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With a young child holiday parks seem to be making more of an appearance in our holiday schedule. Hotels and B&Bs rarely cater well for children, often limiting you to just 2 beds in a room and, when you can get a room for 3 (or 4), you find yourself having to go to bed at the same time as the kids - fine if they want to stay up and you can put up with the tiredness that results but not such fun when you've got a child who can only just make it to 7pm before demanding to go to bed! For UK holidays that basically leaves you with a choice between camping, cottages and holiday parks. My husband refuses to do the first, the second can be very expensive when there's only 3 of you and so we're left with the holiday parks. Having suffered our fair share of lively parks such as Haven and their ilk, I decided that I fancied something a little lower key for a long weekend at the end of July. Having identified East Sussex as our destination I set about looking for parks with availability. There were a number but, one by one, I set them aside having researched and found unfavourable reports on websites such as Trip Advisor. We were left with one final option, the most expensive, Crowhurst Park Holiday Village near Battle. Offered through Hoseasons this park falls into their "Lodges" brochure and, at nearly £400 for a long weekend in July in their cheapest, discounted accommodation it was far from cheap. *** Accommodation *** Our accommodation, an Ontario lodge, is one of the smallest on the site, but sleeps 4 comfortably with a layout that betters most static caravans of a similar size. It was dated but spotlessly clean and, once one had got used to the feeling of living in a sauna with wooden walls and ceilings, it made for a very nice resting place. The beds, one double and two full sized singles, whilst not super quality, were comfortable and all linen was provided. The small galley kitchen was more than adequately stocked with all the equipment that you could possibly need whilst on a self-catering break and we were even provided with a basic cleaning pack (dish cloth, scourer and tea-towel). We were only on a weekend break and so didn't need to make use of much of the equipment provided but it was refreshing to have access to a clothes airer, iron and ironing board and even a small vacuum cleaner. There was plenty of storage available both in the bedrooms and in the kitchen so that you never had to feel like you were tripping over your stuff. For out of season breaks it is worth noting that there was heating in both bedrooms, a heated rail in the bathroom and an electric fire in the living area. This, compared to most caravans, could make the difference between a cold miserable stay and a comfortable one! The bathroom was unusual in that it provided a half bath with a shower, ideal for those with kids who are easier to bathe than to shower (or indeed for those who simply prefer baths!). All of the lodges have large balconies, adding to your private space and all come with patio furniture. The balcony provided the perfect opportunity to dry wet swimming kit and the perfect place to sit and enjoy the views in the evening sun. And, what a view.... We were extremely lucky in the siting of our unit. We were at the edge of the park overlooking uninterrupted farm land, down the valley to the coast - I'd not expected a sea view from Battle being rather inland, least not of all from our lodge, but I got one! The perfect place to relax with a glass of wine and a book when junior had gone to bed. If I were to return to this park I would certainly look to requesting one of the lodges along the edge (19 through to 28) as many of the lodges within the park, although well spaced, did not benefit from a view. Some of the larger lodges come with hot tubs but, in my opinion, these were not well sited within the park and I'd question whether it was worth the extra. I'd rather have the view! *** Facilities *** Facilities at the Park were good but this is not a park for those looking for non-stop entertainment. The pool has a toddler splash area and then a shallow area with a bubble jet which then opens out into a more traditional shaped pool which was probably around 18 metres in length. To one corner there is a Jacuzzi and there is a steam room and sauna all of which were well maintained. The water in the pool was warm and the condition of the pool and surround very good. The gym was well equipped and offered all that one would expect. A number of classes were on offer in the studio, all at under £5. The pool and gym had good, long opening hours, and very few restrictions which made a nice change from the likes of Haven parks. Adult only swims were offered at lunchtime and there were designated splash times when floats were put out into the water for children, but these were very much in the minority. The pool and gym are also open to club members as a private gym and whilst I thought that this might cause issues it didn't at all. Lifeguards were in attendance on the poolside at all times but, if complaint could be made, it was that they rarely seemed to be paying much attention to what was going on. For non-swimmers there were chairs to sit and view. Changing facilities were somewhat dated and private cubicles a little limited but there was plenty of space in the communal area. A single family cum disabled changing cubicle was available replete with toilet and shower. This seemed a little inadequate as often we'd see disabled people waiting to use it. There were plenty of lockers available on a 20p refundable deposit. Completing the sporting scene there is a tennis court (free), boules pitch, table tennis table and chess set outside. Inside there is pool, snooker and skittles. A spa is also available although as I didn't use it I can't really comment. For children there was an excellent adventure play area with equipment to suit all ages and abilities. There was also a skate ramp although this appeared to be cordoned off for some reason. All the equipment looked safe and well maintained. There is a very, very basic shop on site (it might prevent you from starving but not much else) and a laundry. The site is capable of hosting weddings and conferences. *** Entertainment *** Hoseasons market this site as a "Go Active" site which means that there should be any number of activities on offer such as karting, fencing, disc golf, yoga and the like. I expected to be presented with a programme of activities upon arrival but this was not the case. Whilst there were fitness classes available I saw nothing to indicate that there was an active programme in place. This is the first year that the site has run this programme and we were early in the season so maybe there will more on offer as the summer goes on. If you do book this site with the "Go Active" programme in mind it might pay to make specific enquiries before booking to check that the programme is actually running. Evening entertainment was very limited. There is a good clubhouse situated in the old manor house. There is a bar area which feels like a good pub and prices were reasonable. The room in which the "entertainment" took place doubled as the restaurant. This was a room rather like a hotel function room, carpeted and without a dance floor. On the Saturday night there was a children's magician followed by a disco and karaoke. The kids basically crowded on the floor between the tables which had not been cleared to make any space. The kids seemed to like it but it felt rather like being at an under 8s birthday party with a dodgy entertainer. The disco/karaoke suffered through lack of space. Really tables needed to have been moved to allow space to dance. On the Sunday there was bingo. This again felt like an amateur affair akin to what you would expect in an old people's home. Kids seemed to enjoy it though. This is not somewhere to come if you need to be entertained or want non-stop action. *** Why Come Here? *** If you are seeking a very quiet break in an excellent part of the country then you could do worse. For the price we paid I would consider it reasonable but not good value for money. The accommodation was certainly very good and we were exceptionally lucky in terms of location. Whether this justified the price I'm not sure. Personally I'd have liked a little more evening entertainment (or for the entertainment to have been of a better quality). As it was, with a young child, just sitting in a bar wasn't really an option. On the plus side, we got a lot of reading done! There is quite a lot to do in the nearby area with lots of National Trust properties close by and the historic towns of Battle and Hastings. Whilst this is not a coastal resort you're only about 10 minutes drive from the coast. As a family we had a really good break and the combination of a good location and the peacefulness of the site meant that we came back relaxed - a pleasant change.
Mention the words "National Trust" and you'll likely get a variety of responses but one response is likely to be "oh yes, they of the stuffy houses and posh gardens oft frequented by late middle-aged, middle class bores". OK, maybe the language might not be that florid but the sentiment stands. Well, once, maybe this was the case, but the NT is changing and over the last few years has made a real effort to be less stuffy and far more accessible to all, so much so that we carried on a family tradition and bought my son life membership of the NT for his 5th birthday. Bateman's is typical of many trust properties, a fine house and extensive manicured gardens - what was I just saying?! - but has much to offer all ages and interests. Situated in Burwash, East Sussex, not far from the historical towns of Rye and Battle, Bateman's is ideally placed to form part of a long weekend away (as we did) or a break from some of the more traditional seaside haunts of Hastings, Camber and, at a push, Eastbourne. It's a venue most easily accessed by car (and is clearly signposted) but there's also a station at Etchingham, around 3 miles from Bateman's with a bus service to Burwash (but you'll still be left with a bit of a walk and the busses are not that frequent!). There's a large-ish car park on site (with facilities for bikes) and from the car park it's a short stroll to the ticket office and public conveniences. We were there on a July Sunday afternoon, arriving around 2.45pm. The car park at that stage was fairly full and we ended up in the overflow field, taking the space of a departing car. There was an event on over the weekend we visited and this might have contributed to increased visitor numbers but nonetheless the journey to the ticket office was easy, level and short making it one of the more accessible properties in the area. On entering the property you are immediately met with a fairly formal garden which is home to a myriad of fruit trees and vegetable plots. For such a utility garden it is surprisingly attractive and a rather unusual first sight. From here it is a short path that takes you to the buildings that for many hold the most interest. Bateman's was once home to literary great, Rudyard Kipling, and it was here that he made house with his American wife, Carrie. Whilst the allure of Kipling makes Bateman's interesting the actual house far pre-dates Kipling's acquisition of it in 1902. The house dates, according to the engraving above the main door, to 1634. It is Jacobean in style and desparately attractive, being neither too large or grandiose to stop you from thinking "I could live here!". Unfortunately, for me, the allure of the house was to the exterior only, once inside I found it rather dark and oppressive in the main. For those interesting in Kipling, his life and works, the house contains many exhibits and curios. There are some particularly nice illustrations inspired by what is perhaps one of his most famous works, The Jungle Book. Kipling's car, a wonderful Royal blue Phantom Rolls Royce, is also on display at the property in the garage. Throughout the house (and gardens) printed guides are available telling you more about the property and exhibits. There are also, as with all NT properties, room guides who hold in their heads so much information about the property. All were helpful and clearly enthusiastic about their roles, imparting knowledge and answering questions. The NT seem to be making a concerted effort to remove ropes and barriers from properties and to allow visitors to interact with exhibits as much as possible. At Bateman's the ability to interact is fairly limited but there were some hands-on games and toys in Kipling's daughter's bedroom which amused many of the children. Bateman's is also home to a working watermill. The mill is run on occasion (Wednesdays and Saturdays at the time of writing) and still grinds grain to flour which can be purchased on site. The mill is reasonably accessible to all who are able to climb stairs and is set out over two floors. Even when not in operation it is still easy to see how the mill works and a great place to educate kids. Between the house and the mill lie several gardens, the most impressive of which lies next to the house and was created by Kipling upon winning the Nobel prize for literature. The centrepiece is a rectangular pond which was teeming with fish (Golden orf) and fry. Around this lies a formal garden that manages to marry formality with a very chilled-out and relaxed feel. Perfect for a sunny day and a book! The mill stream area provides a more natural, wooded area for walks and part of this opens out into a meadow into which the NT have placed a bird hide and several bug hotels, perfect for a bit of nature watching. It can often be hard to engage children in sites such as these but again NT are learning. Over holiday periods children's trails are available, encouraging youngsters to play detective, look for certain things and perhaps answer some questions. This summer there is an excellent Jungle Book trail where children have to locate stone statues of some of the Jungle Book animals hidden around the gardens. We've found that these trails allow us as adults the chance to explore more of a property than otherwise we might, although the downside is that, once an object is located junior invariably wants to dash off to find the next even if mum and dad want to linger a little longer! This particular trail cost us an additional £2.50 but a book prize at the end (worth around £7 RRP) made it feel like particularly good value. Bateman's often hosts a number of events, particularly over the summer. When we visited there was an event on with Kipling readings on the lawn, "history in action" displays and reconstructions of soldiers and battles from the pre-war periods (including an excellent firearms display) and even tea with the Raj. When you get peckish there is an excellent tea-room serving light snacks and drinks. They also sell wonderful local ice-cream. There's not much space for a formal picnic but there are spots should you so desire. The NT shop is small and not easily accessible to those with mobility problems. This area, is, however, the only one suffering in this way (even the house has an audio-visual tour available for those who cannot manage the stairs). Toilets are available both at the entrance and near to the house and all are clean. Dogs, other than assistance dogs, are not allowed in the grounds, only on leads in the car park but there is, apparently, a dog crèche (whatever that may be!). ***Opening Times and Prices*** The property is open between 11 and 5, Monday - Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday between mid-March and the end of October and at Weekends during December. The gardens, shop and tea-rooms have slightly extended opening hours and are also open in the autumn and early spring. Best to consult the website for accurate details before visiting. Entrance fees for peak periods (as at August 2011) are £8.60 for adults, £4.30 for children and £21.50 for a family. These prices include an element of Gift Aid which enables the NT to claim tax on the whole amount paid. You have the option of paying a lower price which does not include the Gift Aid element but no tax can be reclaimed by the NT on any of this price. As an example, a Gift Aid price of £11 would result in the NT being able to claim £3.10 from the Government making a total of £14.10 against a non-Gift Aid price of £10. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this split pricing - it's never been an issue for us as we are members (and the original membership was subject to the Gift Aid scheme) but there's a little bit of me that's uneasy with presenting a higher price by default with the option of a reduction. I think I might feel awkward asking for a lower price yet I'd rather more folks visited at a lower fee than less at a higher. *** In Short *** Overall I think Bateman's offers good value for money, particularly during events. You'd probably look to spending a couple of hours here plus any time added for picnicking or time in the tea-rooms. There are a number of other NT properties in the vicinity if you fancy making a day of it (and you may be able to justify NT annual membership on the basis of the number of properties nearby).
After a rather long hiatus I decided it was time to get the chip fryer out again. Unfortunately for me, upon retrieving the fryer from a cupboard it became clear that the clean up job that was required before I could use it would just be too much to bear (yes, I stupidly stored it for about 3 years with oil in it!). Massively contrary to by best intentions I decided that the only course of action would be to replace the fryer! So the search for a fryer began. REQUIREMENTS 1 - I wanted a fryer that was big enough to cope with four portions of chips 2 - I wanted a fryer that I could cook fish in 3 - It needed to be easy to clean 4 - I wanted a variable temperature control 5 - I wanted some kind of odour control 6 - I needed to feel that the product was safe It seemed, since last looking for such a product, fryers seem to have shrunk! Most fryers that we came across had tiny capacities or very narrow baskets. The main exception to this were the industrial-style fryers but these don't have lids that can be used whilst cooking and, with a youngster in the house, I wasn't keen on that idea. I also discounted the fryers such as the Tefal Actifry which supposedly cook with very little oil. Research suggested that these were not as successful as the manufacturer would have us believe and further a portion of chips took an age to cook. We were left with just a couple of choices none of which were really ideal. The Moulinex Supralys was the closest fit to our brief. CAPACITY : The fryer can cope with up to 1200g of fresh chips (although best results, they say, are obtained with up to 600g). If using frozen chips the fryer will take up to 900g. Up to 2.2l of oil is used (I tend to just use 2l as this is a bottle size!). THE BASKET : Hand in hand with capacity is the shape and size of the basket. These varied enormously and size of the fryer was by no means indicative of the size of the basket. The Moulinex basket is round, and one of the deeper baskets on the. It is wide and occupies most of the fryer's width. In comparison to the other models available this was one of the largest baskets. This basket is capable of holding chips for four, two pieces of fish (so long as they are not long!) or two chicken legs. THE BOWL : If you have ever tried to clean a deep fat fryer, you will appreciate my next concern. Fryers are heavy and not easy to empty. Manufacturers have assisted here and have come up with a number of alternative methods for changing the oil. One of the most common seems to be to have a draining pipe. I wasn't too keen on this idea as the pipe is situated (necessarily) at the bottom of the bowl. It is invariably made of rubber. I was worried that this could be a safety issue as boiling oil and rubber to me spells potential disaster and I was concerned that this could be an area for leakage if the rubber perished. My previous fryer had a removable bowl to aid the process of changing the oil. Unfortunately the Moulinex has nothing. Thankfully the lid of the fryer is removable and the fryer itself is not too heavy, even when full. It does mean that washing the bowl is a bit of an issue but so long as it's done frequently it's not too bad. TEMPERATURE CONTROL : As I wanted to cook a variety of things in the fryer a variable temperature control was a must. The fryer has a temperature dial which can be set to the desired temperature from 150 degrees Centigrade up to 190 degrees Centigrade. In practice, the fryer is generally used at about 180 degrees but I have had reason to lower the temperature and the thermostat would appear to be accurate. FILTERS : The fryer has a built in odour filtration system and the lid means that the smells of cooking are, to a greater extent, kept inside the fryer. This is not such an important feature as you might think, however, as you still have to open the lid to get the food out! There is also a gap between the lid and the basket handle which remains open at all times. SAFETY : The fryer is not a "cool wall" fryer, but on the whole I would say that the fryer is safe. The handle that is used to lift the basket out is fixed (unlike some which clip on) and this gives a degree of confidence when lifting the basket. The lid to the fryer has a button release and it opens slowly so there is little risk of you scalding yourself on the steam. On a couple of occasions, however, I have found that the lid release has required a little force to raise the lid. The basket itself can be raised and lowered with the lid shut which protects from splashing although there is a bit of a knack to doing this and it's by no means as easy as on my previous fryer. EASE OF USE : The fryer really is easy to use. Having filled it with oil, you simply plug it in and wait for the temperature indicator light to go out to show that the oil has reached temperature. The food to be cooked can then be placed carefully into the raised basket and then, once the lid is shut, the basket can be lowered into the oil and the food cooked for the required time. Do not panic if the temperature light comes on again, rather like an iron, this light is thermostatically controlled and responds to slight changes in temperature. NEGATIVE POINTS : If I had any complaints they would be the following: 1 - The chrome exterior is very hard to keep shiny. 2 - There is a viewing window supposedly so that you can watch the food cook. In reality this just gets a load of condensation on it and you can't see a thing! 3 - As you open the fryer you do sometimes get condensation running down from the lid which could be very hot. 4 - The walls of the fryer do get quite hot. 5 - There is no cord storage facility. 6 - As with all fryers you do get a lot of steam escaping from the vent. Overall I would recommend this fryer based on what's available in the market today. It's not my perfect fryer but is, I think, the one of the best of the bunch.
FILM ONLY REVIEW Found languishing on my PVR this wonderful late 1980s film provided a couple of hours of superb entertainment and a great chance to reminisce and relive some of the fab music of the era! Set in Seattle we open with the classic American high school graduation scene. Class of 1988 star Diane Court (Ione Skye) is pitched as the outsider, the girl that's cute, beautiful and highly intelligent. She's the girl who doesn't make friends at school, keeping peers at a distance and, as a result, them keeping her at a distance. Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) is the love interest, the directionless young man who decides that he really wants to date Diane despite his apparent unsuitability - he sees, in Diane, something more than just a big brain. Diane lives with her father John (John Mahoney) following her parent's divorce. John and Diane have an incredibly close relationship and it is clear that John will do anything for his daughter ensuring that she always has the best - least in his eyes. Diane's life is mapped out by her father and, despite this seemingly overly controlling behaviour Diane's relationship with her father is such that she feels she can "say anything" to her Dad. She assumes that this is a reciprocal thing.... Securing a fellowship (scholarship) to England Diane has just 16 weeks left in Seattle before heading off to the UK. As Diane falls for Lloyd, much to her father's despair, Lloyd decides that his goal is to spend as much time during those 16 weeks as he can. Diane starts to experience the fun that can be had in a way she never has before but the course of love never runs straight and if a controlling father and pending trip to England were not enough the IRS then knock on John Court's door. The strain that this puts all of the characters under is then explored with a credibility that has stood the test of time. Relationships come under the microscope and we see how they are tested. The subject matter of the film is dealt with in such a credible way. I found I could really relate to Diane - I didn't have controlling parents but I do have parents who want the best for me. I was the egg-head who seemed out of reach to the normal guys. I did distance myself from those who I thought would sway me from my goals. Like Diane I didn't experience true teen stuff until much later, often, like Diane, just too late. Diane's character and her portrayal by Ione Skye was, at times, too close for comfort. Credit to all involved here! Whether Lloyd was as accurate I couldn't say but I can certainly think of experiences and people who would seem to fit the bill; those who didn't make the move but wanted to, revealing as much as time went on. The relationship between Lloyd and Diana is built without the Hollywood treatment - the whole remains real and credible. It's fumbling, meek and shy, growing in confidence over time. The ups and downs of relationships get a look in here in a way that is often missed in films. Similarly the relationship between Diane, her father and the love interest shares a credibility with the headline relationship. Maybe my empathy with Diane helped here but I could honestly see the reality in the fiction. Minor roles fit well with the main theme presenting stylised characters but ones which remain believable. They add to, rather than detract from the story. Despite being a film of the 80s and now over 20 years old it's not a film that feels terribly dated. Yes, the fashions set the era (although given the shoulder-pad revival I wonder whether it will remain so) but the subject matter and the emotions will never date. As with any great 80s film the soundtrack plays a major role and, in my opinion, is an excellent example of the genre. The headline track has to be Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" which is used to dramatic effect by Lloyd, hoping to woo Diane. The image, which has become the cover of the DVD will stick in your mind. The film is very well paced and feels neither slow nor rushed. There's a refreshingly good script and, I've said it before, a cracking realism. "Say Anything" might not be one of the most well known films of the 80s but it deserves more acclaim as a cinematic piece, a great story and a true reflection of the era. It's engaging (and not just a girly film) and actually tackles some pretty big relationship issues in a way that is meaningful and engaging. It's not a shallow film but it watches well, allowing you to engage, empathise and laugh with, rather than at, the characters. Recommended.
My track record when it comes to kettles is not good. Living in a hard water area doesn't help. I sang the praises of a cheap Tesco kettle only to find that I had to alter my opinion when the kettle started leaking from the fill gauge. The quest continues.... I have few criteria when selecting a kettle but those I have are important. I require a 360 degree base so that I don't have to think which way round I need to place the kettle and I like a wide opening for filling the kettle. A concealed element is desirable as this aids cleaning (important in a hard water area) and I like to be able to see at a glance how much water I have in the kettle. When shopping for the kettle I found that many kettles fell down on what I thought were fairly basic criteria. In particular, so many kettles had very narrow or awkward openings which can make it difficult to fill them. Then the Phillips caught my eye. Part of their "Eco" range this kettle is a little more "all-singing-all-dancing" than I might perhaps have liked but I've grown to love it! This kettle is finished in a brushed chrome with a black spout and handle. Its 1.6l capacity is slightly smaller than the majority of kettles (at 1.7l) but it certainly doesn't look any smaller. In fact, it probably looks larger although I've found this to be quite an illusion as it takes up about the same size on the work surface as any other kettle I've had. The handle is a half-handle in that it is only joined to the kettle at the top. I find the kettle to be incredibly well-balanced when full or empty and the handle reasonably comfortable. I've always felt in control of the kettle such that it does not constitute a safety hazard. The kettle sits on a round base with a connector for the kettle in the centre. It truly is a 360 degree swivel base and it is incredibly easy to locate the kettle on the base from a multitude of angles. The base cord is long enough for most sites and is considerably longer than the outgoing Tesco model. It is, however, fairly inflexible and this might prove an issue if you site your kettle very close to a power socket. There is a cord store (of sorts) in the base but it's not that effective at actually being able to give you precisely the length of flex that you want. Filling the kettle one has a choice: fill through the spout (which has a filter) or through the lid which lifts via a pop-up button. I find that it's easy enough to fill through the spout which is fairly wide. The alternative of the lid fill is incredibly easy with the lid lifting to an angle of around 90 degrees. This opening compares well to the market standard and allows the kettle to be filled easily from a variety if tap styles. The lid snaps shut with a gentle push and clicks into place. There's a viewing window on one side of the kettle (with the handle to the right) so that you can see how much water you have. This clearly marks the kettle out for right-handers (or at least for those who like their handle to the right) as those who like it to the left will have difficulty. The viewing window is wide and I find it very easy to see how much water there is. The window is also marked with "cup" marks and I've found these to be very accurate, 1 cup's worth on the gauge being exactly the right amount for one mug of coffee! This is the first kettle where I have found the markings to be so accurate and this fact really encourages me to boil only what I need. In addition to the cup markings there is also a litre mark which is useful when boiling larger quantities. The on/off switch is a lever type situated at the base of the kettle. This is easy to operate with the end illuminating orange when the kettle is on. The kettle has a concealed element which, in theory at least, means that it's easier to clean and arrest any limescale build-up. Whilst I'd agree with the theory I've found that a concealed element will fur as quickly as a traditional element after a while. As an experiment I've been using filtered water in this kettle and I've noticed a marked difference in the amount of limescale experienced. A full 1.6l of water will take 3 mins 09 seconds to boil (almost a minute faster than the Tesco kettle). The kettle is also remarkably quiet and if I've a complaint it is in the fact that when it switches off there is not a really loud click as heard with many kettles. Often I'll be doing something else while the kettle is boiling and just not notice that it has boiled! A full kettle (or anything less) pours very well with a clean action and no spill; a godsend after issues with a Russell Hobbs. Unlike the Tesco kettle the aluminium exterior, whist it gets hot, does not get as hot as its predecessor. The handle (and safety plate behind it) does not get hot at all. The key selling point of this kettle though is the fact that it comes with a temperature dial. For many of the uses we put boiling water to we're actually heating the water above the temperature that is really necessary. It's long been said that tea, for example, should be made with water that's just off boiling (and certainly water that's n'er twice boiled). The Philips kettle has a rather simple dial just under the water gauge marked from "MIN" through 3 cups to "MAX". Turning the dial alters the temperature at which the auto-cut-off kicks in meaning that you can heat the water to just the right temperature saving energy and giving you better results. I must confess that I doubted that I would taste the difference between tea made with boiling water and tea made with water at around 70 degrees C but I was surprised. The tea flavour was far more developed when using less hot water and for delicate teas, in particular, there was more interest to the flavour - it was as though the boiling water actually destroyed some of the flavour. So far I've been a little vague as to the temperatures but this is not without reason. The markings on the kettle do not indicate the temperature settings and neither does the user manual enlighten me. Philips have a great interactive website with online help function and so I contacted them and, guess what, they couldn't tell me either. The best I could get was that tea was best made with the dial set about half-way between the "MIN" and "MAX" markings! With a bit of research I'd hazard a guess that this is around 80 degrees C but I couldn't be sure! In my opinion this is a bit of information that really should be available! The biggest downside of this kettle is the price. Retailing at around £50 (when purchased and still correct as of June 10) this kettle comes in as one of the most expensive regular kettles. At this price it's rather surprising that it doesn't offer the gadgets and gizmos that some have such as inbuilt filters (over and above the simple mesh) or a stay warm facility (although I guess that would be against the eco credentials) but it does its job and it does it very well. The kettle really makes it easy to be a bit more environmentally conscious and heat up just the amount of water that you require to the approximate temperature that you require. Being somewhat of a cheapskate when it comes to functional items I did at first begrudge the money but, having worked with the kettle for several months now I can honestly say that I love it and that it was worth every penny! RECOMMENDED
I've always tended to avoid spray deodorants and anti-perspirants as in the past I've found them (a) ineffective and (b) that they leave white marks everywhere no matter how much they claim to be invisible. I dislike roll-ons too as I'm too lazy to wait for them to dry and thus, as a result I've tended to opt for solid stick deodorants. Where, however, in the past there have been several different stick deos to chose from it seems that this form of product is rapidly on the decline and, during a recent visit to Tescos I could not find a single product in stick form. Needing a deodorant (I was travelling) I decided to opt for the cheapest spray I could find (ignoring own brands) and, at just £1 for a 150ml a can (on offer) the Garnier mineral offering seemed to be the one. In common with many recent new entrants to this market the Garnier offering uses minerals amongst its active ingredients and I really like the fact that this product contains no alcohol and no parabens (the former very drying of the skin and the latter linked to all sorts of nasties). The product claims to be "invisible" in use and I'll confess that I very much doubted this claim. Past experience with products such as Sure's invisible range have proven that these claims are often unfounded; in fact in the case of the Sure product I found that white "snow" was formed when the product came into contact with my skin. With Garnier, however the claim is good. Not a hint of white was formed on the skin or on my clothes. Impressive. The other claim of the product is that it is effective for 48 hours. Now, I'm not sure who these people are who will go for 48 hours without washing and I can't say I've put this through its full 48 hour test BUT there are still traces of the scent on the skin the morning after the deodorant was first applied. Again pretty impressive - more so given that I'm one of those unfortunates who glows more than most. For many deodorants/ anti-perspirants I'm lucky to get 6 hours use before needing to reapply. I should really state that it's the deo effect that I found continues the anti-perspirant effect was not as good. I did find that I got a little damp after around 6 or so hours (which for me still proves rather good). The product comes in two scents and the one I have, Fresh, is light and fresh. It's not a flowery scent and doesn't interfere with any other scents that I chose to use. The strength of the scent is, in my opinion, well balanced, and smells no stronger than the scent left by a regular fragranced soap on the skin. I haven't experienced any irritation as a result of using the product, even just after shaving. The packaging of a product is not something that usually bothers me or, in my opinion, merits comment, however in this case there was something that impressed me. Rather than having a cap this aerosol can has a bullet shaped head with a "locked/unlocked" switch on the top meaning that this can is ideal to put in a sports or toiletry bag without fear that you'll lose the top or it'll go off in the bag. The spray itself is really easy to use, requiring minimal pressure but sufficient that you can control the spray. I've found the product to be economical in use with a can lasting 3 months - quite impressive. This product was fairly new to market when I obtained it but recently I've seen more places stocking it. Retailing at around £2.80 for 250ml I don't think that it offers bad value for money (I've never seen the small sized can that I originally bought again). It is more expensive than Sure for a similar quantity by about 40p but given that it's more effective that's 40p well spent in my book. Recommended.
Connect 4 is one of those games that has really stood the test of time. I remember receiving my first set as a child some 30 odd years ago and the hours of fun I had playing it. Now my son, aged 4, has discovered the delights of this game and is somewhat addicted! The concept is a simple one and an extension of the traditional pen and paper game of noughts and crosses. A vertical grid, 7x6, is used into which counters are dropped with the aim of creating a row horizontally, diagonally or vertically, of four counters. Like noughts and crosses there are strategies which can be learned to maximise the chance of winning but with the game being played on a much larger grid and the grid having to be filled from "bottom up" one has to be a little more adaptable in play. The game is recommended for children aged 6 and up but my son first started playing just after his third birthday. Clearly, at that age, he was easy to beat and I found that we had to "point out" danger spaces or opportunities but, very quickly, he developed into a player who will really give you a run for your money. Where our games used to be won and lost by accident many of the games now end with one player forcing the other into a win/lose situation. We found that there were many learning opportunities during the game and it was simply a question of engineering these opportunities through game play. The reason I like this game so much is because it is simple to grasp yet requires the child to think. It's a game that encourages counting skills, lateral thinking, forward planning and a lot of fun. A child's visualisation skills are developed both in terms of "filling in the gaps" and also their ability to interpret patterns (particularly when spotting the diagonals). The game encourages turn taking and, indeed, patience whilst waiting for your opponent to place their piece. There is always one winner and one loser - in today's society we seem to be so focussed on participation yet I think that the concept of winning and losing is a valuable one for a child to learn. Tears of frustration at losing are soon turned into a determination to beat mum or dad, particularly where you explain in advance how you got to a winning position (particularly where you force a win) as the child then seems set on trying to do the same! It is a game for 2 players only but I think this is actually a positive thing (so many games that are designed for 2-4 players are far better when played with more players than with 2). The games themselves are short, often under 10 minutes, which means that the attention of the child is not lost through boredom. We have the game in two formats, a travel version and the traditional version. For many reasons I prefer the traditional version. I have found that the larger the grid the easier it is for the child to visualise the play. The pieces are tactile and easy to handle (and even have little dimples to allow the pieces to be stacked). The game is constructed very well and will stand the test of time. If I have a complaint it is the fact that at sometime over the last 30 years they have changed how the pieces are taken out of the grid at the end of the game. The original version that I had had a simple hinged flap at the bottom of the grid. This has been changed to a slide mechanism which I find less easy to use and has been the source of a bit of frustration for my son who finds it fiddly. It's a minor point and one which should not detract from the game. The only other niggle is that there is nowhere to store the counters when not in use. It would have been good to have a container or even a bag provided to stop the counters just rattling around in the box. Easily solved but a niggle. The game is readily available and retails at around £10. We actually picked up our original version from a charity shop in a very battered box but with the game in pristine condition - testament to the build of the game. Recommended.
Juno was one of those films that created real buzz. With a young toddler at the time of the cinema release I knew that there was little chance of my seeing whether or not the hype was justified. I then forgot about the film as time went on. Wind forward a couple of years and catching sight of a DVD copy of the film in a library sale my interest was rekindled. Was the film worth the hype? The film probably finds itself sitting in the Indie camp, a slightly off-beat film about a teen who finds herself where no young teen should - pregnant. Rather than taking the obvious line, the film explores some of the more permissive views about teen pregnancy and it is refreshing that it does not preach but rather explores the ideas of love, relationships and choices in a fairly humorous way. Ellen Page puts in a rather good performance as Juno producing a believable teen torn by emotion yet retaining that sense of teen infallibility. Michael Cera as Bleeker, the rather (clichéd) father of the child has somewhat less about him but I think that might be a purposeful choice on the part of director Jason Reitman who allows the characters of Juno and the potential adoptive parents of her child (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to take centre stage. The script is witty but not at the expense of the seriousness of the situation that Juno finds herself in. It is contrived in the sense that the behaviour exhibited is highly unlikely ever to occur (least not in the way portrayed) but there is a delight in the simplicity of the characters and their actions. It raises questions that should be important to today's teens yet does not seek to offer the answers. Therein lies its power. The soundtrack is superb although it may well date quite soon meaning that, unless the film attracts a cultish following it's likely to feel quite old in the not too distant future. The feel of the music fits the themes and style of the film perfectly and is neither under nor over-used to great effect. The reportage-style direction also helps the film maintain its feel throughout making the film sit in a place that's believable without being presented as fact. I think that this film has a couple of potential target audiences, both of whom will be well served. The first is the teen market, particularly the girls. I think that they will end the film with a bunch of questions but not feel "schooled" in the subject. The other audience is, perhaps, a little more mainstream - the kind of folks who like Bridget Jones, Notting Hill and the like. It's a bit more quirky and a bit younger but of a similar ilk. Extras on the DVD include the standard deleted scenes (which were, in my opinion, rightly deleted) and a gag reel (maybe not the highlight of the disc!). There's a director's/writer's commentary and a look at the screen tests. The cast and crew jam is... well... let's leave it there. Juno is a film that's well worth watching but perhaps not repeatedly (as there's insufficient there to merit too much attention). It was brave to deal with such a difficult topic in the way that the film does and I can see why this resulted in the hype at the time of its cinematic release. I'm glad I've seen the film and certainly rate it, but perhaps not as the cult film that I thought it might be. It ends as a feel good film. With this I have a slight unease but it is this that seals the appeal of the picture. Recommended.
One is spoiled these days by the plethora of choice surrounding shampoo. It seems there's a shampoo for almost every hair type and scalp condition, many of which claim to work wonders with your tresses. Many of these products also leave me seriously underwhelmed. I'm a daily hair-washer and am also a firm believer that your hair "get's used" to a product so I tend to have a couple of different shampoos on the go at any one time (or at the very least I rotate products so that no more than one bottle of a product is used in succession). Often I feel that this "getting used to" thing is a factor of product build up in the hair (rather than any innate learning by the body!) and so the blurb on the Dead Sea Magik product really appealed to me. It promised an organic, paraben-free product that would soothe irritated scalps and leave hair silky smooth. The idea of a mineral based product appealed - those alchemists of yesteryear knew a thing or two and I think we could all learn from them. The shampoo is a reasonably thick, creamy white lotion not dissimilar in texture to many conditioners. The scent reminded me of Dove's products, clean yet indistinct. In use it's much the same as any other shampoo although it is recommended that you leave the shampoo in the hair for a couple of minutes in much the same way as you would a conditioner before rinsing it out. The first think I noticed is that my hair was, quite literally, squeaky clean. I did worry slightly that this might have been a shampoo that was overly drying at this point (although noting that it is recommended for dry scalps I doubted that this could really be the case) but my hair really did sound like I'd just stripped it with some Fairly liquid! After towel drying I found that my hair was very easy to comb and upon drying it did, indeed, feel very soft and not overly dried out. The scent of the product lingers in the hair for a good couple of hours making you feel truly fresh. I didn't find that this gave my hair an exceptional gloss but neither was my hair left looking dull. I do wash my hair daily and using this shampoo made no difference in that regard - I still needed to wash my hair the following day. I have noticed, however, that the effect of the shampoo remains and every day my hair feels soft and full of life. Retailing at around £8 for a standard bottle (330ml) this is not a cheap option but the feel of your hair makes it one that I would recommend.
Nick Park's loveable creations, Wallace and Gromit are recognised worldwide following the successes of the major film animations such as "The Wrong Trousers" and "Curse of the Were-Rabbit". Park's creations have also been used for a number of film shorts which are less well known yet provide some very good entertainment for fans of the genre and the old-fashioned pun based humour that made the films such a success. Cracking Contraptions, as a concept, explores the world of Wallace and Gromit as they invent gadgets to make life a bit easier. As is the case in the main films, things rarely go to plan and herein lies the humour. Each short concentrates on just one invention and this simplicity is part of the charm. Each short is no longer than a few minutes and there are 10 on the DVD but each is packed to the brim with first rate animation. One get's the feeling that Park and his team (for not all are Park animations) were just getting into the characters in a few of these shorts and, compared to the likes of "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" there are a couple of moments that look just a little crude. That should not, however, in any way detract from the work. Despite the fairly repetitive format the character development is good enough to keep the shorts fresh and to stop the viewer from tiring. Having said this, I think more is perhaps to be gained from watching each short in isolation rather than as a set - each stands alone, and was designed that way. The DVD quality is very good (although it's a little dated and some of the subtle lighting effects of the later works are missing) and the extras, in this instance, do appeal to me (I normally ignore such things). Whilst it's possible to obtain copies of the shorts from a variety of sources the extras do really make it worth trying to get your hands on a copy of the DVD (although it has become a collectable and commands a high price (seen at £30 second hand on Amazon due to the fact that it was limited release at the time it was originally produced!). Interviews with Park offer a good insight into the work of the animator and the collaboration that went into producing this set. Andrew Sachs' look at the history of Wallance & Gromit and Park's career is enlightening and created in a tone that matches the characters perfectly. A couple of "Creature Comfort" shorts and a couple of adverts and some stills featuring the Park creations are thrown in for good measure and provide some excellent comparative material. Now incredibly outdated you'll also find a preview/demo of the Wallace & Gromit adventure game for the PC. This is twee, quite good fun, but no reason to actually get your hands on the DVD. If you liked the "Creature Comforts" shorts or are a fan of the longer Wallace & Gromit films then I'd keep an eye out for this DVD. It can be watched time and time again with different nuances spotted at each viewing. Recommended.
Remember those physics lessons? Were you paying attention? You better hope so! Professor Heinz Wolff endorses this very frustrating, yet oddly rewarding game on the Wii platform. Why it's come out on the Wii and not also on PS3 or Xbox one can but guess but it might have something to do with the fact that the Wii's family ethos seems to be encouraging games that are not traditionally seen as console games. Gravity is also available for the PC and the DS - both, I suspect, will have the upper-hand over the Wii. One thing is for sure, the Wiimote adds little to this game and it could be equally well played with any kind of controller, or indeed a computer keyboard! The premise is simple in this single player game, a ball (or more) comes out of hole somewhere on a screen (but only when you're ready) and you have to use it and any (some or all) of the additional supplied pieces to push a button elsewhere on the screen. Best thing I can liken it to is the old-skool game of Lemmings where you had to rescue little lemmings that came out of one hole and direct them to another. The idea is the same, only with Gravity rather than having "diggers", "bombers" and "parachutists", you have but one tool - gravity. Confused - probably. It's not the easiest of games to explain but it is simplicity itself to play. Winning can be another matter entirely! Background graphics are very simply, rather flat scenes which seem to bear little or no relation to the puzzles presented. In fact, some of the backgrounds get in the way rather, offering detailing on portions of the screen that you crave clarity in order to accurately place your pieces to create the desired effect. Similarly the sound tracks used are seemingly unrelated to the main game. They remind me of relaxation tapes and about as far from computer gaming as you could get. It's inane but surprisingly not annoying. If you like mathematical puzzles and problem solving then you could find yourself spending hours trying to puzzle your way through some of the 100 levels. You'll get a monster of a level and then you'll surprise yourself as the next seems too simple. It's really a question of whether or not you "get it". Very soon you'll be thinking about gravity, friction, speed of objects and trajectories even if you thought you never understood these physical concepts. It's a very repetitive game and one which your average gamer won't find holds the attention. It's appeal is probably to a different audience - one which would rather do a crossword or Sudoku than a shoot-em-up. No particular game-playing skills are required and the movement of the objects is relatively straightforward, if a little awkward as turning an object requires use of the cursor buttons on the Wiimote. Whilst at first accuracy seems to be the key you'll quickly discover that no great skill is required in order to balance a tiny ball atop a skinny pole - the game seems to know what you are trying to do and lets you. A steady hand might be required at some times but unless you've a Parkinson's shake then it's unlikely to be a real issue. I guess the biggest issue with the game is the fact that the solutions are often inelegant - with many of the levels there's just no great sense of satisfaction when you complete them - solutions can often be found in piles of rods and sticks rather than clever conjecture. There are a few exceptions where you need to be devilishly accurate but these are most definitely not the norm. Couple this with the fact that there's no prize for elegance and it becomes all too easy to cobble together a dirty solution rather than come up with something neat, tidy and precise. Aside from the main puzzle levels there are also some "let's play with gravity" games (known as "Sandbox levels") which don't require you to do anything other than play around and see what effect gravity, or lack thereof, has on various objects. These "worlds" seem rather pointless. There's no goal and so they lose their intrigue very quickly. Finally there are some mini-games ranging from the "how tall can you build your tower in a set time" games to knocking down towers or catching balls. They operate on a high score basis but, unless you are regularly going to swap Wiimotes with a friend or partner due to the single player nature of the game it's not going to be a whole load of fun! This game has so much potential but its execution is poor and the interest quickly wanes. It feels like a PC game from the early 90s (perhaps when Proff. Wolff was still doing "The Great Egg Race"). I strongly suspect that this will be a far finer game on its other two platforms (PC and DS).
I have a little cheese monster living in my house. Just the mention of food now seems to elicit the response "can I have grated cheese with that?" closely followed by "and can I grate the cheese myself?". The answer to the first question is often "yes" but, much to my son's disgust the answer to the second is "no" (at least not until I invest in one of those auto-graters that won't take off a 3 year olds fingers!). In an attempt at compromise I purchased a couple of packs of Cathedral City's grated cheddar when it was on offer in the hope that satisfaction would be gained in just sprinkling the pre-grated cheese! I've bought ready grated cheese in the past, generally when entertaining to save on the work load, and, to be honest, it's been fine. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, when I opened the Cathedral City packet. Rather than appearing grated the cheese looks like it's been chopped with cuboid strips of cheese forming the bulk of the content (the rest being made up of cheese crumbs). It looks very dry and doesn't have that freshly grated moistness. This dryness translates to the taste of the cheese and its texture in the mouth. The cheese is quite hard and has a real floury feel to it. I guess this means that it doesn't stick together in the packet (imagine squashing fresh grated cheese and what a lump it would go into) but it's rather unattractive in the mouth. The taste is fairly well rounded with a firm flavour. It's not as strong as I imagined - I'd classify this as a medium cheddar rather than a mature. My son enjoys it though. Before buying this I think that you need to think carefully about the use to which you are going to put the cheese. To go on top of a jacket potato it's probably OK. My son loves putting it on top of pasta (and to be honest this probably works better for him than fresh grated as he doesn't like it to melt too much - being bigger pieces the Cathedral City will take longer to melt) and I suspect as chunks in a dry tossed salad it would work well. If you were using it in a sandwich or to aid quick melting somewhere then I'd advise against the Cathedral City as the texture is wrong for the former and you won't save any time on the latter as the melt time is longer. Compared to store own brands (Morrisons and Waitrose) and to other commercial brands such as Dairylea this grated cheese doesn't come up to scratch. The only advantage of this bag over many of the store own bags that I've seen is that it is resealable and the reseal actually works. There's still a note to say that you should use it within 3 days of opening but does anyone actually pay attention to that?! Retailing at around £2 for 200g I don't think it offers particularly good value. I also think that being chunkier you use more than you would if you grated it yourself as a handful actually weighs more! Limited recommendation.
The Wiggles are an Internationally acclaimed group of children's entertainers from Australia. Four main members, Jeff, Anthony, Sam and Murray, are accompanied by larger than life characters including Captain Feathersword and Dorothy the Dinosaur to provide hours of entertainment to pre-schoolers. If you've ever seen any "Mr Fuzzyfelt" dvds or even "Barney" you'll know the type of entertainment that you're letting yourself in for. This is unashamed children's tom-foolery accompanied with lashings of music. If there's something that's guaranteed to get my son dancing it's the Wiggles and, over the last couple of years we've built up quite a collection of DVDs. "Here comes the Big Red Car" is about the 4th offering from the Wiggles and it runs for just over an hour. Unlike the first few DVDs this one does have the premise of a single story holding the whole together - unsurprisingly a journey in the big red car. With a song around every corner this is a journey that youngsters love to take. Some of the music is familiar to all (Brown Girl in the Ring), some familiar to fans of the Wiggles (Can you point your fingers and so the twist) and some is new (I want to wear the jacket). All are performed with the vigour and verve for which the Wiggles are so famed. As a parent it can get a tad annoying but at least there are a variety of styles and you can generally see the educational aspects of the pieces. Each song is short with repetitive choruses so that youngsters can pick up the words and themes quickly. The singing is OK, nothing great, but then it doesn't need to be. It's not that bad that you can't listen as an adult! Productions are fairly slick and, at times remind me of "Play Away" in style. They're not polished, but it all adds to the feeling of accessibility. The pace is great for the ages targeted. Due to the fact that there is a story to follow here there is much more dialogue than one is used to from Wiggles DVDs and this might prove a bit too much for younger viewers. In particular there is a Captain Feathersword scene that is far, far too long! One of the best things about The Wiggles is that all of their offerings are very age appropriate. There's nothing to scare or offend and just enough to challenge and excite most pre-schoolers. If you have a fan of the Wiggles then you could do far worse than add this to your collection. If you are new to The Wiggles then this is good but I might suggest that you go for something like "You Make me Feel Like Dancing" as it's not as contrived (music being shoehorned into a story). Whatever you're little one will be dancing and singing all around the room!
It seems that advances in technology don't come with advances in longevity! Where the mobile phones of the past seemed to live up to all sorts of rough treatment (including being played with by my son!) those brought out in the last 5-6 years or so (with a few exceptions) crumble at the mere thought of being used. Cases, screens and lenses get scratched and dust gets everywhere. Not only do you risk damaging your phone just by putting it into a pocket or bag, you also risk decreasing its resale/trade in value for when you come to replace it. Maybe this is just part of the throw-away society that we seem to have turned into (although, thankfully, it feels as though the tide is turning) but I don't like it! Upon acquiring my last new phone, a Nokia e63, I decided that the phone was in need of a case to preserve it from the traumas of my handbag. Trouble was, what case would be suitable? A browse of stores on and offline presented a few options. Given that, at the best of times, I am only just able to retrieve my phone from the depths of my bag before it stops ringing I quickly ruled out any cases that required you to remove the phone before operating it - unfortunately in the case of the e63 this seemed to be about 75% of the market. Then ruling out the cases that only protected the back of the phone (why?) I was left with just a couple to choose from. Of those left the Krusell stood out! The Krusell case is fashioned in black leather (non-negotiable) and shrouds the whole of the phone utilising a PVC window to cover the keyboard. All of the phones access points remain open. A zipper fastening secures the case tightly around the phone. The fit of the case is very snug. On the rear of the case is a "Multidapt" socket - this is really just a fixing in black plastic which enables you to fix a multitude of compatible fastenings so that you can carry your phone as you choose. The basic case is supplied with a belt clip (more like a large plastic peg!) but you can get sideways clips, straps and the like depending on your needs. WHAT'S GOOD? - The fit of the case is very snug and each case is clearly well designed for the phone. It's a perfect size. - The case is easy to fit. - The quality of the material used in construction appears to be good and wears well - The versatility of the Multidapt system is great - The PVC cover protects the screen whilst allowing you to use the keyboard with minimal loss of touch sensation. - Dirt cannot get between the keys WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD - Despite access points being clear my case is not quite "square" on the phone and as a result occasionally the case will knock the charging jack out of the phone. It's a matter of about 1mm but annoying when you think you've set the phone to charge only later to find that the jack was not quite home! - The PVC cover over the keys attracts dust underneath it, particularly around the small holes cut for the camera and earpiece. - The PVC cover will scratch. - The Multidapt point is a little bulky and might annoy those who like a sleek finish. Overall I'm pretty impressed with this as a phone cover but it doesn't come cheap! Retailing at around £15 this is a more expensive option than something off the local market stall. Given it's not really a thing of beauty you might want to question whether it's right for you. For me, it does the job, does it pretty well, and keeps my phone in tip top condition (almost) when languishing in the bottom of my handbag. Recommended.
FILM ONLY Dreamgirls should be a "must watch" for any Motown fan or, I would argue, anyone who enjoys Broadway-style musicals. Dreamgirls did, in fact, originate as a stage show and it was highly successful. Unlike many film transfers this one works seamlessly and I often caught myself thinking that the film would make an exceptional stage show (rather than just reminding myself that it was!). It's credit to the producers and directors that it works so well. The Dreamgirls comprise Effie (Jennifer Hudson), Deena (Beyonce Knowles) and Lorrell (Anika Noni Rose) and the story takes us on a journey from their first public appearance in a talent contest through many trials and tribulations to chart success. Curtis Taylor (Jaime Foxx) is the manager who spots them, nurtures them and, eventually, gets them to the top of the charts. Behaviour of all the key players throughout is not necessarily all good but I found myself drawn into the characters and accepting of the behaviour, both good and bad, which is testament to the strong characterisation in the movie. All of the girls have superb voices and Jennifer Hudson as Effie puts in a first class performance and creates a character that is very believable. Beyonce surprised me in more ways than one, not least because it took me most of the film to realise who she was! Unlike many pop crossovers she puts in a very credible performance. The male interest comes in the form of Eddie Murphy who stars as James "Thunder" Early. Early gives the girls their first break, employing them as backing singers (although his motives are far from sincere). We watch as his career wanes as the girls' moves on. His performance in a straight role is good and he displays a range of emotions that are rarely seen in his performances. Of all the performances I thought that Foxx's was the weakest. Curtis was the character with whom I had least empathy and yet didn't crave to find out more. The film is almost operetta in style with many of the musical numbers delivering the lines and telling the story. It is packed with great sounds and a big Motown feel. There's a distinct shift, as the film progresses, from musical performances to showcase talent though to performances that reveal more about the characters. At one point this almost stalls the film but then it picks up again. As a result of the operetta style the film may just alienate some of the audience it seeks to attract. Whilst this style works reasonably well live it is unusual to see it employed in a film. Some may have preferred straight dialogue. I think that a better balance could have been struck in the second portion of the film between performance and story-telling but, for me, it was a minor niggle. Dreamgirls is a long film running for just over 2 hours. Again, this is quite a long time to stay amused if you struggle with sung narrative or don't particularly like Motown. If you do like the genre then the cracking performances make the time wizz by! I'd like to hope that this film could rival other stage to screen musicals such as Chicago and Moulin Rouge but I fear that the specialised musical focus might just hold it back. It's too much to think that the whole musical film genre might be revived - although I can hope!