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Member since: 27.10.2010

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      08.11.2010 12:18
      Very helpful



      Bring a spare box of patience to the process

      I get a lot of emails from people who are either going to be living and working in Italy (requiring residency) as expats, or who are Italian and are returning home to Italy from overseas and wish to continue home education once they get back. If you'd like some insight into why people look into home education as an alternative to conventional schooling, take a glance at this.


      Bearing in mind that what you are looking at is the Italian Paradox.

      One of the highest per student levels of investment.
      One of the lowest teacher to student ratios.
      One of the highest levels of numbers of ancillary staff to relive the teachers of time consuming mundane tasks and paperwork.

      Unfortunately most of the money is spent on vast numbers of underworked, poorly trained teachers who go through a centralized, non merit based process in order to be employed, with little to no control either by the teacher, or the local schools, as to where they will be employed.

      So if anybody is coming here and is interested in home education, here is a review of the process required to getting permission.

      There is a great deal of misinformation about home education in Italy, on the internet, via friends and family, from people who have just been passing through the country temporarily and the school directors themselves.

      Over here home education is vanishingly rare so finding your way through the quagmire can be heartstoppingly stressful.

      Breathe easy. It is legal.

      Hold your breath. Getting permission means diving into Dante's little known ring of hell, number 10, Never Ending Italian Bureaucracy.

      Having been through the process in the dark myself I've laid it out as it happened to me. Italian bureaucracy happens TO you, forget an expectations about you being in charge of it. It should give you an idea of not only what documents you need (see links at end), who you need to talk to, and what sort of time scales you can be talking about.

      Stage 1

      I sent the Director the following.

      A letter and a cover letter declaring our intent to home educate and declaring ourselves to be both technically and financially competent to do so.

      Copies of the relevant laws as clarified by the Italian Ministry of Education and the specific clause in the Italian constitution upon which they are based.

      Stage 2
      I waited

      Stage 3
      More waiting, heard nothing, not a dickey bird.

      Except the maths teacher let slip that she knew about my request when we commiserated about how awful the history/geography teacher was.

      Stage 4
      Waiting makes me stroppy. Got very dressed up and strode into the school office at drop off time. Asked if they knew what, if anything, was going on.

      They made me write a written request for info (sans The Sock Dropper, interesting use of grammar in that letter LOL).

      Bonded with the secretary by asking for help with my personal pronouns cos I had a nagging suspicion that the Director had gone from singular male to gaggle of females in a single paragraph. Left letter with office.
      Teetered off to repent wearing high heels for the "I am taller than you" power grab when I had to go to the market immediately afterwards.

      Stage 5

      Stage 6
      Got dressed up again and went back to the office.

      Different (and very frosty) secretary informed me that my request had been forwarded to the regional headquarters of the educational ...something or other...and I would received notification of any decisions via the school within thirty days of my original request.

      So that will be next week then, I thought. Goody.

      Stage 7
      Got a letter from the school.

      Saying that the thirty days were passed and I was entitled to a response.

      So their response was that they had not received a response, and they would respond once they had a response, upon which they would base their response.

      Slight snarl escaped from my lips as this letter was registered, and I had spent an HOUR queuing in the post office to collect it.

      It was also addressed to my son who had to be present so I could sign for it, so the lengthy wait felt a million times longer. Cos its sound track was a relentless refrain of "mummy can we go soon" in a high pitched whine.

      Stage 8

      Stage 9
      Holidays approach, get twitchy.

      Stage 10
      Holidays arrive, twitch more.

      Start thinking up plans of how to home educate AND socialize the child, whilst living on the run to escape truancy charges.

      Stage 11
      Explode all over The Italian sock Dropper and threaten to move to the UK with or without him. Generally melt down all over the floor.

      The words "your bl**dy country.." may have lightly peppered the exchange of views.

      Stage 12
      Summer camp finished. Camouflage makeup for life on the run with workbooks perfected.

      Ignore Sock Dropper's "let's just wait and see" suggestion and march into the school to get an appointment to see the director so I can shout at him a bit.

      Director not there, secretary in charge of making appointments not there, told to ring back another (undefined) day.

      Politely stomp off trying to smile. But fail.

      Stage 13
      Ring for appointment, get told they will call me back when appointment procured, told in no uncertain terms "don't call us, we'll call you"

      Stage 14
      Wait for a week on simmer. With occasional boil

      Stage 15
      Call comes.
      Appointment TOMORROW !!!

      Plan power dressing as form of hysterical displacement activity.
      Spend all night coming up with pithy comments and ways of dramatically banging fist on desk in protest at the refusal to grant permission.

      Do not sleep much.

      Work self up into a right state.

      Dream of being arrested.

      Stage 16
      Clatter of favorite (Matalan, purple, dead swish) high heels up school stairs sends sectaries shooting into side rooms as the noise is their personal red alarm system, heralding return of deeply annoying English woman whose gear stick is stuck in "complain".

      Hang around in deserted corridor.

      Director arrives. Looks confused at lack of females rushing to relieve him of coat. Remembers where own office is without secretarial guidance within minutes.

      Go to meeting.

      Director says, "yes you can do it" in the first fifteen seconds.

      Wind leaves sails.

      Adrenaline has hissy fit at not being allowed to work itself out of system.

      Am impossible to live with the rest of the day (allegedly) until unused adrenaline works itself out in form of a big fat sobs which dry up when I realize it is time for Grey's Anatomy and instantly cheer up.

      The End.. well of that bit. The beginning of all the rest of the journey was still to come.


      The Letter

      The cover letter
      http://tinyurl.com/34uqxf7 (scroll down)

      The Laws

      (edited and xposted from personal blog)


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      • More +
        02.11.2010 03:20
        Very helpful



        I may cheat on it, but I always come back to my staid and sluggy, honest Mudd

        The Testing Ground....... for a pure clay, deep cleaning (with no exotic "dead sea" heritage) facial mask.

        I've been using Mudd Mask as long as I can remember, at least two decades, but currently it is applied to a 42 year old face, which is being deeply unfair to its owner by suffering from blemishes PLUS wrinkles.

        Rather than combination skin it is more what I'd call "downright fickle about what state it wants to be" skin. It randomly changes from fairly dry in places (with oh so attractive flaking) to quite oily for my age group.

        The face still gets spots despite its advanced years, in the main caused by environmental factors. Like getting covered in a fine layer of ash daily when emptying three big fireplaces.

        Also gets a fair bit of garden ground in to it, thanks to my struggling with neurotic pumps down wells. Usually in the dark, while it is raining. Ending up with me falling flat on my face cos the Italian Sock Dropper has wandered off with the torch for fear that his Armani socks might get a bit damp. It's not helped by me sometimes falling off the non smoking wagon due to the stress of an extended pilgrim invasion.

        The above guarantees a lack of effortless clear skin. I'm at constant risk of blocked, oversized pores, blackheads, small angry zits and when the ciggies get thrown into the mix...massive acne like spots too.

        (God I sound attractive. Almost feel like throwing the Mudd Mask away next purchase and just sticking the bag on my head.)

        The instructions on the tube are really sparse, so I've gone into more detail to give an idea of the use and what the product is like.

        Pre application

        If you don't use it regularly the mask is almost TOO effective at deep cleansing and drawing out impurities and for the next couple of days after application some new spots can pop up to join the ones you were trying to get rid of. So I'd say avoid using it a couple of days before a big event if you don't want to risk "post mask breakout" angst.

        You need to rinse and dry your face to clean it first, in my experience steaming and other complicated prep makes no difference to the effectiveness of the mask.


        This product can separate a bit in the tube. At first squeeze you risk a sudden squirt, of what looks like a bad case of food poisoning affecting the lower digestive system, shooting all over your basin. Over time this squirty phase can mean the remaining product gets too dry and clumpy. So always shake the plastic tube of the Mudd Mask violently before you unscrew the lid.

        In two decades I still haven't worked out which storage conditions cause this. I've kept the tube on window ledges, in total darkness (lost under laundry mountains in the bidet), in the wide variety of climates offered by Southern England, Yorkshire, Bangkok and various bits of Northern Italy. Makes no difference, it seems to separate according to its own personal agenda, when it feels like it . So good idea to always shake.

        You squeeze the product onto your hand. How much can depend on the weather (on a hot and dry day a too thin layer on the face can cause a strangled yelp as your skin gets sucked backwards at warp speed 10 with no warning).

        You also have to think about the size of area you want to cover and if you wish to use a slow drying facemask as an excuse for a quick nap.

        I go for a pencil thick line, about as long as my palm diagonally, so I'm looking at something that resembles a shrunken, three day old decomposed slug that caught the sun. Greeny brown, a bit moist still, with a suspiciously clumpy texture. Luckily it doesn't smell of dead slug. Just a subtle, clean, but earthy, natural scent.

        I stick my finger in the slug and apply generously to the T-zone. Just enough to cover the skin completely, not so much that I look like my face is melting.

        The eye area needs to be given a wide berth, I aim to look like the negative of a deeply shocked panda.

        To the rest of my face I apply what little product is left on my hand much more thinly, just a whisper of coverage. Unless I am having a random dry and flaky phase, then I avoid the more dehydrated areas, like cheeks and neck, altogether.


        I have a low boredom threshold, so during the wait for the mask to dry I creep up behind my unsuspecting spouse, yell "GWWHAHWHAHWHA !". Then wet myself as he shrieks like a girl and leaps ten foot in the air at the sudden sight of my "Shrek's swamp" coloured, monster face.

        About ten minutes of hysterical giggling later, more or less, I get the "Joan Rivers" feeling and know the mask is dry. It is uncomfortable cos the dried mask pulls on your skin and makes smiling, let alone laughing quite twingy.

        That means the end of fun and games, so I pull my husband's fingernails out of the ceiling, lower him to the floor and then pootle back to the bathroom.


        I rinse vigorously in warm, running water for what feels like a month of Sundays. Paying attention to creases as it tends to get stuck there. It takes ten times longer to get off than it takes to get on. If I'm having trouble getting it off completely I have to use a bit of facewash along with the elbow grease. It feels like you are getting nowhere for ages, and then suddenly it all starts to come off and you are finally done.

        This is why the packaging says to expect to be a bit pink afterwards I think. Nothing to do with the mask in my opinion and everything to do with the effort and rubbing involved in getting the stuff off you.

        Moisturize, abundantly in my random dry areas post mask, to avoid feeling tight around the gills.


        I always see an immediate, vast improvement in pore refinement which lasts until I get hot and sweaty cooking dinner, but for two to four days after that my pores still look clearer and tighter than before the mask.

        Over the next few days the old, odd spot usually speeds up their disappearance. A few zits can suddenly pop up within the next 48 hours or so, which is why I avoid using the mask a few days before a party. I always find that, when washing and exfoliating for the next week, any stubborn clogged pores and blackheads liberate themselves in a jiffy.

        Used regularly for a couple of months I find I hit a point where I can maintain fairly clear skin by preempting any breakouts by keeping my pores clear of what would have caused the spots to develop.


        I feel the product only really lives up to its full potential if you use it as per the instructions. Which is regularly enough to get past the "post mask break out" cycle, so it can function as a preventative, refining measure, rather than trying to manage spots and blackheads with it in an ad hoc fashion.

        When I do maintain the routine for 8 weeks onwards my skin is brighter, cleaner looking, fresher, less break out prone and far freer of blemishes. It also helps refine the general texture of my skin, which helps my make up sit better allowing it to enhance, rather than struggle to cover up.


        I'm married to an Italian who has the famed defective gene that leads to ever optimistic, excessive bottom grabbing. Given the heightened risk I run of being hobbled with my tights half down and falling over in my efforts to avoid third party contact with an unsightly bottom, Mudd mask is perfect for when my rear has been encased in jeans or tights for weeks of winter and is not at its silky, smooth best.

        As long as I remember to turn up the heating, to avoid chilly fluffy bits during the process, nooks and crannies carefully excused from participation, I can get a lot nearer to a perfect peach texture compared to pre treatment.

        Given this additional usage I feel the mask should also be sold in considerably bigger tubes. Especially if I've been hitting the cake.

        The other whinge is that the Mudd mask is so very basic in cost, packaging and presentation, making no attempt to frilly itself up in any way, that it leaves me open to infidelity with posher, less effective products as an attempt to seek out a "pamper" factor. Which then don't work so I am spotty AND poor. I feel they could try harder to inject just a little sparkle into the product.


        It might not be pretty, or flashy or "spa" like, but despite the low cost (or maybe because of it) it works, and gets the results I want in terms of clearer, healthier looking skin. Top and tail. It only costs me about 5 Euros for a tube that seems to last for ages (during the parts of the year when I restrict the use to my face only, like a normal person) making it fabulous value for money.

        Perhaps because it is so "hospital matron" there is a lack of incitement to make a beautification performance art piece out of the its use. Which lends itself better to the busy life of a working, home educating, wandering hand avoiding, time crunched woman. Who needs to squeeze in her skin care in a day which could do with at least another six hours added to it.


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        • More +
          31.10.2010 15:59
          Very helpful



          Worth the extra, but have reasonable expectations, it's still just a vacuum cleaner.

          The testing ground

          17th century farmhouse in very rural setting, making personal contribution to dust supply by slowly disintegrating around us. Set on a fine sand and gravel track currently disturbed to sand storm proportions by hoards of pilgrims driving down it in search of fake, holy, magic healing water. Embellished with two insert style log burners and one pellet stove, striving valiantly to cover house in bits of bark, stray pellets, disintegrated pellets and a fine layer of ash.

          Aided and abetted by the inhabitants which include 6 dogs, 7 cats, an escape artist rabbit, a G. piggy with food throwing issues. One home educated boy plus constant rabble of former school friends, with inability to remove shoes at the door after charging around fields. One antique restoring male, perpetually covered in fine sawdust that gets scattered everywhere as he decorates the house with cast off clothes.

          The areas to be cleaned are mainly tiled floors, a few rugs, little soft furnishing, some exposed brickwork, rough plastered walls, spider infested ceilings with beams, too many stupid, ugly, dust attracting antiques.

          The purchase

          After 7 years of pleading, the death of two budget vacuum cleaners (it is a big fat lie that I killed them on purpose as a ploy to get a Dyson ) and a nicely timed extra lump of cash, I went to get a Dyson Animal about six months ago. They didn't have one and terrified that the cash would be spent elsewhere if I dallied, leaving me back in Budget Vacuum Land, I grabbed the only model they had. The DC19 Allergy. Despite none of us being allergic to anything. I paid just under 400 Euros.

          The Bits

          Two big floor heads. One for carpets, one for hard floors. Not at all cheap and flimsy like my last vacuum. They are quite solid and a lot more robust than I was used to. I only use the hard floor tool unless it is damp from being cleaned, then I'll use the other one in a pinch. To be honest I can't see much difference in the picking up performance, but maybe I would if I had carpets.

          Three small attachments. The long pointy one is useless since it is too fat to got between the slats of the radiators. Ditto the hard rectangular one without bristles, I've found nothing in my home that calls for it. The pair of them could have been replaced for one decent tool that it pointy, thin and flexible, so you can suck up the dust that hides in rads. As part of a set of included tools it would have been more useful.

          The one little tool I use and like is rounded with a bristle fringe and is perfect for corners, exposed brickwork, soft furnishings and if you lift the body of the vacuum onto a chair it does a good job on cobwebs and spiders.

          You can't store the bits inside the vacuum cleaner like some models, so find a place for them to live.

          The Niggles

          How can you completely redesign the basic function of a vacuum to avoid loss of sucking power and fail to notice that the female equation, of the thing you slot the vacuum head into when not in use, is way too flimsy to take the weight even when the tube is reduced as far as it will go ?
          I am not impressed with 400 hundred Euros of kit falling over and getting covered in scratches (as well as denting anything in its wake) unless I rearrange my cleaning roomette so there is a constant prop available.
          Which still doesn't resolve the issue of having a hacking great tube covering the whole floor if I've stopped vacuuming to pick up, tidy and clean something else. I've tripped over the tube more times than I can count because I'm whizzing around in a mad rush to clean and I don't have the option of letting the body of the Dyson hold the tube up and out of the way. Well, not unless I fancy any nearby breakables getting smashed.

          I've had to place the bin to empty the dust compartment right up at the gate, some thirty meters from the house. Because I end up in a total dust storm when I ditch the contents. This doesn't bother me because I hated my old bag using vacuum, I always ran out of them when I needed them most which was a pain and I'll live with a few sneezes in order to avoid the inconvenience of bags. However, if somebody bought this cos they have allergies doesn't this wholesale exposure to the contents of the dust compartment rather defeat the purpose ?

          There is no adjustable speed of suck as far as I can see. I'm not that fussed cos I've always kept my vacuums on top speed, but I thought it was odd that this feature was missing.

          You have to wash the filters, something I have put off, because I'm scared I'll break an expensive peice of equipment by failing to do it properly. The instructions are clear, but very brief. I need more handholding than that.

          The Performance

          Wow this thing can suck ! It isn't particularly quiet about it, but as long as I remove any big lumps of debris that blocks the tube or head, I can get floors that pass the barefoot "no bits" test on first passing with no manual pre sweeping required.

          Exposed brickwork, the fiddly bits on furniture, de cobwebbing ceilings\beams, going over the rough plastered walls and taking the worst of the freshly laid animal hair on the sofa with the small bristle tool gets excellent results that just don't compare to my old budget vacuum. Which means I actually bother doing it quite regularly and no longer have to buy those expensive dust trapping dusters and flap them round the house in panic when visitors are due.

          Speaking of visitors, recently due to an extreme case of procrastination virus I managed to avoid housework till just two days before a family visit. Which meant for the first time ever I had to vacuum the entire house in one go. About 300 square meters total. After about five rooms (can't remember how long in terms of time) I noticed the Dyson was getting a bit hot. Not enough to make me worry that it was going to start smoking and burst into flames, but enough to make me go "hmmmm" and want to give it rest while I found something else to do, to give it cool down time. I don't know if this would be an issue in smaller (and decidedly cleaner) homes, but certainly something I'm going to take into consideration before leaving everything till the last minute another time. I will say that compared to my old vacuums it really did keep up in terms of sucking performance despite the huge volume of crud it was picking up. I reckon I would have gone through three bags with my old vacuum under similar circumstances just to keep the sucking power up to useful levels.


          I will never admit to the Italian Sock Dropper that perhaps the machine is not as perfect as I believed it to be after years of drooling over the hype and feeling jealous.

          There are issues and niggles, some which could be addressed easily and quickly. Like the holding up the tube when at rest problem.

          However I can't fault the consistent, strong suckyness, and that is the primary feature I was lusting after for all those years.
          So overall I'm happy, don't regret buying it and think I got value for money.

          But it is a happiness tinged with the sort of prickling disappointment you get when your expectations have been worked up to an unrealistic level, by too much longing, fed with too much hype. I think I almost expected this product to walk on water, which of course it doesn't. It is a vacuum cleaner, a good one. But not the second coming.


          Do not use any normal household vacuum on significant amounts of ash from a wood burner or fire i.e. on the floor or around the hearth after emptying. They are generally not built to cope with the super fine dust in such volume and may get their motor damaged. Use a garage style "pick up anything" rugged vacuum for that job.


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          • Nokia 2760 / Mobile Phone / 95 Readings / 93 Ratings
            More +
            30.10.2010 20:22
            Very helpful



            I can't wait for my next phone. And I will insist on testing its voice call quality first.

            This is my second phone ever. I bought it because I found myself in a horrible situation with no way to quickly summon help. So the next day I took my shaking self to the nearest phone shop to get one and vowed never to be without it again.

            I asked for a low cost, no "bag of tricks", simple to use phone with clarity when it comes to actually hearing what the person on the other end is saying.

            I deliberately said I wanted to avoid the real bottom of the market because my first, very cheap, phone was almost impossible to use cos I couldn't hear what the other person was saying.

            Of the three possibles pointed out, this one was the only one you could flip open and shut. It probably sounds very sad, but I picked this one for that feature. It felt like something off Star Trek and I practiced saying "beam me up Scotty" more than a few times.

            After buying it of course I discovered that flip phones were now very passé, but I don't care. It can't get it's buttons pressed in my handbag and considering the junk I have in my bag the closing mechanism goes some way to keeping the bit I press to my face clean.

            I still find the menu tricky to use despite how long I've had the phone because you have to use the big central button and then chose from several different buttons to manage the options in your selection. For some reason I can't bond with the sequence they designed and spend a long time clicking back and forth getting frustrated. I don't blame the phone for that, think it is just me.

            Thanks to all the clicking back and forth in circles I have discovered lots of features, the bulk of which I don't understand let alone use.

            I avoided the "feature free" cheaper models only cos I was assured that a better quality of phone would ensure ease of voice communication, so the fact that this model does lots of things (that I don't need from a phone) doesn't excite me at all. When a phone features the ability to make me coffee in the morning and bundle my son into the shower and keep him there till he is clean I will muster up some interest in all the "amazing" things they can do these days.

            I am going to stick to the reviewing the few features I have used on purpose rather than those I have discovered cos I hit the wrong button and got a nasty shock thanks to the phone behaving...not like a phone, but another implement entirely.

            The camera. Originally I wasn't sure there was any point sticking a camera on a phone if it is going to take really low quality pictures. It is just as well I can't work out how to get them on my computer because judging by how washed out, fuzzy and lacking in general clarity they are, there is not much point hanging on to them.

            However I did discover a use. We had a slightly insane, public order issue in my tiny hamlet last summer and the camera allowed me to take sneaky pictures of wrong doing. With help from my less "phone technology challenged" neighbour we were able to send a constant stream of them to the local policemens' phones, so they could step in when needed and know who\which car to look for.

            It might have been better if the camera were placed elsewhere on the phone because five times out of ten my thumb was in a place of prominence in the image. I don't think it was entirely my fault since I've taken pics with other people's phones and managed to avoid including my own anatomy with such regularity.

            The video feature. Again thanks to the same issue in my area I was able to use the phone to capture the shenanigans to show the police (these I didn't send by phone, I was told it would be really expensive so I just saved them, which was easy enough to do with a little menu wandering). The quality was not that hot. The images became horribly blurred when I moved anything other than very slowly when filming, but it was good enough to help state our case for further intervention by the authorities.

            I have used the phone to send a few texts, but I find it a real fiddle. I already have menu issues and the text one was the least intuitive for me. I end up going round in circles every time.

            Making or getting the occasional phone call is my main use, the entire reason why I bought the phone, and this is where it all falls down for me.

            I find it incredibly hard to work out what the person I am talking to is saying. There was some discussion from the salesperson as to whether this is the phone's fault, signal issues (can't see why it is the signal, I have the same problem anywhere I use it) or just my ears. For the record I am not deaf, just 42 years old with ears that are the same age and I can hear just fine on a proper phone.

            I wouldn't mind, but I made it very clear in the shop that quality of sound was my absolute priority, if this is as good as it gets for a reasonably priced phone then I think the technology should stop working on bigger and better bells and whistles and concentrate on improving the usability of the primary function for a bit.

            I'm not ever going to text "please help me am being hassled by horrible man on deserted rural road and I can't run in these heels" I want to yell "HELP ME Get to X road NOW" down the phone and understand that my husband has understood, is on his way and bringing policemen to boot.

            If I wanted to text I'd get one of those mini laptops and have a proper , usable keyboard at my disposal.

            But I don't, that is why I bought a phone, you know, those thing you speak into and hope to hear back.

            (and breaaathe)

            I'm not sure who this phone would appeal to, or suit.

            It is fairly old fashioned looking (according to my high school students) and doesn't have the sort of features that cool, young kids drool after (again according to my students, who laughed themselves silly when I actually showed them the brand new, "flashy" phone I was banging on about).

            For people who couldn't care less about fashion or features (me), it doesn't hit the spot in terms of clarity when used to make calls. If this is a phone issue rather than a signal issue (that follows me doggedly around the country) then to be honest it is not much use unless you really like repeating yourself, or yelling "SPEAK UP AND TALK SLOWLY" at your loved ones.

            I'll keep this till I drop down the loo, or something by accident rather than go without. But I won't buy it again. Problem is I don't know what I could get to replace it.

            Is there a nice, solid, little phone with great clarity for voice calls that is fairly cheap because it isn't stuffed to the brim with expensive features I'll never use ?

            Or are they all so focused on the whizz bang extras that people, with a strange fascination for being able to actually hear what is being said to them, are just going to be left in the cold ?

            I don't hate this phone, I charge it every night and take it everywhere just in case I need it. Because no phone is worse than one that disappoints. But it does irritate me that, for what I consider to be a lot of money (I paid around the 80 mark), it doesn't make it easy for me to use it as I intended.


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            • More +
              30.10.2010 13:27
              Very helpful



              A good game for the family to play together

              In our house this tends to be chosen over the Wii Fit when it comes to playing as a family.

              There are sixteen games in total according to the box, but some have failed to ignite any real interest, so I think we probably only play about 8 or 9 of them regularly.

              The graphics aren't very sophisticated compared to newer games and for people who really care about that aspect there might be some disappointment. However I wasn't fussed about that quality, because the ability to play head to head was the aspect that I was looking for. My son did kick up a small fuss initially about not being able to use our own Miis, but soon forgot about it once we started playing.

              While you can play in single player mode, and in some games you have to, the real joy here is when two players are on the mat together, slugging it out to win, so those are the games we tend to favour.

              You can chose the mode, so either you decide the individual games you want to play one by one, or you can have a challenge set by the game, which means playing a series of games dictated to you. From the onset we've always gone for picking the games ourselves, although that does cause some arguing in a party setting that could be avoided by letting the software chose what game is next.

              I wouldn't say that the games themselves were particularly ground breaking or innovative, but for the mat format they are a good fit and avoid over complicated instructions.

              By and large if the game requires you to run, jump, hit or steer on screen, that is what you do on the mat (with the Wii remote in hand if needed). Mums are advised to check they have support before they begin, the running and jumping takes its toll. I can go through the motions on the Wii Fit without breaking into a sweat or needing a supportive bra, not on this game though. Playing side by side gets the competitive spirit to kick in and I move more.

              It is also so nice to have a break from yelling "DON'T JUMP ON IT !!! which is needed for the less child friendly Wii Fit. My son and his friends have bounced like fiends on the mat without causing any damage and it is so cool to watch them get excited and really get physically into a game, without having to rein them in all the time for the sake of the equipment.

              I do have some niggles.

              While I insist on shoes and socks off I obviously don't wash my floors enough because the mat is getting quite grubby after extensive use and being all electronic I'm leery of trying to clean it. Obviously I lost the intructions, so I'll have to keep looking on line for some advice if it gets truly grungy.

              It could have done with a more slip proof back. Nobody has gone flying or head butted the telly, but the mat does travel a little on my very slippy, tiled floors when pairs of overexcited kids are leaping about on it. The lead is long enough but wildly enthusiastic play means it doesn't always stay as extended as possible.

              It's quite bulky, so storing it where it is both to hand (but not underfoot) is proving to be an issue. At the moment it is folded up on top of a bookcase to keep it away from the cats (one of them thinks the fabric is perfect scratching material), which does nothing for the aesthetics of my living room.

              The practical issues I have with the game aren't serious enough to detract from how much fun it is though and I'd replace it if it died. We've just had my sister and brother-in-law over for a week and this was played with for three evenings running, with much screaming, laughing, pushing and outrageous cheating going on, which is essentially the sort of family entertainment I want from a game, so I feel I got my money's worth.

              It could be improved , but I'd pick this, as it is, over the numerous games that we've bought which are very glossy, but disappoint when it comes to having fun.

              This is purely personal opinion, but I think that due to the lack of sophisticated graphics and mode of play this is a game that would fail to excite for somebody who tends to chose games for solo use, it is the atmosphere of competition and playing together that lets it shine.

              Certainly I've found, as the mum of an only child, that he doesn't really get into it for more than five minutes unless one of us (or an extra child I have roped in) joins in.

              There is a good video on YouTube that lets you see if the quality of the graphics are up your street, the amount of room it takes up, how you play, a quick look at the types of games and how much more freedom the kids have in terms of jumping about compared to the Wii Fit.



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              • Braun MR 6550 M / Blender / 47 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                30.10.2010 00:17
                Very helpful



                Over my dead body will I lend you mine

                I got this originally as a cast off for my sister (she was given a new one as a gift).

                And I LOVE it.

                One of the main reasons I hate cooking is all the fiddly chopping, blending, mixing etc. so I was chuffed when she gave it to me, but didn't expect to get that much use out of it while frozen pizza, fresh(ish) soup and premade pasta sauce were still available in the supermarkets in such abundance.

                I had underestimated how much easier it would be to use and clean on a daily basis compared to a food processor. Being able to put all the bits easily in the dishwasher made a world of difference. Not to mention not having to lug huge things out of cupboards and dust them off. I started off using it for novelty value, but noticed after a few weeks that it was in daily use.

                The ability to quickly whizz small quantities meant my cooking got more exciting cos typically I'm too lazy to chop by hand, so I used to avoid all the interesting ingredients or extras that can lift a dish or a dinner.

                The family made nice noises about the improved offerings which got me enthusiastic about trying even more "exotic" things. Like tins of white beans whizzed into a pate with garlic and spring onions on the side for lunch.

                Now I'll add in fresh herbs and "just ground" spices automatically because I don't have to plan to do huge batches in advance and freeze them or listlessly bash small amounts with utensils that were never meant for that purpose and make everything messy and hard work. A quick sauce from a bit of broccoli with a dash of milk with the whizzer takes no effort, whereas by hand it is a real pain and not something I'll willing to do.

                It's not made of magic though, you do have to take into account the density and hardness of food, a big lump of cold, cheddar like cheese stuffed in the small bowl will make it groan and damage the motor, but a bit of rough pre cutting is no hardship when you can let the whizzer finish things off finely.

                The biggest bonus for me is improving the diet of my veggie avoiding son. Daily I can finely whizz or puree several tablespoons of mixed frozen veg (defrosted, if not cooked) to surreptitiously add to soup, sauce or mix in with anything that can hide it and he is now pretty much assured of his five a day by stealth.

                I had tried this trick in the past but doing it by hand got me caught since the bits were too big and the food mixer wouldn't do piddling amounts on demand.

                I killed my original whizzer by overworking it (note, mash potatoes a bit by hand before attacking them with the whisk, you'll get a lovely creamy texture if you don't burn the motor out by asking it to take the entire strain of the operation) and rushed off to get another one the same day.

                The silver lining is that now I have two of everything (expect for the motor) and most nights my dishwasher has the bulk of the accessories sitting in the top basket. Mine are all still unscathed despite pretty much constant use, but should the worst happen you can buy spares.

                Which I might do anyway, cos I had to wash one of the small bowls by hand this evening, having used both of mine for dinner and I was in the mood for fresh ginger tea.

                Every wedding list should have one of these on them. Posh plates are optional, this is an essential bit of kit.


                Q1 what do you actually get with this hand blender?

                A What you see in the piccie, a mini chopper (plus blade), a whisk, a stick blender and a beaker. Plus the motor of course.

                Q2 Clearly there's a small chopping bowl with a lid, but are there any shredder/slicer plates?

                A Not on mine, you'd have to upgrade to the new model with the scaled down miniature version of a full sized food processor for that.

                Q3 If not then can it be assumed this isn't really a food processor but just a hand blender with an extra chopper?

                A Just ! JUST !! such sacrilege ! It processes food so how can it not be a food processor ? The benefit of this is that you can process very small amounts, which a full sized food processor won't do (well mine won't). For daily use I find that aspect a godsend because I'm not organized enough to buy in bulk, process en mass and freeze in small portions. This little darling lets me chop and whizz as the mood takes me despite the teeny portions I need. And there is a whisk too. Which I'll admit I use exclusively for making mashed potatoes fluffy rather than the traditional use for cream or eggs.

                Q4 What's the other jug for?

                A It's a beaker, mine is in my bathroom holding the toothbrushes because it was the only thing big enough when I broke the toothbrush holder. I use the blender or whisk directly in whatever pan I'm cooking in cos I never really saw the point of making something else dirty. But that is cos I am probably one the laziest people you'll find in a kitchen. My sister used the beaker to pre whizz tomatoes, eggs, cream and I think she made soya milkshakes in it too (blergggggg !)

                Q5 How many speeds does this machine have?

                A It has a scale on top with numbers(my replacement motor has up to 15). Mine just lives at top speed unless I'm doing "fly round your kitchen" stuff, like soup in a very small and overfilled pan. There are two buttons on the body, one normal speed and one turbo. Pretty much, aside for "fly round the kitchen" situations I use the turbo button. Patience is not a virtue I possess. Serious cooks would probably get more out of the variety of speeds than I do.

                Q6 Is it noisy in use?

                A Not so you'd notice. But this is a noisy house with six dogs, seven cats, a home educated child who always has hoards of former school friends round to play\charge round the house, an antique restoring husband who bangs and crashes all day and a wife who can't be in the kitchen without her iPod blaring on speakers. So it is kind of subjective I suppose.

                Q7 Hard on the hand or comfortable?

                A A lot more comfortable than trying to hold my huge food processor in place. Infinitely more comfortable than trying to chop, mash and blend by hand. The operations tend to be so quick that I don't think there is much time to get hand ache.

                Q8 Detachable foot or all in one machine?

                You slot the blender, whisk and chopper under the motor and click them in place. Have a look at the piccie at the top of the page, do you see that wavy grey line between the motor and the blending stick ? That is where the two parts detached and attach. Which makes storing easy cos the bits are so small when separated.


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                  29.10.2010 10:08
                  Very helpful



                  Well worth paying a little more to avoid nose carnage

                  I am not a brand junkie. If anything I am price sensitive and will sacrifice a little product qualify if the savings are worth it. But I love these tissues and won't use anything else now. Even if long suffering husband has to go to three supermarkets to find them.

                  I was very skeptical the first time they came home because I couldn't see how the addition could make any real difference. I guess it reduces friction ?

                  Typically (before I got a rare case of brand loyalty) I came down with a cold, blew like crazy and ended up so red and raw around my nostrils that it began to be too painful to do more than dab gingerly.

                  The first time I used these I was already sore and chapped, it still hurt to blow my nose with them, but they stopped it getting worse and the skin seemed to heal up faster post cold thanks to a shorter time of being irritated.

                  From then on I have stuck to these and don't get more than a little pinkness around the edges of my nose during a real humdinger of a cold.
                  I also swopped my son to them because it was just horrible the mess that other tissues made on his little nose, his skin is more sensitive than mine and has enjoyed the same lack of irritation.

                  Utterly recommended for those who feel like a sore traffic light nose adds insult to injury where the winter sniffles are concerned.


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                  • More +
                    29.10.2010 02:40
                    Very helpful



                    Bog standard minty things look pathetic in comparison

                    Nothing frilly about these, they are hard, cardboard grey\brown and an incredibly strong flavour.

                    I use these for three reasons.

                    When I have a light cold with a slightly bunged up nose. I find I have to crunch up two or three really fast in my mouth to really knock my sinus open, but the shock to their system of the extremely pungent taste does the trick. It doesn't work with a heavy cold for me, unless I'm right at the beginning or the end of an infection.

                    I use them to cover up the smell of any crafty fag that I don't want my son to notice I have smoked in secret. The taste of the lozenges can be eye watering if you don't have a stuffed up nose to insulate your sinuses. I'd take a very careful suck it and see approach if you've never tried them before when your nose is clear. Crunching down enthusiastically could be a bit of a shock to the system and result in coughing with tears flowing down your face if you are as sensitive as my husband.

                    If I find I have run out of nicotine gum when out and about I can grab a bag of these to keep me going until I get back. They won't hold me for a whole day, but for a few hours the intensely strong taste means I have something I can hold in my mouth longer term and stave off the urge to give in and grab a ciggie. They are much better than normal gum or sweeties in that scenario thanks to the powerful flavour.

                    If you are trying them for the first time I'd suggest biting a bit off the end of one and taking your time with it. Personally I've found them to be quite addictive in the sense that other lozenges and gums lose their flavor at light speed in comparison and taste rather insipid next to something that packs such a powerful punch.


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                    • Sea-Band / Health Treatment / 31 Readings / 28 Ratings
                      More +
                      29.10.2010 02:15
                      Very helpful



                      Beat the other remedies hands down

                      I lived with these permanently attached to my wrists for over two months during my pregnancy from getting up time until I went to bed. I only threw up once before I got these, but I'd spent most of my days, every single day, feeling very green and seriously queasy.

                      The Seabands were a last ditch resort because none of the usual "old wives' tale" remedies were doing anything and by week 8 I was desperate. I'm emetophobic, so was a total drama queen about the whole sickness thing, practically as soon as it kicked in.

                      They did seem to work, but I can't guarantee it wasn't a placebo effect, although that would be unusual for me cos I'm more likely to talk myself IN to feeling sick than out of it. Nothing would convince me to take them off long enough to find out how quickly the puky feeling returned without them on in the name of semi scientific testing. I wasn't totally nausea free all the time, but it was far more manageable and impacted my ability to work and live to a far lesser degree.

                      I had trouble with them at first cos they weren't tight enough, I had to twist them a little and knot them to get them to fit and I did have to adjust them a lot at the start to hit the right spot. You have to get the knobble in the correct position, but as people we are all a bit different so it was initially tricky to find out where to focus the pressure. I worked it out in about a day or so by trial and error.

                      Initially they were a bit uncomfortable, but as soon as I noticed they were working I sort of liked feeling them there, possibly in a security blanket sort of way.

                      By the time I realized the sickness had subsided on its own they were looking fairly grotty, but given the use I'd had out of them day in day out I couldn't complain.

                      Well worth a try if you can't stand another day of feeling nauseated all day long and your options are distinctly limited due to the baby on board.


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                        29.10.2010 02:00
                        Very helpful



                        Great if you can recover curled up on a sofa feeling quite a bit less sorry for yourself

                        I use these ONLY when I get a really bad cold. They are extremely effective in the sense that they allow me to breathe again.

                        I'm slightly claustrophobic and can't bear the feeling you get during a cold where your own face is trying to suffocate you. Occasionally if I take them towards the end of a cold where the stuffy nose is less of an issue I get a strange sensation where, if anything, my nose has been de-stuffed a bit too much, it is hard to describe, but it ends up giving me a slight headache and while it lasts I avoid breathing too deeply through my nose till it calms down again. I'd rather live with the odd feeling that gives than have a bunged up nose though.

                        The reason why I only take these during a bad cold is that working is impossible. I'm one of those people who gets floored by the sleepy stuff in medicines. Others can get away with just not driving whereas I can't even stay upright. I don't consider that a bad point exactly because one of the sorry side effects of a bad cold for me is the lack of sleep.

                        If my nose is bunged up I can't drop off most of the time and even if I do sleep I tend to wake up again quite quickly, struggling to breathe through my nose. That leaves me knackered and doesn't help the healing process. So taking the pills means I conk out and avoid adding utter exhaustion to my misery.

                        It would be nice if there was a non sleepy version too ,I supposed I could work then (if you twisted my arm) , but in the meantime I'll keep taking these when I get a rotten cold and enjoy the resultant flopping on the sofa as an additional benefit.

                        I have no idea how they ease the aches and pains of a cold cos I never stay awake long enough to find out.

                        They are not a cure, but for somebody like me who is a big baby about colds they can make it a damn sight more bearable (and horizontal).


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                      • More +
                        29.10.2010 01:46
                        Very helpful



                        Good product, have used gallons of it, will use gallons more in the future.

                        Testing area - All this summer, on the humid plains of Northern Italy, slap bang in the middle of acres and acres of rice fields, full of standing water, 40 degrees in the shade, humidity about a million percent.

                        (In terms of describing how mosquito ridden it is, put it this way, the last time I saw this many mosquitoes I had been persuaded that a night of being an extra on a Thai soap opera, in the middle of nowhere, just outside Bangkok, under huge, bright lights was going to be a blast.)

                        In such circumstances my priority is to keep my son as bitten as little as possible because he scratches and introduces child grime into the resultant bloody mess.

                        This particular product is far, far less whiffy than some others on the market, which is a plus because it is hard enough to get small people to come and be sprayed without giving them extra reasons to be reluctant to leave the fun and stand like a starfish.

                        I'm not keen on the aerosol spray because it lasted such a short time and it is hard to see how much is left. The pump action one takes a bit more effort to get on, but means you are less likely to suddenly run out at an inopportune moment, so that one is my preference.

                        With kids, who can be relied upon to breathe or move at the wrong moment and get a mouthful or eyeful, I found that spraying it on my hands and first patting, then smoothing the product on, avoided coughing sessions, screams of blindness and outraged whinging about cruel and unusual mummies.

                        It was as effective as other more smelly products against bites, BUT in humid environments sweating is going to happen and that seemed to limit the length of time that it was effective for. Especially if you end up having to towel your dripping kid off several times. So you have a tossup between reapplying to avoid bites or sticking to the recommended number of applications.

                        Since my son is not a little baby I went with extra applications. The only alternative was resorting to selloptaping him inside a mosquito net for ten weeks which is not very practical.

                        It is worth paying attention to places like the ankles, feet, toes, ears and back of the neck because I found that initially I didn't pay attention to the fiddly places and that is where he still got a couple of bites. We also discovered that we needed to either put it on when undressed, or also applying it to his clothes because some determined mosquitoes can even bite through denim.

                        Worth buying if you want something that doesn't scream "you are dousing your child in chemicals you can't pronounce" with its stink and are not prepared to give up effectiveness in the name of going natural.

                        Unlike the previous reviewer we didn't find it at all effective against flies, which was a pity cos although they don't bite they are really annoying.

                        I wish I had had this product that fateful night I became immortalized (for three seconds, looking furious and itchy to the point of frantic) on film in Thailand.


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                      • More +
                        28.10.2010 14:28
                        Very helpful



                        A good buy if you use with a light hand

                        I think the power of this scent works slightly better in the male version of the product, I find it a bit heavy going on women, but not so much in the masculine version. You have the same spicy, sensual overtones, but with a firmer edge. As with the original for women you get a warmth and depth as the scent develops on the skin. Subtle it is not and I'm not keen on it for daytime use, but for the evening it hits the spot if used sparingly.

                        I bought this as an inexpensive gift for my husband and we both like it well enough. It is too instantly recognizable for my tastes and lacks the individuality of his regular scent, but it is pleasant enough, although I don't think of it as a particularly sophisticated perfume.

                        If you want something that won't break the bank, offers a distinct scent that lingers and evolves it is not a bad choice, but I'd recommend trying it and seeing how you feel about it after a few hours because it is one of those that you'll either love or hate.

                        Possibly women who are hoping to enjoy their favorite perfume on their man might not find it similar enough because while it does have much in common with the female version it is by no means a carbon copy.


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                      • Savlon Antiseptic Cream / First Aid / 20 Readings / 18 Ratings
                        More +
                        28.10.2010 13:53
                        Very helpful



                        A staple for the first aid kit

                        This is one of the few "medicine" products I bother to import from the UK. With a child and an antiques restorer in the household we get more than our fair share of cuts, scratches and nicks.

                        It doesn't sting which I have found to be an important consideration when trying to hold onto a wriggly kid who treats most topical applications with extreme suspicion after an unhappy brush with a more irritating product when he was little.

                        The tube doesn't squirt product everywhere with the slightest of pressure which helps given that often I only have one hand free due to the other one providing comfort and\or restraint.

                        I've used it on splinters that were ignored, grazes that were hidden from maternal inspection and small cuts that nobody bothered to go and wash when they first happened and so far none have failed to respond to treatment by clearing up and healing.

                        This is a staple in my rather disorganized first aid kit and while I would always advise taking anything non superficial to the doc, for any minor irritations or injuries this does the job in a reliable fashion.

                        Worth keeping a spare in your handbag if you are frequently out and about with kids.


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                      • HP G62-105SA / Laptop / 15 Readings / 14 Ratings
                        More +
                        28.10.2010 13:25
                        Very helpful


                        • Reliability


                        Great for typical home/student use

                        I bought this laptop four months ago in a state of emergency due to the sudden death of my previous laptop. It was a tossup between this one and another that was also as cheap. The salesperson said go for this one because of the faster processor, I took his word for it and he appears to have been right.

                        I'm pleasantly surprised because I wasn't expecting much. However it is FAST !

                        Start up takes very little time at all which means I'm more likely to turn it off than just leave it on all day, so hopefully that will extend the life of the computer. I'm using all the same software I was on my old laptop, but from hitting the on button to being ready to start working takes a small fraction of the time that I was used to.

                        I always have loads of browser tabs open and a handful of documents at the same time and haven't noticed any appreciable slowing down and so far not a single crash\freeze or similar irritation.

                        I do have an issue with it, albeit a very, very minor one. On the mouse pad I've worn away a patch of the colour in just a few months of use, so far from a seamless meeting of computer casing and mouse pad, I now have an unsightly patch of white gleaming through. I'm personally not that fussed because the last thing I would have bought this computer for is its looks, but those who value aesthetics might have an issue with it.

                        Other than the above, I'm more than happy with my nice, new, speedy, inexpensive workhorse.


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                        28.10.2010 12:47
                        Very helpful



                        Better than more expensive models I've had previously, but not without its" issues"

                        I'm fairly pleased with this purchase because I bought it in a hurry and didn't have time to really weigh up my options. The quality of printing is fine for the sort of text heavy use I need and the photocopy option is a lifesaver when I have been too disorganized to go into town. Compared to the ink slurping Brother I had before, it is not as much of a guzzler.

                        I've only scanned a few bits but have had no issues with either the software, hardware and the quality was fine.

                        I do have some issues though.

                        It is a pain in the bum to be unable to print at all because one cartridge has run out. I now buy the ink in four packs and make sure I always have spares ready because I am the type who lets low ink warnings wash over them until it is too late.

                        Changing a cartridge has been a bit hit and miss, because despite following the instructions to the letter the cartridge holder has shown a disinclination to put itself in the right place unless asked three times and sworn at roundly. If I use the software via the computer there is never a problem, whereas using the buttons on the printer for the same process almost always fails to go smoothly.

                        I seem to have to run the print head cleaning option regularly or the quality drops to the point where printouts are not usable. This may be because I don't print daily and the heads get a bit dried out.

                        You have to remember to take care when removing the cartridges from their packaging. Not taking the time to read the instructions meant I touched the little green electronic bit on a new cartridge by accident. I ended up having to throw it away because I couldn't get the printer to complete the replace cartridge sequence as a result.

                        All in all I'm not at all sorry I bought it, the price was low compared to other models with the same functions, the quality is fine for a jobbing teacher and it is far, far less temperamental than other not-so-cheap models I have had the misfortune to own previously.


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