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Flash wipes and a cat may seem like two completely unrelated items but for me the reason I purchased them was entirely down to my relatively new found cat ownership. Ralph has several curious habits but the most pertinent to this review are his tea drinking, walking across my laptop and walking across my desk, preferably after he's been for a nice stroll in a muddy garden. The result of these three is that I regularly come home to find unspecified items of dirt walked across some of the items I use most frequently, and if im unlucky droplets of tea that have been splashed up the painted wall in his eagerness to drink.
Being a relatively hygenic person and also worrying about exactly that dodgy stain is meant I became fed up of going downstairs and getting a bowl of water to clean up with so when I stumbled on Flash Wipe and Go in Tesco for a £1 I was sold.
The concept is simple, 48 wipes (more on this later) in a handy, resealable packet that owing to its flat rectangle shape is easy to store in the limited space that is my desk drawer. The vibrant orange and yellow of the packet also mean it's easy to find. The wipes are household cleaning wipes suitable for all hard services and have a fresh lemon scent that I find really pleasant and very unlike the normal chemical after smell that can be left by some cleaning products.
The tag line on the packet is "east clean, wont fall apart" and I have to agree, you can be relatively vigrious when cleaning and the wipe will still maintain its shape. The texture of the wipe means you do not have to press to hard to remove the stains and I also found it easily removes the tea stains from my wall without taking off the paint because you don't need to apply much pressure for it to be effective. There is no need to wipe it after you've cleaned so this is a ready to go, easy to use wipe.
My only criticism is a relatively big one. The packet states 48 wipes which seems like great value for money. However when you remove a wipe form the packet you'll find it to be a reasonable size, perfect in fact for placing your whole head on and quickly rubbing down a surface, however on closer inspection you'll see a perforated edge down the middle and quickly realise this is in fact 2 wipes. One wipe alone is too small to be worth bothering with and therefore they should list more clearly on the packet 24 large wipes. Of course 24 wipes seems like less value for money but I would rather some product honesty.
For my negative point they are a good product, a little lazy perhaps but ideal to have near you desk to clean up or as a gift for a going away student that might want to keep their personal space a little less filthy. Or perhaps for a cat owner who spends far too much time cleaning up after her pet!
As with all cleaning products you should wash your hands after use.
With a new series of the very popular cooking show of the same name I was inspired to dust off The Great British Bake Off: How to Bake the perfect Sponge Cake and relieve what have now become some of my staple recipe's and also review what has made this book a firm favourite in my collection.
The Great British Bake Off started life as a TV series on BBC fronted by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood which involved taking a relatively normal group of people and putting them through various technical and creative challenges before crowning a winner. The wholesome nature of the show and the insight it gave into baking methods and techniques meant that I became hooked and as soon as the cookbook came out bought it off Amazon for £14.00. It can now be bought new on Amazon for £12.12 or second hand for around £8.
The term baking inevitably makes you think of cakes and indeed these are covered very well in Chapter One from a basic Victoria Sponge to the more challenging chocolate chilli cake. However it is the subsequent seven chapters that got me really excited covering everything from bread, tarts, biscuits, puddings, celebration cakes and even delving into the technically complex works of patisserie.
A pleasant surprise when everything covered on the show was indeed covered in the cookbook, often cookery shows are formed on the back of a book and give you a snapshot of what is to come so I was pleasantly surprised that the book was the reverse and went over and above the level of detail included in the programme.
The varying skill levels of the potential reader are excellently catered for and the book even features easier recipes for children so they can begin their knowledge of baking from an early age. The technical challenges offer a test for even the developed cook but with easy to follow instructions that mean it's a satisfying outcome even for a novice like me! I found the technical explanations incredibly interesting and the tips such as "keeping filo pastry out of a hot kitchen because it becomes brittle" informative and have genuinely enhanced my backing knowledge.
The wholesome and almost kitsch style of the tv series is replicated in the book. The hardcover makes it practical as it can be stood up and open when baking and the pages are slightly laminated meaning you can wipe it clean when you get a little vigorous with your whisking!
Photography is featured heavily with appetising shots of the finished, perfect product but also step by step shots that really help explain some of the sometimes confusing 'cookery language'. The text is attractive and well spaced with a clear product explanation, ingredients list and then the method. I always think having a well formatted cookbook is crucial because your eyes linger back to the job in hand and with good formatting you can easily re-find you place.
**Usability of the recipes**
I am sure I am not alone in being seduced into buying a cookbook and then only ever really making one or two of the recipes, generally because they are too complex or simply not practical for everyday life. The joyous thing about The Great British Bake Off is that it is entirely the opposite. The book goes back to basics covering how to make short crust pastry and sponge mixes and then leads you to naturally develop your skills.
The step by step photo shots were particularly useful when tackling items such as Paul Hollywood's focaccia and the tarte au citron. The clear photography allowed you to skim over the instructions and develop your own style as you become more confident on the core method.
The wonderful mix of sweet and savoury recipes means I can use this as a one stop shop and out of my ever growing cook book collection this is the one that always has me coming back.
If you only try a few these would be my top recommendations:
Mary Berry's Tarte Au Citron - just divine and my first real effort at making pastry, I will confess that the first time I made it it took about 3 hours but Im now down to about an hour and half
Salmon and Pak Choi Quiche - just a little bit different and great for summer eating
Earl Grey Cupcakes - perfect with some lemon icing!
It is worth noting that the cookbook is written by Linda Collister who is not mentioned or seen during the TV series.
With any flight I like to pack moisturiser to counter the drying effects of being in the air but when on a long haul flight the lack of sleep, black puffy eyes and subsequent sun exposure always makes me a look older and hagged. Just before going away I found a 5ml trial pot of L'Occtaine Immortelle Eye Balm, until finding the pot I knew nothing about the company or the product but have been pleasantly surprised on both counts.
A French company established in 1976 with the aim of creating health and beauty products with an essence of Provence. The products use natural and often organic ingredients all of which are developed in the French town of Manosque using local producers as the suppliers. Its success has seen it become a global business with stores in 70 countries.
**The science of Eyes**
The area around the eyes is particularly delicate, the skin is thinner and we naturally have greater contact with it, either through applying or removing make up but also throughout tendency to rub and touch the eye area. In short the combination of this causes earlier and greater wrinkles, and as we get older and more stressed puffy and black eyes are a common occurrence.
Therefore finding a product that counters these are particular important and regular use can help tighten and protect the skin helping limit any potential damage.
The balm comes in a navy tub and is slightly yellow in colour. The product is velvety, non-stick and easy to apply. I found for the first few times I used it that an unpleasant residue was left behind but halved how much I applied and found this went. The product is suitable for sensitive skin and has very little fragrance which therefore made me feel more confident about applying it to the eye area.
A 15ml pot is £29.00, this would last a good few months even if applying every day as the 5ml sample has lasted me a month.
According to the L'Occtaine website the product contains organic immortelle, ivy and ruscus. After some research I was able to ascertain that the immortelle stimulates collagen production (known for improving skins elasticity and therefore combating wrinkles) and ivy helps reduce inflammation and therefore puffiness. Some references were found online that suggested the inclusion of ruscus is to help with black eyes.
A soon as the balm is applied I find my eyes feel less tired and more refreshed. The skin around the eyes certainly feels smoother and after a few days to use felt firmer. It is not able to work miracles so unfortunately after a night out with little sleep it appears to have minimal impact on the dark circles but the overall feeling of being more refreshed naturally makes me seem more awake.
£29.00 is a little steep for me at this stage as I do not think I need a regular and daily eye cream just yet but it is worth trying as a product and has made me consider L'Occtaine for the future.
When most people think of Cuba they imagine a colourful and vibrant country, although glimpses are obvious in Havana nowhere is the real Cuba more visible than Trinidad. Situated around 6 and half hours away from Havana, and located on the South of the island it can often be missed on the tourist trail but as it so exquisitely captures the essence of this wonderful country it should definitely be on your itinerary.
During the 1800's the area surrounding Trinidad was famous for its sugar production, this resulted in a huge amass of wealth which was spent in constructing opulent, colonial mansions, heavily influenced by the a strong Spanish presence and accompanied by dreamy, winding cobbled streets, set against the backdrop of beautiful Caribbean hills.
Luckily for the tourists the sudden end to the sugar boom came in the 1850's following the Wars of Independence. As wealth quickly diverted from the town so did the desire to remain in the area and therefore no redevelopment has occurred. The clock literally stopped in 1850, created an open air museum for future generations and due to the town nearly perfectly preserved nature was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988.
If the historical nature and opportunity to see a quaint Cuban town in action isn't enough the tranquillity, friendly and small scale of Trinidad offers a refreshing break from the bustle of Havana. Although bus loads of tourist do descend on a regular basis the town is peaceful. The tourist night spots are well hidden from the main square making this a good location for varying ages. Staying for two or three days gives you the opportunity to experience the surrounding beauty of La Boca and Playa Ancon. So if the above has whetted your appetite the below is designed to delve into more detail about whats on offer.
**What to See**
Simply walking around Trinidad is a satisfying experience, back streets will expose you to Cuban family life whilst sticking to the tourist trial will lead you to craft stalls, art galleries, coconut sellers and the ususal cigar touts. Set against some of the most stunning buildings I have ever laid eyes on you can blissfully wile away an afternoon but if looking for some direction the itinerary below offers something for everyone.
The main square Plaza Mayor is easily found and here you can find the impressive Museo Historico Municpal, worthy of a visit simply so you can scale the tower and get a birds eye view of the town. ($2 to enter and best done before noon).
At night and at the side of Plaza Mayor you will find Casa de la Musica, an outside music venue that offers live bands playing salsa with a salsa show at 10pm. This remarkable venue has sloping steps up one side, waiters serving very cheap drinks and a good mix of locals and tourists. The heat of the night and the atmosphere make this a friendly venue.
If your looking for an interesting and later evening Disco Ayala is situated above the town and in a cave. Possibly the most remarkable venue Ive ever been clubbing in this surprisingly well run venue can only be accessed up a hill and a dark alley so flat shoes are essential! Saturday nights are the best.
Playa Ancon is Trinidad's main beach and when we visited on a Sunday it was packed with Cuban families gathered together and enjoying several bottles of rum! The beach itself is long and relatively narrow but the warm Caribbean waters and soft sand make it a nice change from walking around the town. Food options are very limited so bring it with you if possible. Although you can get a taxi from Trinidad we took the more adventurous route and cycled, the long route on the way there (around 18k) took us through La Boca and down the coast, stunning scenery and made the lounging in the sun for the rest of day very deserved. A much shorter 10k on the way back made this a perfect way to see more of the area even for the non-fitness minded amongst the group (Me!).
**Where to Stay**
Staying in a casa in Trinidad is a truly authentic experience and with over 400 in the town you can just turn up and find somewhere to stay $20-30 per room. The food/restaurants in Trinidad is nothing to write about so eat in your casa's, not only are you providing the host with much needed extra income the food is home-cooked, authentic and often very good $8-11 depending on your
Buses from Havana run every day and cost $25 (around £20). Trains are non-existent but if there is more than two of you travelling private taxis are a reliable option.
Overall Trinidad was one of the highlights of my trip and although I am keen for Cuba to remain relatively low on tourists this is one place I would recommend to anyone.
**Why visit Cuba?**
The following review is not intended as an overview of Cuba as a country but as a practical guide for anyone considering visiting this wonderful, culturally rich country. Cuba has experienced a huge rise in the number of foreign visitors and in 2010 saw its largest ever number of tourists. This is likely to be ever growing, travel restrictions are slowly being relaxed and the economy boost foreign spending can provide is being recognised.
Although many people flock to the all inclusive costal resorts they really are missing out on the real Cuba, the colours and vibrancy of Havana, the rolling Caribbean hills of Pinar Del Rio, the sleepy 1950's revival in Trinidad and endless white, unspoilt beaches along their coastlines. Although travelling here is not easy it is certainly rewarding and below should help arm you with useful on the ground information.
**Getting there and around**
The majority of travellers from the UK come as part of an organised package with flights, tourist visas and accommodation included. Obviously what everyone wants out of their holiday is different but having spent several weeks in Cuba staying in one resort for your whole trip is a wasted opportunity. If you are cautious about travelling one of the many organised trips is a good option with scheduled stops, planned activities and the company of other travellers. Alternatively myself and two other female travellers backpacked around the West of the country, felt very safe and despite some frustrations travel was relatively simple.
If not travelling as part of an organised tour bear in mind you need a travel visa and give yourself 3 weeks to organise one, it is also worth noting that in order to get your tourist visa you need 3 nights booked accommodation for when you first arrive in the country.
You can fly from all major UK airports into Havana but travelling from the US is only possible through non-direct flights, i.e through Mexico.
Travelling from destination to destination is best done on buses (Viazul) or private taxi. The website for Viazul appears up to date and the prices very reasonable but be warned do not trust the website or guidebook times. On two occasions we missed the only bus of the day, best to get there the day before, book and confirm travel times.
Private taxis can work out very cost effective especially if more than two of you are travelling. The guidebook provides indicative prices and some Spanish will be helpful for negoigatiing. If the rate is very low its likely to be a collective which means you may go to multiple locations, with multiple pick ups before proceeding to your final destination.
A truly Cuban concept Casa Particulars are essentially rooms to rent to tourists in family homes. A very comfortable and very cheap option when travelling the service standards in the Casa well surpass any of the 4* hotels I stayed in. You can expect to pay between $20-$30 per night for two people in a clean room, often with air conditioning and private bathroom in a quaint family home. It is possible to turn up in any town without booking and still be directed to a good Casa although those contained in the standard travel guides are a good start. As the Cubans are very family and community orientated if one is full you will no doubt end up staying with their cousin or brother and still receive the same warm welcome.
As this is the main source of income to the proprietors you can expect second to none service. In addition to you room you will be offered breakfast $3-$5 per person and dinner $8-$11 per person. The food will outstrip anything you could have in town and is therefore highly recommended.
Cuba operates a dual currency system. Despite the best efforts of popular guidebook Lonely Planet we were not really prepared for firstly just how difficult obtaining cash could be nor the realities of the dual system.
If you are coming to Cuba and not staying in the main tourist resorts or Havana be warned that your best bet is to exchange the majority or all of your cash at your arrival airport. You cannot exchange the cash until you reach the country and therefore expect some queues. Although credit cards are accepted in the main resorts the connections are not always reliable and therefore you could end up stuck so always carry some cash on you, safes are provided in all hotels and as long as you are careful and aware you should not have any issues.
There are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban Peso (CUC) and the Peso (MN). To make the situation more confusing for visitors both currencies are indicated by the $ sign. Tourists can only change into CUC at the airport. This is what the majority of your transactions will be in. The average Cuban salary is around $6 CUC per month and at time of writing $1.5 CUC equated to £1. If you are sticking to the beaten track you will not have much need to utilise the (MN) currency but should you wish to involve yourself in the real Cuba, benefit from significantly cheaper food then
At time of writing $1.50 CUC equated to £1.
* Night in a Casa Particular - $25
* Main meal - $8
* Cocktail -$3
* Beer - $2
* Bottled water - $2
**General Tips to Remember**
* Cash - can only be changed at the airport. Change as much at the airport as you feel comfortable doing, it is far easier to secure it in the safe than try and find a bank outside the cities. Be careful of scam artists trying to induce you to exchange your CUC's for MN. One they are not as widely accepted and you will be greatly disadvantaged on the exchange rate.
* Customer Service - expect queues, lack of information and at times a complete lack of any notion of service. This will improve in the resorts with time but some knowledge of Spanish will help in the mean time. A sense of humour and relaxing about 'Cuba time' also helps!
* Food - unless you are eating in Casa Particulars the food is often more miss than hit but on the whole relatively safe. Expect the staples of rice and chicken and some fruit. Vegetables are limited.
During one of my make up and facial product binges I was one product away from receiving a free gift, I know it's a gimmick but often I end up buying more than two products anyway so pushing to and buying a third seems like common sense, not to mention the samples that come with the freebie give me ample to review!
On this occasion and being in need of an eyeliner I selected the Clinque kohl shaper for eyes which for the price of £12 was more than I would normally spend.
I am a big fan of eyeliner as I have little eyes and the difference with its use is dramatic. I wear it on the inner lids and like a smoky and smudgy look. For this reason I prefer a kohl pencil, it has a softer and therefore less abrasive look and is also suitable for use near the eye whereas eyeliner pencil should only be applied to the eyelids.
**The Clinque Kohl shaper**
This is one well packaged and stylish product. The silver lid matches the silver lettering on the black stick, I opted for number 201 Black Kohl. Within the lid is a neat and cleverly contained sharpener. I think this a terrific idea and all eyeliner and kohl pencils should include the same. As kohl is softer than an en eyeliner pencil it is prone to becoming blunt and soft in the heat, applying it blunt is actually not a problem and in fact creates a deeper and broader outline of the eye but it is handy to have the sharpener all the same. It is a simple but very effective idea and means that this product has become indispensible from my handbag.
**Applying the liner**
A mirror is essential! Tilt your head up and hold the lid and apply to the inner rim of the eyelid, for a subtler look I only apply to the top lid, for an evening look I apply to both top and bottom.
For months this was the best eyeliner I had ever owned, terrific staying power, smooth application and a great colour as well, of course, as the sharpener. However the climate in the UK definitely favours this product and the second I arrived in heatwave stricken Canada it crumbled. Surprisingly it withstood the heat pretty well and the problem was not that it became a melted mess within the lid, the problem was it became a melted mess on my face. Within ten minutes of being applied and humidity and evening heat had destructed it causing horrendous black marks under my eyes. The impressive staying power also meant it was incredibly tricky to remove and wiping it hard with water and tissue just meant I was left with red instead of black bags. It comes off reasonably well with facial wipes and also Clinque's make up remover.
On the whole this is a terrific product, even the price can be justified when you consider the staying power and longevity of the pencil but it is certainly not one for the holiday suitcase.
Shirley Valentine is truly one of the best films I have seen in years. Admittedly I am well behind the pace and having grown up with the phrase 'she's doing a Shirley,' whenever a family friend went holidaying alone, it should really have been on my watched list some time ago. Last week whilst perusing a friends DVD collection I snapped it up and still, days later, find myself having a good giggle at bits of the film.
The film's plot is well known, Shirley Valentine runs off to a Greek Island and never returns, however to my surprise there is so much more to the film and the majority of it is actually based on her life before she goes away.
Shirley Bradshaw (Pauline Collins) used to be Shirley Valentine, a rebellious and passionate teenager who thought life was going to take her places. Her desire to travel evaporated as she fell in love with her husband Joe (Bernard Hill). They raised two children who have now left home leaving being a dull and unappreciative husband and a frustrated and restless Shirley. Shirley communicates directly with the camera and therefore the audience, this device is more commonly associated with theatre and immediately pulls you into her world as a confident. Shirley talks to Wall to keep her sane, voicing the dreams she once had and considering where it has all ended.
Following some hilarious encounters with an old school friend (Joanna Lumley) and the neighbours large dog Shirley is nearing the end of her tether. Her best friend Jane (Alison Steadman) wins a holiday to Greece and persuades Shirley its just what she needs. She leaves without telling her family doesn't return, falling in love with the island and its people.
**Why is the movie a success?**
The movie's original success was probably down to the fact that it tapped into the feelings of many a married couple. Couples who married young in the early 70's that had seen their children grow up and now felt there must be more to life. It coincided with the growth of the package holiday and its insights into the British culture must have been eye opening. Undoubtedly as hilarious as it was educational it is easy to see why this movie was so appreciated. It must also have done wonders for Greek tourism as the scenes from her trip are incredible.
Its success then is matched by its continuing success now. This movie is a classic, fantastic script, hilarious direction and dialogue, good supporting story, strong and likeable characters and some brilliant acting pull the viewer right in. It does look a little dated but at times the bad hair, bad costumes and all round 'Brits abroad' aspect adds to the comedy.
A lot of credit has to be given to Pauline Collins, her soft scouse accent, forthright comments and overall believable and genuine demeanour create a well rounded and terrific Shirley Valentine. Her down to earth nature makes her endearing and an instant audience winner. The role won her the Tony award at the time.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film and feel as if I could watch it again and again with it being no less relevant not than it was when it was released. I would not recommend watching it if you have a case of the holiday blues as it will encourage you to get right back on the flight.
There is a real sense of being able to make up for lost time in this film. The overriding message is that it is never too late, never too late to follow a dream, never too late to find yourself again and never to late to swallow your pride and follow your dearly missed wife to a foreign country. The message leaves the viewers with an amazing feeling of optimism, and that lasting impression is what every movie wishes it could achieve.
Written by Willy Russell
Running Time 104 minutes
I have just returned from an incredible two week break in British Colombia, Canada.
With only two weeks to explore this amazing Canadian province we had to be very select about where we visited. Our first two days were spent in Vancouver and we then headed up to Whistler to experience some of the mountains and incredible scenery. As with any big trip money is an obstacle especially with the exchange rate being particularly poor and with Whistler being notoriously expensive. So we opted to camp! We regularly go camping in the UK so it seemed to be the ideal solution, of course with the added complication of bears to deal with but we felt confident that it was a sound choice.
Finding a good campsite online was incredibly easy, entering Whistler camping instantly brought up RV resort and campsite. Due to its proximity to Whistler, the stunning photographs on its website, the facilities offered and the ease of online booking we didn't waste any time reserving our plot. We had concerns about the night temperature so initially only booked for one night.
Riverside RV Resort and Campsite is located on Highway 99, perhaps more commonly known as the Sea to Sky Highway for the epic drive it delivers from Vancouver to Whistler. Once you reach Whistler the campsite is well sign posted and set off the main road so as not to be disturbed by road traffic.
If, like us, you are back packing then the Greyhound coach drops you right in Whistler Village and the campsite offers an incredibly convenient shuttle bus that runs at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm which picks you up and takes you to the campsite. It is also a great opportunity to get to know the campsite owner who visibly loves his home even after over 20 years. He was more than happy to feel us in on bear protocol which is strictly enforced at the camp site.
After our very informative shuttle ride I was already sold and knew that I would love the campsite, this was helped by the sudden arrival of a heatwave with the temperature pushing 30 degrees making ideal camping weather. Check in was simple and efficient with a help desk being open from 8am till 8pm. We were able to extend our stay to three nights with each night costing $35, a bargain in comparison to the hotel prices. A map of the facilities and our tent location was provided as well as walking directions into Whistler Village. As well as a front reception a well stocked shop, bike hire, computer with chargeable internet access and a café that opened at 7am till 3pm offering a range of tasty meals.
High season costs $57 for RV pitches.
The tent pitches are located in a nice wooded area with a river running behind them. The woods provide some much needed shade and are also set back and separate from the RV's which was nice and gave us a perfect camping experience. Each plot featured its very own fire pit, picnic table and benches and a grill to go over your fire pit. Bear nets are a common feature of Canadian campsites and are basically a net which is kept away from the tents that you put all food and toiletries into and hoist up around 25 ft above the ground. I was dubious at first at leaving all my make-up and perfume but everyone is in the same boat and there is a real element of trust. One night we stored some muffins for breakfast. The next morning some local squirrels had literally decimated the plastic container and all the muffins so it is not just the bears you need to watch!
The RV pitches are beautifully landscaped and nicely spaced so you can have your own area to sit with family. They are fully equipped with electricity, water and sewage connections.
As is evident from the photograph the resort is open all year with log cabins on offer for the princely sum of $189 per night.
**The Facilities and location**
The toilet and showers were amongst the best I have experienced on a campsite and I saw them being cleaned and stocked twice a day. A coded lock on the door means that only resort habitants can use them, a very popular cycle and walk path runs through the site so it is quickly apparent why the lock is needed. The showers cost 25c for a minute and a half and although they are good showers it is a little pricey in my opinion.
When coming out of the bathroom I spotted some wild chipmunks who appear to be the campsite critters. Midges were also a bit of a problem so pack repellent.
The on site café came in handy due to our inability to store food, we had breakfast on a few mornings which was well priced and very tasty.
The location really cannot be beaten, the river is a beautiful jade colour, desperately cold because of the melting snow from Blackcomb mountain but perfect for using to chill beers! The valley path that runs through the site provides a 10 minute cycle or 25 minute walk into Whistler Village and is well lit so ideal for coming back after a night out. The walk takes you out into stunning panoramic views up into the mountains and I never tired of it. The site is served by the local bus service but the walk is so pleasant we never used it. You do have to go to Whistler Village to sample the bars and restaurants but in terms of location and the feeling of being in the wild the campsite is excellent.
**My Final Thoughts**
Maybe it was the combination of the sun, wildlife, falling asleep to the sound of a river, waking up in a wood, the amazing views, the well kept facilities and the helpful staff but I loved this place! I really cannot think of a better way to visit Whistler in the summer as it provides the all round experience that people seek when they go to Canada. You simply could not replicate this in a hotel. I was hesitant about camping in Canada because of the bears but provided you follow the advice of the locals and on no account leave food or toiletries in your tent they are not something to be feared.
The bike hire was more expensive and shorter time allowances than other places and also the internet was expensive and slow, I suspected that it was so slow to encourage you to pump more money into it but maybe Im being cynical! As my boyfriend pointed out I was on holiday and should not have been checking my emails anyway! But other than those two very minor points I cannot fault it.
One of the fundamentals to a good holiday is a good book. Ideally something that is engrossing, lengthy (I read at a quick rate and a 300 page novel would not last a flight) and is not Jodi Piccoult. Mooching round the airport bookshops I was pretty uninspired, I considered buying one of my typical historical thrillers but decided it was time to diversify. The Children's Book stood out like a beacon, the intensely decorated and terrific cover seemed to pull me in, the dragonfly brooch and ornate gold lettering was certainly eye-catching. The blurb depicted a tale of children and families at the turn of the 20th Century and caught my attention by hinting at murkier goings on. As if to affirm that this was a good choice the front cover proudly proclaims that the novel was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker prize. I purchased my colourful find for £7.99.
At this juncture I knew nothing of the author however on my arrival to Canada my friend who studies literature was reading Possession which was a 1990 Booker Prize winner and is apparently outstanding, sadly I am not sure after this novel I feel inspired enough to take it on.
The book begins with Tom Wellgood and Julian Cain discovering Phillip, a young boy like themselves, living in the museum whose talent for art is already visible. The young children are from very privileged backgrounds, a complete contrast to Philip who is penniless, hungry and homeless. The Wellgood's, headed by matriarch Olive Wellgood the authoress, take Phillip home, clothe him, feed him and find him work as an apprentice with Benedict Fludd.
The first chapter is exciting and happy, we meet the many vibrant characters that continue the rest of the novel and you begin to be absorbed in this genteel and liberal environment. It bodes well I had visions of following Phillip through his quest to become a potter but this was too singular a focus for Byatt.
Obviously there is a lot of attention on the children, as was customary in that era the families are considerably large so a good chunk of the novel had me referring back to the start to figure out who was related to who. Once I realised that yes the author does intend to write about each and every one of the them my interest in them all began to wane as I feared, rightly so, that I would not be able to keep my interest in each of them.
And so the novel proceeds with the key characters being the Wellgood family: Humphrey, Olive, Violet, Tom, Florian, Robin, Phylss, Dorothy. The Cain family; Prosper, Florence and Julian. The Fludd family: Benedict, Pomona, Imogen, Seraphita. Phillip and Else Warren. The Metheleys (Humphrey Metheley appears to be god's greatest gift to women although I was left wondering if he was the worlds oldest philanderer by the end of the novel) and various other people and children who pop up and are born throughout the book. As I hope I have demonstrated an in depth character analysis of all these players is simply not possible
The occasional interspersions of children's stories bored me, they were not without point and obviously help allude to the books title but it was not long before the focus of the novel shifted away from Olive Wellgood and therefore, for me, the point of the children's tales were lost. I believe A.S Byatt uses a similar technique in Possession with the inclusion of poems to much greater success.
I began to get frustrated with the whimsical, long and often pointless descriptions. On one occasion I was able to skip an entire four pages and miss nothing of any interest. I have no doubt that some people would greatly enjoy the intricate and minute details that Byatt displays, clearly the novel is well researched but I found it excessive.
There are some very interesting historical insights in the novel, the rise of the suffragettes, the Fabian and socialist quest for an equal society, an examination of the sexual liberation, homosexuality and also the apparently prevalent child abuse however the inclusion of too many characters experiencing too many of these issues at times made it confusing and haphazard to follow.
I read the entire novel because my attention was at times captured and I enjoyed the historical context but on the whole it was a little dull. It showed such promise in the beginning but I began to loathe each of the characters, Olive becomes self obsessed, Tom becomes increasingly introverted without any real explanation as to its source and the girls in pursuit of their liberation end up shackled with pregnancy or loneliness. Even Phillip who had me so enamoured never really progressed and appeared to have a distinct lack of personality.
I appreciate the novel is meant to show their struggle but the same effect could have been achieved with a third of the waffle. On the whole it was a pretty dismal and bleak conclusion with the last pages being devoted to a sudden climax in the First World War and the inevitable consequences that it brings, to me it felt as if Byatt could not figure out a way to let go of the characters and so romped through an additional and unnecessary decade just to bring the book to an end.
Not for me and certainly doesn't make me want to delve into the author's other works.
I read the the paperback edition by Vintage in 2010. 615 pages
Whether it be the exaggerate pollen levels or the summer cold which I seem to be single handedly spreading around my office there is one distinct sound in the air, no not vuvuzalas but sniffles! If you are unfortunate enough to be suffering with either of the above you will know just how miserable it is when the constant sniffing, wiping and sneezing begins to irritate the poor, sensitive skin on the end of your nose making you look as if you might have forgotten the sun cream on that particular patch. In order to help solve the sore nose problem Kleenex offer a balsam tissue which claims to help soften and sooth the nose.
I purchased my six pack, travel pack, from Morrisons for 99p and each pack contains 9 very neatly followed tissues. The travel packs are perfect for hand luggage, hand bags and even jeans pockets with a handy re-sealable top section. The packets are eye catching with their dark blue to green to yellow front and cartoon face with a protective barrier around the nose, just in case their was any ambiguity about what the tissues were for!
With them being in a travel pack you may think they would be smaller but they are a standard 21x 21 cm tissue.
Kleenex Basalm leave behind a micro-layer of calendula, a plant extract that is used as a balm on the tissue to reduce inflammation and redness as well as soothing the irritated area.
The tissue themselves are 3-ply which means they are strong, will take more than one sneeze and do not reduce to nothingness when left by accident in your pocket. I was surprised that the tissues feel as soft as regular tissues, just as dry and with not real balmy feeling.
The tissues are also made of natural fibres which are bio-degradable and all the packaging is recyclable.
Well they certainly work although at first my scepticism continued as I couldn't actually feel the balm on my skin after use. However after a whole two days of wiping my nose with them I do not have a hint of redness and my nose is not at all irritated so the thumbs up from me!
A family name because it has been around for so long! Since 1924 in fact and it has some impressive environmental credentials like being FSC certified, FSC stands for Forestry Stewardship Council who ensure our forests are correctly and responsibly managed.
Obviously if you have a cold for hygiene reasons stuffing them in your pocket is not at all recommended and they should be binned to prevent the infection spreading.
When it comes to shaving I have tried a fair few razors. To begin with I started out with the cheap Bic and then quickly realised that my boyfriends Mach 3 did a far better job and very soon got my own! I admit using a man's razor may be unconventional but it really did an excellent job and I saw no need to change. This worked out fine when we lived together as I could steal his blades but as soon as he moved to Manchester I was left with my own man's razor and some very bizarre looks from the friends and family I stayed with. As if on cue I was sent a Gillette Venus razor to product test and following a three month trial I feel well placed to put it through its Dooyoo paces.
The first thing I noticed was how feminine it looked compared to my very butch Mach 3, the covered handle was a lovely blue colour with a thicker end to allow easier shaving and a white underside with grips to make it less slippery, ideal when using in the bath! The colour means it is anything but inconspicuous so easy to locate amongst my toilet bag and the rest of my bathroom junk. To buy the razor is around the £6 mark and comes with a blade. The blades themselves are much rounder and larger than the Mach 3.
The Gillette Venus is a razor system with disposable blades. Unlike a Bic which you throw away as soon as you have finished using it you only dispose of the blades keeping the rather nice handle. The head of the razor has three blades and feature protective cushions top and bottom, the idea behind these is to keep your skin safe from the 'sharp' blades (more on this shortly). It also has an indicator strip which contains vitamin E and aloe vera to aid moisturiser to the shave. The strip fades when the razor is not at its best. The razors cost around £6.50 for a pack of four and a razor gives about 10 decent shaves but presumably this is based on how much you shave and how frequently.
The added width of the blade means that you can cover a larger area faster, for example my legs can be done using a third less strokes which is an added bonus. The shave itself is really good, the moisturising strips have a visible effect and my skin feels smooth from the moisturiser. I am often too lazy to use shaving foam but the razor provides a close, smooth shave without it. It also causes no irritation, cheap razors do so I was pleased with the effect. The shape of the razor means it is easy to use in those awkward bikini areas, the pivoting head on the blade means it moves around easily. When I first get out of the shower my skin feels good and if the review stopped their it would be receiving a full five stars......sadly not.
**The Stubbly details**
I have one gripe with this razor and it is a significant one. I seem to experience a significant increase in in-growing hairs with this razor, The little red bumps appear a few hours after using and I am even finding a significant number on my legs, I have taken to exfoliating to eradicate them but to be honest the best solution for me would be to return to the trusty Mach 3, I wonder if the reason is because the blade is sharper and therefore the shave is closer? My legs also do not stay as smooth for as long and require shaving on a daily basis whereas the Mach 3 allows me to go a couple of days.
I appreciate their efforts to make a female version but in my mind they should simply have kept the Mach 3 system and changed its colour! I have no qualms with the cost because you pay for quality and it is long lasting but I will be returning to my trusty man's version very shortly.
There is nothing like the first hint of sunshine to encourage a brand new wardrobe, new shoes and of course a new fragrance! The gentleman amongst you may never understand the sudden desire to change our look but it really is the perfect time to reinvent yourself. My staple fragrance is Calvin Klein Euphoria, I wear it because it is heavy, long lasting, sexy and 'my' smell. However the heaviness is not really appropriate for the summer time feeling so I was on the hunt for something new.
Without my perfume I feel a bit naked and frequently go out without make up but rarely without scent. It is also one of my favourite things to browse and buy so a perfectly timed trip away gave me ample time to browse duty free. After smelling an endless amount of 'summer' fragrances and concluding they either smelt like babies or grandma's I spotted the Calvin Klein stand, resigned to yet another bottle of Euphoria I was pleased to spot this. Euphoria Blossom has actually been around for a few years but was below radar for me, the name instantly evoked summer feelings and a quick squirt had me sold.
The bottle I have is much more attractive than the one shown, I have the 100ml so maybe that is why there is a slight design difference. The bottle is glass and the perfume contained within is a beautiful, delicate pink. The bottle is nicely shaped and on the glass is a subtle gold motif featuring funnily enough Blossom! It also makes it very identifiable from my Euphoria bottle.
For those of you with better noses than me it is described as a perfume with base notes of blond wood, white amber and frosted sheer musk. Heart notes of orchid blossom, lotus blossom and pink peony petals and top notes of pomegranate, kumquat and a 'dewy green accord.' I have it on good authority that it is the dewy green accord that brings the perfume its freshness.
For me it smells floral with a whiff of the musk that makes the Euphoria fragrance so successful. When it is first applied you are struck with a fruity, almost citrus burst. This initial summer hit dies down and leaves a more residual woody scent. I am no expert but I would say that the fruit notes are what take this fragrance into the summer category without being overpowering. It is certainly distinct from the other floral perfumes because it retains its musky base.
This is certainly a daytime scent, it is not going to have a long lasting impact on people but is great for smelling fresh and summery. The smell does not last all day, in fact four squirts will see me through to about lunchtime but this is far better performing than some of the other brands I have tried. The smell is uplifting and catching a whiff certainly lightens my mood.
It does not get as much attention as Euphoria but then again Euphoria seems to leap off my skin and slap people in the face whereas this fragrance is much more subtle in its attractiveness. The success of Euphoria for me lies in its sex appeal, Blossom is certainly attractive and feminine but in a much more delicate way.
I love the bottle and can imagine this being liked by anyone in their late teens to mid twenties, as the smell is not too strong and not overly floral it would be a good gift and is also available in gift sets.
The fragrance can be bought from Amazon 50ml for £26.19 (I have the bumper 100ml bottle which will last through to next year.)
My name is berrydelight and I love ducks. An admission I do not share with many people and a guilty secret I harboured for years. Nothing makes me happier than a nice walk and feeding the ducks, on last years camping trip to Cornwall I became well known amongst the duck community waking every morning to find a growing group outside my tent awaiting breakfast. Life is pretty stressful at the moment and every waking moment seems to spent doing everything but having fun. A few weekends ago my boyfriend insisted I needed a break, the weather was nice if a little chilly and we decided to check out Martin Mere, a wetland nature reserve run by the WWT (The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust).
**How to get there**
Martin Mere is located on the A59 6 miles from Ormskirk in the North West of England. It is signposted along the M6 directing you to leave at junction 27. From Preston we travelled down the A59 towards Burscough the nearest small town. We were surprised once into the town that the large signs had disappeared and had to travel the same route three times before we saw a tiny duck sign indicating the correct direction.
The centre can also be reached by following a trial from Burscough which takes your through the new reedbed walk and is approximately two miles. Discounted admission is offered to those who travel without their car.
Car parking is free and we were able to park right beside the centre with no problem.
On arrival I was met by a duck! Nestled on the roof of the visitor centre and quacking to anyone who would listen, I already knew this was going to be my sort of day. The wooden visitor centre was busy, mostly with families and some avid bird watchers with some very impressive camera and binocular equipment.
During summer the centre is open every day from 9.30am till 5.30pm, in fact the only day it closes is Christmas Day.
The cost per adult was £9.30, a family ticket for two adults and two children is £24.90, under four's go free.
My initial thoughts were that this was pretty pricey but after spending the entire day there and thoroughly enjoying myself it was well worth it. Your money is also used to help provide for the animals and conserve our fabulous wetlands so its all for a good cause.
We purchased an information guide for £2 that contained a great map (although the free ones are perfectly adequate) and also a bird spotting guide. Great for us novices! The information desk was buzzing and I spotted a sign "Otter feeding 2.30pm" not expecting the bonus of otters I was pretty excited, excitement which was then surpassed when my boyfriend pointed out that they also have a family of beavers! Beside myself I very nearly tipped over the edge when the option to buy a bag of duck seed arose. For a £1 I was provided with a heavy and substantial bag of duck seed. It was shaping up to be the best day ever! First though I required some sustenance in order to make it round the exhibits.
I will get my gripe out of the way the café was a real disappointment. It was much too small for the number of visits and although it had a great set up overlooking one of the lakes the food, service and general ambiance was disappointing. The food costs were also extortionate so if possible I would take a picnic and utilise the many beauty spots. A new café is in the process of being built and hopefully it will encorporate more local produce at a more reasonable cost.
Our day was really split in half. We spent the first half walking to the various 'hides' along the wetlands and the second through the continent enclosures. The walk took us through woodland and was easy to follow I found a sign at the entrance to the wetland very amusing 'do not let the ducks through the gate.' This was made hilarious by a duck flying over my head at that moment into the area it was being denied access to. You just cannot teach some ducks!
The walk took us past the enclosure that holds Wizzy, a baby beaver that was found injured in 2008 and is now being reared by the WWT. Unfortunately he was not out and about but he does make a daily appearance between 12- 2 as he exercises.
The walk was very quiet with most people being attracted to the other end of the reserve but was filled with pretty spring flowers and plants. The hides are basically quiet huts were the avid bird watchers were located. They were also a great place to escape from the occasional rain showers and sit in some peace and quiet. It is certainly a popular place with twitchers who had set themselves up for the day with flasks and bird identification manuals. We were limited by our eyesight but binoculars can be hired. Geese were clearly visible as was an abundance of ducks but more unusual sightings have included kingfishers, Marsh Harriers, Dunlin and the Wood Sandpiper.
The second half of the day we spent visiting the more organised exhibits that are organised into continents. On our way back we encountered the very graceful flamingos who were delighting the children.
Our first stop in the afternoon was the otter enclosure, Im not sure who had the most fun the adults or the children as these delightful little creatures kept us entertained and swam right up to the large glass frontage that made the feeding experience fantastic.
The exhibits were well organised and because of the wildfowl's exposure to humans a lot of them were tame allowing you to get very close to them and feed them with your duck seed.
The beavers were a slight disappointment because they could not be seen but the principle of trying to repopulate the beaver population is terrific.
By far the highlight of my day was the ducklings, the goslings had been fantastic but ducklings barely a few days old allowing me to feed them was incredible. They seemed to have no fear and were happily swimming up to the fingers of eager children and gobbling as much seed as they could get hold of.
I had a great day, I will admit that liking ducks and animals helped but it was a pleasant walk and well laid out. Because all the paths are wide and on one level disabled access is good. For children they will be delighted by the animals especially the baby wildfowl. A good playground is provided beside the picnic area and the gift shop nearly had me spending a fortune on bird feeding equipment. The conservation theme is well explained but not pushy and I certainly came away thinking we are very fortunate to have such wonderful attractions in our country. The only improvements in my eyes are the café. I would certainly recommend bringing extra layers as you are outside for about 90% of the visit.
Every day at 1pm there is a flamingo talk and the otters are feed at 11.30am and 2.30pm. During term time a special event is held on Thursdays for toddlers, please see the website link below for more details.
Downy Duckling Week of course grabbed my attention running from 29th May - 6th June where, along with many other attractions, you can visit the duckling nursery and learn about the hatching process.
I cannot bear to loose a star for the café as they are making efforts to improve it so am therefore unashamedly awarding it 5 stars.
Just before Christmas I was having real trouble with my teeth, I still have a baby tooth and it was causing some pain so after some remedial work the dentist suggested I invest in an electric toothbrush as he could see a plaque build up in areas that my toothbrush was missing. I was surprised, I had never been one for electric toothbrushes just figuring they were overrated but a dentist recommendation got me thinking and I resolved with my Christmas pennies to buy one. On Christmas morning my boyfriend received matching Philips HX1610 rechargeable toothbrushes. We got two in a pack and as a great afterthought also got two charges, neither had a UK plug but an adapter was provided.
**Is brushing with an electric toothbrush better for your teeth?**
The key thing when using an electric toothbrush is not to get lazy. You still need to brush for around three minutes, I know I rarely achieve this golden number when I am rushed in the morning but I make an extra effort in the evening. Recent studies suggest electric toothbrushes really do make a difference, a recent UK study showed rotation oscillation electric toothbrushes removed around 7% more plaque and led to 17% less gum disease than manual brushing.
It also ensures you do not brush too hard therefore damaging delicate gums, there is also suggestion that electric toothbrushes do no strip the tooth enamel as much as manual brushing therefore helping protect your teeth from being too sensitive.
The toothbrush is cordless, very handy and means it can stand on your sink. The head has two components to the head, a round oscillating brush which cleans the tooth surfaces and an 'Active Tip' which gets into the harder to reach areas and between the teeth to deliver a full clean. The toothbrush is quite wide and therefore probably unsuitable for children but for me was easy to hold and the blue panel on the front contains the on and off button. The on and off button are contained so you cannot easily turn it off whilst brushing, I liked this feature. The heads are easy to change and I changed mine after four months although it was still in good condition. A pack of replacement heads costs £11.98 for four from Amazon.
The toothbrush requires a16 hour charge, we actually left ours overnight before its first use. Our first few weeks we did not need to recharge at all but now it manages about two weeks without a charge, on the website it suggests a charge will last 25 minutes of brushing.
**My toothy experience**
I love this toothbrush, on first use my teeth were noticeably cleaner and almost shining as if they had been given a professional dentist polish. I find the oscillating bristles get into those generally hard to reach places and after a week of use noticed my breath was staying fresher for longer. I have to brush my teeth in a mirror and during the weekends when I have time give each tooth its very own dentist treatment. I used to suffer from staining on my front teeth, one is a little crooked and apparently the sheer quantity of tea that I drink was accumulating behind the crook and causing staining. This toothbrush has dramatically reduced this, not eliminated but I certainly do not need it cleaned every time I go the dentist anymore.
The only downside to my new brush is I now commute up and down the country each week and it is not the easiest thing to pack. On more than one occasion it has turned itself on in my bag causing some dodgy stares and a quick hunt in my luggage to turn the offending vibration off! This has the added annoyance of wearing out the battery. It is unyielding and not as convenient as your standard toothbrush, I am too attached to is cleaning power to give it up though, even for a few days a week so instead have to make sure it is firmly lodged with no possibility of turning itself on.
This is a great toothbrush and for the price of £20 from Amazon a bargain to contribute to your oral health.
Voltage 220-240 V.
Frequency 50/60 Hz.
Power consumption 2.9 W.
Moving house is allegedly the one of the most stressful experiences a couple can go through. Our frustration has not been with living out of boxes, even going without TV but waiting for internet connection has been a bone of contention.
Talk Talk was established in 2002 when the Carphone Warehouse bought over Opal Telecom and in 2009 won the Uswitch Best Value home phone award. Attracted by the seeming reduction in cost from BT we became happy customers of Talk Talk in Glasgow with broadband speed of around 6meg and reduced price phone calls to New Zealand and Brazil where I had friends and relatives. The package was costing around £15 per month and I found the billing easy to understand, paying by direct debit and the occasional check of our online account meant things were perfect. Then came the move.
The thing with all telephone and broadband providers is that when they work we are all happy customers, however the measure of any company is the customer service it provides and generally speaking you do not require the customer service team until you have a problem. With that in mind I will proceed.
**My moving home experience**
I placed our order for our home move in early April. My old package no longer existed so we had to take a slightly more expensive one of £6.99 for the broadband and £11.49 for the phone line, in addition there would be a one off fee of £29 for connection. All of this was ok but I was put onto another 18 month contract and had I not been keen to get the order placed I would have gone to a cashback website and tried to sign up that way. In a rush I agreed and was advised we would require an engineer visit and would be duly contacted. Of course this was likely to be during office hours which in ideal world I would like to avoid but it comes with the moving territory. Once the phone line is connected it takes a further 21 days for the broadband to be activated. I am on a deadline as my university course starts again on the 3rd May and internet connection is a must for an internet based course.
After a week I had heard nothing so I contacted the helpline and was told the phone line was in fact active without an engineer visit, great although I would have liked to have been informed. Then long 21 day wait begins. Being nervous as the deadline was coming closer and still not having heard anything I gave them a call. The customer service department said both accounts, including the new one had been deactivated. Panic rising I tried to stay calm as they passed me around several departments, 30 minutes later and a UK call centre reassured me that everything was fine and my line would be active on the 29th April. Unnecessary stress during a stressful time but the outcome was ok.
The 29th April rolls around. I rush home with much anticipation plug in my router, saw all the little green lights flashing and inserted my connect and go cd. Then "your operating system is not compatible you should use Windows XP or Windows Vista" pops up on my computer screen.
I was gobsmacked and so angry! Furious I of course rang their call centre, it was 8.05pm and at 8:45 I gave up. Then I remembered the call centres close at 8pm, I had been on hold all the time when there was no way my call would be answered, no message alerts the caller to the fact they are wasting money and the call was on my mobile. It was only on arrival to the office that I was able to check that the Windows 7 issue is well known to Talk Talk and in fact the latest connect and go cd that was meant to resolve the issue doesn't and so you have to go through a manual set up. I am still without internet although now appear to be armed with internet instructions on how to do it, how your meant to gain access to these instructions with no connection I am not sure.
**How I would improve the service**
UK call centres, I get bored of saying this but when you are stressed because you have been on hold for half an hour the last thing you want is someone asking you to repeat yourself 10 times. I also find their answers to be generic and as if they are permanently reading from a script, engage with your customers! All I want is a simple answer and not another ten minutes listening to lousy hold music. The operatives all seem afraid to take ownership and actually solve the problem.
Windows 7 - all advisors should ask when you place your order what operating system you run, it is ludicrous to think that the Connect and Go CD's are not compatible six months after its release. If I had been advised in advance that it would not work I would have been prepped and ready to do the manual set up and not been so angry and frustrated. Even better sending a copy of the manual set up information out would have been a simple solution.
Call Centre Hours - at the very least the customer service lines should tell the customer as soon as they ring that they are closed. The fact I as on hold for 40 minutes and was not disconnected is despicable, if I thought I had a hope I would have requested a credit for the call cost me (I know I should have called off the house phone but as of yet I do not have a line splitter and the internet is meant to be plugged in whilst they help with your query). Also they are not operating a school people use the internet and require support all hours of the day. If I was considering Talk Talk for business use the lack of 24 hour contact would put me off the service.
The thing is when its working I really like it, the package is cheap and for two years I have experienced no problems and for that they get three stars. They are a rival to BT but only if you have no urgent requirement for the internet and do not mind doing your own set up if you are with Windows 7.