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alma1

alma1
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Member since: 13.02.2003

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      04.12.2003 19:19
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      I hate winter! There's virtually nothing I can find to say about it that's positive, and that includes Christmas. Bah! Humbug! I'm the kind of person, who at this time of year wonders if 'Rudolf' doesn't just mean 'blind reindeer' in Greenland or wherever (it would explain the red nose) and that's as far as my interest goes. It does however, have one redeeming feature and that is the release around this time of year (ready for Xmas) of the latest Terry Pratchett offering. Monstrous Regiment will no doubt have John Knox spinning in his grave (and no bad thing at that according to some), for it was he who coined the phrase. Without going into anything too lengthy, John Knox was a Scottish Protestant zealot (later establishing Presbyterianism), who wrote the 'First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women' in the 16th century. To sum it up as quickly as possible, it was aimed at Mary I and Mary of Guise (as Catholics), though later Elizabeth I also took exception to it (and good for her too!). The monstrous regiment in question means abnormal or unnatural rule (of women). Today of course, we're more likely to associate the word regiment with a group of soldiers, but it comes as no surprise to find Mr Pratchett taking on board both meanings and twisting them around for his own comic purposes. So what's it about? Polly Perks cuts her hair and runs off to join the army so that she can find her brother. It's been done before. Everyone knows the song, or at least knows there is a song, about a girl joining the army and Polly's no exception. In no time at all, Oliver Perks has signed up and taken his shilling, along with a small group of other recruits which include a vampire, a troll and an Igor who could teach even proxam a thing or two about beer, (possibly not things he'd want to learn though). She's learned to walk the walk and she's learned to talk the talk, b
      ut she nearly messed it all up by not having enough socks, (she only brought enough for her feet). Under the tutelage of the sadistic, spiteful, bullying Corporal Strappi and the no nonsense, seen-it-all-before Sergeant Jackrum, they take their first steps towards learning to march in the Borogravian army. They're also taking steps, marching ones or otherwise, towards the front to fight the Zlobenians and Prince Heinrich for 'Duchess and country'. And they're going to get there faster than they thought, because their training has just been cancelled and they've to head out immediately. This is not a development which appeals to Corporal Strappi, since he's just learned recruiting has been cancelled as well and he is also heading for the front. Jackrum vows to take care of 'his lads', which is most fortunate, since their commanding officer, Lieutenant Blouse (he wants to be famous so they'll name something after him, like a recipe for instance), has for the last eight years since he joined, been no nearer to a battle than the Adjutant-General's Blankets, Bedding and Horse Fodder Department. Just when it seems things can't get any worse, the enemy throws out a scouting party for the raw recruits to deal with. A bunch of heavily armed, well trained, seasoned cavalrymen against a small band of ill equipped, untrained novices. They never stood a chance! But which 'they' am I talking about? You'll have to read the book to find that out. Add to the mix a religion which counts women in the army as an abomination (shades of John Knox there again I think), though its list of abominations in full also includes jigsaws, the colour blue, rocks, cats, babies and chocolate to name but a few, (granted, babies are often quite abominable. But chocolate! That's taking it just too far). Clacks towers (Discworld's answer to the computer age), are also considered an abomination, so when the bound
      ary (river) changed, leaving them standing on what is now Borogravia, the Borogravians wasted no time in tearing them down. This was not well received by Ankh-Morpork. Troops were sent out to ally with Zlobenia. A Special Envoy was also sent out. Samuel Vimes! And he's less than thrilled to be there. Fortunately, 'his grace' brought along some of his own people to aid him. They often aid him in intercepting the reports being sent back to the Ankh-Morpork Times by William de Worde. So, just another ordinary day in Discworld really! Terry Pratchett has come up trumps again with his own kaleidoscopic view of life. Although I've mentioned the inclusion of Vimes and William de Worde, and there's even one or two other familiar faces as well, the main focus of this novel is very definitely Polly and her small group. Them and the stupidity of war, of course. You can expect a plethora of references to war. The Napoleonic wars (or at least the 19th century in general) would appear to be a rich source of material here, but Terry Pratchett being Terry Pratchett, even Vietnam gets a look in. While humour is, as ever to the forefront, the underlying message is once again thought provoking and very often darkly poignant. Terry takes a long hard look at humanity and makes us laugh at many of the bits he wants to draw our attention to. Sexism, whether it be from religion or the chauvinistic attitudes of the (man's) army, is held up for suitable ridicule and no-one does it better. Other themes are gently pushed into the notice of our consciousness for inspection. Other, more serious themes that is. And as funny as the book is, some themes are no laughing matter. Despite the humour, we get the feeling some forms of stupidity make Terry Pratchett very angry or maybe just deeply sad. Details of army life have an authentic feel, but then so does everything Terry Pratchett turns his attention to. He seems to possess Da Vinci&#
      39;s interest in EVERYTHING, coupled with Shakespeare's insight into all human nature. This gives his work a completely believable feel, which can only be described as amazing given that the whole premise is set on a 'fantasy' world. Picking up a Terry Pratchett novel is not to read a book, but to step into another world. The story is not dictated to us, but instead surrounds us. Terry effortlessly (for the reader at any rate) paints mental images with words which are neither tediously simple, nor overly complicated. It's a world in which men fart and swear and pick their noses. The toilets smell. Food doesn't just miraculously turn up (although it does in one case, but that's beside the point), it has to be scavenged. Once again Discworld draws us to it, not because it is a 'fantasy' world, but because it is a 'real' world. All in all, it has a positive feel, which, given some of the subject matter is no mean feat. The ending, like so many of his other novels, is merely the culmination of this particular story and the place to have a break before deciding whether or not we'll get to hear about any further adventures. My recommendation with Discworld novels is, and always has been, to start at the beginning and read them in the order they were written. That way you don't miss out on occasional references to characters which have gone before. If you choose to ignore that and want to read this as a stand alone book, then I'd say this one has that capability. Certain things from some of the familiar characters may pass you by, but there aren't enough of them to hinder the story. I still don't recommend doing it that way if you want to get the full effect though. The cover illustration is by Paul Kidby and if the back cover design isn't his 'take' on the opening titles from Sharpe, then I'll eat my shako (cylindrical peaked military hat with a plume). It's availa
      ble from Amazon in hardback only at the moment for £8.99, though the cover price is actually £17.99! Thank you for reading.

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        27.11.2003 19:16
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        This q&a challenge can help newbies find out what Dooyoo is about and, if many established members participate, what the community is like and will hopefully convince them to stay and become active. To be sure, everything has been said before, but has it had any impact? Only for a limited time until the opinion disappeared from the front page. By presenting the tips on helping new members in the form of a questionnaire which can be done by several members the impact can perhaps be prolonged. Several members, better: many members, to show that many roads lead to Dooyoo. I always seem to be bringing up the rearguard. Let's hope I don't get shot in the back! ;-) ---------------------------------------------- Q: When did you join Dooyoo? A: February 2003. Why, I'm just a youngster in Dooyoo terms. ----------------------------------------------- Q: How did you discover Dooyoo? A: Read a couple of reviews on Ciao which slated it, so I thought I'd come and have a look. I can't help it. I'm a nosey b*stard. ________________________________ Q: Why did you join? A: 3p a read on every category really. I thought I'd make it to an Amazon voucher by posting all my Ciao ops over here and then trundle off into the sunset. Then I realised how much I really liked the friendly, non-competitive atmosphere and stayed. I post my ops on Dooyoo first now. Ciao's payment structure is so lousy I don't feel the least bit guilty about letting them have the leftovers. ________________________________ Q: What was your very first opinion on? A: Ha! My freezer. Let's not even go there. _______________________________ Q: Did you find it easy to get the hang of Dooyoo? A: It wasn't too bad getting the hang of it, having been over on Ciao. I'd have to say, the warmth of the people isn't conveyed very well in the harsh green and black colour s
        cheme. It has a very imposing tone unfortunately. Once you get underway, you realise it's nothing like that. ________________________________ Q: Did you read other opinions before you posted your first one? A: Do I read the manual before using a new piece of equipment? Do I 'eck as like! Full steam ahead! That's me! I know I should have done because reading other opinions is a great help and I'm often jealous of other people's wonderful offerings, but when I'm writing my own, my mantra is 'write it as if you were wanting to buy it'! I don't know whether I always get the result I wanted when I first sat down at the keyboard, but I try to put both the good points and the bad ones. At the end of the day, I want to try and give a full and balanced view of my experience. At least, that's how it works in theory. ________________________________ Q: Do you write no/some/many comments? A: It all depends on time, inspiration and mood. I like leaving comments, but I just don't always have time. It's not that the comment takes long, so much as I end up reading all the others. Occasionally I can exercise iron will and just leave mine, but not terribly often, so usually if time's short, I just bypass that whole area. Then there's times when I can't think of anything to add but 'good op', which I'm not averse to, it's just that it sounds a bit lazy somehow. Having said that, I like to receive comments, even if they do just say good op, because it seems like a friendly gesture if nothing else. So it depends on what mood I'm in. There! I hope that's cleared up any uncertainty there. Lol! ________________________________ Q: When you click on the list of newest reviews, do you read your friends' opinions no matter what they're on/according to subject no matter who has written on it/preferably the opinions of new writers? A: Er..
        ....yes! What was the question again? A bit of everything if I've got time. Friends, obviously because I know I'll probably like their stuff from past experience. Subject matter if I'm interested enough. New writers if they've rated/commented on one of mine (unless they're in my category, in which case I always read them). I tend to be more of a passive reader than an aggressive (figure of speech) one. This is why it's so important for new writers to get out there and get themselves seen. I always (I think) leave advice for new writers in my category, to go out and read and rate for themselves. It's how we all started and part of me thinks of it as a rite of passage. You can't just dump a load of ops and expect the whole site to come running for a look. A certain amount of active participation is needed. ________________________________ Q: Do you write your opinions in one sitting? A: No, never. They usually take several hours and several goes before I'm even halfway happy with them. And as for those who take half an hour to do theirs, (spit spit), life's just not fair. I've no idea how they do them that fast, but the effect they have on me??well, can you imagine a small, rather deflated Incredible Hulk! Yup! That'll be me. The Incredible Sulk! Lol! Seriously, I'm as jealous as hell of anyone who can rattle of really good opinions in that time. It makes me feel terribly inadequate. ________________________________ Q: How often do you post a new opinion? A: Whenever I've got something useful to say and the time to say it. If I felt I HAD to submit opinions, I wouldn't be here. I wait for inspiration and inclination to take hold. Simple as that. ________________________________ Q: Do you use a spell check? A: Nu! Actually, yes, but I couldn't resist that one! Bad spelling just makes you look lazy. I am in fact, lazy, but that's no reason to
        look it. ________________________________ Q: Do you think you can improve your chances to get a crown if you suck up to a guide? A: Sucking up's no good. It's bribery that's needed. I like chocolate, diamonds and of course, cold hard cash. But I'm quite happy to settle for warm soft cash provided it's in pounds sterling (chortle chortle). Seriously, I got four or five crowns before I'd even worked out where to find the page with the guides on. I didn't even know who they were, much less suck up to them. As a guide, I've nominated good ops from people I'd otherwise see consigned to the depths of Hades because they once rated me lower than I felt was justified. I've also seen ops, really good ops at that, miss out because it was a busy week and they can't all get one all the time. At the end of the day, Katie has the final word, so don't blame me. If the same old names keep coming up, it's because the same old names keep hitting the standard I'm afraid. But if you do want increase your chances, pick a relatively quiet week in your chosen category. ________________________________ Q: Are you a member of a forum or a chat room? A: Only Tooyoo. Can't type fast enough for chat rooms. ____________________________________ Q: Does it get to you when members praise or condemn you? A: Of course, though not in an end of the world kind of way. Praise generates a feeling of 'it's not as bad as I thought it was when I posted' or 'it is as good as I hoped it was'! I don't mind criticism which is fair and constructive and I've taken a lot of it on board since I first started writing. I hope the results are the improvement that both I and the critics strove for. Otherwise it's best just to rise above it. Even if you feel you've been rated badly or unfairly there is nothing less dignified than getting into a slanging match
        over it. My advice would be to contact Katie and see what she says about it. ____________________________________ Q: What did you do in your spare time before you joined Dooyoo? A: Probably read even more than I do now. No, come to think of it, I read the same amount now, it's just that a lot of it's pages on Dooyoo instead of pages in a book. ___________________________________ Q: What do you wish for the future? A: A pound per read would be nice, but since that's not going to happen then I would hope, despite the bugs, that the friendly atmosphere around the place would continue. I don't mind the capitals thing that much and I'm not bothered with pop-ups since I started using Netscape for my Dooyoo viewing (cheers mauri, for the tip). No, all in all, I'll take the bugs as part and parcel of the whole, so long as it continues to have a community feel. If that goes, then I probably will too. ____________________________________ If you want to participate, please add: Please don't take this challenge to ciao without asking MALU, she'd rather decide herself what to do with a text she's written, when to take it there or if at all. Thank you. Woohoo! Literary Challenge next! Probably! Unless I get side-tracked again!

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          20.11.2003 06:39
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          MALU's Literature challenge was what I sat down to do! But I'm afraid I got rather side-tracked by this category. Sorry MALU! I will complete the challenge. I promise! In the meantime I couldn't resist the inspiration fired up by the chance to give you my top ten non fiction books. That's not 'the' top ten by the way. It's definitely 'my' top ten, but since the category heading seems to give enough leeway to cover this, then I think I can proceed confidently. They're not in any particular order either, so I've not allocated any numbers and in the interests of other members sanity, I've tried to encompass the spirit of each book in a fairly short space. True Unity by Tom Dorrance If you own or ride a horse and strive to reach a point where you only need to think about doing something for your horse to react to that thought, then this is the place to start. Tom Dorrance is a master of horsemanship and passes on his wisdom for the rest of us, and hopefully horses everywhere, to reap the benefit. Don't think a quick flick through the pages will turn you into an expert though. It takes time, effort and a helluva lot of practice. But this is a great book to show you the way. With chapter titles like "Getting It Together" and "Feel The Whole Horse", you can see where he's leading you. In turn, you have to learn to lead your horse the same way (I mean leading as in teaching by the way, not leading as in walking beside the horse). It's not the longest book in the world, but for me it's one of the most useful. Available from Amazon at £11.64 hardback. Understanding The Horse's Back by Sara Wyche So, you've learned about being a balanced rider but you new horse is still behaving like a cross between Jim Carey and Atilla The Hun. Could it be pain that is at the root of his problems? It's a damned good bet. This book won't replace
          the services of a good manipulat or (and believe me, they need to be good), but it will help identify a lot of the problems modern riding is likely to throw up. It also shows how they can be avoided with the correct forms of exercise for the horse, the importance of a well fitting saddle and even why you need to look after his teeth properly to avoid back problems. I'm guessing you didn't know that one. Did you know then, that your horse might be lame in a hind leg, but the actual cause of the problem may be at the top of his neck. By anyone's standards is a long way away from where you'll be looking. Strangely enough, a lot of horsey people who consider themselves quite expert don't know either, but that's another story (or probably a rant). For anyone out there who owns a horse or aspires to own a horse, don't give up reading just because you've finished the Pony Club manual and now you want to get on with winning rosettes. If you read no other horse related book, read this one. It might change your life. It'll almost certainly change your horse's. Available from Amazon at £15.99 hardback. The Iron Duke - A Military Biography of Wellington by Lawrence James Not the only book written about the Duke of Wellington by any means, but the first one I read and therefore still my favourite despite certain flaws. The most obvious of these are the quotes from Napoleon, which are in French. Yes.... I know......Emperor of France and all that. France being the operative word there. But for ease of reading I think translations could have been provided. However, that doesn't stop this book being a fantastic insight into the life of Wellington. Though it focuses on his military career (the sub-title's a bit of a give-away there), we are still given a good all round view of the flawed hero. The man who called the common soldier, "the scum of the earth", is the same man who wept at the decimation be
          neath the walls of Badajoz and even after Waterloo. Quoted after Waterloo as saying " I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that, next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained." He cared about his soldiers, even right down the ranks. He fought battles with an eye to not wasting their lives unnecessarily. He admired their bravery. He just didn't like them very much personally. This is a good introduction to the man and the problems he faced and how he dealt with them during a long and distinguished military career. No longer in print. Available from Amazon Marketplace at approximately £8.50. Nil Desperandum by Eugene Erhlich I've always wanted to learn Latin secretly. Unfortunately I'm just too bone idle. Imagine then, that there was a kind of shortcut. You can memorise a few choice Latin phrases and their meanings, just to drop in conversation when you want to appear slightly superior, as when dealing with other people who are trying to appear superior. And lawyer-speak! How annoying is that when you don't understand half of what they're wittering on about? Well, this book is the answer to most of your problems. A fantastic collection of all the most commonly used Latin tags and phrases, which are not only translated, but usually fully explained as well. And not just the everyday ones either. It's a fairly extensive collection amounting to well over 200 pages, so there's something for everyone. It's a bona fide book, but I can only say, when buying your own copy, caveat emptor! No longer in print. Available from Amazon Marketplace at approximately £3.50 Abbeys by M R James Published in the 1920s by GWR (Great Western Railway) this is obviously designed around boosting their ticket sales as all the abbeys contained within could be reached by the GWR. This means they are all in the west or Wales. That aside, it is still a fantastic book which
          has some of the most beautiful and enigmatic illustrations and photographs of any old book I've come across, which lose nothing through being in black and white. For instance, Tintern Abbey is applauded as one of our most beautiful ruined abbeys and from the four or five photos contained in this book I can see why. I've never visited it, but looking through the pages here and reading the accompanying description, I almost feel I have. For the real history enthusiast, there are even several ground-plans included as well. A wonderful book for dipping into on a Sunday afternoon. You can be transported for a while without the hassle of travelling. No longer in print. Available from Abebooks at approximately £10.00. Grave Humour Edited by Fritz Speigl One or two of you may have begun to suspect my sense of humour was a little quirky, or possibly downright twisted. Well this will do nothing to dispel the rumours, but I'm going to add it anyway. I have to admit, I do enjoy a good wander around a graveyard. Not those pathetic modern efforts mind! No, I like the old ones where they really got into headstones. The bigger the better for a start. And sometimes they just couldn't help but get carried away when they were writing them either. And that in essence, is what this book is all about. It's a fairly short book, reading wise. You'll have finished reading it in less than an hour. But it will have been a smile filled hour. Therefore in my opinion, it will have been worth it. A nice little collection of memorial inscriptions, which are bound to brighten the day, providing you've got the right sense of humour. Oh, and the book's cut in the shape of a headstone as well. No longer in print. Available from Amazon Marketplace at approximately 50p paperback. Pegasus Bridge by Stephen Ambrose The British counterpart to his more famous Band Of Brothers book. While visiting Pegasus Bridge, Stephen Ambrose go
          t into conversation with a certain John Howard. Major John Howard that is, though he was long since retired by the time of the conversation. The Major's experience of D-Day and how he and his comrades took and held the bridge inspired Ambrose so much, he wrote this book. There's not only an in depth description of their exploits on that infamous day. Their training is explained in detail as are many of the characters who took part including, briefly, Richard Todd who later went on to star in the film The Longest Day! If my memory isn't playing tricks on me, I think he actually played the part of Major John Howard in the film. Great film, but I still prefer the book as you get more background information on the people involved. Some very poignant and moving moments as well as a glimpse of some of the horrors. Available from Amazon at £5.59 paperback. Elizabeth by David Starkey I have to admit, it was the TV series that first prompted me to get this one. Starkey is so enthusiastic about Good Queen Bess, but doesn't just concentrate on the later years and the Spanish Armada episode. Often it is our earliest experiences in life which form our characters and Starkey gives us a full and detailed description of Elizabeth's formative years and how they influenced her in later life. But best of all, is his sheer zest for his subject which he imparts with feeling as well as a lot of knowledge. Not just on television I might add, but through the narrative of the book as well. We feel his passion for what he is telling us. We also feel his pride in the young Elizabeth, who came close to losing her very life through the suspicions of her elder sister, Queen Mary, and yet who took from that experience a wise reluctance to issue death sentences instead of a vengeful eagerness to. A marvellously detailed and thoroughly enjoyable book. Available from Amazon at £6.39 paperback. Elizabeth's London by Liza Picard It
          9;s easy to pick up a book and find out wh at was happening in Elizabeth's court in the 16th century. Or indeed what the political map may have looked like. But what about Joe Public out on the streets, or even down in the gutter? If you want to know what life was like in Elizabethan London for ordinary men and women, then this is where it's at. Liza Picard has obviously done a lot of research. And from the tone of the book, she's obviously thoroughly enjoyed doing it as well. She relates everyday matters in an almost conversational way, bringing warmth and humour to what could otherwise be a very dry subject. With two main sections, headed 'The Place' and 'The People', that pretty much sums up what's covered within the pages. Just about everything you can possibly think of from building exteriors to building interiors, births, marriages, illnesses and death, and everything else besides. Available from Amazon at £10.00 hardback. The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser Better known for his fantastically funny Flashman novels, George MacDonald Fraser has brought his remarkable intellect to bear on the subject of The Border Reivers. From the 1300s, until the beginning of the 1600s when England and Scotland were finally united under one regent, the Anglo-Scottish border was not a quiet, pleasant place to live. In fact it was highly dangerous and the inhabitants were constantly under threat from??.well, from each other basically. Family fought family in deadly feud. And they had really big families back then. Sometimes feuds were fought across the border, but just as often they were not. Reiving is an old fashioned term meaning thieving. Families would saddle up when necessity or inclination decided and ride out on what they called a rode (raid), bringing terror and quite possibly death to any that stood in their way. So what did their victims do under these circumstances? They saddled up and went out to ste
          al as much of their stuff back again as they could manage. And failing that, they stole some stuff (cattle, horses, sheep, general belongings etc.) off whoever else was handy. These victims in turn would saddle up and??well, you see where it all leads don't you! This is over simplifying things a little and at nearly 400 pages you can tell GMF goes into rather more detail than I have here. The bottom line is, this is the most comprehensive book on Border Reivers and if you are interested in the subject at all, this is the one to own. I'd just like to add that we don't do it any more! At least, most of us don't! There's still the odd one or two round here that I wouldn't trust as far as I could spit! :o) Available from Amazon at £7.99 paperback. So there you go! My pick of the non fiction books for those in pursuit of knowledge. I have to admit there were plenty more I could have added. Maybe another time! Coming next! MALU's challenge! Honest MALU! I'm working on it! I really am! :o)

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            16.08.2003 05:33
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            For those who don't know, Harry Flashman was the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays. You don't have to have read Tom Brown's Schooldays in order to enjoy Flashman though. What exactly was he like? Let me quote a small part from the cover of Flashman. "What kind of man grew out of the foul-mouthed, swaggering, cowardly toady who roasted fags for fun and howled when he was beaten himself?" One simple sentence tells us so much about the character of Flashman. And this book tells us just what kind of man grew out of the foul-mouthed, swaggering, cowardly toady. And he hasn't changed much either. After being expelled from Rugby School in drunken disgrace, he returns home to his father, who is less than overjoyed to see him. Harry, however, has a plan. He desires his father to buy him some colours, so that he may embark on a career in the army. Has he learned his lesson? Is he about to turn over a new leaf? Not likely! For this tale is related in Harry's own words, from 'papers which were discovered in a Midlands sale-room and which were later verified as authentic'. He freely admits that this is the first and only time he has been completely truthful and honest. Flashman has decided to join the 11th Light Dragoons because they "were at Canterbury, after long service in India, and were unlikely for that reason to be posted abroad". His father is happy to oblige, especially since it will get young Harry out from under his feet. Perhaps he also suspects what his son has been up to under his own roof, with his own mistress no less. Soon enough Flashman is serving in the Dragoons and making himself generally popular, especially with the Earl of Cardigan, his commander. Not universally popular though. For he has managed to estrange himself from fellow officer Bernier, a noted swordsman and a dead shot with a pistol. This is surely of little importance to Flashman though, with his pos
            ition as one of Lord Cardigans favourites secured. So he continues to cut a dash, in the new uniforms of their re-named company, the 11th Hussars, now under the patronage of the young Queen Victoria's husband. Life is easy for Flashman. He has plenty of money, drink and women. So it could of course only be malice, which prompted him to turn his attentions to Bernier's mistress. The result of this 'jolly jape' is the duel which first establishes Flashman's (undeserved) reputation as a hero. Prince Albert however is less than impressed by such actions (or at least, the reason behind such actions) and Flashman must leave the Hussars, temporarily at least. And so our 'gallant hero' is sent to Scotland to instruct local militia and deal with Chartist riots. Here is where he lays eyes on his wife-to-be. And not only his eyes, I might add. Which is pretty much how she came to be his wife, at her family's insistence. Not that they particularly wished for Flashman as a son-in-law. They'd much rather he'd fought the duel they offered. But without the means to cheat on this occasion, unlike the last, our Flashman is not going to risk actually being shot. Ah, but all is not running smoothly for poor Flashy. Lord Cardigan does not approve of his new bride, her father being only a mill owner. This is considered much too lowly for the wife of a Hussar and since wife she is, it is the Hussars who must bid farewell to Flashman. Leaving Elspeth (his bride) behind under his father's care, he embarks for India, where he has been posted. And thence to Afghanistan, armed with his talent for languages and horsemanship, to play his ignominious part in one of history's greatest military blunders. And that, dear folk, is all I'm prepared to tell you of the story. But of the style, I have plenty to say. George Macdonald Fraser's writing is a pure pleasure to read. It flows easily across
            the page, bringing to life, true events in Victorian history, though some with a slight twist, as Flashman recounts what 'really' happened. Let me however, point out at this stage that Flashman is a fictitious character. Despite GMF's claims to have merely edited The Flashman Papers, the same which turned up in a Midlands sale room, he is entirely responsible for the work within these pages. Much of his humour is ironic, but the crowning irony must have been when at least one American professor believed the papers and Harry Flashman really existed. As a Borderer, with a Borderer's sense of humour, that must have tickled him immensely. One wonders also, if the Cohen brothers had not been reading Flashy when they proclaimed Fargo, as being based on a true story, which of course it wasn't. Flashman may be fictitious, but the historical events he recounts are not. GMF has researched these events extensively and all are represented as accurately as possible. Where Flashman's account differs from the official version, we are given notes by GMF explaining what those differences are. These are few and unobtrusive. There are some laugh out loud moments within the book, but as I say, much of the humour is wry and ironic. Non more ironic than Flashman himself. The hero, who is no hero at all. An anti-hero. Between these pages he is cruel, cowardly, treacherous, despicable and an incessant philanderer to boot . All in all, he is rotten to the core, yet relates his appalling actions with aplomb, and a disarming honesty. Do we empathise with him? Not exactly! It's more that we warm to his style, as he relates his tale of a charmed life and we follow his adventures with morbid fascination, wondering all the while if he can stoop any lower. He usually doesn't disappoint. Even in this first instalment, he casts up with some famous and infamous characters from the Victorian age, meeting as he does, the
            aforementioned Lord Cardigan, Dr Arnold of Rugby School (at the risk of showing my ignorance, this one meant nothing to me), Elphy Bey (General Elphinstone) and even Wellington himself, not to mention his being presented to Queen Victoria. Flashman carries it off with all the finesse of the true cad, modestly accepting accolades to which he has no right. Throughout it all, Flashman's thoughts and cares are for one and one only. That one being Flashman. He is completely selfish and utterly callous. So why then, is this book so popular? If I knew for certain the answer to that one, I would not be here writing for pennies. I'd be recreating my own Flashman with a devotion to self-promotion which Flashy himself would admire. The answer I think though, lies in the beautiful descriptions created by George Macdonald Fraser. Whether it be a landscape, a person or an experience, GMF does not merely tell us what they were like. He paints for us a picture out of words, so that we can actually envision it all in our mind. 'Ah', I hear you cry, 'so he rambles on does he?' Not at all. By careful and judicious use of just the right words, he gives us this portrait of Victorian life with a pace and style, which is never long-winded or superior, but instead draws us in and puts us at our ease. That, I think, is the secret of the book's success. It's very accessibility. That and the humour of course. As with my reviews on Pratchett books, I'm not going to quote any of the funny lines because I think it spoils their impact when you come to read them. But I have to say, however much you may disapprove of Flashman's morals, there are times when you cannot but laugh at his outrageous and sarcastic train of thought. He may be a coward, but he's certainly not a stupid one. Be warned though, that reading Flashman is not for the faint-hearted. If you are at all easily offended, then this is not the book for you. Much better to s
            tick with the other Harry. The one of Potter fame, who is far less outrageous than our Flashy. Where can you find him? Running away from trouble usually, but that aside, Amazon stock the most recent edition of The Flashman Papers for £6.39 (list price £7.99), or their Marketplace has used copies from £2.45 and new copies from £5.00, p+p extra. However, the best place to get him, in my opinion, is Ebay, where you can pick up a copy for a few pounds. Don't be tempted to bid on a first edition (hardback) though, unless you're prepared to dig deep into your pockets. Two copies recently made £133 and £68 respectively. As you can tell, he's VERY popular. Which is just how Flashy would have wanted it. Thankyou for reading! Update! I've abandoned the original title of HARRY ROTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE EMPIRE because too many people thought it was about Harry Potter! Serves me right for trying to be clever! lol! :o)

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              11.08.2003 23:51
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              Having read much in praise of Martina Cole's work, I felt it was time I sampled some of it. Yet, despite reading nothing but praise, I also felt reservations enough to err on the side of caution, so I duly paid a visit to the library and borrowed a copy of Broken! Now, for someone with my passion for books, the library can be a source of both delight and annoyance. Delight when I find a gem, then annoyance when I have to hand it back after the allotted time-span. However, there are occasions when I feel I want to see and read a book before parting with too much money. I decided this was one of those occasions. So! What's it all about? Well, we open with a young child left on the roof of a building which is about to be demolished. Only the sharp vision and even sharper thinking of a passing jogger save his life. His drug addicted mother lives a seedy life in an even seedier council flat, with the boy and two daughters and whatever passing boyfriend she happens to be caught up with at the time. Despite eye witnesses putting her at the scene, she denies trying to kill her son. In fact, according to her social worker, whatever her faults, she really loves her children. DI Kate Burrows is brought in to investigate. Kate lives with a man called Pat Kelly, once a Mr Big in the criminal underworld who has turned over a new leaf for his love of Kate and now has nothing to do with anything dodgy. Well, almost nothing. He did rather neglect to mention to her that he still has shares in a lap-dancing club in Soho. Which is a shame really, because one of his associates has just been found dead there. When Kate finds out, he's going to be deep in something smelly. And I don't mean the local Lush shop. Kate has other problems at the moment though. another child has narrowly escaped a gruesome death after being thrown into the back of a dust-cart by someone who fits the description of his mother. She, it seems, is a somewhat specialised pr
              ostitute. She also vehemently denies trying to kill her son. Two sons in fact. And the other one is still missing. Kate and her team need answers and they need them now, if they're going to save the boy. That's if they're not already too late. Then a local down and out finds a child's body on the rubbish tip. It looks like the other boy's fate is sealed. Until forensics discover that not only has this child been dead for a week or more, but he is of the wrong ethnic origin. Who can he be? Is there a possibility that the other boy could still be alive? What will Kate do when she finds out what Pat has been up to? And who has just blown up Pat's yard for that matter? It looks like they're both in for testing times, doesn't it? Without wishing to give too much away, I can say that this story focuses firmly on the underbelly of life, in all it's ghastly forms. Pimps, prostitutes, villains and child-abusers abound, while between them, the police and social services try to pick up the pieces of what's left behind. We are given the story in bite-sized portions, as it skips from one incident to the next in a way which is designed to whet your appetite for more and keep you reading. The subject matter itself is designed to shock and appal, yet at the same time keep us morbidly fascinated in the story as we wait to see if Kate can crack the case and bring the baddies to justice. Again, I remind you that I've read nothing but praise for Martina Cole's work. It would be a dull world however, if we all liked the same things. You just know what's coming next don't you? In fact, knowing what's coming next is one of my gripes with the book. I found it all too predictable. Having basically worked out whodunnit halfway through the book, I really only continued to read in order to prove to myself that it really was as predictable as I thought it was. And it was! That, I could for
              give perhaps, if it wasn't for the stilted writing style. About halfway through, it seemed to me Martina Cole discovered a word she liked because it was unusual. Having once found it, she didn't seem to want to let go of it and treated us to its use another three or four times. To me, it basically screamed out of the page. Writing should not do this unless there is point to be made by it. In this case there wasn't. Elsewhere the writing style is somewhat bland and reminds one more of a running commentary than prose. We are given many pointless and meaningless details while certain areas of the plot are skimmed over. Red herrings pop up aplenty, but once their purpose is served they are discarded with the merest mention. Some aspects are left almost unfinished, as though the publishers deadline was fast approaching and was occupying her thoughts more than the story itself. Many of the characterisations seemed rather two dimensional, though given the vast array of characters, this might not be surprising. The main characters however, should be plausible. So we have a leading DI and a criminal underworld boss who get it together. Not, on the face of it, the most likely scenario. I have read of more unlikely pairings though, so gaining our absolute belief shouldn't be altogether impossible. Sadly though, this just didn't do it for me. Kate begins the story as the incorruptible detective who feels pity and even sympathy for the victims and in some cases, the perpetrators. As the story progresses however, she seems to have no qualms about breaking some laws herself, whilst still taking the moral high ground regarding others. Pat Kelly on the other hand, is the villain of villains, who has turned his back on the shady side of the street for the love of a good woman. Except of course, when it suits him to be the hard man again. But underneath it all, he's a good guy really. Sort of the male equivalent of the tar
              t with the heart. And still a 'bad boy' as well. Hmmm. I suppose it could have worked. But it didn't! At least not for me at any rate. I just didn't feel any kind of empathy with either of these two characters. I honestly couldn't see them as real people. So if I didn't like the writing, the plot or the characters, is there anything positive I can say about the book? Well, I suppose its popularity should hopefully raise awareness of the subject matter. That in itself can't be a bad thing. Although I suspect the topics of abuse and child prostitution are there to sell more copies rather than to do any real good in the world. Still, it's an ill wind, as they say, though I think there are probably more reliable sources for such information. At this point I would normally tell you where it is available and what the price is. Well in this case I'm not going to, because I can't condone you going out and wasting your money like this. If you feel you must read it for yourself, then borrow a copy from the library. That way you can feel, like I did, relieved when you can take it back. May it never darken my doorstep again. To sum up, for those who skimmed, I thought this was worthless, badly written, sensationalist crap. My apologies to all those who loved it, but I feel cheated out of the hours I spent reading it and writing this op was every bit as much of a grind as reading the damned book. It's been a labour, but not one of love.

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                08.07.2003 06:27
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                The year is 2050. It's fifty years on from the Nuclear Holocaust Event (NHE), as the media dubbed it and life on Earth has changed far beyond our recognition. Everyone lives in bunkers and watches TV to gain credits for food and medico items. Food might be pushing the term a bit though, because it's synthetically manufactured (sounds like ready-meals to me, but there you go). Rex Mundi is just starting a new job, thanks to his sister, Gloria, working for Dalai Dan, 153rd reincarnation of the Dalai lama. Dalai Dan is one of the big three nowadays. That is to say, there are no governments as such and most of what's left of civilisation is controlled by three remaining religions. The Buddhists (Dalai Dan), The Jesuits (Pope Joan) and The Fundamentalists (L. Ron Hubbard). Each have their own bunker, food manufacturing capabilities and TV station controlling what the people (followers) see and therefore what they think. But that's not all. There's also the Phnaargs of Phnaargos to consider! A whole planet of TV addicts, who, whilst on the lookout for interesting wildlife documentaries no doubt, came across planet Earth and mankind in his infancy! They've been watching 'The Earthers' ever since. And more than watching on the odd occasion, when things were a little dull and the ratings needed a bit of a lift. As the ratings once more take a dip, some bright spark executive decides a bit of historical manipulation is called for. If Elvis had dodged the draft and never joined the army, their projected calculations foresee a whole new future for Earth. Bring on the time travelling sprout. Of course, if all that went to plan, it would be a much shorter book, wouldn't it? Back to Rex Mundi. With his delusions of a place in Dan's ratings topping game show, Nemesis, well and truly shattered, he heads off to The Tomorrowman Inn. In his capacity as religious affairs correspondent, he is charged
                with gathering information (one might say intelligence, if this were a military undertaking rather than a religious one), on subversive religious elements, so that The Great One, (Dalai Dan) might 'remember' them in his prayers. This is not a lucky job. This is a 'you?ll be dead by the end of the day' kind of job. Rex' grip on life however, proves surprisingly tenacious. As does that of Rambo Bloodaxe and Deathblade Eric, followers of the cannibal cult, the Devianti. After a brief sojourn at the said Tomorrowman Inn, Rex crashes his car (airborne craft! What else....) and as far as Rambo and Eric are concerned, luncheon is served. Unsurprisingly, Rex is less keen on the idea. And who is the mysterious woman who occasionally haunts Rex' dreams and often seems to guide his footsteps safely through the minefield (sometimes literally) that is modern life on Earth. If any of that made sense, then I'm probably telling it wrong. It's certainly an abridged version of the plot, which would in all likelihood take two novels to explain fully. Having been told that I'd probably like Robert Rankin's work because I liked Terry Pratchett's, I came to this novel with certain preconceptions about the humour. I also had certain reservations, wondering if it really could live up to the standard set by Mr Pratchett. I'm pleased to say it did. Although to begin with I had to make a fair amount of mental readjustment in order to get into the Rankin mindset, once done, I found this a wonderfully funny book which pulled no religious punches. Not that it sets out to be an anti-religious satire as such. It's more that he doesn't let anything get in the way of a good joke. While Terry Pratchett's humour is often accompanied by a deeper, more profound underlying theme, this novel plays it straight down the observational humour line. And such humour. Nothing is sacred. The jokes come thi
                ck and fast and I'm more than sure I actually missed some here and there by reading this late at night when I was not at my most perceptive. The delivery is often deadpan, if that's possible in a novel. We're frequently given author to reader insights in an almost conversational way. In many ways it's like reading a quiz on how much you know about the twentieth century. 331 pages of spot the parody. Fortunately this doesn't prove distracting from the plot, which is just as well because the plot is so complex you just might need to take notes as you're going along. Actually that's a little misleading. I don't want you to think the plot is so complicated and high-brow, that I end up putting you off reading it, because that would be a real shame. It is quite a complex plot though, but enjoyably so. The language used could also be described as complex and high-brow in many examples. So should you hunt out the dictionary before you start? Not a bit of it! Whilst giving full vent to a vast array of vocabulary, Robert Rankin uses it all well within context and if the odd word here or there is entirely new to you, you'll get the gist of its meaning from the surrounding text. I like this trait in my reading matter for two reasons. Firstly, I'm a bit on the thick side and need all the help I can get, and secondly, I'm bone idle and would rather remain in ignorance than actually go and search out the dictionary, which even as we speak probably lies mouldering at the back of a cupboard somewhere. In my universe, this is how it should be. Any author worth his salt will do the hard bits for you, leaving you to enjoy his work in all its glory, totally uninterrupted. And totally uninterrupted is how best to read this book. Lock the door, take the phone off the hook and sit back with a bottle of wine (or vodka if you prefer), at your elbow and your feet up. Let the laughing commence! Availabl
                e in the world at large (well the UK at any rate), for £5.99 or from the ever dependable Amazon for £4.79 at this link. http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0552136816/qid=1057586601/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1 _2_1/026-5890724-4870048 The above is for the paperback version, though in the unlikely event that you wish to purchase the hardback version, it is also still available. So who is it likely to appeal to. Well, Pratchett fans for a start, obviously. I'd also hazard a guess that Red Dwarf lovers would have more than a passing chuckle at this. For Elvis worshippers there is the good news that, if 'The King' is not treated entirely reverently, he is at least one of the good guys. Basically, any Sci Fi fan or otherwise, with a warped sense of humour and a sharp sense of the ridiculous is likely to find something stimulate their giggle glands. I'll end with a word or ten about the end. No, I'm not going to tell you what it is. Suffice to say the plot gets stitched neatly up for the ending. Well, when I say neatly, I do of course mean with the dogstooth stitches of the nursery needlework class in its first week. The reason for this is quite apparent when you realise there are two sequels. The ending of this one is such though, that you won't have to read them if you don't want to. Personally, I can't wait to. Happy reading!

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                  04.07.2003 17:36
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                  Following the success of The Amazing Maurice, in which Terry Pratchett for the first time, combined his two greatest assets; that is, his incredible Discworld phenomena and his ability to write for children without being patronising, he now brings us a second helping of 'younger reader Discworld'. Another 'Story of Discworld', The Wee Free Men is once more, a completely stand-alone book. Something is amiss on the Aching farm! There's a monster with eyes the size of soup plates in the river and a headless horseman in the driveway. Even worse, there's a group of travelling teachers in town. Slavvering, ruthless, blood-thirsty, putrid mutants who....Ok, so I made that bit up for my own amusement! The travelling teachers are in town though. And nine year old Tiffany Aching does need help. Or at least, more information, which often amounts to the same thing. And what's with the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Miss Perspicacia Tick is a wandering witch. Today she is a wandering witch masquerading as a travelling teacher. She's there to help, or at least inform. Except that she's on chalk (not teacher's chalk either, before you ask), and everyone knows witches need good solid rock to function, or at least, good solid soil. You can't grow a witch on chalk. It's too soft. And yet, for all that, her elbows tell her there's a witch around here. Which is just as well really, because another world is brushing against this one and causing ripples in reality. And what about the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Everything points to Tiffany being the witch. She has 'first sight and second thoughts'. And she's good with cheese (says it all really). But she's spent all of her life on chalk and everyone knows you can't grow a witch on chalk. Shame no-one bothered to tell the chalk really. Still, it's not a good place to be a witch. Not s
                  ince the baron banned them after his son disappeared. Look at what happened to old Mrs Snapperly, just because people said she was a witch. Miss Tick (yes, think about it. I can wait...... mystic, for those who haven't cottoned on yet!), decides more expert help is required. Leaving Tiffany with her (Miss Tick's) talking toad to keep an eye on her (Tiffany) and instructions not to do anything, she goes to find it. But what about the sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair? Tiffany has other help at hand as well. Sheep-stealing little blue men with red hair (finally!....). The Nac Mac Feegle. The Wee Free Men. Six inches tall, but with a strength that far outweighs their size and a penchant for Special Sheep Liniment, stealing and fighting. They have enough attitude to turn a charging elephant, though the chances are they'd end up stealing it instead. Armed with their swords, their refusal to be beaten and their gonnagle (battle poet) playing the mousepipes, they are now Tiffany's staunch allies. And Tiffany is going to need all the help she can get, because her little brother has disappeared and she is the only one looking in the right place for him. He's in the land of dreams. Not the nice ones where everything happens how you want it to either. These are the kind of dreams where you wake in a sweat and clutch the sides of the bed, just to make sure they're really real. Carried off by the Queen of the fairies, it's now up to Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle to get him back. Now more than ever, she wishes Granny Aching were still here. She would have known what to do. But Granny Aching died two years ago and now it's too late to say all the things she wished she'd said. And it's too late to ask her what to do. She must rely on her own innate good sense, the advice of a talking toad, the often timely assistance of a group of battle crazy pictsies, a frying pan and a copy of diseases of the sheep. I
                  t's not going to be easy. So, do I think it's any good? Need you ask? Another round of hilarity in good old Discworld style, this takes us to the country of the sheep farmers. The Wold, as Granny Aching used to call it, or The Chalk as it is now known. Terry gives us a wry look at shepherding that keeps within the bounds of understanding for people who normally only come into contact with sheep at the dinner table. Granny Aching certainly had the outlook of a shepherd. Of most shepherds in fact. The only thing which I found to be off the mark, were the names of her sheepdogs. The reason for this becomes apparent later in the book, so I won't spoil it by telling you about them, but suffice to say, normally sheepdogs are all called Sweep and Cap and Tess and Fly etc. Two syllables are not unknown, but single syllable names are preferred. It makes the name quicker to shout and stops it getting in the way of the swearing. Maybe they do things differently on Discworld. Then there's the Nac Mac Feegle. We met one of the other clans in Carpe Jugulum, but that won't cloud your understanding either way. Here we have a somewhat deeper introduction to these characters, as they are one of the main focuses of the story. For a start, they are pictsies and not pixies, hence the blue skin (woad?), the red hair and the decidedly Scottish accents. Their lifestyle includes drinking, stealing and fighting. Actually that's their lifestyle in a nutshell. It's hard to say they are entirely a force for good. It's more that they are a force. They are indomitable, thoroughly irrepressible and quite often unintelligible. Fortunately for Tiffany and us, the toad is there to translate. I desperately want to tell you a couple of the funnier names, but since it would spoil their effect in the book, I'm not going to. I will however warn you that at least one of them is groanworthy. Just how I like 'em. Should you have any difficu
                  lty with their mode of speech, I suggest watching several hours of Billy Conolly. This should help enormously. Or if you can get your hands on them, try 'The Broons' and 'Oor Wullie' annuals! There's plenty on Ebay! You'll soon be fluent in Nac Mac Feegle and any holidays in Scotland will look a whole lot different as well! Tiffany has had some major changes in her life over the last two years. Starting with the death of her Granny, and including the birth of a new brother after she'd spent so many years of her life being the youngest, Tiffany is still coming to terms with some of these events. Jaqueline Wilson is well known for writing about these kinds of themes in a helpful way for children. Terry Pratchett is not, but probably should be. How a child deals with these upheavals is very much down to the individual. And yet, one of the most important things surely, is the knowledge that they are not alone. Not the first or only person in the world to feel as they do. Here Terry shows us, not only Tiffany?s adventures with monsters and mayhem, but also how she deals with some very human trials and tribulations. We also get to see them from point of view of a nine year old, which is a reminder to us all that children don't necessarily see things as we do. And then again, sometimes they see things all too clearly. The gentle humour is abundant and once again has the unique Pratchett stamp on it. On a second reading, it's always worth playing spot the reference. I rather like the one where Tiffany is good with cheese. Witches are supposed to ruin cheese you see (hence the ironic comment in brackets above), or at least something like that. It's a long time since I read about it and my usual method for spotting witches doesn't involve cheese or a witch-pricker or even black cats. Two minutes in the same queue is generally more than enough. Possibly it's funnier if you're already familiar with the thing
                  about cheese, but there's always such a wide range of references, I defy anybody not to get some! Not unless they are completely uninterested in anything in the outside world that is! Of some importance is the inclusion of the word susurrus, which is nicely explained without spoiling the flow of the narrative. I've come to suspect Terry Pratchett of covertly educating, not only children in his work, but sometimes adults as well. Whilst I cannot excuse this kind of behaviour in a humorous writer, it has to be said it's very low key and so I suppose we must let him off the hook this time. Seriously, Terry Pratchett is a master of language and anyone reading his work might inadvertently find the range of their vocabulary increasing without the need for any effort whatsoever. There is a wonderfully amusing, critical look at some of the weaker elements of believability in fairy tales (finally someone states the obvious flaw in Little Red Riding Hood). There is excitement and tension and a hint of the frightening, but done in such a way as to ensure children will not need months of counselling after reading it (don't you just hate it when that happens ;-)). The pace occasionally slows in some of the middle parts for necessary explanation, but never for long enough to be dull, even to the kids. I'm tempted to knock a star off for trying to sneak extra education into us, but frankly the story is just so entertaining, I couldn't possibly do it. This being apparently a book for children (since when did that stop the rest of us reading them), Terry has once again, opted for chapters, the beginning of which are accompanied by a small black and white illustration. Though it doesn't qualify as a picture book, these may help younger readers who are new to Discworld, form a better impression of the characters and landscape of the story. I can't finish without mentioning the cover illustration, which is done by Pa
                  ul Kidby. Without going into too much unnecessary detail, it depicts The Wee Free Men. I noted with some amusement, that one of them looks suspiciously like Billy Conolly. "An whit aboot Mel Gibson in Braveheart?" No chance! But then he's not really Scottish, is he? The Wee Free Men, which is only available in hardback at the moment, can be purchased from good book shops for the wee sum of £12.99, although there some good 'money off' offers around at the moment. Also, the ever reliable Amazon have it for £6.49 at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385605331/qid=1057308174/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1 _2_1/026-5890724-4870048 Suitable for children aged 9 years to 99 years and beyond. For the seasoned Discworld addict, there are a couple of familiar faces making a cameo appearance near the end, which cannot fail to raise a smile. And that's all I'm prepared to say about them. Thankyou for reading this, but more importantly, go and read The Wee Free Men.

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                    15.06.2003 08:48
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                    This is a rather unusual offering from Terry Pratchett, in that it's set on Discworld, but is said not to be one of the Discworld novels because it is instead 'A Story Of Discworld' for younger readers. Not that that put me off reading it of course, but then I've always found Terry's children's books every bit as entertaining and clever as his 'grown-up' ones. In this, I know I'm not alone, though interestingly enough, there is also a lot of crossover traffic from (technically) younger readers to the Discworld novels, so I suppose it all works out in the end. THE PLOT. Maurice, the rats and the stupid looking kid (Keith) have devised the perfect scam. That is to say, Maurice has devised the perfect scam which just happens to involve the others. Maurice is the streetwise cat who, for no good reason that anyone can think of, has undergone a remarkable change. The same remarkable change as the rats. They've all got intelligence now. They can think and talk and have developed self awareness. The rats probably picked it up eating from the rubbish heap next to Unseen University. Well, wizard's rubbish isn't exactly the same as everyone else's, is it. But Maurice certainly doesn't eat rubbish. It's a real poser alright! Nevertheless, Maurice has got intelligence as well, and he's going to put his to good use, in his opinion at any rate. This involves the rats, the stupid looking kid and a lot of money changing hands, or rather, changing from hands to claws if everything goes as Maurice plans. And so they travel through various towns and cities. The rats go into a town first and make their presence felt by widdling in the flour and leaving creamy footprints to bear witness to their passing (passing water in the case of the flour). Then, when the town is suitably hysterical, by a stroke of immense good fortune there appears a piper in the town. Everyone knows about rats and pipers. If you&#
                    39;ve got rats, you need a piper to play them out of town and preferably into the nearest river, thus solving the problem. The fact that rats can swim has never held any bearing on this story (well you don't want to go spoiling a good story with obvious facts after all). And so, with the rat plague thus dealt with, the happy townsfolk gladly pay the piper's fee, leaving him, his ever present cat and a plague (small group) of rats to quietly move on to another town or city and another plague (small group who get around a lot) of rats. Sooner or later though, someone had to cotton on. And so the merry band are looking for a town in an out of the way place, where people haven't yet heard rumours of convenient rat plagues which are linked to a piper and his cat, in which to pull their scam one last time before retiring. Uberwald (that's pronounced Oooberwald) is out of the way. It's so far out of the way, it risks being in the way from the other side, and so the group comes to the town of Bad Blintz (suitably Germanic. Think Hamlin of Pied Piper fame here). And that's where it all starts to take a more sinister turn. First there's Malicia Grim. Not that she's sinister of course, but there is something scary about her and it's not just the fact that she sees everything as a story. For seasoned Discworld fans, this girl is one of those Granny Weatherwax types in the making. She's convinced she's never wrong and she wouldn't admit it if she was. Not that she ever is, you understand. At least not in her eyes at any rate. And she is unbelievably single minded. She's an organiser of other peoples lives whether said person wants their life organised or not. It's not her fault they're too dumb to see that her way is better. Are you starting to get the picture. On entering the town, Keith and Maurice find things are not what they expect. Rich, ornamental buildings are contrasted wit
                    h lean, hungry looking people who are subject to severe food rations. Bad Blintz is apparently already suffering from a plague of rats. Of course the new faces in town stir up interest, but frankly, people are taking just a little too much interest in Maurice. Yes he can talk, but they've always kept this fact well hidden from the populace at large (highwaymen not withstanding). Not that it takes Malicia long to trick Maurice into talking. Here, his brain has come up against its equal, or possibly even its superior, in deviousness at any rate. Meanwhile, under the town, in the tunnels and sewers which inevitably exist, the rats are also finding Bad Blintz is not quite as it should be. For one thing, there are a disproportionately large amount of traps and poison. The rats have devised ways of disarming the traps and they even have antidote for some of the poisons, though not all. But where are all the other rats. They eventually find one in a trap designed not for killing rats, but simply for catching them alive. This rat is terrified, not of the new rats, or of the traps and poisons, but something much darker and more malevolent. This is all very disconcerting and the fear and tension among the rats begins to build. Let's look at the rats for a moment or two. Hamnpork is the chief and he's beginning to feel his age. He and some of the older ones have found the change much more difficult to cope with. They don't want to embrace the new ideas of Dangerous Beans. They just want to be rats, but can't any longer because now they've got intelligence. Dangerous Beans does all the rats philosophical thinking for them. He's white and almost completely blind and yet can out-think the rest of the group. He's even starting to come up with rat laws. Peaches is his aide de camp if you will. She can do a mean bit of thinking herself. She doesn't trust Maurice and has already had to point out to him that although letting them
                    keep the gold pieces while he kept the silver ones was fair, he had in fact got a bit mixed up, and the silver pieces were the moon coloured ones, not the sun coloured ones, as he'd claimed. Darktan is in charge of trap disposal and has found a way of using tools to help him. Sardines is a major part of the team who frighten the townspeople because of his own peculiar talents, which are wearing a straw hat and tap-dancing (don't ask). Oh, and they all got their names from various signs and labels around the rubbish heap. And then there's the rat-catchers. A decidedly dastardly pair. If you cut them in half, they'd have villain written through them like a stick of rock. Why are they carrying rats tails which have aglets on them (for those of you who, like me, always thought aglet was probably some kind of medieval woodworking tool, an aglet is the metal bit on the end of a bootlace). What are they up to and more importantly, who thought of it for them, because these two are definitely from the stagnant end of the gene pool and there's no way they do their own thinking. But most of all, what is the evil that lurks in the cellars. They can all sense it. But can they beat it to give us the happy ending all stories are meant to have. So, should you buy it or not? There is a decidedly darker side creeping into Terry Pratchett's later books. Most obvious in the recent Nightwatch, it is nevertheless hinted at even in this story. We get the sense that we are no longer guaranteed a happy ending. We might get one, and then again we might not. Death is no longer just the amusing anthropomorphic personification of the earlier novels, but now a shadow on the edge of consciousness which we all begin to feel as the years roll by. There's an edge to these later works, which wasn't there in the earlier stuff, even in the most life threatening of situations. So now you're wondering whether it's suita
                    ble for kids after all. Very much so. Kids think they are immortal, or at least if they're not, it's a very long time until they get old (25), and hundreds of years after that before they need to worry about dying. They're not the ones who'll be traumatised. That much I guarantee. Terry Pratchett's gentle humour is again, much in evidence although, I fear many of today's children will actually miss the allusions to the Pied Piper of Hamlin. So much for modern education. The streetwise Maurice is such an appealing character. He's a hustler, the archetypal likeable rogue. For a cat, he has some very human qualities, not least of which is his ability to look at a situation and wonder what's in it for him. "No!" I hear you cry, "We don't want our children emulating someone like that!" or words to that effect. Be at your ease good people. Like The Pied Piper, this is a story with a moral, which will not be lost on younger readers. Maurice may not be perfect, but when he comes up against real evil, he knows which side of the bread his fence is buttered, believe me. Terry won the Carnegie Medal for children's literature for this book. And mighty well deserved it was too. This is more than just a scaled down version of an adult's book. Descriptions are kept to a minimum length with a maximum amount of information contained. Of course this is one of Terry's strengths in any of his writing. The ability to create, with words, a picture in our minds of the story. We see it for ourselves rather than following a second-hand narrative. The words used are generally understandable to all. They are not over simplified, but at the same time they are not from the Will Self school of advanced dictionary management. Any that are more complicated are usually immediately understandable from the context they are set in. The whole thing is structured within chapters (an unusual feature
                    for Terry), and nicely paced. At the beginning of each chapter we are given a small passage from Mr Bunnsy Has An Adventure, which clearly leans towards Beatrix Potter's stories. To the rats, this is a kind of bible. It has inspired them in their search for an island (did I mention they wanted money for a boat to take them to an island where they could live happily ever after. Dear me. Forget my own head next). So if it's for kids, will the adults want to read it? I should say so! For one thing, I refuse to submit to having a deprived childhood, just because fate has decreed certain time anomalies in it mean it happens 20 or more years late. For another, this book will be just as much fun for adults as it will for kids. If you like Terry's humour that is. If you don't then clearly this is a non starter. Other than that, I'd say it has a wide appeal and thoroughly deserves a place in the book collection of anyone aged between 9 and 90. Available from good old Amazon priced £10.39 (List price £12.99) for the hardback - http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0385601239/qid=1055600209/sr=2-2/ref=sr_2 _3_2/202-1223768-1951006 or £4.79 (List price £5.99) for the paperback - http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0552546933/qid=1055600209/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2 _3_1/202-1223768-1951006 . If you'd also like The Amazing Maurice wallpaper on your computer, try this link: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/childrens/9_11booksofthemonth/9_11booksofthemonth.htm # Thankyou for reading.

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                    • Vanilla Coke / Soft Drink / 1 Reading / 44 Ratings
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                      09.06.2003 20:06
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                      Coke must be the single most widely recognised product anywhere. Sold all over the world, I doubt even McDonalds is quite as widespread. Whilst this success could be said to be down to the influence of plant extracts which are known to be narcotic, it has to be pointed out, these are no longer present in the drink, although perhaps the memory lingers on. Aggressive marketing techniques might also have played an important part in this long running quest for world domination (of the drinks market that is, although you never can tell). But at the end of the day, you just have to face the reality that people like the taste. Not even fashion could compel so many to drink so much for so long. So changing the taste must be considered something of a risk. The bods at The Coca-cola Company played safe though. They gave us the regular version at the same time as introducing alternative flavours. Cherry Coke, which I've always loved, has been around for some time now. Sweeter (if that's possible) than original flavour, there is a limit to how much of it you can drink. In my case, it's limited to several gallons but let's not even begin to discuss the various merits, or rather dis-merits, of my lifestyle. Next came Coke with lemon, which was so disgusting I'm not even going into detail of what it tasted like. Suffice to say, eeuowrrgghh! So now they bring us Vanilla!!! And I'd be the first to admit the sceptic in me thought, 'Yeah, right! More marketing cr*p!' Imagine then, my surprise when I actually tasted it (yeah, I tried it. So I'm a sucker for marketing). In a world, where Coke flavoured ice-cream would be a gross error of judgement (though everyone else seems to have had a go at one), this is the nearest you're going to get. It's heavenly! On opening the bottle, you're assailed by the wonderful smell of vanilla. Less like ice-cream and more like actually opening one
                      of those well known spice jars with a real vanilla pod inside. REAL vanilla! Beautiful, but wait! I'm not finished yet. Next comes the taste. That first taste to burst onto your tongue, is again the vanilla, very sweet (even sweeter than Cherry Coke), followed by the taste of coke, as you would expect. After the Coke disappears you're left with the aftertaste, which is a mixture of the two, although the vanilla is the more pronounced of the two. I should point out at this stage, that any of the flavours discussed in this op are the regular, full-fat, bucketloads-of-sugar varieties. There is no marketing ploy in this world, strong enough to persuade me to buy the diet version of anything, despite my normal attraction to the potentially harmful chemicals contained therein. And surely Coke is bad enough on it's own to satisfy even my need for an unhealthy lifestyle. For instance, here's something I picked up off the 'net. "The active ingredient in Coke is phosphoric acid. Its pH is 2.8. It will dissolve a nail in about four days. Phosphoric acid also leaches calcium from bones and is a major contributor to the rising increase in osteoporosis". Hmmm! Nice! It still doesn't stop me drinking it though. Anyway, back to Vanilla Coke. The colour of the drink is the same as the regular variety, it fizzes just the same and the list of ingredients is identical, although the vanilla part is hidden, along with any other incriminating evidence, under 'flavourings', so there's no real joy there. Apart from the taste (obviously) the only real difference comes in the packaging. The usual red and white Coke bottle theme has a creamy yellow tone where most of the white would normally appear (except on the Coca-cola name). The caps on the bottles are of the same creamy yellow colour and of course there's the big give-away of putting the words 'vanilla' on the front right under the Coca-cola bit.
                      So there you have it. A nice, if rather sweet, soft drink for a hot summer's day. But wait! I haven't finished yet! I have a mildly adventurous side. Not for me a trek across the Sahara or scaling the frozen wastes of the Himalayas. On the other hand, I tend to be something of a Dr Jekyl in the kitchen. Never happier than when I'm taking a perfectly good recipe and butchering it into something inferior by mixing things with others things, which shouldn't normally be mixed (hence the Dr Jekyl bit). Occasionally though, I come across something which is an improvement. Nothing so heady this time mind you, but you might be interested to try Vanilla Coke and vodka! It tastes like a Black Russian without the coffee (hence the title). Yeah, weird I know, but delicious all the same. Also the addition of the vodka takes some of the sickly sweetness from the vanilla. Simply substitute Vanilla Coke for the normal variety, measure for measure. Or maybe you'll end up playing around with the ratios until you find one you prefer. Either way, the world's your cocktail. Get out there and make a splash! Available in cans and also bottles of 500ml and 2 ltr. Tesco's are currently running a special offer on 2 ltr bottles at 3 for £3 (normal price approx £1.25 each). 500 ml bottles cost in the region of 75p upwards and cans are in the region of 60p or thereabouts. More information may be available at www.coca-cola.co.uk. And finally, do not confuse this drink with a certain film. This drink definitely doesn't contain Tom Cruise! Thankyou for reading.

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                      • More +
                        05.06.2003 20:17
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                        With somewhat of a change in format, Terry Pratchett brings us a Discworld Fable, as opposed to the usual novel. So what you might ask, is the difference? Fable:- a) A story, esp. a supernatural one, not based on fact. b)a myth or legendary tale. Novel:- a) A fictitious prose story of book length. That's that cleared up nicely then! So back to the 'fable' in question. The Last Hero opens with a glimpse of the universe from the turtle's eye. And a rather teasing allusion to the story, especially the bit involving a cucumber. Then it's on to Ankh-Morpork, and the delivering of a message by the Pointless Albatross. The message conveys that the end of the world is nigh. The wizards are in full sorting-things-out mode, which basically means a lot of arguing is going on while Ponder Stibbons works out what's actually happening. The Patrician is getting very close to being sarcastic, which is definitely something to be avoided. The cause of all this commotion? It's Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde. Cohen is a hero. He's spent many years in the hero-ing business. So many in fact, that he's now a very old man. But still a hero. The Silver Horde are likewise creaking and wheezing their way in the world, though their way naturally involves fighting, temple robbing and the ravishing of maidens wherever possible. Hamish manages this from his wheelchair. Are you starting to get the picture? Last heard of ruling in the Agatean Empire, Cohen is on the move again. In fact he's on his way up Cori Celesti, the mountain at the hub (centre) of the world to visit the Gods. As the last hero, he intends to return what the first hero stole. And what the first hero stole, was fire. Cohen's idea of returning it involves a barrel of highly explosive material, Agatean Thunder Clay to be exact, which just happens to be strapped on the back of Hamish's wheelchair. Cohen intends to go out
                        with a bang. He also intends to take the Gods with him. This is what will bring about the end of the world if they're not stopped. But Cohen is already on his way up Cori Celesti, and no-one can catch them using magic due to the already high magical field surrounding it. There is only one man who can possibly invent something in the short space of time allowed. That man is Leonard of Quirm. Leonard has no particular interest in life. That is to say, he is interested in everything equally. Fascinated might be a more appropriate term. The Patrician keeps him locked away because he is a dangerous man. He is not blood-thirsty, nor does he lust for power, but he has a habit of designing extremely efficient killing machines which he believes no-one would ever be 'stupid' enough to use. Then there's the question of who to send after them. Cohen and his Horde have not lived this long without being capable of dealing with people who are trying to kill them. So that rules assassins out. The only logical choice has to be Captain Carrot of the watch. He can arrest them, though there is the tricky legal point over the fact that they are actually returning stolen property. Still, he could have them bang to rights over Conspiracy to Cause an Affray. Leonard of course must go, because he's the only one who can work the machine to take them there. That leaves just one more seat. Rincewind the inept wizard wants to make it absolutely clear, he doesn't wish to volunteer. He knows he's going to end up going anyway, because that's the way his life works. Just so long as they all know, he doesn't want to. He has met Cohen though and he is the only one who has seen the terrain at the hub, although his vision of it was somewhat blurred, due to the fact he was running away at the time. Meanwhile, Cohen and his Horde are making steady progress up Cori Celesti, even with the rather unwilling bard in tow. Well,
                        someone has to sing the saga about it afterwards don't they. He is brought to a much more willing state of mind by the bag of rubies Cohen offers him. He's definitely not impressed with a diet of walrus though. Can the Silver Horde wreak their revenge on the Gods for letting them grow old? Can our intrepid Ankh-Morporkians save the day? You'll have to read the rest yourself. Here is where I tell you why you should. Terry Pratchett's humour is once again the main selling point to this book. A host of familiar Discworld characters are embroiled in the story, though many have nothing more than cameo roles. Death, of course, makes his presence felt, usually not for very long, if you see what I mean. After an almost slow start, for a Discworld story that is, the pace fairly bowls along building to an exciting climax. The story itself is much shorter than the novels (160 pages, hardback version), but we are treated to some amazing artwork by Paul Kidby. This is the major difference between this book and Terry's other works. Paul Kidby has hitherto illustrated the Discworld diaries and so has developed a nice feel for the characters involved. Beautiful colour pictures, many of them covering a double page, are interspersed with da Vinci type drawings and notes. Skip these at your peril folks because they are an important and integral part of the book. They give you a good indication of the kind of man Leonard of Quirm, and indeed Leonardo da Vinci was. Of course seeing someone else's vision of a character may be very different to what you'd imagined them to be. This, after all, is where many films adapted from popular books fail. Terry Pratchett's descriptive style helps enormously here, as most of the characters have been painted into our minds so accurately with his words, that there is little room for error. Perhaps the one that gives the most trouble with visualisation is Rincewind. Having
                        seen him on previous book covers by the late Josh Kirby and also on the PC game of Discworld, with his long grey beard, it is harder to equate him with the much younger looking version presented by Paul Kidby. It's unfortunate, but it really could have been much worse and on the whole, you get a very nice pictorial representation of the story and Discworld in general. In fact, the characters are probably the weaker part of the artwork. Some of the Discworld pictures are no less than stunning. My favourite ones occur later in the book and I can't tell you what they are without revealing too much of the story, but suffice to say they are well worth the price of the book. There are the usual allusions to events and people here in this world, with the usual comic slant on everything. The characters are less 'in depth' than we might normally expect. This is obviously due to the shortness of the story. If you've not come across Discworld before, then this could prove to be a weak point. For those familiar with the novels, this is not a problem since we already know most of the characters inside out, and the brief overview of the new ones is enough to convey the story along. At 28.5 x 24 cm (hardback), the book is a much larger format than the average novel. Despite this, it is still a worthy addition to any Discworld collection. Priced at £17.99 for the hardback version and £12.99 for the paperback version, both titles can be purchased at Amazon for £12.59 and £10.39 respectively. Hardback version- http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/057506885X/qid=1054815090/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1 _3_1/026-4615011-4582868 Paperback version- http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0575073772/qid=1054815090/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1 _3_2/026-4615011-4582868 Thankyou for reading.

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                        • More +
                          03.06.2003 21:43
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                          Having extolled the virtues of my chosen conditioner, it's only logical I suppose, to give my shampoo the same treatment. Brazil Nut Rich Shampoo is brought to you by The Body Shop giving you a certain amount of confidence in buying a well established brand. It comes in a plastic bottle which is not only recyclable, but which will get you ten percent off your next purchase of the same product, if you return it washed and in good condition at the time of said purchase. Handy flip-top lids are generally included with 250ml bottles but not with larger bottles. Although a pump action dispenser used to be available separately for a nominal fee, I've never found the need personally. It'll be a sad day when I'm too lazy to unscrew the lid. On opening it, if you're expecting that rich nutty smell you get at Christmas with the nut selection, then you're going to be disappointed. There is a faint hint of Brazil nuts there, but mostly it's a light flowery/soapy kind of smell, which is in no way overpowering. The consistency is really thick, like PVA glue. At this point I should perhaps take time to say to those of you who were only half concentrating as you read, DON'T WASH YOUR HAIR IN PVA GLUE (that's in capitols, Dooyoo bug not withstanding)! Paying attention again are we? Good! Then I'll continue. Although a bit on the pricey side, I find you only need use a little. Typically, I use about as much as a Maltezer, if you can imagine that as a quantity, spread across the palms of my hands. I then work it into my hair. I don't have particularly thick hair, but it is quite long i.e. half way down my back, and this small amount really does wash it all. Don't expect bucketfuls of lather though. This leaves my hair light and glossy, without being flyaway. That's important to me. Having fine hair always means you have a head start on the 'fingers-in-the-light-soc
                          ket' look. Any shampoo that has a calming effect is as welcome as a winning lottery ticket. It is designed for dry, damaged and chemically treated hair. OK, so some of us abuse our hair! What of it! At least we can go some way to saving it from all dropping out by using a gentle shampoo. In my case, this fits the bill. Having somewhat difficult skin, it is easily prone to irritation (as am I some days). This shampoo has never caused me to react in any way, in the many years I've used it. It's itch free all the way. Yippee! The light smell disappears quite quickly, which suits me as I can well do without the competing fragrances of shampoo, deodorant, conditioner and my chosen perfume of the day battling it out for who can be top pong. If I chose to wear Chanel, then that is what I'd like people to smell. Not some vile conflict of toiletries. The green label bears the usual Body Shop logo and is fairly uniform, giving rise to the warning, 'read it carefully'. It's all too easy to come home with Brazil Nut Conditioner instead of shampoo if you're not concentrating on what you buy. I know, because I've done it. Incidentally, the conditioner's OK, but I prefer the banana stuff or Herbal Essences given the choice. They have kindly listed the ingredients on the bottle. They have not so kindly listed them in such a manner as to be unreadable by Joe Public. On the one side we are told it contains brazil nut oil, yet a quick perusal of the list of ingredients shows us nothing vaguely close to the words brazil nut oil. Now, I'm fairly sure they're there. But safely hidden within technical terms or possibly latin. The label also boldly claims, Against Animal Testing! Well that's a very noble sentiment, but what does it really mean. Put it this way. I'm Against Paying The Phone Bill, but I still end up doing it. The Body Shop website tells us they are actively against testing on an
                          imals and that cosmetic products do not, by law, need to be tested on animals. But some ingredients may have been tested in the past. Presumably before people decided it was a bad thing. Moreover they are actively promoting other methods of testing products these days. I must confess, the cynic in me wondered at such noble sentiments from a large company intent on making vast wadges of cash. However, I have found several independent sites which back-up these claims. Non-testing though, doesn't necessarily mean they do not occasionally use animal products in their range. A 250ml bottle costs £3.50 and 500ml costs £6.00, though if you avail yourself of the returned bottle discount as mentioned earlier, this makes £3.15 and £5.40 respectively. Due to the small amount needed, these do last very well and probably in the long run, work out at much the same cost as cheaper bottles. Thankyou for reading!

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                          • tesco.com / Online Shop / 1 Reading / 30 Ratings
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                            23.05.2003 20:26
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                            Tesco's online shopping page is quite extensive now, especially the electrical department. So I give you fair warning, that this op contains experience of shopping in three areas only. Realistically, if I was going to do all the departments, this would turn into a small novel rather than an op, so I shall try to be as concise as possible. First off, you can browse most of the pages without being registered. Not the groceries though. You have to register and sign in to see those. From the home page you can find your way to other shopping delights such as books, DVDs, Videos, electricals, even a music warehouse. They also do flowers, finance, computer games, travel and the all important groceries. Registration is simple and only takes a few minutes. You need to supply the usual details, but this is done over secure pages. Tesco also have various clubs and corporate info which can be accessed online, but I've not bothered with any of those as they probably contain the usual pointless drivel. MY FIRST EXPERIENCE. My first time shopping with tesco online was, unsurprisingly, books. I ordered over thirty pounds worth, which meant that even with the p + p, I still made some great savings. The reason I ordered from the tesco site was because they worked out cheaper than Amazon for my particular choices. This isn't always the case, but it is well worth looking at. Delivery for books costs £2.15 per order plus 60p per item. That's a minimum of £2.75 if you order a single item, but if you order two items you simply add another 60p to the total. The more you order the more cost effective it becomes. If you are confused by anything to do with ordering, tesco have very useful help pages. Sadly I can't remember how long it took the books to arrive, but it can't have been too long or I definitely would have. The condition was OK, but to be honest, I've had better. Nothing was badly amis
                            s , but the books had picked up the odd creased corner, which wasn't enough to complain about but did put me off slightly. Other than that the whole operation went smoothly enough and I wasn't over-charged which is always a bonus. MY SECOND EXPERIENCE. This was with groceries and was more out of curiosity than anything else. The first time you use this method it can take a while to get used to. After that however, they save your order and if you want to simply re-order many it items it is likely to be much faster. Items like fruit and veg can be given an estimated weight guide and they are quite good at getting it within the limits you've set. Many of the items have accompanying pictures and more seem likely in the future. You can browse by the aisles as you would in a normal supermarket or you can enter a search if you're having difficulties locating a certain item. Special offers have a page of their own as well as being highlighted among the normal shopping pages. There is also an area to leave any special comments about your order beside each separate item. This can seem quite reassuring. Maybe you've chosen bananas and you'd particularly like them still quite green. You could leave a comment saying so. But then you remember who's most likely to get the job of filling these orders. Spotty adolescents with hormone levels more unpredictable than British weather and a concentration span that matches that of a goldfish. I didn't bother after all. When you have chosen all you want, and it needn't be in one sitting as it can save your list without ordering right away, you proceed to the checkout in the usual way, where you are given an estimated price for your shopping. The reason for this is because of items which need to weighed to get the exact amount. My estimated price was very close to the actual amount. Builders and mechanics could learn a valuable lesson here. You then c
                            hoose a n available delivery time which suits you. These are given with a two hour leeway, i.e. 12.00 til 2.00, which means it will be delivered within that time period. I have seen neighbours of ours getting deliveries as late as 7.00 at night or even later, so if you?re out at work all day it needn't be a problem. Ours was delivered well within the allotted time. Though everything was included that I ordered, some things had a much shorter use by date than I would have chosen myself. Also some of the packaging, though intact, looked as though it had either come from the bottom of the pile, or had been used to play football with during the employees teabreak. Most of all though, I just missed the excitement of shopping in the supermarket. The cut and thrust of it all. Racing old ladies for the last white loaf. Doing without when they get to it first. Watching parents getting their kids stuck in the trolley. Playing dodge the person you don't like, but have just seen, up and down the aisles. The thrill of getting to the checkout thinking, did I pick my purse up or not? That frenzied rummage through the handbag til you find it. Happy days. You can reject items you're not happy with, but you need to check them all as they are delivered which is something of a race against time. It's not bad, but then again, I still prefer to get my own if possible. It's certainly not so appalling I'd never use them again, but there are still areas where it could be better. MY THIRD EXPERIENCE. This was in electricals. Oh joy! A new household appliance. To whit, one brand new Dyson DC07 Brush Control. Having checked with one of the price comparison sites and found tesco's to be the cheapest, I then did a thorough search of my own, just to be sure. Lo and behold, I could none cheaper that way either. This checked in at just under £190 with delivery free. Today however, delivery seems to be £3.95, but you
                            get 500 club card points with it. I prefer free delivery personally but there you go. I duly ordered it and was given an expected delivery date of ten days. No problem I thought. I hadn't expected it to arrive instantly or I would have gone in search of one myself. Imagine then my surprise and delight, when it arrived the next day. This on the other hand, could have been a problem if I'd have been out at the time. I feel I was fortunate in my case, but it might not work out so easily for others, which is why I'm highlighting this as a possible problem. Everything was present and correct at the time I received it and an invoice was attached to the side of the box. Out of all my ordering experiences with tesco, this has been by far the easiest and best so far. On the whole I'd say tesco was well worth using. There electrical department is definitely worth comparing to others when looking for new items as the prices seem highly competitive, even with the delivery charge. The standards range from acceptable to good or very good and I certainly haven't encountered any major problems so far. Nothing I have received has been terrible, though some bits might have been just that little bit better, hence four stars instead of five. On the whole though, an enjoyable shopping experience. And at least there's no risk of encountering Prunella Scales! Thankyou for reading.

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                            • More +
                              15.05.2003 20:37
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                              Margery Whitaker is born of a puritan family. Yet Margery seems decidedly unpuritan and the death of her mother, (her father having died when she was but an infant,) brings matters to a head. What, her brothers and sisters wonder, is to be done with her before she brings scandal to the family? The answer is to pack her off to a distant cousin who resides in Lancashire. Margery is all too willing to go, feeling herself stifled by the sober and restrictive family around her. Of course, even she has to reflect that she may be trading one unhappy predicament for another, possibly worse. She need not have worried however. In Squire Nowell she finds a like minded ally. Which is fortunate, as the events unfolding will require their combined wits to solve the dark shadow hanging over Pendle Hill. Their first meeting is not so dark though. Roger Nowell is very much of the same temperament as Margery. Had she been of the same mind as the rest of her family, she would doubtless have been returned to them for being too dull. Squire Nowell, whilst in no way being rebellious (he being a local justice), is nevertheless not run-of-the-mill. Margery is soon thrown in at the deep end of a justice's work when she accompanies Roger to the inquiry into witchcraft at the death of a local man. There is however, no proof and without a confession, no hope of a conviction. Richard Baldwin, a local puritan, urges Roger to do his duty and extract a confession by the usual means i.e. torture or the beating of said confession from the suspected witches. Roger however will not be swayed. He does not use such means and without proof, he will not commit the accused to the assizes. And there the matter might have ended. Events though, decreed it was not to be. On her first visit to church, Margery is chilled by the presence of one Alice Nutter of Rough Lee. Though she can find no good reason for it, she feels an instant uneasiness about this woman. Roger it s
                              eems, agrees with her. Alice Nutter, though outwardly pleasant enough, is not likeable. Nicholas Banister, on the other hand, is. Squire of Altham, he is Roger's equal, being a justice of the peace also. Where complicated cases require two justices, Roger and Nick join forces to bring the King's law. King James I, noted witch hater that is. Margery likes Nick. She also likes Grace Baldwin, Richard's daughter. And even Richard himself, strict puritan though he be. Though her dislike of Alice was instant and uneasy, she feels no such dislike of Miles, her son, nor indeed Richard Nutter, husband of Alice. Both are easy going and genial company, as is Anthony Nutter of Goldshaw and Margaret his widowed sister who lives with him as his housekeeper, his own wife being dead also. Anthony and Margaret are siblings of Richard Nutter, though Margery is at first aghast to learn that these two, unlike Protestant brother Richard and his family, are Papists. Roger reminds her she is not in London now and that he told her on her arrival that in Lancashire, they did not harry Papists for the sport of it. Decent men like Anthony Nutter being the reason for this. Indeed, this is whole new world to Margery. Miles though, seems somewhat inconsistent with his attentions and Margery is puzzled by this, even annoyed, though she seems in no way dismayed. This is perhaps lucky, since we would not like to see our heroine with a broken heart at this early juncture. Our Margery is made of sterner stuff thankfully. Though even she is moved by the events of the thirty first of October, known to us all nowadays as Halloween, but then, virtually banned and only recognised by Papists and witches. Roger's keen instincts tell him to expect trouble of some kind or another. When they find it, it is darker and more foul than even he could have foreseen. It seems witchcraft is indeed being practised in Pendle. What part in this terrible act d
                              id the surly stranger play, who gives his name as Thompson, but who Roger rightly guesses to one Christopher Southworth, a priest. My Thoughts! OOOOOHHHH!!! What to tell you of this story, without giving too much away. That has actually been the hardest bit. When I re-read the above, it sounds so cryptic. And yet, to go further and explain my thoughts on the story might so easily spoil the entire plot. Go further I must, but hopefully treading carefully, so as not to spoil the drama. Those of you who know of the story of the Pendle Witches will know the ultimate ending! OK! But that didn't stop people watching Titanic, did it! I for one, did not sit through the film thinking, I wonder if it stays afloat this time? Yes, it's based on a real historical event. Yes, this is how it might have really been. But only 'might'! In trying to track down some more info on Robert Neill, (at which I failed, I might add), I came across a review of this book. It slated it for portraying what probably amounted to a group of harmless old biddies as truly being malevolent witches. Firstly, I take issue with the image of harmless old biddies. This person has clearly never stood in a post office queue on pension day. Secondly, the fact that this comes under the heading of fiction kind of says it all for me. Well duh!!! It's made up. Thirdly, I have to say, no hint of the super natural creeps into this story at any point. And that, is perhaps the most important reason why I like it. There is no pretence of 'magic' here. Only a damned good mystery. I suspect the writer of the disparaging review has read this book with certain preconceptions. Please, do not make the same mistake. This is a spellbinding (yes, pun intended), mystery. Every good detective has an able and eager to learn 'sergeant'. Morse had Lewis. Holmes had Watson. Batman had Robin. In this book, we see the story very much from
                              the sergeant's (Margery's), point of view. There is of course a romance. But this is not the only aspect of this story. In fact it is almost sidelined. So all you men out there who think this is not for you, think again. I'd actually say this may well be more of a male oriented book than perhaps a female. Maybe this is inevitable, as it is written by a man. All you women expecting a nice fluffy romance though, must look elsewhere. This story is written very much with the harshness of the times in mind, and you must expect no concessions to modern day sensibilities. Though Roger might be considered somewhat lenient and liberal for the times, he is by modern standards still quite rough and tough. Mostly though, this book must appeal to those who like anything well written, no matter what the subject matter. The dialogue captures the times wonderfully without the labour of too much deciphering. Maybe I found some of the terms easier, being myself a northern lass, but I doubt it. The author does not use dialect at all, hopefully making his work accessible to all. Mostly, I love the non judgmental tone he sets throughout. I feel he has no particular leanings towards any of the religious groups concerned, merely an extensive knowledge of the period in question, which he puts to good use as background for his dramatic suspense. He could have portrayed the women totally as the victims of the story, but frankly it would more than likely have been a very dull story. I got the distinct impression that the exciting adventure side of the tale was the most important part and in that I'd have to agree somewhat. Even so, he still manages to illicit some sympathy for most of the coven. Their real crime is the bitterness provoked by poverty. Instead he gives us one criminal mastermind who uses the rest of the witch brood for his or her (still trying not to give too much away), own ends. Any more sympathetic than that an
                              d he'd have ruined his own story. Though the witch group is made up almost entirely of females, the balance is nicely restored by Margery, our heroine. Margery is definitely an action girl. This is possibly why her family found her slightly scandalous. She contributes as much to the solving of the mystery as Roger does, and more than the other characters, though their parts are just as necessary and believable. That is perhaps the key, or at least one of the keys, to why this story is so engrossing. The characters are all so thoroughly believable. The only one we are given any detailed background on, is Margery. For the others, we have to learn about them mainly from their discourse throughout the book. This works very well and we soon gain a picture of the nature of these people without really realising it. Each remains true to his or her self and they are all completely plausible. The period detail is enchanting and so far as I can tell, completely accurate. Clothing in particular is described to us with relish and enthusiasm, painting a colourful picture of early seventeenth century England. We are given a delightful insight into a northern Christmas celebration. Food is also laid before us with astonishing detail. All of this, combined with a complex and ingenious plot make this book an irresistible read. If you liked the painful accuracy of The Name Of The Rose, then you'll enjoy this, though it's definitely much easier reading and there's no latin. If you can imagine a Lynda La Plante, set in the early seventeenth century, then again, you'll enjoy this. If you're thankful we no longer have to pay a fine for not attending church, then there's a good chance you'll enjoy this. Yes, folks, it's true. Had you lived in those times, you really could be fined for not attending. A book has to be something special to gain five stars from me, but I give this one the full quota gladly. I'm puzz
                              led at the lack of recognition surrounding this writer. Having also tracked down Moon In Scorpio, which is another riveting mystery, but which is sadly now out of print, it seems to me that authors of this calibre should be cherished alongside other recognised masters of this art. More modern authors of inferior quality are still widely recognised above these classic offerings. Even in writing, it seems life is a lottery. Mist Over Pendle is still in print fortunately and is readily available from Amazon for £4.79, though be warned, the cover is particularly uninspired. It can be found at the following: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0099067803/qid=1054156442/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2 _3_1/026-6495722-7786052 Phew! I seem to have waffled on much more than usual, but I thought it was necessary in this case. Though I love The Name Of The Rose, anyone looking to read it probably already has at least some idea of the kind of book it is. This one however seems totally obscure, and it was my intention to give as full an idea of what it is like as possible. I hope to inspire literature lovers everywhere to discover this marvellous story and gain as much enjoyment from it as I did. I stumbled across it purely by chance, but I urge the rest of you who love great writing, to go out there and actively search it out. After reading it. After the thrill of the mystery had sank into my mind, I found my thoughts turning back to the witches. Mostly they ran along the lines of, talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This to me is the sign of a great book. your thoughts keep drifting back to it. Seeing it from different angles. The ignorance and superstition of the times seem unfathomable. Yet they were normal, everyday accepted beliefs. Enough! Before I bore you all rigid. One last point. After galloping towards a conclusion, the author pulls us up short with a simple ending. This almost seems like an anticlimax after the preceding
                              speed. It caught me off guard in the same way Gone With The Wind did. It is also nearly as annoying. But, as with Gone With The Wind, it is the right ending. Or so it seems to me. If you like your historical fiction accurate and exciting, then this is one you'll love. But most of all, if you like quality writing, you'll love it because when it comes right down to it, that is what this excellent book is all about. Thankyou for reading and apologies for going on so long. The capitals were there when I wrote this! I hope they don't detract too much from the content. Other, out-of-print titles by Robert Neill which can often be tracked down on Amazon include Black William, Moon in Scorpio aka Traitor's Moon, The Devil's Door, Witchfire at Lammas, Witchbane, Hangman's Cliff, Crown and Mitre and Golden Days to name but some. Mist Over Pendle was published in the US under the title 'The Elegant Witch'!

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                              • Bullying in Schools / Discussion / 1 Reading / 36 Ratings
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                                09.05.2003 18:41
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                                When I wrote this, it was with adults in mind, though obviously the term adults in these cases may be somewhat relative. I was surprised however to find that it could be applied to children in schools just as easily. I'm not sure why I should be surprised by this. The little swines are probably just mimicking parental behaviour a lot of the time after all. The same social structures seem to apply. Therefore the same solutions apply. Looking back on my (much shyer) school days, I was as prone to this kind of victimisation as anyone, and not just from other children believe it or not. I once spent a very miserable year with a maths teacher who delighted in picking on me above all others. He left eventually and not a minute too soon as far as I was concerned. The tw*t! As I grew however, so did my confidence and my mouth (literally and figuratively), so now, anyone attempting this kind of intimidation on me is likely to find themselves on the wrong end of a severe ear-bashing. This doesn't always solve the problem but it sure as hell makes me feel better. Children of course, may find this much more difficult if they are shy, or have been taught to be scrupulously polite. It is up to us as parents then, wherever possible, to point out the only cure for a bully is to show them that their behaviour is not socially acceptable. Well...read on and you'll see what I mean. I hope! *********************************** Bullying in these so called civilised times should be considered unacceptable to all. It generally is. The trouble is, can you always spot it. You see there are two kinds of bully. There's the very obvious physical bully, who will use their size and strength to intimidate people. And there is the more subtle psychological bully. The psychological bully is only happy when causing trouble. Sh*t-stirring is their goal in life. He or she will move insidiously through life causing upset wherever possible, pr
                                oviding they can do so with impunity. The psychological bully will only ply his or her trade if he or she can then stand well back when trouble starts and, with arms spread and palms outwards in a gesture of feigned surprise and innocence claim, "Who, me? What did I do?" Thinly veiled insults and acerbic comments are the tools of his or her trade. Inherent nastiness is disguised as dry humour, as are snide comments. The psychological bully can only feel good about him or herself by trying to make others feel bad. It is an attempt to achieve moral superiority in order to bolster the bully's own deep seated feeling of inferiority, which they will never ever admit to, even to themselves. It stems ultimately from insecurity, but that does not in any way excuse or justify such behaviour. The psychological bully will not recognise his or her personal failings. Behaviour which he or she would deem reprehensible in others, will always in his or her case, be accompanied by, (often tenuous) mitigating circumstances. Psychological bullies are more often than not hypocrites of the first degree. So much so, that they will actually accuse and criticise others of this very same trait. The psychological bully, whilst professing to spurn social acceptance, is usually very careful not upset their own delicate social circle. Although they are not above insulting the said social circle, they are careful to retain a veneer of humorous attitude. Psychological bullies must also have their quota of sycophants, always ready to massage the bully's ego. These however are ultimately expendable and the psychological bully will have no qualms whatsoever about turning on them if he or she feels so inclined. They are seen simply as a tool, which can be replaced at whim. Psychological bullies like to believe in their own integrity, and regard their habit of vilifying others as some form of standard setting. It's not! It
                                's bullying under a pretentious deception. Anyone who has the audacity to speak up and question the motives of the psychological bully is immediately setting themselves up as a target. Unchecked, the psychological bully will then pursue their target surreptitiously, spreading their poison wherever possible, while making sure they themselves avoid any of the repercussions. I believe psychological bullying 'is' a personality disorder. It can ruin lives. It should not however be deemed any more acceptable in less extreme forms. How to deal with these parasites? Well my personal method would probably involve a length of 2 by 4. It wouldn't be the law, but it would be 'justice'! Realistically however it's probably much the best course of action to shun these bullies. Learn to recognise their behaviour and withdraw all social condonation of their actions. Always keep in mind that a bully in a group of one cannot survive. Thankyou for reading. WON?T BE AROUND MUCH THIS WEEKEND, BUT I?LL CATCH UP NEXT WEEK AS BEST I CAN! CHEERS EVERYONE!

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                                • Smirnoff Vodka / Spirits / 1 Reading / 34 Ratings
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                                  03.05.2003 08:13
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                                  For those who live life in the fast lane, let me give you the abridged version. It tastes nice, but frankly it's over-priced. For those who want a little more detail, read on. "Vodka is made from barley, corn, rye or potatoes. The best vodka is distilled from rye, and barley malt. It is not aged and has no taste, odour or colour." I read this on some nondescript website. Let's look at that last sentence. Well one out of three isn't bad. No, I take that back. One out of three is bad. In fact, it's largely incorrect. It's two thirds wrong. It's a long way from perfect. It is in fact, b*llocks. The only bit they got right, as far as I can tell, is that vodka has no colour. If on the other hand, you open a bottle of vodka, you will definitely detect a smell. It smells of vodka. Same with the taste. Take a swig, and you will definitely taste vodka. Now, I'm prepared to admit a little difficulty in describing the said smell and taste, other than to say they are vodka like. But the fact is they exist. It's no use saying they don't. Vodka on it's own, has to me, an almost raw taste, with a metallic follow-up. It could almost be whisky-like, if you could think of whisky in its embryonic stage. Little wonder then, that it was originally marketed in America as white whiskey. Barley? Hmm. Possibly an idea of barley. But to be honest, if I hadn't known about the barley, I wouldn't really have picked it. I have no idea what rye tastes or smells like, so by a process of elimination, I should really choose rye! But I'm not going to for the simple reason it's probably not rye and I'll end up looking a complete pill*ck. It's not really a smooth drink in the way whisky is. There is no ageing process for the flavour to mellow out. The fact remains, however, that it does have a taste and a smell, regardless of how indescribable they are. Smirnoff vodka has a v
                                  ery pleasant vodka smell. It could almost be described as sweet. Same with the flavour when it is mixed with cola or lemonade. It is definitely not sweet when taken on its own though. It's very much a dry spirit, unlike my usual favourite liqueurs. Despite that, it is an easy and not unpleasant drink to consume unmixed. It is very much a 'shot' drink under those circumstances. Where someone might savour the taste of whisky or brandy, vodka is definitely to be 'knocked back' in one go. This doesn't mean you have to be a pig over it though. Knocking it back, half a pint at a time is probably a good indication that your IQ is in danger of being lower than the percent rating of the vodka. Slow down with those shots. Give the spirit time to work. Vodka should be a laid back drink. Instead, it all too often suffers from the impetuosity of youth, and is therefore not fully appreciated. It comes in a clear bottle, with the distinctive Smirnoff red label. Though I have noticed a trend in some own brands to move away from the usual black and white label, and hint at copying this as close as they dare. The true Smirnoff bottle has a raised crown motif, which I take to be a kind of international Braille for vodka drinkers. Nice! Even the blind can tell it's Smirnoff. It's alcoholic volume is 37.5 percent. It costs £9.99 for a 70cl bottle or thereabouts, while cheaper versions come in at between £7-8. They do tend to lack in character though. I'm still not sure this justifies the price difference. To my mind, your still paying over the odds, simply for the name. Smirnoff vodka is triple distilled (big fat hairy deal)! Details of this can be found on their website at www.smirnoff.com, which also includes other gems such as the history of Smirnoff. Except that all details are given in such small doses, that were you given the equivalent in vodka, you could consume the whole site and still pass a breathalyser
                                  test, figuratively speaking! I'm afraid I got bored all too quickly and gave up. Whilst cocktail recipes containing vodka are numerous on the internet and elsewhere, I've often wondered why posh chocolate shops etc., never had vodka truffles. Then I tried making them and found the results somewhat disappointing. That's why they never had them then. Still, never one to give up entirely once I've had an idea, I managed to come up with a chocolate sauce instead. 150 gm Co-op Fair Trade dark chocolate (no it doesn't have to be this kind, but it does work best)! 150 ml crème fraiche (5 of those 30ml measures which are the same as two tablespoons. Roughly this amount coz I'm never that exact). 25 gm butter Melt the chocolate and the butter gently together (microwave will do, but on a low setting and remember to keep stirring. You don't want the chocolate to curdle or it will be ruined). Add the crème fraiche, stir thoroughly again and leave to cool. Then add vodka to taste. Slowly mind! Don't overdo it. It's not a runny sauce, but it's too soft to be a spread or a truffle. The crème fraiche complements the vodka perfectly, giving a sharper taste than normal sauces. It's got a very high slurp factor. ***WARNING*** Consuming large amounts can cause delusions. Here are some typical examples. You believe you can dance. You believe you can sing. You believe you are sexy. You believe you are funny. You believe you are interesting. You believe you are intelligent. You believe you invincible. You believe you are invisible. You believe you can walk. You believe you are rich because you've just offered to buy everyone in the room a drink. You believe you won't have a headache tomorrow. You believe you won't be sick in the taxi on the way home. What more can I say! Happy drinking. Oh, and I wasn't kidding.
                                  The cat really is called Smirnoff. I'm not obsessed. She was called that when we got her. Honest! Thankyou for reading.

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