under his wing and improve his singing voice. He is also the bass singer in the band and Eugene McCoy has the most wonderful voice for the deep parts of the vocal arrangements, which Nick always wrote for The Four Seasons. Eugene McCoy is absolutely amazing as solemn and quiet Nick who goes along with whatever Tommy suggests. He doesn't seem to enjoy the success and lifestyle as much as the others and often states jokingly that is going to go off and create his own band. He plays the role so flawlessly that I imagine McCoy is exactly the same in real life, although he does slip in and out of the accent when he's shouting!
The final member to join the band is Bob Gaudio, a young songwriter and musician who is introduced to the band by Joe Pesci! He immediately forms a close bond with Frankie and the two make a pact over a handshake to always split their profits from any song writing and performance deals, a deal which causes issues with the other members of the group. It is Gaudio who pens the song Sherry, which catapults The Four Seasons into the charts, and went on to write all of their subsequent songs. One of the highlights of the show for me is 'December 63 (Oh What A Night)' which unlike other songs which they perform as a band, Bob sings this the night about the night he loses his virginity. It might be cheesy but the whole audience erupted into laughter when Tommy walked over to sing the line "as I recall it ended much too soon"! Matthew Wycliffe who plays Bob is a great actor and singer and in my opinion is underused in the singing department!
= The music =
The production features all of The Four Seasons big hits including Sherry, Big Girls Don't cry, Walk Like A Man and Bye Bye Baby (Baby Goodbye). My favourite song and the one I wait for the whole time is December 63 (Oh What A Night). As I mentioned earlier, Bob Gaudio sings this on the night he loses his virginity and the whole thing is very funny but he really shows what an excellent singer he is! I was particularly excited when they sang Bye Bye Baby as I had no idea that it was a Frankie Valli song but the biggest treat is Frankie singing 'You're Just Too Good To Be True" as again, I had no idea they had written it! The audience went absolutely wild after Jon's excellent performance and I seem to remember it was the same last time.
Towards the start of the show as it describes the beginnings of the band, the songs features are not very well known although 'You're the Apple of my Eye' apparently charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 62. It is not until their big break on The Ed Sullivan Show where they perform Sherry that the band really blows up. I loved how they did this in the show. The band performed the song in front of a huge camera, the projection from which was shown on a huge black and white cinema screen which looked like archive footage from the actual television show from the 60s! I loved it and thought this was a great touch and jazzed up a good, but quite ordinary stage set.
The dancing is nothing compared to the boy bands today, but I loved it! The marching on the spot and stepping forwards and backwards is so simple but so effective for the songs. It's all so stiff and proper and you just don't get that in the charts today! The vocal arrangements were brilliant and were kept exactly as Nick Massi wrote them 50 years ago. Eugene McCoy as Nick, although not the lead singer, bosses each arrangement with his excellent bass range and they really get the unique sound of The Four Seasons.
= Where to get tickets and how much =
Tickets can be bought in all the usual ways; Seetickets, Ticketmaster and on the Jersey Boys London website. The cheapest tickets are up in the grand circle and cost £20 tickets. The more expensive stalls tickets are really expensive at £67.50 tickets and the premier tickets (front two rows of the dress circle) are £85 which is ridiculous! However, I always have a look on lastminute.com to see if there are any offers or meal deals. I found a £40 meal deal which included a ticket of up to £45 in value and a main course and glass of wine at Kitchen Italia at Covent Garden! The food was quite nice and for £40 I couldn't complain about any of it, including our tickets which were on the front row of the grand circle.
= Location =
The Prince Edward Theatre is in Soho, within easy walking distance of public transport including Leicester Square, Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road underground stations. The theatre is in a perfect location for a night out with Chinatown a couple of roads away and the delights of Soho on the doorstep. It's right next to legendary London clubs G.A.Y and Ronnie Scott's; two very different nights out! It's one of the most exciting and fun places to be in London with a variety of pubs, bars, restaurants and the most diverse range of people you will ever find and lights everywhere!
= What's so good about it =
Jersey Boys has now been running for almost four years in London and six years on Broadway and shows no sign of slowing down. It is one of the London shows which commands a full audience every night and receives a standing ovation each time. Brilliant songs and a talented cast are generally what make any musical special and there are few in the West End which can compete with Jersey Boys in this department. The Four Seasons produced some of the most recognisable songs of the 1960s which have been covered around the world and used in films and adverts. There are very few people who would not the songs and even the younger audience would know 'December '63 Oh What a Night' (Forest Gump and others), 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' (10 Things I Hate About You) or 'Big Girls Don't Cry' (Dirty Dancing).
= Overall =
Musical theatre is one of my favourite things so there was very little chance I wouldn't like Jersey Boys when I went to see it. However, I was surprised at just how fantastic the cast were and especially Jon Lee in the role of Frankie. Who would have thought that the little lad with the blonde hair who looked like a child in S Club 7 would have such a wonderful falsetto range and the power to deliver Frankie Valli songs? Not me. His acting may not have been as great as the rest of the cast but it certainly didn't stop me from enjoying the show and the rest of our group loved it too.
A quote from Johnnie Walker from BBC 2 is displayed on the Jersey Boys website, "The best show you will ever see". Well, I'm not sure about that; I can name at least five West End shows that I prefer to Jersey Boys. However, it is a fantastic production, the cast are great, the music is wonderful and you will enjoy every second. Fully recommended for adults (but there is a lot of swearing in it so don't take children!). 4 out of 5 stars!
About 6 months ago we decided to have Virgin Media's Tivo box installed. My parents have had Sky Plus for years and I've always liked the idea of being able to record and pause television shows, but with our basic Virgin box we had none of these features. Virgin offered us a deal of £49.99 for installation of the new box (normally £99.99 including activation) and £3 a month for the service. I wasn't particularly happy about paying extra for my partner convinced me that it would save us money in the long term because we wouldn't need to go out as much!
=== The box and set up ===
Set up was relatively painless after the two week wait for a technician to come round to install it. Two weeks later on a Saturday morning it was finally our installation date so we just had to wait in for half a day. When the guy did turn up he was in and out within 20 minutes and gave us a quick run through the features and how to work the new system. Sadly he didn't know the answer to many of my questions with it still being quite new. There are a number of wires behind the box connecting it to the TV, mains and also to broadband. TiVo runs off its own internet rather than through router so doesn't slow down our laptops and computer that we have running off our wireless broadband. TiVo was all set up for us but it is easy to connect it and work out which cord goes where.
The new TiVo box is very different to the old silver and black square Virgin Media box which had a display indicating which channel it was on. The new box is quite slick and looks a lot more expensive. It is all black with no screen but lots of buttons on the top including standby, record, and forwards and backwards flick. It is shaped a bit like a Playstation but with no obvious Virgin logo I wouldn't know what the box was! It comes with a remote control which is also different to the old one. I won't patronise anyone by describing it as it's pretty standard for a flicker, however there are some extra buttons that you wouldn't normally see. The first is the 'Home' button which takes you to the home screen which I'll go on to describe later. The 'My Shows' button is one of the most commonly used in our house. It takes you directly to all the programmes and films which have been recorded. There are also a red thumbs down button and a green thumbs up button which you can use to indicate which programmes you like and don't like so that TiVo can recommend shows to you and record these shows if there is space to do so.
Virgin Media's TiVo box stores around 250 hours of television programmes (500GB of space). There is a newer box which can store 500 hours of television so no doubt this figure will grow and grow. High definition television channels take up much more space which I didn't know until recently. The box can only store 100 hours of high definition television.
=== Its features ===
When you first turn on the TV you are greeted by the Home screen. From here you can go to the TV guide, catch up, search and browse or access any other parts of TiVo by going to your favourites, to movies, sports or kids etc. You can also go to the Catch Up TV feature which is a pick of the week's television available for seven days after the showing. Other features include 'On Demand' where you can watch new films and television programmes but these can be expensive at up to £4.99 each. The home screen also links to an Apps and Games section which allows you to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire and watch YouTube along with other similar applications.
Recording programmes is simple with TiVo. As you scroll through the channels or down the TV guide you can see what shows are on next and simply hover over them and press the record button on the remote control. You can record up to 3 programmes at once which is handy but very rarely necessary! However, the best thing about TiVo for me is that you can set up a series link to record every episode of your favourite programmes. For example, I have a series link for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, my guilty pleasure and something I watch if I'm in by myself or have some spare time. CSI is shown on three separate channels so I link to them all meaning that I currently have 50 unwatched episodes waiting for me! It will automatically record any episodes that I don't already have saved and if for some reason it can't (if I've turned off the set top box at the wall or if three things are already recording) it will remember that episode and record it the next time it is on.
Even more interesting and something that sets TiVo apart from Sky Plus and other set top boxes, is that you have a 'wish list'. The feature enabled you to search for your favourite films and find out next time they are on so you can record them in advance! You can 'search' or 'browse' by pressing the Home button and then searching or browsing for the name of the film or TV show or even by actor\actress and see all of the shows or films that they have been in and when they are next going to be shown. It's always exciting when I come into the house and there's a new film recorded which I'd forgotten all about. Not like I ever get round to watching them! The wish list also allows me to search by a particular word and record anything which has that word in the title. One time I tried to record the film Orphan but instead managed to ask TiVo to record everything with the word orphan in the title. I ended up with a South Park episode, a documentary and the film itself all saved within a folder named 'Orphan' in My Shows.
As I previously mentioned there is an option to give a thumbs up or down to shows which you have strong feelings about. Based on this TiVo will give you recommendations when you click into My Shows. It also records programmes that it thinks you might like and will save these until space is required. When you click on My Shows it says how much space has been taken up by recordings so that you can delete accordingly. If it gets to around 90% of the space used, an egg timer icon will appear next to the recordings to warn that it will be deleted with 3 or 7 days. TiVo can also rewind the programme you are watching or even pause it so if you are distracted for any reason you don't need to miss any of your favourite shows!
=== My issues ===
The main issue I have with the TiVo box is how long it takes to turn on! If it has been switched off overnight at the plug socket it takes around 3 minutes to initialise and a screen appears to tell me "Just a few more minutes". We have been using TiVo for over six months now and have had very few issues. Occasionally when I turn it on the home screen will tell me that there is a problem with the network and that features may not run as they are supposed to. The channels themselves will be fine but 'my shows' might be slow to run and might not display the information about the shows that have been recorded or how long they are.
Another fault with TiVo is that you cannot press the red button on the BBC or news channels! This normally wouldn't bother me but those two weeks a year when Wimbledon is on and I take as many 'work from home' days as possible, it's a nightmare not be able to decide which match to watch! Why oh why did they not consider this when they gave each of the red, green, yellow and blue their own functions? According to Virgin's website red functionality will be coming in the future to TiVo service.
The other thing that bugs me about TiVo is the sound that it makes when you change channel and select things. It makes a fairly loud annoying beeping noise which as far as I can tell can't be switched off!
=== Overall ===
I am really pleased that we made the switch to TiVo and think it has been worth every penny. Despite the few niggles I have referred to I have been very happy with TiVo and its features and I would now struggle to live without it! Living in London we are often out and about but paying the extra £3 a month for TiVo has saved us a fortune as we often plan nights around a film we may have recorded earlier in the week or on a rainy Sunday morning we might watch 5 episodes in a row of a show on series link! I think the features are easy enough for anyone to use, although it can take a while to work out what does what. It can do all sorts from recording and watching newly released movies to pausing or rewinding shows so that you don't miss things if you need the toilet! I would recommend TiVo to anyone as I think is has something for everyone, unless you really don't enjoy watching television! I think it's great but it loses a star for needing to be set up by a technician and all the minor issues I mentioned. 4 out of 5!
A couple of years ago, all of the computers in our office at work were replaced. The members of staff who sat next to windows had been complaining about glare on the monitors and keyboards and our Facilities department decided to replace them in line with new health and safety measures which they had started to take seriously after staff were forced to watch a DVD on office ergonomics. As one of the first people due a new keyboard, I was sent a list which I could choose from but was happy to go along with their recommendation of the HP standard USB keyboard.
So, to look at it's much like any other keyboard, although the black colour with the silver strip across the top does make it look very smart. It weighs less than a kilogram making it easy to move although not as lightweight as some newer models! The dimensions are comparable with most other computer keyboards at 45.8 cm x 16.3 cm x 2.5 cm. It is a wired keyboard which plugs into the main computer by USB. It was no hassle to set up when I first started using it, I just plugged it in and away I went! A lot of keyboards are now wireless but for business purposes there is no need for this as it's very rare you would be typing anywhere but at your desk! Plus there is a huge possibility that keyboards would get misplaced or muddled up.
The keyboard is set up like most others so I won't patronise anyone by describing the layout in detail, although just to confirm it is a regular QWERTY set up with a number pad in the bottom right and with sections of the keyboard nicely spread out to keep the letters, numbers, F keys etc separate. The keys are responsive to pressure when I type, none of the keys stick and they have a nice matte finish so that there is no glare from lights or the windows, unlike my old one which was shiny and distracting. The keys are nice and quiet to type on which is important in an office environment and good for me as I have a tendency to smash the keys at the end of a sentence! It is comfortable to use even though it does not have a cushioned part to use as a hand rest. Underneath the keyboard on both sides towards the rear are little stands which can be flicked down to make it stand up at an angle. In fact there are two different stands so that the keyboard can either lie flat, at a tiny angle or more upright, which is my preference for when I'm typing.
Hewlett Packard are one of the most well known computer companies around and I assume from the name that the product would be of a good quality and reliable. It has not caused me any issues during the whole time I've had it and I use it every day for around 7 hours! If there is a problem, the product has a one year warranty whether bought personally or in bulk for a business. The keyboard is easy to clean as food can not get below the keys. If crumbs do get between the gaps you can just turn it over and give it a shame and everything will come out. The cleaners always give it a wipe but even after a couple of years it still looks brand new. The keyboard can be purchased from a number of online computer and electronics stores for around the £15.00 mark.
Overall, I've been very impressed with the keyboard and would have no reservations in recommending it to others. It is great value for £15 and imagine it will continue to serve me well for at least another few years. It may not be particularly flash but it does everything that I need it to and for that reason I would rate the keyboard 4 stars.
When the iPod was released in 2001 it completely changed the way we listen to music. Gone were the huge walkmans and portable CD players which were uncomfortable to carry and instead were replaced by an ever shrinking digital music player. However, all portable music devices need a pair of headphones and there is now a huge variety available to purchase. From cheap £1.99 headphones at Argos to a pair of £260 Dr Dre headphones which a friend at work has recently purchased which are bigger than his head, there is something for everyone. For me, it's always been the iPod earphones which come as standard with all Apple music devices including the iPod and the iPhone.
The earphones are small "earbuds" which fit inside the ear at the end of a wire which connects it to the music device. They are lightweight and stylish in the standard white and grey that Apple often use. For me they fit inside the ear perfectly, better than any other earphones I've had, and are comfortable for at least half an hour of listening to music. After that my ears begin to ache, but in comparison to other earphones I've used this is quite a long time! I can walk along a street listening to my music without the headphones falling out which has been common with other pairs of earphones and on the irregular occasion that I run, they will stay in unless I accidentally knock the wire!
The sound quality is good without being excellent and for a standard pair of earphones it is as good as I would expect. I do not find that the music distorts as I turn it up loud, although these headphones won't actually allow music to play very loud anyway. This is fine for me but if you're one of those people on the tube with a huge set of headphones covering your whole head and music on full blast so that everyone can hear, these probably aren't the earphones for you! Even though the sound is good, these earphones do not block out all external noise and I can still hear announcements from the tube driver telling me there is a signal failure or a passenger alarm delaying the journey. I actually quite like this but again, they would be no good for those who like to engross themselves in the music and tune out completely.
I have gone through a few pairs of these headphones as I have owned an iPhone and two iPods over the last 6 years or so and have noticed that the standard earphones have changed each time. The second set seemed to have smaller earbuds that the first which were a better fit for my ears. The pair that I am using at the moment are again similar but they have a remote control on the right hand side of the wire. Using this you can keep your music device in your pocket and alter the volume without needing to touch the device itself. I use this feature if I go for a jog so that I can strap the iPod to my arm and you can actually press the middle of the remote to pause a song or press it twice to skip to the next track. It also works as a microphone when using the iPhone which again is useful as you don't have to hold the phone to your ear.
The iPhone earphones are the white headphones that you often see people wearing on public transport or as they walk down the street. Since I started writing this review I have been paying attention on the tube to how many people are wearing them on my commute to work and there are at least three on each journey! The white and grey colours make this particular brand easy to identify, which is great for thieves who can spot a possible iPhone or iPod from metres away.
The great thing about these earphones is that you can use them with any portable music device or a stereo at home or a computer or laptop, not just Apple products that they were designed for. One issue that I along with a lot of others find is that these headphones, while comfortable, do not always last! I have needed to buy a couple of pairs online when one of the earphones has stopped working or if the sound is intermittent and starts to fade in and out.
The earphones currently retail at £26.00 on the Apple website which I think is absolutely ridiculous. They are a good pair of earphones but I would never consider paying this much. Luckily you can purchase a pair for much cheaper online. I would recommend them to anyone, but don't think I have to as a lot of people already have a pair!
One thing that I will not spend a lot of money on is cleaning products for my kitchen. I find that Flash with bleach takes care of most problems and I'm happy to use any dish cloth or sponge to clean any mess that I make in the kitchen. Around 6 months ago I found Tesco's Value Sponge Pan Cleaners priced at 12p on the bottom shelf in my local Tesco Extra store right underneath all the expensive branded ones! I picked up a pack as sponges are always useful around the kitchen but I didn't have high hopes with them being so cheap.
The sponges come in a pack of five and are packaged in clear plastic with the basic Tesco Value logo on it. The sponges themselves have dimensions of around 2.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches and are white and green in colour. The white part of the sponge is soft and useful for wiping surfaces as it is very absorbent where the green part on the other side is made of a harsher, more bristly material for scouring dirty pots and pans.
The sponges are easy to manipulate around any shape which means they are very versatile and can be used for a variety of things. I use them every day for general washing up including plates, bowls, cutlery and any cooking utensils. I find that they clean these items with ease especially if I use the green side which is much harsher on pots. I also use them for cleaning up general mess in the kitchen whether there is water everywhere after washing up or if there are crumbs or milk on the counter top. The scourer is good at getting any stains off the work surface and the sponge absorbs any liquids to clean up mess. The sponges are great for cleaning the hobs after I have sprayed my Flash with bleach on the surface. The green side is good for scrubbing at the dirty marks and any food which has stuck to the surface. Once I have rinsed the sponge I use the white absorbent side to clean up.
The packaging states that the sponges are suitable for cleaning pans, grills, barbecues and washing vegetables. Now I'm perfectly happy washing vegetables with them and basic cleaning of dishes, cutlery and Tupperware, however they do virtually nothing when cleaning anything a bit more stubborn. The sponges are not good for cleaning dirty, greasy pots and grill pans and the green scourer part coming apart and ends up all over your washing up! They are also not ideal when cleaning any pans which are not non-stick as similar to many other scourers, the green side can scratch pans.
The sponges now retail at 14 pence a pack and can be found at most large Tesco stores. We have a Tesco Express down the road which don't stock much of Tesco's Value range and I've never seen them in there. I would recommend them to anyone; even if you prefer to have more expensive sponges and scourers which last longer, these are worth keeping under the sink as they always come in useful. You will need other items to deal with the tougher tasks such as cleaning the oven, barbecues and greasy grills but they are a staple in my kitchen and for what they are and the value they represent I give them 4 out of 5!
I have never been fussy when it comes to my hair and generally buy whichever products are on offer in the supermarket! My hair is quite long, a good 5 inches below my shoulders, very straight with a few layers in it. I'm naturally a dark dull blonde but after years of expensive highlights I dyed it brown in 2009 and have never gone back! I always considered buying hair products to protect my hair colour but never knew which to buy and I also didn't want to pay lots of money for shampoo and conditioner! I stumbled across L'Oreal Elvive Colour Protect when a friend came to stay last year and accidentally left her shampoo and conditioner behind. There was no point in sending them through the post so I used the rest of both bottles and have used the product regularly since!
L'Oreal Elvive Colour Protect conditioner comes in a big red bottle with the signature L'Oreal logo across the front. It might not be the most attractive packaging I've seen on hair products but it certainly stands out and is the first thing I notice on the hair care aisle! The packaging has changed in the last few months and now has a more solid base to stand on which is better as it isn't as likely to topple over.
According to the bottle, the condition has two secrets to colour protection:
When I squeeze the bottle the conditioner comes out easily and I find that this is the case right up until the end of the bottle. It's an opaque liquid which feels very thick and creamy on my hand and on my hair as I apply it. I tend to use about a tablespoon of the conditioner which I run through the length of my hair. I don't apply it too close to the roots as my hair can get greasy easily but I apply it from just above my ears right down to the tips. It is easy to smooth through my hair and immediately makes it feel more manageable, especially the very ends which is where all the knots are! With my hair being long I normally use a wide toothed shower comb to run the conditioner through evenly which makes it easier to brush once I've rinsed it and dried it with a towel. In comparison with other conditioners it rinses quite easily and while it feels much silkier it doesn't leave a layer of what feels like plastic over my hair which some conditioners do. When my hair is dry it is more manageable, easier to brush and looks much sleeker than when I haven't used it. I find that it still looks neat throughout the day and that unless I've been outside in windy conditions it will not get tangled and will remain soft and smooth.
LASTING COLOUR PROTECTION
So it's a good conditioner, but there are many products on the market which are just as good at making hair feel soft. What makes this one special? That would be its claim that it has proved results of over 80% colour radiance protection and 7 weeks of 'just coloured' intensity. I have my hair coloured at the hairdresser's every six months but in between visits dye my hair myself twice on average. Colouring it at home often means that the colour doesn't last as well and for me, this conditioner has not helped. I have noticed no difference in the rate at which my colour fades or becomes duller since using this and it doesn't seem to vary depending on which conditioner I use. If you read the small print on the bottle the +80% colour radiance protection was in a test of Elvive Colour Protect shampoo and masque (not this conditioner!) against a classic shampoo. To me that's not even a statistic worth noting. Saying that, I do feel more comfortable using this conditioner knowing that it is for coloured hair even though I don't notice a considerable difference.
According to L'Oreal the conditioner works best when used with L'Oreal Elvive Colour Protect Shampoo. It makes sense but I've used it with all of the shampoos in my bathroom and again I haven't noticed a difference.
The shampoo and conditioner are both available in 250ml and 400ml sizes and can be purchased from all major supermarkets and chemists. I often buy them from my local Boots where it the regular size costs £2.69 and the larger 400ml version is £3.79. Boots, Superdrug and supermarkets regularly have L'Oreal Elvive products on offer at 2 for 1, 3 for 2 or 50% off so it is worth looking out for these deals and stocking up.
Overall, this is a good conditioner and has become a regular in my bathroom. However, this is probably down to my laziness and lack of knowledge about conditioners rather than how great it is. I am happy to buy whatever is on offer in the supermarkets and chemists as long as my hair feels silky and soft after using a conditioner and this one definitely does the job. It is also supposed to protect coloured hair and stop it fading. For me it has made no significant difference although I do feel more comfortable knowing the product is for coloured hair and that it won't damage my hair further! I would rate L'Oreal Elvive Colour Protect 3 stars out of five and will continue to buy it when it is on offer!
A couple of weeks ago I was in Cardiff with work visiting some projects which we have funded in the area. A colleague had booked rooms in the Park Plaza in central Cardiff for all 11 of us and on our work allowance I wasn't expecting too much from the hotel!
=== First impressions and checking in ===
We had spent the day in a meeting at our Cardiff office so all made our way to the hotel together. From the outside the Park Plaza was fairly ordinary on a quiet street with a few bars and restaurants nearby. It was tipping it down with rain as we walked through the revolving door but were happy to see that the reception area was lovely with big sofas and marble floors. I was one of the first through the door so one of the first to check in which was a fairly painless process. I was asked to fill in some personal information and sign a form before I was handed my keycard and given information about breakfast and the gym facilities. I waited for a couple of the others to find out where their rooms were and was impressed that the two ladies on reception managed to check us in so quickly.
=== Dancing in my room and the best shower ever ===
My room was on the first floor so I took the lift up and opened the door. I always get quite excited about staying in a hotel so was hoping for the best as I walked in. I didn't need to worry at all as I was greeted by one of the nicest hotel rooms I've ever had! The room was huge with tonnes of room to put my bags and still jump around! I found out early that the bed was very comfortable from jumping up and down on it. It was at that point that I saw the big flatscreen TV on the wall which I turned on to find that it had lots of channels to choose from (I think it may have been the Freeview channels). I turned it on and watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory as I got changed for dinner! There was a nice wooden desk in the room and a comfy chair to accompany it. I didn't really use them (I was there for work but didn't intend on doing any at the hotel!) but it was nice to have the space to put my hairbrush and lotions and potions on.
The room was decorated very simply and it still appeared to be quite a new building which gave it the modern feel. Despite the simple look, it didn't feel basic like Travelodge and Premier Inn hotel rooms, it seemed quite classy. There was a kettle with a tray of tea, coffee and shortbread biscuits, which went down very well as I was starving when I arrived after a whole afternoon of walking round a park! There were also a few different varieties of herbal teas which didn't appeal to me but I know many do enjoy them!
The bathroom was lovely and modern in black and white marble. A huge mirror, good lighting and a big sink make a good bathroom in my opinion and this did not let me down! There were two massive towels which were white and fluffy and two smaller hand towels. I was really impressed with the 'Dead Sea Body Minerals' toiletries in the bathroom as I had only remembered to bring shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste. There were two small soaps in fancy wrappers and a travel size shampoo, conditioner and shower gel which I used both times I showered and there was only just enough.
The shower had two knobs; one for the bath and one for the shower. The shower one was quite confusing but after a bit of turning I was greeted with the best shower I've ever had! The water pressure was fantastic, the shower head was big and could be angled so that the water could either spray my whole body or spray down straight from above the head.
=== another expensive hotel bar ===
Before going out to eat, a few of us met for a drink in the bar. It was only 6.00 p.m. on a Wednesday night but the booths were already full of well-dressed people drinking wine. Luckily the bar was quiet so we went up and ordered our drinks. Well I wish I hadn't! My small glass of house white wine was £5.50! If you've read some of my latest reviews you'll know that wherever I go I seem to get charged a fortune for drinks, but £5.50 for a small glass seems absolutely horrendous for anywhere, even London. It was a nice glass of wine but sadly I didn't have much chance to enjoy it as I was the last of the group served and then we realised that we only had 5 minutes until we had to leave promptly for the restaurant.
The bar had an extensive cocktail menu with all alcohol cocktails priced at £8.00 which again I didn't expect to pay in Cardiff. They had all the classics like a Cosmopolitan, Mojito and Long Island Ice Tea although I didn't opt for one because of the price! The bar also served a range of bar snacks, teas and coffees.
=== The facilities ===
Before we stayed at the hotel I had checked out their website and found that there was a gym and swimming pool. I'm not really the type who would usually care about these facilities, but I'm no longer a member of a gym (mine closed down!) so decided to pack my gym clothes and a swimming costume. I didn't get to go in the evening at all because I chose to go to the bar instead, however when I woke up early the next morning I really impressed myself by heading straight to the gym! The gym was quite small but with decent, modern equipment and all the things you would need for a work out. There were a few treadmills, exercise bikes, cross-trainers, free weights and lots of weight machines including a leg press and chest press. There were only two others in there at 7.00 a.m., one of which was having a personal training session with a fitness instructor. I hadn't realised that the Park Plaza's health centre, 'Laguna Health and Spa' was also open to the public so I was pleased that it wasn't busy! I didn't get chance to visit the 20 metre swimming pool although a colleague did remark that it was quite impressive and beautifully lit up. The spa also offers beauty treatments including massage, manicures, facials, wraps and tanning.
=== Breakfast at the Plaza ===
I went down for my breakfast around 8.00 a.m. which I expected to be a busy time but I was reliably informed that on week days most are in there around 7.00 a.m.! There was only our group (who has mostly finished) and one other couple which was great; I wouldn't want to queue for my food! The kind lady who greeted me as I walked in asked if I would like coffee or tea. I went for the tea and it was on the table by the time I had returned with my food. Those who know me will be surprised that I didn't go for the Full English option but instead started with two rounds of toast. I was delighted that they had mini jam jars which I absolutely love! I took one to spread on my toast and one for my bag, to go! I got to use the fun toast maker so I enjoyed that as much as I enjoyed my toast and then moved on to a bowl of bran flakes. There were four different types of cereal, options of fruit juices, yoghurts, pastries and fruit, along with the usual cooked breakfast items including sausage, bacon, eggs as you like them, beans, hash browns and tomatoes. I took a pastry and an apple for the road and quickly ate a banana and drank some fresh orange to keep me going as we had to rush out to our meeting. It was all very nice, everyone enjoyed the food and the variety, the service was good and it was a really nice clean, well decorated restaurant.
=== My experience with the staff ===
I've already touched on the lady behind the bar and the lady at breakfast but I had a couple of other experience with the staff at the Park Plaza.
When I got back from a meal with colleagues that evening, I fancied a cup of tea. The room had all the equipment but only UHT milk pots which make me feel sick. I rang down to reception to ask if I'd be able to collect some fresh milk from the bar and the kind lady on the phone said she would get some sent up to me! It took a good 20 minutes but I was grateful when it arrived. I was able to keep it in the mini-bar fridge and use it again in the morning which was ideal because I can't wake up without a cuppa!
The keycard for my room stopped working in the morning and I couldn't get back into my room after the gym. I had only gone and managed to cancel the coding by trying two different doors when I couldn't remember my room number! I went into the beauty salon who called down to reception and they brought a new one up to me within minutes!
=== Overall experience ===
I was really impressed with my stay at the Park Plaza, especially the room; the most important part. It was as comfortable as any hotels I have stayed in and I was impressed with how clean and modern it was. The staff were great which always helps to improve a stay and I liked that there were lots of channels available on the TV as it can often be boring when you are stuck in a hotel room.
I met the rest of my colleagues at breakfast in the morning and all we talked about was how great the rooms were and how well we had slept in the comfortable beds! The fact that all 11 of us thought it was brilliant and there wasn't a single complaint tells me it was an excellent hotel. I always take the value into account when I rate hotels and for the price we paid of £90 each I couldn't be more impressed. If you book in advance or last minute you can get some great deals at the hotel but I know that we paid the full rate as the hotel was already quite full when we booked. I would give the hotel an excellent 9 out of 10 but I'm going to be really generous in this instance and give the Park Plaza 5 stars! I would recommend to anyone and would definitely go back again! I'm even considering sending them a copy of this review just to show them how great I think they were... but obviously I would take out the line about stealing their jam! ;)
I've lived in London for four years but only had a car for the past year. Last Sunday we had a day without plans so decided to go for a drive and explore some of North London. All that driving made us hungry so we decided to look out for somewhere to eat. It was the most beautiful day so we wanted to be outside so we kept our eye out for a pub with a beer garden! As we were driving from Southgate towards Whetstone we stumbled across The Cavalier, a large pub which seemed to have a beer garden out the back. Their car park was really big and only about half full so we pulled in and parked up. My partner went straight in to get us a drink while I went to get a table in the garden.
=== The beer garden ===
The beer garden was huge with around 10 wooden picnic benches on the grass and another eight or so tables on the patio. I went for a picnic table right in the centre for maximum sun exposure trying to make the most of the nice weather! The garden was really nice and well maintained with lots of space between tables and I liked the way they were angled differently so it didn't seem like we were sitting in rows or too close to other people. It actually looked like it could be someone's garden! Over on the patio area the tables were mostly quite small with the largest seating just four. These tables had individual chairs and were shaded by large parasols. There were also patio heaters although on what felt like the hottest day of the year, none of these were on! The whole outside area was surrounded by trees and for the outskirts of London I was pleasantly surprised that I felt like I was back in the country!
=== Food and drink ===
My partner went in to the bar and bought the first round of drinks while I sat outside making the most of the sun! Nothing really surprises me price-wise in London these days so when a pint of Diet Coke and a pint of lemonade came to £5.50 I barely blinked. However, this is a lot of money and bearing in mind that the ice melted into my lemonade within seconds making it taste like water, it wasn't worth it. I got the next round in when I went in to order our food inside at the bar. I ordered a half pint of Diet Coke (a £1.75 bargain!) and just got a jug of water for the table which they were fine with.
When it came to food, it didn't help that the other half brought out the wrong menu of bar snacks and sandwiches which I was all excited about until I realised that the Sunday menu was a different feast altogether. So, Sunday menu in hand I had the option of about 12 main meals which I didn't fancy because what I really wanted was a hot beef sandwich with chips!
We were never going to have a starter because even I think that's too much for lunch time! However, there were a few options including Soup of the Day at £4.00, Honey Glazed Spare Ribs at £5.25, Grilled King Scallops at £7.25 and Grilled Halloumi Salad at £5.50. On any other day the main courses would have appealed to me and I've listed some of them below along with their prices, which I thought were reasonable.
- Sunday roast (beef or lamb) served with a Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and creamed leeks and red onion gravy. £9.75
- Ale Battered Haddock & Hand-Cut Fries with mushy peas. £9.25
- Gammon served with egg and chips. £10.75
- Cavalier Burger with cheese and bacon served with chips. £9.00
- Rack of lamb with herb new potatoes and ratatouille. £14.00
- Grilled sea bream fillet on a vine tomato, black olive & parsley linguini topped with a sauce vierge. £12.75
However, on this particular day, as I've said, I really fancied a beef sandwich and I wasn't enthused by the other things offered to me. Either way I went inside to the bar and ordered the beef roast dinner as it was the closest to what I fancied! The other half went for the gammon. The meals were brought out to us after around 20 minutes which I thought was reasonable. Any longer I get irritable and any less I worry that the food has been cooked since early that morning! When they came I couldn't help but laugh because while my roast looked huge and impressive, his gammon looked rubbish! They had attempted to serve it nicely in a bowl with the chips at the bottom, gammon on them with the egg over the top but unfortunately it looked cheap and not even as good as I could make at home! The gammon itself was thick but was mainly made up of fat and the chips looked greasy and undercooked! The giant egg on the top of the gammon looked nice but that's hardly the point of the meal! Apparently it tasted better than it looked. Despite the fact that the chips didn't look wonderful, he said that they tasted pretty good and liked that they were definitely homemade. The gammon was cooked well but it did have a lot of fat on it. It was very greasy which I think was the reason that the chips ended up greasy too. He said it was average at best and he's not a fussy eater at all! He would eat it again if he was hungry but wouldn't choose it from a menu.
As for my meal, it looked fantastic. There was SO much beef, slices and slices of lovely thick meat served with 4 roast potatoes, lots of vegetables, creamed leeks and a nice Yorkshire pudding on the top. The only problem... it wasn't hot. I'm not the type to care if it's still hot but clearly has been sat out for a couple of minutes on the side, but this was hardly even warm. The beef I could cope with, it was lovely and tender and I often eat beef cold anyway. However, the creamed leeks where barely edible - the skin had formed on the now-cold cheesy sauce and don't get me started on the clearly reheated-but not quite enough 'roasted vegetables'. They were almost rock solid! I reckon they had been reheated 5 times through the day! Some were burnt, some were chewy. Eww! The broccoli tasted like it hadn't been cooked at all so that got left on the side too. The potatoes were actually quite hot so even though they had probably been through the same process as the rest of the veggies, I ate them along with the beef. The Yorkshire pudding was cold and chewy but I gave that the benefit of the doubt and ate it too! We were in such a good mood that day with the beautiful weather than neither of us were in the mood to complain. If the vegetables had been okay and the rest of it inedible I would have taken it back but the meat was the main part and there was enough to fill me up! Luckily we had already paid when we ordered so we didn't have any embarrassment of them seeing my plate, we just ran to the car!
Desserts looked quite nice from what we saw on other people's tables, but after the mains we decide we'd had quite enough of the food from The Cavalier! They had all the usual pub desserts including my favourite Sticky Toffee Pudding, Rhubarb and Apple Crumble and Vanilla Cheesecake which were all around the £5 mark. I did note the absence of anything chocolatey on the dessert menu and can't think for the life of me think why that would be!
=== Other things ===
The staff at the pub were very friendly especially the young girl behind the bar who was telling me about the area and talking me through the different menus and offers they have each night. Even though we had to order at the bar, the waiters brought the food to the table and were happy to take drink orders while they were there.
As I mentioned, The Cavalier has a range of offers throughout the week. On Sundays they offer a 'Kids Eat Free' deal when you buy a main meal. Monday night is quiz night and on Tuesdays you can get a free bottle of wine when you eat from the main restaurant menu. There is also 2 for 1 on Fish and Chips on a Friday.
I should probably mention the interior of the pub even though we didn't sit in. It was warm and inviting with good tables and furniture, although I was surprised at how spacious it was and how few tables there were inside. There were some comfortable sofas to relax on as well as tables with ordinary wooden chairs around for dining.
=== Location ===
As I said, the pub is located somewhere between Southgate and Whetstone in a nice residential green area of north London. It is not particularly close to a tube or train station but probably within 25 minutes walk of Totteridge and Whetstone Underground and Oakleigh Park Rail Station. Unless you live within walking distance, driving would be the best way to get to the pub and unlike many places in London, there is plenty of parking space.
The contact details are below.
67 Russell Lane
London N20 0BB
020 8368 2708
=== Overall ===
Obviously my overriding thoughts of The Cavalier are with the food which for me was pretty rubbish. I'm not fussy when it comes to food - I eat a lot, and I know that most people would have sent that food back. Firstly, I hate upsetting people and remember in my teens working as a waitress and I was always so upset when people complained! Secondly, the girl behind the bar was so nice that I didn't want to sound nasty and thirdly, it was such a beautiful day that I just didn't want to ruin it by complaining! Don't get me wrong, if I had gone out for a sit down meal and my food had come that way it would have been straight back in the kitchen, but we were at the pub more to sit out in the sun than too eat as we had only eaten breakfast an hour earlier!
Even though I would not even consider this establishment for food again, I would happily go back for a drink in their lovely garden! For food, I couldn't give this more than 2 stars on the evidence, however I'm more than happy to raise it to 3 stars because for a nice drink either with friends, as a couple or a family with young kids, it's pretty perfect.