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On my first visit to Berlin I was anxious to help my children understand the most pivotal events that made the city what it is today. A visit to Checkpoint Charlie seemed to be a must on the tourist route, so this was our first stop. Checkpoint Charlie is surrounded by Museums, bits of the Berlin Wall and wall remnants with outdoor exhibitions, but the large cylindrical 360 degree panorama exhibition dominated and I was eager to look inside.
~~ What is the Berlin Panorama Wall ? ~~
Called Die Mauer, this huge steel cylindrical building looks a lot like a funfair ride. In fact it is a cleverly constructed artistic representation of the Berlin wall of the 1980s, re-created by the artist Yadegar Asisi.
The panorama is a temporary exhibition and runs from September 2012 to the end of 2013. Once inside, you find yourself in an echoing and rather chilly black room , surrounded by the Berlin wall of the late 1980s, with a selection of full size inhabitants, tourists and passers-by projected onto the walls.
The walls of the panorama are 60 metres long and 15 metres high, and a scaffolding platform has been erected on one side. This is meant to give the visitor the feeling of climbing up onto the balcony of one of the houses on the West side of the wall. From the balcony (and indeed from ground level) you can see over the wall into the death strip with all of the armed guards patrolling inside. You can also see over the wall into East Berlin and it is clear how the road comes to an abrupt stop as the wall dissects it.
When we visited in mid April the place was pretty empty and there were no queues at all. After purchasing our tickets we walked into the lobby - with TV screens and mime artists depicting the wall; an invitation for visitors to put their thoughts on a wall and to become involved in the graffiti decoration that makes the Berlin Wall special; and a variety of stands giving information about the Berlin Wall. I made use of some of the most useful information in the lobby on the way out; the boys asked why the wall was set up and I found the maps of post war Berlin on the walls really useful for explaining how the Allied troops were in charge of sectors of Berlin on the West side, and the Soviet troops on the East side.
Walking out of this lobby and into the rotunda, we were plunged into darkness with a variety of German broadcasts coming over the loudspeakers. This really set the scene and gave us the atmosphere of Berlin during that time, creating an atmospheric background of chatter, motor vehicles and over the top of it speeches and broadcasts in German. I do not speak German but still enjoyed the sound effects, which included the JFK speech about the creation of the wall.
We found it easy to spend at least 30 minutes in the panorama
As we watched the light faded and darkness fell, hiding the passers-by and illuminating the guards in their watch towers and under the spotlights. Gradually dawn broke and daylight returned - all adding to the realism of the scene.
I was very glad that I had taken the time to go into this atmospheric exhibition. It gave me a real feel of what it must have been to visit the Wall when it was still standing and I thought it was an invaluable bit of historical recreation.
As soon as he walked in, my 17 year old son stopped and looked confused. He thought that the creators had got things wrong because all of the photos depicted people in modern dress. It's amazing what even a 17 year old doesn't know - he thought the Wall was another one of those artefacts from ancient history and it gave me a great opportunity to explain that it only came down in the year his brother was born. I could make it real for him by describing the euphoria of the German people that I saw on the news every night and to let him know what a great world event the fall of the wall was.
It really sparked his interest in German history and from there it was easy to show him the maps of the division of Germany after WW2 and to explain how each of the allies were responsible for a different sector. We looked at the stories of everyday people who had lost their lives trying to cross over the wall and it was easy for all of us to imagine the terror of crossing that space.
I hope the exhibition stays up for longer than the currently planned end of year - and I will look out for other Assisi panoramas as I travel in future.
~~Costs and Opening times~~
Entry is 10E Adult
5 E child
The panorama is open 10am - 6pm every day
Address: Friedrichstrasse 205
Ollie my Cocker Spaniel has beautiful ears, but as his coat gets longer and longer they start to knot horribly and my best friend starts to look at me with a little less adoration in his eyes as I approach him with the grooming brush.
I usually resort to the nail scissors and metal comb to cut the knots out, but on a recent visit to my local pet supermarket I spied a selection of knot hooks in the grooming section and decided to give it a go. What a good decision!
This little tool is a bit mystifying at first and I was not convinced that it would work. It measures 16cm in length and is satisfyingly chunky in the hand. The handle is made of a hard shiny blue plastic with two grey areas at either side which have a much better grip.
There are 5 rounded hooks in a row at the end and in between each rounded hook are small metal combs. The only way I can describe these combs is that they each look as if they have 4 fingers and each finger points in a different direction.
I was not at all convinced that this tool would work. It did not look sharp and I could not see how it could cut through the rather large knots that Ollie had acquired.
I actually threw the knot buster into a cupboard unopened and forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Then, whilst grooming and trying to cut the knots out of a squirming, whining Ollie and starting to lose my temper, I suddenly remembered it.
The instructions say to separate the knot out first and then, holding it away from the body, comb through. Well, Ollie was past staying still, and I had lost patience, so I just used the knot buster as I would a normal comb. Amazing! Peace and harmony were restored, the knot buster glided through the fur, taking the knots out easily and leaving them impaled on the blades. If Ollie could smile he would have been beaming. He liked it ... I liked it!
I was a bit worried that after my enthusiastic use on Ollie's ears and the removal of so many knots, his coat would look a bit ragged and tatty - but my fears were unfounded and it actually improved the look of his coat, thinning it out and making it look smoother and shinier.
I have come to the conclusion that this is the dog groomers' secret weapon and I am really glad that I gave it a go. It will mean that Ollie is happier and more comfortable and that I don't have to struggle to keep his coat brushed when it starts to grow out.
There is a warning on the packet regarding the sharp blades but I found this to be very safe to use and think that the chances of cutting either myself or Ollie when using it are very slim.
I paid £5.29 for my knot buster at Partners Pets and I believe that replacement blades can be bought although I haven't had to do this yet. The tool is recommended for dogs with wiry, curly and long coats. Ollie has long and curly hair and it was perfect for him. I now use the tool to generally thin Ollie's coat between his twice yearly clipping as well as to remove specific knots.
I am so glad that I bought this tool and now I really couldn't do without it.
Although I have been to Lyme Regis many times for day trips, this year was the first time I decided to turn my visit into a proper holiday. I travelled with my book group and decided to rent a holiday home rather than a hotel. We all wanted separate bedrooms, ideally with en-suite bathrooms - so I was delighted to find Mermaid House; a large five bedroom house in the very centre of Lyme Regis.
We stayed for three nights and were extremely happy with our decision to avoid hotels. The house was in a lovely location and it was spacious and clean. The only negative points are that there was no parking at all close to the house - but we were prepared for this and were happy to sacrifice parking for the opportunity to stay in the heart of the town.
~~Booking and arrival ~~
I found the house through a simple Google search and booked through Lyme Bay Holidays - a local company which I would highly recommend. Availability was clearly indicated on their website and it was easy to make a simple deposit to secure the house. The deposit was £236 and the balance was paid online closer to our departure date.
There was a lot of friendly email communication before our stay, with detailed instructions about the house and locality. On the day of arrival we were directed to Lyme Bay Holidays Offices where we were greeted by the staff. They all seemed to be smartly dressed men and were really charming and welcoming. We got two sets of keys for our group and clear directions about the car parks nearby. We were told to phone or pop back into the office if there was anything at all wrong.
~~ House ~~
The house was a large Victorian property but although it fronted directly onto the road there was an alleyway leading up inside the house to the large front door. This meant that, although it was slightly tricky stopping the car on a narrow road, we could quickly unload the bags and then drive up to the nearby car park.
Stepping inside the front door we saw a large staircase straight ahead which led upstairs to the lounge and bedrooms. To the right there was a large but rather gloomy dining room which seemed very formal for our group. To the left there was a bright and cosy kitchen diner which led to a large kitchen and beyond this another bedroom with a shower and toilet.
We didn't use the dining room at all during our stay, although it had a lovely large table and XX chairs, it seemed a bit formal for our little group. We preferred to sit in the breakfast room to eat; a lovely, cheerful light room with a digital radio and CD player that suited our informal chatter. The table in this room had a long bench in front of the window and several chairs around the other side, making it big enough for our group. In addition there was a bench style sofa just next to the table which was ideal for sprawling and chatting. It really was a very cosy relaxing and meeting place.
The spacious kitchen was just behind the kitchen diner and included absolutely everything we would need for the stay (large sink, dishwasher, beautiful range cooker, very large fridge freezer and a full complement of cooking utensils). A tea towel was supplied with some dishwasher tablets and washing up liquid to keep us going. The kitchen had a side window looking out to the side passage but we were not overlooked by the house next door as our privacy was protected by high fence.
The back door led to a patio area with large recycling bins. Further down a narrow path led to a spiral metal staircase which went up to a seating area sitting on top of the extension. There was a garden table and chairs on this seating area, but it may not be a good choice for a family with small children as it was high up and accessed by a steep staircase. There was no outdoor play area for children and this compared poorly to the house next door which had a large raised lawn area with garden furniture.
On the other side of the kitchen was a rather isolated double bedroom. This was an obvious extension to the house and had very large windows. However it was bright and cheerfully decorated and suited one of our party very well as she likes to be away from other people at night. It would not be suitable for a small child as it really is a long way away from the other bedrooms.
The main living room for the house is on the first floor, which I think is a lovely idea. While the downstairs dining room is a dark room with frosted windows to protect you from nosy passers-by, the upstairs lounge is light and beautiful, with lovely views over the town through both windows. The windows themselves are a feature of the room, with window seats to the very thick walls of the house; sunshine streams into this room during the day and lots of ambient lighting at night make it really cosy. There was plenty of room for us all to sit; two large leather sofas and an assortment of comfortable armchairs around a coffee table. There was also an old Victorian fireplace with gas effect coals, but sadly we had no matches!
There were two bedrooms on this first floor; one twin with en-suite and one double with en-suite. On the top floor there was a triple room and a double room with a shared bathroom between them. As the trip organiser I had the best room in the house; the double room with en-suite on the first floor. It was beautifully decorated and very comfortable. A window looked out onto the garden; there was a large wardrobe, radio, TV and two side lights on small side tables. There was a hair dryer in the room and I think there was one in every bedroom, but did not confirm this. The en-suite had a heated towel rail, a new looking shower cubical and a toilet. All new and in very good working order with excellent decoration. The flow from shower very good and the water was always hot.
It was a cold weekend when we stayed, but one of the biggest pluses of the house was clear heating and water controls. There were no restrictions on the amount of time we had the heating and water on and a large hot water tank kept us going for 7 showers in the morning - on one occasion it did run out, but we could easily put the water on again and it heated up for another shower in less than 30 minutes.
The location of the house could not be better. A one minute walk to the main street, the museum and the sea; the house was right next to a lovely vegetarian restaurant and a very tempting jewellery shop.
~~ Cost ~~
Our three night stay cost £669 plus £13 booking fee. I had to give the agency £100 deposit via my credit card but this was quickly returned to me via the same card once we had checked out.
Towels were not included in the price but could be requested for a little extra money. The price included all heating and cleaning. The house can sleep 12 in total and as such is very good value.
I have no hesitation in recommending this house. Although the thought of having nowhere to park is a little daunting at first, it was not a problem at all. The car park was a five minute walk up the hill and cost us £5 a day to park there. It was worth the slight inconvenience to have such a great location and I prefer this to staying further away from town with parking.
This summer I got a bit carried away in the Millets sale and not only bought myself a new tent, but also bought a new small tent for my two nearly grown up boys. The tent that tempted me was the Vango Alpha 300; the original price was £75 but it was reduced to £40 in the sale.
The Vango Alpha is sold as a three man tent and is very conveniently sized for a small tent that can easily be thrown into the boot of the car. My tent is a royal blue colour with orange luminous guy ropes and peg elastics that could easily be seen on a dark campsite. The tent has black trimmings that give it a smart look and is a dome style tent with a small porch area.
The sleeping area measures 80cm by 210cm and really is only big enough for two people, despite the labelling of a three man tent. As usual with small tents like this, the headroom is not enough to stand up in to change clothing etc. The height is 130cm at the highest point of the dome (about 4 foot 3 inches) - which means that a lot of stooping takes place inside.
The living area measures 190cm at its longest (triangular shaped) point by 180cm wide, which is large enough to store luggage but not large enough for a third person to sleep in. It has two plastic windows with privacy curtains which can be folded back for light. The groundsheet for the living area is attached to the sleeping area and attaches to the flysheet with toggles - in what is known as the 'bathtub' design that effectively keeps out flood water during heavy rain showers.
The whole tent folds up into a small carry bag which weighs just over 4 Kg and is 64 x 16 x 16cm
~~ Erecting my tent ~~
This tent is the type that erects the inner tent first. Unfolding the inner tent, you need to thread the two straight poles diagonally in a cross position through the pole sleeves. These are not colour coded but it is pretty obvious which ones to thread as the third pole has a bend in it.
The long poles are then inserted into the keys at each end and the inner tent is attached to the poles with clips.
Next you throw the outer tent over the inner tent and thread the longer bent pole through the porch area at the front and bang in the pegs and guy ropes.
The tent was quick to erect and fairly easy. It is always a bit fiddly to insert tensioned poles into the key attachments with just one person but it is not impossible. With a bit of running round from one side to the other I easily erected the tent on my own in under 15 minutes.
~~ Minuses ~~
I personally prefer a tent which allows you to erect the outer skin first. If you are pitching in rain or with an imminent storm it is very reassuring to be able to quickly put up the waterproof outer fly sheet and then chuck everything inside in the dry - to put up the inner tent at your leisure.
Alternatively, more modern tents are integral and the inner tent automatically erects inside the outer fly sheet with no decisions to be made. For a small tent, the original price of £75 is fairly pricey and I would have expected a bit more modernity in the design.
The porch area is a bonus, but really only useful to store bags. It is too small to cook in if it is raining, and not bit enough for a third person to sleep.
I would like to list the lack of headroom as a minus - but I have yet to find a small tent which has height enough to stand up inside, so this may be unfair. It does mean that anybody with a bad back will suffer from the continual stooping.
A minor irritation is that the pegs supplied are a bit thin and weedy. I have seen better quality pegs in my time. The poles made out of fibreglass - more expensive tents have steel poles less likely to break and shred but this is normal for cheaper tents.
My final minus is that this tent is advertised as a three man tent, which is really stretching the truth. Looking at web reviews I can see that I am not the only person who thinks that this tent is really only suitable for two people, not three.
~~ Positives ~~
On the positive side, this tent is easy to put up - one person can easily put it up on their own in just under 15 minutes, and two people can erect in just under 10 minutes.
The design has had some thought put into it, with the bathtub style groundsheet and inner tent storage pockets for mobiles, valuables, personal bits. I like the addition of a hook for holding a lantern or torch inside tent; something which is commonly found on larger models, but not always on the smaller designs.
Ventilation is good with an interior insect net on sleeping compartment to avoid excessive condensation as well as keeping bugs out - and a big vent in the porch door for summer air.
The colour of any tent is important - a canvas which is too light can wake you up at 4am in the summer, but this tent has a dark blue colour which keeps it moderately dark inside even in daylight hours.
In terms of portability the tent is nice and light to carry with a sturdy carry bag.
~~ Conclusion ~~
This tent is well made and a convenient size for a short camping trip. It is moderately waterproof and the design would keep some of the bad weather out.
For £40 I think this tent is good value for money, but there are better bargains to be had at the moment. For just a little more money it is possible to get a tent with a much more modern design - for example a sewn-in bathtub groundsheet rather than one which is held up by ineffectual toggles.
This is a basic tent which really is a 2 man tent and not a 3 man tent as advertised.
It is not a terrible design; it has not failed or broken - but I would recommend a little more research to hunt out something more modern. For just £10 or £20 more it is possible to get a much more technically designed tent that will give a better camping experience
Thursdays in the Park first came to my attention when I heard Hilary Boyd interviewed on Radio 4 - talking about the popularity of 'gran-lit' and romance among the over sixties. Although I felt that Mary Wesley had been down that road several years ago, I was interested enough to download Boyd's novel onto my Kindle - hoping for a light read that had characters that I could relate to.
~~ Plot ~~
Jeanie is 59 and just about to turn 60. Her life is calm and comfortable, with her husband George retired and pottering around with the clocks that are his hobby; a large house in central London and the beloved Healthfood shop that she runs on her own. She has been married to George for over 30 years and is happy with her lot, despite the sadness that always sits at the back of her mind. George has refused a sexual relationship with Jeanie for nearly a decade... but Jeanie comforts herself with the thought that many couples in the autumn of their lives accept this as the status quo. Instead, Jeanie spends her energies in running the shop and taking care of her "adorable" grand-daughter Ellie.
It is only when she bumps into another grandparent at the park that Jeannie starts to question her lot in life. She chats with Ray every week as each of them look after their respective grandchildren in the play park every Thursday. Ray is George's age but different from him in every way; Ray is kind, active and attractive - and he is clearly very attracted to Jeanie. Should Jeanie remain loyal to the man who has supported her for the past 30 years, or should she follow her instincts and find happiness with all of the excitement and adventure that Ray has to offer?
As we follow Jeanie's struggle between loyalty and love, the reader also starts to comprehend the undercurrents that run through Jeanie's life; the real reason that George left the marital bed all those years ago; the truth about her daughter Chanty's marriage; and the dilemmas that Jeanie herself has to face about becoming an OAP and accepting retirement.
~~ Opinion ~~
Hilary Boyd has written a real page-turner here, and I can see why Thursdays in the Park has topped the best-seller list for so long. It is a relief to read about characters that are not uniformly young, sexy and successful. Boyd's characters are comfortingly real: Jeanie is no gym goddess, but has lumpy thighs with cellulite; George is described as sometimes smelling stale and like an old man. There is no glamour here, but a very vivid description of real life and the dilemmas of getting older.
The character of Jeanie is particularly engaging; her guilt and self-doubt about the physical side of her relationship; the feelings she has about being an OAP and being repeatedly called 'Old Girl' by her husband; the sense of history and loyalty that she has after so many years of shared memories with George. All of this is beautifully and accurately described, until the reader is almost begging her to be a bit selfish and do what is best for HER for a change.
The other characters are also very well drawn, especially her son-in-law Alex who almost had me shouting at my Kindle. Alex is a sensitive artist who fails to take any responsibility in life and really does not deserve the unquestioning love that Jeanie's daughter Chanty has for him.
Perhaps the weakest character for me was the love interest ,Ray. Ray seems a little too perfect in this otherwise realistic portrayal. Ray is physically beautiful as an Akido teacher; he is humorous, sensitive and patient. A little too perfect and synthetic perhaps. The controversy in the book comes in Ray and Jeanie's strong sexual attraction. In a world where sex is all around us, thrust in our faces (so to speak) by the young, it seems almost scandalous to acknowledge that the over sixties can enjoy a teenage style sexual obsession. Ray's biggest attraction seems to be his sexuality - he is not rich, he is not exceptionally intelligent - but he does have what is described as a magnificent body, a wonderful seduction technique and pretty good sexual prowess.
~~ Conclusion ~~
Thursdays in the Park had me hooked from the start; I found the characters realistic and engaging and I found myself caring what happened to them, empathising with their thoughts and dilemmas. The plot is simple but really does get you obsessively turning pages. I would recommend this as a light read for people of any age - but I do think that more mature readers will see many echoes of their own lives, thoughts and feelings - and so would particularly recommend it for them.
This is unashamed gran-lit. It is about 'nice' middle class people and is a good yarn without getting into any serious issues. It gets 4 stars from me as an entertaining read.
Hilary Boyd is a relatively unknown writer. She is British and in her early sixties - but firmly denies any biographical elements to this book!
The success of Thursdays in the Park may primarily be because of E-book sales, where it has now sold more than 100,000 copies. Translation rights have been sold in France, Sweden, Finland and Germany and Charles Dance is negotiating to write, direct and star in the movie.
I bought my copy for Kindle for 20p but it currently sells in paperback on Amazon for £4.99
It was published by Quercus in 2012 and the paperback copy has 352 pages.
Although I have always been a fan of subtle lighting in the living room, as I get older I have found that I need a really good strong light to read or sew by ... and so I decided to buy what my son describes as my "old lady's lamp": a bright floor lamp which incorporates an uplighter and a smaller adjustable light for reading, etc.
After some research I was tempted by the Mayer Father and Child floor lamp from Homebase, reduced from £76.99 to £38.99 in the sale. Although some of the reviews mentioned a buzzing noise, and some complained of a poor finish, most of the reviews gave this lamp 5 stars as a solid and reliable floor lamp.
~~ Description ~~
I am not a big fan of the Mother (or Father) and child style of lamp, but this one caught my eye and seemed to be a little bit more attractive than the usual design. My lamp is made out of a golden brushed chrome colour which I find much more attractive than either black or silver. It stands really tall at 179cm - I have very high ceilings but I imagine that it would cast an even stronger light on the lower ceiling of a more modern house.
The large uplighter head measures a moderately large28cm across and has the added advantage of a clear bottom to the shade as well as the uplighter shade - thus giving a gentle downwards light as well as a strong upwards light. There are two upright poles to support the large uplighter head, rather than one single flimsy pole - and this gives it an unusual and slightly art deco look as well as making it much more stable. The smaller reading light sits on a flexible 10cm long brushed chrome stalk and measures 10cm across. There is a 5cm long handle on it to change the direction of the light without getting burned.
The two poles have a panel half way up which contain two dimmer switches - one for the reading light and one for the uplighter. The uplighter can be dimmed down from 230 watts to zero, and the reading light from 40 watts to zero.
The base of the lamp is made from nice shiny brushed steel with rounded edges and looks really attractive as well as being very stable. There is a long 28cm power cord which can be wound up and tucked away inside the base for tidiness.
~~ Assembly ~~
I would definitely recommend two people to assemble this lamp to avoid damage to the chrome. Long, cumbersome poles fly around, weighted down with heavy lamp heads attached, and the danger of them swinging out of control and hitting something can be avoided by another person supporting the heavy end as you tighten the nuts.
Assembly itself is fairly straightforward; the poles have the power cable already threaded through and just have to be joined together and attached to the uplighter and the base. A spanner and an Allen key are provided to tighten the nuts and the assembly leaflet is easy to follow.
~~ Am I pleased with it? ~~
The light cast from the uplighter is a very natural light similar to daylight - not yellow or golden but very white. This makes it great to use during dull days - my room is a naturally dark room and this white light really cheers us up and gets rid of any miserable dark winter thoughts.
The small directional reading light is an absolute godsend; I use it all the time and it means that I can sit with my family, pointing the bright light at my reading or sewing while they watch TV or game, without disturbing them at all. The flexible stem that holds the reading light is long enough to position it very precisely so that it can be pulled right over my shoulder and direct the light onto my book.
I love the fact that both lights are on dimmer switches. This makes the whole unit very easy to regulate and suitable for a variety of needs and times of the day. Despite the boys' initial horror, they now prefer to use the dimmed uplighter when they are watching TV or gaming.
I would recommend this lamp to anybody and am very happy to give it five stars. It is very sturdy and robust - it does not sway around like some of my IKEA floor lamps. I think it looks more stylish than a lot of father and child lamps that I have seen on the internet - and the finish has proved to be scratch resistant as well as attractive.
As a final note, several people have recently pointed out to me that this lamps absolutely eats up electricity - much more so than other lamps. This was a bit of a disappointment to me as I try to keep my fuel costs down and to be environmentally friendly - using economy bulbs in the rest of the house.
This is something to be aware of when buying, and may have put me off if I had realised before I bought it.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was an unlikely choice for me; the rather twee cover with illustrations of birds and worn out shoes; the cute line drawings at the beginning of each chapter; and the heartfelt comments from the Express and the Mail which really over-used the word 'charming'.... However this was the choice of one of my reading group, so I picked it up and gave it a go - a decision which I was very glad I made since, much against my expectations, I was indeed charmed, touched and enthralled by the gentle story of Harold Fry.
This novel plunges straight into action from the very first chapter. Harold Fry, an unassuming retired gentleman living in Kingsbridge, receives an unexpected letter from Queenie, an old work colleague. Her news is not good; she is terminally ill with cancer and she is saying her goodbyes. Struggling with unexpected emotion, Harold tries to pen a reply to her letter and goes out to the post box to send it off to her hospice in Scotland. It is then that his story really begins. Finding it impossible to post such a difficult and (to his eyes) inadequate missive, Harold decides to walk on to the next post box...and the next ... and the next - until he realised that almost without thinking, he has made the decision to walk from Devon to Scotland to deliver the letter himself.
This unexpectedly impulsive gesture from a traditional and un-impulsive man forms the heart of the book. Harold becomes convinced that the very act of walking to Scotland will help Queenie in some way - if not actually curing her of her cancer then prolonging her life in some way. Harold goes out with nothing - no waterproof, no mobile, no walking boots. In this way he is a true pilgrim, and the characters he meets during his long walk give his pilgrimage form and shape; some of them are broken; some of them are strong - but they all have their own stories to tell and Harold's gentle nature not only draws this out of them but also gives them comfort and hope. What gives this novel shape and depth for me is Harold's own story; his pilgrimage will change him in ways that nobody could guess and as he walks his own history gradually unravels like a twisted ball of string, bringing both trauma and perhaps eventually the peace that he craves.
I found myself enthralled by this novel, reading it compulsively and finishing it in a day. The language is simple but amazingly evocative and contains some beautiful descriptions of countryside and weather. Sometimes the repetitive nature of the narrative was slightly annoying; Harold walks, he meets a stranger, he moves on; he walks some more, meets another stranger, etc - but this was only a minor irritation.
The little hints and snatched scenes from Harold's past life that are dropped into his story as he walks and remembers give the reader small pieces of jigsaw that they start to build with. Gradually the real story of Harold emerges and it is this that makes compulsive reading - we come to understand that Harold and his wife Maureen are deeply unhappy and that they must resolve whatever has turned them from a happy, laughing young couple into sad older people who hardly speak to each other any more.
This book is saved from the twee, sugary tale that I assumed it would be by the realism of the story. I liked the revelations that Harold smelled - of course he did, he set off with no spare clothes or toothbrush; although descriptions of Harold's worn out loafers and the horrible blisters on his feet were a little nauseating at times, I was glad that he wasn't unrealistically skipping along like a 20 year old. A quote from The Pilgrim's Progress is at the very start of the book, leaving no doubt in the readers mind that this is a Bunyanesque allegory, and the suffering that Harold endures through his 600 mile walk gives authenticity to the word pilgrimage. Does his suffering make a difference to Queenie? All is revealed at the very end of the book but in many ways this does not matter - it is Harold's journey that is the focus of the narrative and the difference he makes to himself that is important.
Would I recommend this book? I find it difficult to decide. I obviously enjoyed it a lot as a quick and entertaining read, but it did have moments of irritation and slight boredom wrapped around the story. In conclusion, I liked the book but didn't love it, and to my own surprise have reached the conclusion that I would not read it again.
Rachel Joyce is a British author who has successfully written plays for Radio 4. This is Rachel Joyce's first novel and it was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize and shortlisted for the 2012 Desmond Elliott Prize.
My paperback copy was published by Black Swan in 2012 and has 364 pages.
Just over 6 months after buying my wellies, I have returned them to Joules. The rubber wore away at the joint of my foot and toe, resulting in several holes and a leak.
Joules assistants did not seem surprised at this and told me that they were 'fashion wellies' and not intended for dog walking in the park. At £40 this sounds ridiculous to me. After a long conversation I managed to get a replacement - but I am not happy and would now NOT recommend Joules willies under any circumstances. After minimal wear my willies were worn (with holes) and had lost their attractive finish (spots worn off and the finish completely spoiled)
After a year of being a dog owner I quickly realised that a good pair of comfortable wellies was an absolute essential in England. Wearing my wellies in summer and in winter, I need wellies that are comfortable and that I can step in and out of quickly. I chose Joules wellies on recommendation from a friend, as a product that had a little bit more comfort and were well designed.
I bought my Joules wellies on line for £32.95, reduced from £37.95 in the sale. I thought this was a good price for a pair of premium wellies: the options for me were a pair of Millets or Homebase basic boots for around £11, or a pair of Hunter wellies for around £70. This seemed like a good compromise.
Ordering from Joules was a complete and utter nightmare, even though the customer service was excellent. I tried for several days to order from the website, but found that it continually crashed just as I was about to pay.
Eventually I called Joules using the 0845 provided. When I got through I explained that this number was very expensive for Virgin landline users, and the friendly staff immediately offered to call me back immediately. I was really impressed by this.
Once I had spoken to a human being, I managed to order very quickly and was promised that the delivery would arrive within 4-7 working days. A week later nothing had come, so I called the expensive helpline again. I was told by a hesitant young lady that there had been trouble with the post and that my wellies would arrive soon. Four days later, still no wellies so I emailed to complain, but only received one email in reply saying that I had cancelled my order and was getting a refund. It turns out that this email had been sent in error and they really should have sent an apology, but I only found this out by calling the expensive 0845 number yet again.
The saga continued for the next 2 weeks. I did eventually get my wellies, after over 5 phone calls, 3 failed deliveries and 3 angry emails. The staff were really helpful and friendly throughout and compensated me with online gift vouchers. There was not really any explanation for the failed deliveries - so at the end of the day I am too cross with Joules, but would definitely go to my local outlet rather than ordering online again.
When the wellies eventually arrived I was delighted. They were beautifully packaged and felt as if they had been made from good quality materials. The rubber was soft and flexible and the tread fairly deep.
I am a size 7 and found that the sizing was excellent; the size 7 wellie was spacious - and nice and wide in the foot. The back of the wellie has a narrow heel which really grips my foot well and prevents slipping as I walk. The leg comes about three quarters up my calf - not as high as Hunters can be but still high enough to look attractive. The calf size is good - I have fairly wide calves but find that I can slip this wellie on easily when wearing tights or leggings. Pulling the wellie off is a little more difficult and I tend to use my boot pull when the boots are too muddy to hold. I am happy with the slight tightness as this makes the wellie a better fit and they don't slop and slip around when I am walking.
My wellie is the blue spot design, although Joules has many different colours and patterns to chose from. Medium size white oval spots cover the navy blue background to this wellie. There is a yellow stripe running down the back of the leg topped by a tab to help pull the wellie on - although I have never needed to use this. There is a false buckle for decorative purposes at each side - this does not adjust the size of the fit around the calf but does look attractive.
The soles are very thick and seem to be well crafted. There is a heavy duty reinforcement where the sole meets the leg of the boot, giving the wellie a sturdy look.
The sole is ridged and has a good grip - the heel is about half an inch. Inside the wellie there is a red and white striped lining with an insulating red and white striped insole that is not attached to the boot.
The boots have the red Joules label in rubber on the front and a slightly raised reinforcing band in blue around the top of the boot - to match the raised blue reinforcement of the sole.
The boot really is very attractive and the little details make it feel special.
I am a bit disappointed by the durability of these boots. I have worn them twice a day for about 3 weeks, but I can see that the rubber heel has already worn down at the outside edge and feel that it will not last for long.
The lovely soft insoles have turned out to be a curse. After about a minute of walking, the left insoles rides up and wraps itself around my heel. Although this is not too uncomfortable, it has an effect on the warmth of the wellie and means that my left foot is significantly colder than my right. I am going to try to return the wellies but may end up gluing the insole down instead.
There are many things I like about Joules wellies; they are comfortable and warm; they are attractive and unusual; they are light and easy to walk in. However, on the whole I would not recommend them. I feel that they are a fashion accessory rather than a sensible walking wellie. Although they are the softest, warmest , most well cushioned wellies that I have ever worn, I have no confidence that they will last and already little faults like the slippery insoles are driving me mad.
During my regular visits to Newcastle to see my son at the university, one of my favourite places to take him for a meal is the Pitcher and Piano. Although this restaurant is part of a large chain it is still a place that I would choose above the many others in Newcastle due to its wonderful location. This restaurant is one of the few that is right on the banks of the Tyne; sitting either inside or outside, you get a wonderful view and that sense of relaxation that looking at a river gives. The food in the restaurant is good, but the views and location are wonderful!
~~ The Restaurant ~~
This is a very modern building and as such has the flexibility to make the entire front wall completely out of glass, providing a beautiful and clear view of the River Tyne, the beautiful Millennium Bridge and across the river the shining Sage building and the Baltic art gallery. All in all it is a pretty impressive view and one which is just as beautiful at night, when the whole riverside and bridges are lit up by twinkling lights that reflect in the water.
Outside the restaurant has taken advantage of the location and put plenty of tables out - all of which are available for both eating and drinking, and take the customers very close to the water. Inside the area is light and airy, with a mezzanine first floor, a huge ground floor bar to the left and a slightly raised ground floor eating area to the right.
The upper floor is only opened up when the downstairs gets very busy and has a mixture of comfortable sofas and tables for eating. The view is not quite so good from the upper floor and I always prefer to sit downstairs, although it can get quite packed with drinkers at busy times.
~~ The Food ~~
The best thing about the food at the Pitcher and Piano is that there is always something for everybody and for every mood. I like the grazing menu particularly - often after the long journey from down south I don't really fancy a full meal, so we just go for a drink and a snack. This restaurant offers a large grazing menu, charging either £11.50 for three dishes, £7.50 for two dishes or around £4.00 for an individual dish. The choices include fried Halloumi, mini fish cakes, calamari, chicken wings and much more - all really tasty combinations that make eating out a very flexible affair.
For a lunch there is a good range of wraps, Panini's and soups, but I usually prefer to either choose a grazing combination or a full meal. One of my favourites is chicken, brie and potato salad, a lovely mix of the textures and tastes of pan fried chicken and creamy Cornish brie on a bed of fresh spinach and a really delicious honey and mustard dressing. I particularly love the slow roasted tomatoes on this dish, I can't get enough of them and the dish costs a very reasonable £9.50. On a Sunday my boys look forward to the full Sunday roast, but on a couple of Sundays they have been disappointed as a busy daytime trade means that the roast has run out by the evening. Poor management perhaps, or just a desire to only serve the freshest food and have nothing left over?
On my last visit I found a new addiction; our cheerful waiter wholeheartedly recommended the white chocolate and honeycomb cheesecake for £4.75. This came with a warm chocolate sauce on top which wasn't on the menu and as an ex-waitress myself made me wonder if the high recommendation came because they wanted to shift the cheesecake, and the hot chocolate sauce was disguising some dryness!
Either way, all three of us found it totally delicious or I would happily order it every time I eat at the Pitcher and Piano.
~~ Service and Atmosphere ~~
The waiting staff are invariably cheery, smiling, friendly people and this really adds to the occasion. Dishes arrive very quickly; white wine is always nicely chilled, and extra drinks are quick and easy to order.
The atmosphere of the restaurant differs wildly according to the day of the week and the hour of the day. I think it is a big drinking venue during most evenings, but we have usually moved on by then. If things are getting rowdy downstairs it is nice to be able to sit away from it all upstairs.
Even at quiet times the atmosphere is buzzing and my son always seems to meet people he knows taking their parents out for a meal too.
~~ The Toilets ~~
The ladies toilets are on the first floor and very well fitted out. There are plenty of cubicles and sinks, and they offer nice hand wash and hand cream at every sink. My one criticism is that every time I have visited they are untidy and bordering on dirty. They look as if they have a good clean every day, so the toilets themselves are nice and clean - but the room itself is uncared for, with paper towels on the floor, hand cream dribbling down the side of the dispensers and rubbish lying all around. I have found this to be the case during the day as well as the evening, and it would be nice to see a bit more care taken here.
My sons report that the male toilets are located on the ground floor and are "very good". They did not notice any untidiness - but I'm not sure I would trust them to notice this anyway!
~~ Conclusion ~~
As you may gather, the Pitcher and Piano is one of my favourite places to eat in Newcastle and ideal for an informal meal that caters for a wide variety of tastes. My last meal there with my two sons came to £53.55 for all three of us - with two courses and a couple of drinks each. Very reasonable, I thought.
It is also one of the few places that I would happily sit and eat on my own - and on my last visit I did rather enviously watch a young lady sit outside eating a three course meal on her own as she watched the riverside activities without being hassled or embarrassed in any way.
Pitcher and Piano
Newcastle, NE1 3DX
I picked up 'The Good Father' knowing nothing about it except for the sound bites that were written on the front cover; "Enthralling ... a masterpiece ... superbly written " - critics from the Times to the Daily Mail seemed to universally believe that this book is set to become a new classic. I started reading it with great anticipation, but soon found my attention wandering, dragged down by the introspective meanderings of the central character and the distant American cultural history that failed to strike a chord.
~~ Plot ~~
Paul Allen is a familiar stereotype of the successful American dad; Head of Rheumatology at a large hospital, he leads a safe and happy life with his second wife and twin boys. He has a civilised relationship with his first wife and over the years has played the good father as he shared the care of his firstborn son Daniel, who is now 20.
One evening the family idyll is shattered by a news report; Jay Seagram, the popular presidential candidate has been shot and killed by a young man at a rally. The country is devastated, but none so shocked as Paul and his family when they discover that the young man accused of the assassination is Paul's own son Daniel.
Thus begins the novel, and a tortuous search by Paul to find the truth about his son. Did Daniel actually pull the trigger? Was he the instrument of some secret political organisation ? Or is he merely a violent and disturbed young man ? Paul's journey to find the truth will test every relationship to the limit as he looks into the past and the future to find his answers.
~~ Opinion ~~
My first thought on reading this was that it is yet another adaptation of 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'. It is the natural instinct of any parent at any child's misbehaviour to look inwards and to ask, what did I do wrong? The character of Paul very much follows this mould, examining any mistake, inattention and cruelty in the past and scrutinising it for a clue to the actions of the present. Unfortunately 'The Good Father' has nowhere near the emotional grip or pace of Lionel Shriver's book, but does have numerous frustrations.
The character of Paul is well drawn and I was interested to go with him on his journey to unravel the web of his past marriage and career as he tries to find a meaning to the terrible events. The way he tells the story is factual but engaging - his medical background encourages him to analyse each situation as if he was diagnosing a medical condition, trying to take the emotion out of the decision and looking at the hard facts with dispassion. I liked this unusual approach as it did give the story some depth and a bit of a unique twist. However, I found the other characters weak and without any real substance, especially those of Fran, the long suffering second wife, and Ellen the first wife, who presumably would have been just as emotionally involved and distraught as Paul.
For me, the story starts to meander when Paul intersperses Daniel's childhood memories with lengthy dissections of other famous murders. He gives the blow by blow account of Hinckley's attempted assassination of Jimmy Carter, Timothy McVeigh's attempt to kill many in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and several more. Most of these stories meant little to me as they are not part of my cultural history - and I felt that they only served to pad out the narrative rather than give any real insight into the crime.
My main frustration was an unavoidable plot device; the fact that Daniel maintains an enigmatic silence about his crime and refuses to give any indication about whether he pulled the trigger or not. Equally, the main character Paul seems unable to formulate the question. I found this intensely annoying - any normal father would automatically demand the answer as soon as they met their son and plead for some kind of explanation. Instead Paul and Daniel sit in a rather strained and strange silence.
~~ Conclusion ~~
I had high hopes for this book, but my attention started to wander after the first few chapters and I struggled through the last half completely. I thought it was a little to clinical, too analytic and not really emotional enough to grip the reader. It was a frustrating and ultimately an unenjoyable read.
Noah Hawley is an American author who is also a screenwriter, producer and composer. He may be most famous for writing and producing the American TV series Bones, or writing the screenplay for the film Lies and Alibis. This is his fourth novel.
My copy of The Good Father was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2013. It has 384 pages
Since getting my dog I find that I practically live in my wellies; easy to step into before a jaunt to the park, they have been a godsend during all the recent rain and snow. However there is a down side - after half an hour trudging through cold mud, my toes start to become numb and my feet quickly become too cold and uncomfortable to carry on with my walk.
I bought my wellie socks on a whim, having no idea what to expect. I think I just expected a very long and thick pair of socks, but the reality of Joules Wellie socks was far better and the £12.95 that I paid has been worth every penny.
~~ Looking at The Socks ~~
My Wellie socks are bright yellow, but Joules makes them in a variety of colours and patterns to suit every taste. They come in a handy little drawstring bag which is made out of the same 100% polyester fleece material as the socks and has the Joules label sewn onto the front with a picture of a pink Wellie sock. The drawstring bag has an elasticated drawstring and a yellow toggle tie to tighten the bag.
The socks are available in sizes small, medium and large; I chose the medium size which was just right for my size 7 feet.
The sock itself has a complicated construction more like a fleece boot than a sock. The foot part of the sock is made from three pieces of fleece material - all sewn together firmly with a strong zig zag seam stitch. The sole of the sock forms one piece; the toe cap is the second piece and the main body of the foot forms the final piece.
On top of this carefully constructed foot is the leg - this is made from two pieces of fleece, joined at the sides, and topped off by a thick cuff. The cuff has a deliberate hole in the side which does mystify me - perhaps to help pull it on or to hang it up?
~~ Wearing the Socks ~~
The socks pull on beautifully - over my normal socks and covering both normal jeans and tighter leggings with ease. I pull them up using the strong cuff and they grip my leg perfectly without being too tight.
The double thickness cuff comes up very high on my leg and then folds back over the edge of the wellie once I have put the boot on. This makes the wellies look really attractive - with a warm, thick cuff softening the line of the wellie and making sure that no snow or rain falls down inside the boot itself. As the cuff folds back over the wellie another pink Joules label is revealed, sitting just on the front of each wellie sock. This label is again a good quality pink label, sewn on with the Joules original logo on the front - and somehow makes the wellie socks more attractive even though this is clearly just advertising.
The foot of the sock is so cleverly constructed that it never twists, moves or rides up. It is unbelievably cosy and warm and really makes the cold inside of my wellies soft and comfortable.
~~ Conclusion ~~
I would recommend these socks to anybody. I feel that I am walking on warm cushions now as I trudge around the park. The socks are durable - I have washed them twice and they are still a vibrant yellow - they have not faded or shrunk at all and are still fluffy and warm.
Not only do they keep my feet very warm, they also make my old green wellies look a bit more glamorous as the bright yellow cuff tops them off.
My Joules gloves came as a Christmas present from my son. I was delighted with their bright colours and the flexibility the fingerless option gave to me. They looked trendy and cheerful, but I was soon to find out that, at £16.95, my son had made an expensive mistake.
~~ What they look like ~~
The gloves are very jolly and fun to wear. The ribbed cuffs are light blue, with the pink Joules logo on the edge. The main part of the glove is a mitten glove with a bright yellow button and bright yellow ribbing on the straight edge. The mitten part can be pulled off your fingers, and bent back on itself so that it can be buttoned back and not flap around.
Underneath the mitten part there are four pink fingers, all half sized so that they come about halfway up the finger and leave the finger tips free. The thumb is also pink.
This makes a lively three-colour glove that really does brighten up dull winters days.
The glove is made out of 80% Wool and 20% Polyamide and is advertised as machine washable, although I did not get an opportunity to try this out as the gloves fell apart before they needed washing!
~~ Disappointments ~~
I was so disappointed with these gloves. From the first time that I put them on I could feel that they were too thin and stretchy. Gloves need to have some substance, even fashion gloves, but these gloves are so thin that the wind cuts right through them and they feel flimsy and inadequate on my hands.
The fingerless idea is traditional and good, but I found that the mitten part of the glove was so shapeless and loose that the tops of my fingers got cold even with the mitten on - the wind blew straight up inside the mittens, ballooning them out and making me cold. The ribbing on the straight edge of the mitten could do with being a lot tighter and less stretchy. In addition, the top of the thumb is not removable, and this makes picking up things difficult, and writing impossible without taking off the entire glove.
Although the cuffs of the gloves come up high on my wrists, they are slack and the ribbing is not robust enough to grip tightly and cut out the cold.
The biggest disappointment was durability - the loose weave of the glove got caught on something in my pocket the first time I wore them, tearing and making a small hole. I quickly sewed this up and you can hardly notice it - just a small hard lump in the middle of my palm.
A week later I discovered that the cuff had become unstitched from the main part of the glove. I have to say that by this time I had given up, and quietly swept the gloves into the darkest part of my drawer.
~~ Conclusion ~~
These gloves are without doubt the worst value that I have ever seen. They are not warm, not durable and really poorly made.
I did quietly go into Joules to see if I could take them back without offending my son - he had already told me that the receipt was lost. Unfortunately my local Joules no longer sold them - and I really don't like taking presents back however disappointed I am.
If I had bought these myself I would have made much more of a fuss.
The issue of pet hair, whether it is cat or dog hair, has always been a problem for me. I have 2 long haired tabby cats who love to curl up on sofas - and the embarrassment of seeing a friend's bum covered with long grey hairs when they get up after a cup of coffee with me is something I still haven't found a good way to cover up.
Now that I have a short haired dog in addition to the three cats, I have gone to town with cleaning products and equipment. My latest purchase has been the rubber 'Pet Brush'; an ugly but effective way to get the hair off carpets, upholstery and clothing.
In the past I found that a damp cloth or a wet rubber glove was the only efficient way to really get all the hairs off any soft surface; no matter how powerful my vacuum cleaner, it never really managed to get the hairs that were ingrained and matted into the fabric. This rubber Pet Brush initially attracted me because of the package design - the packaging was left with a tantalising opening so that the rubber bristles poked out of the plastic, with the words "Try Me" reminding me of the magic of Alice in Wonderland. Who can resist an invitation like this?
I could immediately feel that the bristles were soft rubber - the type of rubber that any hair would stick to like glue and just as good as my rubber glove!
~~ What does the brush look like? ~~
The Pet Brush is not a beautiful addition to my household equipment; it measures 26cm long and has a dark green rubber head with dark green rubber bristles. There are about 27 bristles along the length and 7 bristles across the width, and in addition there are 22 much thicker bristles around the pointed end.
The handle is made out of moulded hard white plastic which has a curved design to fit comfortably into the hand.
~~ Does the brush work? ~~
The packaging promises to remove pet hair and lint from carpets, upholstery, clothing and furniture.
I initially tried it out on a section of carpet; my cat loves to sleep in a carpeted window alcove which is very difficult to reach and gets really covered in cat hair. I brushed the carpet vigorously with the brush and to my delight it lifted all the hair from the carpet, rolling it off into long strips so that I could then suck them up neatly with the vacuum cleaner. I found that the horizontal bristles around the pointed tip of the brush allowed me to get into the corners very nicely. The handle was comfortable to hold, but a little difficult to grip despite the undulating shape - I felt that using a more tactile material rather than hard, shiny white plastic would have been an advantage.
I move on to try the brush on my sofas. I found that it was effective on the upholstery fabric, but it worked a lot more efficiently when I sprayed the upholstery with Fabreeze first. The addition of the moisture meant that the pet hairs were whisked off the seats quickly and without flying around at all.
Next I used the brush on the car seats. Again, it was very effective but I found that the rubber bristles were a little too soft, and the tips were getting scraped off by the harsher upholstery in the car. At first I worried that the green rubber stripes that were left were a permanent mark, but they turned out to be powdered rubber and could be brushed off. I would worry about using the brush too often in the car, as the tips of every bristle were completely worn away by the brushing.
Finally I used the brush on my clothing and found it to be perfect. A dry brush efficiently got rid of all the pet hair from my black work trousers in a flash, with no marking.
~~ Opinion ~~
I am definitely going to buy another of these brushes, especially to keep by the door for my clothing. I paid £3.99 for this brush but have seen it in the local 99p store, which is a real bargain. Paying 99p is a good deal cheaper than using the disposable lint rollers that I have used in the past, and much more effective.
For a long time I had been looking for a new vacuum to replace the very old one that I had inherited from my mother. My first aim was to make the transfer to a bagless system as this seemed both cleaner and more environmentally friendly. As I have polished floorboards and floor tiles in all of the downstairs rooms, I needed a machine that could clean hard floors easily; I also needed something that was easy to carry upstairs to the carpeted bedrooms. I have two flights of stairs so my vacuum needed to be easily adapted for stair cleaning. Finally I have three cats and a dog - so my vacuum needed very good suction and perhaps some pet-specific hand tools.
After some research I decided to buy the cylinder version of the Vac Mach 5, reduced to £79 in the Argos sale.
~~ The machine ~~
The Mach 5 is a fairly large cylinder vacuum, with a height of 46cm and a depth of 36cm. It looks high tech and fairly sophisticated, with a silver exterior, a clear walled cylindrical dirt container, and pleasantly purple plastic operating buttons and interior cyclone separator unit which sits inside the clear cylindrical dust chamber.
The large 2.3 litre dust cylinder has a large and comfortable silver handle at the back to carry the whole vacuum around the house. Large foot buttons rewind the cord and switch the machine on and off.
At 250 watts it is a powerful vacuum but the motor is a little noisy for my preference.
The Mach 5 comes with two hoses and one telescopic extension tube which are easy to fix into place. There is a comprehensive set of cleaning heads:
- A crevice tool which clicks securely into the hose and can be easily transported around the hose to whip out when you unexpectedly need it.
- A large turbo brush which provides efficient suction for large carpeted area.
- A really ferocious little turbo head which is excellent at scooping up pet hair, but does increase the overall noise from vacuuming.
- A hard floor head with stiff, short bristles which manage to eliminate most dust
- A 2 in 1 dusting brush for upholstery, which I seldom have a use for but which is a small soft long bristled brush.
The Mach 5 is very satisfying to use as the purple cyclone separator whizzes round inside the dust chamber and mixes the dust around like a food mixer. Whether true or not, this gives the impression of high power, almost as if the separator unit is creating a vortex to suck the dirt in. It is very reassuring to see all the dirt collecting inside the clear walls of the chamber.
~~ What I like ~~
There are many things that I really like about the Mach 5. The first is the power; the suction is excellent and quickly disposes of all the pet hair, especially if I use the turbo tool attachment.
I like the two different hoses that are supplied; both clip easily onto the cylinder - one is extendable to 4.2 metres and is ideal for everyday use; the other is an extendable hose for stair cleaning - and this one stretches comfortably from the top to the bottom of the stairs without straining.
The length of the power cord is just right at 6.50 metres and it snaps back quickly into place with the foot button. This means that if necessary I can carry the vacuum up the stairs without using the extendable hose; the length of the power cord means that (unlike my previous machine) it is long enough to reach the top of the stairs without pulling the plug out of the wall. The cylinder also grips the stair treads nicely with its rubber covered large rear wheels.
~~ What I don't like ~~
There really is only one thing that I dislike about the Mach5 - but this one thing is so important that I do not feel that I can really recommend it to anybody or give it more than 2 stars.
This vacuum cleaner is big, heavy and difficult to manoeuvre. At 7.2 kg it is so heavy that carrying it up and down the stairs is an impossibility for me with a bad back. I always have to ask my sons to carry it for me, and if I am tempted to attempt it myself it always throws my back out. Trying to pull it behind me as I go around the house vacuuming is very difficult; it drags, it is heavy to pull and it always gets stuck around corners.
Several times I have been so frustrated by this that I have checked the wheels to see if they have become stuck - but they are always moving freely. This vacuum just cannot turn corners without getting stuck - and generally it is too big and cumbersome for a cylinder machine.
~~ Cleaning and Emptying ~~
I have been delighted with the change to a bagless system. The Mach 5 is very easy to empty; the dirt container is easily removed by clicking the large button on the handle. It is then very easy to carry it outside to empty it. I recommend putting the entire cylinder into a bin liner before releasing the bottom flap and allowing the dirt to pour out. This bottom flap is quick- released by gently depressing the purple levers at each side and is frighteningly simple. A gentle press and the bottom flap flips open, cascading the contents out very quickly. The first time I just held it over the bin inside the house and the dust flew everywhere, missing the bin entirely. It really does whoosh out.
As the dirt is usually compacted inside the chamber, especially if you have pets, it is then necessary to unscrew the transparent plastic walls and remove the sides of the chamber, leaving the central purple cyclonic separator exposed for cleaning.
After the majority of the dust has fallen out, or been pulled out, the walls of the dust container are still covered with dust and should be wiped clean with a damp cloth. All that is now necessary is to re-assemble the chamber and click it back into place.
Unfortunately the replacement and reconstruction of the chamber is not as easy as the emptying. I have now owned my Mach 5 for over a year and still struggle to reassemble the chamber. In theory this should be a simple task; the outer chamber slides back over the cyclonic separator and a simple twisting motion locks it into place. In reality, locking the cylinder into the correct position is very difficult, despite markings on the side to show when the position is correct.
If the alignment is not exactly correct you find that the handle that is used to pick up the whole (very heavy) vacuum is horizontal instead of vertical, making it impossible to carry.
I have spent a lot of time fiddling with the dust chamber replacement - and for me this is yet another design fault from Vax.
~~ Overall opinion ~~
Overall, I think that there are better bagless cylinder vacuum cleaners out there. I was tempted by the price reduction and ended up with something which had good suction, but poor design.
Next time my criteria will be good suction, a reasonably light weight, and good manoeuvrability. The Vax Mach5 fails in many ways and out of these three criteria really can only be said to have good suction.
On a weekend visit to my son in Newcastle, I was looking for a dog friendly hotel in Jesmond. As my booking was very last minute, and I was on a tight budget, I was delighted to find a single room in a dog friendly B&B, just opposite the beautiful Jesmond Dene Park. I booked the Rosebery Hotel via Booking.com and paid £69 for a single en-suite room.
~~ Arrival ~~
I easily parked a few yards away from the hotel but was a little concerned about the parking restrictions all around the hotel, so hurried inside to find out where the "extensive free parking" was, as advertised on the website.
The front entrance was not enhanced by two rather tatty plastic shrubs on either side of the front door, but the hallway was bright and clean and full of interesting Edwardian collectables. A tiny hatch in the hallway with the word 'WELCOME' made out of old iron keys served as the reception.
The young American receptionist was smiling and welcoming, and found my reservation immediately. I asked about the car parking and explained that I had left my car in a restricted parking zone. The receptionist seemed to be completely baffled by this information, saying "I don't drive myself" - which seemed a little irrelevant since I was just asking for the location of the free parking. "Most people just take pot luck on the yellow lines outside" was the answer. Not what I had hoped for, and certainly not what the website had promised.
Things went a bit downhill from then onwards. The receptionist presented my bill and told me that I must pay in advance. The bill had three prices written on it: £69, £68.50 and £71. Payment by card attracted an extra charge but luckily I had cash in my purse. The receptionist was unable to tell me the correct charge for cash, so I opted for the cheapest price and presented her with £70. After a lot of fussing behind the scenes, she told me that she didn't have access to the safe, but would bring my change to the room. Needless to say this never appeared, and I had to remind her at breakfast the next morning. No apology was given, just a cheerful, "Oh, I just plain forgot".
She then showed me to my room, but gave no information about accessing the free wi-fi, the times of breakfast, or the check out time. I later found all of the information on the walls next to reception, but it would have been nice to be told in person.
~~ My Room ~~
The hotel appears to be two Edwardian houses that have been knocked into one large hotel. The main part of the hotel looked gleaming and attractive - however my room was in the adjoining house. I was led out of the front door and up the stairs into the section on the left of the hotel. I was a bit disappointed - this part of the hotel smelled distinctly of damp and had a large pile of green dirty laundry bags in the hallway that remained for the duration of my stay.
My room was on the first floor; the stairs and hallway were nicely carpeted and decorated with antique clocks, tables and chairs. The room had clearly been refurbished in creams and whites, and looked cosy and fresh. The bedroom itself contained a white and brass small double bed, and had a lovely old fireplace. A window looked out onto the busy main road and the back yard of adjoining houses, but the double glazing was good and I was not disturbed by traffic noise as long as the window was closed.
There was a white duvet and some white towels folded on the bed. The towels were clean, but there was some residual staining on one of them which looked like tea stains.
Furniture in the room consisted of a marble side table with lamp, a rather poor quality cream wardrobe that had a broken door and was difficult to open, and a rather hideous mirrored chest of drawers. As I had my dog with me, I missed having a chair or something that I could put my clothes on so that the dog would not lie all over them.
The hotel is advertised as a boutique hotel with vintage charm - and the owners had tried very hard to make the room quirky and interesting, with a large orange plastic clock over the bed (not working), an ornate mirror and glass chandeliers in both the bedroom and the en-suite.
~~ Facilities ~~
Tea making facilities were in the room, with tea, coffee and biscuits perched on the window sill. The kettle was sitting rather unsafely on the floor, with no obvious way of putting it anywhere higher whilst still plugged in. Dog + boiling kettle on floor = dangerous situation, and I was not very happy with this.
The small flat screen TV worked very well, although I did not try all of the channels. The room was kept nice and warm with a small radiator and did not get too hot.
A big selling point for me had been the free wi-fi, and I immediately tried it out. I quickly discovered that it was a secure connection and went down to reception to ask for the key code. Reception was deserted, but I found my answer on a wall and returned to input the code. Although my laptop tried to connect, the signal was incredibly weak and although I continued to try all that evening, I never managed to make a connection. Again I felt let down by the website, which said, "Signal strength is very good in all rooms, as boosters are located throughout the hotel." There seemed to be no way of contacting reception staff, although I wandered around the reception area for a while. I also wanted to borrow the hairdryer that the sign told me was available from reception, but again this seemed impossible.
~~ En-Suite ~~
The en-suite bathroom was larger than the bedroom, and the staff had put a nice little dog basket on the floor with a clean blanket. This was a nice touch which my dog seemed to appreciate.
Like the bedroom, the bathroom was painted cream with cream tiles and cream carpet and was very airy and high-ceilinged. There was a large old-fashioned bathtub, a rather old and small shower cubicle, and in a further room a toilet and sink.
Like the bedroom, the bathroom looked superficially beautiful, but this was all on the surface. The shower was the worst I have ever experienced; an old scratched pink shower tray, badly grouted - with water pressure so low that it was barely enough to wash myself. All I managed to get from the shower was a tiny trickle of water which became dangerously scalding if I tried to turn it up. If I increased the cold flow on the mixer tap, the water stopped completely. The heat of the water was actually quite dangerous and I would have been worried if a small child had been underneath the shower head.
There was no shower gel or shampoo provided and no bath mats of any sort. The only soap proved was by the sink; a cheap and watery hand soap which I ended up using in the shower.
~~ Breakfast ~~
Breakfast was very tasty and plentiful, although once again the owners had tried too hard to give the room that 'vintage charm'. It looked as if they had paid one visit too many to the jumble sales - I drank my tea out of a chipped 'antique' cup and sat on very uncomfortable metal garden furniture with a red cushion. It was all a bit too much.
The food itself was delicious. I helped myself to cereal, juice and grapefruit, and then chose from the menu; either a full English breakfast, soft boiled eggs with soldiers, poached or scrambled eggs on toast, or a vegetarian option. My poached eggs on toast were cooked perfectly and came with plenty of extra toast and jam.
~~ Location ~~
The hotel is in Jesmond; about 15 minutes walk from Newcastle centre or a couple of stops on the metro. It takes about 5 minutes to drive to the centre but parking is difficult.
The location is very quiet and suburban, away from the busy bars and clubs - and unlike many of the Newcastle hotels which are full of loud party-goers. As a dog friendly hotel I cannot fault it - in the morning I just had to walk over one small road to get into Jesmond Dene, which is a beautiful place to walk.
~~ Opinion ~~
I can see from the website that the hotel is under new ownership and has just renovated, and I do admire what they are trying to do. Unfortunately I think that they have cut too many corners; superficial redecoration (poor grouting, exposed pipework, superficially painted woodwork); old and slightly grubby carpets; terrible shower.
For me, a good shower and a clean room are more important than quirky décor and I think that if they get these things right they will encourage more people to return.
Above all, they need to address the staff training and make sure that the receptionist knows what she is doing and is available when needed.
I liked the hotel in terms of ethos and location, but left disappointed. The following night I stayed at a Premier Inn which, for £39 was pretty much perfect. I feel that £69 was a little overpriced for a disappointing stay.
The Rosebery Hotel,
2 Rosebery Crescent,
Newcastle, NE2 1ET