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I have never been a big television person and before I bought my latest TV I used to have a little 21 inch portable sitting in the corner. Then I went to Curry's to buy a fridge freezer and walked out with this beast of a television.
The TV appealed to me straight away in store as it is well designed, with a sleek black glossy case and a smart and expensive looking appearance from the screen to its little stand. It has a 40 inch screen diagonal to diagonal which is huge compared to what I was used to, however there are bigger televisions available for similar prices but a different brand.
As soon as I plugged the television in I was stunned by the difference in picture quality from my little old CRT portable, I was expecting quite a big change but it was like I was seeing the world through the corner of my living room at last!
The picture quality is excellent, sharp and clear with well defined colours. The TV is HD ready, and in fact I now have Sky HD connected to it (yes, I am now very much a television person, I am converted!), and the quality of this is quite breathtaking, you can see every little detail in the programme you are watching, I felt like I had a tiger in my lounge last night...!
The television is easy to set up and programme, and has connected to all my gadgets without any incident at all (DVD recorder, video, Sky HD, Xbox 360, Wii and PC tower). I am not good at technology but even I was able to synch it with all these things easily. As you can see, there are quite a lot of sockets in the TV as it is easily capable of linking to many gadgets at the same time.
The remote control is easy to use and the functions are clear.
I am a complete convert to proper home entertainment and will never be going back to my poky little portable!
I purchased this DVD recorder when we moved into our new flat, as our Sky+ didn't work properly in the new property (we couldn't record one thing and watch something else) and I wanted something that I could transfer things from the Sky box on to, so I could watch them while the Sky was recording something else.
It was easy enough to set up with our television, although I feel that the picture quality on its Freeview and terrestrial channels is not particularly good and is quite fuzzy. This could be the aerial in our flat however so be aware of this. It has a fairly basic menu which is not the most user friendly I have ever seen and is quite ugly, however it does do the job well once you have figured out how to use it and records individual programmes to hard disk, and has a series link button which means that you will never miss an episode of a favourite series. This is a bonus for us as our Sky box can't be trusted to record programmes without going wrong or failing to change channels, so it's nice to have a backup on the DVD recorder, although we still try to use our Sky box where we can for recording due to the big difference in picture quality.
It was a bit of a fuss trying to transfer programmes from the Sky box to the DVD hard disk, I am not particularly technical and found it difficult to get my head around the set up, but with help from my husband we did finally work out how it was done and this has proved very useful.
Playback is excellent however and the picture quality of the DVDs that we have played is extremely good, crisp and clear with good colours.
Overall not a bad product although it could be better as it wasn't the cheapest on the market, it could do with being more user friendly with easier to follow instructions for synching with other products and the picture quality is quite poor (assuming it's not our aerial).
I was given Mindtrap for Christmas as they knew I liked board games and also liked to solve puzzles and think logically, so this ticked all the boxes for me.
Mindtrap comes in a very presentable metal tin, it's a small game and doesn't look like much when you first open it up, there is no traditional playing board. What you have is a pile of cards with scenarios and questions printed on them, a couple of pencils, a die and a pad of paper with a playing surface printed on it, so you can shade out the squares as you move along.
The playing area is shaped like an optical illusion and gives you a choice of playing a long game or a short game, which is useful if you don't have a lot of time or want to play various games during a get together rather than be tied up playing the same game all night (yes, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, I mean you!).
The game is designed for two players (or you could have two teams), and the players have to choose whether they want to be the light or dark squares on the pad. The winner is the one who reaches the end of the path first.
The playing cards are picked at random. If you get an answer right, you roll the die and a number will come up from 0 to 3. You shade in this number of squares on your playing surface as a reward for getting the right answer. Yes, you can get an answer right and still roll a 0. Bad luck!
Each player reads out the question or scenario on the card for the other player to answer. The questions are based on logic, for example, "A man is found hanging from a beam in a room 10 feet from the ground. There is nothing in the room but a puddle of water. How did he get there?" (He stood on a block of ice). These can really get your brain working and are great fun to work out. Most of the questions you don't get any clues, but with some of them you can ask questions of the question reader and they can answer with yes and no answers only.
Thoroughly recommend this game, it's not always easy but it's always fascinating!
Cranium is a fairly traditional family board game with some new twists on old favourites. It has the standard board which teams of players move around, and the final BRAIN that you need to get to. You can travel around the outside track, which takes longer, but if you are lucky and get certain questions right you can skip to the inner track which gets you there faster. You need at least four players for this game as it is played in teams.
It's a fairly standard question and answer game, with four main categories. These categories are each linked to a colour, which is shown on the board in coloured squares and also on the dice (you roll the dice and whichever colour comes up, you move to the next square on the board which is that colour).
Red is Data Head. This is basically facts and figures, general knowledge. This category is split into three parts. You might get a Factoid, which is a general knowledge question. You may have a Selectaquest which is a general knowledge question but with multiple choice answers so you can guess. Or you might get a Polygraph which is a statement and you have to say if you think it's true or false - you have a 50/50 chance!
Yellow is Word Worm, which is my favourite although I have a nasty habit of getting the spellings wrong despite being a spelling freak, it's the pressure of the game! There are categories for spelling forwards, spelling backwards ("Gnilleps"), solving an anagram (you get a clue) and a category called Blankout which is like the bit at the end of Wheel of Fortune where you have a phrase with only certain letters shown, you have to guess what it is. You're not allowed to write anything down.
Green is the one we all dread, it's Star Performer. This could mean you have to do an impression, hum a tune for your team mates to guess or act out a word or phrase (as in charades).
Blue is Creative Cat, and this can be drawing (like in Pictionary) where you have to sketch the word on the card, this can be either with your eyes open or shut depending on the category, or alternatively you can be asked to sculpt something out of Playdoh for your team members to guess.
Each question is timed, you get a minute, which isn't really very long. Some questions are also deemed "All Play", if you pick one of these cards all teams get to carry out the activity at the same time and compete with each other to be the first to guess the right answer.
When you finally reach the brain in the centre, you have to correctly carry out the tasks shown on one card from each category before being deemed the winner. The games can be quite lengthy though!
This game takes elements of many other games (like Humm Bug, Pictionary, Rapidough, Brit Quiz) and mixes them all together into one fantastic game that never gets boring.
We have a Bedlam cube in the learning centre of the school where I work, and there is a fairly decent prize on offer for the first person who can solve it (without looking it up on Youtube!). Nobody has yet managed to win, let alone me.
I first came across the Bedlam cube on Dragon's Den where it was famously turned down by the dragons before becoming a huge hit in stores across the country including WH Smith and other large retailers.
It is a simple concept - a plastic cube is divided into a number of different shapes and then mixed up, you have to put them back together again in the perspex outer box. It comes in various versions from the original red, yellow and blue to plain colours and those coloured to match a country's flag.
Sounds straightforward? It is a real brain teaser and will keep you occupied for hours trying to fit the pieces back together, just when you think you might have worked out the answer you find you have one piece left over which just DOESN'T FIT! and then you have a big tantrum and pour all the parts back out again.
Like the Rubik's Cube before it, there are many ways to solve it but they are all incredibly hard to work out and you are likely to go mad before either throwing it away or cheating and looking it up on Youtube. Unlike the Rubik's Cube, you can't peel off all the stickers and put them back on in the right place.
I have a love-hate relationship with this cube, it is definitely an excellent puzzle but will annoy you without a doubt!
It can be bought from most games retailers and usually costs around £10. Buy it for Christmas and give it to someone who enjoys puzzles but hasn't got a bad temper.
Hasbro have rebranded its old Monopoly game for the 21st century, adding in cities from around the world and introducing a new way of wheeler-dealing, using a credit card instead of those old fashioned bank notes...
The basic premise of the game remains the same, you travel around the board making purchases of land (cities in this case), and charging those unfortunate players who land on your property rental fees. The idea is that you bankrupt your opponents by making shrewd purchases of land and property, and forcing them to pay you for the privilege of staying there.
You can still go to jail, and the old Chance and Community Chest spaces are still on the board which means that if you land on one of these squares, you take a card and either reap the reward or pay the price shown on the card.
The main difference is the property now all costs much more money than it does in the old game, and you start off with £15 million to make your purchases. Probably more realistic in today's climate! But rather than wrestling with £15m in used Monopoly money, you have a plastic credit card (there are six with the game, all different colours) with £15m credited to it at the start of the game using the electronic "card reader" - beware, this needs batteries to work, and these are not supplied.
The card reader has one side for adding money and another side for taking it off a card.
Each time you pass Go you have £2m credited to your card with the card reader, and all bills that you have to pay come off the card too.
When you have to pay another player money, your card is placed in the debit side, and their card in the credit side, and the amount owed is typed into the reader, the reader then transfers the money from one card to the other.
BE WARNED: It is very easy to put the cards in the wrong way round or get confused, well I found it easy to make a mistake, and I was sober at the time I was playing! This is not a problem you have with cash.
It really is a novel new way to play though but once the novelty wears off it can get a bit tedious if you're the one in charge of the reader, as it can take a bit of faffing around to get it right.
Other than that, the rules are the same as standard Monopoly, you can buy apartments for your properties to increase their rent value, you can mortgage out your properties if you find yourself in a sticky financial situation.
A good clean family game, which can get the whole family arguing in the way only board games can!
I don't know why I purchased my Rover 25, except that it was cheap and I needed a cheap low mileage car that would get me from A to B. To be honest, it did give me two and a half years of trouble free motoring before things started to go wrong, but it then started to suffer from some quite serious and expensive problems despite having only covered 52000 miles.
I did test drive the car but should probably have spent more time with it before buying.
I found the car to be quite unpleasant to drive, it was (for me) too lightweight on the handling and didn't "stick to the road" very well on corners, the steering was woolly and not very responsive. When there was a slight wind, the car got quite badly buffeted and I found it quite hard to get it to keep its line on the road, which actually scared me on some occasions. I got the shock absorbers checked out but apparently all was working as intended. I have driven many cars and this was the only car where I felt at times in some weather conditions that I was slightly losing control. It may have been my perception but I was not comfortable in the car, and despite many trouble free years of motoring I began to lose my confidence in my driving and look for excuses not to get in the car.
The car was not particularly comfortable to sit in, and the fixtures and fittings inside the car were quite plasticy and cheap looking. I removed the factory fitted cassette player and radio, and installed my own CD player to bring the car into the 21st century.
Fuel performance wise, it was not too bad but certainly no better than most small cars I have driven (with the exception of my 1.9l Peugeot 205GTi) and the road performance of the car was certainly weak, there wasn't a lot of oomph under the bonnet.
When things started to go wrong with the car, they certainly went very wrong, from constant issues with the lights on the dashboard appearing (minor but annoying) via over £1k of garage bills to a final and inevitable problem with the head gasket.
All things considered, from performance to driving experience to value for money and build quality, I will not be considering a Rover again in the future.
I purchased this app for £2.99 on the Apple app store for my iPhone, hoping for some lovely quick meals that I could rustle up after work.
I was immediately impressed with the layout of the app, the meals are sorted into categories:
There are probably around 40 recipes overall so this isn't bad, though I am a fussy eater so I have only tried a handful of them.
Each recipe tells you exactly what you need and you can add this to a shopping list, really useful for carrying around the supermarket with you. The recipe is then broken down into simple steps, often with pictures and even videos along the way to show you what to do. It couldn't be easier to follow these recipes. There are many complementary videos on the app, from how to sharpen a knife to how to cook the perfect steak - my steaks have certainly improved since following Jamie's videos!
There has only been one update to the app however when a handful of recipes were added, it would be lovely for the price if a few more updates came along. While to be fair £2.99 is a good price for the app as it is nicer to use than a bulky cookbook, it isn't cheap compared to other things on the app store.
However if you enjoy cooking and are looking for something new that won't take hours to prepare, particularly those who aren't 100% confident in the kitchen, this app is invaluable as it is clear, concise and the food is very tasty.
I originally purchased this vacuum cleaner as my sister was living with me and shed hair all over the carpet during her hours of grooming and straightening (how she wasn't bald I don't know), which my old hoover simply couldn't deal with. It sucked all her hair up straight away, phew, as I was getting fed up of the black human hair rug by the sofa. It's now regularly pressed into use not so much for hair but for other animal related mess, as I own 20 hamsters who enjoy making a mess on the carpet with shavings, food and (worse luck) bottom produce.
I would be lost without this hoover. It sucks up everything, and gets into all the little nooks and crannies. It comes with two attachments as standard, and it's also easy to remove the tube from the handle of the hoover to really get into little spaces. The ball attachment makes it easier to manoeuvre around corners and skirting, and it's much more effective than a standard upright.
It has a function where it can also be used on lino and laminate/wood flooring without damaging the surface also, which is extremely useful.
It is quite a heavy hoover however, that is about the only bad thing I can say about it. It appears to be durable and easy to maintain, the filters are washable, and it's not yet given me a day's concern despite its heavy usage - it certainly faces challenges in my household!
When it does finally give up the ghost, which I hope is not for many years yet, I will certainly buy another.
Angry Birds is a physics based game for the iPhone, selling for 59p from the app store. The premise of the game is that birds (angry) are trying to knock down houses of pigs, sending the house crashing to the ground and knocking all the pigs flying or crushing them to death. Poor pigs, perhaps they shouldn't have stolen those eggs.
You launch the birds from a sling shot at the left of the screen, choosing the angle and amount of power put into the sling in order to get the best contact with the tower and the most chance of it collapsing on all of the pigs, which is what is needed to progress to the next level. Kill those pigs!
Some of the birds, as you progress through levels, develop special skills and moves to more effectively squash those pesky pigs, such as exploding on contact or cloning themselves in mid air. These birds are identified by their appearance, as a different colour depending on their skill. You can utilise these skills by tapping the bird mid-air. It's important to choose the right bird at the right time for the tower so the correct moves are used to collapse it. At the start of the level you will see what birds you have to choose from on the left of the screen.
The pigs also get tougher as the levels go on, and harder to destroy. They're not just hamheads you know!
This is an extremely addictive game which is one of the most popular for the iPhone, and the developers provide excellent support and updates which make it even better. Well worth the 59p price tag - give it a try if you aren't one of the millions who already have!
I am a latecomer to the Dark Tower series written by Stephen King, and as such was able to read all seven novels back to back, which I did rather rapidly when recuperating from an illness. I have never before ploughed through so many words, and I am a big reader!
King is best known for his horror novels and collections of short stories, but here he tries something a bit different.
There are seven books in the series, in order:
- The Gunslinger
- The Drawing of the Three
- The Wastelands
- Wizard and Glass
- Wolves of the Calla
- Song of Susannah
- The Dark Tower
The Gunslinger introduces us to the central character of the septet of books, Roland, the titular gunslinger. He is on a quest to reach the Dark Tower followed by a stranger in black, though we are not told why and what the Tower is at this point. The characters in this book are strangely modern, for those used to fantasy fiction containing weird and wonderful creatures and characters this can take a bit of getting used to. I have to say that the Gunslinger book is the slowest of the seven and used mainly for scene setting and introducing you to Roland and his world, I often found myself "ploughing" through parts of it as the pace was quite slow but I persevered and I am glad I did.
The Drawing of the Three introduces some of Roland's companions on his quest, who are drawn from a world which looks remarkably similar to modern day Earth, through portals into Roland's world. They include a 12 year old boy, Jake, a crippled woman, Susannah and a former junkie, Eddie. The third book in the series continues their quest.
Wizard and Glass is a bit of a funny one, and almost could be read as a stand alone novel. It is mainly written as a flashback to Roland's earlier life and what has made him into the person you have come to know, and what compels him on his journey. It is a fascinating read as Roland is a fairly insular character despite being the main protagonist, and he rarely "opens up". This novel opens him up in his entirety to the reader and you learn what is in his past and the joys and horrors that he has experienced. Some readers don't enjoy this diversion from the main quest, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found it an emotional read.
The fifth book puts the characters back on their quest to reach the Tower, though it throws plenty of diversions in their way, the main one being rescuing a little town from being ravaged by wolves. The sixth concentrates mainly on Susannah who has become pregnant but nobody knows if it was a demon that has fathered the child. She gives birth in this book and another thread of story is wound in.
The book does end well in the seventh and final novel, without spoilers I will say that it ended in a fairly predictable way, personally I was a little disappointed with it after some excellent stories along the way of the quest and I felt that it was a touch sappy and sentimental in places. However, it was not enough to take the shine off for me what is an epic series of novels and like nothing else I have read before in its combination of fantasy, futuristic world, parallel universe and modern day life. It swings from wild nursery rhyme lands to nuclear holocaust to shopping in New York.
The only downside for me is that King felt the need to write himself into the story in the latter novels, something I feel was slightly on the self indulgent side and not necessary.
I found the books to be fresh, well written on the whole and unputdownable, and am sad that they are done now!
The FOP Dixie cage is a popular seller at Pets at Home but that's probably because it's one of the largest that they sell and people buy what they see on the shelves in front of them when they're there to look at the animals. It's not the worst that they sell, but that is a bit like saying Himmler was not the worst Nazi. It's not an ideal cage for the following reasons:
The floor space is on the small side. The RSPCA suggest dimensions for a single Syrian hamster of 80 x 40 x 40cm. I personally believe that 70 x 40 should be acceptable for a single Syrian provided that there is enough enrichment in the cage (shelves, toys etc). The size of this cage is 22 x 58 x 32cm. This falls some way short of both my own recommendations as an experienced hamster owner and breeder, and of the RSPCAs guidelines.
The tubes are narrow. A reasonable sized Syrian hamster is quite likely to get wedged in these tubes. Any of mine certainly would.
The wheel is too small and because the cage is not very tall it will be harder to find an acceptable size wheel to fit in the cage. Syrian hamsters need a wheel that they can run on without having to arch their back, as this is not only very uncomfortable for them but also can cause them problems with their health. The wheel sold with this cage would be fine for a baby ham, but not an adult unless the adult was extremely undersized. Even pet shop hamsters (which tend to be smaller due to commercial intensive breeding practices) would struggle on this wheel as an adult. They really need a wheel of at least 8" in diameter.
The base is shallow and this means MESS as the hamster kicks up its bedding and nesting materials or even - joy - throws its poos out of the cage.
The build quality is poor compared to other cages.
All in all, not a cage I would recommend as for the price (usually retails at around £40) you can get better, sturdier, roomier cages which will last your hamster throughout its life.
The Peggy Metro is made by Savic who are a fairly big name in rodent housing and one of the top designers and producers of cages sold on the UK market. That's not to say that they don't get it wrong sometimes. This isn't one of their best efforts (I prefer the Cambridge and the Hamster Heaven which both have more space) but it isn't the most horrendous cage I have seen either.
The dimensions of the cage are 37 x 50 x 40cm, so the floor space is average given that there is also a platform, but I personally prefer more room for a Syrian hamster. Due to the bar spacing and the fact that there are platforms and tubes, this cage is not suitable for pairs of dwarf hamsters or single Roborovski or Chinese hamsters. However, the tubes are quite a decent width, many cages (such as the Rotostak models) supply tiny narrow tubes that hamsters often get stuck in. There should be no issues with these tubes as they are a good diameter, though there are some sharp turns which can be a little awkward to negotiate. My hamsters have the same tubes on a Hamster Heaven and they have never become stuck, and my hamsters are bigger than the average petshop hamster.
The tubes are not the easiest thing to assemble or clean, though, and I have had one hamster push them apart and escape. It is also not uncommon to find that hammie sleeps in the tubes (not great for health as ventilation is poor and they can get quite hot and sweaty), or wees in the tubes - then walks through the urine, getting it all over their fur.
The wheel supplied with the cage is too small for an adult Syrian hamster and will need to be replaced as a baby hamster grows. The tip here is: if a hamster has to arch its back to run in the wheel, the wheel is too small. It's not comfortable for a hamster to run like this, and not good for them. A minimum 8" diameter wheel is recommended for most adult hamsters.
I've found that the build quality for this style of Savic cage is perfectly acceptable in general, the shelves are sturdy and the base is a good depth and should prevent hammie from throwing shavings around too much.
It should retail at around £40 - 50. This is about average for a cage of this type, but if you shop around you will find that you can buy cages with much more floor space for around the same price if not cheaper (take a look at the Equine Canine Feline website for some examples). Floor space is really the key - I have 20 hamsters and they all have cages at least 70cm long - and unless you are happy to keep dismantling and cleaning awkward tubes it's better to get a cage without them and add your own large cardboard tubes that you can buy from Wilkinsons or most pet shops, or wooden tunnels etc.
I have some quite strong opinions on this cage so be warned...
This cage should not be sold. It should be taken off the market, as it is not suitable for any animal. The bar spacing is too wide for a dwarf hamster, and it is FAR too small for a Syrian hamster, even the smaller pet shop variety. The wheel is tiny and needs replacing, but there is simply no room to fit a decent sized wheel in. There is hardly any floor space, the base is the size of a shoe box. The plastic monstrosity attached to the back is narrow, dangerous and uncomfortable for hamsters. Where do they turn around? How do they get ventilation? Why would anyone think an animal wants to squeeze through a tiny plastic maze to get to a tiny uncomfortable, unsuitable wheel and a tiny box-like house?
I have spoken to people at hamster shows who mistakenly bought this cage and whose hamsters had had nasty accidents, becoming stuck and dying while struggling to get free in one instance.
There is nothing about this cage that is remotely acceptable or suitable for animal habitation and I am amazed that Ferplast have designed it. People who buy it are suckered in by the unusual design without actually considering whether a living creature would be happy living in it. It does not fit the RSPCA guidelines for cage size, and I would never sell a hamster to anyone with this cage. It is only fit for the scrap heap.
On top of that, it is pricey and you can get much better cages for the money or cheaper, see the Equine Canine Feline website for examples (we use the Ferplast Duna Multy and add our own toys and a large wheel).
I have only given it one star as I am forced to, like Gillian McKeith in the jungle it's zero stars for me.
This is the second and final instalment of the Rain Wild Chronicles, the story of what happens when the serpents we met in the Liveship Traders series hatch out into dragons and try to find their way back home to the remembered Elderling city of Kelsingra, attended by a rag-tag bunch of outsiders designated as their Keepers.
As usual, Robin Hobb crafts all of the characters with great care and skill, they all come alive on the page and in your mind, and the story is so real that it is hard to sit back and remember that this is a work of fiction, despite the fantastical subject matter.
The dragons are on their journey up the Rain Wild river with their Keepers in this volume, and they all have to overcome betrayals, devastating accidents and fraught personal relationships. The journey is a hard one and many lessons are learned along the way and obstacles overcome.
The first book in this two-book series is called Dragon Keeper and you will need to have read this before picking up Dragon Haven. It would also be a good idea to have read the Liveship Traders series of books before this one as it will give a more in depth background to the story - as well as being a fine series in itself!
Most of the characters in the Rain Wilds books are new to the reader (although obviously the dragons appeared as serpents in previous books) though the setting is very familiar. We finally get to visit the Rain Wilds properly and start to picture what life is like for the native Rain Wilders.
I still think I would have liked to have known more about what happened after this book ended (I won't spoil the ending though!) but it was a fabulous story as usual, incredibly well crafted with a fantastic location, realistic and appealing characters with some really interesting dynamics between them, and of course dragons - who could ask for more!
Hobb is a supremely talented author, nobody writes quite like her, and she remains my absolute favourite novelist.