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annaroos1

annaroos1
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Member since: 19.04.2006

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      03.11.2007 13:18
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      An intriguing new installment in the Monkeewrench series

      When I first read P.J. Tracy’s Want to Play a few years ago I decided that I really liked this mother/daughter writing duo. However, the next few books were to be quite disappointing and when Snow Blind was released I wasn’t too bothered about reading it. Still, I was browsing amazon one day and this book came up at a very reasonable price so I decided to give it another go.

      Snow Blind is the fourth book in the series about the Monkeewrench team and the Minneapolis PD team Gino and Magozzi. Unlike the other books, focus is mainly on the two detectives rather than the four odd characters that make up Monkeewrench. It all starts during a snowman building contest in a park in Minneapolis which soon turns into something else as two of the snowmen prove to be made out of much more than just snow. The 2 dead bodies that are found inside the snowmen turn out to be Minneapolis police having died in a horrifying way. Gino and Magozzi struggle to find any reason for the terrible crime committed and things do not become any clearer as they get a call from Iris Rikker, a north Minnesota countryside sheriff who has woken up on her first day on the job only to be called out to a crime scene where a snowman has been built around a dead body. This is only the beginning of a case which seems to involve to many threads for anybody to ever be able to tie them together.

      The storyline keeps moving forward and keeps you guessing all along. Who are the residents of Bitterroot to where all the clues eventually seem to lead? Are there any links between the bodies turning up inside snowmen in 3 different places in the state or are there copycats out there?

      This book will have you guessing right until the very end. In spite of this it didn’t seem as if the idea was forced as it sometimes seems with a complex story like this. In the end everything ties up really nicely but you cannot possibly imagine how it will pan out until the very end.

      The characters are all more or less odd but somehow they still seem very real and very human. I found myself hoping that all would work out for the new sheriff and maybe not work out so well for some of the other characters. Apart from this I also very much enjoyed the storytelling and language. It’s not Nobel Prize material I guess, but for what it is it works. There are a couple of events in the book which are truly terrifying, where the author truly managed to make me feel part of what was happening.


      I was amazed at how much I enjoyed this book, I found it very difficult to put down at night and I couldn’t wait to find out what was happening next which is the mark of a great book to me!

      I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys crime fiction as to me it’s one of the best recent books in this genre. If you are interested in reading this you can pick up a paper back copy at amazon for an incredibly reasonable £3.49 so hurry before they run out!

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        20.10.2007 17:05
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        A good story which has been made overly complicated

        After having read Russel’s second book about Jan Fabel, Brother Grimm, I wasn’t overly keen on reading anything else by this author. I had enjoyed Brother Grimm in places but found it to be disappointing over all. However, somehow I still ended up with Blood Eagle in my hands. This is the first book in the series of Jan Fabel, Erster Kriminalhauptkommissar (Principal Chief Commissar) with the Hamburg Police murder squad.


        The book starts with an email from “Son of Sven” to Fabel which makes it clear that this Son of Sven character is a murderer and who is taunting Fabel personally with the notion that this is only the beginning and that he will not stop until he is made to do so. So far so run of the mill crime book. However, the plot quickly thickens as Fabel starts to investigate the brutal and apparently ritualistic murders of young women. One of the murdered women was a journalist who was desperately trying to contact Fabel - why? Does this have anything to do with her murder and are the women in any way connected?


        As Fabel investigates the brutal, ritualistic aspect of the murders he is drawn into a world of old Viking mythology and legend which proves to still have many modern day followers. But is he really chasing a psychopathic murderer who kills as part of his belief in the old Viking belief, the Asatru, or is something else involved? The deeper he gets into the investigation the more he starts to doubt there is a simple solution as there are suggestions of Turkish and Ukrainian gangs violently trying to take control of the city. Is it possible that they are involved in the murders for specific reasons or is this just a red herring? The questions are many and seem to build throughout most of the book.


        Unlike some crime novels it is impossible to guess who has committed the murders and especially why they have been committed. Personally, I enjoy the not knowing, but I found that the many different threads took too long to tie up and I started to lose interest around half way through as it was getting a bit too complex following them all.


        The characterisation I found to be a bit weak at times. Fabel is the more or less typical brooding police man with the world on his shoulders. He is, rather conveniently, half-German half Scottish which apparently helps explain some of his more eccentric ideas at least in the eye of his colleagues. I do like the fact that unlike near enough any other main character in this type of book Fabel is blond - for some reason characters of this type tend to be dark but I think in this case it helps set him apart. The other main characters include for example the small, pretty and very aggressive female cop who is, of course, simply hiding her vulnerability and the beautiful, intelligent psychologist/profiler. It is not that the characters are badly drawn, they are just so stereotypical, and in my mind at least, that makes them less believable.


        Craig Russell is a Scot but all his Fabel books are set in Hamburg and he clearly has a great interest in German history, language and politics. Not only does he speak German he also clearly has a passion for the city of Hamburg. I cannot vouch for the authenticity of his descriptions of the city but as far as the book goes it works. Russell’s interest in history, both German and European, is clearly obvious throughout and on one level the book is about life in post-war Europe thus adding yet another layer to the book. German words are often used but I found that in the cases where I didn’t know the word itself it was made clear by the context what it meant and I never found myself struggling to understand anything.


        Whereas in Brother Grimm I found it disappointing that not enough was made of such a brilliant basic idea Blood Eagle is the opposite to me. The basic story is still good but in this case it seems to me that too much is being made from it. It detracts from the story that there are so very many different elements in my view. Maybe I’m just being picky but I like a genuinely brilliant, simple idea to be handled with respect and even though I found both books readable there is just something about the way Russell writes which does not ring true to me. Maybe this is also why it took me unusually long to get through the 482 pages, nearly 3 weeks! I found it quite refreshing to read a book set in Hamburg, a place I know very little about. The author clearly loves the city and his descriptions of it is what makes the story come alive, much more so than any of the characters. I also found the explanations and descriptions of the Asatru very interesting. Being Swedish I have already read a great deal about the religion of my ancestors but many things were still new to me.


        If you wish to judge this book for yourself you can easily pick up a copy from amazon used & new from only £0.01 plus postage and packaging.

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          08.10.2007 20:41
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          Save your money!

          First of all I must admit that the only reason I bought this mascara is because I read a mascara test in a magazine where some sort of C-list celebrity (I believe it may have been Adele Silva) tried out different mascaras and then scored them according to different criteria. The Illusionist was the hands down winner and I completely fell for the picture as it seemed to make Miss C-list’s eyelashes both longer and thicker while it also gave them a nice curl. This is something that many mascaras claim to do but do not generally deliver.

          If that hadn’t been enough to convince me the fact that the Estée Lauder website offered me 2 free samples of moisturisers if I ordered this one thing had me scrambling for my credit card in no time. I ended up paying £17.99 + £4.95 standard delivery charge. Expensive? Yes, but if this is the magic mascara that will beat all other mascaras then obviously it’s totally worth it!

          A couple of days later the package from Estée Lauder arrived and I hurried home from work to have a look. The first thing that struck me was the amount of packaging apparently required for 1 mascara and 2 small sample sizes of moisturiser. I did entertain the idea that I should send an email to Esteé Lauder to complain about this absolute waste and recommend they should get an environmental policy in place but I haven’t got that far yet. Never mind, back to the mascara. The tube is pretty ordinary looking, nothing to suggest that this mascara is very much different from any other product. However, I wasn’t fooled but decided to try it out straight away.

          The website had suggested that the mascara may give eyelashes 160% more curl but I decided to take no chances but use my eye lash curler first. After the first coat I was less than impressed. The special applicator which is wider in the middle and gradually narrower towards the end did make my eye lashes look a bit longer and a little thicker but there was no noticeable curl. I decided to add a second coat and whereas this made them look a little thicker and slightly more dramatic it also made them clump a little. The mascara did stay on for most of the day without crumbling but some came off under the eye during the 9 hour day. It is very easy to remove, in fact it can be done with plain water if you wish, although I tend to use a water based eye make-up remover.

          I have only had the product or about a month so cannot say how long it will last, however, it’s probably sensible to go with the general 3-month mascara rule. If it’s not finished within this time span be very careful to smell it to ensure it hasn’t gone off.

          I still use this mascara every now and again as it is good enough. Sadly it was not the miracle that I had hoped for and there are plenty of cheaper mascaras out there that offer the same, or better, result for half the price of the Illusionist.

          In all I was disappointed as it did not do what it promised but hopefully it might teach me once and for all to stop falling for advertising, tests and suggestions.

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            15.09.2007 20:00
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            A great mp3 player for all techno phobes out there!

            After my iPod mini finally gave up after a year or so of misbehaving I was suffering going to the gym without an mp3. As my birthday was coming up I had started spreading the word (well, I had told bf) about what type of mp3 I would like just in case somebody would consider buying me one. The most important aspect was that it was NOT another iPod as I, and everybody I know who’s had one, had had so many problems with it. I also wanted one that was easy to use, which could be dropped without breaking (as I’m a bit clumsy and not very careful with my things) and preferably also pretty and shiny.

            Guess what I got for my birthday? A lovely shiny and new Sony mp3 - the NW-A805 in black. I couldn’t wait to try it out as I had been without music for so long and decided to get started by installing the software SonicStage, which is for music play back, and Image Converter, which is for videos and photos. You do get a ‘Getting Started’ guide which takes you through each step but I didn’t find installing the software difficult as you simply put the CD-ROM in your disc drive and it then prompts you through each step. You should ensure that you quit all activated software programs on your computer, including any anti-virus software, as it may strain the CPU otherwise.

            As the software was being installed I took the opportunity to charge the player at the same time as it needs to be fully charged before you first use it. To charge the battery, simply connect it to a running computer. When the battery is full it will tell you so. It does say in the manual that charging the battery from when it’s totally run out may take up to 3 hours, however, I found that it was fully charged after about an hour.

            As I was used to iTunes it took me some time to get used to SonicStage. It works in the same way really but I just had to figure out where to find things and how to transfer music. I have mainly transferred music from my CDs so far and not really used the online CONNECT store. This is pretty simple, you just need to insert the CD, find where it says transfer music from CD and you can then choose which songs you wish to transfer. It is generally pretty quick, a couple of minutes for a full CD transfer. You can then decide whether you want an automatic transfer of your library onto your player as soon as the player is connected to the computer or you can choose to manually transfer the songs of your choice. If you wish you can also create play lists which can then be transferred in full onto the mp3. I find this very useful for the gym, when a normal shuffle doesn’t work so well.

            This mp3 has a 2 GB capacity. For those of you who, like me, are not very technologically minded this is a measure of storage capacity. The more gigabytes the player has, the more music and/or videos you will be able to store on it. 2 GBs will enable you to fit up to 1600 tracks on it or up to 7 hours worth of video files. This is about half of what I had previously been able to keep on my iPod something which worried me a bit at first. However, I have found that 1600 tracks is quite sufficient for me, I can stick all my favourite music on there and still have space left over for any new music I might want to add in the future. If you are a serious music fan it may not be enough but for most people I think it will do nicely.

            The player is very easy to operate, certainly easier than the iPod at any rate. The menus are similar to mobile phone menus which most of us will know how to handle by now. The menus are easily scrolled through by using the 5-way button. In order to start it just press any button, to switch off press the power off/option button - that’s about it! The LCD screen is a reasonable size at 2 inches and can be used either horizontally or vertically. I have not spent a great deal of time either downloading or watching videos on this, as I mainly want it for the music. However, when I have done I have found the picture quality to be very good and I have not run into any problems either with the transferring or with the playback so far so it seems to lend itself well to this medium. Sound quality is also very good, I have been impressed so far that something so little can play back music so well. As with other mp3s it cannot play all file formats. This means that you will not be able to transfer music straight from iTunes, for example. The formats supported are ATRAC, MP3, AAC and WMA. I shall not go into detail about these as there is a wealth of information about all of these on the internet for those who are interested. Suffice to say is that I have not found myself excluded in any way due to the restrictions on files that can be played using SonicStage.

            The headphones that come with the player come with an extension cord, which is lucky as they are ever so short. I only ever use them with the extension as I cannot even keep it in my handbag otherwise. I am not sure why they have decided to make the cord so short as I cannot imagine anyone having much use for it the way it is. The headphones themselves are of an open-air, design so they do ‘leak’ when you have the volume up high. However, as they are also plug shaped (you do get 3 different sizes of “plugs” with the player) they cut out much of the outside noise which should mean that you will not need to turn the volume up that much in even if you are in a noisy environment.

            Something that I cannot put enough emphasise on is the fact that the battery lasts FOREVER. It is such a relief to have a music player which you can actually play when you want to and which does not run out of battery as soon as you try to change tracks unlike my iPod. According to the Sony site the battery should last for up to 30 hours playing music or 8 hours playing video. I can definitely believe this as I have never run out of battery so far in spite of only charging the player once a week and in spite of listening to it a great deal. To me, this was one of the most important qualities for an mp3 and it is lovely not to have to worry about running out of battery ever!

            Apart from this I also love the fact that the player is so pretty. It is small and neat, in fact it weighs a mere 53g. In spite of this it doesn’t seem “plasticy” and the screen is a good size. The player, including all controls and buttons are black with white writing and metallic along the sides. It’s not the most important criteria but it doesn’t hurt that it’s a stylish little thing that certainly will not put you in anybody’s shade.

            The only things that I find a bit annoying is first of all you cannot buy a case for it. Not good for me as I tend to spill water on all my things regularly and drop them even more regularly. Luckily I have only dropped this once so far and never spilt water on it but it does worry me. The second problem is not really a problem I guess, more a matter of habit - it annoys me that the head phones are plugged in at the bottom! I am used to them being plugged in at the top and it confuses me when I try to use the buttons without looking at it. As far as problems go I guess this is of the milder variety though so I shall try not to let it bother me too much.

            I have not had any need for support as of yet so cannot comment on the service provided, although I gather there is both a website and a phone number you can use in case you have a problem with your mp3 player.


            In all I would warmly recommend this mp3 if you are after a stylish, small, sturdy player with excellent sound quality which is also easy to use. I cannot even compare this with the iPod mini I used to own as this is so much better in every respect that it wouldn’t really be fair…if you are interested you can find the Sony NW-A805 in most of the usual electronic retailers or online. As mine was a present I’m not sure about the price but a quick search on the internet seems to suggest that you should expect to pay something along the lines of £70-£100 depending of where you go. Definitely worth it as far as I’m concerned!

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            • iap-interactive.com / Internet Site / 79 Readings / 74 Ratings
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              05.09.2007 21:37
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              Reliable survey site with a generous rewards scheme

              Last year I had a period when I signed up to more or less every survey site going - it was a bit of a lean period for me and I thought I could make much needed extra cash from these sites. It didn’t take long for me to realise that it wasn’t quite as simple as it sounded, and that these sites were never likely to make me a millionaire or even help that much towards my monthly bills. However, I also found a few favourite sites which I have kept using ever since as they tend to give me a few extra pounds a month and are not really hard work.


              One of my absolute favourites is Ipsos Access Panels. I have no memory of signing up to this site but that is not really surprising as I tended to sing up to anything going at that time.


              The Ipsos Access Panel is a European company with offices in France, UK, Germany and Italy and offering surveys to many other countries too. If you wish to find out more about the company there is plenty of information to be found on iap-interactive.com. Personally I tend to be more interested in what I can get out of the company than it's history so I shall leave it at that.



              If you wish to sign up it is slightly more complicated than it normally would be, as the home page does not contain a new members link. I think this is in style with Pinecone research - you have to find the link to sign up before you can join. However, it is not as complicated as Pinecone or maybe I just struck lucky as I managed to find the invite on another Ipsos page. I don’t know whether it is always there so I would suggest that you join now if you wish to do so as this page may be moved. So in order to join: go to www.ipsosresearch.com and click on your country at the top. Not all countries where the panel is operating require panellists at the moment but if you live in the UK you will find a link there. If you click on the link it will bring you to the usual page where you fill in contact information, accept the terms and conditions and answer some general questions about the household including details about other members of the household. Once this is done you will have to reconfirm your email address and then you can get started.


              Once you have managed to join, you sign in by using the 8 digit member number you were given together with your own password. The number is absolutely impossible to remember so I have stored the email in a folder for whenever I want to sign in, but I guess that says more about my memory than anything else. The web page is a rather dull bluish-grey and can be quite slow but it contains all the information you’ll need from FAQ to contact details to the links to surveys and the gift area.


              When a survey is available for you, or another member of the household that you included when you filled in the joining form you will get an emailed survey invitation. This will state whom the survey is for, how long it should take to complete and how many points you could earn. The fact that other people can answer surveys thus increasing your chances of getting through surveys does help to add to your points, but if you’d rather not bother then I would suggest that you do not leave the details of other people in your household when you fill in the joining form.


              You can click straight through from the email to the survey and there are not usually any problems with links as I have found with some other sites recently. The surveys, as always, vary greatly in topic covered although technology is a recurring theme. I have found them to be quite interesting at times and the time taken to finish the survey does generally correspond to the time estimated in the email. On average I’d say that it takes about 20 minutes to fill in a survey although this does vary.

              Unlike many other survey sites I find that once I have been invited to a survey I am not very likely to get kicked out. It seems that they do actually manage to match your profile more or less to the surveys which means that whenever you get a survey invitation you are more likely than not to get through it. If you do not pass the screening tests you will receive a 10 point reward for clicking through.


              So, let’s get on to the most important part - money! Well, as with many other survey companies you do not actually get paid in cash for the surveys but you get a certain amount of points (generally between 50-250, not normally less but sometimes more). Once the points have been credited to your account (this can take a couple of weeks) they can be exchanged for gifts. At the moment you can choose from Boots, Argos and WH Smith vouchers, starting at 350 points for a £2 voucher and ranging up to 1380 for a £10 voucher. I have found that it does not take me longer than a month or so to earn enough points for a £10 voucher as I tend to get invited to 2-3 surveys a week. So far I have had 5 £10 Boots voucher and one £10 WH Smith voucher (I managed to order the wrong one). However, as I took a 6 month break I have had 5 of them within 5 months. Ideally, there would be a cash option but I do find the Boots vouchers come in very handy. It does tend to take 2-4 weeks from when you order your voucher until you receive it but I have never had to chase any so far.


              I would strongly recommend Ipsos to anybody who is interested in doing surveys. The surveys have been fairly interesting and easy so far and I am quite happy with the rewards that I have received.

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              • More +
                14.07.2007 16:59
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                Sort out your personal finances once and for all

                Since I discovered it, I have made much use of Martin Lewis’s website moneysavingexpert.co.uk. As many of you will know this is a site designed to help the consumer make the most of their money and gives advice about a wide range of financial topics. I was therefore pretty excited a few months ago when I managed to pick up Martin Lewis’s book The Money Diet.


                The blurb promises that it will help you cut back on your bills without cutting back, help you avoid being ripped off and even put more money in your pocket with no change in lifestyle. Pretty grand promises one would think but who could resist that?


                I picked up my copy at Waterstones for 7.99 but I have since noticed on the moneysavingexpert website that the cheapest option would have been to buy it from Play.com where it is only £5.49 including delivery so it seems as if I started off on the wrong foot already…After a quick look I can also tell you that Amazon in fact sell it for £5.49 or from £2.59 new and used so that might be worth looking into if you’re saving your pennies (which I presume you are if you wish to read this book).

                So will this book help you on your way to becoming a millionaire…?

                To be fair I doubt the savings that you will make will be huge, unless you are somebody who has massive credit card debts only managing to pay off the minimum each month or unless you are very clueless when it comes to your own finances. What it can do however is help you tweak the outgoings that you already have and ensure that you pay no more than you have to for utilities or credit cards.


                The book offers a mix of several economic pitfalls to avoid and suggestions on how to personalise the “diet” to suit you and your situation. It is split into 3 parts, each with several chapters dealing with a variety of topics.


                Part one is Financial Fitness for Life: How to Save Money on Anything. Now doesn’t that sound intriguing? This starts off by trying to help change your mindset. It is your own responsibility to find out what deal is best for you as no matter however much shops, banks, hotels or utility companies try to state the opposite – all they want is your money and preferably loyalty. This part also includes a list of “there’s nothing wrong with…” including there’s nothing wrong with NOT splitting the bill evenly in a restaurant or asking family for an interest free loan. Whereas I agree with most things on the list I can’t help but think that I will never be cheap enough to get my calculator out in a restaurant after a meal with friends. Sure I want to save money but that is where I draw the line Martin I’m afraid. Apart from this little annoyance on my part most of the advice in this part of the book is very sensible. It’s more to do with changing how you think about finances rather than anything and it may be an eye opener for you if you are the kind of person who is always skint after Christmas or live on baked beans the last week of every month. It also deals with how to shop, including asking for discounts when they are not advertised and how to shop for the best deals. Other topics include loyalty cards, consumer rights and how to find loop holes in the system. The last topic especially is a favourite of Martin’s. He is at the forefront of what he calls the consumer revenge. The whole idea is based on “they make money out of me so can I make money out of them”? It turns out that, according to Martin, quite often you can if you are prepared to put in a little bit of time and effort.


                The second part pf the book is The Crash Diet. This is where the more concrete advice is introduced. Martin gives tips on how to get the very best deals on all types of utilities, including using swap sites that pay you for doing the swap via them. There are also several chapters dealing with different types of savings, current accounts, pension, loans and even giving to charity. This part of the book is definitely worth more than a passing glance as it is possible to save quite a bit of money on your annual outgoings simply by switching providers or by signing up to certain deals. Even if you are pretty clued on when it comes to this side of money saving there are so many topics covered that you are bound to find something you haven’t done yet!


                Part 3 is Healthy Eating dealing with all types of loans from credit card via credit scoring to personal loans and mortgages. This is certainly useful for anybody with debts as it gives you so many different scenarios. The only debt that I have personally is a student loan and I found that this topic was not covered and in fact hardly mentioned at all. This is where I found the book was lacking as I would have liked to read about whether there is any point in me “overpaying” on my student loan or not.


                I think this book is an essential for anybody who is looking to reduce their debt and save their pennies. It gives so many hints and tips around so many different subjects that you are bound to learn something from it, no matter how clued on you are about your finances. It is easy to read and easy to find any topic of special interest to you. I have found that it has helped me tweak certain parts of my personal finances and I find Martin’s advice invaluable when it comes to changing utilities and opening bank accounts.

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                  09.07.2007 21:34
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                  A great little place to stay in Edinburgh if you're on a budget

                  A friend and I decided to spend a few days in Edinburgh when she came over from Sweden to visit. We mainly based our choice of destination on the fact that we both love Scottish men, oh and that we hadn’t been before.


                  Sadly our budget didn’t allow for the 5-star hotel that we are used too (obviously) but we thought that we’d go native and stay in a hotel closer to where all the action was. As good an excuse as any but I must admit that our hotel search was mainly based on price, although we actually rejected a few very cheap hostels as, although we wanted a budget hotel we were not prepared to share a bathroom with others. Well, a girl has got to have some standards.


                  In the end we stumbled across the Grassmarket Hotel which was situated on, believe it or not, the Grassmarket. This we soon found is a historical and central part of Edinburgh with plenty of pubs and bars which sounded pretty good to us. Without much more thought we decided to book the hotel. Unusually, we were only required to pay a deposit of just over £20 and were to pay the balance on arrival at the hotel according to our confirmation. We ended up booking a twin even though if we had wished to share a double bed we could have paid £7 extra and also had breakfast included. However, we decided that we’d prefer not to share and went for the twin beds instead, or so we thought. After we had booked the hotel we decided to have a little look around at what other travellers had to say about the hotel. The main complaint seemed to be that it was noisy, situated on the bar strip as it is, and that it is pretty old and worn. As long as these were the major complaints I wasn’t too worried in spite of the 2 star status, as I was more worried about it being dirty or mouldy or just generally disgusting.


                  As we arrived in Edinburgh we followed our little map (it is a bit tricky to get there without instructions or a map although it is not very far from Waverly train station) and soon found our hotel. It is certainly unassuming from the outside - just a simple red sign to give the name of the 5-storey hotel and not much else. The receptionist greeting us was very friendly and check-in was quick. We did have to leave a credit card which was swiped and then voided for them to keep the details and we were then given our key and a pretty complex explanation on where to find out room – trust us to get the most difficult room to get to. After walking across half the hotel and across 2 ramps we finally found our room. The first thing we noticed was that this was not the twin room we had in fact booked but a double room with a bed sofa made up. As I’m the quickest and managed to jump onto the double bed the first I ended up keeping this bed for our two night stay, and my friend got what we soon re-named the Peasant bed (whereas mine was clearly the Princess bed). I can’t speak for my friend but my bed was very comfortable and certainly big enough for two.


                  As for the rest of the room we were fairly impressed with how clean it was (I had silently imagined something from a horror movie with damp patches spreading all over the ceiling and trolls living in the corners). There was a bit of dust/cob webby things hanging off one part of the wall but not more than we could handle. Except for the 2 beds there is also room for a desk and a closet but that’s it. The bath room was a decent size and looked clean and neat and the shower was really powerful. There is no mini bar although there is a kettle with tea, coffee and shortbread biscuits provided. Oh and let me not forget - and the pride and joy of the room that is mentioned on every site - the hair dryer!


                  As our room was facing the front of the building, the actual Grassmarket strip, I dug out my ear plugs straight away and we then headed off out. When we collapsed into bed that night we both slept all the way through the night with no problems. Noise? What noise? To be fair I think this may have had something to do with the amount of wine we had consumed rather than it being a particularly quiet night but we certainly weren’t bothered by any noise. The morning after was a different matter however as they started on some road works just outside – you can certainly hear it clearly through the walls. If you are sensitive to noise and still wish to stay at this hotel I’d strongly suggest that you ask for a room at the back of the building where it’s quieter.


                  On arrival we had been told that breakfast, although not included for us, was served in the adjoining Biddy Mulligan’s pub between 6 and 8.30. This did not help us much as we didn’t manage to get out of bed before 10 either day so I cannot say whether it would have been worth paying the extra £7 for a full Scottish breakfast. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have bothered with this anyway, as I’m a veggie and I don’t like to eat cooked food in the morning so I’m not spending sleepless nights regretting not having breakfast there.


                  On the day we were leaving we had to check out before 11 so at exactly 11 we were downstairs at the reception. There was no queue and a courteous but seemingly somewhat bored lady dealt with us. As we had not paid the balance on arrival we ended up paying it now. In all, our two night stay at the Grassmarket hotel cost us a little over £70 pounds each – bargain!


                  We also asked to leave our bags at the hotel as our train was not leaving until later that day. This seemed to be a little bit annoying to the receptionist but she duly handed me a key and told me to go upstairs to the lounge where I would find the luggage room. The lounge was certainly not a place where I would like to spend much time and I was quite pleased that we had managed to miss this place. As I unlocked the door I found that the luggage room was indeed full of luggage and somebody less honest and more desperate than myself would easily be able to walk out with several pieces without being noticed. As we didn’t have anything valuable in the suitcase we still left it there but it didn’t seem the safest place to leave your belongings.


                  In all I would recommend this hotel, especially to people who want a central location at a cheap price without the complete backpacker experience. Even though the hotel was threadbare in places it was generally clean and reasonably well kept. I feel that we got our money’s worth (especially me with the Princess bed) when it came to the room and it was quite nice to go to the pub in the evening and then be able to just fall through the door to the hotel! If you’re a family or worried about noise or too many people around you then this may not be for you, however.

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                  • House Of Nine (DVD) / DVD / 82 Readings / 81 Ratings
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                    16.06.2007 18:31
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                    Not worth your time or money

                    Buying a film featuring Kelly Brook was always going to be risky but I still couldn’t quite stop myself from putting House of 9 in my Amazon basket – maybe Dennis Hopper would make up for it?


                    The idea behind this film is similar to that of Saw 2 and based on the classic “And Then There Were None” theme of several people being forced together only for their number to be reduced until there is only 1 (or possibly 2 or even none) person still standing.


                    In House of 9, 9 strangers are abducted from their everyday life only to be imprisoned together in a completely sealed house furnished with cameras and hidden microphones. They wake up unable to understand what has happened to them until a disembodied voice informs them that they have been put here as part of a game. The winner of the game will receive 5 million dollars but the catch is that the only way to win this prize is by ensuring the death of all their fellow “competitors”. The last person standing will certainly have blood on their hands but will also have 5 million dollars to help wash it off.


                    The film follows the characters as they try to escape the house and the game until eventually some of them start playing along.


                    The idea is simple, but as ideas go the simple ones are often more likely to create real tension and drama. Sadly, in this case, the film does not have much more than the classic theme going for it. If this film had tried a bit harder to be different from the stereotypical straight-to-DVD horror it would have fared much better. As it is it sticks absolutely rigorously to the horror/thriller cliches. There is nothing really unexpected happening, you can tell exactly how the characters will react and even if the ending has a bit of a twist to it, it’s still entirely predictable.


                    In my mind, the worst part of this film is the acting and the characters. The nine strangers are as different as they could possibly be but completely and utterly stereotypical. There is a fair bit of xenophobia in the casting of the “token black guy”. It’s as if somebody felt that not all the characters could be white so they decided to introduce a young black man into the mix. He grew up in the “hood” (well, the British version anyway), and is aggressive and violent. "Obviously" he calls women bitches, dreams of rap stardom and hates the white, American cop who he’s locked up with. How much worse can it really get after that? Plenty is the sad answer.


                    Next we have Kelly Brook as an innocent and good-hearted girl next door. She is clearly trying to get away from her usual sexy image but does so less than convincingly. At the best of times she is a terrible actress but this role magnifies that 10 times over if you could possibly imagine such a thing.


                    Susie Amy plays as a spoilt, rich girl with visions of grandeur. Again, the character is so unbelievably lacking in depth and more a caricature than anything else. There’s also Dennis Hopper as a priest, unsuccessfully trying to cool the frayed tempers and a hard nosed, Scottish girl with an attitude and an electronic tag. Furthermore, there is a married couple where the oddball husband is a music composer and the wife is nice but seems clearly destined to be the first to die. Finally there’s an (obviously gay) clothing designer.


                    Most of the characters seem to dislike each other from the off. This might be understandable because of the situation that they are in although I would think that most people in a situation like this (no matter how unlikely) would feel the need to keep close with others around them. Similarly, with so many British characters I find the instant rudeness between most of the characters somewhat unbelievable. It is so much part of the British persona to be polite and it’s such an important part of everyday life that I believe it would take more than 2 minutes of hardship to break it down.


                    In spite of the classic horror material the way this film follows the rules borders on the ridiculous. It would have been great to have been surprised once or twice during the course of the film. Furthermore, the ending is pretty disappointing as there is never a real explanation as to whom has put this whole game together and to what purpose or as to why these characters were chosen to participate.


                    There are no extras on the DVD except for the trailer, which certainly promises a lot more than the film delivers.


                    So would I recommend this film? In spite of all its flaws I did find it pretty entertaining. I am known for my love of really bad horrors and thrillers though and most of my friends think I have horrible taste in movies so don’t rely too much on my recommendation. I think that to most people it would be a complete waste of time watching this film but if you, like me, quite enjoy a bad film with bad acting just for the fun of it, then you would most certainly enjoy this. Hmm, that does sound very odd but you know what I mean!

                    If you are a little bit weird like me and still want to watch this film you can pick it up at Amazon for £4.97. It has an 18 certificate although I didn’t find it incredibly gory (well, compared to real gory films such as Saw 3 or Hostel at least).

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                      10.06.2007 12:12
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                      Not a gloss for those who want a serious pout!

                      So, what was I doing at Boots the other day putting yet another new lip plumper into my basket? Was the Angelina craze finally getting to me?

                      To be honest I am not sure where my absolute obsession with lip plumping glosses comes from. I’m not unhappy with my lips at all and even if I had been some of you might possibly remember that in my last lip plumper review I had actually found a gloss that I really liked and that worked the way it was supposed to.


                      I’m not sure why I keep buying these things but I think that it has something to do with the lure of being able to fairly drastically change the way I look without surgery. I don’t particularly want Angelina lips but I just want to look different from what I do now, and this seems such an easy way to do it – if it works that is!


                      In this particular case it was mainly the packaging that managed to seduce me (stop calling me easy!). My local Boots had a whole shelf full with this new, US range Soap and Glory. The packaging is a rather retro pink and grey with black and white 60s-looking pictures and embellished with different slogans. I had a look at what they had to offer simply based on the fact that any of the products would look lovely in my bathroom – all logic me! In fact, it does worry me how all the sense and logic that I seem to be able to apply to the rest of my life (well, my working life at least) simply seems to leave me as soon as I spot something pretty, pink and glittery – am I a three year old child or what?


                      Anyway, enough about that, I clearly, for very logical reasons, realised that I needed another lovely pink lip plumping gloss as soon as I spotted this. After all, who can resist a gloss called Sexy Mother Pucker? And as if that’s not enough the packaging also states that “lip size [is] crucial for sexual attraction” just to make sure that all poor thin lipped women will feel bad enough that they have to buy this to have any sort of chance of ever attracting another man. At least it is not as expensive as some other plumpers I have come across; at £8 for 15 ml it is in fact rather cheap.


                      The gloss promises to give skinny lips “more leverage” through its very own superfill plumping technology which “expands to up to 10 times in volume when applied to your lips”. As with every other lip plumper this specific technology is supposedly super secret but as you can find the ingredients on the packaging I guess you could quite easily figure out how it’s done. No matter what the super secret ingredient may be, all lip plumpers work by causing a mild reaction on the lip tissue which gives a temporary swelling. This means that if you have very sensitive skin you may well end up with lips twice there normal size if you happen to have a really bad reaction. The products are not harmful, but for the very sensitive they may well cause too much of a reaction, and if you put it outside the lip line (yep, I’m guilty of that one) you may well get very red and irritated skin around the mouth.


                      The actual lip plumper tube was a bit of a disappointment considering the fact that I bought it because the packaging was so pretty. The tube is black plastic and has pink writing on it, making it look very cheap and boring sadly.


                      The instructions are rather simple – “It’s easy. Just put your lips together and glow!”. As instructions go these aren’t the best as I would have at least expected them to mention the fact that you should apply the gloss no matter how obvious that may be.


                      As I applied it I didn’t feel the familiar tingle that I have gotten used to from other lip plumpers. It felt like a normal, albeit very sticky lip gloss and it had a pretty strong scent of…sweets? Chocolate? Well, something like that anyway. I left it on for quite some time and still could not feel the tiniest tingle or even notice a change in lip colour something which I think all the other lip plumpers I have tried have delivered, even if nothing else. Very disappointed I put it to the side but decided to give it another go the day after and this time the reaction was very different. In spite of the instructions being very simple I’d forgotten the “putting your lips together” part of them. It seems that this gloss works when it comes in contact with water, or even (yuck!) saliva. I haven’t a clue why, or how this works, as the packaging and website don’t offer an explanation for this but boy, did my lips tingle once I’d realised what I had to do!


                      This lip plumper is not for you if you are rather sensitive to pain as it is really quite uncomfortable for the first 15 – 20 minutes or so. Still, no pain, no gain, right? Well, in this case I think there’s too much pain and very little gain. In spite of the intense tingling sensation there was no noticeable plumping effect. My lips did look rather red and the gloss is pretty nice but very, very sticky. Whereas the stickiness guarantees that it will stay put for longer it also means that I keep getting my hair stuck in it and if there’s something I don’t like it’s lip-glossy hair.


                      In all, this is certainly not the best plumper I have tried and I wouldn’t really recommend it. Even if you don’t care so much about the plumping effect but want the colour, you can find a better product. I think all the other lip plumpers I’ve tried before have been better than Sexy Mother Pucker (still a great name though…).

                      Now I must get back to Boots and buy one of the other pretty Soap and Glory products for my bathroom shelf.

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                        28.05.2007 13:22
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                        A book with a great deal of unfulfilled promise

                        When my cousin gave me this book and said it was well worth a read I was surprised that I hadn’t spotted it before as the synopsis sounded exactly like something I would enjoy reading.


                        Morgan Snow is a sex therapist who works for the Butterfield Institute. Having recently gone through an amicable divorce she has started thinking about how her work affects her and how big a role it plays in her life. Even though she loves what she does, listening to other people’s sexual problems, often involving tales of incest and sexual abuse might have had a more profound effect on her than she has ever previously considered.


                        One of her clients, Cleo, who is a high rent prostitute, awakens a protective instinct in her and they form a bond during the sessions. This leads to Cleo handing over a manuscript to Dr Snow for her to be the first to read. The book is a memoir of Cleo’s life as a call girl to the rich and often famous men of the city and tells all about their often strange fantasies and desires. Cleo’s boyfriend, whom she calls Caesar, is obsessively worried that one of the very lightly disguised men in the book will find out about it and try to stop it, through any means. Even though Cleo tells Dr Snow about this she herself is not too worried and is adamant the book will be published.


                        When one day Cleo does not turn up to her therapy session Dr Snow starts to worry. When she then gets a visit from the police, the very attractive NYPD detective Noah Jordain, her fear increases. There seems to be a possibility that Cleo’s disappearance is somehow connected to the very gruesome and ritualistic murders of prostitutes that have taken place around the city in the last few weeks. The murderer dresses the women in nun’s habits and performs certain religious rituals on them before eventually leaving them dead covered in blood and with their pubic hair shaved into a cross.


                        The police, including Noah Jordain who Dr Snow is developing a romantic interest for, do not take her fears for Cleo seriously as she seems to have little in common with the other unfortunate women except for being a prostitute. This leads to Dr Snow deciding to go undercover in Cleo’s world and meet the men from her memoirs. She plays her role well and gets to meet several of the men in question but it’s a dangerous game to play and Dr Snow might not be as much in control as she believes she is.


                        At first I found this book absolutely unputdownable. The first lines draw you in and you can tell that this book will be special. Sadly this feeling doesn’t last as the crime story ends up taking second place to the developing and, to me, completely unbelievable romance between the doctor and the detective. Whereas the idea for a crime novel is excellent too much time is spent trying to titillate the reader with extracts from Cleo’s memoirs describing detailed sex scenes in what I can only describe as a Harlequin romance way, very clichéd. Love sword anyone?


                        I’m certainly no prude but I’m simply not interested in too detailed a view into sordid sex or even romance when it takes over from the actual story that I want to read! Morgan Snow’s thoughts around her own sexual and emotional problems are a vital part to this book and the look into sexual dysfunction is interesting. However, I would have loved for it to be toned down a little bit to leave more room for the rest of the story to develop as I feel this would have made this book much better. Many may not agree with me on this and might like this mixture of romance and brutal slayings. In fact, I have just had a little look at ratings for this book at Amazon at it seems that many do actually enjoy this as the book has been rated at 4.5 stars by readers.


                        This book was released in the UK in 2005 and is the first in a series about the Butterfield Institute. You can buy the paperback version from Amazon for a fairly reasonable £5.59.


                        Personally, I found this book to have a lot of promise which was never fulfilled. However, if you know that you enjoy a mixture of ‘erotic’ fiction and crime then this may indeed be something for you. I still enjoyed reading it and I would possibly try another book by MJ Rose although I would worry about being disappointed again.

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                        • Nestle Kit Kat Chunky / Chocolate / 73 Readings / 67 Ratings
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                          19.05.2007 15:24
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                          The dream chocolate for peanut lovers

                          Lately I have developed a strange obsession. In spite of not being a big fan of peanut butter I find that I have to eat Kit Kat Peanut butters all the time. Well, not all the time as I’m restricting myself to only eating chocolate on the weekend but I do seem to manage quite a few during this time!


                          Kit Kat Peanut butter is a chunky Kit Kat bar, a wafer finger filled with 20% “creamed peanut topping” and then covered in milk chocolate. The peanut butter doesn’t taste exactly like peanut butter you’d have on a sandwich, but if you don’t like peanuts at all then this is still something to be avoided, I think. The mixture of smooth and slightly crunchy is absolutely heavenly and always leaves me craving more.


                          One bar is a rather hefty 50g and it does leave you feeling quite satisfied normally. I have been known to eat 2 in one go but I find that more than 1 is just too sickly, it starts to taste very sweet and it is too heavy to make you want more than one.


                          I try not to think too much about health aspects when I eat chocolate as I’d rather cut down on how often I eat it than try to eat “healthier” chocolate (i.e. low cal, sugar free versions which often contain more fat and additives anyway). However, for those who are interested I can tell you that 100g of this contains nearly 50% sugar (47.7g)!! It also contains 31.5g fat out of which 14.5g is saturated. This is about half the maximum recommended daily amount of saturated fat and sugar for an adult and this is the only reason I would not recommend anybody to eat this too often.


                          After the decision by Masterfoods to use rennet (extract from certain animal’s stomachs) in some of their produce the vegetarians amongst you will be glad to know that Nestle’ have so far decided not to go down this path. There are certainly many other reasons why ethically you would choose to boycott Nestle’ products, I do try to stay away from them most of the time myself, but sadly I cannot seem to do so with this particular chocolate.


                          As with most chocolate, storage should be cool and dry. I never tend to store them for too long but I wouldn’t recommend putting them in the fridge. This is because I think the taste comes out much better when the chocolate is room temperature, maybe that’s just me though…


                          You can pick this up near enough anywhere they sell chocolate now. Expect to pay about 40p or thereabouts for a single bar. If you have some self control, however, you can pick up a 5-pack from Sainsbury’s for the more than reasonable price of £1.28 – just don’t eat them all at once!

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                          • Retail Eyes / Employment / 83 Readings / 69 Ratings
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                            23.04.2007 22:17
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                            A fun way to get free food and earn a little bit of extra cash

                            I came across retaileyes.co.uk after I had read a review on mystery shopping about a year ago. As the review was mainly positive I thought I might give it a go.


                            Mystery shopping is basically market research - it is mainly a way for companies to anonymously collect information about their restaurants, retail outlets or fitness centres etc. in order to evaluate the service provided for the third party - the customer. This is done through the mystery shopper - a person posing as an ordinary member of the public in order to find what service such a person might expect from that particular outlet. The information collected can be very valuable to the company as they can ensure the service provided is what they expect in order to keep their customers happy. If it is not mystery shopping will help pinpoint areas where service may be lacking and thus give the company a chance to train staff in this area. Sometimes companies may also want to use mystery shopping in order to see how the competition is performing so as to know what they need to do to keep up or to move further ahead.


                            Although mystery shopping has been used by the hospitality industry for years it is now widely spread and also used by for example financial organisations and hospitals. Anywhere where there are customers that can be expected to be treated in a certain way there now seems to be an opportunity for mystery shoppers.

                            Mystery shopping can by some be perceived as 'spying' but if the mystery shopper is fair in his/her reporting and the company does it for the right reason this does not seem a fair term to use. In the end, what the company wants is to ensure its service is up to scratch and its customers are treated the way they should be. Other criticism against mystery shopping is that even though what the mystery shopper reports is true for that particular moment, it may not always be true - it is merely a 'snapshot; of that one moment and thus it may be unfair to base judgment on it.


                            Retaileyes.co.uk is the UK subsidiary of the one of the biggest mystery shopping companies in North America. Retaileyes.com was set up by 'a team of industry specialists' including one of the original founders of the first web based mystery shopping systems. They offer mystery shopping all over the UK and also have some European shops on their website.


                            Retaileyes description of the mystery shopping process is fairly simple: "acting as regular customers, shoppers observe the level of service and write objective reports about their shopping experiences. Retail Eyes will then transmit the data into the hands of their clients". To be able to become one of these shoppers you must be over the age of 16. You must also be computer literate with access to the internet and email (due to the fact that all instructions and reporting are handled online). Another requirement is that you have access to a fax machine or scanner as you are meant to send the receipts via these no later than 48 hours after the assignment has been completed. I have found that it is not necessary to have either of these at home as you have plenty of time to do this at work or from a shop if necessary and they generally also tend to accept a posted copy.


                            The qualities that they ask for are rather predictably accuracy, honesty, reliability and objectivity - no surprises there!


                            If you feel that you fulfill all of these requirements and you would like to become a mystery shopper you should go to www.retaileyes.co.uk where you will see a link on the left hand side - how to become a mystery shopper - click on this and then on shopper registration form. This is a fairly standard form with the usual name and address details. As you will be reporting back in writing you also need to answer a question about what qualities you think a mystery shopper should possess, mainly in order to judge your grammar, spelling and punctuation, I believe. I wrote a very short piece here, about 150 words, I think, and just stated the main qualities necessary together with a short explanation of why they are important. They will consider your registration and then get back to you via email to let you know whether you have been accepted to become one of their mystery shoppers.


                            To get an assignment you must log on using your username and password. This will take you to the home page where all new assignments are listed. They add assignments as and when they come in so it is worthwhile checking in every so often as the good ones do tend to be snapped up pretty quickly. You can have up to 8 assignments pending at any one time. From what I have seen most of the assignments are with pubs or restaurants but they have also had fitness clubs and fast food places. The assignments are listed in order of distance according to your post code - really useful! They will let you know what the maximum spend is and what the shop pays. Generally I have found that most of them pay between £5 and £15, depending on the length of the assignment and what you are required to do. It will also give you a time period during which you will have to fulfil the assignment. If you click on the one that interests you, you will get some more details about the place that you are meant to visit and it will also give you access to the job notes. The job notes detail the assignment, it is important to read them carefully as failure to do any one of the things required will render your report invalid, and that means no money! As long as you read the notes properly this should not have to happen, however, as they are normally very detailed and clear.


                            The job notes will also give you the list of questions that you will have to answer. This I have found has been a bit of a problem as there are normally about a million or so (well between 50 - 90) questions you need to answer. My first assignment involved a visit to a pub where I had to order 2 drinks and 2 main courses and answer 63 questions about the service. Now - you are obviously meant to remain anonymous the entire time so you cannot very well start writing down details about promotions or members of staff in full view of them but equally it is terribly easy to forget details if you do not write them down immediately - well it is for me anyway! My solution has been to sneak off to the toilet every now and again to write down things I don't think I will remember otherwise or to have another look at the questions. This has worked pretty well as most of the time you will be asked to check out the toilets anyway.


                            Anyway, back to the job notes. After you have read the notes and decided that you want to take on the assignment you can simply click the 'I accept responsibility for this job' button at the top of the page. The job will now disappear from the new jobs list and appear in your outstanding assignments box. Retaileyes will normally ring you the day before your assignment to ensure that you are able to do it. If something happens that makes it impossible for you to complete the assignment it is important that you let them know immediately by releasing the job through your outstanding assignments box.


                            As I found after my first job it is important to check all the details about the job carefully - including when you have to report back. I had less than 24 hours to do this after my first job and as there are so many questions this was slightly stressful. You report back online, answering the closed questions, and most of the time they also want an open answer about what you think would make the service better for example. Before you post the report it will go through a spell check so you can ensure that everything is correct. The reports are fairly easy to fill in as long as you have an answer to all the questions and know what you actually thought about the place and the service. If you have any problems with any of the questions at this stage each job note will normally contain a contact email address where you can send your questions.



                            After you have sent your report it will end up in you account as pending proof read. I have never had any problems at this stage so could not tell you what would happen if there was something wrong. Once the report has been proof read and accepted your payment will appear in your account as awaiting.


                            So, the most important thing then - show me the money! I have found that you will not have any money left over from your maximum spend which indeed seems a bit tight most of the time. I have often spent more then the maximum spend just ordering what I am required to order. Together with the low shop fees, Retaileyes will not make you rich. However, you will end up with free drinks, meals, gym sessions etc and with a few pounds left over by the end of it if you are lucky. The mystery shopper fees are paid out once a month on the 15th and even though the default payment is by cheque you can change this online and have the fee paid straight to your bank account.


                            I would recommend Retaileyes to anyone interested in mystery shopping because the process is very easy. You can easily find all the details about the assignments online and make a decision if you want to take it on from there. The reporting system is fairly simple and although it takes a bit of time to answer all the questions they can be quite interesting. Even though Retaileyes certainly won't make you rich, you can go out with a friend for free, and you will generally tend to have a few pounds left over.


                            The few times I have had to contact Retaileyes they have always sent me a quick and personal reply and I have never had a problem that was not dealt with efficiently and kindly. I guess they out of all people should know all about how to treat customers and employees though...


                            There are assignments suitable for pretty much any age, and they will always let you know what type of place it is that you will be visiting and who would be suitable as a customer. The gourmet places generally tend to be suited to the slightly older mystery customer - typical!

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                              09.04.2007 21:27
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                              This night cream is well worth the money, but won't make you look 18 again

                              After having read many, many, many reviews on the benefits of very expensive face creams such as Crème de la Mer I had decided to save up the £90 or so necessary to try one of these miracle products which surely would change my life forever.


                              Luckily (well, in this case at least…) saving money isn’t exactly something I’m good at so I still hadn’t managed to get together enough money for this by the time I heard about the Horizon programme where scientists had carried out an independent research experiment into anti-aging products. The result was slightly unexpected as it showed that most of these very expensive creams had very little, or in most cases no effect at all on wrinkles. What they did find however was that one of the cheapest products in the study at £16; Boots no. 7 Protect & Perfect beauty serum could in fact repair damaged skin and even improve fine wrinkles. The result of the report of this study on Horizon was a virtual stampede to any Boots store physical and virtual. At the moment you cannot lay your hands on this serum for love nor money (that’s not strictly true in fact as you can log onto ebay and bid for it but prices are currently running close to £100 which sort of defeats the purpose really).


                              As I’m clearly not going to be able to get my hands on this serum anytime soon I decided to read a bit more about this, and other similar, independent studies to see if I could find alternatives.


                              Interestingly I found similar research had been undertaken by Consumer Reports, the US version of Which? Scientists monitored any changes in wrinkle depth and skin roughness achieved by 10 of the best selling anti-aging creams on a sample group of women over a period of several weeks. The results of this were similar to the English experiment where price and efficacy were in no way related. In fact, among the least effective were the La Prairie Cellular range, costing up to £229 for a 30ml pot – Imagine having just splashed out on that and then reading about this study. It’s got to hurt!


                              Anyway, the point with this introduction was to say that one of the cheapest creams, Olay Regenerist was also the one that gave the best results during the period of this study. Hallelujah – a product I don’t actually have to save up for and which I can convince myself has the scientific seal of approval – could it get any better?


                              Completely and utterly ignoring the fact that the study also suggested that even the best creams “reduced the average depth of wrinkles by less than 10 per cent, a magnitude of change that was barely visible to the naked eye” (Consumer Reports) I happily trotted down to my local Boots to pick up my new dream cream which clearly would change my life forever.


                              To start off with I settled for the Regenerist night cream as I still only ever use the Olay beauty fluid for day time (although this may change soon).


                              I ended up paying £19.50 for a 50 ml pot – a reasonable price as far as anti-aging products go. The pot is a dark lilac colour with a black lid – nothing particularly impressive although that doesn’t really matter to me as long as the cream works. Surprisingly, the cream itself is the same lilac colour the pot is and I can’t help to think that it’s a nod to the target market – ladies with purple-rinsed hair. Surely this cannot be the best colour to use for a brand that wants to give the impression that it caters for a modern albeit mature market? Never mind, just like the attractiveness of the pot doesn’t matter; the colour of the cream really doesn’t make a difference to my opinion on the product either.


                              If you need a list of ingredients this can be found on the website http://www.olay.co.uk/regenerist/products_night.jsp. The main ‘miracle’ part of this cream, according to Olay is palmitoyl pentapeptide. This is a protein molecule that is claimed to achieve "dramatic results without the celebrity price-tag". Apparently this has a good evidence base according to the study – always good to know.


                              According to the Olay website this product will give the impression of a mini-lift in the morning after having intensely moisturised the skin for up to 8 hours. Well, we’ll see! I tried it for the first time the very same night, after having cleansed my face thoroughly. I know there are lots of people who find it unhygienic to use their fingers to scoop up cream but if this bothers you there are spatulas to buy which could be used. The cream is quite thick and rich with a faint, flowery scent. In spite of it’s richness it’s easily absorbed after just a few seconds of massaging it in. Straight away I could feel that my skin felt very soft and moisturised without that greasy feel to it that you sometimes can get from richer creams. The morning after my skin still felt soft but – and this I’m sure will shock you – there was no difference in depth or amount of wrinkles…


                              I have used this night cream for about a week now and I still stick with my first impressions. My skin does seem to be softer and not as dry as it sometimes gets and I have not had any form of allergic reaction something which I’m prone to with other creams. I generally tend to like Olay products as they seem to suit my very sensitive skin and the Regenerist night cream is no exception. So far there is no visible difference in wrinkles, and I don’t really expect that there will be as, even if I keep hoping, I’m realistic enough to know that no cream can do anything about them really (that botox injection is getting more and more realistic).


                              I seem to be using quite a bit of cream each time I use it but this cream should still last me about 2 months or so as it’s only used once a day.


                              I will most certainly keep using this product, at least until there’s a new product on the market that I have to try, just in case. I would recommend this to just about anybody. As I have very dry skin I’ve used anti-aging products since I was 21 and it’s worked pretty well so far, in spite of the odd wrinkle here and there. I don't really think that you can be too young to start using this product. On the other hand I think that those with very gresy skin would be better off with other night creams, which are not as rich as this one.

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                              • General / Discussion / 90 Readings / 79 Ratings
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                                28.03.2007 14:20
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                                If you feel you have had unfair charges applied to your account - claim them back!

                                By now I’m sure most of you have heard at least something about the consumer revolution where ordinary bank account holders such as you and me have successfully claimed back unfair bank charges.


                                I’m one of them so I thought I might share my story with you.


                                In my case this all started with a misunderstanding between me and my bank. I was away on holiday and wanted to change a Standing Order. After having spoken to my bank and been assured that it was not too late to do so at that time (2 days before the money was due to come out) I happily waited until that evening before I cancelled my current standing order and recreated it at a lower amount. I didn’t think much of it until – shock, horror – I checked my account on the day the Standing Order was supposed to come out and realised that both the one that I thought I had cancelled and the new version of it had come out, leaving me about £200 overdrawn. I immediately transferred some money to cover this and contacted my bank. They insisted that in spite of the fact that the account had been overdrawn for only about 6 hours before I realised and did something about it they would have to charge me for this mistake.


                                It turns out that I had waited for too long before I had cancelled my original Standing Order as this must be done at least 48 hours before. When I looked on my page on the internet bank I did actually find this information so I must have just been in too much of a hurry. Now, I could accept that they would charge me something for this although it was a genuine mistake. However – I definitely could not accept the £48 I ended up having to pay. This included £28 simply for using an unauthorised overdraft and £30 for them actually covering my payments (sounds like the same thing to me, but what do I know…).


                                I walked around feeling wronged and angry for a couple of months before a friend sent me an email about how to claim back any bank charges you feel have been unfairly applied. I had seen this before but had never bothered looking into it as I haven’t had all that many charges and the ones I have had have been completely my fault and thus not all that unfair.


                                Anyway, this email contained a link to my beloved moneysavingexpert.co.uk forum, where people had claimed thousands of pounds worth of charges back. I did read it all very carefully as Martin (moneysavingsexpert Martin that is!) did warn that things could go wrong. There were examples of people having had there accounts closed down after having successfully claimed their bank charges and he did also warn that although it hasn’t happened so far, the banks may eventually challenge somebody in court. According to Martin, this isn’t likely to happen as the banks are worried about setting a precedent where everybody could/would claim their charges back. There is no guarantee of the consumer winning this claim but so far the majority seem to have done just that.

                                The basic idea behind this consumer revolution is that alhtough banks are in fact allowed to levy charges on their customers, the law states that these charges must be PROPORTIONAL to the cost incurred. It doesn’t seem likely that an unauthorised overdraft of £5 where you get an automated letter would really cost between £20 and £35 which is what most banks would charge.


                                Banks often argue that when customers sign up with them they are always advised of the terms and conditions and these generally warn you that charges may be applied. According to Martin however, this does NOT make the charges legal and adds: If someone told you they were about to punch you before smacking you; it doesn’t make it legal. The same’s true with bank charges. It makes sense doesn’t it?


                                I decided to follow Martin’s advice carefully and prepared by opening a back-up bank account with another bank, just in case. I decided to claim all charges that I had incurred in the last 6 years and I was lucky as I am a bit obsessed with paper work and actually had all my statements for this period. However, if you want to try to claim your bank charges and don’t have all your statements, this shouldn’t be a big problem as under the Data Protection Act you are entitled to information about any charges applied to your account although they are legally allowed to charge you a maximum of £10 for this information (I’ve heard of many banks who try to charge a lot more than this for the information though – don’t fall for it – it’s illegal!).


                                Once I had all the information I needed, I again went back to the moneysavingexpert website and used one of the template letters that can be found there. In my case I decided to add an interest of 8% on top of my charges as this is what the court would have awarded me if it had gone that far (and I’d won of course..). It was very easy as there’s even an interest calculator on the page so I simply used that. To be fair, I never expected to get this and I’m not sure I felt I was entitled to it either, but I figured that the bank would probably like to settle anyway, and if I added interest on top, they might be happy just to pay the charges in full without the interest, thereby not trying to reduce the charges due back to me.


                                As I sent my letter off I did feel a bit worried as people are often refused or even ignored. I set a time limit of a month after which I would contact them again advising that I would go to court. There are several stories about people who’ve done this everywhere on the internet but I would definitely recommend reading about his on moneysavingexpert as I found the site extremely helpful and reliable. I cannot tell you much about it you see because 2 weeks after I sent my letter claiming my charges I got a letter from the bank!


                                The letter was 2 pages long and the first page only dealt with how they did not agree that the charges were unfair how I’d known about the terms and conditions when I opened the account etc. However, page 2 started with – “However, having reviewed your case and as a gesture of goodwill and without admission of liability or error, in this instance we are prepared to offer the amount of £162 paid direct to your account”! The £162 was all the bank charges that I had claimed for the past 6 years but without the interest. As I had never really cared much about getting interest on the money anyway I decided to settle at this and am currently waiting for the money to turn up in my account.


                                I don’t know if it was this easy for me because the amount I claimed was so small or whether I was just lucky. I would have actually been happy to settle for less as I only claimed the charges out of principle. In most of the instances I don’t think the charge has been unfair as it has been my fault – it has simply been too high for the ‘service’ provided. It doesn’t seem completely fair that the banks should let you go overdrawn and not be allowed to charge anything at all for it but I’m not going to complain about that now as I’m happy with the £162 I will get without all that much effort.


                                I haven’t told you all the details about how to claim your charges and how/why it works as I’m not really an expert. If you are interested in reading more about this this please do have a look around the internet but do not pay anybody to claim your charges for you you as it is in fact easy to do yourself. I found this link extremely helpful: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/cgi-bin/viewnews.cgi?newsid1141050760,24632, but there is a great deal of information about this on many sites now – just find your favourite and go for it!


                                I haven’t mentioned the name of my bank as part of my agreement with them was to keep this confidential but I can tell you that it is one of the major high street banks and they made a massive profit last year so my heart isn’t exactly bleeding for them.

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                                  21.03.2007 10:43
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                                  A good read for anybody interested in heatlhy eating

                                  By now most of us will know who Gillian McKeith is. Her TV show You Are What You Eat showed her retraining seemingly hopelessly obese and unhealthy people to enjoy her diet of raw vegetables, quinoa and seeds. In fact, diet is the wrong word in this case as Gillian would point out, her plan is more a complete change of lifestyle rather than a crash diet.


                                  In spite of her no longer being allowed to use her Doctor title as she is, in fact, not a doctor but a holistic nutritionist, I still find much of her advice very useful for a healthy lifestyle. Yes, she is a bit too strict at times but in general her suggestions are common sense to a great deal. It seems obvious that the human body will work better on food packed with energy rather than a processed ready meal full of e-numbers, fat and sugar. Personally I absolutely love Gillian although partly I think this is because I have some sort of fascination with really strict, scary small women - I adore Judge Judy too.


                                  Anyway, after having watched her programmes since they started, and also bought the You Are What You Eat books I was quickly running out of Gillian inspired material and there were no new shows on the horizon. After having trawled through Amazon in desperation I found a book called You Are What You Eat - Michelle's Diary. As I hadn't seen this before I was intrigued and had a quick read through the blurb. It turned out this was the diary of Michelle McManus who, if anyone can remember, won Pop Idol in 2003 only to quickly disappear into obscurity. In spite of always saying how completely happy and confident she was in herself in spite of her obesity she had decided to team up with Gillian in order to lose weight and become healthier. I remember seeing pictures in Heat of her after she had lost an amazing 8 stone and it turns out it was all down to good old-fashioned willpower and - of course - Gillian!


                                  So, how could I resist, of course I ordered the book there and then.


                                  The books first chapter tells the story of how Michelle won Pop Idol, her feelings about it and also her life after it. She also reemphasises how she was really, truly happy in her own skin. In fact, she goes as far as saying that she has at times thought that she may suffer from a sort of reverse anorexia, where she just didn't see quite how big she was but always thought she looked just beautiful and happily continued stuffing her face. I think any girl would struggle to look in the mirror and think she looked just gorgeous every time so in a way it seems sad that in spite of this she felt a need to change herself.


                                  In the end it was not the many horrible comments she suffered at the hands of the press and others but a realisation that she, at the age of 24, weighed 22 stone and that this clearly was not healthy for anybody, let alone a 5 foot 2 girl. The book then turns into a diary. At first we follow her own attempts of dieting, including quorn sausage sandwiches, low-fat ready meals and what seems to be her downfall most times - gallons of white wine! At the end of 2004 she teams up with Gillian for a TV show of You What You Eat. Their relationship seems to be of the stormier kind as Gillian does not accept disobedience or excuses but Michelle is not the type of person to take personal comments/attacks lightly.


                                  Throughout the diary Michelle is eager to reinforce that she's doing this for herself, not for her record company or the papers or anybody else. At times she does seem less confident than the image she normally portrays, worrying about how her weight loss will be received when it is revealed in the first of two You Are What You Eat programmes. Will she, who has always insisted that the combination of big, happy and beautiful is not at all impossible, be condemned for her attempts to now lose this weight? Will people think that she does it for publicity or because she has more or less been forced into it? These are some of the questions that she considers during the first months before her first big reveal on national television.


                                  The book contains some recipes but mainly we follow Michelle's life. Will she be able to stay off her beloved booze and how will her weight loss be received by her fans (yes, there are still some of them) and the public in general? Will she be able to resist tying Gillian up and putting her in a dark closet? During the period there are a couple of fairly dramatic upheavals in Michelle's life which form parts of the book, but the main part is to do with how she changes her life through her new eating and drinking habits.


                                  In all I found this book pretty interesting. I cannot claim to be a great fan of Michelle McManus myself but she does seem to be a very honest and fun girl. It is interesting to see how somebody with such incredibly bad eating habits tries to turn it all around completely. She doesn't hold back at all when it comes to her thoughts about her new life and I definitely admire her for the work that she puts in and the total commitment she shows - at least to start off with!


                                  At times I found that she tried to explain the change from her being big and happy to her trying to lose weight too much. It's as if she's still trying to convince herself that she really didn't mind being fat. Maybe it is in fact true but this was a part that didn't really ring true to me somehow. In all I found her to be very honest about her feelings and this is partly why I enjoyed the book.


                                  If there are any fellow Gillian McKeith fans out there, I'd thoroughly recommend this book as it gives an insight into the day to day retraining it requires. If you are looking for a diet book, however, this isn't it at all as it is much too vague.


                                  The book is published by Michael O'Mara Books (9 Dec 2005) and you can find the paper back version on Amazon new and used starting from 50p - a very reasonable price indeed!

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