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flickpugh
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Member since: 04.07.2004

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    • eswapnow.com / Internet Site / 53 Readings / 47 Ratings
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      29.01.2007 14:18
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      A fantastic free swapping site

      As I mentioned in my last review on bookhopper.com, I have recently got really hooked on (or addicted to) a selection of online free swapping sites.

      Now it’s the turn of www.eswapnow.com to take the stage.

      This was the last of the 3 swapping sites that I use (the other being www.readitswapit.co.uk) to grab my attention, but although it doesn’t have the large amount of members yet that readitswapit does, or the advantage of being able to request an item before you’ve given one away, it has one other distinct plus … it isn’t just for books, but also for games, CDs, videos and DVDs! Once again, let me make this clear – the site is completely FREE to use. You pay only for second class postage.

      I find this site fantastic. It works on a very simple credits system. This means someone has to have requested an item of you before you can ask for one, but as with bookhopper.com it doesn’t have to be a direct swap with one person i.e. you don’t have to rely on you wanting one of their items if they want one of yours. Your credit will be saved and you can go back onto the site any time and wait for something you really want to appear.

      Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here, first things first …

      FIRST STEPS

      As you’d expect, you need to register with the site before you can add your own items and start getting ready to swap. It’s a very simple, standard process though, where you just give your name and address details and say whether you just want to swap with the UK, just Europe or the whole world and agree to the conditions of the site which are pretty basic things, like the swapper is responsible for postage, must be over 18, can’t swap porn etc. Full details are easily accessed either from a link on the registration form or from the bottom of the home page under ‘User Agreement’.

      The site is really easy to navigate. At the very top is a standard top menu group of links including a site map and advanced search but I haven’t needed to use these, finding the standard search perfectly adequate. Underneath that, highlighted in blue, is another set of links – ‘Add Item’, ‘My Eswapnow’, ‘Community’ and ‘Help’ and you’ll find you’ll use these a lot more.

      Once you have registered, you need to start adding your books, CDs, videos, games and/ or DVDs. Obviously, the more you add, the better chance you have of another member of the site requesting one of your items and hence giving you a credit to start swap shopping!

      Therefore, add lots of stuff. You’d be surprised at what people want. My friend has got rid of a whole load of her old university text books from 8 years ago. As long as you make it clear in the details that you write about the book, what edition it is and are honest if the cover is a bit dog eared, that’s absolutely fine. As with eBay and other swapping sites, you will get feedback from people you send stuff too and if the feed back is consistently neutral or negative, this could well affect your chances of others requesting items and then bang goes your chances of grabbing that great DVD you see added the next week!

      To add items click on the ‘Add an item’ link at the top left hand side of the home page.

      Adding a book is dead easy in most cases, you can either add by ISBN number (it even gives you a picture of an ISBN bar code in case you find it tricky to find it) or by key word. Usually adding by keyword (title or author) is the best as a lot of the info will be automatically filled in for you, including a front cover photograph. I really think photos help you ‘sell’ your stuff so if it doesn’t include a photo simply do a google search for the product. Amazon is great for this as you an use it for details of the author/ producers/ director/ synopsis as well. Find a good image, save it to your desk top then load it up via the browse option. Easy peasey.

      To add DVD, VHS, CD or Games you have to use the manual system. Not a major problem though, just takes a tiny bit longer (ooh at least 2 minutes). Just choose the ‘item type’, then fill in all the details, using Amazon or other review sites if you need to. No penalties for plagiarising a synopsis on this website as far as I’m aware as it’s not a review site!

      THE WAITING GAME

      I’m not going to pretend that you’re going to get your item snapped up immediately. The site is still quite new and needs more members to build up the library (this is why I’m writing about it here!) – it took about 4 days for me to get rid of my first item, a book, but then I was able to get an almost new copy of a rough guide to somewhere I’m going on holiday straight away, so that was a result! Since then I’ve got rid of quite a few unwanted items and got lots of DVDs in great condition. It goes without saying that the more you add, the more likely you are to get a request in, so add lots and lots. It takes a bit of time, but worth it when you get a copy of that DVD you’ve been wanting to watch for ages through your letter box. Nobody seems to use registered post, it’s the gamble you take and most post second class so it really doesn’t cost much to get a DVD or a CD. There are some great CDs on there, I think people are clearing out their shelves and relying on their iPods so if you still like a nice CD collection, you could do very well!

      There are lots of computer games on there. I’m waiting for someone to add some Gameboy Advance games as there aren’t any of those on there yet and I currently have an unspent credit so please go ahead!

      OTHER AREAS OF THE SITE

      In the ‘My eswapnow’ account area (accessed from the top of the home page), you’ll find a host of handy bits and pieces. You can add stuff to your wish list, much like on Amazon, if you see something you want but want to wait a while to see if something better comes up to spend your credit on, or if you don’t yet have a credit.

      Also here you’ll find access to your pending requests from people, with their address to send the item to. Eswapnow also send you an email with any requests or questions from members. On this page you’ll also find details of your swapping history, with all the items you have requested/ received and sent out on there.

      ‘My messages’ stores all communications you’ve had from other members (which you should also have received in your email inbox).

      In this area you can also access your feedback to see what people have said about your swap. Usually feedback is pretty positive unless you’ve lied about the condition of the item, or taking 2 weeks to post it without communicating with the recipient about any problems you may have i.e. being ill and unable to get out to post it. Everyone I have come across on the site has been very friendly and genuine though.

      Under ‘my profile’, also on the left hand side of the page in your account area, you can make any necessary updates to your address and options such as whether you wish to swap with people only in the UK, just UK and Europe or the whole world. Please note though, that although the changes you make to your profile are immediate, you can only make changes to your profile once a month. I have absolutely no idea why when it’s automatic, but I’m sure there must be a good reason!

      There is also a community area. I don’t use this as I don’t have the need or the time, but I’m sure it’s good if you want to go on there for discussions about topics such as books and film.

      There is a holiday mode that you can swap on if you don’t want to be receiving requests while you are away.

      The ‘Help’ page, accessed from the top menu, provides some Frequently Asked Questions which are good to read before you join.

      The standard search is very simple, you just put in some key words – title or author, select the category (book, DVD, whatever) from the drop down menu, click on search and away you go.

      BUYING CREDITS

      If there’s something you desperately want (for example you’ll sometimes see people putting unwanted gifts on there such as a still sealed DVD or CD), you can actually buy credits if no one has requested anything from you. These work out at £5 each or 5 for £20. I haven’t felt the need to do this, but may be worth your while if you see a lot of things you want on there and don’t have a lot to swap.

      FINAL POINTS

      I absolutely love this site and get so excited when someone makes a request and I have a credit to spend. The only downside is that the site does need more members, but all this means is that you have to wait a few weeks to get rid of stuff and more people are joining all the time. There is already a good selection of stuff available so go and take a look now, you have nothing at all to lose (except for perhaps a few unwanted items that are currently gathering dust on your shelves!)

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      • bookhopper.co.uk / Internet Site / 67 Readings / 66 Ratings
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        10.12.2006 15:49
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        A great site for book lovers which needs lots more members to keep it growing

        Having first discovered these swapping sites about 2 months ago, I am now an avid user of readitswapit.co.uk and eswapnow.com but have decided to review them all, in the order that I started using them.

        All these sites work on the same excellent principal – a free service for users to exchanges books online (and in the case of eswapnow.com DVDs, videos and CDs as well).

        Signing up to bookhopper.com

        It is free to register on bookhopper.com and free to request and receive books. The only costs you will incur are posting the books. Due to the silly new Royal Mail pricing scheme you now pay according to the size of the envelope as well as the weight so make sure you post books in the smallest envelope or jiffy bag possible.

        Signing up just requires basic details, such as your full name and address (as members will need this to post you your books of course!) You need to add bookhopper.com to your safe senders list so that emails acknowledging requests either from you or from a member wanting one of your books get through the spam filter.

        How it works

        BookHopper is a totally free book exchange website which links readers across the UK to enable them to swap books they no longer want with other BookHoppers. The sender just pays the postage. So, for the price of one book, you can read many more, by just paying postage each time. From memory, this usually works out at about £1.39 second class and £1.79 first class. Personally I wouldn't bother offering big, heavy hard backs on there, though some generous people do (or perhaps their office is paying the postage)!

        The difference between this site and the more widely know readitswapit.co.uk is that you don’t need to wait for someone to want one of your books back. The way this works is quite simple, but I couldn’t explain it any better than the BookHopper guys themselves do in the Help section, so I am just going to copy their explanation below on this occasion:

        The rules as to whether you can take a book are....

        · If you have sent more books than you have received you can always take a book.

        · Otherwise you can take a maximum of one book per week based on the following conditions...
        · To take a book you must be offering at least 3 books.

        · If you are offering more than 20 books then you can take a book every week as long as you re-offer more than 50% of the books you have received.

        · If you are offering more than 15 books then you can take a book every two weeks as long as you re-offer more than 50% of the books you have received.

        · If you are offering more than 10 books then you can take a book every three weeks as long as you re-offer more than 50% of the books you have received.

        · If you are offering less than 10 books then you can only take a maximum of 3 more than you have sent.

        Tips on how to make sure you can take books....

        · It's always good to have sent more than you've taken because then you can always have any book you want.
        To do this, it's best to be offering as many books as you can.

        · Don't worry about people taking all your books. This is good because then you have a healthy positive balance that you can use at any time.

        See it’s quite simple. I have found that I haven’t had many people requesting books from me, but so far I have had 4 books in excellent condition (often accompanied by a friendly note, book mark or some other nice personal touch). It is lovely coming home from work to a parcel. At this time, I have only actually sent 2 books out so I’m going to need some users to request some of my books soon as there’s quite a few other books I want to ask for on there.

        Home page

        The home page is very well laid out with a clearly laid out left hand, top and right hand menu panes.

        Left hand pane

        This offers an efficient search facility, allowing you to search for books by author’s name or title. If you can only remember the author’s surname, this will normally be sufficient as it’s a clever search, which brings up other suggestions. The site is affiliated with Amazon, so if no books with the same or similar search terms are currently available on Bookhopper.com the results page will give you relevant links to Amazon.

        Underneath there’s the hyperlinked list of Top Categories (with current quantity of titles available). This includes:

        Fiction (1812)
        Crime, Thrillers & Mystery (522)
        Romance (212)
        Children's books (201)
        Biography (176)

        Then there’s a similar linked list of Top Authors:

        Stephen King (39)
        Dan Brown (33)
        Patricia Cornwell (30)
        John Grisham (26)
        Danielle Steel (22)

        Right hand pane

        This offers another search option: to search for fellow ‘hoppers’ by their user name. Under that there’s a link list to this week’s five ‘Top Hoppers’.

        The My Account menu links you to:

        MY ACCOUNT
        My Bookshelf (where you can see the list of the books you are currently offering)
        My Profile (to see what feedback users have given you after you’ve sent them a book)
        My Swaps (lists past and current swaps, both what you’ve sent and what you’ve received/ requested)
        My Details (your address, email and option to make changes)

        Top menu
        With some of the same options as ‘My Account’, this adds a few more bits and pieces, such as ‘browse’ (an alphabetical search list). Also links to the Bookhopper.com forum where you can chat with other users about a variety of literary topics. From time to time there are author chats/ discussions here too. No one too famous yet, but still very interesting to be able to ask authors questions about there books free of charge. There’s also a link here to the ‘Help’ section with all you need to know such as postage costs, FAQs, Swap Rules, Contacts.
        Latest books
        The home page content pane features the 12 latest books to be posted on bookhopper.com with photos.
        Other tips for using bookhopper.com

        ** Make sure you describe the condition of your book accurately, since you risk unfavourable feedback if you don’t, which in turn will lessen the chances of people requesting books from you in the future.

        ** The more books you offer on the site, the more you are allowed to request.

        ** I sometimes take books off and resubmit them to get them featured on the home page ‘latest books’ again. Haven’t seen anything in the rules disallowing this.

        ** As I said I use this site in addition to readitswapit.co.uk and have just registered with eswapnow.com. I can’t really judge the latter as haven’t yet given a book or been able to request them (eswapnow.com works on a credits basis where you get 1 credit for each book, DVD, video or CD you send and you need 1 credit before you can make a request). I do recommend using this site in addition to one of the others. What I like about this site is its simplicity. It’s a very trusting set up, you can request a book before you have even given one. Hope new users never spoil that (they will of course get thrown off if they do) but readitswapit.co.uk does have a lot more members so there are more books on there. Of course if you’re using several sites, you must remember to take books that you get rid of on one site of the other(s). This is especially important on bookhopper.com as at present there isn’t a way of cancelling requests, so it could mean that the person who asked for the book you no longer have cannot request another one for a week or more. This could result in you getting bad feedback!

        Anyway, that’s all I know. My recent addiction to these swapping sites have taken me off dooyoo for a while but I intend to review them all one by one, since it’d be great to have more members on them, especially Dooyoo people

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          09.09.2006 13:11
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          Great site with much to offer

          Q: When did you join Dooyoo?

          A: I joined in April 2004, but didn’t start writing until over a year later.

          Q: How did you discover Dooyoo?

          A: I was already writing on Ciao and read a few reviews about it. Took it a while to occur to me that I could post the same reviews, albeit sometimes slightly modified on both though!


          Q: Why did you join?

          A: As above I had read about it on Ciao and was curious, more than anything.


          Q: What was your very first opinion on?

          A: I posted my ‘Parallel Crete’ review that I’d originally written for Ciao. In retrospect, since that is one of my favourite reviews, I probably should have waited until I had ‘established myself’ as a writer a bit on dooyoo, as I’ve just looked and I only got 22 member reads for it, whereas on Ciao I’d had a comparatively massive amount of reads for the same review. Oh well, you live and learn!


          Q: Did you find it easy to get the hang of Dooyoo?

          A: Yes, for ages I didn’t like it as much as Ciao as it seemed like less of a community. Strangely enough, it’s now that very aspect that makes me prefer dooyoo! I now write for dooyoo and then later post most of the reviews on Ciao as SandyJoe.

          Q: Did you read other opinions before you posted your first one?

          A: Yes I did read a few, just to see if the style of reviews differed at all from Ciao.


          Q: Do you write no/some/many comments?

          A: I only write comments nowadays if there’s a real point to it. I haven’t got the time for loads of ‘good review’, ‘interesting read’ type comments as I once did.


          Q: When you click on the list of Newest Reviews, do you read your friends' opinions no matter what they're on/according to subject no matter who has written on it/preferably the opinions of new writers?

          A: I don’t have ‘friends’ on the site, just favourite writers. If it’s a writer I know always writes interesting and informative reviews I will tend to read every single review they write. I have learned about many products and websites I’d never have thought about using this way. I don’t read all new reviews though, some are writers I recognise for spamming the new reviews section and giving them reads just encourages this habit and I probably wouldn’t read many reviews on subjects such as motorcycles which I have no interest in.


          Q: Do you write your opinions in one sitting?

          A: Yes, I don’t write all that often, but once I’m in mid flow I have to keep on going til the end! I’m very much an all or nothing kind of writer and love it once I’ve got into it, but it’s only now an again that I’m motivated to write.

          Q: How often do you post a new opinion?

          A: As above, I only write when I’m in the mood to do so. Some months I write several reviews and for several months I can go without writing any. Logically enough, it depends on how busy I am as well.


          Q: Do you use a spell check?

          A: Yes I do. I always write my reviews in Word with a spell check as I hate reading reviews that are badly written, with poor spelling and grammar.

          Q: Do you think you can improve your chances to get a crown if you suck up to a guide?

          A: I have no idea. I don’t really know who the guides are and I’ve never really thought of their tendency to be corrupted by bribery and flattery! I haven’t had a crown for ages so maybe I need to start sucking up! I’m sure they’re all intelligent people and could see straight through it though.

          Q: Are you a member of a forum or a chat room?

          A: I’m a member of the ‘Boots ‘n’ All’ and Martin’s Money Mail forums, but rarely post on there as I don’t have the time. I dabbled with chat rooms a few years ago, but they’re not really my thing.


          Q: Does it get to you when members praise or condemn you?

          A: I’ve had the odd brief disagreement with a disagreeable member. I think this has happened only twice on dooyoo though. It’s fair more prevalent on Ciao in my experience as I think the whole guest book facility, as fun as it is in some ways, helps people with a grudge carry it on. Also on dooyoo, since you get money for a low rating as well, revenge rating serves very little purpose.


          Q: What did you do in your spare time before you joined Dooyoo?

          A: Lots of things and dooyoo doesn’t take up much of my spare time, only work time (just jesting!)

          Q: What do you wish for the future?

          A: To be healthy, wealth and wise.

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            03.09.2006 11:35
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            I hate packing so writing this review has helped me thing about what to take to New York in 2 weeks!

            1. Passport/ visa

            Unless you’re going by road or train somewhere in England, Scotland or Wales, you will definitely need a passport. No passport = No Holiday if you’re going overseas. Of course strictly speaking this item could be left of this list as it’s not going to do you much good if you check your passport in with your hold luggage! Let’s not be pedantic though, you can put it in the front pocket of your suitcase when you’re packing if you like, just don’t forget to take it out when you get to the airport!

            Added to the passport, if you are travelling out of Europe you may well need a visa. For instance on a holiday to Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, I was surprised to learn that British citizens actually need a visa to get into Australia (cheek!) but not for New Zealand. Also, the USA is talking about making Brits get visas to go there, due to recent terrorism plots and scares, so it’s worth keeping an eye on that too.


            2. Clothes

            Packing a good selection of clothes (evening and beach or sportswear etc.) is always essential, unless you’re going to a nudist holiday camp in a very hot country. Other reasons for avoiding taking extra clothes with you are if you’re happy to smell considerably by wearing the same clothes you travelled out in every day of your holiday (I suppose you could wash every item every night if you pack plenty of travel wash instead). Or you could just buy an entire new wardrobe when you get there, a viable alternative for people going on holiday to the USA where clothes are much cheaper but otherwise it’s probably a better idea to take some of your own. I often take old clothes that I don’t mind leaving behind (if you’re going somewhere poor such as Romania or Cuba) the guidebooks often say you should leave any unwanted clothes behind for the room cleaners, but also if you end up buying loads of stuff and can’t fit it all in you can chuck the old stuff.

            In terms of what clothes you need to take, I’ll leave that up to your common sense! The one thing I’d watch for is the often British tendency to thing that if they’re going anywhere outside of the UK and Northern Europe that it’s guaranteed to be hot all the time. Wrong! It can get quite cold in later summer in the South of France, it does rain in Spain and not only on the plains, Iceland when I went was definitely warm enough to survive without a full skiing outfit in Reykjavik and for 3 weeks in New Zealand the weather was very like Britain, but more changeable so I ended up having to fork out for more jumpers and waterproof clothing (and they weren’t cheap at all out there!)

            3. Make up and toiletries

            These little items take me to longest to decide on and pack. You have to remember that in most places you can buy things like nail varnish and face cleanser out there, but I always like to gather a collection together of mini sizes. You can get most things in miniature bottles or containers these days (Superdrug and Boots have shelves especially dedicated to the Mini Cause) from mascara to moisturiser, sun tan lotion to shampoo. You can even get a tiny toothpaste and toothbrush set that folds up, aw cute! Boots and most major outdoor equipment stores do an excellent travel first aid kit. It can be cheaper for you to take the items individually but buying it as one kit in its own case is easier and means you know where everything is. I always take some of those cleansing/ toning wipes you can buy in Boots as well (Boots does very well from me before on a holiday), they do the job of cleansing but also make great refreshing wipes when you’re on a long journey.

            Now of course, our hand luggage items have been restricted considerably and toiletries and cosmetics have to be packed in your hold luggage. This is a pain in the butt but security restrictions are there for a reason of course. It does mean that you shouldn’t take any aerosols as they tend to explode under the higher hold pressure. Also means you should avoid any easily broken bottles and that kind of thing.

            4. Books

            I am an avid reader so on holiday I tend to take at least 5 books per week I’m out there for. I always take books I don’t want to bring home with me and either give them away, swap them, or leave them behind in the hope that someone will give them a good home. In many hotels and holiday resorts you’ll find a second hand library where you can take a book if you leave one behind and I love that! My boyfriend who never opens a book at home, suddenly becomes an obsessive reader on holiday (must be the lack of British television) so we’ll sometimes be able to share some books, although I’ve gone of detective, thriller fiction that he likes of late as I overdosed on it on a few holidays and I find it gets a bit samey if you read too many of them.

            Also in our book collection we’ll have at least one guide book. I prefer the Rough Guide as I just find it less patronising and negative than the Lonely Planet range and more accurate than Lett’s guides which I had a bad experience with when inter-railing in Europe. You can of course do some internet research before hand but if you’re at all interest in the local culture and sights, or are travelling from place to place, booking accommodation while you’re there, I do think a guide is essential. I don’t always fork out for a brand new one (they’re around £16.99 now for larger countries and areas so a bit of a rip off) but will start searching in charity and second hand book shops for a recent edition (I don’t think it needs to be the very latest, not that much changes, but no more than 3 or 4 years old is preferable). Also if you’re lucky enough to live near an excellent library as I do, then you can often find lots of travel books there and take them with you. Obviously that means you can’t write notes in them and have to take care not to damage or lose them, but the worst that can happen is that you have to pay them for a new book anyway so it’s a risk worth taking.

            5. Spending power

            These days on most holidays I just take my Maestro debit card and get cash out there, it’s generally very easy to do so, as long as you’ve done a bit of research beforehand. In some countries I’ve been to like Romania and Bulgaria (this was a few years ago now though) I had to take English currency out and change it there, you cannot take Romanian currency in or out of the country and cash dispensers aren’t too easy to find. I’m sure this will all change soon though when they join the good old European Union.

            I’m all for the Euro myself, will make European holidays so much easier and no commission. That said I believe if you get a Nationwide bank account and card you don’t pay commission when withdrawing money abroad. I keep meaning to open one. I was in France on holiday last week and it cost me £3 a time to withdraw money from my bank account!

            If I’m going to be arriving somewhere late at night and am not familiar with the country, plus the currency is available to buy in the UK I would probably get £50 to £100 or so beforehand though just in case. When travelling to the USA or Canada I always get travel cheques in US or Canadian dollars. They are so easy to use there, not only do you pay less commission but you can use them in many major chain stores and restaurants such as Bloomingdales or McDonalds and get the change in cash. Easy!

            5. iPod and accessories

            So much easier these days than packing loads of CDs. I have a docking station to play music in my room/ cottage/ apartment while recharging the Ipod. We also have an iTrip which we used to play music in the car we hired for 3 weeks in New Zealand. Didn’t always work there though as it relies on a radio signal and some places were very remote so worth perhaps taking a couple of emergency CDs if you’re going somewhere like that. Or you can check if the car you’re hiring has an MP3 adaptable stereo, I’m not so sure about that though.

            6. Electric adapter

            Essential to be able to use my British iPod docking station (see above), hairdryer, mobile phone charger etc. You can buy worldwide ones now at the airport and these are a great investment, can’t remember how much I paid for mine but it was less than a tenner I think so well worth it.

            7. Pain killers and hangover cures

            Have to check with pain killers as certain very strong ones may not be allowed into a few countries. Resolve and Alka Seltzer, that kind of thing is usually fine though and if you’re anticipating a few heavy nights a dissolvable hangover cure is going to help prevent you wasting holiday days in bed for the wrong reasons! They’re not the greatest tasting things, but trust me they do work!

            8. Sun hat as well as a high factor sun tan lotion

            It amazes me that, although the importance of sun tan lotion seems to be finally getting into peoples’ heads, you will see hundreds of people roasting on the beach all day without anything on the head. My boyfriend got sunstroke in Dubai for not wearing a hat (silly man, it was 47 degrees) I have twice fainted in the evening after only a few hours of being in intensive sun (and then not sunbathing, just wandering around in it) – once in a restaurant in Rome, another time in a café in Cape Cod, USA. On both occasions it was about 40 degrees Celsius outside and I’d gone from the heat into a very cool air-conditioned restaurant but I grew up in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, so have been used to extreme heat from an early age.

            I rarely suffer from the heat and am not particularly pale skinned for a Brit, so if it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. I’ve never had actual sunstroke, but my boyfriend has had it twice (last time was 5 years ago and we’ve been to plenty of hot places since so it seems he’s finally learned his lesson). It doesn’t look pleasant trust me, blisters, vomiting, shaking, sweating, sleeping for 2 days wasting a great holiday and hotel. Dumb don’t do it! Pack a few different factor sun protection lotions – high for the first few days and a bit lower for when your skin is starting to tan, but not too low! I never go below factor 8 and I tan quite easily.

            9. Mobile phone and details of nearest internet café

            Although I’m not so sad (or self-important) as to worry about work when I’m away, I do have international roaming so my work colleagues (not all and sundry, just my immediate team) can call or text me if there’s an emergency. No one has ever abused this to ask me something that can’t wait until I’m back in, but I guess that depends on the people you work with so I’ll leave that to your own discretion! I just prefer the reassurance of knowing that if it’s something I can answer or deal with in a quick phone call or text (don’t worry I’d claim the costs back!) it can be done there and then and I can get on with my holiday, rather than getting back to a whole heap of dog mess if it was something simple like someone needing a document but not being able to find it.

            I will also send myself an email to my Yahoo account with essential phone numbers in case my mobile and purse gets stolen (it has happened) so I can cancel my bank cards, get a new mobile sorted for when I get home etc. I also put in a few reminders for login details for a few important sites such as my bank account internet login details. I have my own reminder code for this so it’s perfectly secure! Although you may not want to think about things like this when you’re preparing to go on holiday to get away from it all, crime exists abroad as well as at home as I have found out several times, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

            10. Sunglasses

            Important for nearly any holiday. Make you look cool, stops people being able to tell you’re staring at them (out of curiosity or anything else!) and protect your eyes and crows feet from those damaging rays. In fact take a couple of pairs as you will nearly always lose or break one pair by sitting on it or leaving them out in the red hot sun so they crack (as I did in Dubai).

            Well that’s it, I’ve probably forgotten something really essential but then I always forget something essential when I go on holiday so that makes this list more personal and authentic!

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              14.08.2006 22:47
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              Worst service I've ever had in a restaurant in my life!

              It’s not often I feel compelled to write a restaurant review. I like to enjoy the meal without thinking about what I’m going to write while I’m eating and drinking. It has to be either a very good experience or an extremely bad one to make me even think about reviewing it afterwards. I once wrote about a very good meal I had from a competition win at Moshi Moshi at the Liverpool Street branch in London. and now I’m about to tell you about a shockingly awful one I had a couple of weeks ago at Torts in Holborn.

              I work in Holborn and as anyone who spends a lot of time there will tell you, it’s not exactly the centre of restaurant heaven. A colleague was about to go on maternity leave and so, I organised a lunch for her before she left. Everyone else agreed that they were bored of the same old places we always go to so on a whim, I booked a table at Torts for the next day as I had seen the sign outside offering an amazing sounding lunch deal for a main course and a glass of wine (or ½ pint of beer, or a soft drink). Holborn, being straddled between the City and the West End is a pretty pricey place so this looked like the bargain of the century. None of us had ever been there so we decided to give it a go.

              So, the very next day we were on our way … to the worst service I have ever had at a restaurant, anywhere in the world … ever! The front of the restaurant is a bar with lots of TV screens showing sport. I had asked the day before not to be sat there, but they had forgotten so it took a bit of persuasion before they moved us to the room at the back of the restaurant. It meant a bit of extra work for the staff,you see, pushing two tables of 4 that were next to each other together, to make a table for 8. The room at the back was a lot nicer and actually looked like a classy city type establishment, pity everything went down hill from there onwards.

              I had asked for a non-smoking table but on arrival we were told there weren’t any. We pointed at our very heavily pregnant colleague, but the waiter just sneered and said ‘too bad I’m afraid, we’ve got air conditioning that will have to do’. Still, it was 1pm on a Friday now, so finding somewhere else would be a nightmare in the area, we all wanted a cheap deal and there was no one smoking on the next table so we decided to sit down anyway.

              After asking 3 times and waiting 15 minutes (the restaurant had about 4 other tables occupied at this time) we finally got our menus with the special offer. To be fair there was a decent choice for one of these lunchtime deals. There was paella, veggie burger and chips, lamb kebabs, salmon and cous cous salad or risotto. We were allowed 2 menus between the 8 of us. When I asked if we could have some more I was told that we’d just have to share!

              So having passed the menu back and forth and made our meal decisions, we were ready to order. We waited for our waiter who eventually took our order for drinks and for some unfathomable reason wouldn’t take our food order at the same time. I asked for fresh orange juice and asked him if it was freshly squeezed, not packet stuff. He was clearly not listening and very bored with our presence and just replied ‘yeah yeah of course.’ When it arrived it was the horrible artificial ‘pure’ stuff for £2.50!

              Still waiting to give our food orders ten minutes after getting our drinks, we spoke to our waiter who snapped that he was going on his break and that someone else would see to us. Instead of this cheerful chappy we then had the joy of dealing with an equally sour Eastern European waitress. She took our orders with a glower and then we waited about half an hour for the meal to arrive with our meal deal drinks.

              Some of the others had meals that did actually look like something I could just about have managed to swallow had I been imprisoned in a desert with only sand and scorpion legs to eat for the past six months. My meal however, the paella was something the average starving goat would have rejected. The chicken pieces were so overcooked they resembled beach pebbles; the rice was so soggy it was almost certainly the same grains used in the risotto and even if I had been able to eat it, the portion would have been half the size I would expect for a starter!

              Not wanting to prolong this cheerless experience any longer we ordered the bill as soon as we could. I embarrassed my more stereotypically British colleagues by making a fuss and refusing to pay the 12.5% service charge, you must be kidding! We scuttled out of the place as quickly as we could and popped to a nearby bar to get a glass of wine to help us get over the stress of the whole lunch event! Never ever, in a million years would I recommend this restaurant! Even if the food had been half decent and plentiful, the service was so bad we were almost convinced that we were being filmed for some sort of television show joke or something! There’s a Wetherspoons on the other side of the road to this restaurant and if you’re ever in that area on High Holborn, I thoroughly recommend that you go there instead. Not only is it cheaper, it's also better quality, better ambience and better service. If that doesn’t tell you how bad Torts is, I don’t know what will!

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                30.06.2006 13:57
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                Q & As about reading tastes

                Q. What is your favourite genre?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                The type of books I read very according to my mood and situation - often depending whether I am going to be doing alot of commuting/ traveling or am at home/ on holiday. At the moment I am addicted to memoirs and other real life stories, especially true tales of people who have lived through communist/ Nazi and other tyrannical regimes or other accounts of 'triumph over hardship'.

                Q. Do you read the classics, i.e. the great authors of the 18th/ 19th centuries?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                No - I studied Thomas Hardy/ Jane Austen etc for A-level Engish and all that constant analysing and dissecting the texts to death put me off, although I still enjoy television and film adaptations of these classics.

                Q. Are you interested in thrillers?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                I used to be an avid reader of James Pattereson, Minnette Walters etc but haven't read anything like this for ages.

                Q. What about horror stories?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                I also overindulged in these - especially Stephen King and Dean Koontz a while ago so am on a break!

                Q. Do you read science fiction?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Not really, I find science fiction more suited to film, though I suppose Dean Koontz almost slips into sci-fi.

                Q. How many Harry Potter books have you read?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                None yet - on my reading list for next holiday.

                Q. Have you ever read and enjoyed biographies or autobiographies?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Yep, this is a literary addiction for me at the moment. My bookshelves are filled with books like 'The Girl in the Red Coat' (memoirs of a woman who spotted herself as 5 years old in Steven Spielberg's 'Schindler's List') by Roma Ligocka, 'Edith's Book' (memoirs of a Dutch Jewish girl who went into hiding into a Christian family during the Nazi occupation) by Edith Velman and the recently released Martin Johnson autobiography (which I got personally signed, not that I'm name dropping!)

                Q. Do you remember any of the books you read an loved as a child?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Sure do - I was an avid reader even as a kid and after my parents insisted on a curfew I would often read under the bedclothes with a torch so I could consume a few more chapters. No wonder my school reports sometimes commented that I often seemed half asleep in class!

                I read every Enid Blyton book at least twice - many times more for the Mallory Tower series and The Enchanted Forest/ Wishing Chair books. I really can't understand why these titles haven't been snapped up for television/ film adaptations. I also loved 'The Machine Gunners' by Robert Westall and pony books such as the 'Jill series' by Ruby Ferguson and the 'Jinny series' by Patricia Leitch. As a young teenager I got more into American books such as those by Francine Pascal ('Sweet Valley') and Judy Blume.

                Q. Have you re-read these books as a grown-up?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Not yet, but may well do.

                Q. Is there a book of which you can say it has influenced you?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                Dozens have influenced me. Sometimes I will find myself in a similar situation or coversation to a character in a book I have read and get an weird sense of deja vu. A book which really influenced me to be grateful for my own life and upbringing was 'Falling Leaves: Memoirs of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter' by Adeline Yah Mah. I must review this sometime because I think everyone should read it - a sad tale with a true life happy ending which describes her childhood suffering without self-pity or bitterness.

                Q. Which are your favourite authors?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                These change all the time but I have regularly enjoyed books by Bill Bryson, Martina Cole, Minnette Walters and Phillipa Gregory who writes some fascinating historical novels, such as 'The Other Boleyn Girl' the story of Anne Boleyn's sister who first had an affair and two children with Henry VIII.

                Q. Whaich book would you take with you on a desert island?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                I'd take 'London' by Edward Rutherford. IT's meant to be excellent but it's long and heavily detailed so I would need hours of undisrupted leisure time to get into it.

                Q. What is your attitude towards translations?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                'The Girl in the Red Coat' was a translation from German and I didn't realise this until over half way through when I read the note about the author. Therefore unless it's badly translated - which most aren't - it shouldn't make a difference to your enjoyment so it would be a shame to miss out on so many works just because they were originally written in another language.

                Q. Do you buy or borrow your books?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                I buy lots of books to fill up my tall bookshelves in my flat, but also belong to a good library and swap lots of other books with other bookworm friends.

                Q. When you buy books, do you prefer hardcover editions or pocket books?
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                Hard books look nice on a shelf but as I do alot of my reading whilst commuting, paperbacks are often more practical - my work bag is full of enough junk as it is!

                Q. Have you tried Audio books
                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

                No - these are great I'm sure if you have sight problems or get sick if you read whilst traveling but as I don't I prefer the traditional type of read.

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                • Top Ten Sweets / Discussion / 56 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                  26.06.2006 15:53
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                  Too many flavours to ever get sick of!

                  When I was a primary school kid, Fridays were ‘Sweets Day’. Did anyone else have strict parents that restricted confectionary in this way? I think it was a good idea, it helped my brother and I maintain reasonably healthy teeth and made us think of sweets as a treat, not just an every day or even several times a day snack, which seems to be the case with so many children today.

                  We’d really look forward to Friday, when mum picked would pick us up from school and we’d walk home via Davies’s newsagent or the sweet shop which I used to love, but sadly closed while I was still under confectionary restrictions. I would nearly always go for the ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ option, just occasionally swapping it for a Fry’s crème bar or a bag of jelly tots. The ten that are listed below remain some of my favourites today, although these days it is me restricting my greedy inner child!

                  1 Cola bottles

                  Although too many of these set my ageing teeth on edge these days, they are still my firm favourite. I love the plain ones, as well as the fizzy ones that have a great sharp tangy taste to them. Nowadays, they keep adding different flavour ones, much like the big brand carbonated drink manufacturers do. You can get giant ones, raspberry ones, blue ones, sour ones, white ones (bleugh!) and probably several more but I’m quite content with my fizzy and plain cola bottle sweets.

                  2 Flying Saucers

                  These may have had another name, but you know the ones I mean, UFOs were the other name we used to give them. Came in pick and mix boxes in your traditional sweet shops and newsagents, usually 1p each, but later went up to 2p. Haribo and other mass sweet producers make them in bags these days. They still look exactly the same, about the size of a 50p piece but flying saucer shaped and available in a bright range of colours such as pastel pink, green, yellow and blue. I bought some recently and had forgotten how great they were. The soft wafer melts in your mouth, allowing the sparkling sherbet to erupt onto your taste buds. Fantastic!

                  3 Sherbet Dip Dabs

                  Also been around for decades, at least 3 decades anyway as I remember getting them frequently as a young kid in the early 1980s. I loved the combination of tastes between the red fruit flavoured lolly on a stick and the sharp, tangy yellow or white sherbet. These are made by Bassett’s and you can still buy them at Newsagents today (about 4 times the price as they once were, but still worth it!), so I suggest that you go and get one soon and treat your taste buds to a long overdue nostalgia trip.

                  4. Sherbet fountains

                  As you can see, I was (and still am to a lesser extent) a big fan of sherbet! They came in a yellow paper tube (which had the tendency to get soggy, so it wasn’t a good one to share!) with a long stick of black liquorice to pop up the sherbet powder with. Yum!

                  5. Wine gums

                  Hell, I hate to think what they do to your teeth and stomach, all that colouring, sugar and acid, hard on the gums to boot (especially the Rowntree’s hard variety as opposed to the Maynard’s big packs of softer gums which have less tendency to get stuck in your teeth). You could never eat many of them even as a kid, that’s probably a very good thing. Or you could, but you’d end up feeling very sick, which puts most people of over indulging in them the next time. I could eat the odd one or two now, but they’re a bit too sharp and give me sensitive teeth these days, aw!

                  6. Aniseed balls

                  Aniseed and liquorice are of a very similar flavour and have always been a taste that people either love or hate. I’m of the former category and would always plonk at least 5 aniseed balls into a pick and mix ‘penny sweet’ bag. Loved the different colours they used to go too, even though I’d always get told off by my parents for putting the sweet in and out of my mouth all the time. An all time favourite!

                  7. Jelly tots

                  I still love these, even though I feel a bit silly buying them these days. Full of artificial colouring and sugar, so it goes without saying that they’re not exactly what the dentist ordered. They’re fun though and it’s great to mix all the colours together and make a big squidgy sweet. How old am I again I hear you ask?!

                  8. Refreshers

                  Also by Bassetts, these were fantastic. You can still buy them these days but never do as they’re not that common. I can remember the tangy tasting and cheerfully coloured candies vividly. They came in decent sized packets

                  9. Chocolate nuts and raisins

                  These either come loose, or in little boxes by Poppets. Getting them loose is better as you can pick and choose the ratio of chocolate nuts to raisins, peanuts to Brazil nuts. The latter are my favourite and I can eat zillions of them before feeling queasy. A small scoopful of these is a useful addition to any pick and mix bag as it offers a good almost savoury variety to the more standard sugary/ sherberty/ sickly sweets.

                  10. Chocolate limes

                  These are delicious and are among my favourite pick and mix sweets today, although it’s a much less than weekly treat nowadays. The lime flavour was juicy and you always had this anticipation of the melted chocolate centre. The temptation of course is to crunch those teeth, but it’s best to spare your teeth a bit and be patient, they’re worth it!

                  So that concludes my top ten sweets. There are of course loads more I love, just tucking into some (sugar free strawberry flavoured) Fruit-tellas as I write and they’re pretty moreish for starters!

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                  • Baking / Recipe / 62 Readings / 56 Ratings
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                    21.06.2006 00:52
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                    Delicious and tasty, easy to make

                    Cooking for me is a very rare thing and I must admit to have barely progressed at all since I left university. Speed is always the object when I get home after an hour’s commute, stomach aching with hunger. Although I rarely resort to microwave meals in the evening, I tend to cook very quick and easy things like pasta or grilled fish. However, having had a new kitchen installed recently at no meagre expense, I have made a personal vow to improve my culinary skills.

                    The recipe books, bought with such good intentions remain unopened but the last month while visiting my parents I found a recipe scribbled in the back of a diary I kept when I was 19. At that age I had a bit of a penchant for baking cookies and the recipe I found was one of my long ago favourites: Orange and raisin cookies. I made them for the first time in over a decade last weekend.
                    -------------------------------------------------------

                    INGREDIENTS

                    - 150g (5 oz) plain flour
                    - 100g (4 oz) granulated sugar
                    - 100g (4 oz) softened butter
                    - 1 large egg (beaten)
                    - 2.5 ml (½ level teaspoon) baking powder or self raising flour
                    - ½ level teaspoon salt
                    - ½ level teaspoon vanilla essence
                    - 100g (4 oz) seedless raisins
                    - 15 ml (1 tablespoon) grated orange rind (make a nice fresh orange juice with the fruit while you’re baking to make up for the cookie sins!)

                    ----------------------------------------------------------

                    PREPARATION

                    - As your mother always told you, wash your hands!
                    - Grease 3 baking sheets
                    - Place all ingredients (except the raisins and grated orange rind) into a large bowl
                    - Beat lightly with a spoon, creaming it until it’s nice and light (alternatively try to low calorie burning option of using an electric mixer!)
                    - Stir in the raisins and grated orange rind
                    - Lightly grease 2 baking trays
                    - Form small round shapes by hand or a cookie cutter

                    -----------------------------------------------------------

                    COOKING

                    - Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190 c (375 f)/ gas mark 5 for 15 minutes or until cookies turn golden brown (probably best to check after 10 – 12 minutes)

                    - Remove the baking trays from the oven and then carefully transfer the cookies from the pan to the rack with a spatula

                    - Leave to cool but taste at least one while still warm as they are yummy!


                    Enjoy!

                    ----------------------------------------------------------

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                    • Top Five Pets / Discussion / 46 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                      20.06.2006 12:07
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                      A pet can bring you joy and fun, but most need lots of care and attention

                      I’ve sat here for a while trying to decide to between the first three and it was a very close thing. There’s an enormous expectations that you have to be a ‘cat person’ or a ‘dog lover’ or a ‘horsey type’. I am all of those (well not too much of the latter I hope!). They are all unique and completely different so how anyone who likes them all can choose between them I’ll never know. I have written most about the first two since these are pets I have owned.

                      Katygriff started this challenge on Dooyoo, but I did a similar one on Ciao (top 10 animals) in the dim and distant past so some of it is shamelessly lifted from there!

                      Here we go, the world’s greatest pets, according to me are ……

                      1. Horses

                      Horses are beautiful, gentle animals (usually and if you find one that is nasty natured you can usually trace it back to previous mistreatment of some sort). I had two before leaving home for university. My first was a stubborn palomino called Sandy. She was no prize-winner but taught me a lot about determination and preservation and dealing with humiliation! She was about 13 when I got her on loan, about the same age as me but far more set in her ways! Some days she would come galloping down to the gate, whinnying to greet me, full of affection. Other days, when suffering from Equine PMT, she would swing her back end round in the stable refusing to let me bridle her or get anywhere near. She kicked me a few times when I first had her, but I learned she had been cruelly treated in the past so was very patient (funny, only animals bring out this virtue in me!), though as she continued to dump me on the floor again and again in front of my friends, patience became more of a gritted teeth determination.

                      As my friends and their perfect pony club ponies started going to shows and cross country competitions, I wanted to do the same. So I did. Sandy would go up the box with no fuss and sometimes would even win me a rosette in a novice class. Then when it came to handing out these rosettes, she would bolt with me totally out of control, straight back to the box, dozens of spectators staring after us in bewilderment. That was embarrassing too! Other days she’d refuse to go over the first jump in every single class we entered. I couldn’t understand it when sometimes she’d leap over 4 ft fences without the slightest hesitation, but I think it was just her sense of humour, showing me that she was boss in front of as many people as possible!

                      Her owner wanted to sell her 2 years later, I was devastated but at the same time realised I had learned all I could with this stubborn little mare, so when he offered me her daughter, a half Thoroughbred, 5 year old strawberry roan mare. I jumped at the chance. I was nearly 16 by now but still horse mad and had oodles of fun with Kimberly over the next 2 years. She was also far from perfect at first, having been allowed to run a little wild in her last home, she got thrown out of her first home for rearing over the owner’s head and escaping several times, trampling all over their flower beds (this was a hobby of hers she never grew out of).

                      Over the 2 years we struck up a great horse/ rider partnership, winning and getting placed in lots of local competitions with Kimberley after a difficult first few months, showing none of the ‘perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t, wait and see’ type attitude of her mother. Out riding in the Welsh countryside my sense of direction often let me down, but I could just drop the reins and Kim would show me the way home. She was bright and quick, like a little polo pony and I had lots of fun with her. Best of all if someone else tried to ride her; she always played up, dancing about, bucking or bolting for the gate, so she made me look really good!

                      -------------------------------------------------------------------

                      2. Dogs

                      Dogs are just about the only creature on Earth to give you unconditional love (although feeding them helps). Can’t understand how so many people I know don’t like them. They’re all the clichés you ever heard and some; man and woman’s best friend, unconditionally affectionate and loyal as can be. Well my dog wasn’t that loyal really, he loved everyone from our next door neighbours to my aunt who he only saw a few times a year but always went absolutely crazy when he saw. Joe was a beautiful, cuddly and friendly Golden Retriever born in 1986 and becoming part of the Pugh household as an 8 week puppy in March of that year. I had just turned 11 and was as pleased as can be. Determined to train him myself (with hindsight not such a good idea) and walk him twice a day (later to become Mum’s task, except on occasional weekends).

                      An 11 year old training an excitable, wilful puppy is something that can go wrong. Joe was never even remotely obedient. We had to watch him like a hawk if he was in the garden as he liked nothing better than escape into the fields behind to play with the sheep. And he did think he was playing with big woolly creatures like himself I have no doubt; he was too dumb to think of them as meat. Farmers of course didn’t agree so much worry was caused by his penchant for this game.

                      On other escapade days he also got into mishaps with moving vehicles. The first time we only knew when a visible upset driver came to tell us. 20 minutes or so of terror followed as he said he didn’t know where he’d run off too. However, Joe came back soon enough not in the least bit bothered by the concern he had caused us all, wagging his tail and smiling that characteristic Golden Retriever smile, wondering where his dinner was. The second time I was running down the road after him as he had leapt out when I’d answered the front door. A white car just caught him lightly as it was stopping at the bottom of the hill. They didn’t stop actually which was a bit naughty, but Joe survived to tell the tale, only with a broken tail this time! Despite expensive veterinary treatment, his beautiful, fluffy, waggy retriever tail was from then on a shadow of its former glory, looking slightly silly as it bent slightly in the middle, but it could of course have been a lot worse.

                      As well as being an eager escapee, Joe adored chewing things, including the gear stick on mum’s car and a library book called – no kidding – “The Obedient Dog”. The librarian laughed so much at that he let us of the fine!

                      Despite being a complete blond bimbo, terrified of manhole covers and squeaky toys, Joe liked to think he was big and scary. In fact the postman hated him as he did have a deep, fairly fierce bark and did chase him down the road once; wagging his tail and thinking it was all a hilarious game. We didn’t get any post for a while after that, but next time we saw Postman Pete, he and Joe were formally introduced and a reluctant truce mutually agreed.

                      We had 9 wonderful years with our fun loving friend and one day I would like another (better behaved) one, though of course none could ever diminish the memory of Joe dog!


                      -------------------------------------------------------------------

                      3. Cats

                      Cats are great. Affectionate when they want to be, love you on their own terms and do what they want to do. More like horses and dogs I find, especially in the way that you have to earn their respect. Friendly cats are the best though, I love the ones I pass on my way to the bus stop in the morning who meow and run over to me to say good morning. I’ve never had a cat but one day would love too as I think they make great pets (cat flap permitting) for busy workers.

                      Last year on holiday in Spain we found a beautiful abandoned kitten that followed us until we were forced to take her back to the villa we were staying in. She was beautiful, friendly, laid back and affectionate. People at the campsite where we found her said she’d been pushed out of a car a few days beforehand but she was very forgiving to the human race. After numerous phone calls and growing fear that we wouldn’t be able to find a home for her, a kind Spanish lady who worked for a cat charity took her in and hopefully Lucky is still very happy there.

                      That’s my only cat story and another reminder that pets are for life, not to just be dumped when your kids get bored of them!

                      -------------------------------------------------------------------

                      4. Squirrels

                      Ok, not strictly speaking a ‘pet’ and disliked intensely by many, but they’re one of the main types of wildlife you see when walking through parks. I love the way they bound around and are so tame these days. In the park by me you can sit on a bench and they’ll come up and sit next to you, some of them will even take food from your hands. I know they can be a pest in gardens and so on but I think they’re dead cute, cheeky and clever!


                      5. Other pets

                      I’m struggling now as I think rabbits are cute but boring, guinea pigs are fairly cuddly but always bite me and I’m not keen on hamsters or fish; don’t see the point. I’m sure they all make good, relatively easy to look after pets for children, but they don’t really appeal to me. Birds are nice and parrots dead funny, but I’m just not too comfortable with the idea of keeping birds in cages. If I see a caged bird I always find it very difficult not to let it out. We have lots of green parakeets in our garden and they are semi-pets as they come onto our balcony to get food and then sit and stare at us while we’re sitting on the sofa. I’ve possibly encouraged them too much though since they have taken to sitting on our bedroom windowsill and waking me up in the morning with their screeching. It’s fun watching them chase each other in and out of the trees though. I haven’t gone as far as feeding the foxes and ducks in our garden (the two are mutually incompatible) but as you can tell I’m really a frustrated non pet owner and as soon as I get that huge house in the country with stables and lots of land (must start entering the lottery!), I’ll be straight out to a pet rescue centre adopting as many animals as I can!
                      --------------------------------------------------------------

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                      • More +
                        11.06.2006 22:49
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                        The perfect UK holiday for families, friends and couples

                        I have lots of happy childhood memories of Pembrokeshire: family camping trips, activity holidays with school, youth hostelling with friends and the odd day trip to Tenby in the summer. I always loved the area but somehow after the age of 16 didn’t go back for 14 years. I moved out of my parents’ home in South Wales at 18 and so it became a much less convenient holiday destination. I’m now going to tell you about my most recent experiences of Pembrokeshire, I can only tell you what I know, but there is a lot more to the area so if you’re interested, check out one of the excellent tourist websites for the area including the Visit Pembrokeshire site.

                        *** 1st adulthood trip Easter 2005 - Tenby and beyond

                        Then during the Easter weekend of 2005 my boyfriend and I were staying with my parents and decided to do an overnight trip to Tenby which is only an hour and a half’s drive from where they live. It was a bit of a last minute decision so our choice of accommodation was limited, but I did find somewhere, a small B&B just a street away from the road that overlooks Tenby’s South Beach for £40 a night for the room, it was basic but clean accommodation, but couldn’t complain for that price, especially on such a peak weekend. The place we stayed has now been sold however so there’s not much point me discussing that one further.

                        We had a lovely time that weekend, we arrived just before lunchtime and after checking in to our B&B took a look around Tenby town. It was a lovely, sunny day (despite all the jibes about Welsh weather, mostly true for the South and North, Pembrokeshire is actually one of the sunniest areas of Britain) so we just walked along the two main beaches, the imaginatively named North and South beaches.

                        Cast aside all your preconceptions now of a British seaside resort town. I think if you’re thinking Weston super Mare or Blackpool you’d be very pleasantly surprised. The beaches are fabulous, especially South beach, long, golden and not too overdeveloped. Apart from one stupidly allowed tall tower block of holiday flats on the hill in front of North beach (which is the also the Tenby harbour area) there are no building eyesores from the 1960s and 1970s of the kind which blight so many British and European resorts either.

                        The harbour is very pretty indeed, no tacky shops or food stalls have been allowed to set up there, so all you’ll find is a fish and seafood stall (reasonably priced considering the location and offering a good selection) and 2 small huts offering boat trips to Caldey island. I’ve not yet made it to Caldey island has been inhabited since the Stone Age and has been home to many orders of monks since Celtic times. A characteristic feature of Tenby harbour and indeed other parts of the town are the pastel coloured painted houses. They add a nice bit of colour to the scene and look particularly striking at sunset. There is also some castle ruins and a lifeboat house and information centre nearby which merits a quick visit, especially I imagine if you have young boys with you.

                        That evening we wandered around looking for somewhere to eat. Tenby has a fairly decent range of restaurants, there’s a curry house by the river, a few fish and chip shops (not totally escaping the typical British resort then!), seafood places, loads of pub and a few Italians. However, struck immediately by the medieval and romantic ambience, we chose to splash out on this occasion and eat at the Plantagenet House restaurant. This is the most expensive restaurant in the town (if not one of the most expensive in Wales) – main courses go from about £13 for some vegetarian dishes to an average of £18 for steaks, lamb shank, £22 for lobster and £30 £7for an incredible seafood platter (could easily be shared).

                        I had a delicious seafood salad for starters (£7) and steak for my main course which was easily one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life. My partner had a delicious French onion soup for starter (about £5) and the lamb shanks, which were huge and tender. We both somehow found the room for dessert – delicious home made icecream for me and profitaroles for him. Desserts were also around a fiver from what I recall so along with the bottle of London wine bar priced red, a diet coke and a bottle of South American beer the bill came to around £80 including tips I think. There was a slight error with the bill, can’t remember what, but I was most impressed when the owner (a cheery Cockney) came over to apologise and offered us both a drink on the house from the bar downstairs. He also showed us the medieval chimney, which he was very proud of!

                        I wouldn’t normally divert into a restaurant review inside a travel review but I was so impressed by that place, I had to tell you all about it. If you can afford to splash out on one night of your trip (check the opening times though as they can be erratic off season and book ahead as it’s renowned and therefore very popular), or you want to treat someone, then I’d really recommend a visit here. I’ve never been at lunchtime but you can get a different cheaper menu if you go in the day, although I think it’s in a different part and I can’t see the wonderful candle atmosphere being quite the same during the day.

                        Anyway, back to the travel review! After a tipsy walk back to the B&B we slept very well and woke early the next day to more bright sunshine. Having seen most of Tenby at by then we decided to drive up the coast, stopping off at various beautiful beach side pubs on the way and ending up in the pretty ‘village’ of St Davids which is actually Britain’s smallest city. There’s a cathedral there and some more fab beaches in the area so we spent a few hours there before driving back to my parents.

                        ** 2nd adulthood trip - September 2005 - Tenby and beyond

                        So enthused were we by this very successful trip we raved about it to my whole family and got straight into planning a longer trip later in the year. On an ‘internet lunchtime’ at work the following week I stumbled upon the FBM holidays site (email me if you’d like more details) and booked a bungalow called Hafod for September, 3 bedrooms, for us, my parents and my fabulous Gran.

                        The setting was amazing. On the top of the cliff, overlooking an expanse of ocean from the back garden (the large garden ends with a gate and a sheer drop but it is well fenced off) and to the side north beach and the harbour. It’s a ten-minute walk from the centre of the town, with a house on either side but feels far from the buzz of things. We were lucky on all 4 days of our September trip and had lots of warm sunshine again and I have very fond memories of the warm evenings we spend with the bbq and a few glasses of wine sitting on the bench looking at the moonlit sea.

                        The cottage was homely and well equipped. All the rooms overlook the sea and the garden has two barbeque patio areas. The owners had gone to every effort to make us feel at home, leaving us a bottle of wine, lots of tea and coffee, biscuits, magazines, brochures, golf clubs and board games! I could go on further about the place as I loved it and would thoroughly recommend it for a week or long weekend (again I can give you more information if you are interested, just email me), but should really move on!

                        During this trip, we took it very easily as my Gran isn’t as mobile as she once was so ate in every night, but even if she hadn’t been with us I think we’d have had very little inclination to leave our cosy ‘home’. We did however take a few short trips in the car with her and were all very impressed with yet more golden, clean and almost deserted beaches further up the coast. Basically the further north you go from Tenby (out of peak season at least) the quieter the beaches and countryside become so you really feel as if you’re getting away from it all, especially if you’re from London!

                        We also visited the small village of Dale which is near where my Grandfather was stationed in the second world war. It was interesting for us to see his old barracks which are still standing, but I wasn’t that impressed with the town itself. It’s for a start the only place in Pembrokeshire where I’ve experienced bad service (although service is often slower than I’m used to in ‘serve them quick and get them out’ London). That said if you’re into water sports – windsurfing, sailing, surfing, kayaking and powerboating there is lots of those going on there and the West Wales Wind, Surf and Sailing school is based in the centre of the tiny village. The only other interesting fact I remember from this visit is that Dale is the spot where Henry Tudor landed in 1485, returning from his exile in France, before he met his fate at the hands of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

                        That's about it for that trip, apart from Saundersfoot, another seaside town, a similar side to Tenby but less pretty. We stopped there for a few hours and had a nice lunch in a very friendly pub, but I've forgotten its name. I'd been told that Saundersfoot was a little rough around the edges and that's about right, it's more an old person's place I'd say as well, but it still had a good, sandy beach and is much cheaper both for accomodation and for eating out than Tenby so might be worth considering if you're on a tight budget and don't mind there not being loads to do on your doorstep.

                        ** 3rd adulthood trip - March 2006 - Tenby and beyond

                        I was back in Pembrokeshire once again in mid March of this year when my boyfriend and I hired another place with FBM holidays with 4 friends. We’d wanted to go back to the Hafod bungalow but our friends, expecting a typical British seaside resort, voted for somewhere more rural. We decided on Lydsep, a pretty village about 4 miles from Tenby and got a cheaper, 4 bedroomed house called Windy Ridge, again through FBM holidays. It was not quite as homely as Hafod but was of a very high standard nevertheless. Lydstep beach was about a 5 minute walk away.

                        This time we decided to see a bit of the Pembrokeshire coastal path. Pembrokeshire is the only coastal national park in Britain and if you were to do the entire path it would take you along 186 miles/ 299 km of stunning clifftop scenery with beaches very similar to those in quieter parts of Cornwall. If you were to do the whole thing it would take you 12 or 13 days, but it is easy to break it into segments and do it over several visits. Some of the sights you might see, depending on the time of year, include wild flowers, dolphins, seals, Norman castles and ancient churches, including the remarkable St. Govan’s chapel. This minature 13th century chapel is wedged into a tiny chapel on a steep cliff and is definitely worth a visit if you have an interest in ancient sites. There is some spectacular scenery in the area, although it is very close to a military camp.

                        Anyway, that was another slight digression, as we visited the chapel on another day. The walk we did was around 12 miles and took us from Bosherton Lily ponds (a large area of ponds, which are more like lakes which if you time it right will be full of Monet style lilies) back to Lydstep. The walk was stunning, taking in some fabulous beaches, including Barafundle bay, an award winning site, Broadhaven South, Little Haven and Manorbier. As well as beaches there are some amazing limestone areas, castles a few stop off points with tea houses or friendly pubs, wild ponies and blowholes. The walk was tiring, it was an unseasonably warm day and there were far too many ups and downs for my liking, unsurprisingly I suppose for a cliff top walk but I’d definitely do it again.

                        I don’t have children so can’t tell you much about what to do with them if you if they’re coming with you, but from brochures I came across I could see that there is a wide range of activities and places to take them in rain or shine. There’s Folly Farm, Oakwood Theme park, a chocolate factory, boat trips to see seals and dolphins, nearly every type of land and water sport from kayaking to horse riding and of course all the fantastic beaches. Outside the summer season dogs are also allowed on the beaches but please take your poop scoop and keep those blue flags flying.

                        I have to remind you as well that, in recent times at least, I’ve only been in spring and autumn which I think are the best times to go if you’re as lucky as I’ve been on all 3 trips with the weather. I imagine it’s great in summer too, just busier and Tenby is no doubt full of hen and stag parties at this time too. I haven’t seen much evidence of them on any of my trips but it’s meant to be one of the most popular destinations for hen parties in the UK, so they must all go in summer.

                        Getting there takes around 4 hours from London, 2 from Cardiff and 2 ¾ from Bristol. Like, Cornwall, it’s not the easiest of places to get to from many areas of Britain, which I think helps it stay so relatively unspoilt. There is a train station in Tenby but from most places, including London, this will involve at least one change and possibly a long wait at Swansea.

                        I can’t think of anything else right now that I need to mention, but I will add to this review if you leave me a comment about anything you’d like to know, or as I’ve said you’re welcome to email me at the address on my profile.

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                        • Why (not) travel? / Discussion / 46 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                          09.06.2006 16:44
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                          An insight to my travel and holiday philosophy ... or something

                          The sun is out, the weather is hot, no holiday booked, good that is not!

                          I believe this is Malu's challenge, it's a great one, so thanks!


                          HOW MANY TIMES A YEAR DO YOU TRAVEL?

                          I travel within the UK, out of London and the South East that is, about once a month – visiting friends and family but also various work trips. I usually go on 2 holidays abroad a year and a couple of weekend breaks both in the UK and also in Europe, the beauty of living in London is that it’s quick, easy and cheap to do so. My last weekend break was 4 days in Iceland which was AMAZING.

                          FOR HOW LONG DO YOU GO AWAY?

                          Completely depends – usually try to have at least 2 weeks of once a year. This year I was lucky enough to have a month of work though to go to Australia and New Zealand. That was lovely but it took me ages to get back into the swing of things when I got home. I’ll have several 2 to 4 day breaks a year as well and usually a week skiing or somewhere in Europe.

                          DO YOU STAY IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR ABROAD?


                          Both, I love travelling abroad, but for long weekends especially I’m really starting to value weekend breaks in the UK, especially if it doesn’t involve flights as it’s much more relaxing. Went to Cornwall and rediscovered the delights of Pembrokeshire last year so I’m hoping to see more of the UK again this year, preferably the Isle of Skye or the Scottish Highlands, or the Lake District as I haven’t been to any of these places yet.

                          DO YOU ORGANISE YOUR HOLIDAY YOURSELF OR DO YOU GO TO A TRAVEL AGENTS?

                          I usually book everything online, using Mutual Points to make a bit of money. I’m not sure how travel agents manage to survive these days; I don’t know anyone who uses them any more.

                          DO YOU PREPARE YOUR HOLIDAYS IN ADVANCE BY READING GUIDE BOOKS ETC?

                          I’m an avid reader and love researching holidays in guide books, usually the Rough Guides and also the internet. I will also look out for articles in travel or other magazines and programmes on TV about my destination. If I can find novels set in the country to take with me, more the better.

                          DO YOU TRAVEL ALONE OR WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS?

                          Often with my boyfriend, sometimes with friends, usually on group weekends and occasionally with family for a long weekend UK cottage breaks.

                          DO YOU PREFER SEA/MOUNTAINS/PLAINS, CITIES AS DESTINATIONS?

                          I like them all, cities are nice for weekend breaks if they’re easy to get to as there’s always plenty to do and it’s less weather dependent. Mountains are great for skiing but also as I discovered last year make a pleasant sand free summer break. The sea is great to look at but I’m not too keen on swimming in it and not very keen on sand either so I tend to lounge by a pool with my book instead. My favourite holidays contain a mixture of relaxation and sightseeing opportunities, a bit of shopping, leisurely nightlife and good food.

                          DO YOU MAINLY RELAX OR ARE YOU AN ACTIVE HOLIDAYER?

                          As above, I like a mixture. Although I find that as I get older I need to relax more, at least towards the end of the holiday, otherwise I get back to work exhausted and fuzzy headed for at least the first few days. The month away I spent down under earlier this year was fanastic but we moved around, saw and did so much that it was far from relaxing, although we did have the odd day on a beach so it wasn’t constantly on the go. Still, that combined with the mega flight home meant I took about a week to feel normal afterwards. Suffered real jet lag for the first time in my life. I was fine going out there but when I got back to London I stupidly fell asleep at 2pm and woke up at midnight. As a result it took ages to get into a normal sleep pattern.

                          I do like a bit of everything though. I nearly always have at least one sporty holiday a year – hiking, horse riding, cycling or skiing. I am a bit crazy about seeing everything there is to see when I go somewhere which irritates my more laid back boyfriend but like I said, I’m definitely getting better at relaxing with a book by the pool these days.


                          IF YOU GO ON ABROAD DO YOU LEARN AT LEAST SOME WORDS OF THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE?

                          I speak rusty but fluent French, ok Spanish and basic Italian.

                          ARE YOU INTERESTED IN THE CUSISINE OF A FOREIGN COUNTRY?

                          Of course and I haven’t come across a cuisine that I can’t eat yet. Mind you living in London you can get food from absolutely anywhere in the world these days anyway but there is something special about picking at tapas and slurping Sangaria by a Spanish beach, or feasting on frogs legs in France … ok well maybe I don’t take it that far.

                          WHICH TRANSPORTATION DO YOU PREFER?

                          I used to hate flying, especially take off where I get palpitations and sweaty palms. I’ve flown so much in the last few years that However, I’ve become more and more blasé about it. All the same, if the distance isn’t too great my preference would always be to take a train where you can just sit back and watch the countryside whiz by. If there’s a sea in the way I’m always very happy to get on a boat though. I have great sea legs (if I do say so myself!) and love the fresh air being on deck. When I’m old or if I have kids I’m definitely going to get into cruises I think. I’m always sad to get off the ferry when I get to France!

                          WHAT KIND OF LUGGAGE DO YOU TAKE WITH YOU. HAVE YOU PROBLEMS PACKING. TOO FEW THINGS WITH YOU?

                          A ruck sack if I’m backpacking although rooting around for the item of clothing that I want all the time does drive me a little mad. I have a weekend suitcase, a week’s holiday suitcase and a longer holiday/ activity holiday (space for all the kit) suitcase! And yes I do fit the typical female stereotype of packing way too much!

                          DO YOU SEND PICTURE POSTCARDS TO FAMILY AND FRIENDS?

                          Usually only to my parents and Gran unless anyone else specifically requests them or I’m somewhere I’m particularly enthused about. I very rarely remember anyone else’s address though so I prefer to get online at least once on a longer holiday and send a quick e-postcard – you can find them free for most places these days!

                          Oh no, is that it? I was enjoying that, I have no holiday planned at the moment and it’s about a zillion degrees in London at the moment so I need to get out of the stifling concrete jungle very soon!

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                            30.05.2006 22:02
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                            Certain celebrities should come with a health warning

                            This was a fun challenge to do, so thanks to whoever started it ... The following celebrities annoy me in varying degrees at different times, so are not placed in any particular order:


                            1. Rebecca Loos

                            Weird how I can dislike her so much when I have absolutely no affection or sympathy for the woman she so publicly humiliated. Well ok, so I guess I’m not completely hard hearted because I did feel a bit sorry for Posh, even though it seemed she cared more about her public image and the ‘Beckham Brand’ than her marriage … Anyway I’ll deal with Posh later … I dislike Rebecca Toilet intensely because she’s a manipulative, attention seeking cow. I know and dislike a few people like her in real life: pretentious, completely selfish and full of themselves, with no good reason. This cow could not have cared less about the young children whose lives she was going to through into turmoil. I don’t have much time for family destroyers at the best of times, but the extra suffering caused by their parents’ marriage being so public, coupled with the fact that it seems she just did it for a bit of a laugh, makes this even more unforgivable than usual. Of course, he is as much too blame, but I let Beckham off for this slightly as vain, attention obsessed women are obviously some form of compulsion to him. Therefore, he risked a superficially ‘happy’ marriage with one for a sordid fling with another, slightly plainer version of his wife.

                            The only thing that stops me throwing things at the television if I see her on it is the fact that she didn’t play the part of the victim as so many Kiss And Tell girls have done. Finally, just to be plain bitchy, Rebecca has got a huge nose and resembles an ageing transvestite so I reallly can’t see what men find attractive in her either, apart from the obvious ‘bisexual nymphomaniac’ turn on ploy. Ah yes, that'd be it then.

                            2. Sian Lloyd

                            Annoying Welsh weather woman. Thought I’d escaped her when I left HTV behind and moved to England, but oh no, she of the fixed smile and squeaky voice followed abruptly. Was in the audience for ‘the Keith Barrett’ show recently - to be screened the Monday after next, watch out for me ;-) – and she was unbelievably annoying, picking at everything the host said as if it was her show, not his. However, she was not half as bad as her humourless Liberal Democrat MP husband – Lenpick something-or-other. Match made in heaven if ever I saw one ...

                            3. Michael Jackson

                            I swing between pity and mild irritation on this one. Pity because he is obviously mentally deranged and irritation because ‘GET OVER IT YOU WEIRDO, YOU ARE NOT PETER PAN YOU’RE A GROWN MAN IN YOUR 40’S’. Whether he is actually a complete pervert or just genuinely likes hanging out with young children in his bedroom I cannot say for sure, but anyone with half a brain would have stopped doing it after the first sign of trouble. The fact that he carried on as normal could be a sign of ignorant innocence or as I’m more inclined to think, an indication of a stupid idiot who believes that his success and fortune put him above the law and normal codes of conduct. He may have been found innocent but it's all a bit weird for my liking.

                            4. Posh Spice

                            Painfully predictable, but I couldn’t leave her out because she really is one of the ultimate annoying celebrities...

                            Famous for being the one who pointed in an over-hyped female pop band, Posh went on to marry a footballer. Fine, nothing surprising about that, she used to be a pretty girl before she turned into a vain, near-anorexic freak. But she wasn’t happy with her great fortune which was born out of sheer luck and chance and not a little of genuine talent. So she set out to irritate the British public on a daily basis. If only Princess Diana had lived, then we may have been spared some of the ‘Posh wears a new dress’, ‘walks down the street’, ‘goes on a blatant publicity stunt to be photographed with poor children in Peru’ type extravaganzas splashed across the tabloids. The classic moment that summed her up was a few years ago now. It was the day Beckham went to collect his MBE or whatever it’s called from Queenie. Compare her to Jonny Wilkinson’s girlfriend who turned up in a demure dress looking beautiful but understated and not trying to steal her partner’s limelight. No posh couldn’t stand it could she, hubbie getting all the attention. Huh! Better wear some stupid, massively tall feathered hat then so that the photographers see me first …

                            5. Geri ‘Spice’ Halliwell

                            I bumped into her in the loos once in a bar in Soho and she pushed me out of the way like I was a door or something, in her hurry to get to the soap dispenser. Well at least she cleans her own hands after going to the loo, I suppose that counts for something, but pretty flippin rude I think, so she is on her list just for that. Oh and also for the ‘woe is me, I have such a hard old life’ documentary I once was forced to watch on her at a friend’s house (honestly I had no choice!). I hate celebrities who whinge like that, they have more money that I can ever hope to get hold of in my entire life time, unless I win the lottery (unlikely since I never enter it), so if you feel nobody takes you seriously I really don’t care.

                            6. Jordan

                            What do I need to say on this woman, she’s made damn sure we all know everything there is to know already! The fact that this kind of talentless tart can become hugely rich and famous in Britain makes me deeply ashamed! I’m not sure I know of another country that makes rich over-exposed celebrities out of dim-witted space wasters as much as Britain does and it’s something I wish we would stop doing!

                            7. Vernon

                            Hugely irritating weekend children’s’ TV presenter who really thinks he’s ‘it’. Reminds me of a lot of blokes at school and uni who thought they were too great to breathe the same air as you, for some reason you could never quite fathom. I’m sure we all know the type, or perhaps you were one, shame on you! Also – that haircut … now I’m hardly a world trendsetter in hairstyles having had the same one for at least the last 10 years, but hey I’m not rich and I’m not on TV. He looks like some Oasis wannabe from the early 90s.

                            8. Tony Blair

                            Not getting into politics, but this man is just a moron who makes me cringe ever time I see his lying, sycophantic face on TV. Please resign soon.

                            9. Peter Stringfellow

                            I’m struggling now as I’ve realised I don’t actually find 10 celebrities REALLY annoying because the best thing about people you don’t have to mix with in real life is that you can turn them off or turn the page over. I guess though I could mention … Peter Stringfellow purely cos he’s fat, ugly and old and a living reminder that many beautiful women continue to shame their gender by choosing to sleep with him. How could they, I would puke at the mere sight of him in the flesh I think, the slimey old greaseball. Yuck, better stop before I give myself nightmares.

                            10. Anyone who appears in Big Brother

                            Yes, the 12 or so 'celebrities', plus the Z listers who appear on 'celebrity' big brother each year all count as one fame crazy, whinging, talentless and dull as ditchwater celebrity. Unfortuately, although I rarely watch any of the series, I will find myself drawn to the odd clip or newspaper article. I hate that. These people represent almost everything that is wrong with our society today. Oh dear I'm starting to sound like an OAP, so I'll stop here ...

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                              26.05.2006 17:21
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                              If you liked Captain Corelli's Mandolin you'll probably like this one too

                              I love reading, but in the last few months I’ve found it hard to find the time or the energy to read anything other than a newspaper or magazine. Then whilst reading the “Metro” on the way to work last month I spotted a review on this book by debut novelist Victoria Hislop. I registered that it was about Spinalonga, a now uninhabited island off the coast of northern Crete, where from 1903 to 1957 Greek lepers were banished with no hope of ever returning to their friends and families.

                              I spent a wonderful holiday in Crete 2 years ago, as detailed in my very first review here on dooyoo. I visited Spingalona whilst I was there and it left a lasting impression on me. The guide who took us around the island had this amazing talent for taking you back to a very difficult time and tragic place and told us several true stories. Most of the stories were sad ones, but they all gave me the sense of the courage and optimism that most of these people had.

                              The author of this novel has a very similar gift of inspiring empathy and a vivid ‘mind’s eye’ in her readers. The story starts with a young Londoner, Alexis Fielding, preparing to go on holiday. She’s at a questioning stage in her life, mid twenties, pondering her future with her long term boyfriend whilst about to embark on an already planned holiday with him and also intrigued by her mother Sofia’s obvious unwillingness to discuss much about her childhood upbringing in her native Crete. Alexis plans to visit her mother’s childhood village of Plaka whilst on this holiday in Crete. On mentioning this to her mother, she is surprised to find that Sofia is quite happy about the idea and even gives her a letter to give to a Fontini, an old friend of Sofia’s mother.

                              So she sets off on this already arranged holiday with her soon to be dumped boyfriend. In the second week, she decides to leave him to his own devices and drives off to Plaka, where she easily finds the little taverna run by Fotini and her family and is welcomed to stay. In her letter to Fontini, Alexis’s mother has asked her to explain her family’s history to her daughter as she feels unable to herself. Alexis takes up Fontini’s offer to stay with them for a few days and so we are taken back in time while the story of Alexis’s great grandmother, grandmother and mother is revealed.

                              I won’t go into the story any further, but suffice to say that it was a gripping and often tear jerking read. Victoria Hislop writes with just the right amount of description and detail to transport you right into the heart of the story, but not so much that it becomes dull. In some reviews I’ve read before and since, the reviewer has often drawn comparisons between this book and the highly successful ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ by Louis de Bernieres. Both novels are set on Greek islands, both authors have the same talent for bringing characters, history and places to life, both had societal messages for the reader, but other than and that and the fact I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of them they are quite different, most of all in style. Hislop writes with descriptive but less literary and flowery style and thus this book, whilst not exactly cheerful reading at times is more of a beach read ‘with a heart’ as the cover says.


                              The book paints an intimate picture of what life was like for the lepers living on the island. The characters and situations are imaginary but from what I have read closely correlate in a few cases to real life. For example, life there may have been hard, but the residents never gave up and worked very hard to forge a normal existence. An island newspaper was regularly published, people fell in love and got married, partied, gossiped, had hobbies and petty quarrels, gardened, campaigned for more funding from the Greek government and bartered with each other. They did anything, but sit there lives out in total misery just waiting for to succumb to the disease and die. For many this optimism paid off as a cure was eventually found and many survivors left the island when it was closed in 1957.

                              What this book also does well is to convey human ignorance and prejudice about the disease. In those days it must have been far worse, but many ‘healthy’ people treated lepers as dirty, just as they did in biblical times when people suffering from one of the world’s oldest diseases were ostracised from society and considered ‘unclean’.

                              The disease can only be spread by direct contact with an open wound, but much like AIDS victims in the 1980s, suffers were avoided and feared as people often thought they could catch it from them just by being in the same room. Same prejudices, just a different disease. Also, like AIDS, at least in the beginning, the view was that the sufferer only had themselves to blame and little compassion was granted.

                              Even today in Hawaii a former compulsory leper colony stays open for suffers afraid to go back to the outside world for fear of prejudice. Worse still, despite the fact that an anti-biotic cure (if caught in the early stages) was found decades ago, The International Federation of Anti-Leprosy Associations estimates that at least 3 million people world wide (mainly Africa and Asia) still suffer from severe effects from the disease and less than 1 million people are being treated for it. This means millions of people are suffering needlessly from a disease that could well be made extinct if only more attention and funded was provided for it. If you take my advice and read this book, you may find, like me that you feel quite ignorant about leprosy so for more information, or to find out how you can help visit the LEPRA website: http://www.lepra.org.uk. There is also some information at the back of the novel, so with luck in writing this book Victoria Hislop will have brought attention to a well deserved cause, as well as boosting tourism for Crete and excursions to Spinalonga!

                              The book was first published in 2005 and is available in paperback at a cover price of £6.99. That’s a bargain in itself but it’s even cheaper at Tesco where I got it for £3.73 or on Amazon for £3.99. It is published by Headline Review and the paperback contains 480 pages. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it. It’s easy to read, despite the subject and has happy parts as well as sad, it’s thought provoking and well written, you won’t want to put it down.

                              If you have read it already or are inspired to after reading this, I’d love to know what you think.

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                              • Zest / Magazine / Newspaper / 49 Readings / 40 Ratings
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                                22.05.2006 00:05
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                                Health and beauty with more emphasis on health

                                I am just coming to the end of my year’s subscription to this magazine, taken up on a whim at the Vitality Show last year, where they were offering loads of freebies (always the best way for companies to get my attention!) and a heavy discount. With the latest issue (June) I was sent a renewal notice, I have enjoyed the magazine throughout the last 12 months but am in two minds as to whether to sign up for another year, so thought writing this review might help me make up my mind!

                                … THE BASICS …

                                Zest is published by the National Magazine Company in London. Essentially a women’s health magazine, it does also touch on issues concerning beauty and sex & relationships like most women’s magazines. Also in the style of most women’s magazines, a beautiful and sickeningly skinny model always adorns the front cover, but to make you feel worse/ more motivated to stick to that diet plan (depending on what frame of mind you’re in) these models flaunt their perfect figures in a bikini and the editorial messages on the front try to convince you that you could have a figure like this too if you follow the advice inside (yeah right). This, along with the strapline “Health, Diet, Fitness, Looks, Feel 100% confident” all combine to persuade the health and fitness conscious female that this magazine can help them get the results they want and need. Cover stories this month include:

                                *** 7 Moves to a show-off stomach, PLUS this summer’s hottest diet

                                *** You’re just one step away from 100% happy

                                *** Cut your cancer risk – Double your fertility – Transform your health in a month

                                *** 5 minute DIY reflexology

                                *** Bikini body special


                                … STYLE and CONTENT…

                                Aimed primarily at 20 to 30 something women, it’s a bright and breezy magazine packed full of photos and easy to read features. There are few long articles and those over 2 pages are broken up in easy to read chunks of text, making it an ideal read to flick through on the train or in front of the television. There is usually some feature about a celebrity’s body – you can never escape those, but I’d say that pictures of celebs on holiday in their bikinis feature much less in this magazine than the likes of Heat and Glamour, which makes a refreshing changes.

                                Like any glossy magazine, there are a fair few adverts, but I’d say far less so than some of the ‘mainstream’ women’s monthlies such as Cosmopolitan. Most issues include a substantial discount of some product or shop. Recently it was 25 % off JJB sports, which enabled me to update my gym collection, this time it’s 25% of Bikinishack.co.uk which might come in useful too, must take a look!

                                The main cover features vary from issue to issue as you would expect, but there are also numerous regular inclusions, such as healthy eating recipes (which I religiously cut out every month, but never quite get round to cooking). The contents page is very concise and makes it easy to pick out exactly what you want straight away, an asterix is placed by all features that are promoted on the front cover to help you spot them easily. Features are divided in the same way each month, as follows:

                                *** UPFRONT – these are one off features such as readers’ stories, or as in this issue, features on happiness and lifestyle.

                                *** HEALTH – some regular bits and pieces come into this section, such as ‘Health News, ‘Your Most Embarrassing Questions’ and one-off/ cover features.

                                *** ALTERNATIVE HEALTH

                                There are usually 2 or 3 features in this section per issue. In this one there’s a piece on DIY reflexology.

                                *** EMOTIONS

                                Bits and pieces on love, sex and emotions. This one included quite an interesting feature on how to think like a man!

                                *** BEAUTY

                                Make up, tanning, hair, cellulite, perfume, anti-ageing, fragrances – everything you’d expect to find written about in a women’s magazine really.

                                *** EAT LIGHT

                                For me, this is the area that sets this magazine apart from other 20/ 30 something women’s magazines as it includes lots of features on food and healthy eating, as well as recipe but manages to do so without being too ‘house-wifey’.

                                *** FITNESS

                                I do read these but many of them are for the far more dedicated than I. Lots on running, exercise routines, but also features on different sports which is more my kind of thing, this month there’s a piece on getting the latest tennis kit which came in handy as I’ve just signed up for some beginners’ tennis lessons.

                                *** REGULARS

                                Includes the editorial leader, letters page, next month’s highlights, getaways, travel (with a health and fitness flavour e.g. this month it’s sailing and surfing in Croatia and France), health & fitness directory (naming suppliers/ websites of products mentioned in the magazine), horoscopes (with emphasis on health and fitness again of course) and body gossip – i.e. the Celeb Body bit that you can never escape, this month we learn all about how Reese Witherspoon stays in shape.


                                *** RENDER TREATS

                                Things like ‘Get £6 of a Talking Pedometer’ (yay another gadget I can buy and never use!), competitions, the discount of the month as aforementioned and other offers (subscription offer this month is a free Original Source Gift Set, worth £19, plus substantial saving (see below) if you subscribe to Zest.

                                … FINAL ISSUES …

                                The cover price is £3.20, but like most magazines they offer a substantial discount if you take out a subscription (such as £3 for the first 3 issues, 33% discount of the cover price thereafter – website offer) – go to the Zest website to sign up if it sounds like your sort of read. This month as I said, the magazine is promoting a free Original Source Gift set, if you take out a subscription by direct debit and a saving of 37% on the cover price.

                                … MY VERDICT…

                                Well, I’ve been through the last issue of my current subscription once again. I’ve realised that it is an interesting read with lots of useful discounts and offers and always tells me something new and interesting. That said I think I might have a rest from it for a few months as I have got a bit bored of it as the year has gone on and then see what freebies they are giving away for a new subscription later in the year!

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                                • More +
                                  04.03.2006 11:38
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                                  Highlights your skin's beauty, hides all its flaws all for less than a tenner

                                  Introduction

                                  I am a great fan of the Boots No7 range, although relatively expensive for what’s basically a high street brand (although I found No7 products sold in lots of places in their own right in Australia and New Zealand, countries which both lack a really good pharmacy/ toiletries store), it does offer excellent quality products. I don’t often write reviews on skincare products or cosmetics, as it has to be something I really believe or I’d end up just writing a long, dull list of ingredients and directions, but this product is definitely something special.

                                  One of my favourites in this range is the High Lights Illuminating Lotion. For years I used the pricey Clarins Flash Beauty Balm (£23.50 for 50ml). This is great but I have since discovered that No7 highlights (also Hypo-allergenic) is every bit as good for less than half the price.

                                  The packaging

                                  It comes in a designer style glossy box which gives you the impression you’re buying a product from Clinique or Estée Lauder rather than a mass market British high street store. The bottle is solid glass with a pump dispenser and a black push on lid. The pump and lid ensure that bacteria is kept to a minimum as opposed to open top bottles which allow air and dirt to gush in every time you open it. The bottle is 30ml and lasts around a year, if you use it once or twice a day.

                                  The blurb on the bottle goes like this:
                                  “Add a gorgeous hint of golden pink to bathe skin in a soft glow” – very poetic I thought and naturally pure advertising talk, but it is, to be fair, a pretty accurate description.
                                  Directions
                                  I use this most mornings and without fail on workdays, to rid myself of my early morning death mask. I just pump a few drops onto my fingers and blend it thoroughly over my face. Later in the day, if I’m going out, I will dab on some more before reapplying my makeup. The transformation is instant and my skin feels and looks more ‘alive’ and definitely a few years younger. I find it works best after using a refreshing face wash (using cold water to really ‘wake up’ your skin). As the bottle says you can then either “smooth on alone or under foundation for a divinely subtle shimmer”.

                                  The finer details

                                  When you look at the drops on your fingers you will notice it has a creamy texture and a glittery, golden glow but don’t worry you won’t end up looking like you’re going to a 1980s disco! I also find it slims your face and definitely gives you a more youthful glow. You only need to use a very small amount of the product, just touch the pump dispenser once or twice lightly, each drop should be around the size of a pea at most. Although I mostly use it on my face under foundation (Boots No7 Time defying) it also works a treat if you’re glamming it up in the evening and rub it on your legs/ cleavage/ arms, especially if you have a bit of a tan but even if you are as milky white as I am at the moment.

                                  Value for money

                                  At £9.50 for 30ml and a good quality product, which last hygienically for at least a year, I think you’ll agree that this is definitely excellent value for money (and see below for ways to get even more out of your hard earned £s). A friend of mine (who is a bit tight, I mean good with money) even adds one drop each time to some cheap moisturiser (from the Boots simple range or Superdrug’s own brand) to make it spread further. However, at this price, I think most people can afford the luxury of using the pure product without adding any cheap imposters!

                                  Final words

                                  The secret is of course is to stock up on your No7 products when Boots are offering one of their free gifts. The current offer if you spend £15 is a free purple mini vanity case containing the following:

                                  Full size No7 Stay Perfect Lipstick 3g
                                  Miniatures of:
                                  No7 Stay Perfect Nail Colour Pearly Pink 4ml
                                  No7 Full Impact Mascara Black 4.5ml
                                  No7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum 7ml
                                  No7 Uplifting Day Cream 15ml
                                  No7 Intelligent Colour Foundation Medium 15ml
                                  No7 Younger Longer Hand Cream 25ml

                                  If you’re really clever and lucky you could even time it with the Boots deal where they give you a free £5 skincare voucher (can often be redeemed on products £5 and under so you basically get a free gift) and use your advantage card, preferably teamed up with a bonus points voucher or promotion!

                                  Quite a bargain, I think you’ll agree! So go out and buy your No7 High lights and something worth just over a fiver from the range today and you’ll have gorgeous, glowing skin with a travel pack of No7 goodies to boot!

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