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My Mother in Law celebrated her 60th birthday this year and instead of a party or a big celebration, she very generously decided to take the family on holiday. There are eight of us in total ranging from 10 to 60 so there were many needs that would need to be satisfied. After a mammoth search and much discussion the Hotel Suite Atlantis in Corralejo, Fuerteventura (Canary Island) was booked and we travelled there for our weeks all inclusive stay on the 28th March 2012.
~*~ Location ~*~
After a four hour flight from Bristol we flew into Fuerteventura airport which is the only airport on the Island. The transfer was only forty minutes which is ideal I think and the route to the hotel is absolutely stunning - on one side you have the beautiful turquoise ocean the entire way and on the other there is the dramatic landscape of this once volcanic island with bits of Island civilisation dotted in-between.
Situated in the resort of Corralejo, the hotel is a twenty minute walk away from the main town centre and harbour, or a taxi ride which will cost about a euro. There isn't masses to do in the town but there are plenty of bars, restaurants and tat shops where you can purchase the traditional holiday souvenirs but it is certainly pretty and well worth a browse. In the other direction there is a shopping centre with many touristy shops and which also hosts a craft market on a Sunday and nearby this there is a water park which also takes about twenty minutes to walk to (we went here for a day and the family loved it but I entered reluctantly like a dog going to the vets as I don't like getting my hair wet!). The hotel has its own private beach across the road from the entrance and it is accessed via your room card but it isn't particularly nice but the hotel has a courtesy bus to the main beach (Oliva) which is nothing short of stunning with turquoise sea and white sand and so definitely a must.
~*~ Accommodation ~*~
Checking in was a simple process, but it did seem to take a long time and a lengthy queue quickly forms when many people are being dropped here at the same time. We were allocated our rooms and given wristbands which allow you to have all inclusive benefits. You cannot have access to your rooms until 3pm which is fair enough but something to bear in mind if you have an early arrival flight. We arrived at 3.30pm and still had to wait another hour for our rooms to be ready but this gave us a good opportunity to have a look around the extensive grounds in which this hotel sits. Check out is strictly at 12pm at which point your all inclusive band gets cut off and you have to pay for everything and it isn't cheap - we left at 11am but if you have an evening flight this would not be a good end to your holiday and it is something that I haven't come across before despite being on many all inclusive holidays, you usually get to keep your band until you physically leave. In a four star hotel I would expect a bell boy to take our cases to the room after check-in, but this service is not offered at all at the Suite Atlantis; you just get given a map and sent on your way!
As previously stated, this complex is big. The accommodation is only two storeys and spread over a large area. We had requested second storey rooms before leaving the UK and I am glad that we did as no privacy whatsoever is offered to the ground floor apartments and I wouldn't really like to hang my smalls out on the balcony for everyone to see and touch! Within our group we had two junior suites and a family room - we occupied the family room and we were absolutely delighted with it. We chose this hotel mainly because they could accommodate us - my eldest son is 13 and it was difficult trying to find a family room that would allow him to be in with us - essentially we booked 3 adults and a child into the room which is exactly what we needed.
There is a walk in wardrobe in all of the apartments with plentiful shelving space but there are only a few hangers so you may need to bring extra if required. The safe is located in the wardrobe and it can be utilised for a 30 euro deposit plus 2.5 euros cost per day. As well as the massive wardrobe there are also bedside tables for every occupant with drawers, a dressing table and a large chest of drawers. Our boys had a pull out sofa bed in the lounge area which was surprisingly comfortable compared to our twin beds which were not so great - they were hard and creaky and I do not think that I had a decent nights sleep for the whole week which is very disappointing, if I didn't wake up aching, I was woken up by my husband noisily moving! Just off the lounge (which also contains a frideg and TV with limited channels) there is a small balcony but it is overlooked by the next door suite, as they all seemed to be - a dividing screen would have been nice. We had a separate bedroom with its own huge balcony which was a real treat and somewhere relaxing to sit (and dry the swimwear from the day on the provided airer) however the views are not great - there is an abandoned building site directly opposite which seems to dominate the whole area and does not make for pretty balcony photo shots! The bathroom was amazing. Double sinks, separate shower unit as well as a shower over the bath, spacious bath, plenty of good pressured hot water, lots of clean fluffy towels and a basket of free stuff that is well worth pinching! There was maid service everyday and the sheets were changed twice during our stay, and she made our son's holiday by arranging his cuddly (well travelled) monkey into a different jaunty position each day! The entire room was spotlessly clean and well maintained with attention to detail, apart from the beds, a pretty good start.
The main pull to this hotel for us had to be the pools. It is advertised that there are seven but we could only find five. The main pool in the centre is where all of the activities take place but it really is not that big considering the size of the hotel, it is well heated but soon becomes overcrowded. There are lots of sunbeds in this area, but as the hotel filled up (we were there for the start of the Easter holidays) the beds were quickly taken and if you hadn't put a towel out on the way to breakfast, chances are you're not going to be sitting here! I don't like doing this at all but when in Rome... There is a bigger pool a short distance away but when we were there it was not heated and the swim-up bar that we were looking forward to was closed. A relax pool for adults only is located near to the plaza, this is also heated and offers serenity to those not wishing to participate in activities of get splashed by children however in total contrast the toddler pool is exclusively for parents and very young children which I think is a lovely idea. It is located near the mini club and the children's play area and from what I could work out, rooms are allocated to you depending on your requirements. Another busy pool area is on the far side of the complex quite far away from anything but it is ideal if your room is over there as it is quite some distance from anything.
There are tennis courts available for use, but even if you have your own racquets you have to pay to hire the court so we gave it a miss. A small shop is in the complex which sells clothes, accessories, souvenirs, postcards etc. The prices were reasonable but there is a better selection in the town. Above the reception there is a relaxation area where children are not allowed, there are card tables and it makes a welcome retreat in the evenings if you want a bit of peace and quiet. Wi-Fi is is available at an extra charge, but after speaking to some other clients, I believe it is a sporadic service but not one I have personal experience of as the laptop stays at home - internet computers are set up in reception for use for a small charge. There is a spa and fitness centre but the facilities all have to be paid for and it is very expensive in my opinion. Bike hire is just outside of reception if you want to explore further afield - mountain bike hire for the day would set you back 8 euros for a day. Also just outside there is a supermarket which is very handy if you need to top up on holiday essentials and the prices are competitive with those in the town. Towel hire for the pool requires a deposit of 20 euros per towel so I would recommend that you take your own.
~*~ Food and Drink ~*~
The main restaurant in the Atlantis is the Gaudi restaurant which is situated in the plaza in the centre of the complex. Breakfast was outstanding with a massive choice of cold meats and cheeses, breads, fruit both fresh and dried, cereal, toast, pastries, freshly cooked eggs (in every form) and pancakes and also the ingredients to compose your own fried breakfast - all prepared to a high standard and delicious. Breakfast is served from 7-10.30am but we found that between 9 and 10am a queue formed even though inside there were empty tables, but they were just not being cleared quickly enough. Emilio seems to be in charge in here and he is grumpy and miserable - he behaves as though you are getting in his way by wanting breakfast and he is quick to point out that you can go to Rambutan for breakfast also, but the choice here is not as large. A lesson in customer service is needed for Emilio I think. You can also eat outside here but there are far too many tame birds for my liking eager to nibble at your plate whilst you are right there - it is exactly the same at Rambutan.
Lunch and dinner are along the same sort of lines. A plentiful selection of hot and cold food, different every day - my fussy 10 year old never had a problem finding something to eat and it is mostly clearly labelled although the labels are high up and he couldn't always see them - he consequently ended up eating rabbit and squid which he wouldn't have touched if he had known what it was but he quite enjoyed it! Once a week during your stay you can make a reservation at the Rambutan Asian restaurant and the El Molino Spanish restaurant. We went to both of them and the Asian was better than the Spanish in my opinion (probably because we got told off and ordered back to our seats when we went to get our food and the chef was bringing it over, but how were we to know?!). In both restaurants there is a buffet but a chef will also cook your desired dish freshly in front of you which is a treat and delicious. You do however have to be careful that you don't end up ordering anything that is not All Inclusive as it is not particularly clear. The deep fried Chinese ice cream is a definite must for your taste buds if not for your heart!
For snacks during the day Rambutan is open for cakes and pastries outside of meal times and there is also a sandwich bar Subway style where they make up a sandwich to your liking from a selection of ingredients. Basically you can eat from 7am - 10.30pm nonstop if you wanted to and it is all rather delicious.
Hot drinks, water, and various juices are self service at breakfast and at lunch and dinner - three colours of wine, Sangria and lager also becomes available on a self service tap which again, I think is great and is doesn't taste too bad at all. In the bars you help yourself to soft drinks and carbonated drinks so the children can be absolutely self sufficient but they are only high enough for older children. There is an extensive selection of alcoholic drinks on an all inclusive basis - probably the biggest selection that I have come across so it is easy to try something new every time - I plumped for Malibu and Pineapple juice most days, a holiday in a glass (well, plastic cup!)
~*~ Entertainment ~*~
The daytime activities kick off at 10.30am with the Good Morning song by the main pool when the animation team come at you from all directions waving about their specific prop for their activities and there is something for everyone, young and old - yoga, water aerobics, French boules, water polo, volleyball, darts, bingo....the list goes on and on. There are separate activities for older children in the same area or there is a kids club on the other side of the complex - occasionally we saw the little ones walking about on treasure hunts or adventure trails and they looked to be having a whale of a time. Wild horses couldn't drag me off my sun bed to participate in organised activities as it is just not my thing but the rest of our group did several things a day and enjoyed it all, so in conclusion, you can do as little or as much as you like.
The animation team comes out again in the evenings in full force - firstly they hold a disco for the younger ones from about 8.00 then at 9.30 they hand out the certificates for the winning participants of the day's activities. After that at about 10pm the main entertainment commences - on several nights the animation team put on a show (Mama Mia, blues Brothers, Grease...) which is exceptionally well choreographed and they dance their hearts out - they clearly are confident and showy people but if I could dance like a demon, entertain enthusiastically for 14 hours a day, speak seven languages simultaneously and look amazing whilst doing all of the above - I would love myself too! A couple of nights a week the entertainment is provided by different acts, and to be honest, whilst a lot of it was quite clever (tumbling, acrobatics, singing, magic...) it got quite repetitive and wasn't really good enough to get through to the second round of Britain's Got Talent. The evening entertainment is put on in the theatre in the Plaza but seats are quickly taken - we only learned on our last night that there is upstairs seating where it is a bit warmer.
I cannot discuss entertainment without mentioning the Waka Waka. Three times a day (after the morning, afternoon and evening entertainment) the animation group assembles and does a dance to Shakiras "it's time for Africa" world cup song. This song is stuck in my head and will be for quite some time! It goes on for about three minutes but is gets everyone up and joining in whether it is around the pool or in the plaza and it really is a feel good dance executed enthusiastically by all participants and it is therefore theme of our holiday!
~*~ Happy Holidays? ~*~
I must say a resounding yes! A couple of little niggles - hard bed, grumpy staff for which half a star is lost for each - but overall each and every one of us had an excellent time and there was something for everyone. The complex was in a perfect location for us with a short transfer and not too far from the town and amenities. It was clean, there was plenty to do, the choice of food and drink was excellent and the entertainment was enjoyable. Price wise, it cost roughly £500pp for the week including flights and transfers but I am confident that I got the money back for all of us with my consumption of honey rum and Baileys! The week went far too quickly for all of us and if I could be right back there now, I would be which is a huge thumbs up from me as we never go back to the same place twice. Thanks Suite Atlantis - you lived up to our expectations!
I feel just a little bit embarrassed about this, but when I was asked what I wanted for Christmas, the only thing that I could think of was a potato ricer - probably because my masher is useless and I had just had a marathon session with it making mashed potato! When I have seen people use ricers on TV it looks so effortless and appealing, I simply had to have one so when I found the Oxo Good Grips potato ricer under my tree, I was perhaps a little too giddy with excitement and couldn't wait to try out my new toy.
The Oxo potato ricer comes attached to a piece of cardboard with what seems like a hundred cable ties holding it in place, it took me a while to get it off the packaging as I did not want to risk damage to the ricer but I got there in the end and was able to examine the newest addition to my gadget drawer. The ricer is stainless steel so it has a silver finish, it weighs just over 500g so it is not a heavy or cumbersome object to handle at all. The actual ricing area is about the size of your average mug and the handle extends out about 15cm and there is a small knob on the other side which measures roughly 4cm which is ideal for resting the ricer on a bowl or saucepan. The handles have a soft grip on the outside so it is quite a comfortable and easy object to use if it is loaded in the right way. The ricer works by lifting the upper handle and putting the potato into the "sieve" area and then a "plunger" which is attached to the upper handle presses down into the potato and with slight force, it is pushed through the holes creating noodles of potato which when mixed, creates a perfect mash, sounds simple doesn't it?
In use, this object has got to be the messiest piece of equipment that I have ever used in my kitchen. Firstly the ricing area simply is not big enough. The potatoes have to be cut into really small pieces before boiling because if a large piece of potato is put in, the pressure needed to rice it is simply too much for me. Secondly I suppose that the plunger cannot be a completely tight seal or a vacuum would be created making it unusable, so there is a small slither of a space around the edge of the plunger which allows potato through the top and not in the nice riced way that is wanted and inevitably this ends up in the bowl with the riced potato as the plunger is lifted out in order to reload, therefore you end up with lumpy mash which completely detracts from using this gadget in the first place and it also creates an almighty mess because potato debris ends up everywhere because of the size of the gadget and the way that it opens up.
This product is sold as a one potato ricer so it is nowhere near big enough to suit the needs of a family. By the time I have finished ricing enough for four, the mash is cold which adds extra time to the whole process whilst I reheat. The ricer has a RRP of £19.99 which I think is a lot of money for a not very good item and whilst it is a budget item compared to other ricers that are available, it is a false economy because it is not a useful piece of equipment unfortunately. For about twice the price you can get a ricer which holds several potatoes and gets them all mashed in one plunge which makes a lot more sense and takes the frustration out of the process. The ricer is suitable for use in the dishwasher which is good because it ends up in an awful mess!
So in conclusion I am thoroughly disappointed with this gadget. The ricer has been banished to the back of the cupboard and I have reverted to my masher and lumpy mash but at least the original process is quick, clean and significantly less stressful!
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
When I rang my husband and asked him to pop into Argos to pick up a new set of scales on his way home from work, he firstly asked what was wrong with the old ones: "they are not working" I said. I think he thinks that I just didn't like what I was seeing and he wouldn't be too far wrong, but no, they were definitely kaput with nothing showing on the display even after a battery change and me jumping on them certainly didn't help - they simply gave up on me and so the Salter Body Analyser Scale entered my life, the poor thing!
I bought the Salter Body Analyser Scale for one reason alone - they were the cheapest digital display set of scales that Argos stocked and I had an Argos voucher. The scales were reduced from £15.99 to £7.99 which I thought was an absolute bargain and as far as I was concerned all scales are the same, right? Wrong! These are not just any old scales that just measure your weight - these have the added bonus of measuring body water percentage and body fat so it is now written down in front of me exactly how much lard I'm carrying around - if this isn't an incentive to lose it, I don't know what is!
~*~ The Design ~*~
These scales are matt silver in colour, predominantly made from tough plastic. They measure 27 cm square and stand 3.5 cm off the floor. On the top of the scales there are two crescent shaped pieces of metal and these are the sensors that measure your body details accurately. The digital display is large in size so there is no problem seeing it when you are standing on them and the reading is black on a grey background. There are four buttons - on/off, up, down and set which are used to set the scales. Overall these scales have a simple and sleek appearance and I am happy to have them on display in my bathroom.
~*~ In Use ~*~
The first time that the scales are used, you have to pull the battery tab out as they come complete with the two CR2032 (lithium cell) batteries that are required to power the scales. There is a small switch on the underside in order to select stones, pounds or Kg so you should select your desired setting prior to use. If you are using these scales on carpet, four carpet attachments are enclosed which cover the feet so they will be accurate - I always use mine in the bathroom where we have a hard floor so these feet are surplus to my requirement but it is good that they are supplied in case you only have carpeted floors, this is not something I have ever come across before and I have owned many sets of scales!
If you just want to weigh yourself, the scales have to be nudged and they turn on automatically - you stand on the scales and your weight is displayed. It takes five full seconds for the reading to be shown which is quite a long time, in my opinion to be stood there with your fingers crossed. If you are measuring in stones, these scales give a reading to the nearest eighth of a pound which I really like because sometimes half a pound can make all of the difference to how I feel (in kg it measures to the nearest tenth). When I first used these I thought that there would be no need to read the instruction booklet in order to use these, after all they are just a set of scales, but I was wrong. After much fiddling I gave up and read the manual which I should have done in the first place! I was put off because it was a proper big booklet, but in reality it is in lots of different languages and the English section is only two pages so easy enough to decipher, however I do think that using these scales is slightly over complicated so if you just want to jump on quickly and get a measurement - these are not the scales for you.
In order to get a full body analysis firstly you have to set it for yourself which means that you have to tell it your sex, height and age. Once you have done this the scales remember your data each time it is used and it is capable of storing twelve people - you use the up and down buttons to select yourself. To get your analysis the scales have to be turned on using the on/off buttons, simply nudging it will not work if you want the full works. Within a few seconds of standing on the scales (without socks and preferably with damp feet) the display flashes through your settings then comes the telltale moment of fat percentage and body water. NB Your measurements are not displayed to the rest of your family, only the initial data that you give it which is a blessed relief!
~*~ My Thoughts ~*~
Overall I have been pleased with my purchase, especially at the price that I paid. I thought I simply wanted to weigh myself but the added features have given me a boost to my weight loss. At first I took my measurements every day and they rarely changed which made me despondent, but now I use them once a week and I can see a real difference in the measurements. These scales look nice, and they feel sturdy whilst standing on them and not at all as though they are about to snap under the pressure and overall they feel like a good quality product.
The instruction book gives comprehensive instructions for use, and also tables so you can compare your readings with what they ideally should be which I think is an excellent idea. There is a question and answer section that helps you to interpret your data and how to improve the use of the scales, for example, using them at the same time during the day with similar clothing and it also reassures you that the current that is passed through the body in order to get the readings is completely harmless. Maintenance advice is given to ensure optimum performance of the product, but this is mainly common sense like only wiping it with a damp cloth and not to submerge it in water - as if?!
It is easy to inter-change between imperial and metric data on all counts and the very specific measurements (water and fat are measured to 0.1%) are encouraging. I have stood on these scales several times within a few minutes and they always give identical readings which leads me to believe that these scales are very accurate - also in comparison to what my doctor says, these are spot on. These scales are suitable for the whole family, they even have a child mode and athlete mode and it will store the data of anyone up to the age of 99. These are safe to use during pregnancy, but because of fluctuations in body mass, it is best to only use them in weight mode but this product should not be used if you have a pacemaker.
Salter Body analyser scales come with a fifteen year guarantee on working parts which I think is extremely generous and shows how much confidence the makers have in this product. As stated, I got mine from Argos but they are also on the high street and on the internet but at a wide price range (£8- £40!) so check before you buy.
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
There was no doubt about it, it simply had to go. I had put up with the avocado bathroom suite for over a year since moving into our house but the time came when I simply could look at it no longer - when did this colour ever look nice?! We decided that upstairs we would just put a simple cheap suite in as we wanted to reserve our budget for the shower room downstairs which I want to be special, so I scoured the internet for a reasonable priced bath suite and soon came across betterbathrooms.com.
~*~ The website ~*~
When I first clicked through to the site, I was met with a ton of Sale banners and these seem to have been there for as long as I have been looking on it (over four months now) so I can only assume they have some sort of permanent sale on with a variety of products in the same vane that DFS seem to have.
The website is easy to navigate as each component has its own tabs, for example if you just want taps you click on the Tap tab which opens a menu which shows all of the taps available - slightly disappointing that you can't put any of the products into price order as this would have made it a lot easier for me to use. I knew exactly what I was looking for so I was able to navigate directly to the right area of the site, but if you are unsure I can imagine that this could be a minefield as there are so many different package options available. There is everything on this site that you would need to complete your bathroom - suites, accessories, tiles, towel radiators, taps, showers - the whole package, but I do not think that many of the prices are that competitive once you start looking around. On this occasion I simply wanted a suite so I bought a separate bath and a toilet and pedestal sink combo.
Whilst I was making my choice, I noticed a live chat option which I used to ask a simple question. The answer came back after about five minutes so I think that the question answerer actually went out to the showroom to check that the correct answer would be given. I think that this is a good idea as potentially you could be spending a lot of money on this site without actually seeing what you are buying and even though there is a lot of description included with each product, occasionally there is just something extra that you need to know. If you want to call the showroom, it is open until 10pm. There is an information section at the bottom of the site which tells you all about delivery, returns (not accepted unless faulty), contact information and everything else that you should need to know.
The site seems to be high speed and processing my order was simple. I put my items in my virtual trolley and headed for the checkout where I put in my details, confirmed terms and conditions and placed my order smarting slightly at the £35 delivery charge. I paid directly with my card and was taken via a secure site and I felt confident and happy with my order. I immediately got an email saying that my order was being processed. The next day I got an email saying that my order was being picked in the warehouse, then shortly after it was released. My order turned up on a pallet within a week where it was delivered directly into my garage with no hassle whatsoever. So far so good - good website, happy with my product choice and very pleased with the communication but it was all about to go horribly wrong.
~*~ The Products and Customer Service ~*~
I should have known better - I thought a bath was a bath and you can't go too far wrong with a standard white bath can you? Yes. This bath is quite thin and even compared to the forty year old avocado one that we pulled out, the quality is not good. My main issue with it is that it is dead flat so whenever the plug is pulled, there is always a puddle of water that doesn't want to go down the hole - a slight slant would have solved this problem and I believe that this is standard in most baths so why not mine!
The sink is fine, although it seemed to take forever to get it to line up nicely on the pedestal and even now it does not feel entirely secure, but far and away my biggest problem has been the toilet. Firstly, the bolts are plastic so it was difficult to get them completely water tight as we didn't want to put too much pressure on them as we simply didn't trust that they wouldn't break. With a hideous amount of sealant later we put the toilet in place, but it didn't look right - we spent ages moving it about and checking the floor level until we had a eureka moment and realised that the cistern was wonky. There was a 1.5cm difference from one side to the other so it looked hideous against the level grout line behind it and no matter what we did, we couldn't fix this so I took a photo and emailed it to betterbathrooms - this was easy enough to do via the website and the next day I got the same emails again - Processed, picked, dispatched. When the new cistern arrived I took it in without checking it which was stupid because it was exactly the same.
Another email and this one got ignored. After ten days and four phone calls of a promise to call me back I had had enough and asked to be put though to a manager, I was put on hold again and promptly disconnected. Fuming is not the word. I got through in the end, had my say and funnily enough a perfect cistern turned up the next day but this is not enough to make me use this company ever again and I would never recommend them. The attitude of the manager was appalling and there was not a single apology in sight - I asked what I was meant to do with the two faulty cisterns and she advised me to take them to the tip - My local refuse centre charge for disposal of hardcore since all of these wonderful government cuts so is Betterbathrooms going to reimburse me? Of course not! "it's in the terms and conditions" she spouts, but I have had a good look through them and I can find no reference to this policy at all. We are lucky in that we have fitted it ourselves but if we had employed a plumber, we would have had to call them back at our own expense because of Betterbathrooms shoddy products.
So in conclusion my experience has not been a good one and you probably get what you pay for - poor products from this company. If it had been local I would have gone into the store and made a fuss but here you are at the mercy of call centre staff who couldn't give a toss that you've got no toilet or that you are going to be out of pocket. I certainly won't be using this company again and I wouldn't consider recommending them.
I feel a little bit sad that both of my boys have grown out of their "childrens" sleeping bags, and the time came last summer when they were both due for an upgrade. An upcoming camping trip forced my hand to buy new ones and having searched with no merit for a suitable replacement on the high Street, I turned to the internet and found something that caught my eye. The Ultracamp single adult sleeping bag seemed to fit my specifications perfectly and as they came in different colours, they seemed ideal. I ordered a red and a blue one and so far I have been very happy with my decision.
~*~ The Design ~*~
I am going to review the red bag just for ease of writing, but the word "red" can easily be swapped for blue as they are essentially the same design, this sleeping bag is also available in navy blue with a green checked pattern inside. The outside of the sleeping bag is predominantly red with a foot wide grey stripe down one side on the zip edge. It has a black zip and beaded detailing in yellow around the top edge. The inside of the bag is in the same grey as the stripe - overall I think that this bag has a simple design and the colours work well together to make it look good.
~*~ Specifications ~*~
The Ultracamp sleeping bag has a 100% polyester shell and lining, although the lining is not as shiny and slippery as the outside. The fabric does not feel cold to the immediate touch which I like as in the past I have experienced chills just getting into a cheap sleeping bag. The filling is 100% polyester hollow fibre and at 400g per meter square, it feels super insulated and keeps you at a good temperature throughout the night. When folded as a bag, the overall dimensions are 86cm x 220cm which is generous and gives you plenty of space for manoeuvre inside, but this can also be used as a duvet in which case it folds completely flat and the zip comes totally apart so there isn't even a notch at the end.
The sleeping bag comes with it's own pull cord storage bag which has integrated straps on the sides so that the bag can be squashed down even more which is a real bonus. Just in the bag, the dimensions are 46cm tall with a 28cm diameter, but pulled tight the bag gets to approximately 39cm tall, but is does become slightly misshapen and it is quite hard work getting it down to this size.
~*~ My Thoughts ~*~
Without hesitation, I love these sleeping bags. I like the simple design but I especially like their performance and all of the little extras that come with these bags to make them, extra special. The zip is smooth and is dual ended which means that the bag can be left open at the top and bottom, so if you want to air your feet, or you are on the tall side, there is no need for complete restriction and I also like the fact that it can be laid completely flat to use as a blanket. There is a double insulation lining at the zip opening so drafts are kept out and heat is kept firmly in, and a Velcro tab at the top of the zip prevents the zip from coming undone by movement in the night.
There is a pull cord around the top which pulls tight if you want an extra bit of security against bugs and also to keep heat in - I am not a massive fan of the mummy type sleeping bag as I find the top too claustrophobic, but with this bag you get the added bonus of being able to tighten it up, or to leave it flat if you prefer.
On the inside of the bag at the top on the front there is an integrated pocket which I think is a genius idea - it is velcroed so items can't fall out easily and it is about the size of a paperback book. This is a perfect place to store valuables such as money and jewellery in my opinion as you would instantly be woken by anyone trying to tamper with this pocket, and it is also unexpected so a chance thief would possibly not even hazard a guess that this discreet pocket exists.
Overall this bag weighs in the region of 5kg, and also it is quite large even when squashed as much as possible so it might be too heavy for backpacking - I have no experience of travelling around carrying my belongings, but it does seem a little bulky to fit this purpose well. These bags have been used in a variety of ways and have never failed to deliver - they have been used both inside and outside so from temperatures ranging from about 8 to 20 degrees and they have always provided a good night's sleep - the bags have a season rating of 3-4 which means that they are suitable for use in temperatures of up to minus 10 but I cannot verify that because if it was minus 10 I would be tucked up at home in my high tog duvet with electric blanket! I use them if I am staying over at a friend's after a night out whilst sleeping on a sofa and I have always found them snug and comfortable as they are a generous size and the fabric feels soft and warm and a big plus for my is that they are quiet and not at all rustly with movement.
After much use neither one of our bags has suffered and ill effects, and there is no sign of "bobbling" on the inside which I have come across in the past and it has made bags unusable. The bags have been washed at 30 degrees as instructed and have not faded in the slightest and the lining has remained perfectly flat and intact, they also do not take long to dry - about two hours on the line on a warm day is sufficient.
The Ultracamp sleeping bag absolutely reeks of quality both in design and performance and I am delighted at my purchase. A slight issue is that the red one cost £5 more than the blue one, and I don't really see why, but even at the higher price of £24.99 I think that they offer good value for money and are still very reasonably priced. As stated, I purchased mine on Amazon but they are also available on other internet sites and good camping stockists.
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
When it comes to cooking for my family, I feel that I am very much stuck in a rut - I probably have about twelve trusted dishes that I alternate between and after asking around among my friends, I do not think that this is uncommon! Much of my menu is Italian as it is quick and easy to prepare and cook and generally speaking, I have to deliver meals quickly to satisfy my starving brood after long days at work and school! Because we eat so much Italian, I do not find the cuisine especially inspiring so when I received Lawrence Dellaglios My Italian Family Cookbook as a gift, I wasn't all that enthused but I was more than happy to give it a go.
Lawrence Dellaglios essentially grew up in England but his love of Italian cuisine has come directly from his father and Grandparents, the two page long introduction takes you through why Dellaglio is so passionate about food, ingredients and cooking and why he believes that it should be a family occasion where everyone comes together and why cooking is an essential skill to learn at an early stage. He set out with his father to create a range of sauces and this is when they met the Sacla family so the two have come together to produce a range of sauces and also this book which is full of old family recipes and ideas and I have to say that after reading the introduction, I was inspired.
The recipes in this cookbook are divided into five sections - light bites, quick weekday suppers, weekend food for friends, special occasions and sensational desserts. I do not think that it is sub sectioned particularly well and it is not immediately clear which section you would want to head for in my opinion, I think I prefer the more traditional lay out of a cookbook - starters, mains and desserts. At the top of each recipe, the name is written in both Italian and English and there is also a short paragraph about the dish (I could have done without this most of the time).
The recipes in this book are extremely easy to follow without exception: You are given a prep time and a cooking time, most of which are pretty accurate in my experience. It also tells you how many it will serve and lists the ingredients. One thing that I really like about these recipes is that none of the ingredients are out of the ordinary and all are easily accessible and useful - there is nothing worse than scouring around for an ingredient only to use a fraction of it and the rest goes bad at the back of the cupboard, you do not get this at all with these recipes. There is not a massive list of ingredients for any of the recipes and the vast majority use several portions of fresh veg. The method is printed alongside the ingredients, and again, it is not longwinded or drawn out - just a couple of paragraphs to take you through the process. I have cooked about five things from this book and I have always been able to follow the methods with ease - this is probably the main beauty of Italian food, it is just simple home cooking made from fresh tasty ingredients. You also do not need a huge list of utensils to cook from this book, I would imagine that every household has everything required in a basic utensil collection. An index at the back is listed by names of dishes and also ingredients which I do like because I think it makes recipes a lot more accessible.
There is nothing challenging to a home cook about any of the recipes, and to be honest I am still underwhelmed by Italian cuisine and this book has not done anything to change that - I don't really need to be told how to grill or roast Mediterranean vegetables, roast a chicken or how to make a tomato salad, it is generally pretty obvious. The recipe that takes the prize for the most ridiculous has got to be ice cream with espresso - Ingredients: a tub of vanilla ice cream, 200ml hot espresso coffee - I think you can guess the method! My inspiration from this book has quickly waned, it is not one that I will be referring back to over and over again as it is just too dull and there is nothing out of the ordinary.
This book is absolutely jam packed with pictures that I would say take up over two thirds of the book - they are not only of the finished meal, but also of Lawrence cooking with his family (mostly his young son) but also of individual ingredients. Most of the photos are unnecessary in my opinion and I would just rather see a picture of every dish finished - many of the recipes do not have this but whole pages are taken up by his family eating and cooking and even old family snap shots, I do not feel that I need to see this as it is just extra padding, but I suppose the thinking behind it is to emphasise the point of the family getting involved with meals.
In conclusion my opinion is split completely about this book. It does contain some very tasty recipes that are easy to prepare but it is all so predictable, and on the other hand I think that this whole book is just a showcase for Lawrence Dellaglio , his family and in particular Sacla sauces and I would have to question whether this book would have got to print if it were not for his rugby connections and consequential fame. It is an attractive book with muted colours and interesting fonts but if it actually came down to the bare bones, this book could easily have been half of the length.
If you are a first time cook this might be of some interest to you but there are probably better books out there as an introduction to cookery, but for anyone who has the slightest amount of experience in the kitchen, this book really is teaching you how to suck eggs (pardon the pun!). It currently has an RRP of £18.99 but is discounted on Amazon so a new copy would set you back £12.53 (Jan 2012) ISBN 9780857205629 but I really wouldn't bother.
Also published on Ciao under my username chilcott1
Growing our own vegetables has always been an ambition of ours but the outside space that we used to have never allowed us to produce anything more than a plate of salad, however, when we moved house a while back we finally had the space to grow something a bit more substantial. Unfortunately in our first year we quickly realised that there was an awful lot that we didn't know and we ended up with very little at which point the Allotment month by month book entered our lives and things have been a lot simpler since!
Printed by Dorling Kindersley the book entitled Allotment Month by Month is written by Alan Buckingham and it has been an absolute bible for us in the last few months. The front cover has changed since above photo was taken and it now boasts simple salad vegetables and a strap line of "how to grow your own vegetables" which says it all really! This is not a run of the mill hardback book - the sturdy cover contains a spiral binder and the pages are made from thin card and the months of the year are tabbed on each section.
The introduction of the book lays out the reasons why growing your own is so popular, and all of these reasons resonate with me - fresh, seasonal and local are important yet subsidiary reasons that make me want to do it - my main reason has got to be economic and also the pure satisfaction of pulling something out of the ground that I have grown and nurtured. The introduction runs you through plot layouts within your space and bed systems, crop rotation, composts and fertilisers, tools and equipment, and climate and seasons. After reading the introduction, this alone pointed out some of the places that I had been going wrong in the past - it is laid out in such a way that the information is easy to digest and photographs alongside make it even easier to understand, for instance I knew what a cloche was, but to a complete novice gardener the picture makes it obvious. The photographs throughout the book are generally close up and of a good quality and scattered enough on the pages to draw your interest.
This book is divided up into the twelve months and as stated, the pages are tabbed for quick reference. At the start of each month it states which crop is in season and then moves onto which crops should be sown - the book says how the crop should be planted (outdoors, indoors, greenhouse...) and in what form (seed, plant, bulb etc) and it also reminds you to keep an eye on the weather, for example, broad beans can be sown in January so long as the ground is not frozen. Each crop has its own page of instructions and tips but at the bottom of the page there is an at-a-glance box which lists the crops which is useful if you know what you are doing but just want a quick reminder. Next within the month is the jobs that need doing - weeding, watering, hardening off seedlings, potting on, and many many more but most importantly of all, harvesting - the list is seemingly endless and there are obviously more jobs in some months than others. Spring and summer is a busy time in the garden so these sections of the book get bigger, but the information is still not overwhelming and if some jobs are not applicable to you, it is easy to skim over them and move onto the next section as there are large sub headings.
The pests and diseases that might affect your crops are listed for the month, but you have to flip through to the back to find the trouble shooting guide on how to deal with them. The guide is listed in alphabetical order and again, very easy to use and I have found this section very helpful as I have identified several issues that I have had from the use of this book (flipping leek moth will be the death of me!) - It states the name of the pest/disease, the crops affected, symptoms and tell tale signs and how to deal with it. There are photos alongside this section also which show the issues and so it is easy to cross reference to see if you have the same problem. The index at the end of the book makes all of the information easily accessible and I especially like that the main page for the subject that you want is written in bold so you can go straight there rather than leafing through pages that only have that specific word on them.
Overall this book has been a godsend to me in the garden and really has given me a great beginner's crash course in growing my own fruit and vegetables. I have referred back to this book on countless occasions and is has always given me the answers that I need. At the last count we have nineteen varieties growing and I hope to push up this count during the coming years. This book has given me a new found enthusiasm for cultivating my own crops so I would highly recommend it, it shows that you do not have to have a massive plot to ensure that you have fresh food all year round and even though it is entitled "allotment" this could easily be changed to garden if you have sufficient space. The information is well laid out, easy to understand and not at all overwhelming and you don't have to have green finger in order to read it!
My copy came via The Book People who leave their books in offices and clubs and I paid £8 for it which I think is a bargain considering the quality and the wealth of information that it offers, but I see that it is even cheaper on their website now at £6.99. On Amazon it is currently £11.21 with free delivery which is still a good reduction on the RRP of £19.99. ISBN 978-1-4053-9136-8
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
I don't know why, but in the last few months I have suddenly developed painful and irritating cold sores around my mouth. As I am not used to them, I am finding it all rather traumatic and I feel like wrapping a scarf around my face before heading out in public! After suffering several in silence I decided that I needed to invest in something to help put an end to it so I purchased a tube of Blistex (formally known as Blisteze).
Bilstex comes in a small cardboard box which tells you that alongside cold sores, this product can also be used to treat cracked, chapped and sore lips. There is a lot of information on the box - how to use the product, what to expect the results to be, to consult your doctor if symptoms persist, storage requirements and to keep out of reach of children. It is worth noting the information because some of it is very useful and also take a good look at the ingredients before application in case of any allergies.
The tube that contains the product is very small measuring only 8cm in length and 2cm at its widest point - I really like this because it means that it is discreet enough to put in your pocket so you have it on your person all of the time. Most of the information that is printed on the box is duplicated onto the tube. Usage of the product is easy - the contents are accessed by squeezing the tube but only very slightly or too much of the product comes out, I have found that I need to put the screw lid back on to the tube very quickly once I have a sufficient amount on my finger, otherwise it continues to dispense, this does however mean that the lid gets quite gunked up with the product so the excess needs to be wiped off fairly regularly.
A small amount goes a long way so I only need the tiniest amount for a full application. With clean hands I dispense a small amount and rub it into the offending area, and with its smooth consistency this is easy. Blisteze is initially a creamy colour but with a few rubs it quickly becomes clear and absorbs rapidly leaving only a slight sheen which looks pleasant and would not be especially noticeable even on a man, there is no stickiness at all and I like the feeling of it on my lips.
As soon as the substance is applied, I can practically feel it working - the area immediately goes very cold probably due to the ammonia and peppermint oil that is included in the ingredients - it is a refreshing sensation and this lasts for ten minutes or so after application. So, the main question has to be, does it work? A resounding yes. Left untreated a cold sore can last over a week but with this product the blistering and swelling disappears after a day leaving only a red patch which can easily be covered with makeup, but with continuous use, I find that even this goes after about three days which is brilliant in my opinion. I apply Blisteze at least once an hour, usually going over it with some concealer to hide the redness and this seems to do the trick and I can quickly wave the sore goodbye and get on with my life! Most of the time cold sores appear without indication, but occasionally I get the tingly feeling which means that one is on the way, but I think that I have warded several off by early use of Blistex.
On lips, this product is just as effective. Even applied to terribly dry and cracking lips, this product soothes and mends leaving them soft and smooth after only a few applications and it also provides a good barrier against harsh weather. It is not waterproof, and it does come off on glasses and mugs, but it is no hardship to re-apply when necessary.
I can't believe I suffered unnecessarily for so long when I could have just used this as it really is an excellent product and also so widely available in supermarkets and pharmacies. For 5g, the price is about £3.50 which is a small price to pay to get my confidence back, and also the fact that one tiny tube lasts so long makes this very good value for money. I would not hesitate to recommend Blistex and I know that I will always keep this product close to hand.
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
I have never been brand conscious when it comes to body lotion as I do not think that I have ever found a product that I adore, so when I received Boots Natural Collection Body Lotion as a gift I was more than happy to give it a go especially as I get through quite a lot during the winter - I find that my skin is very dry at this time of year so I use a body lotion every morning after my shower.
As with many of the natural collection products, this body lotion comes in a clear plastic tube (fully recyclable) with a picture of the ingredients on the front - in this instance there is an attractive illustration of a passion flower. The product stands on its end and is accessed via a black plastic flip top lid, I like the very simple packaging and I think that it makes the lotion look lovely: it is pale lilac in colour which matches the pinks, purples and greens of the picture perfectly. Once opened the lotion has a shelf life of twenty four months.
The product squeezes nicely out of the tube with minimum effort and the first thing that hits you is the aroma. It is a light feminine refreshing floral and fruity scent which has a slight hint of sweetness but also a background note of something that I can only describe as baby powder - it is a pleasant aroma, not in the slightest bit overpowering and very unusual in my opinion -it is not something that I have smelt before and it really smells quite unique, once applied to the skin the scent lasts for the majority of the day and I often get wafts of it even in the latter stages of my day.
When I first applied this to my skin I thought that it was quite a creamy substance but after a little rubbing in this body lotion takes on an almost watery texture which isn't all that pleasant and it feels as though there is a fair amount of friction, but it very quickly dries and absorbs - a matter of seconds - to leave my skin with a lovely silky feeling. My skin feels super soft and smooth, almost as though it has been covered in talc, which is a lovely feeling as it also feels supple and well moisturised and there is not a hint of greasiness or oiliness with the end result. I apply the lotion to my legs, arms and upper chest and the results are the same all over, I am sometimes prone to spots on my chest with heavier lotions but none at all with this one have appeared. On occasion I have suffered with slight sensitive skin when applying lotion to freshly shaved legs where it has stung and caused a minor rash, but I have not had any irritation with this product which is a big positive for me. I find a 10p sized squirt of the lotion is sufficient to do both of my legs so this product goes a long way and one tube has lasted me for months. One thing that I don't like about this product is that it really doesn't taste good - I am well aware that you are not supposed to eat it (and it does actually say this on the packaging) but on occasion I have put my fingers in my mouth a long time after applying this and it is awful which I suppose proves that it clings to your skin for a good length of time!
This product is only available in Boots stores and online at Boots.com and it is currently (Jan 12) priced at £3.17 for 200ml. I think that this is average value in comparison to other bog standard body lotions on the market, but for one that smells as pleasant as this is offers good value in my opinion and I would probably buy myself a replacement when this is all gone.
Also posted on ciao under my username chilcott1
Whenever I received a gift that was toiletries or cosmetics in the past, I always used to save them for "best" or special occasions, but when we moved house in 2010, I realised that this was ridiculous as I had a mass of toiletries that I never used and I was buying products for everyday use, so I have been using up all of the nice presents that I have amassed and I have not had to buy shower gel for eighteen months now! I generally prefer to use just a straight shower gel but a few weeks back Boots Natural Collection Mango and Papaya Body Scrub came to the front of the queue in the cupboard so it was time to use it up and with an impending holiday, I decided that now was as good a time as any to brush up my skin.
Boots Natural Collection Mango and Papaya Body Scrub comes in a plastic tube that stands on its end on a black plastic flip top lid. I really like this straight off as the product is always where I need it to be and I don't have to spend precious minutes in the morning shaking a bottle for all I am worth to get it to dispense. As the packaging is clear, it is easy to see the vibrant orange colour of the product - it looks almost good enough to eat! An attractive picture of the tropical fruits in the ingredients completes the front of the product and on the back the directions for use, ingredients list and contact details are listed. Once opened this product is suitable for use for 24 months.
On opening the lid I am immediately met with a strong tropical scent - it is probably more papaya than mango and it smells simply divine in my opinion and not at all soapy or acrid. The consistency is gel like in appearance and hold but as it is quite watery also it comes out of the tube with ease - a bit too easily actually, and a great big squirt comes out if you are not careful. There are very small grains within the scrub of a substance that has an appearance of sugar - clear and granulated and this is the magic ingredient that does the scrubbing.
In use I have to say that I am not over enamoured with this product. I use it on a body puff (one of those net ball things) and it is extremely difficult to get up any sort of lather. I find that the granules are difficult to rinse off and they seem to cling to my skin for a long time and the feel of the overall product in use is somewhat "dry" and not at all luxurious to use as it simply doesn't seem to want to be lathered over my skin. I have persevered with this product in the hope that it might improve, but after each use I have had to use shower gel as well as I still feel dirty - this product actually makes me feel dirtier after using it which is ridiculous! I use it in the shower, but I could imagine that if it was used in the bath it would be even worse as you would just end up sitting on all of the granules.
Whilst my skin isn't tight after use, it does not feel moisturised or soft either and I really do not feel as though I have been "scrubbed" - there is no visible difference to my skin after two weeks use so I have given up on it. The aroma of the scrub is lovely whilst in use, it makes the bathroom smell and is quite revitalising and I like the fact that it clings to my skin for a few hours after use which is this products' saving grace but other than that, it doesn't rock my boat.
This product is only available from Boots stores and on boots.com currently (Jan 2012) priced at £3.17 for 200ml. I am glad that I didn't buy this product as I do not feel that it offers good value for money and there are plenty of other products on the market that will do a better job at a much lower price. Only two stars from me for this - one for the packaging and one for the scent.
A criminal that goes by the name of Mr X is loose in the city of London. He is moving around London by various modes of transport and the aim of the game is to catch him before he can make his escape. You have a maximum of five detectives on the case; will you be able to work together as a team to bring the mastermind to justice? Let the chase commence!
~*~ Preparation ~*~
Before you can even think about playing, you have to choose who is going to be Mr X. Once the decision is made, Mr X acts alone whereas the remaining players can work closely together communicating and conferring their moves in order to capture the reckless criminal. The playing board is laid out on a flat surface and each player takes a playing figure that they will move around the board on their turn. In order to navigate the city, you have to take various modes of transport and so each detective is dealt their "tickets" for the game; 10 Taxi, 4 underground and 8 bus tickets is all you have. Mr X gets what is left over but as each player uses their ticket they pass it onto Mr X so basically his transport choices are unlimited. Mr X gets two other types of tickets - 2 double moves and 2 black tickets. The double move ticket can be used to make two turns in one go and the black ticket keeps his mode of transport a secret so the detectives do not know how he has moved on.The board is essentially a map of central London and various points are marked with numbers (from 1 to 199 so there are a lot of possible moves!) Each number is joined by the routes which can be taken between them - a white line indicates a taxi, a blue line is for a bus and the red routes mark the underground. At the start of the game each player is dealt a "starting card" which states where they should place their figure. Mr X keeps the starting point a secret, but he keeps a record of his moves on a log which is secret, but his mode of transport must be told unless he uses a black ticket. On moves 3, 8, 13 and 18 Mr X must show himself which gives the detectives a fighting chance of catching up with him.
~*~ My Thoughts ~*~
Although this game sounds complicated initially, it is actually incredibly simple and once you get started it is quite clear what you should do, and the concise and easy to follow instructions make it a breeze. In our experience everybody wants to be Mr X because it is the most fun part of the game, but to be honest, it is really quite nerve racking and I find myself getting quite sweaty and panicking once the detectives get close! I have to hold my hands up and say that I have never got away, I have even tried taking the underground for the entire game just to put some distance between me and them, but that still didn't work; I guess that I just don't have a criminal mind!
This game really encourages team work and logical thinking. If you try to work alone for the glory of end capture, you are going to have a struggle on your hands so you have to work as a team in order to close the net. You also have to be logical whilst playing as you have a limited number of tickets so, for example if you run out of taxi's just as you are on a taxi only stop, you are out of the game. Working out where Mr X could possibly have moved onto is one thing, but remembering all of the possibilities is another so you rely quite heavily on when he shows himself, and if he uses a black ticket or double move, that can really throw a spanner in the works. It is easier to bring the game to an end with six people playing as escape obviously gets harder with more people chasing, but this game can also be played with just two players, but the player who isn't Mr X would have to play several detectives in order to have a sniff at success.
I really like the inclusion of the black baseball cap in the game - this is for Mr X to wear and it prevents the other players from trying to cheat by seeing whereabouts Mr X is looking on the board. This game depends on a certain amount of trust, you have to assume that Mr X is honestly writing down his moves - this can always be checked on the log at the end of the game if mis-adventure is suspected!
This game is for old and young (probably from aged seven or so upwards) and is suited to males and females equally. It is the kind of game that the entire family of all generations can play together and each participant is on a level playing field with no real advantage of age or intelligence! The length of the game depends entirely on hoe canny Mr X is. If he makes it right to the end, I think that the game could easily last over an hour depending on how the detectives get along and how much they argue amongst themselves, but if Mr X is caught in the first half of the game it can often be over within half an hour. I do find that younger players (and I'm including myself in that!) get slightly disheartened if it is clear that there is not going to be a capture towards the latter stages of the game and the child in me just wants to throw the board in the air, but this is the aim of the game and the criminal walks away happy! Over all I think that this is a really interesting family board game, it is a bit different from the usual run of the mill board games and it is different every time without exception.
We have had our set for a number of years so it is definitely an older game which has stood the test of time which is why I am surprised that it does not seem to be massively available on the High Street. It is available on the internet (Amazon, ebay, Tesco) but it is worth checking out the prices as they vary considerably from about £8 - £15, even at the higher price I would say that this offers value for money as it is a durable and interesting game.
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
**Please note that this review is for the Taunton location of the Pitcher and Piano and not the chain in general **
Whilst I was taking my GCSE's many moons ago I spent a lot of time in the Taunton town library, but since then there have been a few changes to the old building. The library has been moved to a swanky new building and so occupying the premises nowadays is the Pitcher and Piano bar. I probably spend more time in there now than I did in the past and it is definitely a lot more fun!
~*~ The Ambience ~*~
There is a front and a rear entrance to the bar so if I am meeting someone "by the door" I always make sure we both know which one! The front entrance to the bar takes you straight off the busy main road near the centre of Taunton into a large foyer area, heavy glass doors lead you into the main bar area which has a really open and spacious feel, this is probably due to the atrium style vaulted ceiling which I believe offers something special to the building. This is a very large building, but I feel that it is laid out nicely to suit the needs of anyone. Although it feels fairly open plan, it is laid out in such a way that most of the tables have a degree of privacy. The main bar area is on several different levels (only by a few steps) so there is a wide choice of where to sit to suit every occasion. If you want intimacy or just a laid back drink, there are a couple of comfy sofas in the corners, there are tables to suit most party sizes and down the centre of the bar there are several large tables with stools - my ever-single friend likes to sit here because she thinks it is a good place to meet men!
Even though this is a very old building, and it is clear that there is history attached to it, the decor has been done sympathetically whilst still feeling contemporary and modern. It has not been refurbished for a while and could probably do with it now as the paintwork is starting to look a little on the shabby side. As well as the main bar area, there is a larger room towards the back of the building, which is still open plan, but it is far from the bar and quite private - this area can be hired separately for private parties, and it is quite often used for events within the bar like speed dating or salsa dancing (it has a small dance floor once the tables are moved).
Outside there is a large patio area which probably has about twenty solid heavy wooden tables with chairs, a sofa area and patio heaters. The rear is accessed via one of the older quaint streets in Taunton and so sitting here during the day in the summer and watching the world go by is really quite relaxing, and by night I quite often get dragged out there by my occasional smoking friend because once again, she thinks that she will meet men out here by asking them for a lighter!
The lighting inside changes throughout the day with the use of spots and chandeliers, and I feel that this is where this bar comes into its own. By day it is a good central place to pop in for a mid-shop drink and it is an excellent place for a working lunch, but by night it changes into a bustling bar where the music is turned up to a not unsociable feel, but it gets you in the mood to party. If there is a big sporting even on, the large screen is utilised so you don't have to miss a thing.
The main toilets are upstairs, and it really is quite a hike to get to them. There are plenty of toilets but it is always cold up there and whichever cubicle that I use always seems to have a broken lock! By day they are usually fairly clean, but by night they get a little "well used" and they never have any toilet roll. The taps on the sinks come off in your hands, but there is a nice full length mirror on the wall so you can always see how bad you look. As you walk past the mens', it only takes a sideways glance if the door is open to see activity at the urinals - not the best design in the world. For a long time I thought that these were the only toilets, but one day they flooded and a toilet miraculously appeared in a cupboard downstairs - this is specifically for disabled use, but gaining access into the pub in the first place could cause a few problems if you are in a wheelchair as there are steps at every entrance, and once you are inside, the seating choices are limited because of the split levels.
There are 21 Pitcher and Pianos across the UK, they all have a similar sort of look whilst being individual in their own right. The Taunton location occupies a beautiful building and I firmly believe that they have done it justice, however when it was first refurbished and changed into a drinking hole, a few eyebrows were raised as there is a covenant on the building put in place by the foundation that part funded the build, stating that alcohol must not be consumed on the premises - whoops!
~*~ The Food Menu ~*~
The menu at the Pitcher and Piano isn't massive but there is something on it to suit everyone, I quite like short and succinct menus because it takes the stress out of choosing. The menu changes quite regularly which keeps things interesting and there is something to suit every price range.
The last time I went in here to eat was at lunchtime. There are generally some special offers on, and I usually take advantage of them. On the most recent occasion we took up the "munch for less" offer which is a choice of eight dishes, plus a soft drink or coffee (£1.50 extra for a pint of lager or glass of wine). I chose a baguette which came with a portion of chips and my husband had scampi and chips. For the money, I was expecting a meagre portion, but I was wrong. The portion sizes were generous and more than enough for a mid-day snack and everything was beautifully cooked. The kitchen is situated within a corner of the bar so you can see exactly what is going on, and it is clear to see that all food is prepared and cooked freshly to order which is a rare delight in a chain in my experience. A choice of soups salads and sandwiches is available which are all slightly more than the run of the mill choices that are usually available - Cajun chicken baguette, halloumi salad, mozzarella and sun-dried tomato ciabatta to name but a few, prices vary from £4.45 - £9.25.
They have a large selection of grazing dishes on the menu, which is great if you are in a small group and cannot decide what to have, or if you just want a very light meal or a starter. These dishes include potato wedges with a choice of dips (£4.15), breaded mushrooms (£3.95), chicken wings (£4.25), calamari (£4.25) and many more. Prices range from £3.95 to £5.25 (tempura prawns) but you can get them at a reduced price if you order two or more. Again these portions are not meagre and they all seem to come with a sauce, dip or chutney of some description that just pushes them up a notch for me on taste and puts them one step ahead of much of the competition in the area.
If you are looking for something a little more substantial there is a range of "posh" burgers, fish and chips, ratatouille baked aubergine ...all under £10, and in fact the most expensive thing on the menu is a 10oz steak which comes in at £12.95. I am deeply impressed with the food prices, I think that they are very competitive and represent extremely good value for money given the quality of the food. Puddings are available for under a fiver, but I have never sampled one enough to be able to review them - I don't do sweets!
All of the dishes are presented immaculately with real attention to detail and everything is spotlessly clean. I have never had a bad meal in here and I have always left feeling satisfied and full. The staff are attentive without being overbearing and over all it is an extremely pleasant place to eat, whether it be in the day or in the evening, as a couple or with a large group of friends or colleagues - this place lends itself to any occasion.
~*~ The Drinks Menu ~*~
Ahhh, my favourite bit. I probably drink five times more in the Pitcher and Piano than I do eat, which is wrong I know but I just can't help it! The Pitcher and Piano in Taunton is a great place to start a night out in my opinion and I get drawn back here time and time again on a Saturday night. Invariably I generally have a voucher in hand for a free drink as they are generous with promotions if you sign up to the website, but even with no voucher I am happy to be here. The drinks menu is extensive, in fact it's a twelve pager which is very impressive.
They have a wide choice of wines - medium, dry, full, mellow, fruity, red, white, rose, sparkling - who new there was so much to choose from? Prices start at £3.35 for a small glass of white (£12.50 for the bottle) which I do not think is so bad but if you want to push the boat out, you can be the proud owner of a bottle of fizz for £160. There is a massive choice of beers and lagers both bottled and draught, I am not a beer drinker personally and so they all taste the same to me, but if you like a certain variety, chances are they will have it here. They must have every type of spirit imaginable here, all lined up along the back of the bar, they really do look attractive with the rainbow of colours. Mixers, soft drinks and coffee and all available in abundance at the sort of prices that you would expect to pay in this sort of establishment.
Cocktails and dreams! The cocktail menu is nothing short of divine. There do not seem to be very many places now where you can get a proper made-in-front-of-you cocktail, but this place does it to perfection. All of the staff are very knowledgeable about the cocktail menu and will point you in the direction of something delicious if you tell them your likes and dislikes. They are on the pricey side at a smidge under £7 for most of them, but they are an experience in itself. I still wake up in the night thinking about the White Russian I had once, mmmmm, and some of my favourite memories have involved the rear patio, sun and a mojito! As well as the classics, they have developed their own individual recipes which are definitely worth trying.
~*~ Other bits of info ~*~
As you have probably guessed I love the Pitcher and Piano. It takes on a different identity from day to night and suits practically most needs in my opinion. The food is delicious, the drinks are amazing, the staff are courteous and the clientele is varied - what more could a girl want? Decent toilets would make a big difference but that aside, I would highly recommend a visit if you are ever in the area.
There is no separate car park, but parking can be sought at the Cresent car park which is two minutes walk away.
For more information visit the p&p website: www.pitcherandpiano.com where you can see detailed menus.
Pitcher and Piano, Corporation Street, Taunton, TA1 4AJ. 01823 350 104
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
For some reason we seem to go through quite a few flasks in our household, the reason for the high turnover is because of high use, them getting lost by my sons but mainly because we are yet to find the perfect flask. The latest in a long line of water containers is the Thermos Hydro Active sports bottle. My son spotted it in Homesense just before Christmas and thought that it would be perfect for his lunchbox so I bought it for £3.99.
~*~ The Style ~*~
The Thermos bottle looks stylish which is probably what attracted my sons' attention. The main body of the flask is clear blue plastic so you can see the contents inside. (This product also comes in pink and charcoal) Up the side there are measurements in millilitres and ounces printed in white. The bottle has black rubber detailing in such a style so as when you hold it, your thumbs are holding the rubber making it easy grip and less likely to slip from your grip - especially if you have sweaty hands from doing sports. The bottle fits nicely in your hand and feels good to hold, probably because it tapers slightly towards the bottom thus fitting snugly in the clasped position of the hand. In total the flask stands at just under 20cm high, is 7.5cm in diameter at its widest point, weighs 130g and holds 450ml of liquid.
The top of the bottle comes in the form of a screw on lid with a flip top. The lid also has the black rubber detailing and the plastic is also blue but not see through. This flask is a little different to any other flask that we have owned in that it has a tube inside which can be filled with water and frozen - I thought that this perfect for a lunchbox because it would keep the other contents cold as well as the drink which is always a worry of mine as lunchboxes are not kept in fridges at school during the day. The ice tube unscrews at the top for filling, then sits back into the bottle resting on the lid. All in all this flask looks great, but as I very quickly discovered - looks aren't everything.
~*~ In use ~*~
The first time I filled this bottle I knew we had a problem. After putting it through the dishwaher before its first use (it is perfectly dishwasher safe) I filled the flask, secured the screw top and put it side down in my son's lunchbox. I got the other bits and pieces together to go in there and by the time I returned, the lunchbox had a rather large puddle in it - not exactly what you need minutes before the school run. I took the flask and screwed the lid shut as firmly as I could but this is not where the problem lay - I soon discovered that it was dripping from the flip lid. Inside the hinged flip bit there is a rubber seal which is quite simply not adequate. If you push the lid down as firmly as possible - which is the natural thing to do in my opinion - it is down too far and drips profusely, but if you only push it a little bit it fits much more snugly which is ridiculous as then you are in danger of the whole lid flipping up.
The first time I used it I didn't put the ice tube in as it was quite cold anyway and it wasn't needed, but I put the tube in wondering if it was needed to stop the flask from leaking. It makes no difference whatsoever but now I have a different problem. The top of the tube has a swirl on it so it can be easily "screwed" out but this just isn't the case - I finally got the tube out again with the aid of my husbands pliers which definitely is not ideal.
So now I have a dilemma. I have a very nice looking bottle that is pleasant to hold and nice to drink out of, but it leaks till the sun goes down making it a pretty useless piece of kit in my opinion. If you are going to the gym or something like that where you can hold it all of the way then put it in a cup holder and so guarantee that the bottle is not going to be tipped at all, then it is ideal but if you live in the real world and just want to throw a reliable bottle into the bottom of your bag then this is not the flask for you - or me! I have experimented for a long time with this bottle, but there is just no way that I could trust it now so it will languish at the back of the cupboard with all of the other imperfect specimens.
If you do want one, and I could never guess why, they are available in supermarkets, department stores, online and in many other shops where you would go to buy a water bottle like Halfords and Dunelm Mill and prices seem to range from £4 - 7.
Also posted on Ciao under my username chilcott1
Forever on the hunt for a new and interesting board game for the whole family to play, I came across Don't Panic, manufactured by Ideal. It looked bright and interesting and it was a reasonable price so into my virtual shopping basket it went.
On opening the box, all of the components are laid out in their own compartments, but there really is not much to this game. You get the round playing board which folds out from quarters, six counters, the playing cards and a timer. One single sheet of instructions tells you all you need to know in order to play the game. In order to start the game, the timer is placed in the centre of the board; each player takes a counter and puts it on the start position. Play starts with the youngest player.
~*~ Game play ~*~
In order to understand the game, first you have to understand the cards. Each card has four colours on it (which correspond to the colours on the playing board). The colours represent the hardness of the question with yellow being the easiest and red being the toughest (blue and orange in between). Each player starts on yellow. Each colour has a subject and a number, for example, yellow - 3 - names for a cat. In this instance you have to name three common cats names, are you with me? As soon as the question is read aloud the timer is started, and when the answers have been given the timer is stopped. As the timer is counting, it is counting down, starting at 10 so the longer it takes you to give the answers, the lower the end number - this is how many spaces you move on the board, so you obviously want to answer as quickly as possible in order to achieve the maximum number of moves, and when under pressure, this is not as easy as it sounds - hence the name of the game: Don't Panic!
~*~ My Thoughts ~*~
Setting up of the game is easy and I really like that, I find it quite frustrating having to constantly refer to instructions throughout a game as it tends to take the fun out of it, but this game is as easy as one, two, three and once you have played it once, the next time is a doddle.
Some of the subjects on the cards are extremely random and take a lot of thinking about, although most of the time it is easy to come up with an answer after a little logical thought. As no answers are given, it is up to the other players to decide whether the answer qualifies and this has caused a lot of arguments in our house, for example, my son had to name six sharp things - one of the answers he gave was "a pointy stick!" Ten minutes of heated discussion followed this answer, I shall let you make your own mind up on that one, but as he is my boy, I let him have it - more competitive members of the family were not so pleased! There are 200 game cards so this game will always be different, and by the time the cards come to an end, I would think that it would be possible to start again as it is unlikely that the subject would be remembered.
The timer works on a wind up basis, so batteries are not required which is always a blessed relief! As the numbers are close together, and the pointer end is half a centimetre, it is not always clear what the score is - we have a rule that the larger number is taken which seems to stop any arguments. You have to push the timer - plunge style - and so far ours has taken quite a battering by over eager smacking, but it is very robust and so far, none the worse for it!
I like the fact that you do not have to sit around a table to play this game. It is easy to sit around in the lounge and just pass the timer around, just having the playing board close to one person who can make the moves. This makes it a lovely casual game, and also makes it suitable for more players. You need a minimum of two people in order to play this game, and even though there are only six counters, I do not see why more counters couldn't be employed to make this game suitable for an infinite number of players.
The recommended age of players is eight plus, and this is because some of the subjects are quite hard, but if you are willing to sift through the cards a little to make allowances and possibly give some clues, there are subjects here that could easily be answered by younger players, e.g. name five cartoon characters. The subjects are all so different I think that anyone stands a good chance of winning, whatever their age or sex - there are many questions that my sons can answer that I don't have a clue about, but I think everyone has a fair shot with a question like "name four things that are sticky". It is recommended that four rounds are played, and the player that has got the furthest wins. We generally play until somebody gets to the end if we have plenty of time, and with four people playing, this usually takes about half an hour (including arguments!)
~*~ Availability ~*~
I picked up the game on Amazon about a year ago and I paid £15 for it. I see now (Jan 2012) that it is £18.84 with free delivery, and even at the higher price I think that it represents good value for money as it is a fun and durable game. It is also possible to pick Don't Panic up on the high street at various department stores, but prices seem to vary a little between £15-20.
Also posted on Dooyoo under my username chilcott1
Earlier in the year, my youngest son received Chocolate Fix by Thinkfun for his birthday from a friend who said that her own son thought it was such a great game, they simply had to spread the word, and as I also think that it is a great game - I am going to do exactly the same thing!
Chocolate fix comes in a colourful box but we have long since discarded it as it became ripped and tatty, but another advantage of this product is that you don't need it. The entire game fits nicely into the drawstring fabric bag provided (which can be washed if it gets soiled), making it a lot easier to transport and store which I think is ideal and a really good idea by Thinkfun - I believe they do this with most of their products which gets a definite thumbs up from me.
So, what's in the bag? This game consists of a 12cm squared plastic chocolate tray which is very similar to a cupcake baking tray; it has nine "holes" on it. You get nine chocolate pieces to go on it - 3 milk chocolate, 3 dark chocolate and 3 pink chocolate which have one of each shape; triangle, square and circle and also a small (10cm x 9cm) flip chart type pad which has forty game play cards and which also contains the instructions.
To learn how to play the game is very simple and this is helped by the easy to follow instructions that are well illustrated which they need to be as this game is very visual. Essentially, you use the clues on each challenge to fill the tray with the chocolates in the correct order - this is a little bit like Sudoku; you are given a few clues like which colour or shape goes where and by means of logical deduction, you have to work out where the rest of the pieces go. There is only one correct solution to each puzzle and when you think that you have the answer, you can flip the page and check on the back where the answers are given.
~*~ My Thoughts ~*~
Once you start playing this game can become somewhat addictive and very frustrating - the challenges are divided up into beginner, intermediate, advanced and expert and I would recommend working your way up slowly - I went straight in at expert thinking that this is a childs game and so would be a doddle but I quickly threw my toys out of the cot (or in reality, the game on the floor) as I could not do it and frustration got the better of me! You learn as you go along the art of deduction and I am now proud to say that I have completed all of the challenges and it has only taken me four months on and off as the frustration gave way to a slight addiction! This game really does get you thinking and so I think that this is especially good for children as it teaches them to think laterally - it has long since being said that games along the same lines as Sudoku actually boost the power of the brain, encourage logical thought and sharpen intellect so this is a great introduction to such challenges in my opinion.
By making the pieces "chocolate" and with the inclusion of the fun colours, ThinkFun have turned what could essentially be a very dull game into something that is fun to do and it also visually appealing. The solid and chunky pieces are well manufactured making them easy to hold and pleasant to play with. The flip book which contains the challenges either folds flat or it can be stood on its base so it is easier to see, and again, it is good quality and none of the pages have come anywhere near to looking worn or tatty despite extensive use. Because of the handy carry bag, this game is easily transportable and it would make an ideal game to play on a long journey, especially since it is a single player game also once the pieces are in place they stay in the tray to an angle of about 40 degrees therefore if you are being bumped about in a car, they stay put happily.
The only negative thing that I can think of about this game is that the challenges run out, but that is not a massive problem as they can always be repeated and the chances that you will remember them, I think, is very slim.
Overall I think that this is a good educational game which is also fun to do. It is a good quality game and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. I think it is suited from about six upwards, depending on the patience and intellect of the child, but it is also a fun game for adults too. Chocolate fix is available in many good toy shops from £9.99 which I think is fairly good value, and it is also available on the internet, but after having a quick look I have noticed that there are several other versions available with what looks like cards with them so if you want this simple version in particular, make sure you double check before you buy.
Also posted on Ciao! under my username chilcott1