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gemzeh

gemzeh
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Member since: 01.01.2009

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      25.02.2009 14:57
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      So heartbreakingly brilliant

      I watched the first few series of the West Wing and became completely obsessed with it. However, when I moved away to go to university, I was unable to watch it and had to wait for the boxset to be released, so I could watch it in full from the beginning. When I spotted it late last year in HMV for £49.99, I decided to snap it up, as it had previously been around £120.

      What is the West Wing?

      The West Wing is an American drama that focuses on the goings on in the White House, and is led by Democratic president Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen). Series 1 joins the president in his first term, and the series runs through the rest of his administration, until a new president is chosen in the final episodes of series 7.

      The drama has been exceptionally well written, with the first four seasons being written and produced by Aaron Sorkin (who went on to adapt the screenplay for Charlie Wilson's War). In particular the show is well know for the "walk and talk" shots, which features the exceptionally busy White House staff trying to grab any face time they can with the President or senior staff. This means we often get to see incredibly important conversations taking place between meetings as staff through corridors in the White House, or through car parks and kitchens. This often adds a feel of authenticity to the show, and can be very funny!

      Martin Sheen in particular is incredible in the show, with his character President Bartlet being instantly likeable and very believable. In many ways, Bartlet is an idealised president, as he is both friendly and strong, and incredibly intellectual. He also has a very strong moral code, and the writers often use the show as a chance to almost rewrite history, as they show what Bartlet would do in situations where other presidents were deemed to have been less successful. It is also interesting to see how the president copes with tough situations, and we get more of an insight into the behind the scenes action and decision making that goes on in the White House, as well as how this feeds into the information that is ultimately presented to the press and the public.

      As well as focusing on the President, the series also revolves around the White House senior staff, with the main focus being on the 'behind the scenes' work that happens that the public don't get to see. The all-star cast are extremely talented and convincing in their roles throughout the series, and I was instantly captivated by most of the characters from the get go. The characters make the West Wing so watchable, as we get to see them grow in their roles, and how they overcome issues, both in their personal lives and when serving the President. It is also quite funny to see the characters attempt to have a work - life balance, as any plans they make invariably get cancelled because of a crisis in the office!

      This show is interesting as it gives a real insight into the goings on in the Oval Office. I'm interested in American politics and world affairs anyway, so had a grasp on most topics that were covered, but if I knew nothing about them then I found the show educational in a fun way. As the show moves at a very fast pace, however, I didn't always follow absolutely everything that was happening or understand completely. This didn't stop me enjoying the show, however. In fact, it just meant that when I watched the dvds a second time, I picked up more from them, and it makes them more watchable as there is so much depth in each episode that you will see something new each time you watch them. Viewers who don't know too much about the American political system might find the show slightly confusing at times, but I think that anyone could watch the show and understand most of what is happening.

      The West Wing is of consistently high quality, although I do prefer the earlier seasons. This is probably because I enjoy the original cast, and also I think Aaron Sorkin added the most to the writing of the series. Although the final season is very exciting because it focuses on the election of the new president, the action that happened in the White House itself was weaker as half the cast had become embroiled in the new election, and didn't seem to have been replaced.

      What extra features come with the dvd boxset?

      Of all the boxsets I have (including my beloved Sex and the City set that came in a pink shoe box), the West Wing has the best appearance. The box itself is dark blue, smart, and has a picture of the White House on the front. The box has an easy to open lid, with each season of the series inside in different coloured boxes. Each box contains smaller dvds for a few episodes, which makes it really quick and easy to find the episode you are looking for.

      Also included in the set next to the season boxes is a dvd containing two discs of special bonus features. These are divided up by season, and provide an interesting insight into the making of the West Wing, with interviews with cast members, as well as reflections from the creators of the show. I found the bonus features disc to be informative and thorough and it's fascinating to see what has gone into making the series.

      What's the overall verdict?

      This is one of the best shows to have ever been screened on television, and to get the whole set for under £50 is a bargain, and also an incredible investment. (The West Wing box set is available for £49.98 from amazon.com).

      The show is superbly written and acted, with incredible plot twists, cliffhangers, and it also manages to be fast paces and thrilling. As well as all this, it also manages to 'do' emotion (in ways that other political dramas have failed), and does so with tenderness and grace. If you have watched any of the West Wing and enjoyed it, this is a definite must have. If you haven't seen any before, it might be worth trying to watch a few episodes first just to make sure it's your sort of thing.

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      • Tampa Bay Devil Rays / Discussion / 65 Readings / 62 Ratings
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        19.02.2009 21:26
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        An amazing team who are fun to watch

        What the heck are the Tampa Bay Rays?

        The Tampa Bay Rays are an American baseball team, based in St Petersburg in Florida. They play in the Eastern division of the American League, alongside four other teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

        The worst team in baseball?

        The Rays dropped the "Devil" in their name ahead of the 2007 - 2008 season, and also changed their uniforms to present a new image to the world. This image change was desperately needed as the baseball community in general regarded the team as a joke. I have been a Rays fan since 2001, and whenever I was out and about in Florida wearing a Rays hat or top, someone somewhere would always ask me why I supported the "worst team in baseball" - this in the Rays hometown and state! They were, of course, already supporters of the more successful Yankees or Red Sox. So why would a girl from a small English village come to support the "worst team in baseball", which is based in Tampa, Florida?


        At the time, the Rays were indeed statistically the "worst team in baseball". Even Chris Rock made a joke about them on a TV sitcom by saying "Black Santa Claus caused more tears than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays". But underneath the statistics was raw potential and determination. When I first started watching the Rays in 2001, I liked them because they were the underdog, which the locals didn't seem to understand, as they were in it for the glory! However, I really got into them during the 2006 - 2007 season when I was at a Rays game against the Yankees and found the club to be so determined. They had all the locals turning up to support the Yankees, and yet they were still trying their hardest and getting on with the job, even though the locals wouldn't support them. The man behind me at this game continued calling them a "God damn minor league team" (a charming Yankees fan) - little did he know what was about to happen with the worst team in baseball.

        The 2007 - 2008 season

        In the last season, the Rays came out fighting from the outset - literally. In the spring training that took place before the season started, the Rays got into a major fistfight with some of the Yankee players when one of the Rays players was treated badly. Punch-ups have been known to happen in baseball as a way of settling disputes, and also, bizarrely, as part of the moral code and etiquette of baseball. If a player is unfair to another player, it isn't tolerated!

        After the Rays made their statement of intent in spring training, they went on to play some amazing and hard won games and finished the top of the America League East division (ahead of the reigning World Series champs, the Boston Red Sox). The Rays then went through to win several series before they ultimately got through to the World Series. Sadly, they lost the World Series but in one season the worst team in baseball had almost become the best team in baseball!

        Fan experience

        When my dad first suggested we go to a baseball game back when I was 17, I would never have imagined I would later become obsessed with it, as it just seemed so dull! But going to a game was actually a...fun experience, and the Rays really know how to look after their fans.

        Every Sunday is "Kids' Sunday", where all children get free Rays gifts when they come through the gates. There are also prizes for the children who bring along the best home made Rays poster, and lots of competitions between each innings to ensure you never get bored during the gaps in the game. The Rays have really thought hard about how to keep their fans loyal, and I've come away from games with loads of free gifts, and had lots of special deals such as a $1 hotdog!

        The thing I find most charming about the Rays though is that they really interact with their fans and bring them in so they feel like they are a part of the success of the club. The Rays mascot, Raymond, can be found wandering around near the shops before the game, (he even high fived me)! Fans can see the players warm up, talk to them, get autographs signed fairly frequently, and the players often throw back baseballs into the crowd for fans to keep.

        Games themselves tend to be really entertaining to watch as the team is full of young talent, and they are getting better all the time. Also, as the Rays are in the American League East, lots of their games are against the Red Sox and the Yankees, which means there are lots of feisty games to go to!

        Compared to the only other sport I'm really into, which is F1 (just call me obscure sports girl), I find that baseball, particularly as a Rays fan, a really positive and interactive experience. F1 seems to want to keep fans at arms length, whereas the Tampa Bay Rays want you to join the party!

        It's also really easy to find out what the Rays are up to, both on the field and off it (they do lots of work in the local community, for example). I often check what's happening by logging onto their website http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=tb which is also a great place to buy tickets if you want to go to a game.

        If you do fancy going along, tickets are very reasonable, starting at $10 for a regular game (around £5-6 depending on the exchange rate). I definitely recommend that you head down to see the Rays, even if it's just a day out away from all the theme park madness if you're visiting Orlando. You never know, you might just find yourself a new passion!

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        • More +
          19.02.2009 15:59
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          A terrific standby item to put in the freezer

          This is going to sound ridiculous, but since I've started trying to eat more healthily, I've been having more potato waffles. That does indeed sound like a ludicrous statement, but it's true! I'm cutting out chips and potato wedges, etc and wanted to find a lower calorie alternative without compromising on taste. My quest led me to Birdseye potato waffles, which each contain 105 calories, and 0.6 grams of saturated fat. For those of you on Weight Watchers, this works out at 1.5 weight watchers points for one waffle, or 3 points for two.

          Where can I find Birdseye potato waffles?

          A box of potato waffles is really easy to find, as the packaging is a bright red oblong shaped box, which can be found in the freezer section of your local supermarket. These waffles are sold pretty much anywhere that sells Birdseye products, with retailers including Tesco, Asda and all the main supermarkets, as well as other places like Farm Foods and Icelend. Prices vary depending on the shop in question, and what offers are on in store, but the waffles generally cost between £1 and £1.40 for a pack of 12.

          Are they really waffley versatile?

          I find these quite handy to have in the freezer, as if I need an accompaniment to a meal I can just have these on standby and put them in the oven when I need them. They take only 15 minutes to oven cook (all I do is whack them on a baking tray and shove them in the oven). When I'm cooking chips I often find it hard to get the timing exactly right, and often end up with chips that are either too brown or not cooked enough. I don't have this problem with waffles, as if I cook them for 15 minutes they are perfect, and if I leave them in the oven for a little bit longer, they go browner but still taste awesome. As I don't have to add oil or anything to the baking tray before cooking, it also cuts the amount of time needed to prepare and cook the waffles, as well as cutting the amount of calories I eat.

          When they're ready, they turn a delicious golden colour, which looks very appealing. The outside of each waffle is crispy, but when I bite into them, I find that the inside is fluffy and tastes like slightly whippy mashed potato, and they taste delicious, particularly given the calorie and saturated fat content. The waffles are very satisfying and quite filling, and I actually prefer them to chips because they don't taste as greasy.

          Each waffle can be eaten as an accompaniment to a meal, such as with chicken and vegetables. It can also be eaten with any food as an alternative to chips, potato products or other carbohydrates. This means they are indeed...waffley versatile. Yes, I really just said that.

          What's the overall verdict?

          In essence, these waffles taste terrific, are better for you than most chips and potato wedges, and as they are frozen and cook quickly, it means I can always keep them in my freezer for when I need them. I've been trying to think of things I dislike about this product, but there are none.

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          • Cosmopolitan / Magazine / Newspaper / 58 Readings / 57 Ratings
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            18.02.2009 16:45
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            An overall positive reading experience

            Although I am trying to stop myself from buying so many magazines to save money, one that I have found myself buying occasionally when my willpower fades is Cosmopolitan magazine, which is one of the best selling womens' magazines in the country.

            Cosmopolitan contains a variety of articles, from celebrity interviews (the February issue contains interviews with both Jennifer Aniston and Kate Hudson, for example); articles that focus on love, sex and success; and some news and real life; as well as fashion and beauty. These sorts of themes tend to crop up in every issue, but with varieties on the theme. There are also a series of articles on 'living', which tend to be about getting the most from life, and being healthy and happy.

            Although the magazine does focus on fashion and beauty, I think Cosmopolitan also approaches hard-hitting issue such as dealing with the loss of a loved one. Although the magazine generally has well written articles on interesting topics, I tend to find that the majority of the magazine is dedicated to fashion and relationships. This is fine, as I mostly buy Cosmopolitan to help me escape from the more depressing things in my life, and I sometimes just want to read about the fluffier things, such as a page from a beauty insider, or "50 things you never knew about love and sex". However, if you want more articles focusing on hard-hitting issues instead of fashion, I would recommend you supplement your reading with a broadsheet newspaper!

            The biggest section in each issue tends to be Fashion and Beauty articles, featuring many pages of clothes (both on models and not), which are usually based on a trend, such as bright colours, or trench coats - anything that is fashionable at the moment. Cosmo's fashion section is usually very good, and they list the prices of clothes so that if you are after a new coat, for example, you can see the most cost effective option. There are also helpful hints about dressing for your body type throughout, with the magazine aiming to help you look your best. Although I've never actually bought any clothes or accessories that were featured in the magazine, I have taken inspiration from them and tried to find my own versions of clothes featured.

            I have, however, bought products that were featured on the beauty pages. Cosmo's beauty pages tend to be really useful, I think, as I often discover a really useful or new product that I would never have heard of otherwise. However, the focus tends to be mainly on fashion, and I think there should be more beauty pages in each edition. I particularly enjoy it when an edition shows how to recreate a certain make up look, e.g. natural look, or how to achieve the pretty goth look!

            The best part of the magazine though are the articles that focus on sex and relationships, as each article either provides an interesting perspective on the way we interact with each other, or how to get better sex! Many of the articles are written by experts in their field, or by people with real life experiences in dealing with romantic situations. We often also get an insight into other couples' relationships, which can be interesting and also sometimes entertaining!

            The competitions offered in the magazine are often tempting (such as 'must-have' bags, clothes, holidays and big cash prizes). However, I wouldn't buy the magazine just because it offers these competitions, although it is easy to enter them, as you can just enter the codes in on http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk, which is a free online mini version of the magazine (though not as good).

            There are some real downsides to buying this magazine though, which might put you off buying it. Although some people might enjoy looking at adverts to see what products are coming out at the moment, I personally find them really irritating, as I have to flick through pages and pages of them to get to the next article! I also get annoyed because the adverts always seem to feature heavily airbrushed women, and I am more of a natural girl. I understand that the magazine needs to make money by putting adverts inside each edition, but I can't help getting annoyed by this, and think there should be less adverts.

            The other annoying thing about Cosmopolitan is the price. As I have said, I try not to buy magazines, and although I do sometimes slip, each edition is £3, which I think is ridiculously expensive, especially considering the amount of adverts in each edition. £3 almost the same price as a book, which I would rather buy as it will last me longer. Having said that, Cosmopolitan does offer a yearly subscription, which I am considering. The price of this seems to vary depending on the offers available, but the handbag sized version is currently offered on their website as at £12 a year. However, if you do get a magazine subscription to Cosmopolitan, the free gifts you can get on magazines available in store don't come with the edition that gets posted to your house.

            Overall, Cosmopolitan is a great magazine for women, and I would recommend it if you can afford it!

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              17.02.2009 12:47
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              A great overall product, but I can't afford to buy it very often.

              I originally purchased this penguin shaped hand wash as a joke for my boyfriend as he is obsessed with penguins, and we needed some handwash! The handwash was a big hit though, and so I make sure I buy it every now and then, as well as any time I need a stocking filler etc!

              Where can I get this from?

              I usually get this handwash from Boots, but you can also get it from supermarkets and chemists - anywhere that usually sells handwash. If you're trying to track this product down, it's very easy to find - just look for the friendly looking penguin nestles amongst the other blander looking products! There are several different varieties, but the Berry Cherry flavour features a smiling penguin wearing a backwards baseball cap, headphones and trainers! The bottle is mainly purple, with the push down top a bright white colour.

              Is this product any good?

              This product is clearly aimed at children, as the container is a funky penguin, and the push down top of the bottle is very chunky and easy to use. The handwash itself is also fun foam that smells of berries, so I think this product is perfect for children as it makes handwashing fun! I am quite childlike myself and I also really enjoy using this product because it's fun to see a penguin sitting on my sink, and it makes me smile.

              The container is easy to hold in the hand, and easy to grip. The press down top acts as a pump, and by pressing down on it once, I'm able to get enough foam into my hands to wash them, without having to get any more foam. The foam itself is light in texture, but when I rub it into my hands it becomes quite creamy in its consistency. As with other handwashes, I had to add a little bit of water to my hands, and it was easy to cover my hands completely with the resulting mix, and give my hands a really good clean.

              The scent is another thing I like about this product - as soon as I squeeze it out of the pump, the berry fragrance hits me and it just smells incredibly fruity and delicious. After I've washed and dried my hands, I can smell the scent on my hands for about an hour after I have washed them (but only if I sniff my hands, which probably looks a bit strange)!

              Despite all these plus points however, there is one downside of buying this product, which is the price, which is around £2.50, depending on offers, etc. As this is just something I'm going to use to wash my hands with, I don't see it as a vital product, and I really do think that charging this much for the product means I'm not going to buy it regularly, as I just can't afford it. I think it is unique and I love everything about it though, so I do still buy it as a silly joke present for my boyfriend, but otherwise I use cheaper brands.The product lasts a fair amount of time, similar to other handwashes, but it still doesn't last as long as a bar of soap, which is what I will be sticking to instead.

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              • More +
                16.02.2009 19:14
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                Such a shame this made my hair so tangly - I'm disappointed by this product

                I recently had to pack all the clothes and toiletries I would need for a week into a small bag, which meant that I had to be really minimalistic when it came to packing ( I needed to be able to carry my luggage)! I therefore decided to head to Lush to see if there were any space saving toiletries I could pack, and came away with the ultimate shine shampoo bar.

                What on earth is a shampoo bar?

                I have tried and loved lots of weird and wonderful things from Lush, for example strange shower jellies,and products that require me to rub seaweed or coal onto my face! In light of this, I wasn't really surprised at finding some shampoo that looked like a bar of soap, and picked up the shampoo bar and headed out of the shop.

                Ultimate shine is a small solid disc (you get 55 grams for £4.50). It works like normal shampoo - it just doesn't come in a bottle! It features ingredients that come in many Lush shampoos, but it just comes in a solid format. This seemed like a terrific idea to me, as it is really a lot smaller than packing an entire shampoo bottle.

                Is it easy to use?
                The first time I used this, I stepped into the shower, stood under the stream of water until my hair was soaked, and rubbed the shampoo bar in a circular motion around my head several times. I'm always quite silly with products in the shower, and as this shampoo bar produced copious amounts of whippy, lathery bubbles, I had the usual fun styling my hair into various ridiculous Mohawks and bunches (you'll be happy to know this product makes it easy to create random hairstyles and they stay in place too)! This shampoo bar really couldn't be any easier to use, it's just like using a bar of soap on your hands, apart from you use it on your hair.

                So what's the verdict?

                This product is brilliantly compact, which, as I said, makes it the ideal size for taking with you on holiday. I liked the appearance of it, the colour being off-white, with tiny sparkly flecks in it, so it looks very pretty. I couldn't define what the smell of this product was, but it was okay. I prefer the smell of other, more bolder smelling shampoos like Herbal Essences, but this scent was subtle and I didn't notice it too much. The appearance, scent and application of the product were great overall, but it is the state this bar leaves my hair in that I have a problem with.

                After washing, my hair was clean, with all dirt removed. However, it was so tangled that it looked like a bird's nest. I tried washing it again on later occasions by varying the amount of times I rubbed it round my head, and I also didn't try my crazy shower Mohawks in case this somehow made a difference. Sadly it didn't, and on each occasion after washing my hair was left feeling wrecked and incredibly dry. I tried to balance this out by putting copious amounts of conditioner on my hair afterwards, but my hair was never as soft and shiny as when I used normal shampoo. This has such a bad effect on my hair that it negates the good points of this product, and I wouldn't recommend that you buy it as a result.

                However, the concept of the product is brilliant as it saves space, seems to last for ages (after about fives washes I could see no difference in size to my bar), and will cut down on the amount of plastic bottles I buy and throw away, which would be incredible. I hope Lush have another shampoo bar for me, but this one isn't it.

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                • American Eagle Outfitters / Clothing / 56 Readings / 55 Ratings
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                  16.02.2009 11:03
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                  Ah if only they were in the UK!

                  If you're taking a trip to the States and have an interest in funky and comfortable clothing, I recommend you stop by American Eagle. American Eagle also ship to the UK, but as I'm unable to pay for the postage at the moment, I'm trying to avoid it! I have to say though, that I remain very tempted.

                  What is American Eagle?

                  American Eagle is an American clothing store chain that specialises in casual clothes for both men and women. The clothes are quite "young" - they are really funky, and yet also somehow incredible wholesome! I think they are the sort of clothes that you can imagine teenagers wearing when they go to college, as they look comfortable and on trend, and are perfect for slouching about in! American Eagle's website and advertising also feature impossibly good looking young people casually wearing immaculate clothes, looking as if they are having the time of their lives - so this is also the image AE wants to project of its brand.

                  What are AE clothes like?

                  American Eagle sells a variety of mostly casual clothes, shoes and accessories, in sizes that, when I visited, ranged from XS to XL. Like most shops, they sell seasonal clothes, so depending on the time of year of your visit; they will either sell flip-flops or winter shoes, etc. However, they seem to sell hooded tops all year round! The hooded tops deserve a special mention I think, because they keep me warm and are available in quite a large selection of designs and colours. I bought a purple hoodie in the summer that has ¾ length sleeves, has double pockets on the front, buttons and is very cosy. It doesn't look like anything I've seen in UK shops, which is what makes it attractive to me. Over the years, I have bought a series of tops, 'shopper' bags, flip-flops and accessories from American Eagle. I haven't bought any bottoms from the shop as I was so enamoured by the tops and accessories, but I'm sure I will get some shorts on my next visit as I've been checking them out online and coveting them.. The website is great if you want to get more of an idea of the clothes sold http://www.ae.com, and if you're a bit of a geek like me and want to plan your purchases!

                  Though I am mainly interested in the clothes that I can buy and wear myself, I have to admit that they do have a great range for men too. My boyfriend has come away from AE with some pretty cheap (but gorgeous) shirts and tops from just one shopping trip, and he normally can't find much to buy when clothes shopping.

                  Is it good value for money?

                  I go to America fairly every few years, and make sure I check out an American Eagle store on each visit, sometimes even twice. The clothes are great value (particularly when there is a decent exchange rate). As I knew I'd be visiting this shop before I left the UK, I also did a google search for American Eagle and found a 20% off voucher, which I printed and took with me to the store. To my delight this voucher was accepted, and so everything I bought was just incredibly cheap! My hooded top for example worked out at about £12 (before the 20% off voucher), and I wear it so often that the cost per wear of this item is virtually nothing. The clothes are of a really good quality, and I have tops I bought in 2001 that I still wear regularly, and that have perfectly retained their colours and no holes or snags have developed in them at all.

                  What is the shopping experience itself like?

                  As with most shops I have been to in the US, the sales assistants were incredibly friendly and helpful, and not too in-your-face. There is quite a lot of room generally to move around the shop, decent changing rooms, and a sensible layout to make it easy to browse the clothes. There was also quite a relaxing atmosphere, which means that myself and my boyfriend were able to get on with our browsing quietly, with neither of us feeling the need to leave due to too many people, loud irritating music, or witchy sales assistants (which sadly usually happens to both of us in places like Topshop in the UK). Overall, I think the shop provides a calm and casual shopping experience.

                  Are there any drawbacks to shopping at American Eagle?

                  I personally love the AE brand and clothing, but some people might find it too wholesome and also object to looking like a walking advert as lots of AE's clothes and accessories have the AE label emblazoned on them. I think the logo is quite funky though and that it adds to the clothes, but it is a matter of personal preference!

                  Also, obviously the biggest drawback is that American Eagle don't have any shops in the UK, which essentially means this is only for you if you're going to the US. If you do manage to get there though, it is great as not many people in the UK will have the clothes which means you can end up with some really unusual and eye catching outfits that are unlike anything anyone else has.

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                  • More +
                    28.01.2009 15:19
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                    One of the best books I have ever read

                    I was given The Book Thief for Christmas by my friend, and when I opened it, she said, "I think you will love this book - it's the best book I have read in years. But watch out, it will make you cry". Instantly I was excited about this book, as although I enjoy many books, when it comes down to it, there is nothing I love more than a book that can engage me so much and that I care for the characters enough that it will make me really, really cry. So I settled down and started to read to see if she was right.

                    So what's it about?

                    Markus Zusak's novel is set in Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945, and follows a young German girl, Liesel Meminger who has been sent to live with foster parents. Intriguingly, Liesel's tale is narrated to us by Death, who has cause to visit Germany often during the war to collect the souls of the dead. Although he tries not to notice the humans he sees on his travels, he becomes captivated by Liesel and her story.

                    After the death of her brother, Liesel is left to live with foster parents by her mother, Liesel doesn't understand why it has happened, and although she hears the word "communist" mentioned, she is too young to understand the implications, although the reader gains an insight into the events that occurred. We see the girl struggle to cope with her new environment and family life, whilst being tortured in her dreams by memories from her past.

                    Through Liesel's life with her school, friends and family, we get a really fascinating and unusual insight into Nazi Germany and how it affected the German people. This intensifies when Liesel's foster father, Papa, brings a Jewish man called Max into the basement, and the family must go about their business as though nothing has changed, so as not to raise suspicions about their behaviour. Liesel must talk and play with her friends, and is unable to even speak to her best friend, Rudy, as the consequences of anyone finding out could be disasterous for Liesel's foster parents, and Max.

                    The book illustrates well the strangeness and extreme difficulties experienced by the characters, with descriptions that are at times, harrowing and completely heartbreaking. However, there are also episodes of joy and fun and togetherness that give a glimpse of the strong resolve of the human spirit, and our capacity to love and do incredible things during trying times.

                    We also get to see humans through the eyes of Death, who often gives an interesting and thought provoking perspective on the lives we lead, and why we do the things we do.

                    Is this a good book?

                    When my friend gave me this book I was worried I wouldn't like it as much as she thought, and that I'd have to lie to her! However, I needn't have worried at all, as it is beautifully written, captivating, touching and made me really think. This is one of the best books I have ever read, and not only do I recommend that you read it; I am going to beg you to. Please, please read this book. The story is incredibly important, and it brings a refreshingly different perspective to the Second World War in its illustration of the every day life of the German people, and the way that they coped when facing adversity. This is a book that is all about the human spirit, love, and the acts of love - and yes, it will definitely make you cry. I therefore wouldn't advise reading it on public transport, as I did. The trouble was that I was engrossed and couldn't stop myself, even though I knew it was coming. The Book Thief is so engaging though that I became completely absorbed in the characters and really loved them, and it broke my heart - but I am so glad I read it!

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                      26.01.2009 23:18
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                      I'm staying home for dinner!

                      Having an addiction to eating out at Nandos during the credit crunch has been pretty tough - although Nandos is fairly cheap for a restaurant, I've been eating in throughout the whole of January as I just can't afford to go out. I therefore looked to see if I could get my peri peri chicken taste in a different way at home! Whilst out shopping at Tesco, I spotted Birds Eye's frozen peri peri chicken grills, and decided to pick it up and give it a try.

                      Are these easy to find?

                      As I said, I got these in Tesco and found them without knowing they existed! I think these are really easy to find - just go to the frozen section in your local Tesco or Sainsbury (I haven't seen these in any other supermarkets) and look for a yellow-orange box with the Birds Eye logo emblazoned on the top. These can sometimes be found in the 'on offer frozen' sections of supermarkets, but mainly they are with the other oven ready food.

                      Are they any good?

                      Although I try to eat fresh food, and cook from scratch as often as possible, the reality is that I work long hours in my job and sometimes don't get home until 8 or 9 in the evening. I therefore just want to stick something in the oven that cooks whilst I go about my evening routine, and frozen food helps me as it means I don't have to worry about monitoring use by dates and wasting food (I am trying to really reduce the amount of food I waste - which I am sadly guilty of). I therefore rely on frozen food more than I probably ought to, but it is convenient and suits me. Birdseye's peri peri grills are no different in this respect, as you simply pre-heat the oven, whack the chicken on a baking tray and stick it in, and then in 20 minutes you've got yourself a meal. It's pretty simple stuff. I found these really easy and convenient to store and cook.

                      The grills taste delicious. I didn't really expect this product to hit the Nandos spot left deprived of late, but it really did. The grills were tender, like freshly cooked chicken, and I have rarely sampled frozen chicken that tasted so succulent. The coating of the chicken, though a slightly alarming shade or orange, was surprisingly crisp and slightly crunchy, which made for an interesting contrast with the soft chicken underneath - delicious! The chicken contains a medium level of spice (say, around the same level as a chicken tikka masala), and is incredibly flavoursome. They have a bit of a kick to them, but these shouldn't be too spicy for most people to eat.

                      The nutritional information of these grills also makes me more likely to eat them in future - each chicken piece contains 160 calories and 2 grams of saturated fat (the bad stuff), and, in case you are on Weight Watchers, each is calculated as 3 Weight Watchers points.

                      Each chicken grill contains 100% chicken breast meat, which is reassuring as I often worry exactly what it is I am putting in my mouth, and frozen meat products often contain other more dubious parts of the animal.

                      Is this product good value for money?

                      When I bought these grills, they were on a 'buy one get one free' offer, but these are ordinarily priced at around £1.65 for a box of two grills. Each grill is a decent size (about the size of 1 and ½ packs of cards).

                      As these are so delicious, I would definitely recommend them, and think they are extremely good value for money as £1.65 provides me with the key part of two main meals, and they are worth the price for the level of convenience they provide.

                      So what's the verdict?

                      Birds Eye's chicken grills are delicious, as they are packed full of flavour, and manage to be both tender and crisp. They are convenient to store, very easy and quick to cook, and good value for money. I definitely recommend you try these, particularly if you too are missing your peri peri fix! They aren't quite as nice as Nando's chicken, but at £1.65 for two pieces, I'm really not complaining!

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                      • Pretty in Pink (DVD) / DVD / 61 Readings / 58 Ratings
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                        25.01.2009 13:52
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                        Put on your pjs, get a glass on wine and stick on the film!

                        Having gone over to my friend's house on Friday for a girly night to watch cheesy films and drink slightly too much wine, my friend and I decided to watch the 80s movie Pretty in Pink. The film is set in an American high school (always a good start), and focuses on main character Andie (Molly Ringwald), as she goes through various issues with her family and friends in the run up to her high school prom.

                        We first see Andie getting ready for school and trying to get her dad to get up out of bed to look for a job. This role reversal adds an interesting element to the film, as we see that Andie and her dad have different ways of dealing with problems, and this highlights how much of a strong character Andie is. As well as encouraging (or forcing) her dad to get out and get a job, Andie makes her own clothes as she doesn't have much money, and we come to see she is a resourceful character. Ringwald is instantly likeable and admirable as the main character Andie, and draws you into her world of high school drama and random clothes

                        At school there is a (somewhat cliché) divide between the rich kids and the poor kids, and Andie, as one of the poor kids, naturally forms an alliance with other teens like her, and natural enemies in the rich kids, who don't understand her clothes and general appearance as she looks different to them. Andie's best friend is Duckie (Jon Cryer), and he is one of the fellow poor kids at school, and is completely in love with Andie. He must watch and suffer heartbreak as she tries to get it on with one of the rich kids, Blane (Andrew McCarthy). Both Jon Cryer and Andrew McCarthy put in memorable performances in this film, and are both believable in their roles. However, it is Cryer who steals the show in his performance of Andie's eccentric friend Duckie, and watching him will just break your heart as you remember how torturous it can be to be a teenager in love!

                        A young James Spader also turns up in this film as the vile best friend of Andie's love interest, Blane. Spader plays the part of king of the rich kids, Steff, who has a chip on his shoulder and absolutely incredible hair. I found myself watching Steff in particular as his hair is just hilarious. It flicks out like a model's in a Pantene advert, and there is never a hair out of place. I would recommend you watch this film just to see that mane!

                        We all know that the course of true love never did run smooth, and this is no different in Pretty in Pink. We see Blane struggling to decide whether to be with Andie because she is detested by his rich kid friends, and Spader's character is particularly vocal in this. I wont spoil the ending for you, so you will have to see what happens for yourself: will Andie end up with Blane? What will become of her best friend Duckie? Will Steff maintain his amazing hair for the entire film? Can Andie's dad ever get out of bed and get a job?

                        So what's the verdict then?

                        This is a charming film, and although it was made in 1986, it still has impact and relevance today as it is essentially a love story, and although the music and the outfits may be different from currents fashions, it all still holds true. I actually think the fashion and music make it really fun to watch as it's like watching a really, really bad fashion parade, and wondering what on earth they will turn up in next. I also loved that the title of this film is Pretty in Pink, because Andie has red hair that clashes dreadfully with her pink outfits, and so I don't think the title of the film is true. Though Pretty in Green doesn't have the same ring to it, I suppose.

                        Overall I would recommend this film to you if you tend to like 'cheesy' films or 80s movies. This isn't a film I would recommend to my boyfriend, however, as it contains no sword fighting, no Jedis or hobbits, and Simon Pegg isn't in it. However, if you don't mind watching romantic comedies without these things, this could be the film for you. Get back into the 80s spirit and give this film a try if you haven't already. If nothing else, it will make you feel better about your hair!

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                          22.01.2009 17:43
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                          A great selection of food for all dietary requirements.

                          Over the last few years I have eaten at Pret a Manger (Pret) quite frequently for lunch as there is a shop close to my office that is convenient enough to run to when there is no time for a lunch break! I have also used their catering service for monthly meetings where I work. This means I know their menu pretty well as I have tried most things from it!

                          Is the range of food on Pret's menu any good?

                          Overall I think Pret sells a good variety of foods for people with various dietary requirements. In my office everyone is always on some sort of diet, and they tend to still be able to find something from Pret, whether they are on Weight Watchers, low carb diets, vegetarians, or can't eat dairy, etc. Each store sells a selection of different sandwiches, salads, soups and even sushi and vegetarian sushi. There are also a selection of cakes, fruit bars, fruit, and hot and cold drinks available. I also really like it that Pret sell half sandwiches (as well as normal sized ones), which my colleagues and I often eat when we aren't quite hungry enough to eat a whole sandwich!

                          I'm pretty sure that anyone could find something they fancied eating at Pret, which makes it a great place to go and get food for lunch.

                          What is the food and drink like?

                          The food is generally really nice, with the salads in particular often gaining fans amongst the ladies in the office. The salads tend to be jam packed full of stuff, and Pret tend to update the ingredients with a seasonal twist so that you shouldn't get bored if you eat something quite frequently. I got quite obsessed with Pret's 'Health and Houmous salad', which has had many ingredient changes over the last few years, and I have liked them all. The only thing to be careful of if you're buying a salad from Pret is that, if you go in over the busy lunch period, some of the boxes tend to be only ¾ full of salad (presumably because the staff are in a rush when they prepare them), so it is worth checking the other boxes just to make sure you're not being sold short!

                          Although the ingredients changes are mostly great, sometimes they are a bad thing, as I've found that the morning granola breakfast pot went from being nice and crunchy to really soggy! So be aware for ingredients changes if you're going to eat at Pret fairly frequently like myself and my colleagues!

                          The sandwiches are usually nice and varied, although I tend not to eat these too much as they are usually too full of calories, and I prefer Marks & Spencer sandwiches as they tend to have nicer tasting sandwiches for fewer calories.

                          Pret do tend to make things interesting with their food, so instead of selling 'standard' crisps, they tend to sell handbaked potato crisps, or parsnip crisps - which are gorgeous!

                          The drinks tend to also be interesting. Although they do sell standard diet coke, they also mix things up a bit with their drinks and have things like a 'yoga bunny' drink, which is very refreshing, and also fiery ginger beer. If you are buying a bottled drink from Pret though, these can be quite expensive. I prefer to get drinks from Boots Shaper's range (for example, the ginger beer), as they tend to taste better and are less calories than Pret's range of drinks in my opinion.

                          The hot drinks, however, are terrific. In particular, Pret's latte is just beautiful, and is so much nicer than the one they sell at Starbucks. If you are watching your calorie intake, Pret also have the 'skinny' option for hot drinks and their granola breakfast, which means you get reduced fat milk.

                          What about Pret's delivery service?

                          As I mentioned earlier, I have often used Pret when catering for big monthly meetings as they tend to provide a good range for various dietary requirements, and it's easy to book online. The full range of platters provided can be seen on Pret's website (http://www.pret.com/deliveries/platters.htm), and you can also see the full delivery menu and nutritional information there. It's really easy to order food, and the platters are brilliant as you can order vegetarian and meat sandwiches, sandwiches with seasonal ingredients, and little platters of cakes (which are extremely popular)! The delivery food is of good quality, although they always seem to include way too many tuna sandwiches, which are always left at the end!

                          The deliveries I have ordered have always arrived on time, and have always contained what I've ordered, so I have no cause for complaint there.

                          What are the facilities available in store?

                          Each Pret shop is different, but most have the 'eat in' facility and will provide tables and chairs if you want to sit somewhere whilst you eat and drink. These chairs are okay to sit in, but aren't anywhere near as comfortable as the armchairs you find in Starbucks!

                          They do usually have toilets in store, but they are hidden and are not generally used by the public, so you would have to ask if you needed to use the bathroom! I think this is far from ideal, and as if you have little ones or are going with people that are likely to need to use the loo, this could be a nuisance.

                          Is Pret good value for money?

                          Pret do use fresh ingredients in their food, and do provide nice variety and healthy choices for the money. I think they provide good value for money when it comes to their food, although it might be too expensive for some, particularly in the current economic climate. Salads, for example, can cost around £4, but they do tend to be really filling and contain lots of exciting ingredients, so I would say they are good value for money.

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                            21.01.2009 21:15
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                            My muscle tone has improved whilst wearing these shoes

                            Ahead of my trip to Florida in the summer, I did a bit of browsing online to see what items I wanted to buy in the US, and where I should get them. I wanted to make the most of the cheap exchange rate at the time so did lots of 'window shopping' in advance online. Following this, top of my 'must buy' list were a pair of Fit Flop shoes, which I had researched before I left. As soon as I hit the Florida Mall, I headed straight to the footwear section in Macy's to bag myself a pair!

                            Fit...flops? What on earth are they?

                            Fitflops are flip-flop shoes that have been specially designed to have a sole that places your heel at a different level to your toes to 'destabilise' the foot when you walk. This means your body uses more muscles when you walk than it would if you were wearing an ordinary shoe. The company that makes Fitflops claims that FitFlops have been proven to "increase the amount of time that the gluteus maximus muscle is 'activated' during every single step". This essentially means that the shoes give your bum a workout, every time you take a step. They also claim your legs get a workout too, and that they can also really tone your calf muscles.

                            Do they look nice?

                            The shoes themselves look like ordinary flip flops, although they have a more distinctive look as they have quite a wide strap that goes over the foot, with a circle in the centre of the strap that says 'fitflop'. I didn't particularly want to advertise that I was buying random bum workout shoes, so I bought the black ones as they look more like regular flip flops! Before deciding on the more subtle black ones, however, I did have a look at all the different colours. At the moment there are quite a few colours available, ranging from the subtle black and navy blue colours to the more vibrant red (see above photo). There is a good range of colours, and the shoes look quite funky - like a more sturdy and chunky flip flop.

                            Are they decent shoes?

                            When I first bought these, I wasn't sure if they would be comfortable to wear all time, as they are supposed to provide a workout for your legs and I was worried that my legs might be too tired to wear them often! However, I decided to wear them to a theme park, with some backup flip-flops in my rucksack, just in case I needed to change into something else for comfort reasons. I found Fit Flops to be really comfortable and easy to walk in, and I didn't need to change my shoes, as the Fit Flops were perfectly adequate, and didn't hurt at all.

                            The next day we went to another theme park and I kept the backup shoes in my bag, as my legs were feeling a bit tight from walking in my fitflops the day before. I got used to this feeling (my legs felt as if they had walked much further than they had), and although I kept the 'backup' shoes with me, I never needed to wear them as the fitflops were comfortable enough to wear for the whole trip.

                            Do Fitflops really help tone up legs and bums?

                            Whilst wearing the Fitflops over the summer, (I wore them pretty continuously for a few months), I did notice an improvement to the muscle tone in my legs, although I did do lots of walking over that time period. I think the Fitflops have played a part in this improved muscle tone, and I can't wait to start wearing them again when the weather gets warmer! I didn't notice any particular improvement in muscle tone in other areas of my body, but I was only really making a point of checking out how toned my legs were! I would recommend these shoes for improving muscle tone, but only buy them if you're going to wear them for quite a large amount of time if you're only buying them for the toning aspect. I would buy them anyway as they are sturdier than most flip flops and I can tell they will last me longer than flip-flops usually do. Fitflops also have a higher sole than the majority of flip-flops, and so they have the added bonus of making me look taller!

                            Where can I get these from?

                            Although I got my Fitflops from the States, these are also available for purchase in the UK, including online from http://www.fitflopshoes.co.uk , which also gives a list of suppliers. They are also available in store at John Lewis, and usually cost about £35.

                            Are they worth the money?

                            As the shoes are very expensive compared to normal flip-flops, I would suggest you only buy them if you're going to get a lot of wear out of them. I definitely think they are worth the money as I have seen improvement to my muscle tone, and find them really comfortable to walk in.

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                              20.01.2009 21:24
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                              Just eat a normal cream egg instead

                              I am slightly addicted to Cadbury's Cream Eggs - okay, I admit that's an understatement - I love Cadbury's Cream Eggs. When I discovered the Cadbury's Cream Egg lolly in my local supermarket, I was really excited to buy it as I thought it would be like having an extra cold Cadbury's Cream Egg!

                              So where can I get Cadbury's Cream Egg lollies?

                              These lollies are available in the frozen sections of most supermarkets in packs of three. They come in flat cardboard boxes in the usual cream egg colours (vibrant blue, red and yellow packaging with the cream egg logo and pictures on the packaging), so they should be really easy to spot if you do decide to track them down. Each pack of three lollies tends to cost from between £1 to £1.50, depending on various offers available in store.

                              What are the lollies like?

                              Each lolly is comprised of a thin milk chocolate shell, which covers some white vanilla ice cream and a yellow centre. The lollies, once you bite through the chocolate shell, the icecream underneath looks look like the centre of a cream egg in its colouring. However, whilst these lollies look like cream eggs, unfortunately that is where the similarity ends. The 'cream egg' taste hasn't made the transition across to the ice cream version in the same way that Mars and Snickers ice creams have managed to taste like their chocolate counterpart. This is a real shame as it means the lollies bare no real resemblance to cream eggs other than in appearance, and they might as well be any other ice cream and drop the cream egg name.

                              The taste of the lollies is, overall, pretty average when compared with other lollies and ice cream products available. I like the chocolate outer shell of each lolly, which are very light and chocolatey and melt nicely in the mouth. The chocolate does crunch and feels satisfying when I bite into it. However, I would have preferred the chocolate to be a little bit thicker as part of the joy of eating a cream egg is biting through the chunky chocolate coating to get to the gooey interior! The icecream itself is plain vanilla icecream, but the vanilla flavour is quite under whelming and not particularly flavoursome. It is quite smooth and fairly creamy, but I'm not too impressed by it overall as it doesn't really taste of anything. The yellow centre of the icecream is very sweet fondant and is very vivid in colour but too sickly in taste. The yellow fondant is where the lolly really goes downhill. I tasted this expecting it to be like the centre of a cream egg, at least vaguely. However, it just doesn't! As it doesn't taste like a cream egg at all, I therefore think it would be better to buy an actual cream egg and keep it in the fridge to make it cold rather than buy the ice cream! If you're looking to buy an ice cream, I'd advise you not to get the Cream Egg lollies and instead get something else, as they are too sickly tasting in the centre, and there are much nicer ice creams out there.

                              Are they worth the calories?

                              Each lolly contains 200 calories, 11.9 grams of fat, and 6.8 grams of saturated fat (4.5 weight watchers points). As I've said, I don't think these lollies are particularly nice anyway, and as there is a lot of saturated fat in the lollies, I'd personally rather have something that tastes better and is lower fat!

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                              • Virgin Trains / Transport National / 46 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                                19.01.2009 22:31
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                                One of the best train operators in the UK

                                Virgin trains run quite a few services up and down the country, with services mainly running from London, Birmingham and Manchester. I have used Virgin trains on many occasions, and travelled with them today to make a business journey from London Euston to Coventry. Usually when I fly with Virgin airlines, I consider them to offer a fairly high standard of customer services, but I doubted that they could offer a decent train service as I've found this to be something of a rarity in this country!

                                Are Virgin trains reliable?

                                Each time I've travelled with this company, the train has arrived on time, or arrived at the station ahead of schedule. Obviously many factors contribute to whether a train arrives on time or not, and I may have just been lucky when travelling with Virgin Trains, but I've not been on a late train yet (touch wood).

                                Having said that, although I've never gotten on a train that arrived late, I have been on a train that was severely delayed throughout the course of the journey. On this occasion, I was lucky enough to get a seat (which is often a nightmare on rush hour trains back to Euston). However, other customers weren't so lucky, and the train was really jammed full of people, which meant that it got really uncomfortable. Virgin Trains also have a bad habit of over heating each train, which is unpleasant on even the most spacious train, but in rush hour when there isn't room to swing a cat, it gets really awful, and a few people nearly passed out on the day of the delayed journey just because it was so hot. During this time, however, the train driver kept us informed of the reasons for our delay with announcements over the radio on board. I found this helpful, as I often find that I'm not always kept up to date on train issues when I'm doing my usual commute with another rail company.

                                Overall I would say that, apart from the horrible delayed journey, I've had no real problems with reliability using this rail service.

                                Are the on board facilities any good?

                                I have been really impressed with the services on board Virgin Trains. Most other companies I've used for rail travel either don't provide any refreshments at all, or else sometimes they might have a trolley service. Virgin Trains, however, have a buffet car on each train, which is completely devoid of seats, and is just a carriage that serves as a dedicated shop. The buffet car offers a good range of products, including pastries and breakfast rolls in the morning, and sandwiches throughout the day. They usually have some vegetarian and healthy options available, so if you end up on a train and need to get something to eat, you should be able to find something suitable in the buffet car. However, as it's on board a train, the customer is obviously captive and thus the prices are quite high, so if you can bring your own food with you, this is probably a much cheaper option.

                                The only downside to the buffet car is something I've noticed on two separate trips with Virgin Trains, and that is the smell. Twice when I went into the buffet car, the smell from nearby toilets had somehow completely permeated the carriage, and the smell was really disgusting and put me off buying anything as it made me feel sick! I'm not sure why this happened, but the memory of it has made me always get refreshments before I get on board the train!

                                The seats on the train are usually brightly coloured and look really smart and tidy. The chairs themselves are quite comfortable, with high backs. They aren't going to be like your living room sofa or anything, but they are comfortable enough to sit down for several hours. The headrests are really nice and comfortable, and although I wouldn't be able to comfortably sleep against one (they have a tendency to make you sit bolt upright), they are fit for purposes.

                                In the back of most seats on the train are free magazines, much like the sort you would find on a flight. I think the magazines are a nice touch, and mine was quite interesting and a good way to pass the journey. They also make me feel as if I'm going on a flight somewhere exotic as they do remind me of flying on a plane (when in reality I'm just going to Coventry)!

                                There is sufficient legroom on the trains, with the large four seater tables having the most ample space. The majority of chairs on the trains have fold up tables in front of them, which are useful if you want to do some work on the train. If you need to use your laptop on the train, however, I would advise that you sit at a table seat, as the smaller fold down tables wont provide enough room or stability for your computer.

                                Is it easy to get a seat?

                                Virgin Trains offer the facility of booking seats in advance of your journey, which you can do at the station up to the day before you travel. This facility is really useful if you're travelling during rush hour, as this way you can guarantee yourself a seat for the journey. The only problems with this is that, if you don't book, you're obviously not guaranteed a seat, which is pretty depressing as we pay so much for our rail travel in the UK! Also, on several occasions when I've travelled, there has been some sort of on board computer glitch, which has meant that all seat bookings were wiped from the computer and effectively deleted. This has caused complete chaos, with people scrambling for seats in a mad rush!

                                Are the staff helpful?

                                Virgin Trains staff are always immaculately turned out, and have the whole 'flight attendant' look down to a tee. They have smart uniforms, and usually gleaming smiles, and are generally extra helpful. I encountered one staff member who was completely unhelpful and rude to me, and she was at the ticket counter at Euston station. As all the other staff have been incredibly helpful in the past, I'm willing to put this encounter down as a one off.

                                Are Virgin Trains good value for money?

                                All rail travel in this country is, in my opinion, ridiculously expensive. Virgin Trains offer a variety of ticket types with varying prices (please see http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/), but I've found that per distance covered, Virgin Trains do work out pretty much the same cost as other train companies. The only difference is that Virgin trains are nicer and more homely (apart from that horrific toilet smell on the odd occasion), and the staff are more professional.

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                                • Lush Coalface / Skin Care / 51 Readings / 49 Ratings
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                                  18.01.2009 21:42
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                                  Excellent product - but make sure you use something afterwards to refresh your skin

                                  I've always been really lucky with my skin and rarely got spots in the past, even as a teenager. I didn't have to use concealer or foundation and was annoyingly clear skinned. However, about six months ago for some reason (probably karma), the skin near my hairline started to get lots of blemishes, and no matter what I tried, nothing would clear them! I was really irritated and confused by this because I'd gone from having completely clear skin to having nightmarish blemished skin in the space of a few weeks.

                                  I searched high and low for something to sort out my complexion, and the products I tried would either do nothing at all, or completely exacerbate the situation and I'd end up looking even worse! Then after reading some reviews of Coalface on the Lush website, I decided to give it a go as most people seemed to regard it really highly.

                                  So is it easy to find?

                                  After reading about this product on the Lush website (http://www.lush.co.uk), I decided to go to a Lush store to buy it, as I wanted to start using it that night instead of waiting for it to be delivered. (Once I get an idea in my head, I just tend to go for it)! I convinced my boyfriend to come with me to the Lush store in Lakeside. Once inside the store, I found the Lush staff to be as helpful as ever, and they directed me to the facial skin care products and pointed coalface out to me. It is a black bar that looks a bit like soap, so would be fairly easy to find if you didn't want to talk to the staff! When I first saw the colour of coalface, I was a bit taken aback by it as it is completely black, and I wondered how it could possibly be good for my skin. Then I reasoned that, although all the other toners I have used have been pale in comparison, none of them have really worked on my skin, so I ought to stop being weirded out by the colour and give it a try! The staff in the shop told me that the cleanser is black because of the charcoal in the product, which is good for the skin as it acts as an exfoliator.

                                  Usually I don't ask particular questions about a product because I don't have sensitive skin or anything, but as this was going on my face and some products I'd tried had made my skin worse, I wanted to be sure the same wouldn't happen with coalface. The staff explained to me that this product was suitable for my skin tone, and that I could also try another cleansing bar (angels with dirty faces, which they threw in for free), which would also be suitable for my skin type.

                                  Is it easy to use?

                                  It took me a couple of uses with the bar to get the hang of what to do with it, but now I can use it like a pro! Basically all you have to do is get your hands wet and rub the coalface bar between your hands until it gets frothy (a bit like soap does), and then rub it into your face (which should also be wet). I like to look in the mirror at this point because instead of being black as you might expect, the lather ends up being a sort of greyish colour, and I like whipping it up and making strange patterns on my face. I clearly have too much time on my hands! Putting it on is pretty easy to do and it means I don't have to faff about opening bottles with wet hands (which gives me more license to play with the lather). Once you have rubbed the lather onto your face, you simply wash it off with water. I usually do all this whilst in the shower, as it's pretty simple and I can just stand under the water and it all comes off on its own. This means I don't have to keep touching my face to get the product off, which is good as I'm paranoid about making spots appear inflamed by touching them.

                                  Is coalface a good cleanser?

                                  Coalface is a good cleanser, yes. It has helped clear up my bad skin, although it did take a while for the product to work, (a few weeks), and I still suffer from a few blemishes that are a bit stubborn, so it's not exactly a 'miracle' cure. Having said that, it has worked much better than anything I've tried before and overall I'm really impressed with it. My skin now looks a lot clearer, glowing, and generally much more healthy than before when I was trying out the other products. My skin also feels really soft and is less oily than before (I suffer from combination skin, and Coalface has really helped my oily skin areas). It also lasts for a really long time, which surprised me, as most Lush products that come in bar form tend to get used up quite quickly as the product seems to melt away. It also costs about £3.95 for every 100 grams you buy, and this is really good value as it lasts so long and does a really good job. I'd rather buy this than a cheaper cleanser that wont last as long, or work half as well.

                                  I think this exfoliates my face well, but in a gentle way. I quite like this about Coalface, as I don't want to use anything too aggressive on my face, so this suits me fine. However, if you need a more hardcore product to exfoliate your face, then this might be too gentle for you.

                                  The product to me doesn't smell particularly strongly of anything, it just smells slightly sweet (a little like liquorice) and also smells a little chalky. I don't really notice the smell so can't say I like it or hate it, I'm just indifferent to it.

                                  The only real downsides to using Coalface are that it can make the area you store it in (such as the sink/bath area) a bit dirty unless you keep it in a tin. Also, as it's a bit like washing your face with soap, it also makes my skin feel really dry after using it, and my skin feels really tight, which I don't like. It makes my skin feel like I need to completely cover it in moisturiser afterwards, which would be bad as I'm trying to help my skin, rather than coating my blemishes in moisturiser, which would be a disaster, as my skin is oily! However, I'd read about this dryness issue before I bought the product, so I knew that if I bought Coalface it would dry out my skin, and thus I also use 'Breath of Fresh Air' toner (also from Lush) afterwards, which makes my skin feel really fresh and counterbalances the dryness of Coalface. If you're not going to use a refreshing toner after using Coalface, or a light moisturiser, I wouldn't advise you to use it as it would make your skin feel too dry, but otherwise it's a terrific product.

                                  So what's the verdict?

                                  Overall, I would say this is a great product for the skin, as long as you use it with a toner that will refresh your skin. It has really tackled the problem areas of my skin and has lasted a long time (particularly considering it is such a small bar). As it's lasted a long time (over a month so far of twice daily use, and there's still over half left), I would say it's good value for money, and it's also a completely natural product, which makes me feel better as I'm not putting loads of chemicals on my face. I would definitely recommend this product, particularly if you have oily/problem skin!

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