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I seem to always be on a mission when it comes to mascaras. I have a list as long as my arm of brands and types to try. I'm lucky to naturally have reasonably long lashes but they are also as pale as anything, so a good mascara has always been very important to me to utilise my long lashes and also give them some colour.
On a trip to Asda a couple of months ago, I walked past the makeup counter, and like an addict to a drug, I couldn't resist the urge of buying yet another mascara when I know full well I have a few favourite brands that would be hard to beat, but I can't help think "but this one could be even better!" so I browsed and settled on the Max Factor Masterpiece MAX in black. I did not see the mascara in any other colours but the day I bought it the counter was quite empty, a quick search online and I can see it comes in blue and brown also. I tend to opt for black over any other colours for maximum effect, I think it is my way of compensating for the naturally blonde lashes I have.
The mascara set me back £10 which is a reasonable price for a Max Factor product. Their cosmetics are usually of a pretty high standard and I trust them a little more than some of the cheaper brands. The mascara itself came with just a small sliver of plastic wrap around it to hold the security tag on it (I suppose mascara would be an easy option to steal for anyone with sticky fingers). The tube is a nice gloss black with gold detailing, with a band around the top, a little gold slice on the lid and the writing stating it is a "High volume and Definition Mascara" is also in gold along the length of the tube. Overall the mascara looks quite sophisticated and the bulky tube makes it look sturdy and like it could do the job. So I took it home to find out.
Once I'd got through the impenetrable plastic and removed the security tag, I opened the mascara, screwing off the lid and will admit to being a little underwhelmed by the brush. I'm not usually one to judge a book by its cover or in this case, a mascara by its brush, but I did realise I was expecting either a very large and fluffy brush, or a very industrial hard comb headed brush. Due to having high hopes for this mascara based on price and brand and my previous favourites have had these features, I was a little surprised the Masterpiece Max brush is somewhere in between. It is a bristle headed wand that collects a large amount of mascara on it, but is smaller than I was expecting. With its claims of high volume and definition, I was expecting something different. But then the shape and size of the brush doesn't necessarily mean the results won't be good.
Application is obviously the most important part of mascara, if it goes on rubbish and leaves you looking like a drunken pirate, then it doesn't matter what it cost or how it looks, it will be a useless mascara. Max Factor Masterpiece Max, is not a bad mascara at all, in fact I'd actually go as far as saying it is in my top 5. It is a very good mascara. Application is very easy and the smaller brush actually makes getting to the edges of your lashes quiet simple. The brush isn't the cleanest I've seen and sometimes is a little overloaded which could lead to clumping if not noticed, but a quick wipe on the side of the tube with the brush or with a tissue stops this transferring to your lashes and the results it produces are more than satisfactory. Some mascaras just give colour to your lashes but don't do much else for them, some leave you with the dreaded "spider lash" look from trying to be dramatic but really just pile too much on your lashes. This mascara is a happy and decent medium. My lashes have a very good colour coverage that is even and very dramatic and they are definitely volumised and defined. From root to tip the brush glides well and leaves a pretty even effect. I can pop on another coat and work the lashes with the brush to get an even better effect if desired for going out in an evening for example, or leave it at the one coat for heading to the office.
Don't get me wrong, while I very much like this mascara, there are better out there for me personally. I think it depends a lot on your lash type and preferred look, but for those who like a very dramatic effect, there are better, but that isn't to say Masterpiece Max isn't a very good alternative. The price is definitely reasonable for the product and brand, it is a good mascara and does give good results, I think I have maybe just been a little spoilt when I know how amazing my lashes can look with a few other mascaras.
I would happily buy it again (although my addiction to trying new mascaras would never let this be possible) and I would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a very decent mascara that does a top quality job.
4 Stars. Thanks for reading :)
Scrabble is one of those games that most families are familiar with. It's a nice fun bring the family together type game that is actually very good for your vocabulary and spelling also (2 things I've never been great at myself).
The game comes boxed in a traditional styled green box with the game bored. This is a square with lots of spaces for the letter tiles you also get to be placed. The object of the game is to draw 7 letter tiles and using the little stands provided, work out what words you can make, these are then placed on the board and you receive a score. This score can be lifted by using the bonus squares such as the "Double Letter" or "Triple Word". This increases your score. All words must join much like a crossword, so you can use other players' letters to help place longer words and get a higher score. When all the letters are used its game over and highest score wins.
What I love about scrabble is the fact it's one for those games you can pick up and play and it never changes. It's predictable and the fun is always the same. Whether playing with parents, children or friends. It's interesting to see what words others come up with and it really helps to expand your vocab. The board and tiles are easy to put away which is always useful when making room on the table etc as they all slot nicely into the box. I like the colouring of the board as it always reminds me of playing in my childhood. There are many different versions now of scrabble but I always find myself back to the original.
I enjoy the competition of the game. It's very satisfying having your opponent place a very impressive word and being pleased with themselves, then you pop and "s" on the end on a triple word score and jump ahead points wise. I also enjoy the friendliness of the game, as it gets towards the end me and my friends who I often play with usually help each other to get rid of those last few tiles. It is nice seeing things from their point of view and seeing the way in which their brains work and the words they suggest.
In my opinion scrabble really is one of the best games for family or friends. It's simple to grasp but very hard to master. It gives you a real sense of achievement when you can place a good word. It's a game that is fun as well as challenging but the rewarding feeling from playing far out ways any competition, so whether win or lose, it is fun for all the family. I would recommend scrabble to anyone of any age.
Obviously you can adapt the game and rules to allow for younger people to play. It's a great game for children as it really does help them to spell words and learn to see words from scrambled letters.
I've owned an iPhone now for a good few years and recently decided to change to the iPhone 4S from my iPhone 4. It may seem like a silly upgrade really as my contract wasn't up and I paid upfront for the new handset, but with cash back I acquired and selling my iPhone 4 I justified it in my head and decided to go for it. After all, I'm a fool for fun new toys.
Now I am going to try and keep this review focused on the things I think are most important for people thinking of buying a new phone. Obviously iPhones have a lot of features but I will try and be concise but thorough.
As I'm sure most people know, the iPhone 4S is the latest release from Apple. I have a black iPhone 4S 16gb which I got handset only (as I wasn't due an upgrade) direct from Apple for £499. It is available from all the usual phone retailers and on contract and pay as you go.
The phone itself is stylish and sleek. The black and silver casing is smooth and it has a nice large screen which is useful since it's a touch screen. The volume controls and keypad lock button are easy to locate and use without knocking them by accident. To unlock the phone you simply press the round bottom button and swipe the screen to unlock. The touch screen is very intuitive and simple to master after a small amount of use. After a few minutes of really exploring the phone you get used to swiping, pinching and dragging the screen to use all features. It is very user friendly. Texting also makes use of the touch screen with a full qwerty keyboard. This takes a little more getting used to as the buttons are smaller but it is easy once mastered.
The call quality is very good on my 4S. There have been known problems with the newer iPhone models that the reception is poor and calls drop out frequently. I will admit I did experience this on occasion with my iPhone 4, but have not once lost a call on my 4S so far, which is quite good going compared to the 4.
One of the main features of the iPhone is the App store. As Apple like to say there is an app for everything, and they aren't far wrong. The applications that you get with the iPhone 4S are standard with the operating system (OS5) which comes preinstalled on the phone. There are tasks and reminders, alarms, weather checks, compasses, GPS enabled map systems (which are very accurate and useful) email functions, iTunes, calculator and Safari for internet browsing. Of course there is also the App store where you can download and install as many as you wish, some free and some costing money. I have a lot of apps, useful ones including train timetables, tube maps, online banking, cinema time finders, IMDB and many more. I have lots of games also which I play quite frequently. The phones 16gb memory is plenty for me to hold all the bits I have and even with over 1000 songs on my phone I still have plenty of room. The music feature of the phone is exactly the same as an iPod and the sound is clear and it works perfectly.
One of the most important aspects for me and one of the only negatives I can say is the battery life. Being a phone that if allowed, will have GPS and location services on all the time, it can run out quite quickly, but no quicker than the 4 or 3GS I owned before. I charge mine from 2% to full every other day and I do not turn my phone off at night, but I do however turn any location services off when not being used and just enable them when needed. This seems to help. The iPhone 4S runs a multitasking feature which keeps apps open in the background for ease of flicking between things, this however, does not use any additional battery to do so. If you are using the email features or running the camera and video functions a lot, you may notice your battery go down even quicker, but still, charging every other day isn't too bad in my opinion.
All settings for the phone are simple to access and you can customise ringtones and now text tones, which is a new feature of the 4S.
I would like to mention that the new camera on the 4S is a better quality than the 4 or 3GS. While it is not easy to tell from looking at photos taken on screen (as the screen resolution is the same as previous models) they are a lot nice looking on a HD screen since it has a 10 megapixel camera and I believe the old one was a 4 or 6 megapixel.
The main feature advertised as the "big difference" with the iPhone 4S is Siri... Siri is a voice activated feature that you can use to do things with your phone. You can make calls, send texts, rearrange calendar dates, set alarms, set reminders and ask questions all at the touch of a button.
There have been some mixed reviews about the functionality of Siri as it has trouble understanding some strong accents apparently, I've never had any trouble myself, but I have a pretty clear Hertfordshire accent. The thing I like most about Siri is the way it takes no setting up at all. There was nothing to programme and no complicated set up to do before it worked. It just does. In my honest opinion Siri is a neat little addition to the iPhone but I would honestly say it didn't justify me changing from my 4 to a 4S. It is entertaining and it can be useful. There is a function of it where you can dictate text messages which is useful when you have your hands full. If you really want, you can ask Siri various questions and it will try to find an answer for you. If you ask it what 12 inches is in centimeters it will take a few seconds and bring up a comparison chart for you. Quite useful really.
iPhones are great In my opinion, they are stylish and very easy to use and surprisingly useful. No one needs one, it's a luxury you pay for and I like the convenience my iPhone gives me when it comes to the app store. I don't fear getting lost, I know I can check emails and timetables on the go. I know if I'm watching a film and can't remember where I know that blokes face from I can check immediately. All things people can live without but if you choose not to and are happy to pay the quite hefty price tag then iPhones are for you.
To people who already own an iPhone 4 and are thinking of upgrading early, I would suggest against it. Siri is a neat little feature but doesn't really justify spending the additional money.
Overall I would give the iPhone 4S 5 stars. It has all the features I love about iPhones and a few more things. The battery life isn't great but it isn't as bad as some people say. The call quality is good and clear and phone itself is simple to master. As an upgrade i'd only give it 3 stars as there really isn't enough difference to warrant the price.
The Grimsdyke is a stunning old English hotel, built in 1870 and located in Old Redding in Harrow Weald, Middlesex.
It consists of a 37 room hotel, a restaurant, a bar and many beautiful gardens and a lake that surround the building. I recently visited the hotel for dinner, but until it was suggested to me by my dining partner, I can honestly say I had only heard of it by name and assumed the restaurant was not available to non hotel guests. It turns out that anyone can make a reservation for the hotel or indeed just pop in to the bar or gardens at any time without having to be a guest.
We arrived after pulling down the long country lane that the hotel is nestled down and parked up with ease in the hotels gravel car park. It is a large enough car park and midweek it had barely 6 cars in. I noticed how beautiful and large the building was firstly. It simply looks wonderful with its wooden beams and grandeur. It is a very nice looking building and is set beautifully amongst various gardens and the surrounding wooded area.
It wasn't time for our table yet (being one to always be early) so we had a chance to grab a drink from the bar and explore the grounds around the hotel. The bar itself was about half way full with mostly business men types, lots of suits and briefcases around here. The bar staff were friendly and attentive and we were served immediately with no troubles, deciding to take our drinks outside to enjoy the weather rather than sit in the bar. There is plenty of outside seating surrounding the building as well as the internal bar. Everything inside the bar was warmly decorated, light and well maintained. The gardens are also immaculate and every blade of grass is kept in line. There are a few stairways down to the lawn area and a few benches further away than the initial outside area which we headed for to enjoy our drinks by the lake. I did notice there were no ramps and most pathways are gravelled which would definitely make enjoying the gardens difficult for disabled customers which is a real shame as they are splendid to walk around and take in.
You are able to smoke on the grounds and outside areas but I did not see a single smoking bin, I suppose they wouldn't really go with the old beauty of the place, but I was a little distressed when my friend put his cigarette out on the floor. I must say however, that I had not seen a single spec of litter anywhere so the grounds must be very well looked after.
Heading in, we were seated in the restaurant and the theme from the bar runs through. It is a very warm atmosphere with lots of deep reds and floral patterns decorating the room. The actual restaurant isn't very large and can probably seat about 40 people in total when full, so worth booking on weekends and to be on the safe side. Something I am not used to, this restaurant obviously prides itself on its reputation for class and good service, the waiters and waitresses all referred to us as "Sir" and "Madam" for the whole evening, which took me a little by surprise. I had my chair pulled out for me as we were shown to our seats and even had my napkin placed on my lap for me, definitely not the kind of service you get at a Harvester! I did find the whole pomposity of it all a little uncomfortable as it was very quiet. All of the business men ate mainly alone and the odd couple or small group were not making much noise. Having a normal level conversation with my friend made me feel a little like I was interfering with the polite quietness.
The menu is not very extensive and while there are vegetarian and fish options for starters, there were only 6 choices in total. I opted for the wood pigeon as it is something I hadn't tried before and my friend had calamari. We were given a complimentary small bowl of soup before our starters arrived with some bread, I personally didn't like the sweet potato flavour but it was very hot and a nice little extra. Our starters were brought out promptly as were all dishes. The service was fast without being pushy and we were given plenty of time to finish each course. My wood pigeon was served barely warm and very rare, but I do not know if this is the norm. I couldn't quite stomach it and left the majority of it which was a shame.
For mains we both went for the roast lamb which was cooked very nicely, very pink in the middle, just how I like it and served with a rather small portion of potato and some veg. It was very tasty, but as I find with all places that seem to be aimed at the more fancy diners, the portion was not that generous, but it was extremely tasty none the less.
For dessert I had a chocolate pudding with apple crumble ice cream which more than made up for any lack of portions with the other 2 courses. It was fresh and filling and I very much enjoyed it.
Our bill came in at just over £70 for the 2 of us, which I feel was quite high for the standard of the food, but again, it is just one of those places where you pay for the service and pomposity rather than the actual food. Drink wise I paid £5 for a glass of house Rose wine which is more than enough in my books. Prices aren't actually too bad if you stick to some wise menu choices however, there is even a 2 or 3 courses set price, but you would be very restricted to what you could eat if you didn't want to rack up any additional price "supplements'" as pretty much every item had one. If you can manage to choose wisely the set menu for 3 courses comes in at £16.95. The variety of the food on the menu was a little disappointing also. I would have liked a little more choice.
I do not think I would eat here again purely because for what I paid, I did not feel comfortable in the restaurant nor did I think the food was any better than a lot of other places I have eaten. In general I had a nice evening and the staffs were indeed very attentive and polite. The restaurant is nicely decorated and the bar was relaxed. It just wasn't really my kind of place. The lack of a comfortable atmosphere in the actual restaurant left it all very informal, but I suppose some people like that. The grounds are worth a visit just to stroll and have a look at the pond and relax on a bench with a lovely view.
Overall I'm giving the Grimsdyke Hotel Restaurant 3 Stars. For a bit of grandeur and spoiling every once in a while it is ok, but for general mid week dining, it is just a little too fancy for the likes of me, without much in the way of anything special to make it worth the money.
Thanks for reading :)
Nespresso Magimix M200 (Manual Version)
I've always been a fan of an after meal cappuccino and the fresh smell of coffee, which is something that was always limited for me until I was out at a restaurant or the very rare time I'd visit a coffee house, since I'm not a fan of instant coffee. Thanks to the generosity of my mother in law however, I am the proud owner of a new (to me) Nespresso Magimix M200.
How to get one and where from for how much?
The machine was bought new a few years back by my mother in law who has now upgraded to a newer model and kindly passed on the M200 to me as it is still in perfect working order.
Nespresso are a brand leader in the coffee world and their name is synonymous with coffee. They have a very simple to navigate website where you can purchase the machines, refills and other related items. The machines are also available from a lot of other electrical retailers and online merchants such as Amazon. The Magimix M200 is not actually available from new anymore on the Nespresso website, but it can be found elsewhere.
It retailed at new for approx £180.00 but can be found online for a little cheaper.
The machine is a lovely matt black colour all over with chrome detailing around the top of the machine on the handle which opens its jaws (where you to insert the coffee). It is actually rather small as an overall machine and does not take up too much room on the counter, which is something I love about it. It sits nicely on the work surface between my toaster and kettle and does not protrude too far out or look massive and thus silly in my kitchen.
A small issue with the size of the machine (which probably won't be a problem for anyone else) is that the space to pop your cup under is a little small. It is plenty of room for a saucer or a latte cup or a small mug. Anything you would probably pop coffee into will fit in here, but for me, I like large mugs. I'm not sure why but I like my hot drinks in a big sturdy mug. I know this isn't necessarily how coffee is meant to be drunk, but it is the way I like it. So I had to get used to using a smaller mug or learning to angle larger mugs in a way that they fit (which is completely do-able)
Set up and Use
To start the machine, the only set up required is being plugged in using the standard plug and flipping on one of the two switches on the machine. It is very simple to use and I am convinced any one could manage it. The very first use does require you to run water through the system (basically using it without the coffee added) to flush through the system as recommended in the instructions, but after that you are free to make coffee!
There is a power on/off switch on the left hand side if you are facing the machine which once flipped will start a green light flashing on the front, this light when steady, indicates the machine is ready to use. This usually only takes approx 15 - 20 seconds, so there is no waiting around before you can use it. Once turned on and you have the green light you can insert one of the "coffee pods" that this machine requires (more on these later) and pull the lever on top of the machine towards you. (This is clearly marked with a little picture of a cup to help anyone who forgets if it is front or back.) This starts the machine and the pod is pierced inside the machine and the coffee will start being dispensed. There is no measure on this machine which I would say is both a down side and a plus, as you will have to keep an eye on your coffee but also get full control to decide how strong or weak you want it. Once you are happy with the coffee in your cup you simply return the lever back to its centre original position and the dispensing stops. From here you can either enjoy your shot of coffee or if you are like me, who likes white coffee, move on to the simple task of frothing some milk. The only other switch on the machine is on the other side from the power (green light) and when flipped will change the display to an orange light. This too will now flash like the green light and when steady after about 10 seconds means the machine is ready to froth. You simply pop some milk in a jug and place it under the nozzles on the side of the machine and this time push the lever backwards (again, helpfully marked with a picture of some steam) and the milk will froth up. This is the noisiest part of the coffee making procedure and can be a little annoying you are talking while making it or anything as it will drown you out, but again this is very quick and you should have nice hot, frothy and thick milk within approx 30 seconds.
The water tank at the back holds 1.2L of water so there is no need to keep refilling this between cups. It makes a good 5 or 6 coffees without running out.
Cleaning / Maintenance
As well as being extremely easy to set up and use the M200 is also a dream to clean and maintain. The surface is very easy to wipe clean and the drip tray and back "bin" compartment (which is where the empty pods fall too when used) are simple to empty and again wipe over or clean in the sink separately as they are fully detachable.
The machine pulls apart quite a bit as I mentioned above as the water tank is completely removable, the drip tray at the front pulls out, the bin compartment is removable and the steaming nozzle unscrews. This means all of these elements are thoroughly cleanable, but also means the rest of the machine is left opened up so you can get to any hard to reach places that drips may have snuck into.
As a tip for anyone who is using this machine or thinking of getting one, to save having to properly detach and clean the milk nozzle each time or letting it build up a milky scum as it will if left, fill the jug you use for milk back up with water after making your milk and run the steamer with the water jug placed underneath. This cleans out the nozzle rather well and when you wipe it clean, it will clean up a lot nicer than if you only wipe it after it having milk on it.
Pods and Refills
Now, this machine uses Nespresso's "pod" system. These are little coloured plastic capsules of coffee that go into the machines jaws and are pierced to let the coffee out. These come in various different blends. In total Nespresso have 16 different varieties which are identifiable by their colours (for example they have 3 decaf coffees that are varying shades of red). There are 7 espresso pods and 6 others too. I personally prefer the "Volluto" espresso and this is the one I buy my refills of and is a lovely mild gold colour pod.
The pods come in long tubes of 10 and cost 27p each. Although a few of the blends are 28p, but most are 27p. These are easy to open cardboard tubes and are simple to store in any cupboard or drawer. I personally tip all mine into a little glass container I have that sits next to my machine on the side in the kitchen and they look quite nice.
You can order these from the website which does charge a delivery charge of £4.95 which makes the price jump up a little but if you order in larger quantities and have room to store them, or share orders with a friend who also uses Nespresso then the cost is a lot better.
Again you can find these in other places online such as Amazon and eBay, where a lot of people sell the pods, but prices here are not a deal better. Most people charge over £5 for a pack of 10 so with delivery also it isn't any cheaper. Sellers on eBay actually work out selling at approx 45p per capsule if you include the delivery whereas Nespresso with delivery works out 31p each.
I love my Magimix M200. It is stylish and simple to use. It makes great coffee quickly and easily. It is a dream to clean and operate. The Pods are a simple and non complex as well as cleaner than fresh beans spilling everywhere.
Anyone who likes coffee should own a decent machine, it really is a little taste of luxury into daily life and I am more than happy to recommend Nespresso's Magimix range. I would recommend Nespresso in general too as the website and customer service are great and even though they are a rather large coffee company, their prices are actually reasonable and you get great quality products which are reliable too.
I can't fault my M200 at all past the fact it gets a little nosy steaming the milk, but this is a small price to pay for 30 seconds for a wonderful fresh cup of coffee. After being used very frequently by my mother in law for approx 18 months and now by me for another 5, it hasn't had a single problem and truly works as good as the day it was bought.
5 Stars for me.
There is one spot in the Galleria shopping centre in Hatfield that has for years, always been a restaurant. I'm not sure if it is just coincidence (or the fact I obviously like my food to much) that whatever opens up in the space is wonderful in my opinion, but always closes down after about 18 months. The latest restaurant to open its doors in this great little spot is "The Real China"
The Real China
"The Real China" is a chain of restaurants which has many locations across the UK. I hadn't actually come across any previously or heard of the restaurants but I am very happy I have now.
As a company, according to the website, all of the locations are buffets as is the one in Hatfield, which also have sushi bars. I am not sure how many branches they have in the UK but if any of you know of one nearby and are fans of Chinese food, then I definitely suggest you give it a visit.
Location and Layout
The Hatfield Real China is based in the Galleria shopping centre which is easy to locate off junction 3 of the A1M in Hertfordshire. Being in a shopping centre there is plenty of parking to get to the restaurant as the Galleria has 2 multi-storey car parks and 2 other ground car parks. The actual restaurant is located on the upper level walkway that leads from the shopping centre to the 9 screen Odeon cinema.
When approaching the restaurant the very first thing I noticed was just how lovely it looked. I didn't go in when I first noticed it but the restaurant looked amazing just from having a glance and I knew I'd have to have a proper visit. The front of the restaurant is simply stunning. It has a plain glass wall water feature that stands in the entrance, surrounded by immaculately clean marble. Every little bit of detail around the restaurant is beautiful. From authentic bamboo plants and painted oriental statues, to the light fittings and details carved onto the wooden panelled walls. I know there is obviously a lot more to an eating experience than what they place looks like, but immediately you feel a sense of class and pride here. You have faith in the cleanliness and quality of the restaurant and the food just from stepping one foot inside. That's good atmosphere to me!
I think a very important feature of a buffet has to be the way the tables are laid out in relation to the food and how the food is displayed. The Real China has plenty of their dark wooden tables and chairs all over the restaurant, but they do use the space wisely. All tables are easy to push together for bigger groups but all have enough space around them to allow the customers to get up and down (as you do at a buffet) freely without elbowing someone enjoying their meal.
When you enter the restaurant you are greeted by a member of staff who will take your party size and show you to a table. Drink menus are given as you are seated and a waiter will take your drinks order immediately. The write your party size and table number as well as your drinks order on a slip of paper which you are left with when you have been given your drinks. This is so you can produce it to the bar when you pay.
Being a buffet there is no real table service and your food is not ordered or brought out to you, so there is no need to rely on the staff. The staff that are wandering the floor however, do so to take any additional drinks orders and to remove dirty plates and bowls so you can go up for another plate of tasty grub if your heart desires. I must give the staff a lot of credit here as I have never felt pressured to finish my food which I find some buffets do, some waiters hover around in other restaurants I have been to watching like vultures for you to finish a mouthful so they can swoop down and grab your plate before you are even finished, or worse, ask you 10 times "are you done with that?" with you having to say no each time. I like to be able to have a good chat at dinner and I don't wolf my food down, I like to eat at my pace without worrying my food will disappear from under my nose.
The staff at The Real China are readily available if you need them, but do not lurk at all. Considering the amount of people the restaurant can sit, there is only the need for a few members of staff, who always seem to manage to clear the tables without me even noticing. They are skilled at spotting when you head up for a refill on a drink, or when you are getting more food, and clear the table before you get back. They do not however clear away any plates that appear to have food on them still, so no need to worry that if you pop to the toilet, you'd have no dinner left. (As a side note, the toilets are just as clean as the restaurant, they have disabled loos too and the lovely decor runs throughout)
Right, the most important and tasty part...the food.
Simply put, the food here is amazing. Without any exaggeration on my part I can honestly say it is the best Chinese food I have ever eaten. The buffet is laid out well and all dishes are labelled clearly and correctly. The buffet is easy to walk round and broken down into sections, there is a starter side, a seafood side, the curries are kept together and the sushi and dim sum are all in a section at the back where the chef is, so you can see it all being prepared fresh.
The trays in the hot plates that the food is kept in are really quite shallow; this means they are topped up very frequently and always piping hot and fresh. I think this is why I enjoy the food so much here, besides the shear amount of variety on offer; all the dishes are always fresh. Another tip my hat to the staff moment as I have just realised I have never spotted them being refilled either. If something is a little low, at most a few minutes will pass, you can pop back up to see if there is more and there will be.
I won't sit and list the entire menu but it is everything you would expect from a Chinese buffet with a few bits I wouldn't have tried otherwise.
There is chicken in every way you can think of, duck and pancakes, various rice and noodle dishes, chips, onion rings, Thai curries, beef in black bean, chilli beef, steamed and fried vegetables, prawns and sushi dishes and really so many more that I can't think of including pork and lamb dishes and vegetarian options.
The desert section is also part of the buffet and there are usually lots of fresh sliced fruit, some sort of cake or sponge, jelly and ice cream and then a selection of "finger deserts" such as small tarts, cakes, chocolates and sweets.
I have always been a fan of knowing exactly how much I am going to pay on a night out. Buffets are great for this and it makes sticking to a budget very simple. The Real China is very good value in my opinion as you can have a 4 course meal (soup, starter, main and dessert) for under £13. That's decent value in my eyes. During the week Mon-Thurs the buffet is £9.95 if I remember correctly and on a Friday and Saturday it's slightly more (£11.95 or £12.95) and Sundays are slightly cheaper as well at £10.95. The drinks are usual bar price and the bar is well stocked with various beverages as well as oriental wines and spirits. The soft drinks are great value at £2 as they are refillable and you can help yourself to as much as you want.
I love this place, I really do. It's my 7 year anniversary with my other half at the weekend and I think a trip here is in order. It is good value and great quality. The variety of food extensive and it is always fresh and cooked well. The restaurant looks beautiful as well so it's hard to feel like you are getting anything less than great standards. It's spotlessly clean and the decoration is outstanding. I can spend a whole meal looking round at all the beautiful fine details that make up the great atmosphere of the place.
The staff are efficient and ninja like for the most part. I have been here now since it opened about 6 times and each has been spot on. From a meal for 2 with my other half, a group of girlfriends for a catch up chat dinner or a group of over 20 mates for a pre Christmas get together and drink, The Real China has accommodated it all. They do take bookings for larger parties also which is nice.
Right...I have raved about it enough. In my opinion It's brilliant and a perfect Chinese buffet in my eyes. If you live near or are in the area go in and have a lovely meal and I'd put money on the fact you won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading :)
Having been in my own home for nearly a year now, I feel it's time I finally get round to reviewing all my appliances. My favourite kitchen appliance has to be by far, my Breville Rice Cooker and Steamer.
Price and Availability
I brought mine from Argos, but like most kitchen appliances these are available from all the usually places, such as supermarkets, curry's and online retailers.
I paid £28.99 for mine and feel for what I get out of it, it is a great price. There are similar models available and rice cookers which do not have the steamer option or vice versa if you feel this would be better suited for you, which are obviously cheaper too. I like to know I have a brand I can trust with this sort of item, as it is no good having to buy another in a few months time if a cheap one breaks.
This steamer was the one my partner and I chose partly because of its looks. It had all the features we wanted too (being minimal) but it looks great and goes wonderfully with our other appliances.
The cooker is a lovely brushed stainless steel, just like the rest of my kitchen goodies, and looks really modern and simple. The actual unit has a 1.8L capacity so is nice and large, but is also quite deep, so it isn't too big. Mine doesn't live out on the counter due to space issues in my modest size kitchen, but it fits fine in any of my cupboards and is easy to store.
The cooker has a simplistic black plastic button (which is the only feature on it) and a nice sturdy glass lid. I really do think it looks great and I'm glad we chose one to match everything else, even if we could have got a white plastic one a bit cheaper. The stainless steel is also a doddle to clean.
The cooker doesn't have any "features" as such. No special modes or functions for doing fancy things. It quite simply cooks rice and steams with the use of only one button.
The actual unit is basically a heating plate which is in the main bowl shaped unit at the bottom. On top of this you place the actual cooking bowl where your rice would be placed and the lid pops on top of this. If you are using the unit for steaming, there is a white plastic insert which is put on top of the bowl to turn it into a steamer and the lid then on top of this.
Once plugged in the unit will automatically turn on as it has no on or off switch, it will be on the "warm" setting. The one simple slider flicks this from "warm", which is shown by a little orange light, to "cook" which lights up in red, so it is easy to keep an eye from a distance to see if your things are cooked or not.
I'd like to mention that the main bowl that comes with the unit is non stick, which makes cleaning it very easy indeed as any left over rice in the bowl wipes off in a second which I love and the thick black handles that are on the sides of the unit are very good at keeping the heat off your hands as the main unit does itself does get rather hot.
The "Rice Cooker and Steamer" comes with all parts needed to successfully make rice or steam your food. It comes with a small plastic measuring cup, which can be used to measure out your rice or to add water as needed in the correct quantities when either steaming or cooking rice. I have actually found this little cup very useful and never really thought I would. It comes in handy for all other sorts of cooking too when a larger traditional measuring jug cannot give you accurate enough readings for smaller amounts. I use it for measuring oil when being exact or for small amounts of water when baking, for example.
The cooker also comes with a nice chunky spatula / spoon. I'm not really sure which I would call it. It isn't flat enough to really be a spatula and would be no good for frying eggs, but it isn't concaved at all so isn't really a "spoon" either as it would be useless and holding any liquid. Well, regardless, whatever it is, it is a useful bit of kit and I find myself using it all the time either when cooking stir fry, stirring vegetables, pan cooking sauces, or mixing baking mixes. It's as versatile as a wooden spoon and I really do tend to use it for all my stirring needs. It is also incredibly easy to clean. The thick white plastic is well coated and takes seconds to clean. Nothing sticks to it and nothing stains it.
The steaming dish insert is also a thick plastic (although cream coloured this time) and is just as easy to clean. It has small movable handles on the sides to make removing the dish safer and to stop any burns.
Cooking Rice / Steaming
Ok, on to the main point of the device. I did buy this cooker primarily for the rice cooking feature as I am a fan of rice and eat it frequently. As I said above, after plugging the cooker in it is on immediately and will be on the warming setting, because of this I tend to leave it off before I have everything I need ready to make sure I avoid any burns with my clumsy nature or any fire risks.
I measure out my rice using the plastic measuring cup provided and pop it into the bowl with the suggested amount of water (after rinsing the rice). I then plug the unit in, place the bowl into the cooker, cover it with the lid and slide the cooker to "cook". That's it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy as they say!
On the steaming side of things it is just as simple. Place your food onto the white plastic dish insert, fill the bowl with water, pop the bowl in the unit, the dish in the bowl, the lid on the dish. Plug it in and flick to "cook".
The results are impressive for such a simple and rather unassuming machine. If you follow the recommended amounts of water to food ratio the food comes out near perfect every time. As there is no timer on the unit you are at the mercy of the unit knowing when it is done. I assume this is done from the temperature it reaches and knowing if the water is fully evaporated or not...pretty clever for an appliance with one button. I have used it to make rice a lot more than I have for steaming, but that is just due to my personal needs and the way I cook (I'm more an oven girl than a steamer) The few times I have used it to steam have been with vegetables and fish and it has been brilliant. The rice I cook in it always comes out perfect, fluffy and fully cooked, no hard grains that are undercooked and no burnt parts or anything like that. It is super easy to serve food from the unit as you can remove the steamer dish completely, or use the provided spatula to scoop out the rice.
I have to say also that something I like about this cooker is that when it is done, it makes a rather loud click which is the slider ticking from "cook" to "warm". This is great if you are doing a million other things as I usually am in the kitchen so you do not forget about it.
Instructions / Manual
I wouldn't usually have a section just to say an appliance comes with an instruction manual but I feel I should make a point here purely because of how useful it is. The manual briefs over the easy parts about set up and warranties etc (all the usual bits most people don't even read) but focus' on quantities and recipes. If you have never used a steamer or rice cooker before, how are you to know how much of what to put in, trial and error would get you there, but this manual allows it first time. It has tables showing all the ratios of rice to water for the amount of people you are cooking for as well as estimated times they should take to cook. So you know when to pop the rice on if you are having it with a meal. Very useful indeed!
I love my "Rice Cooker and Steamer" and I'm very glad I brought it. It has made meal times very easy indeed. It's simple to use and master with the useful manual and clear and easy way it works. It's a breeze to clean and store. It looks great when it is on the kitchen work top and the spatula and measuring cup are surprisingly hand to have around the kitchen.
It's a definite 5 stars from me and I hope it continues to work as flawlessly as it has the past year for a long time to come.
Thanks you for reading :)
I am a lover of dance. I enjoy dancing, although I wouldn't say I was overly good, I have rhythm and will always be first on a dance floor at a party, I like films about dance and I knew "Dance Central" for the Xbox 360 Kinect would be just up my street.
I've always been a fan of arcade dance machines and have spent many a penny following the little arrows on screen and jigging away happily. Dance Central is basically a fully body dance machine, but without the crowds to be embarrassed in front of.
To explain the game I shall first just briefly cover what "Kinect" is for those who aren't familiar with it. Basically Kinect is an add on for your Xbox that can pick you up in 3D space and place your shape and movements into a game using its cameras and infrared depth detectors. It is a nice shiny black long device that can sit in front or above your TV and plugs into the Xbox.
Due to the wonderful ability of Kinect and the pretty decent accuracy, many games are now compatible with Kinect and this has opened us up to a whole new batch of movement related games. Unlike the Nintendo Wii, the Kinect doesn't need you to hold anything or press any buttons at all, as it can "see" you are knows what you are doing. It really is surprisingly accurate and I have really enjoyed mine since getting it on launch day. Anyway...this isn't a review of Kinect so on to the game itself...
Price / Availability
As part of the bundle package I brought my Kinect in, I had a choice of 2 additional games as well as the basic game it came with. I knew Dance Central would be one I'd enjoy as I mentioned so it came home with me straight away. It cost at the time £34.99 as part of the bundle which is average for an Xbox 360 game and I must say I have been happy they didn't use the Kinect as an excuse to hike prices up for any compatible games. It is currently in all decent game stores and retails for approx £34.99 - £39.99 but you will pay less for a pre-owned copy or if you can find a deal online.
Cover / Song list
The cover is funky and purple and like most dance games shows a lot of people having lots of fun (of course) dancing. There are some details of what songs are included on the box to give you an idea if you would like it before you buy.
To me, the track list for any rhythm game isn't actually too important, as long as playing/dancing/singing along to whatever song it is, is enjoyable, then personal tastes etc do not seem to interfere. For those who think this is key however, Dance Central does well though to cover quite a range of music, from dance classics like "funky town" to modern chart hits from artists such as Rhiana and Lady GaGa.
There are 32 tracks included on the disk in total.
Once you have set up your Kinect and calibrated, it navigating the game is simple. Once loaded you become the controller and a few simple arm movements scroll through the menus and track lists. It's very intuitive and all movements needed feel natural and it isn't hard at all to work out how to move around the game.
Let's get dancing! (Game play)
So much to do! You can have dance battles, which are for 2 players, work out mode, where you can just keep dancing and tracking calories. In the main part of the game all of the songs are in sections of 5 or 6 songs at a time once you are in the game. The songs with the simpler routines are first and as you master these you unlock more and more which get trickier as you progress.
You can select to break down a song which will show you the moves for a small part of the song, help you to master them and then add more, eventually, once you have the hang of it all together you move on to the "perform it" selection and dance the full dance where you are scored and given a star rating.
The moves themselves range from very simple (side steps, clapping etc) all the way up to some very advanced moves (I wouldn't even know what to call them! But "The Robot" makes an appearance)
The point of the game is to try and do the moves as accurately as possible. You can see your actual self in the top right hand corner of the screen; this is seeing yourself as Kinect sees you. For the most part though you will be following a little in-game avatar who will be acting as your mirror image for that section of the game (there are 8 in total). The song starts and the animated avatar will get ready to dance. As moves scroll up the right hand side of the screen you get a brief idea of what they are. Each move is named such as "side step" which lets you know what the game expects of you and also a little picture showing an outline of a person with correct body parts (in this case a left leg) highlighted and arrows to show direction, so you know which way to move. If the name of the move isn't a clear indication of what you need to do, then the picture should help a lot in guessing. These pictures are called "Flash Cards" and there is an option for the more adventurous of you to turn these off if you really think you have learnt a dance well.
Boogie Bunny! (My Opinion)
I love this game. I knew I would to be fair, but I am glad it completely lived up to what I was expecting. The menus are smooth and easy and I feel they respond really well to the controller free game play.
The actual game is super responsive and it's one of the things I really like (and hate) about Dance Central. You can't fool the game. It can see you perfectly and it knows if you are moving correctly or not, I love this because I know when I am actually doing a move correctly which makes me feel good and like a pro dancer but on the flip side, after 20 minutes of breaking songs down and busting a move, you can't slack off! If you want those points and stars you have to actually DO the dance moves, if your arms aren't straight enough or you have stopped dipping as low as you are meant to, it will pull you up on it, no matter how tired you are, it will not let you off.
There is a good mix of music on here and although I am not a fan particularly of hip hop or R'n'B for example, I still love the dances to the songs. Each song has a unique dance routine and with over 650 unique dance moves, few moves are repeated enough for you to feel cheated. I love that there are different difficulty levels, I started on easy to get used to the game but after 2 dances and 100% scores I thought I'd give hard a go and surprisingly I find these are about my level, it did get very hard towards the end and the songs further down the list really took everything I had to get a decent score and certainly left me sweating.
I would recommend this game to anyone who wants a bit of family fun or a serious workout. It is fun and easy if you go for the lower difficulties and whether you are familiar or not with this sort of game, you would do fine on easy. For those wanting more of a challenge or a good workout then hard is great for really making you sweat.
There is also the added bonus of it being on the Xbox so you have the advantage of being able to download more content from Xbox Live and also the fun of unlocking all the achievements.
I must also say a part of it that makes me smile is the "freestyle" that happens in the middle of each song. It gives you about 10 seconds to do whatever you want without your score being in trouble...I tend to rest, but it plays back the 10 seconds for you after using the Kinects recording capabilities and this is quite amusing if you decide to go a bit mental.
Thanks for reading :)
There are many products that I have tried over the last 9 months since buying my flat that I wouldn't normally even have looked at. With purse strings being remarkably tight at the moment, I have been making full use of various "Tesco Value" products, trying them against brand names and seeing if I really need to be paying so much for these products.
On a routine weekly shop about 6 months ago I spotted the value range shampoo and conditioner. I have never been one for brand names when it comes to shampoo or conditioner and I usually just buy whichever is on offer. I am not brand loyal to anyone when it comes to my hairs cleanliness so for 36p for the Tesco conditioner, I was more than happy to give it a go.
You get 500ml and it comes in a nice thick, slightly frosted recyclable plastic bottle. It has a nice big white plastic lid which is easy to screw on and off when wet in the shower. The picture on here is out of date and the bottle now has a simple picture of a lady brushing through her wet hair and there is hardly any blue stripes for those who are a little embarrased of buying value products.
The actual conditioner itself is a pastel orange colour, you can see this through the bottle. It has a very obvious "conditionery" smell, which is to say it smells clean and fresh but doesn't have any specific fragrance. It isn't wild berry or citrus or enriched with any flowers or any stuff like that, as the label says "No fancy formula, just detangles you hair". This seems to be a running theme for the Tesco value health and beauty range as both the value shampoo and face wipe packs also have similar statements saying how you don't need flashy gimmicky formulas to have an effect product, just something that does the job.
The conditioner comes out thick and fast from the wide bottle neck and is slightly runny in consistency in comparison to the more expensive brands, so as a result I do use more than I would otherwise with other products. It goes on just washed wet hair fine and is very easy to smooth through. It is, perhaps surprisingly, one of the best conditioners I've ever used. That is taking into account the price mainly. For 36p, it leaves my hair just as soft and smooth and bottles costing 10 times the price. I can run the conditioner through my hair and immediately run my fingers through it and I'm knot free. After blow drying or towel drying my hair is still perfectly soft and tangle free, I can run a brush through it after rough towel drying which is impressive as my hair is thick and long and usually rather knotty after such rough drying.
I do not wash my hair every day but for those that do, the bottle says it is suitable for everyday use. I use this every time I wash my hair and by the time my hair needs washing again a few days later, it is still soft and manageable, just as much as it is when I use branded types.
So to conclude, I really would recommend this conditioner to everyone, not just for those who need to watch the pennies, but for anyone. Give it a go! In my opinion it works just as well as any other conditioner so why pay over the odds for another brand? My only "disadvantage" would be the fact you need a little more than usual as it isn't as thick, but seeing as most conditioners come in approx 300ml bottles and this is 500ml, you may only get the same amount of uses as a smaller bottle because of the need to use more, but it is still only 36p rather than over £2 for a 300ml bottle.
Thanks for reading :) - Happy New Year one and all!
Between putting a deposit down on my flat and moving in 3 months later there was a running water problem in the bathroom. The taps dripped for 12 weeks and the toilet was constantly refilling and flushing itself. It was all fixed and sorted by the builders before we moved in, but being builders, the promise to "make good" and clean or replace everything that was lime scaled to the high heavens never happened.
Rather than spending weeks chasing them and getting wound up that my brand new flat wasn't in "show off" state, I simply rolled my sleeves up and got de-lime scaling. The taps/sink and bath weren't a problem at all. It actually only took a little vinegar and elbow grease and it was off in seconds. Quite impressive I thought considering the extent of the damage.
The toilet however was a whole other story. The base of the toilet, below the water line was badly lime scaled and I couldn't find anything that got it off properly. With each new product I tried it did slightly reduce the lime scale, but from the sheer amount of it, it still left my toilet looking quite frankly "yucky". The lime scale under the waterline was sitting firm for a good few months, a lovely dark grey/brown colour tainting my otherwise lovely bathroom. Each scrubbing session reduced it slightly but it was horrid.
I finally decided to use an online review site to look up the best products for beating toilet lime scale and came across a lot of 5 star reviews for "Domestos Zero Lime scale". Willing to try anything I grabbed a bottle on my next trip to Tesco where I paid only £2.30 (A lot cheaper than some of the other many products I tried). The bottle is 750ml and has a black and lime green colour scheme. It was easy to spot on the shelf because I knew what I was looking for. I took it home and like the sad person I am, it was the first thing I wanted to do.
The instructions on the bottle were clear and simple. There is a child safety lid on the nozzle so that if little hands do get hold of it they shouldn't be able to open it. It was simple enough to open knowing the good old "squeeze and twist" technique. The product is meant to be used in a well ventilated space as it does contain some quite nasty stuff including various acids.
To apply you simply squeeze the lime scale remover around the bowl of the toilet which is very easy to do with the slightly bend head of the bottle. Leave for 30 minute and then rinse and repeat if needed. The actual liquid is a lovely bright lime green colour just like the detailing on the bottle so it is very easy to see if you have missed any part of the bowl. The green liquid actually turns blue when it hits any lime scale which I liked as I felt it had really identified the problem areas and made me feel a little more confident this time. That my toilet may end up lime scale free.
One little added pro about the product was its smell, or should I say lack of. It has a nice light fresh lime smell to it which left my bathroom smelling clean but without any trace of harsh chemical or bleach smell which considering the list of ingredients I was very happily surprised about.
So does it actually work? YES! WOOHOO! I watch the clock tick past the 30 minutes suggested for the green gunk to do its magic and excitedly skipped back to the toilet to flush and rinse the toilet (I already explained I'm sad didn't I?). One flush and all the green liquid was washed away, a few more flushes and once the bubbles had subsided I was over the moon. It was gone...all of it...every tiny little bit. You'd never have even known it was there. The toilet looked brand new, clean and fresh. It got rid of all other marks and dirt but the build up that was under the waterline literally had vanished.
Considering I used this reasonably cheap lime scale remover on what I would consider a rather severe case of lime scale and I didn't even have to "reapply as needed" I would say this is pretty heavy duty stuff. It clung fantastically to the toilet bowl, it was gentle on my nose and it really really REALLY worked. I am over the moon with the fact my toilet looks brand new and I am pleased I know I have a product that can deal with all the cleaning my toilet needs as it will do the job properly.
I would advise it to anyone who has lime scale build up in their toilet, especially under the water line as all other cleaners I have found fall short in this area. For around £2-£3 on average also, you can't really go wrong.
Thanks for reading :)
I am a fan of dance movies and always have been since "Save The Last Dance" first introduced dancing as something a whole film can be based around. Due to this I have subjected myself to various mediocre and poor films (as the genre tends to produce now) just to watch the dancing.
I have previously seen "Step Up" and think it is one of the stronger films in the genre. "Step Up 2: The Streets" was what I would call a typical dance film and now "Step Up 3D" is gracing our cinema screens. So what did I think of it?...
Step Up 3D is everything you would expect from a film based around dancers. You get an unbelievably predictable storyline, some great dancers trying to pass as actors and a bit of a feel good message all wrapped into one. Its average as dance films go and pretty poor as a normal film, but I didn't expect anything else.
We are introduced first to one of the main characters "Moose" who was actually in the second film. He is starting college with his best friend Camille (she was in the first film) having now left high school and Moose joins a dance group called "The house of pirates" after meeting their leader Luke and his gang of street dancing friends. Camille is obviously in love with Moose but they are just friends as he doesn't know about her feelings.
Luke meets Natalie, a random girl who he convinces to join the crew also as she is a great dancer. Both are single and good looking.
Natalie has a brother who used to be in the "House of Pirates" dance group but got kicked out. He now has his own dance crew, who are competing in the World Jam Dance Contest along with the pirates, where there is a cash prize for winning, which just so happens to be enough to perfectly cover the debt that Luke has on his warehouse where him and the rest of the dance crew all live!
Now if you can't work out exactly what happens down to the smallest detail, then you have probably never seen one of these films before or any romcom ever.
""(Spoiler alert, but I do not think it ruins anything as the plot isn't the point of these types of film - SKIP NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ SPOILERS!)""
The pirates fall out the day before the contest, which of course they win when they realise what friendship is etc. Luke and Natalie get together, fall out after finding out she is a spy for her brother, then get back together after Natalie tells him she started as a spy but then fell in love with him and the crew and dances with them to win the competition. Moose and Camille realise they should be together, the prize money pays for everything perfectly, no one gets made homeless and they all live happily ever after....Never would have guessed it would you?!
""END OF SPOILERS""
Now the acting in this film was actually ok compared to what I was expecting. I won't bother mentioning names of actors etc because none of them have done anything else (with the exception of the Asian guy who is in it for the last 20 minutes who is one of the "Glee" cast whose name I don't know)
The parts are as believable as they need to be for this kind of film and although the acting is far from anything special it serves its purpose to tell the story.
The dancing, which is arguably the point of these films, is great as to be expected. We see lots of different styles and situations where the dancers get to show off their moves. There wasn't quite as much as I actually would have liked (less dancing means more time for acting *sigh*) the end battles I found were not actually the best dances and there had been better and more impressive moves earlier on in the film.
I found the end actually a little anti-climactic with regards to the dancing, as the emphasis seemed to be shifted to the quirky and original light show and outfits the Pirates put together to stand out, rather than the fact they were actually better dancers than the opposition.
The usual RnB/dance track heavy soundtrack, I think was decent for the most part and I found myself tapping my feet along to a lot of the songs which helped bring me into the world on the screen I was watching for a short while. But I must say it wasn't memorable but still enjoyable. I do recall Flo Rida having a track on it, but I couldn't say which one.
As for the 3D element of the film, I was more than a little disappointed. This is the first dance film I have seen in 3D and I will happily watch the 2D counterparts of any future ones after this experience. Paying the extra for 3D to get the "full experience" is a waste of time here I'm afraid. The film in general has no need at all for the 3D and at no point was it impressive.
There was one scene where Natalie and Luke are throwing slushies into an air vent which propels it upwards and towards the camera. It did show off the 3D, but it also highlighted that the CGI on the slushie water wasn't too good. The only other time they made use of the 3D was when certain people were dancing and they did body popping with their arms outstretched towards the camera, waving their hands and arms about it your 3D face. I looked rubbish! It took all the emphasis off the scene as a whole and the actual dancing being done and instead made the person doing the moves look like their arm had been borrowed from Stretch Armstrong. Using the 3D to project directly out of the centre of the screen doesn't give a good 3D effect on larger items like arms, especially not moving arms. It just distorted the person on screen, not to make it look like they were standing there with outstretched arms, but instead elongated disproportionate arms.
Overall I was disappointed with Step Up 3D and I didn't go in expecting much to begin with. The acting is to be as expected, the dancing is very good but not used to its full potential i.e. not saving the best for the end and the story is as predictable as anything I've ever seen.
One for fans of dance films only and even then I'm advising to only watch it in 2D and it will probably be a lot better.
Thanks for reading :)
I will start this review by saying that I have no creative skill at all. I can't draw, sing, play an instrument or paint. Yet I love creative things, this leaves me very limited to the activities I can take part in and feel like I am getting a creative outlet. Jigsaw puzzles and colouring remain to this day 2 of my favourite things to do. They are simple and controlled and as we all know even children can do them, so I have fun and feel creative while doing an activity aimed at a 3 year old....this leads me on to "Hama beads".
My other half is extremely creative and can do all the things I can't, we were recently looking for a new hobby to take up just for fun, something to do in our spare time that would be cheap and fun and allow us both to take part. My other half was the one who actually came across the idea online after seeing some cool bead artwork designs and so we popped to our local hobbycraft to try our luck.
So what are they?
Hama beads are basically just a brand of colourful plastic bead, they come in 3 sizes; mini, midi and maxi. The mini's are only 2mm in diameter, the midi are 5mm and the maxi are larger although I'm not sure exactly how big. The smaller beads are aimed at those looking to make a more detailed design and the maxi are mainly for younger children as they are easier to grip, pick up and use.
How to use / what's the point?
Basically the point is to make a design using the colourful beads by placing them on a peg board. Once you have a design you are happy with you iron the beads so they melt together and then have a design you can peel off the boards and use for whatever purpose you would like.
There are many sets available with specific coloured beads and specifically shaped boards for making set patterns. There are princess sets and pirate sets and all sorts for kids to use if they would like an easy to follow design with all the bits they will need in one place.
A good hint for those who have something in mind they would like to make, but aren't sure where to start is to look on the internet for pictures. The way to look at it is that each bead is a pixel. If you zoom in on a picture (providing you have all the right colours) and copy the pattern pixel for pixel you will have a perfect replica of whatever it is you are making.
Once you have your design on the peg board and looking how you want it to you need to iron it on a very high setting with some heat proof paper over it. It is a bit tricky to master how to iron them perfectly, some of the smaller pieces will only take a matter of seconds to melt where as some larger pieces will take a lot longer to iron.
As the beads cool after being heated they will shrink and as such will start to curl slightly (especially on larger pieces) and raise from the boards. Its very important to try and iron the design evenly and without applying too much pressure or the beads could go too running and distort.
It's best to iron the backs of the beads too after doing the front and removing them carefully from the pegs to make the piece even stronger and more stable.
Price / Availability
We brought ourselves a large 10,000 mixed primary colour box of beads to start with costing us £12.99, which is pretty good value but you then have to separate and pick out each colour that you need. You can buy individual bags of colours for roughly £1.99 each for 1000 beads. There are pastel colours, neon, glow in the dark and specialist ones like silvers and golds. These tend to be a little more expensive at around £2.99 each.
They are available from most toy shops, I know hobbycraft have a good selection and toys'r'us do all the sets for younger users. They are also freely available online if you search for Hama Beads there are many stockist but it will require you to pay shipping.
I think these beads are a great idea, they are relatively cheap for the amount of uses and flexibility they have. There are so many options of what you can make with them that you are only limited by your imagination. They are simple to use and come in many varieties and packs for people of all ages to use. Younger children will of course need parental supervision due to the ironing but besides that people of all ages can use them with the different sizes etc.
They are fun and simple and I have found the beads fun to use and making things interesting and lets me feel a little creative.
5 out of 5 from me.
Thanks for reading :)
Eclipse is the third book in the now hugely famous "twilight saga" series written by Stephenie Meyer and subsequently the third to be transformed into film. Stephenie Meyer claims she wrote the 4 book series off the back of a very vivid dream that she had back in 2004, in which she saw a whole scene from the first book that became chapter 13 which she then worked from to produce the series.
I have been a fan of the saga as a whole since I read the first book. I literally couldn't put it down and read the entire 4 books with a matter of a few weeks which is very good reading speeds for me.
As I mentioned this is the third film in the 4 part series so it seems only fair to have a quick re-cap of the previous 2. I would not necessarily recommend anyone to watch the film Eclipse without the previous 2 first as it really will add to the understanding and enjoyment of this installment. I shall try my best not to give away any major spoilers but here is a brief over view.
In twilight we are introduced to Isabella Swan, a 17 year old girl who moves to the town of Forks, Washington to live with her father. She starts a new school and makes new friends and meets and falls in love with vampire Edward Cullen after learning his secret. That is the basic premise.
In new moon we learn about another side of Bella as she has to learn to live without Edward for a short while and she becomes close friends with her childhood friend Jacob Black.
Both the above 2 films have bad guys and a more detailed plot with lots of side characters who are also in Eclipse but I do not want to say too much an ruin anyone's enjoyment. As I will try to do regarding the third.
In Eclipse we rejoin Bella and Edward after the happenings in New Moon. Victoria (a revenge fueled red headed vampire) is after Bella still to avenge her mate James' death after he is killed in the first film. There is a newborn vampire army being created in Seattle, not far from the town of Forks where Bella and the Cullens including Edward live. They are killing lots and seemingly without purpose which means the Volturi (an ancient coven of law enforcing vampires) may step in and sort them out to keep the vampire world secret, but while they are doing so they may just drop in to the Cullens for a visit as Bella is human and should not know about the existence of vampires, however, she is only currently still alive because the Cullens promised they would change her at some point, to which they haven't yet.
So the Cullens decide to take matters into their own hands and sort out the Seattle problem. With the help of Jacob Black (who is a werewolf\shape-shifter due to his Quiluette tribe heritage) and his pack they can probably manage it.
There is also a continuing love triangle between Bella, Jacob and Edward throughout. Who will she pick? Is she Team Jacob or Team Edward?
I have to say straight from the start that I absolutely loved this film. I enjoyed the first as a fan of the book series and was just happy to see my favourite book brought to life. I really liked the second as it was a vast improvement on the first, but they both pale in comparison to the third installment "Eclipse".
Each of the three films have had a different director so far so each has had it's own style and feel to the characters and scenes. Eclipse was directed by David Slade, a reasonably unknown film director with only a few major productions under his belt, the only one I am familiar with being "30 days of night" which happens to also be a vampire film but higher certificated and actually in the horror genre which I enjoyed. I was curious how his style would cross over with the always 12a English (pg13 American) certificate that the series seems to carry to be accessible to its target audience.
The film was darker, from the opening scene where we follow a young man down a rainy Seattle alleyway to the fight scenes with actual contact, it was darker. I was so relieved. This book needs darker and David Slade managed to keep the 12a rating, only marginally in my opinion, but he did but still gave me as a fan of the series exactly what I expected from the action packed pages of the book onto the screen.
There was one scene very early on in the first ten minutes or so where they was an extremely shaky hand held camera used while Bella and Jacob are talking for the first time in ages. I am not one to normally notice camera angles or shot but I did notice this which makes me think that it was very noticeable indeed. It was only a short scene but it made me stop and think that if it carried on it could be giving some members of the audience, who suffer from it, motion sickness. I didn't understand why it was done this way. It added nothing at all the the scene which consisted of the two characters being stationary and talking and just made me detach from the words on screen being spoken to notice the camera work.
I'm not sure if it is purely down to the directing or the fact the actors have finally gotten to grips with their characters but the acting was 10 times better than New Moon, which in turn was 10 times better than Twilight.
Kristin Stewart who plays main character Bella has always grated on me. She in principle works as Bella, but from how the character is described in the books I was very disappointed with her betrayal of the clumsy girl. In the beginning she was bland and lifeless, pouty, moaning and whining all the time, which are some traits Bella is supposed to have, but she is also suppose the be funny and sarcastic and have little play fights and silly conversations with Edward etc. In the first film we saw none at all of this which completely, for me, ruined the connection we are supposed to believe her and Edward have, as it is hard to understand at all why he would be so devoted to this miserable boring girl. In New Moon they worked on this a little and she actually smiled in a few places but still kept her overall tone as "Pouty" but then that goes with the second story a lot better I suppose.
In Eclipse she is a breath of fresh air as Bella and I can honestly say I didn't dislike her which is amazing for me. She was more comfortable in her skin and it made so much difference. She was actually animated and moved and laughed and her relationship with Edward moved on from 2 people staring at each other declaring undying love for one another, to an actual relationship you can believe; they hold hands and touch each other, they kiss (a lot) and snuggle and talk, they joke and smile and make each other laugh. I was so relieved I didn't have to sit through another film being annoyed that they got it so wrong. As I said, I am not sure if this is down to the actors or director but I am going with director as the change was cast wide.
Rob Pattinson who plays the vampire Edward Cullen was again more loose in this film. Everything seemed a little more natural for him and he didn't spend the entire movie looking like a corpse. He laughed too and joked and it helped the story and the comfort of the film amazingly by bringing everyone to life that little bit more, so I tip my hat to David Slade for saving some of my favourite characters, even if it should have been this way from the beginning.
Taylor Lautner, the hunky only just turned 18 year old who is so hot he makes me feel like bad bad woman, gets to shine a little in this film. Arguably New Moon is his movie as he is the leading man but here he has some great lines, steps up to the plate while moving away from the boyishness and I loved every second of his portrayal.
CGI and Effects
Another thing that seems to have improved again is the CGI and effects. In twilight there was little in the way of special effects and what was there was passable. New Moon stepped up the game with the introduction of the werewolf pack and the CGI wolves are again great in Eclipse. I enjoyed them here as they actually interacted with the environment and other characters a lot more so we go to see how the effects held up against this rather than only ever seeing to wolves together as you do in New Moon.
There is one part in particular that stands out in my mind when Bella is having a brief chat with Jacob in wolf form and leans against him. The effects were great and it didn't take anything away from the moment knowing that the wolf wasn't really there. I must say actually that all of the actors did a good job with eye line and looking to the right spots to have it look like they are really there. I do hate it in films when they CGI characters are made obvious by the real life actors not following where they should be looking.
As I said earlier also, this film is slightly more violent and darker than the franchise has seen before. There are a few decent fight scenes from the newborn vampire army squabbling, the practice fights with the Cullens and the climatic battle between the Cullen/Wolves and newborns and Edwards fight with Victoria. These are all done very well and the swift movements the vampires are supposed to be able to make are shown really well with a clear but interesting blurred whooshing effect that shows the speed but also looks pretty cool to watch.
We do not see as much of the supporting cast in this film with Bella's human friends barely having any lines at all, but then that is the way the story progresses and at no point are any major or interesting parts passed over.
We do get a little bit of the back story of the wolf packs legends which I was very pleased with. When reading the books I found this part very interesting, of course in the film it is only a few moments and one brief flashback but I was still happy it was included.
I enjoyed the flashbacks that both Jasper and Rosalie had, these too are originally in the book and while maybe a little unnecessary in the film, they do help to remind the audience of the other characters and explain a little about the Cullens.
Does it compare to the book?
It does and it does well. No film is ever going to be able to include the amount of detail that a book can and as such of course some things have to be missed out completely or glossed over. Eclipse is as close to the book as I ever could have imagined it could be. I believe this is partly because, in my opinion, Eclipse was the strongest of the saga story wise anyway so it was going to be the best portrayed as a film because what happens on the screen is more interesting anyway as the story is better. The screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, who also did the previous 2 films, seems to have finally understood that if you stop trying to cater for a wider audience and stick as closely to the source material as possible you are going to get a better flowing and more natural movie. I think the fact they glossed over way too much in the first film left Melissa a little too much room to create scenes and dialog when I do not believe she is particularly good at her job which would include doing this.
Eclipse is very true to the book although a few things are in slightly different orders, it is only a few and isn't noticeable, unless you have read the books more than say twice.
The film seems to have stuck as closely to the book and story as truly as it can and as such not only is it a better movie as I said above for the fans I do think by catering to the fans they have, whether on purpose or not, actually opened it up to others too, because it is a strong story especially in comparison to the previous films.
Yes, yes and yes. I know the saga has a reputation of being fluffy and a silly love story for teenage girls, but this film is different and the one from the saga I think boyfriends and friends who are dragged to see it by their fan girlfriends/friends will enjoy.
It is darker and more interesting, the acting is a million times better and more enjoyable because it's more natural and comfortable. The fight scenes are cool if a little short and I would have actually enjoyed the final battle being a few minutes longer. The core love story is still there and the love triangle is interesting as well as compelling. I would challenge anyone to watch the film and not come out having fallen either one side or another on the famous "Team Edward" "Team Jacob" scale.
It had all the humour the previous films have had and more with some very funny one liners from the usual characters like Charlie, Bella father, who always seems to be the comic relief, but also a few other people got to have a go too which was nice. A few lines Jacob said had our whole cinema laughing.
The general tone of the film is so much lighter acting and comfort wise, but so much darker and more intense story wise which really made it so great. It is more fluid, more exciting, more romantic, scarier and everything else was just intensified into a very very very good book to film adaptation.
I came out having loved every second of what I had watched and I really hope it hasn't set the bar too high for the Breaking Dawn films that will be out in the future. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the series and actually to anyone who thinks they might like just this installment, because I think on it's own merits including the acting, direction, effects, locations (which were beautiful as always) and soundtrack (which moved away from the fully instrumental New Moon sound and back to the fun and appropriate music of twilight) It is a great film.
Title: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Run Time: 123 minutes
Directed By: David Slade
UK Release Date: 9th July 2010
Advance Screening From: 2nd July 2010
While walking around my local Tesco and having a nose down the book aisle as I usually do, I was struck by this book due to its very nice cover. I always like buying random books and this was in a buy 2 get one 1 deal. I already had another book I intended to buy and my other half brought one also. Its usual retail price was £8.99 and it falls within the fantasy fiction genre.
The story follows Lucinda, or Luce to her friends, as she is sent to the "Sword and Cross" a school for deviant or crazy school children. She has been sent here because she may or may not have been involved with a kid from her old school dying in a fire, she isn't sure herself, she also sees shadows regularly that haunt her and scare her.
While at the school, she makes a few friends and meets a few boys. Cam seems really interested in her but it is Daniel who catches her eye and becomes a bit of a fixation to Luce, even though he has barely said 2 words to her and flicks between being charming and horrible to her. She likes him within seconds of seeing him but isn't sure why she feels so connected with him.
After a very gripping and cryptic first chapter I had very high hopes for this book and thought I would really get immersed in this fiction fantasy, but after the first chapter nothing at all seemed to happen.
In the first chapter we are witness to a scene of a man drawing in his home back in the 30's, sketching a woman and saying how he can never be with "her". Suddenly she arrives and although they both seem to know each other, she is not sure where from but knows he must be hers and she belongs to him. They go in for a kiss even though the man is warning that "it" will happen again and he doesn't want to lose her again. Then they kiss and the scene fades into white light....the next thing we know, Luce is starting her first day of school.
So yes, the first chapter makes no real sense and is gripping and confusing. As a reader I was dying to know what was going on and why this feeling of familiarity was happening to Luce and what it meant. Thinking back it is pretty obvious from the cover and a few hints along the way and I had worked it out way before the big reveal later on in the book, which shouldn't have really mattered as long as I enjoyed the journey of getting to the end, but I can't say I did.
Lauren Kate, the author of the novel is far from a fantastic writer and although the concept was interesting, the story wasn't. The characters were weak and do not get expanded upon at all. I didn't feel I could relate to Luce at all and the fact that she and Daniel have so little interaction made caring about them either getting together or not impossible. I didn't like the lack of detail about the characters although now I understand that there is to be a sequel which may expand more, but surely a first book in a series should work on setting up the characters and getting the readers hooked enough to want to read the second? I certainly was not and do not intend on wasting time money or effort reading the second when it is released.
After the interesting first chapter right up until about 3 chapters from the end, I was bored. Luce's day to day school life was dull, even with the events and dilemmas that happen at a school for youth offenders I just couldn't muster up any real interest, even when murders and fires start and the build up to the reveal. I believe the story focused on all the wrong parts and went on about silly little things and glossed over other storylines that perhaps would have been more interesting.
There are only really 4 characters in the book that get any mention or development at all, and that is Luce who was a bit naive and irritating, Daniel who we learn nearly nothing about, Cam who was just there as buffer space to cause a "will they won't they" opposite Daniel and Luce's friend Penn who might as well as not been in the book at all for all we learn about her.
Quite simply, I think personally that the book was poor. The story is weak and while initially intriguing, it becomes obvious and drags on way too long. The characters were average and not expanded upon anywhere near enough to make me want to read the sequel and I struggled for weeks to get through the last 7 chapters as I just couldn't bring myself to care what happened which I really do put down to poor character development and the events in the book that could have gotten away with being half as long.
Disappointing, but a good looking book with a cool gothic cover that looks good on my shelf, so for the cover and the chance that maybe younger readers will fall for the "mystery" I'll give it 2 stars.
Thanks for reading :)
I have never been one to care too much about bath and shower products. As long as I end up clean and whatever I am using doesn't affect my skin, then I am pretty happy.
When I moved into my flat at the beginning of March and money became something to value a little more with a mortgage to pay. Things had to be cut back on and luckily my other half had an impressive collection of shower gels that we brought with us as we moved in. Not being one to care enough to buy my own "girl" shower gel, I have happily been using Lynx products for the last few months as I have been replacing empties with more Lynx as I am very happy using it.
On a recent trip to Tesco to stock up on shower gel I saw Lynx Shock. I admit to noticing it firstly because it was only £1. Most Lynx shower gels are slightly more than this, although still a reasonable price in comparison to some other gels.
The deep blue gel is in a see through plastic bottle with a black lid. The bottle has a nice shape and grip on the sides which make it very easy to pick up but I do have issue with the slight rounding of the lid. This makes it impossible to balance the bottle on its lid to make getting the ends of the gel out when the bottle is nearing empty. I tend to balance the bottle upside down wedged between a sponge and the wall once it reaches 2 thirds empty and otherwise you have to hold the bottle upside down for ages before you can get any out as the liquid slowly trickles down the bottle and out the end.
The shower gel itself is lovely. The shocking blue colour looks great on a sponge and lathers up brilliantly either straight onto the skin or via a sponge which is how I wash. A small amount goes a long way and the lather is thick and soft. The gel has small silver bits in it which act as an exfoliating aid and my skin always feels really smooth after use.
The main element of the shock shower gel is its refreshing effect. It really works too. The gel has mint extracts and is made using glacier water apparently. The gel is cooling and when mixed with the water of a hot shower I find the whole bathroom ends up smelling like lovely mint and you actually get the sensation when you breathe in, of inhaling strong mint. A bit like if you have an ice cold drink after chewing strong chewing gum. It also tingles ever so slightly on the skin which I love. It really leaves me feeling refreshed and clean. There is something about cooling effects on the skin that make me feel cleaner than anything hot.
A word of warning though, as I said, the gel does have a slight tingling effect and it certain tingles more on more sensitive areas if you get my meaning. So exercise a little caution and I would suggest not applying too heavily in certain areas to avoid the tingle becoming a burn!
Overall I am really pleased with this shower gel. It works just as well for us girlies as it does men. If anything I would say the exfoliating, softening and minty mixture is slightly more feminine than masculine. It is cheap and cheerful and looks great on the shelf in the bathroom sat next to the other gels in the range that all have lovely colours. The rounded lid is a little annoying but in the grander scheme of things is only a little niggle. The gel lathers and cleans brilliantly and leaves me feeling clean and refreshed. Everything and more I could want for £1.
Side note: As for the famous "Lynx Effect" I cannot say I am getting any more or less attention from hot sexy woman than usual....but then I am often surrounded by hoards of totty anyway! ;)
Thanks for reading :)