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Sunshine on Leith is a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers, the Scottish brothers responsible for songs such as 500 Miles, Let's Get Married and I'm on my Way!
I first saw this show at the King's a Theatre in 2010 starring Billy Boyd, so when I heard it was being made into a film, directed by Dexter Fletcher, I was quite excited and was looking forward to this being released.
The film version of Sunshine on Leith stars, amongst others Jane Horrocks, Peter Mullan, Daniela Nardini, George MacKay, Paul Brannigan and Kevin Guthrie.
The story centres around Davy (MacKay) and Ally (Guthrie) who return home from war, back to their homeland, Edinburgh. Ally soon falls in love with Davy's sister, Lizzie. Davy's parents, Jean (Horrocks) and Rab (Mullan) are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary when Horrocks finds a letter to Mullan from his secret love child. Ally asks Lizzie to marry him, but Lizzie turns him down, and ends up emigrating to America to a new job.
Interspersed between this story are the songs of The Proclaimers.
Now to be honest, i wouldn't say I was a massive Proclaimers fan, and apart from the really well known songs, I didn't know many of the songs from the show, but I think this was actually an advantage as the songs really suited the screenplay whereas using more popular songs may have took away from the screenplay rather than complimenting it.
Now, as a Scot, I did find Jane Horrocks Scottish accent to be a bit over the top, and not really believable, although their accent does have an East coast twang to it, which doesn't sound natural to us from the West coast.
Apart from that, all the cast had reasonably good singing voices - nobody would win an award for their singing voices, but they all did their best, and it was obvious that they all had a lot of fun whilst filming these particular scenes.
To me, the songs in this suit the storyline more than Mamma Mia where some songs felt like they were flung in just to get them included, whereas all the songs here suited the screenplay. Sunshine on Leith didn't pull in Hollywood stars so will never get the same audience appeal as Mamma Mia, but it is deserving of great things.
The DVD is now available from all the usual stockists, priced approx £10
Glasgow used to have theatres aplenty, but the modern age of TV was a curse on theatre attendance in Glasgow, as in many other cities across the UK. Nowadays only 4 of these theatres remain in Glasgow, the Kings, Theatre Royal, Pavillion and the Citizens. I'd say the King's is the mid-market theatre of these four, pulling in most touring productions.
The theatre itself opened in 1904, and is now owned by Glasgow City Council, although it is leased to the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). The theatre is located to the west of the city centre, easily within walking distance of all the main city centre hotels and train stations. There's s multi storey car park behind the theatre if your travelling by car, and it's a flat rate of £1.50 after 6pm.
From the exterior, the theatre is quite small and inconspicuous but once inside the grandeur of the theatre takes your breath away. The public areas such as the entrance lobby and the bars are small and often crowded but once you are seated, take a look at the spectacular, highly decorative ceiling, and take a moment to appreciate the history of this fantastic building.
Being over 100 years old, the facilities aren't the most up to date; for example there are no lifts, so if your not seated in the stalls, be prepared for a climb! ATG have an ongoing refurbishment programme at this venue, such as recently improved seating, however I often find that theatre seats are far from comfy, and the legroom is often poor. The Kings Theatre is no exception to this!
The staff at the front of the house are always friendly, checking tickets and directing patrons to the correct areas.
When at the King's, we always go for stalls seats, so I'm not sure what the facilities are like upstairs, but the stalls toilets do leave a lot to desire, and are in urgent need of refurb.
At the interval, there are the usual ice-cream sellers, who also often have wine and water for sale, although other drinks can be obtained from the bars.
Over the last few years I've saw a great selection of shows including Cats, West Side Story, Evita, Sister Act, Avenue Q, All New People, I Dreamed A Dream, Whistle Down the Wind, The Steamie, Tell Me on a Sunday and many more, with Wicked, Shrek, Swan Lake and One Man, Two Guvnors coming over the next year.
Tickets for shows at the Kings Theatre can be obtained at the theatre's box office, or through the ATG booking website (www.atgtickets.com).
Overall, a great venue though it does need some work to modernise its facilities.
I have just returned from a 12 night Mediterranean cruise aboard the Carnival Legend, so here is my review while it is still fresh in my mind.
We booked a fully packaged holiday with Carnival, meaning that Carnival booked our flights, arranged our airport to ship transfers and of course supplied the cruise. I'll leave the flights for another review as they were provided by KLM, but from leaving the airport at Venice to arriving at the ship was very smooth.
After leaving the airport, luggage was loaded onto a small van while passengers boarded the waiting bus, which soon left for the port. This was the last we saw of our luggage until it was delivered to our cabin about an hour after we had boarded.
The embarkation process was very quick and smooth. We had already underwent the online boarding process a few weeks earlier where we provided passport information and set up our onboard billing account so we were given our Sail & Sign card and allowed to board the ship where a picture was taken for ID purposes.
Your Sail & Sign card has two important functions - it is used in place of cash on board, so any spending on the ship, be it on drinks, spa treatments or shop purchased get billed to your Sail & Sign card, which can be paid by cash or credit card at the end of your cruise. The card also features as your boarding card which is scanned every time you get on or off the ship.
We had pre booked a cabin near the main atrium so that we were in a central position with easy access to all facilities on board, and the location was spot on. The cabin itself was small, although having cruised before, we had expected this. However the cabin was perfectly adequate in terms of storage, with three wardrobes, and five drawers, and a few small cupboards. Luggage could also be stored under the double bed.
In general, the cabin was looked rather tired and could do with getting a refurbishment, but again this seems to be a general criticism of the cruise industry rather than of this shop.
Our balcony had enough space for two reclining chairs and a small table. Although we never got any sun on our balcony it was nice to sit out in the shade with a cocktail and enjoy the fresh sea air.
All food onboard is included in the price of the cruise, with the exception of the Steakhouse which served premium cuts of steak for a $35 dollar per head surcharge.
The main restaurant, Truffles, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, although we only ever used it for dinner. Here, two menus are served every day - the standard menu that is served every day and the daily menu which is different every day. I especially liked the 'Didja' (as in 'did you ever') starter of the day which featured oysters, escargots, frogs legs, sushi, shark, and various other small bites for the more adventurous diners.
Between the two menus I would say there was always something for every taste, and the only problem I ever had choosing was trying to decide between the various dishes!
The food was always of a high quality and the serving staff were very attentive, and were always available without being too 'in your face'.
This restaurant has three options for dining - early seating, late seating and open seating, and you can specify your choice at the time of booking. However if you go for the early or late setting you do have to go at your located time and can't decide one night to eat earlier or later than normal. For this reason we opted for the open seating option.
If you fancied a less formal dinner, the Unicorn cafe was open pretty much 24 hours for snacks, cakes, pizza, meals, whatever whenever. The Unicorn cafe was also where we chose to breakfast in the open air each morning.
For lunch and dinner, one could help themselves to a vast variety of food from Chinese, pizza, salad, hot dogs, burgers, chilli, nachos, and the Chefs Choice which varied every day from British to American, Mexican to Indian, Caribbean to comfort foods.
There was also the sweet treats for afters which normally included at least 3 types of cakes, fruit salads and cookies.
Ps I highly recommend the pizza which was available 24 hours a day. Thin and crispy, perfectly cooked every time and tasted great!
Drinks are not included in the price of your cruise, although freshly brewed coffee, tea, hot chocolate, lemonade, water and iced tea are freely available 24 hours a day at the Unicorn cafe nod around the pools, will various fruit juices are also served with breakfast.
All other drinks are charged to your Sail & Sign card an billed to you at the end of the cruise.
Carnival also offer the choice of various drinks packages, such as Bottomless Bubbles which entitles you o unlimited soft drinks over the cruise, or the Wine Packages where you buy say 5 bottles of wine up front but only pay for 4.
Th option we chose was the Cheers programme, which gives you unlimited soft drinks and up to 15 alcoholic drinks a day (after this the bar manager will assess you to see if more drinks can be served or whether you've had enough, although we never came close to this limit.
We liked this option as it meant we could drink what we wanted without having to think about the cost. With most alcoholic drinks being in the range of $6-$9 dollars, we though this was good value at $42 a day per person.
Disadvantages of this package is that it must be taken by all adults over the age of 21 glaring a cabin (the minimum drinking age onboard is 21) so if one of you is teetotal or a light drinker it may not be cost effective for you.
It also only included alcoholic drinks up to $10 dollars so there were a few drinks that were excluded although you did get a 25% discount of these drinks. Wine is also only available by the glass, with this package offering no discounts on wine by the bottle. Lastly, energy drinks such as Rockstar are not available on any package.
Of all the cruises I've been on, the entertainment on Carnival Legend was by far the best.
There was the standard cruise ship fare of piano bar, singers and bands, but the highlight of the entertainment was found in the Follies theatre. Here, the onboard show team put on two high quality shows, featuring great singers and dancers. However the real highlights were the special guest performers that come aboard during the day, do their show then leave at the next port. Amount these artists were an illusion act (Justin Allusion) and a vocal impersonator (Katie Setterfield the winner of BBC's The One & Only talent show in 2008).
These two acts were amazing. The illusionist performed illusions that really made me believe in magic, whilst Katie did some amazing impersonations of Dusty Springfield, Cher, Bette Midler and Tina Turner.
The cruise also featured 6 comedians who were only onboard for 2 days before being flown off again. Each act did a family performance and an adults only performance. The best one in my opinion was Anthony Scott, a Scottish comedian, although it is fair to say that a lot of the American passengers onboard didn't quite get all his jokes - whether it was his broad Scottish accent or the subject matter, I couldn't say!
The Cruise Director (John Heald) and his assistant Calvyn made a great double act - honestly if you're onboard with them you must catch their morning TV show in your cabin - words can't describe but they will make you laugh!
One not so good part of the entertainment was the 'Cigars Under the Stars' jazz night. Picture the scene - sailing under the stars at night somewhere off the coast of Italy/ France, a 4 piece jazz band plays - sounds romantic, sounds lovely right? Add in people smoking cigars, mostly in a canopied bar area. The smell was disgusting, and hung around the only covered area in the open deck so much so that we couldn't enjoy the jazz. The smell was still around the next day, and clung to the soft loungers. Even worse, guests were being encouraged to smoke cigars in this NO SMOKING area, I even saw one member of bar staff telling someone to put a cigarette out this night as smoking wasn't allowed despite people smoking cigars all around!
The Ship in General
The ship was in great condition for a 10 year old ship, spotlessly clean and constantly being polished, swept and painted by the army of staff.
I believe that the ship was designed mainly around Roman legends, but the best thing to describe it, particularly the main atrium is as Las Vegas style - full of glitz and completely over the top, however within a few hours it seemed to fit the rest of the surroundings.
Apart from the cabins, the ship is still in great condition, although I believe it is getting a refit in 2014 to make it more 'fun' in line with the Carnival cruises ethos.
On the main deck, there is three pools, each with a jacuzzi, and I believe there was also a children's pool. There was also a water slide, mini football/basketball court and crazy golf course on the open decks, long with giant chess and table tennis. The casino also had snooker tables.
And if all that wasn't enough to tire you out, the nightclub, Medusa's Lair, was open to late every night.
Of course, a cruise holiday isn't just about the ship but the destinations visited.
This itinerary started with an overnight stay board the ship in Venice before departing the following day heading for Dubrovnik, Croatia. From there we sailed to Piraeus in Greece, before a day at sea whilst we sailed towards Izmir in Turkey. After that stop we had another day at sea before we docked in Messina, Sicily. From there we had a short journey to Naples (after circling the Stromboli volcano which was erupting at the time). After Naples, we docked in Civitavecchia for Rome, then onto Livorna for Florence and Pisa. Then we travelled to Marseilles in the south of France then onto Barcelona where we disembarked on started our journey home.
Again this was one of the best organised disembarkations I've experienced on a cruise. As Carnival had organised our transfers to the airport they handled our luggage from the cabin directly to the airport whist we waiting for our transfer to be called. The whole process was smoothly handled and wasn't a crush to leave the ship as I have experienced on other lines.
Overall, I thought this cruise was great. Great food, great destinations, great ship. Is it for everyone? Honestly, no.
I'd say 90% of the passengers were either American, Canadian or Australian, and, forgive this sweeping generalisation, were loud and brash, so if you were looking for a quiet relaxing holiday it may be better to stick to the more British orientated cruise ships.
We paid approx £1300 each for a balcony cabin on deck 8, with flights and transfers included. At the time of our booking (January 2013) Carnival were also doing an offer of up to $500 per person onboard credit, and we got the full $1,000 dollars which largely covered our Cheers drinks package and other small purchases on board.
My hairline started receding in my earlier 20s, and by my late 20s, it was joined by thinning hair on my crown, both of which I vigorously denied for many years. It wasn't extreme hair loss, just a patch of thin hair at my crown and a high hairline. I tried my best to cover it up, keeping my hair of a reasonable length and style to hide the thinness without being accused of having a comb-over.
Fast forward to my early 30s and you can imagine my shock when my partner brought home a box of "Regaine for Men" for me to try. After many minutes of using every expletive known to man accusing my partner of calling me bald, I sneaked off to the toilet, the box of Regaine firmly in hand.
Inside the box comes a bottle of solution, three different applicators and an information leaflet, giving directions for use and safety warnings. As with all medicines, the list of side-effects was lengthy and including headaches, sickness, even hair loss!!!
A cure for hair loss that might cause hair loss?!?!?! Oh crap...
With a sense of interpretation I decided to venture forth and give it a try. What the hell, if my hair falls out overnight, I'll just say I cut it short for summer!
As I mentioned, each box comes with three applicators: The wide spray applicator - this is a standard spray nozzle that covers a large area, intended for applying the solution to a wide area The roll-on applicator - as the name suggests, this applicator rolls the solution onto the required area. The narrow spray applicator - this is a long narrow nozzle that you can work between your hair so the spray is applied directly to the scalp.
I decided upon the narrow spray applicator as I felt the other two would be more beneficial to men with little or no hair as the spray/roll-on can be applied directly to the scalp.
The applicators are all easy to apply to the bottle, simply unscrew the bottle cap and screw on the desired applicator; unless you're using the narrow spray when you need to use the wide spray applicator and fit the narrow nozzle over the top of this.
Now for the fun part - 6 sprays twice a day. I tend to concentrate my sprays around the crown area then give the scalp area a quick massage to help the solution cover the area. I'd say it now takes less than a minute twice a day, so it's hardly a time consuming task.
It's pleasant to use, with no noticeable smell and dries in within a few minutes, although I tend to wait 20-30 minutes before styling my hair. It does feel quite greasy on your fingers after you've rubbed it in, but I've not noticed any greasiness to my hair after using. The greasy feeling does help me to remember to wash my hands after every use so I don't end up with hairy fingertips!
The instructions do say that it will take a number of weeks before any new hair begins to emerge, and I have to say that I was sceptical. How could a tiny little bit of liquid reverse years of hair loss in a few weeks?
Each bottle has enough solution to last 4 weeks, so by the end of the initial 4 week period I peered into the mirror hoping to admire the thickness of my hair, to no avail. It looked exactly the same. Oh well, at least no hair loss.
I decided to try Regaine for another few months so this time I bought a 3 month supply as it works out more cost effective this way. I routinely spent a few minutes each morning and night applying Regaine, and after 8 weeks my hair started to feel thicker although I couldn't yet see the difference.
Fast forward to the present day, and I've been Regaine'ing for 5 months and people have commented on how my hair looks thicker now! I'm never quite sure whether to take it as a compliment or as an insult ("what do you mean; that my hair was thin before, oh how very dare you!!!)
The difference really is quite surprising; the hair looks natural and not the baby, fluffy hair I had expected. It's grown in evenly without leaving any small patches of thin hair, and the colour matches the natural colour all around.
Luckily I've had no side effects from using Regaine, especially not the dreaded hair loss.
Overall I'm very happy with Regaine for Men, the only downside is that I need to continue using it every day or the hair will eventually thin out again.
Cost wise it isn't cheap. One months supply from Boots will set you back around £40 with the 3 month supply costing nearly £80, although it is available cheaper online (isn't everything these days?) I've just order another 3 month supply from a supplier on Amazon for £45 with free delivery so on this basis it would cost me £180 a year to Regaine my hair.. I could buy a lot of hats for that!
Once I am happy with the thickness of my hair I intend to reduce the frequency of application to once a day to see if this makes any discernable difference to my hair (thereby halving the annual cost).
For those of you that don't know, the Tassimo is a pod-style coffee maker where you buy pre-packed pods of coffee that each make one drink at the touch of a button.
This isn't my first pod style coffee maker, the first being a Dolce Gusto. Whilst this was more than adequate at making great tasting drinks, it did take time to perfect making the milky drinks such as lattes and hot chocolates as you had to manually control the amount of milk and coffee used. Gradually, the Dolce Gusto was used less and less until it was eventually given away as part of a kitchen de-clutter.
Fast forward a year and we again found ourselves in search of a pod style coffee maker. After researching online, looking at reviews and the range of drinks available, we decided upon the Bosch Tassimo T65.
The main advantage of the Tassimo T65 over the Dolce Gusto is that it is more automated, using a barcode scanner to identify the type of pod currently being used, and automatically adjusting the temperature, brewing time and amount of water required to make the perfect drink. It's so simple; open the pod compartment, pop the pod in and press go!! It's really that simple!
For milky drinks, the milk and coffee come in separate pods so you do need to repeat this process (remembering to remove the used pod before inserting the second). The milk pods contain UHT milk rather than powdered milk that is used in the Dolce Gusto pods.
If you like a stronger coffee, simply press the main (only) button before the end of the process, or to make it a bit weaker, press it again after the end of the process to control the water flow.
With this barcode system, you get the perfect balance of milk and coffee with each drink, unlike with the Dolce Gusto where you had to guess the right amount of milk to balance the coffee.
The Tassimo caters for all sizes of cups and mugs, with a cup stand that is adjustable in height to cater for the small espresso cups to your larger coffee cup. For larger mugs, the cup stand can be removed entirely.
The Tassimo also comes with a yellow cleaning disk that can be inserted in the pod compartment and is used to clean out the water pipe and nozzle between the pod and the cup stand - I tend to use this after most drinks, particularly where a milk pod has been used in case any splashes of milk have been left behind.
A small downside is the location of the slot to hold the yellow cleaning pod - it's at the back of the machine behind the water compartment, so you have to turn the machine round, remove the water compartment to get the cleaning pod out. I think the cleaning pod would be more useful at the front of the machine where it would get used more often. Instead I keep the cleaning pod beside my coffee mugs.
The water compartment (it holds 2 litres of water) has space for a Britta water filter, although I decided not to use this as the water here is of a high quality. A filter does come with the unit, but as I didn't use it. I cannot comment on its effectiveness or how long it lasts.
Registering your Tassimo T65 also gives you a £20 voucher to spend in the online Tassimo shop, where you can choose from 36 different flavours -not just coffee, but tea and hot chocolate too! My favourites so far are the Twining's Chai Tea Latte, Milka hot chocolate and the Caramel Macchiato Latte.
Pods are available from most supermarkets but the widest choice is available from the online store. Prices vary depending on the type, but you can expect to pay upwards of £4 per pack (most packs have 16 pods which will give 16 drinks, apart from the milky drinks which will only give 8 drinks as two pods are required.) Prices do however vary so shop around online and you might find some good deals.
In my mind the machine has been designed to be environmentally friendly - it only boils the water required for each drink and goes into a standby mode after a few minutes of inactivity. There is also a pod recycling scheme, administered through Terracycle, where you can send off your used pods to be recycled into new plastic products. The disadvantage of this is that you need at least 200 pods before you send them off, so unless you are a heavy user, it would take a while to get to this level. On the plus side, your pods are exchanged for points which you can donate to local charities, schools etc for cash payouts.
Once you have sat back and enjoyed your drink, it's easy to clean the machine. As I said earlier, there is a special cleaning disk that starts a cleaning programme, and a quick wipe of the outside the machine keeps it looking spick and spam. I tend to wash out the water compartment every few days, but again this is easy to do with no hard to reach areas.
For those of you who have been living on another planet for the last few months, Glee is currently showing on E4 and Channel 4, after being imported from America where it was shown on the Fox network.
The basic premise of the show is that a group of kids at fictional William McKinley High School join the Glee club, directed by the Spanish teacher, Mr Schuester, who hopes to return the Glee club to its former glory. Cue lots of music, singing and dancing!
Sounds similar to High School Musical that way?
* Set in a school? Check
* Singing? Check
* Dancing? Check
But that is where the similarity ends - where High School Musical was all the good looking, trendy, popular kids, Glee is a mish mash of the geekier, unpopular students.
The producers have certainly made an attempt to ensure that a full cross section of society is represented in the show, from the Asian girl (Tina), to the gay kid (Kurt), from Mercedes the black Diva to Kevin the paraplegic. The female lead Glee singer, Rachel, is bullied by the cheerleaders (the Cheerio's) and Finn almost alienates himself from the football team when he joins Glee.
Perhaps this is part of the reason for the show's popularity - everyone can identify with at least one character in the show. Whether its battling with your weight, your sexuality, balancing your dreams, reaching for your dreams, every single one of us will have had issues growing up, and this is probably one of the first TV programmes that have took these issues and built on them, and, hopefully, will show that everyone can overcome their issues and succeed.
So, back to the songs. Each hour long episode sees the cast singing at least one big song, probably the most successful song so far being 'Don't Stop Believing'. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who had never heard of this song until Joe McElderry sang it on X Factor last year, but now it's always on the radio and TV. This is no doubt due to the fact that songs featured in the show are available on iTunes immediately after the show for download. I think in last week's top 40, 5 songs were from the cast of Glee!!
The type of songs range from the less well known (Don't Stop Believing) to well known songs from the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna, as well as show tunes from musicals including Grease and Cabaret. Unlike High School Musical, songs are performance based, rather than bursting into spontaneous song.
For me, the song performances are quite a major downfall to the show - a number of the actors were Broadway stars, such as Mr Schuester (played by Matthew Morrison) and the rest of the cast had to sing, dance and act in their auditions. Yet, unfortunately, the vocals are dubbed onto the visuals, and it shows. Yes, the cast mine well, but the vocals have been overly produced to the extent that it takes away from the whole idea of the show. I'd much rather hear the raw voices of the talented cast, if they don't quite hit the high notes, so what?
Glee is not a kids programme, but nor is it aimed entirely at adults. It is the type of programme that the whole family can sit together and watch, and probably laugh at different parts. It can be childish one minute then 5 minutes later it's dealing with adult issues (such as Mr Schuester's wife pretending to be pregnant). It's definitely all tongue in cheek though and can't be taken too seriously.
Series One of Glee runs for 22 episodes (the fourth episode aired on 1 Feb 2010 so there is plenty of fun to come!) and Fox have confirmed that a second series will be commissioned. So far the series has been so successful in the UK that Glee fans already have their own moniker - Gleebs!
Overall I think this is a great TV show, very original and fun! Highly recommended
In recent weeks, there has been a furore over MP expenses, with the news that MPs have been claiming expenses on everything from moat cleaning, horse manure and mortgages that had already been paid off to pornographic films!
Various MPs have tried to explain their actions, blaming everyone from the Fee's Office who supposedly controls these expense claims, to the media and the way they have presented these claims.
There was one MP who has stepped down after he claimed expenses for his second home. What's wrong with that? Well his wife was also an MP, and she was claiming their other home as her second home. The result - two homes both paid for by us! The most surprising thing about this is that while he has stepped down, she hasn't, yet they are both guilty of the same offence!
Some MPs have said, publicly and on the record that they claim high expenses as their salaries aren't high enough and they never get the full salary increase that is recommended! My heart bleeds for them. Imagine if you or I done the same - we think our salary isn't high enough, so to help we just dip into the till every now and again and help ourselves to some extra 'salary', not too much mind, just enough to increase our salary to what we think we're worth.
As soon as our employers found yet, we'd be fired and reported to the police. Yet as MPs appear to be above the law, they merely laugh it off, say they'll pay it back and expect that the matter is closed!
"Oh, did I mistakenly claim £20,000 on mortgage interest for a mortgage that was paid off 3 years ago. Oops, silly old me. I'm so rich that I never need check my bank account so I never realised I had a few hundred odd pound in my bank every month after I finished paying off my mortgage. I'll give the £20,000 back within days."
The Treasury should respond "Actually its £20,000 plus interest over 3 years plus a 50% penalty. Oh and you'll be hearing from the Fraud Squad"
For that is exactly what it is - fraud.
For some of the smaller claims, it would be easy to conclude that is was a mistake, for example Jackie Smith's claim for pornographic films. If they are on her phone and broadband bill which she claims every month, then perhaps she does just sign off the claim without paying much attention. However when the claim is for mortgage interest, the vast majority of people would know exactly when there mortgage was paid off and would know to stop claiming the interest back. There is only two possible excuses for this - one is that they are paid far too much and so don't need the expenses and the second excuse is that the claim was made on purpose and fraudulently.
If you are found guilty of benefit fraud you have to pay back the misappropriated amount, plus a penalty and potentially have a prison sentence too. Plus you'll always have Benefit Fraud on your police record. Yet MPs, the very people who came up with these laws, will probably get a slap on the wrist and just have to repay the amount overpaid, with no penalty or recognition that the money they over claimed could have been put to a far better use.
Personally I don't get the connection between expense claims and voting BNP in the forthcoming elections. Just because all the main parties have been on the take, why would I want to vote BNP? Instead I'll continue to vote for the party whose manifesto I most agree with and believe, but I'll also be taking a more active role in politics in future.
Already I have written to my local councillors, MSPs, MPs and MEPs to say that if they have been inappropriately claiming expenses, they must declare these now rather than waiting for a national newspaper to make these claims public, and pay the full amount with interest back immediately. I have also said that I will no longer vote for any politician who is found to have made inflated expenses claims.
So now I have expressed my feelings over this scandal, I would like to give some opinions on how the expenses system should operate.
Instead of each MP having a second home in London, the government should build an apartment complex, where each of the MPs can have a basic furnished apartment for them to use on the few days a week they are in London. These should be available free of charge to the MPs, on the condition that as soon as they stop being MPs, they cease to be entitled to a free apartment. This would stop MPs having lavishly decorated apartments in London at our expense, and stop them benefiting from rising house prices when they finally come to sell.
Obviously in the short to medium term this would be a costly option - having one building full of MPs would obviously be a high security risk, so would need bomb defences and round the clock security, but over the life of the building, the costs would surely be less than paying individual expenses to each MP.
MPs would obviously still have some entitlement to expenses, but these should be tightly controlled by an independent organisation, with limits built in for various types of expense. For example, travel expenses should be banded in order that those people travelling the furthest are allowed to claim more on each individual journey that MPs living closer to London, i.e. an MP travelling from Glasgow will have higher travel expenses than one that lives in Surrey.
The claims should also be limited to the basic form of travel, so no more flying first class. If there constituents can't afford to fly first class, why should they? This may actually have a beneficial effect on the general population of the UK - if they are forced to experience cattle class train travel like everyone else, they have actually do something to improve public transport.
Also, the Westminster system should be aligned to that of the Scottish Government, in that individual MPs do not employ their own staff. Instead these staff are employed directly by the government and paid by them, and assigned to work for a particular MP. This would stop MPs claiming ridiculous expenses on family members who 'work' for them for a few hours a week yet receive a full time salary paid for by taxpayers.
Food expenses should not be paid for by taxpayers. John Prescott claimed £16,000 for buying food in his second home (personally I think we got off quite lightly there!). But why should we be made to pay for his food? After all, if he's eating at his second home, he won't be eating at his primary home (ok, so John Prescott probably is a bad example to use here).
Ok ok, so food costs will be higher if you have two homes rather than just one, but they won't double. Certain things you'll have in both homes, such as condiments, but you'll not buy food for a week at both homes if you are only spending a few days at each. Even when you take into account family staying in the primary home, buying for three is cheaper than buying for four, so the MPs should be able to absorb the slightly higher food costs without having to claim additional expenses for all food consumed at their second home.
I think a means testing system should also be considered, where individual MPs can claim different percentages of their expenses back. For example, a well off politician is probably more likely to go for more expensive furniture than a politician from a working class background. Giving more expenses and perhaps even a higher salary to working class people may encourage more 'normal' people to get involved in politics as these are the type of people that really know what it is like to live in Britain and can make positive changes.
The more that I hear about this scandal, the more annoyed I am getting, particularly at a time when the vast majority of the population is trying to rein in their expenses in a time of ever increasing costs and the threat of redundancy. To hear the details of how our MPs, the people who are supposed to represent us, have squandered public funds in an attempt to further their own lifestyles sickens me to the stomach.
If the main parties want to restore public confidence in the people chosen to represent them, they need to take swift and forceful action against all politicians who have made inappropriate expense claims. This must involve them repaying all inappropriate expenses back with interest, resigning from their seat and a police investigation must be started looking at each and every MPs expenses with any guilty of fraud being convicted of fraud.
Only then can the public regain confidence in our politicians.
Please note that this review was written a few weeks ago, before four Government ministers announced they are to stand down, along with a number of other politicians announcing that they will not stand for re-election. These politicians, along with all others who have made fraudulent claims, should be sacked immediately and forced to repay the full amount they fraudulently claimed. Why should they be able to continue to represent their constituencies and be allowed to claim a pension in the future?
The Apprentice is a television programme currently showing on BBC 1 on Thursday evenings at 9pm. Billed as the toughest job interview in the world, the participants are put through a series of weekly tasks with the eventual winner being awarded a job with Sir Alan Sugar and a six figure salary.
The Apprentice is now in its 5th series in the UK, having been brought here following the success of the programme in America, where people contested to become the apprentice to Donald Trump. In the UK, the main man is Sir Alan Sugar, the founder of Amstrad.
I have mixed feelings about this show, but I will come back to these later.
The current series started with 16 candidates for the role of Apprentice, split evenly between males and females. However, one male candidate dropped out of the show before filming even started, giving an advantage to the females. The candidates supposedly represent the elite of business talent in the UK, each of them having excelled in their respective fields; be it marketing, sales, design, or finance.
In the first few weeks, it's a battle of the sexes, with the boys competing against the girls, although after a few weeks, Sir Alan shakes up the teams to keep them evenly balanced and to see how various people interact with others. Each week the teams appoint a project manager who will manage the group, and if they lose, they will decide which two people will return to the boardroom with them. During the tasks, Margaret and Nick, advisors to Sir Alan, accompany each team.
After the task has been completed, all the candidates return to the boardroom where there performance is criticised and the results given by Sir Alan, and his sidekicks Margaret and Nick. The winning team will be rewarded with an enjoyable activity, whilst the losing team are sent off while Alan, Margaret and Nick discuss each candidate. On their return to the boardroom, Sir Alan gives some scathing criticism before the project manager has to choose two people to accompany them back into the boardroom, where one of them will hear the infamous words - "You're fired!"
Towards the latter stages of the competition, the remaining candidates undergo an interview process, being interviewed not by Sir Alan, but by three successful businessmen whose opinion Sir Alan trusts. The final episode of the show has the remaining two candidates go head to head, backed up by their own choice of fired candidates, before Sir Alan eventually decided who he wants as his Apprentice.
During the process, the candidates share an apartment in London. This is a bit of a change from previous series, where the candidates were housed in quite large and trendy homes. This change has probably came about as the BBC reportedly told the makers to tone down this series in the light of the current economic situation, meaning that tasks have all been set in the UK, and the rewards for the winning teams also seem to have been toned down from previous series, which have seen celebrity chefs cooking the winning team a meal, with plenty of champagne. One reward that stood out this year was getting a caricature done. I know which I'd chose - and no it doesn't involve getting a portrait of myself done which only serves to highlight my flaws (of which there are few of course!)
I do find this to be an entertaining show, and have set up a series recording on BT Vision in case I miss any episodes. However, I do feel that the format of the show is starting to feel tired now - there are only so many times you can watch a team perform a sales task for example. So far this series, two of the tasks have involved the teams picking 2 products and then selling them with the winning team being the one with the highest sales value. The only difference was one week the goods were being sold to retail outlets, with the general public being the customers the following week. Another example from last series, the teams had a stand at a wedding show and had to sell wedding related products, this series the teams had a stand at a baby show and had to sell baby related products. Just last night, the teams had to present a programme on a shopping channel to try to sell their wares - again another task that was shown last year.
Just looking at the current series, the earlier tasks seemed to cover a wider range of business areas. For example, in week 1 both teams had to start a cleaning company, and so had to pull resources from a number of business areas (for example finance, marketing, planning, management, negotiation and of sales). This task made use of everyone's strengths, whereas the most recent tasks have concentrated on selling. Take for example last night's task - selling on a TV shopping channel. The teams were able to choose the products to sell, but they weren't involved in negotiating discounts on buying the goods or have any flexibility in the selling price.
If Sir Alan is looking for a multi talented apprentice then each task should cover a number of areas, not just be confined to one aspect of business where the candidates with experience in that area should shine. After all, in the real world the apprentice wouldn't be working on their own, but would manage a team and be able to delegate work to people with specialist knowledge of that area. Everyone has weaknesses, so why should a candidate who excels in finance be thrust into a sales focused task, when an entirely different skills set is required? In any case, Sir Alan is in search of an apprentice, not a salesman, or an accountant, or a lawyer, but a multi-faceted individual who can run one of Sir Alan's divisions.
It seems to me that the makers of the show have ran out of ideas for tasks so re-use the same tasks every series, with only small changes. It is easy enough to come up with a task that involves selling goods, its harder to come up with tasks that actually represent the type of work that will be undertaken by the winning candidate. Yet a show like this needs fresh tasks that are not biased towards one set of people, as I find myself losing interest during the tasks, as I have seen them all before.
As I said earlier, the candidates have all been chosen for the show as they have displayed flair of business. However the candidates are not particularly interesting or stimulating enough to hold my attention throughout the show. The candidates all come across as extremely selfish, business minded individuals who would gladly sell their granny to make a fast buck. They may excel at business, but lack interpersonal skills. The result - arguments, personality clashes and backstabbing. To be fair, this is probably one of the main reasons this show has held my attention for as long, as I am interested in how people react when faced with their own survival. It may not be a matter of life or death, but to the candidates the battle to stay in the competition is worth fighting for. As a result, each candidate will quickly turn on their supposed friends in the show if it will stop Sir Alan firing them.
This brings me onto Sir Alan, the founder of Amstrad who brought personal computers to the mass market at a time when other computer manufacturers were selling solely to commercial enterprises. Is Sir Alan really all that inspirational as an entrepreneur? Yes he had a massive success with Amstrad, but the success was short lived. Since then I know he has set up a number of other companies, but none seem to have gained anywhere near the same level of success as Amstrad. To quote Sir Alan, is he just a "bloody one trick pony"?
Yet in saying that, Sir Alan is well placed as the taskmaster. He has no airs and graces, and says exactly what he thinks, a trait which has often got him in trouble, an example being his views on women in business. He also has an ability to weed out the truth from the candidates when they are trying to cover up their mistakes to protect their own backs. Yet he does so in a likeable manner, although I am sure that the candidates would disagree with that.
Unlike other reality based programmes, none of the previous candidates have gone on to be celebrities, perhaps with the one notable exception of Ruth Badger who now presents her own show 'Badger or Bust' in which she helps failing businesses turn around their fortunes.
The best candidate this series in my mind was Ben - a highly arrogant and annoying stock broker who liked to tell anyone that listened that he had got a scholarship at Sandhurst, and how this showed great leadership qualities. A few weeks in, Sir Alan asked if he actually went to Sandhurst. "No, I didn't actually go but I've got the option to go". How just getting a scholarship helped teach him leadership is beyond me!
The one other candidate that stands out in my mind was Katie Hopkins, a candidate who was given a place in the final of series 3, before she turned down the opportunity to be the Apprentice, resigning from the competition over childcare issues.
As previously stated, The Apprentice is currently showing on BBC 1 at 9pm on Wednesday nights; a companion show (The Apprentice: You're Fired!) fronted by Adrian Chiles is shown at 10pm on BBC 2. This show features a panel of celebrities discussing the performance of the fired candidate, who also appears. However I find this to be a very poor show, mainly featuring a number of minor celebrities being presided over by Adrian Chiles, a man I find lacks any likeability factor.
Overall, I would say that The Apprentice needs a revamp if it is to survive (perhaps 'the Badger' should come in to stir up some new ideas). Personally I think that Sir Alan has taken the show as far as he can, and it is time to bring in a new face for the show. I'd love to see Sir Richard Branson or Philip Green picking an apprentice, perhaps they could perform tasks that relate to each of their businesses. Sir Richard particularly could inject a new vibrancy into the show, and consequently lengthen the remaining life of the show, though I'd doubt whether he could say 'You're Fired' as well as Sir Alan Sugar. Plus it would be interesting to get an insight into the various Virgin businesses, rather than role-play tasks in imaginary situations.
"Sir Alan, You're Fired"
On average, people in the UK work far more hours than those in the rest of Europe. Why is this? Is our history as a nation of shopkeepers more deep-rooted than I thought, meaning that we work ourselves to the bone in order to succeed?
As I work for a Local Authority, I think my views on this subject will vary somewhat from the majority of people. My working week is only 35 hours, compared to an average of approximately 43 hours a week! In addition, I work flexible working, meaning that to an extent I can work around personal commitments.
My core hours when I must be in work are 9.30am - noon then 2.30pm to 4pm, but I can start any time after 8am, or work on until 6pm. If I wish I can take a 2 and a half hour lunch break, perfect time to catch up with friends or pick up some bits for dinner.
Rather than having to work 7 hours a day, I need to work a minimum of 140 hours over a four week period, with any additional hours being carried forward to enable me to take flexi days as and when I require. I can take up to 2 of these flexi days in each 4 week period, or 26 days a year.
I also get 28 days annual leave and a further 12.5 days of public holidays each year and we close down for 2 weeks over Christmas (although we do have to use our own leave). I can take these holidays at a time that suits me, rather than having to plan ahead to ensure that my holidays don't clash with colleague's holidays.
Now I know what you're thinking -"bloody council workers; no wonder my council tax is so high!"
And I can see your point, but what you need to consider is that I could get a far higher salary in the private sector. Yes, I may work longer hours and have fewer holidays, but I would have more money to do exactly what I want.
I have friends doing similar jobs to myself who work the traditional 9 to 5, but often have to stay on to complete tasks before deadlines. One friend in particular rarely gets out of work before 8pm, without getting paid any overtime. In saying that his salary is nearly twice mine so I think his salary takes account of the additional hours that he has to work.
Likewise I receive a lower salary, but in return I am expected to work less hours, and although I would love a higher salary (who doesn't) I also love the flexibility that my job affords me, allowing me to leave early if I've got arrangements for that night, or perhaps start later if I fancy a lie in.
Perhaps the reason that the average working week is as long in the UK stems from the fact that home ownership is as high in the UK. Monthly outgoings will be fixed and so we need jobs in which we can afford to service our debts, and if working longer hour's results in a higher salary, I can imagine that this is a sacrifice many are happy to make.
Overall I am happy with my work/life balance, believing that I have found the perfect balance between my working life and my leisure time. After all, what's the point in working extra hours to get a higher salary if you don't have the free time to enjoy it?
Our last vacuum was a lightweight, cordless affair whose looks betrayed the strength of its suction. At only £40 it was a great buy and made a massive difference to the cleanliness of our carpets. However three years down the line, the suction had decreased to the point where it left clumps of cat hair in its trail. It was time for a new model.
We needed something with a good suction that could pick up cat hairs and not be too big as we don't have the greatest amount of storage in our flat. A Dyson our preferred choice, but that was more expensive than our budget allowed, so we settled upon the Vax VS-190APP Swift Pet Premium from Argos.
Our model is slightly different from the one pictured above, in that where the model pictured is yellow, ours is white with a blue trim. The vacuum has 1600 watts of power and a clear plastic dust compartment similar to Dyson models. There is a washable HEPA filter and carbon filters.
Vax claims that this model is ideal for collecting pet hairs from both carpets and hardwood flooring and this was the factor that most attracted us to this particular model in the hope that it would live up to its expectations.
Getting the box home, I was somewhat surprised about the size of the small box and how lightweight it was. Upon opening the box however I realised why it fitted into such a small space - it required some building. I hate companies that use excessive packaging, so I was quite glad to see that this vacuum was packed in a sturdy cardboard box and only a few small bits of polystyrene which held that various parts in place within the box. There was no unnecessary filling material.
Philips screwdriver in hand, I set about removing each part from the box. I'll admit that I did need to use the instructions as I had no idea what have the parts were or where they went, but I found that the instructions were very easy to follow and only took about 10 minutes to put together.
The base of the vacuum was a little bigger than I'd expected, but it was quite lightweight, so would be easy enough to carry up and down stairs. Fortunately all the attachments can be fitted to a tool holder on the vacuum handle so there should be no excuse for losing them.
So ready to start vacuuming, I hit the button to release the base then the power button, both of which are located on the base of the vacuum on the left hand side. I must admit that the power button is in slightly an awkward place, just under the extension hose and I found it a little awkward to switch the vacuum on, however I am sure that this is something that will grow easier with practice.
The vacuum started up and at first seemed quite loud, deafening out the TV, but I soon became accustomed to the noise level. I don't think that this is a particularly noisy machine rather that our previous hoover was so quiet that anything else would have appeared deafening. Indeed, only a few days later I no longer notice the noise to be as loud.
So, onto the important details for a vacuum review - how well did it pick up. I used it first on a shaggy rug that has been looking a bit flat recently and was amazed at the difference it made. The pile was instantly picked up and despite not thinking it was dirty, the amount of hair and dust that the vacuum picked up was disgusting. So much so that the dust contained was nearly full after only a few minutes.
Moving onto our bedroom carpets, the vacuum continued to perform well. There was a noticeable difference in the carpets, which unfortunately only served to show up some stains and marks more obviously. The vacuum picked up the pile at the door wells, areas that previously looked quite worn and flat.
Even on our hardwood flooring in the lounge and kitchen, the vacuum gives great results, picking up every bit of dust and hair first time.
If I had to mention any complaints about the performance of the vacuum it would have to be the cord length. Although advertised at 7m I found it a little short. I don't think we have massive rooms, although our bedroom is quite wide and the cord only just stretched to the end of the room. Perhaps not a big thing as it is easy enough to unplug it and move to a more convenient plug socket, but it ay be worth baring in mind if you have to do this every time.
The vacuum came with a number of accessories including a crevice tool, dusting brush and a 1.5m extension hose and a further extension handle. Like I mentioned earlier in the review, the handle has an integrated tool holder with dedicated spaces for each of these accessories so hopefully there will be no lost tools in the near future.
I rarely find a need to use the tools as the vacuum does seem to clean from wall to wall, however using the crevice tool really does get into any hard to reach spots and does so without any loose of suction.
Emptying the dust container is quite simple too. Simply press a button on the front of the machine to release the container, twist the lid to the right to unlock it then pull out the filter which also brings out all the dust, hair and everything else that has been sucked up. Personally the Monica in me likes to keep my vacuum clean and tidy, so I often wash out the dust container every time it has been emptied. This was easy enough as it is a perfect cylindrical space, meaning that there are no awkward to clean areas, and is also easy to dry using a clean towel.
The machine is made from a heavy plastic, which seemed a little fragile whilst I was building it, however once it was built and in action, it did seem to be of a high quality and a sturdy machine, so I have no worries about it breaking in the near future.
And so, onto the final important detail - the price! We bought ours from Argos where it is normally sold for £117.39; however it was on offer for the bank holiday weekend and was reduced to £46.95, better than half price! It is also available from Amazon for £59.
All in, I'm very happy with the Vax VS-190APP Swift Pet Premium vacuum cleaner. I'm giving this machine 5 stars overall, although I only award 4 stars for ease of use due to the length of the power cord.
I'd recommend this for anyone that requires a powerful, bagless vacuum cleaner without the price tag of a Dyson.
Powergen is now known as E.on and this is my experience of E.on.
We decided to switch electricity suppliers in August 2008, and after using a few comparison sites and visiting suppliers website, we decided to go with E.on, both as they were the cheapest and had the added benefit of Tesco Clubcard points on my monthly spend.
The registration process with E.on was quite easy, requesting the usual details (name, address, email address, phone number and bank details) and details of my meter number and supply number from my current electricity supplier.
Unfortunately our supply number and meter number didn't match on their system, so rather than coming back to us to check the numbers we gave them, they chose which number to go with, without paying any reference to our address.
A few months later, we received a letter from our old electricity supplier saying that we owed them over £400 as we had cancelled our direct debit. Obviously thinking we were with E.on we immediately phoned to complain to be told that they had received no notice from E.on to take over our account.
Back to E.on, they quickly agreed that they were not our electricity supplier, especially as every time they entered our meter number into their system it was bringing up details of an account holder in England (we live just outside Glasgow) and probably in a breach of the Data Protection Act, told us the name and address of the people that they thought they were providing electricity too.
E.on raised an erroneous transfer to cancel the account they had and refund all payments we had made to them in order that we could then pay the correct electricity supplier and then start the process again for E.on to take over the account.
Once again we gave them our meter number, supply number and address, and once again E.on mucked it up. This time they took over our neighbours supply! Once again an erroneous transfer was started, although this time we hadn't paid any money to E.on.
Talking to Scottish Power we found out that the problem seemed to stem from when our apartments were built, the electricity meters were put into different apartments from where they were planned so the meter that was supposed to be in our flat ended up in our neighbours. A few months later the mistake was noticed and all the meters in the building were checked to identify exactly which meter was in which flat.
Supposedly electricity suppliers have access to some system that shows the meter number in every property in the UK, so when our meter number didn't match the system, instead of looking into the address details, they took over the supply they assumed was ours, even though if they looked at the system in more detail they would have saw that the meter number had been changed a few months after the record was created.
Scottish Power also said they had a new tariff that would save us money (about 40% cheaper!) so given the poor service we had received from E.on we decided to stay with Scottish Power and cancelled the transfer to E.on.
We told E.on this on the phone and in writing, and told Scottish Power to reject any attempts by E.on to take over the account. For weeks, E.on kept sending us letters asking for meter readings, and other information. Eventually the letters changing to 'Sorry you're going' letters. Finally we were free of E.on. This was in February 2009.
This week, we received a final demand from E.on saying we owed £539.42! Once again we were straight onto the phone to E.on, where a rather condescending girl (she sounded about 12) said we had not responded to any emails we had been sent requesting money and denied that they had any other accounts in our name that showed a refund had previously been made. Even when we gave her our meter number which still didn't match the one they had taken over, she said I was making up the meter number to avoid paying what we owed!
Speaking to her manager, we were told that E.on had 5 accounts for us, yes 5! After a long conversation it appeared that E.on had taken over the original account again (for the people living in England) even though their details were nothing like ours.
E.on were claiming that the £539.42 was due for January and February 2009 (they must think we live in a mansion to use that much electricity in 2 months) and even said that although E.on thought they were supplying a house in England, we were still due to pay the bill!
Eventually the manager saw sense and realised that if they weren't supplying us, we weren't due to pay them anything. The charges have supposedly been written off and another erroneous transfer been raised. We should, hopefully, receive a letter in the next few days confirming that the account has been cancelled and confirming that our credit rating will not be affected as we had not missed any payments.
From my experiences, I would not recommend E.on - it just goes to prove that the cheapest does not always represent best value. If you want to reduce your energy costs, your first call should be to your current suppliers to see if they can offer a better tariff that suits the way that you wish to manage your account and the way you use energy.
As I stated previously, our electricity bill reduced by nearly 40% just by changing tariff as a special tariff was available for our meter that gives us 18 hours of off peak power a day.
E.on may be a good supplier once the account has been set up, but if you chose to go with them, I'd recommend that you check, double check and check again every detail to ensure that they have actually taken over the correct supply. It'll save you a hell of a lot of trouble in the future.
I have given E.on one star, purely because I can't give them no stars.
I first heard of Graze boxes from someone in my work a few weeks ago, and he was raving on about how convenient they were and how they made it easier to have your 5 portions of fruit and veg a day as each box is at least two of your five a day.
The theory behind Graze is that snacking should be, and can be, healthy. Snacking on healthy natural foods gives a slow energy release throughout the day, whereas snacking on a bar of chocolate for example will give you a fast energy boost, then a slump as your sugar levels fall again.
Each box comes with three punnets; the large punnet which always contains fresh fruit; the medium punnet which can contain a special dried fruit mix or something from the entire range; and the small punnet which contains nuts, seeds, dried fruit or natural treats. If you wish, the medium punnet can contain olives, although there is a 50p surcharge for this option.
To sign up, visit the website (www.graze.com) where after a simple registration process and then start designing your ideal box. Whilst you don't get to choose the particular items in your box, you can rate their products, so if you hate pineapple you can click 'Bin It' on the website and they won't send any. Other rating options are 'Love It', 'Like It' or 'Try It'. The higher you're rating the more regularly you will be sent that particular item. You can also choose which day of the week that you want to receive your box - any day from Tuesday to Saturday. They don't do Monday deliveries as the boxes would need to be in the post on the Saturday and may not arrive in a great condition.
An easier option is to choose one of their nutritional boxes. Choose from 'Eat Well', 'Energy', 'Well Being', 'Pre Workout', or 'Post Workout' each of which is designed to give the nutrients required to help your body at particular times.
The night before my box was due for delivery, I received an email to say that it was on its way, and letting me know what to expect. In my first box I was to receive fresh pineapple, fire nuts and dried raspberries.
On the day of delivery I eagerly anticipated my delivery. Sure enough, the postman came with a small brown box which fit easily through our letterbox. The box itself was sturdy enough to cope with being knocked around in the postal system, and protected the contents very well.
I did wonder what the fresh fruit would be like after it had been in the postal system overnight. Would it be soggy? Dried out? Past its best? There was no need for me to worry though - there was an absorbent sleeve that draws out any moisture in the box. I also read on the website that any fruit that goes brown after its cut (i.e. apple) is washed in a special mix of vitamins and minerals to keep it fresh.
Opening the punnet of pineapple, there was a lovely smell of freshly cut pineapple, which was still crunchy and juicy. It was sweet without being overly sweet and had been well prepared with no sign of any skin left on.
The fire nuts were not to my taste. They consisted of hot chilli almonds, cashews and wasabi coated peanuts. I'm not really a fan of hot food, and these were hot, hot, hot! I guess the name, fire nuts, should really have given me a clue.
My small punnet of dried raspberries were very tasty, my only complaint being that they the punnet was too small! Strangely they didn't really taste like fresh raspberries but they were very sweet, chewy and just lovely!
Also in the box was a bamboo fork for use with the pineapple and a brown paper napkin. There was also a card giving nutritional information on each of the items I received, which is very good for anyone watching the calories. I also received some discount vouchers to give to friends.
Graze states on their website that they try to source as many of their products as possible from the UK, although they do have to buy some stock in from abroad. Buying from the UK obviously supports the UK economy and has the added benefit of the food having travelled fewer miles, being better for the environment and getting to the end consumer soon after it was picked. Graze also uses organic foods where they taste best, although they do state that not all products are organic. All products are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
I did wonder why a company that concentrates on nutritional and healthy benefits would use cardboard boxes for there packaging. However after a quick look on the website I see that the cardboard comes from sustainable forests, is 100% biodegradable and can obviously be recycled. Likewise, the skewers are made from untreated bamboo which is one of the fastest growing plants which even when cut will grow back. Therefore you can be assured that while you're doing your bit for your health, you aren't doing so at the detriment of the environment.
So, all in, I'd say that Graze boxes are a very convenient way of eating fresh fruit and healthy snacks, especially as they can be delivered straight to your office, home or any other location you prefer.
However, at the cost of £2.99 a box, it probably is cheaper to visit your local health food shop, such as Holland & Barrett and pick up some healthy snacks in bulk and make up your own healthy snacking boxes. Of course, this won't be as convenient, but it will be cheaper in the long run.
Another downside to Graze is that they are entirely at the mercy of the postal service. If they have a wildcat strike, your box could be delayed and the fresh fruit ruined. Similarly, any delays in delivery could mean the fresh fruit will be past its best before it arrives.
For the next few weeks I think I will get a Graze box each week, mainly to try out different foods, but once I've got a good idea of the snacks that I like, I'll be paying a visit to a health shop and only having Graze boxes as an occasional treat.
Graze boxes cost £2.99 which includes the cost of delivery, or £3.49 if you also want olives. There is no contract to sign up for, and you can cancel or change your deliveries at any time. As part of the registration process you do have to give your debit or credit card details, but no charge is ever made until your box has been despatched.
However, if you want to give Graze a try for free, send me a message and I can give you a code for a free box. Note that this is a referral code so I will receive a choice of £1 off my next box or £1 charity donation to Rainforest Alliance.
It is only in the last few years that I have become aware of the proliferation of pound shops along every high street in Britain. It may have been the case that these shops existed before in small towns or in back streets, but now they are everywhere.
Poundland is probably the biggest chain of pound shops, having over 200 stores throughout the UK, not bad when you consider that the company was only founded in 1990.
Most stores I have been in broadly have the same layout and same product range, starting with batteries, blank CDs, a selection of films, toiletries, pet food, kitchen utensils and crockery, toys, stationery and food items. They also do seasonal products, including bedding plants at the moment.
The best thing about Poundland is the price - everything is a pound! Though this doesn't stop some people, mainly of a certain age, going up to staff members and asking "How much does this cost, son?"
The best value products I find are in the toiletries range, with food products coming a close second. Whilst some products are branded Poundland products, a lot of the toiletries are brand names, such as Herbal Essences, so these can be around half the RRP.
Similarly I think some of the food products are great value, especially the crisps and drinks. This morning I bought a multipack of Disco crisps (9 packs) and 4 cans of juice (Pepsi, Vimto, 7 Up and Tango) and only spent £2!
Although every product is advertised at £1, there are a few things that you need to buy in multiples; such as cans of juice. Each can is £1, but buy four and you effectively get three for free. Buy only one can, and you still pay £1.
So there are the pro's of Poundland. Are there any cons?
I often find the stores to be untidy, with stock lying about the floor, especially on weekends. This is not because the staff don't care, but they are so busy putting stock out and serving on the tills, that they don't have time to arrange stock neatly.
Avoid weekends or lunchtimes if you possibly can. The queues can be massive. Luckily I have to admit that queues do move quickly, but I quickly lose patience standing in a queue for five minutes to buy something at a pound.
This point only applies to food and drink products, but in the past I have noticed that some products have only a short shelf life - in some cases only a few days. This is fine for the majority of the foodstuffs that they sell, but be careful if you're buying anything to store in case of any unexpected visitors. I have to say however that the best before dates have been getting much better of late.
Lastly, Poundland is not always the great value that it seems at first. It can be cheaper buying from supermarkets when they have the product on offer, for example Buy One Get One Free. Also some of the biscuit ranges can be bought a few pence cheaper in the supermarkets at there regular price.
So Poundland has both advantages and disadvantages, but then again which shop doesn't? To use the accountant jargon, you need to do a cost benefit analysis - are you willing to pay extra for a tidy shop floor, or are you happy to pay less and receive less service for the five minutes you are in the shop?
All in all, I think Poundland is a great shop. It's not the sort of place I would visit on a weekly basis, rather I would go there when I need a particular thing, such as toiletries, or household cleaning products, but I would sorely miss them were they to close.
Twitter is a 'social networking' internet site, where users 'twitter on' about what they're doing. Now when thinking about writing a review of Twitter, I decided to look up a dictionary to find out what 'twitter' actually meant.
The dictionary definition of twitter is:
- Verb (used without object)
1. to utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird
2. to talk lightly and rapidly, especially of trivial matters; chatter
3. to titter; giggle
4. to tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter
- Verb (used with object)
5. to express or utter by twittering
6. an act of twittering
7. a twittering sound
8. a state of tremulous excitement
Given the above definition, Twitter definitely falls within option 2 above. The site is perfect for short updates on what's happening and is an easy way to let your friends, or followers, know what you're up to. I believe that the word for people who twit is Twitterers; but for convenience I shall abbreviate this to 'twits' (or 'twats').
Now, I admit, I do have a Twitter page, but after a few days I quickly got bored of it, mainly because of the trivial nature of the posts, or tweets if you want to use the technical jargon. For example:
07:36 Just having breakfast; tea and toast
07:40 Finished breakfast, satisfied now
07:43 Popping to toilet, gotta run, back soon
07:55 Back @ pc
08:02 Are u hearing that news on GMTV?!?!?! Unbelievable!!!
08:05 Work starts in 56 minutes - should get ready
08:08 Phone just rang, wrong number
08:09 Katy, I'll text you later, favour to ask
...and so it goes on...and on...and on... and.... well, you get the picture.
I kid you not, the above posts are real! Who in their right mind would actually have thought that anyone else would be interested in such mundane things? Although I do have to admit, the nosey parker in me is wondering what the news on GMTV was and that favour he has to ask of Katy!
Using the site was easy enough; a simple registration process, choose a username and off you go, tweetering away until your heart is content - or you get bored tweeting to yourself, whichever comes first.
Personally I think that one of the main downfalls of Twitter is that tweets are limited to 140 characters, that's even less than this one sentence! I'm not a politician but I find it hard to say anything in less than 140 characters; it's as daft as the 150 minimum word limit on here for premium reviews, a review of 150 words is of no use.
Unlike other social networking sites, you don't have friends; you have followers although not in some scary stalker type fashion. These followers can follow you and see any tweets that you make, providing of course that they are also sitting in front of their computer like Johnny No Mates at the time you send the tweet.
One of the 'advantages' of Twitter is that 'twits' can use their mobile phone to go onto the site and post tweets, as long as they have an internet enabled mobile phone of course. Forgive me if I'm a bit stupid, but would it not be easier just to pick up your mobile and text you friends? It's quicker, they can get the message wherever they are and whatever they are doing and you can say a lot more than the 140 character limit of Twitter.
Now don't get me wrong, I can see an advantage in social networking sites - they allow users to communicate with friends from far afield; it's a cheap way of staying in touch; rekindle old acquaintances.
However it is for close friends where such social networking sites fail in my opinion. Indeed calling them social networking should really be against the Trade Description Act as they are really 'anti social networking sites'. Surely being social is about interacting with other people, not living out a virtual reality life?
Hands up now, if you had some really important news, such as getting engaged or finding out your pregnant, would you rather tell people face to face or over the internet? Ok, so it will not be possible to meet everyone face to face, but surely the internet would be the lowest priority? Personally if I found out my best friend was getting married from a site such as Twitter I would be offended; even a text is more personal as they have taken the time to send you a message, even if it is a group text.
I'm only 28 (please refrain from bitchy comments saying I look more like 48 please!) but I guess I'm just old fashioned, preferring to get together with my friends in the real world and find out what they have been up to.
I look forward to Friday/Saturday nights in the pub or in the house with friends, sharing experiences and having a laugh.
I look forward to seeing their holiday photos and hearing about various places they've been and the things they tried.
I look forward to getting out the house and into other people's company.
I look forward to parties and getting to make new friends and meeting up with old acquaintances.
Sitting by myself in front of a computer screen twittering away of a Friday night does not grab my attention quite as much. Actually it just doesn't grab my attention at all.
Twitter - the poor mans text service
My name is David and I have a weight problem.
Unlike most people, my problem is not with being overweight, but having a fast metabolism which means I struggle to put on weight. So, what am I doing reviewing Weight Watchers? Well my partner is currently on the Weight Watchers diet, along with my mother and with a little help from them, here is my review.
SO WHAT IS WEIGHT WATCHERS?
Weight Watchers is a calorie controlled diet where the dieter counts points for everything that is consumed. When you first join Weight Watchers you are given a blue folder which gives recipe ideas, and an easy to use point's calculator that is on a laminated card, making it easy to carry about with you.
Each diet plan is tailored to the individual, with the number of points a person can consume being calculated with reference to their age, sex, height, weight, and activity levels. Therefore the bigger you are, the more points you have, but as your weight comes down, your points will also decrease. However as you increase your activity levels (i.e. through exercise, walking etc), you can gain bonus points, called activity points.
Weight Watchers have a number of different plans, all based around points, the current scheme being the Discovery plan.
There are also Weight Watchers meetings throughout the UK and further afield, where you have a weekly weigh in followed by encouragement and support, the aim being that this should encourage you to eat healthier.
Weight Weighter's have a wide range of meals and snacks, available from most supermarkets, the benefit of these meals is that they all display a points value which saves you having to calculate the number of points per meal.
Where the points value is not known, the points can be calculated from the calories and saturated fat. The general idea is that the lower the calories and saturated fat, the lower the points. There are also zero point foods, such as certain vegetables and sugar free jelly that you can have an unlimited amount of without the points building up.
So now you know the general idea of the plan, I've decided to rope in my partner, Scott, for an interview.
So Scott, how are you finding Weight watchers?
Surprisingly easy. It's the only diet that I've been on that I can eat what I want and have a social life. That's that only reason I've stuck it this far. All the other diets I've been on have failed for me as they have been quite restrictive and as I am quite a stubborn person I don't let anything interfere with my life. The thing with Weight Watchers is that is has actually improved my life.
Is it easier to stick to than other diets?
Do you feel hungry when on the diet?
Yes, but when I'm feeling hungry I'm still allowed to eat. With Weight Watchers I am retraining my metabolism to expect three meals a day and not pick so much. I have found when eating 3 meals a day I am actually eating more rather than before when I was skipping breakfast, having a quick sandwich at lunch then a big portioned dinner, but snacking on unhealthy snacks throughout the day. Because of my three meals a day, I don't feel the need to snack as much.
How do you find the classes?
Brilliant. If it wasn't for the classes I wouldn't have stuck to it. The great thing about the classes is that it becomes a game. The aim of the game is to lose as much as possible in your weigh in. Another great thing is the talks - I find them motivational, inspiration and at times even perspirational (only kidding, Ed!) - not at all what I thought, I guess I was expecting the meeting leader to be like Little Britain's Marjory Dawes.
Do you have any tips for fellow weight watchers?
It's true what they say about using all your points - one week I stayed on salads and zero point soups, no alcohol, no treats, went to the gym most days and after a long and miserable week, I lost the grand total of nothing! The following week I ate sensibly and attended a wedding where much alcohol was consumed, and managed to lose 4 lbs. The only difference was that over the course of the week I used all my points.
Is it working for you?
Yes, I've lost over 37lb's in 9 weeks - far more than I have lost on other diets.
Would you recommend the plan to others?
Definitely. In fact I already have done so to some of my fat friends (of course there much fatter than me!)
At this point, the interview had to stop as it was time for more points. Thanks Scott.
To join the weekly classes costs £5.95 per week, or £17.95 for a monthly pass. I think there is also a registration fee, but there are generally vouchers available online that entitle the holder to free registration, and sometimes a couple of weeks free meetings.
Apart from the meetings, there is also an online community on the Weight Watchers website, where users can share diet tips, menu ideas and give general support and encouragement to others.
Now that I've mentioned most of the plus points of Weight Watchers, I feel I need to balance these with the negatives. I'm sure however you'll be glad to know that the negatives are few.
Firstly, as you need to calculate points on all your food, you end up making your own meals after weighing each of the ingredients. This means that we often don't eat together, and it is more expensive than cooking one meal between us.
The Weight Watchers meals are also more expensive than their high calorie/high saturated fat competitors. However, Tesco do a range of meals in competition with Weight Watchers that are considerably cheaper, but also show the Weight Watchers points value.
Lastly it can be difficult finding things to have for lunches during the week. If your office doesn't have an oven or microwave, your options are mainly limited to sandwiches and salads. These are ok in the summer but not for the cold winter days.
SOME DIET TIPS
Firstly don't look at it as a diet; it's a change of eating habit. You can still have whatever you fancy; you just need to have the right balance. If you fancy a burger, have it, but cut back on other things. If you have a night out planned, you can still have a drink, but go for the lower calorie drinks.
Before having a meal, have an apple or a bowl of vegetable soup. These will help fill you up and will cost you few, if any, points.
All in all, I think Weight Watchers is one of the best diets available. It's less of a diet and more of a change in lifestyle, learning to make healthier choices in food, eating a balanced diet and encouraging more exercise.
Certainly from my perspective, it is an easier diet than others - he certainly isn't as grumpy as he has been with other diets, especially when he tried the Cambridge diet and couldn't eat any solids!
The points system has got me thinking. If you stick to a certain number of points according to your weight, size, and activity levels, and you lose weight, would you gain weight if you exceed your recommended points?
In the interest of scientific research I have decided to put this theory to the test. So far, I have put on.... drum roll please... 1lb in only three weeks! Ok, so my weight gain over three weeks could be purely coincidence, so I feel I must continue my research for the foreseeable future. It has been a lot of hard work, sweat, tears, tiaras and tantrums but I feel that I have to continue this research on behalf of the Dooyoo community. Now...where are those cream cakes?!?!
For more information, visit the website www.weightwatchers.co.uk