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Every now and then, there comes a time when there are loads of films I want to see and there is nothing for it but to have a cinema-fest weekend and wonder just where the daylight went. This time it was three films in three days, the record is three films in one day (when Warner Brothers did the half price Tuesdays yonks ago). So, just to relive the memories, here is the first part of the trilogy. Gather round and listen to tales of far off places with mysterious names and portents aplenty. Or to revert to familiar text, the review of the load of cobblers that is K-Pax. Maybe a late night viewing wasn't the ideal set up, maybe a hectic week of restructuring and reorganisations had taken it's toll, whatever it was, small chunks of this review are courtesy of the long suffering Mr Gothiron who was kind enough to nudge me when in danger of snoring. You may have a sneaking suspicion that I didn't enjoy the film. Brief overview without spoiling the plot (something which the film seemed to do all by itself). Loner in sunglasses arrives at station, shrouded in light which is only visible to down and out, tries to be good Samaritan and is bundled off to the psychiatric hospital on the grounds of not having any luggage with him. Blimey, I knew America was tough but honestly! Further examination finds that Prot (Spacey) has exceptional vision (shame he wasn't directing it then) and knowledge of hitherto unknown universes. Strangely enough Planet Oscar won't be one he visits on the back of this stinker. Enter the good guy, workaholic psychiatrist Jeff Bridges who is determined to find the truth behind the stranger, being unwilling to accept that little green men are beaming around the universe. The crux of the film is around whether he really is from another dimension or just your standard delusional weirdo. Thankfully the film doesn't try to tidy up all the loose ends, but leaves you to make your own call about what is reality. The exception to this is the thing with fruit, just what does Prot's eternal chomping on all things Vitamin C packed have to do with it? Admittedly, anyone who has to eat a whole banana, skin and all probably does deserve some sort of award! The plot seemed to borrow a bit from Unbreakable in terms of cinematography and from whatever "nameless stranger in hospital" film you prefer. You want it to be as good as the Usual Suspects; sadly it is just the usual plot. The grand unveiling of the truth (It is out there you know) was a major cop out in my opinion, and seemed very mismatched in terms of direction & acting when compared to the scenes set within the hospital. It had a real feel of "how can we wrap this up quickly?". The obligatory flashbacks, the fevered & furrowed brows in front of a map of the States, there was nothing original and much was predictable. My biggest gripe was the Disney style ending where everything is made all right in the end and A Valuable Lesson Is Learnt for those who are not of the K-Paxian persuasion. If the slushy ending had been chopped, the overall impact of the film would have been heightened. In this way it reminded me of AI, there was a very natural point where the film should have ended; each minute after that point just diminished what went before it. Spacey is a brilliant actor, bulging with enthusiasm and passion and I can't help feeling that being asked to portray a character so devoid of emotion was a mistake. The lines were delivered in a slow monotone (I guess aliens don't have accents) that seemed to really slow things down, a useful directional trick to contrast with the theme of the film I suppose but I was beginning to wish I used my power of veto and seen something else instead. There was a dry, humorous element to the film, but just how funny is the line "I won't come bursting through your ch est" when you are almost comatose with boredom? A small cast meant that there should have been plenty of opportunity for character development but this was kept to a minimum. The minor supporting roles were well acted and demanded your attention, albeit for small segments at a time and this was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the film for me. I suppose this would have been badged as sci-fi, but it just doesn't cut it for me, it tries to be deep but remains superficial, it tries to be light but comes across as lacking in content and tries to be pulsating but just comes across as rushed. Marks out of ten would have to be 6 from me, on the grounds that it wouldn't have been hard to make this a more dramatic film than it was if the directors could have worked out just what it was they were trying to create. One to watch as a rental, there isn't much to be gained by seeing it on the big screen as there are no special effects worth noting. Usually a film that goes light on the SFX has a cracker of a story, guess that's one other thing that isn?t true anymore either. Anyone got a light?
This is a whole lot more difficult than I thought, no, not getting inspiration but knowing when to stop! There are just so many things that I'm sure the world would be better without and that the eco-system wouldn't collapse without them. So shove over litterbugs, move over people who talk during films in the cinema and shift it those people that fail to clear up after their hounds (literally please), Room 101 is about to get pretty darned packed. Eddie Stobart Lorries I'm sorry I don't care how smartly dressed their drivers are, or the fact you can get a tick list of lorry numbers or that they have their own web site (which is actually pretty cool, drawn as I was with moth-like tendencies to a further source of irritation), or that their fan club has over 25,000 members; I don't care if they were Haulier of the Year 1992 and have a turnover of plus £150m (the website is jolly informative too plus you can tickle a lorry), I am fed up with them cutting me up, pulling out in front suddenly and generally making the drive around the M25 even more hell then it already is. There are plenty of other haulage firms, and, with the exception of the Tate & Lyle lorries, none of them seem as bad as ES lorries for lulling me out of a blissful state of tranquillity that has been attained by settling in to The Chillout Sessions (or down right stupor if I listening to that Geoff Hurst tape), and forcing me to practice defensive driving techniques at 6am. I will make an exception for the Tate & Lyle lorries because with the early morning sun gleaming on the green livery, they look beautiful! Forget the dreaded White Van Man, I've found out what they grow up to be, drivers for Eddie Stobart! Back it up son, left hand down a bit and in you go. Try adjusting your tacho for that rest period! Not getting crowded in there is it? Because there is more.... Away Fans Sitting behind Home Fans at football As I may have mentioned, I am a football regular, a season ticket holder and nothing quite irritates me more than having an inebriated away fan (or fans) plonked down in the seat behind me as a result of knowing Barry in Commercial Department and blagging a free ticket. Now if I was sleeping with the enemy as it were, I think I probably would keep comments about the home team (and therefore the team of choice of probably 99.99% of the surrounding crowd) to a minimum and probably wouldn't bellow at the top of my lungs that "Paulo Di Canio is a **** and a ****" (still, I guess the manager is entitled to his opinion like the rest of us) and neither would I stand up and try to encourage the crowd to join in with a resounding chorus of "you're sh*t and you know you are". Not, that is, if I wished to go home with the same number of teeth, arms and legs as I came in with. Actually add to that the Part-Time Percy's who never know the goalies name, haven't a clue who the manager is and probably aren't exactly certain of the name of the ground but have all the programmes, fanzines and novelty gimmicks as a memento of their second trip to footie in 30 years. Gentleman, your coach is now arriving, please place your team colours, scarves and bobble hats on the rack above you and start your journey to oblivion, with no return fixtures scheduled. Room for one more is there, just a little one, you over there, go and sit behind someone else because there is still more.... Juggling If I had to trade the above just to put this one in Room 101, it would be worth it. I'm convinced that juggling has contributed the square root of zilch to the goodness of the earth - however I don't doubt that it has contributed massively to the wealth of those "motivational team building events" companies. Personally, I think they are in league with the devil. I will freely admit, I can't juggle. I have poor co-ordination and despite the well meaning but severely ill advised attempts of friends, colleagues and family; I doubt I'd ever learn and in the many failings I have as a human being, it's one I can cope with. For some reason, all the team building and personal motivation type training I go on, all seem to feature this banal pastime as a highlight of the day. I have even been on a Writing for Results course and found that one of my colleagues was *gifted* to be a juggler and always carried his balls with him (I know how bad that sounds but I'm on a rant and I'm not changing it now) "just in case they are ever needed" Ever needed? What possible bizarre set of events could possibly warrant the use of three squishy balls to save the day. "Juggler Jams Jugular" isn't a headline I've come across that recently. I will give him credit though, he did persevere through two knocked over coffees and a splatted jammie dodger before coming to the conclusion that it was a lost cause. The worst case of pointless juggling was at a ?self development and inspiration? event whose whole theme was that when things turn out differently than planned, you are just experiencing "a little learn" Well guess who experienced loads of "little learns" that day! The tutor did become speechless when trying to convince a colleague that he only needed to concentrate really hard and "believe in what you've yet to see" to be able to see the pictures in those magic eye drawings, only to be told "not a chance mate, I've only got one eye and you need 3-d perspective to see them" Somehow, I don't think that "little learn" was quite as appreciated as it could have been. Roll up, roll up, this way to Room 101. So the world is now a better place, the M25 will becoming less stressful, watchi ng football a safer pastime (I'm less likely to get hauled out by a steward for having a go back at a particularly irritating specimen) and I will be able to go on training courses safe in the knowledge that my less than dexterous hand skills will not result in me being given "the person who tried the hardest" award again. Damn, I should have added clowns as well!
This wasn't probably the most appropriate viewing for Good Friday but with the usual rows caused by a visit to B&Q and the prospect of naff all on the telly, I decided to toss my fiver over the counter at our local flea pit and see Blade 2, the sequel to, yes you've guessed it, Blade. Blade was a comic book hero who was a vampire slayer - a forerunner to Buffy but more violent, who was part vampire himself but kept the "condition" under control with a serum. Being only part Vampire and therefore a Daywalker he was immune to garlic, silver and daylight and could wipe out his kin in blood as merrily as he liked. So that was a brief history lesson, now on to the main event. Well, where do I start? Given that this review could have anyone of the following as a title: A Bloody Waste of Time, Bet You Didn't Think They Made "B" Movies Anymore or Amateur, Anaemic and Awful; I think that you are going to get the direction that this review is going to be heading. Wesley Snipes revived (or should that be resurrected) his previously success role as Blade and managed to look suitably menacing and controlled - a bit like Batman on prozac, and no one can deny that he looks great in a bit of black leather, but there is no disguising that this plot seemed to have borrowed heavily from everything that had gone before it, and learnt nothing by it. A brief synopsis of the plot for you: Blade is instructed by Ruling Body of the Vampire Nation (sounds like it should have ended up in Ali G) to help track down a new breed of evil called Reapers who feast upon both humans and vampires. Some people are just so greedy at the help-yourself-buffet! To assist him in the quest is the best of the undead, the Bloodpack - a kind of vampire SAS whose whole purpose until the unholy alliance was formed, was to kill Blade himself. Keep your friends close but enemies closer and all of that. Every cliché in the boo k, every potential twist in the plot (and I lose that word very loosely) so clearly signalled that Railtrack should take note and all in all I was being to wonder whether this was meant to be a spoof as it was slowly becoming laughably bad. There was the bid to take over the world, the dark and sordid East European blood banks, the blue toned lighting, the busty gothic girlies (sorry Lookaroundcafe, no blood-babe lesbian scenes) and not to mention the obligatory double cross (if you can do that to a Vampire, I would have thought that one cross would have been enough) between sworn enemy and foe. Clumsy editing, poor continuity - there's nothing like seeing the adhesive glinting on the cranial implant or a seeming comatose Blade being dragged along by his good ole pal, Whistler - whose reappearance for plot purposes really does make Bobby in the shower seem believable, only for Blade to be clearly doing most of the walking. There is a whole sense that this film either suffered from a change of director halfway through or a rush to get it released as most websites don?t have a certificate rating (it's an 18) and the blurb on pearlanddean.com gives a different view on how the Reapers suck blood (through their hands) than is actually shown in the film. Knowing this detail now does actual make sense of a rather nasty set of scars that one of the Bloodpack pick up though! My biggest gripe was that for an alleged gorefest, it lacked blood! Or rather, it lacked colour. The nightclub scene which was surely meant to be fairly stomach churning (certainly was for one poor chap)was just so sterile. Yes there was blood; no there wasn't any sense of horror or terror. I saw the whole thing without shutting my eyes once and I'm a total coward! The sheer quantity of exploding, withering, sliced "n" diced vampires began to make it all seem the same. You see one uv-disintegrated vampire; you've seen them all. I know th at some sequels are hailed as being better than the original, but this clearly isn't one of them. Either Blade 1 was a vastly superior film, with cutting edge effects and a superb scriptwriter and director, or else Blade 2 really was appallingly weak. I'm sure it will make its money as I'm convinced that 19-21 year blokes and their mates will lap it up, but if you wanted a seriously good vampire horror, I'd wait until Queen of the Damned comes out - that looks awesome! An anaemic film but with one glimmer of hope - the performance of chief villain (or was it hero - in the end, it all got confusing) Nomak. The original Reaper was played by former pretty boy band member, Luke Goss from Bros. I know that the younger Dooyou members are thinking who?, but take it from me, they were massive in the 80s. He gave a compelling performance and didn't over-blood the black pudding and was the perfect foil to Blade and in the end, I was willing him to be victorious, which in a way he was. But I won't spoil it for you, go suffer it yourself if you really want to know. It wasn't all bad. The fight sequences, borrowing heavily from Crouching Tiger, were good and had tremendous energy. It was a shame that when the special effects took over, the characters resembled a Playstation game but with worse animation. The sound track was excellent and provided much of the atmosphere for the plot when acting failed to pull through, a mention to Fat Boy Slim for sterling work. The make up was good, even if the Chief Lord of the Un-Dead did look as though his skin was based on Stilton cheese spread over marble. And it really didn't help having Cat from Red Dwarf in the cast as well. At one particularly tense moment, all I could here from the people around me was "it is, it's Cat from Red Dwarf" Shame that they didn't get Holly to write the plot. I see from reading some of the other reviews, and I appear to be in a minority of Blade 2 bashers, that Blade 3 is planned - please don't do it, only Gillette can make 3 Blades a success story.
A combination of working long hours, The M25, getting in late and being a vegetarian married to a virtual carnivore (by that I mean he doesn?t eat much other than meat, not that he is some holographic creation) who wouldn?t know one end of a box of Quorn from the other, I tend to find that quick and easy to cook meals are fast becoming my forte. Sorry Nigella, I?ve no time or desire to be a Domestic Goddess, I?m settling for being a divine dust-slut who can knock out a decent dinner in under 15 minutes. Therefore, and excuse me whilst I go a bit 1950s housewifey on you, I simply wouldn?t be without a pack of Risotto Pronto, available in five delicious varieties for the UK market. It?s a timesaver that tastes good and is good for you. Now where did I leave that pinny and headscarf! For those of you in the dark about why something that is basically rice should be made anymore simpler, let me enlighten you. Good homemade risotto requires the careful addition of measured amounts of homemade stock to the arborio rice, which then slowly simmers away and absorbs the liquid. If you get the quantities right, this converts the rice into a soft and creamy, ultimate savoury comfort food. Enhance it what ever you like in the way of flavouring, or keep it simple and go for shavings of parmesan and generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. Of course if you get the quantities wrong, the rice welds itself to the bottom of the saucepan with a barnacle like ability and you ring Domino?s for a pizza instead! So this is where Risotto Pronto wings its way into my life. Trundle down to your local supermarket (ASDA certainly have all four flavours, Sainsbury's has two) and choose from Four Cheese, Mushroom, Asparagus, Saffron or Spinach (the last one is advertised on the box, I?ve never seen it in the shops and wouldn?t be eating it anyway but I?m sure it?s just as good as the rest) or if you happen to fancy a trip over to Italy (or have a goo d deli near you), there are Truffle, Squid Ink ?al nero di sepia?, Squash and I think something involving shellfish & wine (?provola e spumante?) and then follow these very easy instructions (yes, even I got this right first time) For each measure of rice, be it cup, chipped West Ham mug, so many ounces or whatever (you can see why I like this product so much!), add to it two measures of cold water and then simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the risotto is curling a tantalising smell up your nostrils and demand that you dish it up right now! And that?s it. How simple and quick is that, it takes about 12 minutes to cook and is a meal in itself although if you are feeling particularly inspired and your fridge contains something more exotic that a wilting stem of celery and a mouldy tomato, you can tart up the basic dish to your hearts content. The addition of blue cheese and walnuts is good with the mushroom variety, pine nuts and red onion with the four cheese, mushrooms with the asparagus and capers with the saffron one are my favourites (just occasionally I do ?proper? cooking!). Serve with an Italian salad and crusty bread and there you go - a decent dinner in hardly any time - with the bonus of hardly any washing up, just gets better by the minute. To be fuel efficient, you can merrily sling the rice into a casserole dish and put in the oven if you are cooking something else, and the result is just as nice but will take a lot longer. So what?s the culinary verdict? Mmmmmmm - or in other words, just simply scrummy! The flavours actually taste as they should, with the end product being a pleasing colour depending which variety you go for. Saffron is reddish, mushroom is grey etc. It lives up to the description of being a rich, velvety risotto that is easy to cook and tastes great. There is none of that yucky aftertaste of other instant rice products and you feel that you have actually had a proper meal. A typical serving has less than 4g of fat, there are no artificial preservatives or flavouring included and it is made in Italy - sounds a pretty much authentic real deal to me. A 250g packet knocks out at about £1.39 and is excellent value as it is good for four generous helpings. If you want more ideas, the website has lots of info on and you can subscribe to a recipe of the month from their top chef and find out just what else you can do with risotto. So although Paulo di Canio may hold my heart when it comes to 3pm on a Saturday on the Upton Park terraces (Oh please let us beat Man U on Saturday, please - I?ll even drink another can of that coffee), there is another Italian that gives me a warm glow on a weekday evening - and it travels well! PS: Sadly the promise to drink more of that unspeakable coffee availed to nought and we lost an eight goal thriller 3-5, I know, same old Man U, Taking the Riss!
When I got this audio book as a Christmas present, I was dead chuffed. I’m a West Ham fan (hence the dooyou name), have little real time for reading but spend a great deal of time driving around the M25 so this was the perfect present for me. The opportunity to hear at first hand from the great Sir Geoff of what it was like to be viewed as a hero, the man who had won the world cup for England and given Keith Woolstenholme a place in history. Imagine if you had done something that was etched upon the nation’s collective memory, earned you a place in folklore and had brought glory to your country. Would you resent someone asking you about it on a regular basis or would you bask in the continued glory in the events that made you a household name and generated some of the most famous television commentary ever? I can’t imagine that Neil Armstrong would ever tire of recounting the Moon landings or Henry Copper the time he floored Ali – so why is it that Geoff Hurst seems to regard his particular contribution to history a millstone around his neck? I haven’t read the book that this audio book is based on, but all I can say is that it must have been very heavily culled or else Sir Geoff really is a mean-spirited and bitter man who seems to take no delight in what he has achieved. I recently made the comment “personality bypass in print” about the subject of an autobiography, well Sir Geoff could probably bore for England as well as win them the world cup. Quick feet you may have Geoff, but you really do have the most boring, monotonous voice. He is very much of the school that has been told that you pause significantly after a comma, and read the script exactly as it was written. I would have thought that most people would have been passionate about recalling their own life events, particularly ones that included contributing to England’s only win of the World Cup, but no, not Sir Geoff. Fo r the first time in my life, I viewed the M25 as a source of amazement, noticing how many bollards were in a straight line in the roadworks, how many crows were picking at roadkill and how many times the actual words “M25” appeared in my journey. Anything was more interesting than the droning voice of the World Cup winning legend that was virtually occupying room in my Peugeot. Reading the background blurb, I was anticipating lots of interesting anecdotes involving the great names from the golden era of football that occurred years before I was born (OK, 4 years to be exact if you are talking the Cup Final), as well as giving an insight into the background and personal life of one of the greats of our time. By the end of the tapes, I knew the name of his wife, the types of two of the cars he drove, details of houses he lived in and the companies he worked for once the final whistle had gone, and that he didn’t particularly like Booby Moore or Martin Peters, although respected them both as players. He rehashes the Booby Moore and the missing bracelet story without there being anything particularly new in the way of detail, he sheds a bit of light over the media frenzy concerning the return of the hatrick ball to him – not that he seemed particularly pleased about the return of it, and explains why he sold his medals. The only potential “bombshell” was his criticism of Sir Matt Busby, but I don’t think Geoff is saying anything that will rock the bastions of the FA, and much of what he says has been backed up by other people in the past. He seems very ill at ease to disclose personal details which does tend to be the point of a biography and I didn’t felt I know anything much about him as a person by the time the book ended. He seemed happy to discuss his early life, the fact that he had German ancestors, the move to Essex as a child and his first trials for West Ham and Arsenal – ye s, he could have been a Gunner but they were too late in replying, but then the personal detail gets sketchy. As I said, it may be that the book was heavily edited for the audio version, but there seemed to be little balance between footballer and the man himself. One very touching bit, although like the rest of the tape narrated with as much emotion as James Alexander Gordon reading the classified footie results, dealt with the life threatening illness to one of his daughters and her recovery, and very much puts into perspective what is really important in a person’s life. The one anecdote that did make me laugh was the time him and Ron Greenwood had returned to West Ham, only for a steward to deny Ron access to the very lounge that bore his name as he didn’t recognise him, and utter the immortal words “and who are you then mate, Geoff Hurst?” Given the current standard of stewarding at Upton Park, the ghost of Booby Moore could poke them in the eye and be told to “siddown, shut up or you’re out” What does glimmer through is that Geoff was never happier than when he was actually playing, and was probably the most blissful when playing for West Ham. His admiration for Ron Greenwood comes through very clearly, and he is generous for his praise for a man who shaped his future. When he describes matches, it is obvious that he enjoyed his football and was an intelligent player who worked hard and didn’t take anything for granted. He says that he never was a world class player but was an excellent club player and this is a very honest assessment that I think most people would agree with. His spells in management at Telford, Chelsea and then Kuwait are dealt with in a summary manner, there was nothing particularly special about any of them, again he seems bitter that “the idea of management didn’t excite the football world as much as it did me” One constant theme in the biography is of a man who feels personally aggrieved that things happened as they did. It’s very much a case of “I’m not bitter but…….” He resents the fact that West Ham didn’t give him a free transfer but got a fee from Stoke when his Upton Park days were finished, he resents not being given a letter of thanks for his service from the FA, he even seems to resent the fact that people wanted him to do things for charity once he’d hung up his boots. He seemed very proud of the fact that he turned down all the charity requests, although he was keen to be involved in the more glamorous side of things when he was asked to be an ambassador for the doomed World Cup Bid. Maybe this is a positive trait as he was always proud to serve his country when it called on him and this was a way of him being honoured by those in football. I know that the biography was written prior to the appointment of Sven for England, but the tape was released much later last year, and this is probably why is jars so much to hear his comments about “foreign coaches preventing decent British managers getting posts” although he does concede that with the exception of Bobby Robson, England have struggled to find as good a coach as Ron Greenwood. So they’re taking our jobs but we still have no-one to do the job! One point he does raise is how many good Scottish managers there are in the league and it is clear that he views Sir Alex as the greatest thing since sliced bread. I should imagine that even Hurst himself could have made a championship side given unlimited funds. It was particularly narking for me as a West Ham fan to hear Hurst say that no club has done as much as Man U for the youth game and developing young talent – I guess Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole playing in the youth team at West Ham were just a figment of my imagination and that Van the Man has served his time cleaning the first te ams boots at Old Trafford. Obviously Geoff is right – there is no such thing as loyalty in football. Geoff also seems to regularly descend into Victor Meldrew mode with a general whinge of “players today – they don’t know they are born”, he considers that current players lack humility, don’t view an England call-up as anything special and have his generation to thanks for making football into the multi-million pound business it is today. I’d like to be there when those accusations are levelled at the likes of Stuart Pearce, Tony Adams and David Beckham. If you admire Geoff Hurst and want your rose tinted memories left in tact, you would probably be best to steer clear of this edited version of the autobiography and read the actual book, but it seems that even world cup winning, hatrick scoring, West Ham record holding, heroes have feet of clay. Hodder & Stoughton Audio Books; ISBN: 1840324333
Surely I haven’t succumbed to get another gimmicky product, Gothiron can’t be that gullible, can she? The short answers are yes and no. Yes, I firmly believe that coffee in a can is a gimmick, No, this wasn’t an impulse buy. I had actively searched this out for 3 reasons: it’s freezing watching football, coffee in a thermos is vile and West Ham’s beverage providers have a unique perspective on delivery: battle through mass of seemingly gigantic men clutching lagers, wait forever to get a cup of Kenco Instant for £1.10, navigate way back to seat through said heaving throng who are determinedly ignoring frantic attempts of short, dumpy woman to get pass whilst clutching remnants of coffee in badly scalded mitt and miss the opening ten minutes of a game. It’s A Knockout couldn’t have come up with a better game, you can almost hear Stuart Hall having a coronary through laughter! So a self-heating can of coffee looked a good bet, a sci-fi concept available to us mere mortals. The product is allegedly available in black, white with sugar and white without sugar and I have a feeling that the rollout in this country must be still in early trial stages as my local supermarkets don’t stock them and there doesn’t seem to be any mention on the Nescafe UK website of these novelties. Fortunately, the petrol station near work does have them although not the black coffee version. As this “trial” was going to involve a co-tester (my footie mad Mum), I got one With and one Without Sugar to cater for all tastes. Freezing football day arrived and the excitement built, yes it was almost half time and I could test the coffees. Remembering past experiences with not reading instructions properly, I doubled checked what I was meant to do and followed the instructions to the letter: Turn unopened can upside and check that the vivid red liquid in it's own plastic well a t the bottom can is still in liquid form and the “reactor” button had been pushed. Push button to start the heating process and shake the can until the liquid disappears, this takes about 30 seconds. Wait for three minutes, during this time you should hear a “pop” which indicates the heating process is happening. Pull back the ring pull, and enjoy your hot and steaming coffee. Yeah, right. First thing that struck co-tester was that it wasn’t hot, or even very warm. In fact tepid would have been a generous way to describe the initial temperature. Whilst this discussion was taking place and I was debating not even bothering with the second can, we noticed that the can was still getting hotter and so was the coffee. Five minutes after opening the can, the coffee was now hot enough to drink. Co-testers verdict was that it certainly beat thermos coffee, tasted like decent coffee if a bit weak but was quite bitter (this was the Without Sugar option) but smelt just like normal instant coffee. Repeated with “With Sugar” option, but decided to wait until the can felt hot before pulling back the ringpull and this gave a better result temperature-wise. For a product that is badged as With Sugar, it wasn’t very sweet but was still pleasant enough to drink for me. If you really like sweet coffee, I think you’d struggle a bit with this one. The one major drawback is the amount of actual coffee you get. These cans are the same size as a Coke can but hold only 220mls of liquid. To give you a comparison, Coke cans are 330mls, so most of the coffee can is taken up with the heating mechanism. Considering that these cost me £1.15,they are pricey when compared with the £1.10 that I would pay for a bigger cup at the ground. The cans actually weigh more when the coffee was been drunk then when unopened (due to the heating element inside now being solid) which makes i t hard to work out whether there is another dribble left in there after all. The other gripe I have is that for an instant product, it takes a while to get to the desired temperature (or even to a reasonable temperature)and I did feel a bit of a berk swishing a can around to make it heat up. One happy side effect is that the can stays hot for about 15 minutes after the drink is finished, which provides a very effective handwarmer for those of us not lucky enough to remember to pick up gloves as well as scarf! In fact I should imagine the whole heating technology for these cans is based around the same principle as the instant handwarmers you can buy which heat up when you snap the button. Are you meant to take cans into football? I asked a steward this and was told “the only thing we’ll confiscate would be glass bottles” so, no problems there then and I’m hardly likely to be able to scald anyone with the contents! Verdict: As this was bought to avoid the need for me to battle my way through crowds to get a hot drink, not burn my hands with said hot drink or have to drink vile thermos coffee, then it does get the thumbs up from me as fulfilling all the criteria I was looking for., although I’m not totally convinced that the product in it’s current state is going to be around for that long. Would I buy it again? I think this is going to be relegated to the “only when it’s likely to be really freezing” category of use as they represent poor value for money and don’t contain enough coffee for my liking. It is also a pretty odd for a product that seems ideal for outdoor use to have the comments “better when activated at room temperature” on it. The surrounding supporters were duly impressed by the idea of coffee in a can, agreed that this was the innovative approach that West Ham needed and it certainly provided more talk ing points than the first half v Leicester! So there you go, Coffee in Di Canio! (all credit for that dreadful pun goes to csh69 - it was so good, it had to get a wider audience than the comments box)
I must be having a bit of bad time of it at the moment as far as being taken in by “new” products. I am a self confessed coffee-maniac, but in recent years have adopted the quality not quantity approach, so am always on the lookout for ways to make it worth keeping my ageing but functional cappuccino machine (bought at a time when even the cheaper ones were dear), and avoid the instant coffees. I know that makes me a coffee snob, but no amount of advertising will ever convince me that instant is as good as ground. For me, Douwe Egberts are the pinnacle of coffee producers, in the business since 1753 and a byword for quality, so when I saw the attractively packaged foil bag marked Douwe Egberts Coffee Mocha I though why not give it a go, what better way to combine the two greatest pleasures in life, coffee & chocolate. Now, rivetted reader, you may have noticed that the product heading is D E Instant Frothy Mocha Coffee, well good for you, that’s more than I did. Ripping open the ground coffee style bag, I tipped the rather odd coloured contents into the coffee machine and waited. And waited. Noticing that the machine was steaming alarmingly at the top but only dribbling out the beverage at a piddling rate, I guessed something was up. Yep, one gummed up coffee machine later, I glared at the packet only to be struck by the word Instant shining out at me. Oh, you make it in a mug, with boiling water then, not in the machine – that would tend to agree with the word “Instant”. Still gasping for my “coffee shop experience” frothy mocha, I did what all true Brits do in a crisis and put the kettle on. The Mocha Moment beckoned. Whitish & brown speckled powder tipped into favourite (OK, only clean) mug, boiling water added. Result, somewhat scummy, light brown liquid that smelt of, well, coffee. No wafting aromas of chocolate or heady notes of earthy moss (wine tasters have n othing on coffee lovers when they get going), just that faintly soapy smell of vending machine brew with an antiseptic overhint. Deciding it must taste better than it smelt, I took a mouthful. And promptly spat it out, it was vile. The most abominable combination of weakest coffee and merest hint of the cheapest hot chocolate possible. This can’t be right, maybe I’d missed something important. Given that the front of the packet had given the clue “Instant”, maybe the back of the packet might yield more info on what I’d done wrong this time. “Instructions” – that looks promising. What you are meant to do is add 5 teaspoons or 2 scoops (nice vague amount) into a cup, if being so unrefined as to use a mug you need to “adjust the amount accordingly”, add a little cold water and blend into a paste “for ultimate froth” and then add hot “not boiling” water and enjoy your “coffee shop experience in the comfort of your own home”. So I had totally got that wrong. Having followed the instructions to the letter, what were the results? Well, it was certainly frothy rather than scummy but other than that, the same results as per the “bung it in and hope” method were obtained – totally yuck. It tastes insipid, smells off putting, looks like weak mud (because it was ground once, boom boom!) and leaves horrible dark brown skid marks at the bottom of the cup (so that’s where the cocoa went). If this had been a 99p for 10, stripey saver brand instant cappucino effort, it would have been tolerable, but this was Douwe Egberts, bastions of coffee creators and £1.99 for 200g! I really had expected something better, a drinkable coffee for a start. This pitiful effort of a drink has nothing to commend it taste-wise, other than it is better than stewed thermos coffee, and it certainly doesn’t taste like any “ ;coffee shop experience” I’ve ever had. Maybe British Rail circa 1968, but I have a feeling Starbucks won’t be quaking in its beans over this newcomer. Apparently there is an “exciting cappuccino option” available as well. I think my system has had quite enough excitement. I have another major gripe, this time about the design of the packet. Not only is this pack designed to make other gullible Gothirons out there think it is ground coffee, the “imposter” coffee packet had no way of resealing the bag, ready for the next lucky victim of Mocha Madness. Most packets nowdays have a resealable tab to keep the contents fresh and dry, not so Frothy Mocha. One mangy elastic band later, the packet was consigned to that part of the cupboard designated as “Things to Give To Dad Next Time I See Him” So, in case it hasn’t been blinding obvious that not only have I been duped again by a gimmicky product and can’t make a simple cup of coffee, my verdict on this product is just don’t buy it, it’s horrible. Says it makes 16 cups – well anyone else want the other 13?
As promised, the review has been updated, the final, final verdict is at the foot of the review, marked with * * ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Black certainly seems to be the new black when it comes to persuading people to part with their money. From black knicker liners (it’s OK lads, it’s not another “female” only op!) to black Christmas trees, it was probably only a matter of time before the multi-billion pound washing industry twigged that a detergent aimed at black and dark coloured clothes would be a money spinner. Afterall, they can keep your “whites whiter than white” so why not “blacks blacker than black”? So here it is, Gothiron Guide to the Guinness of Laundry World, Persil’s Black Velvet. Seeing as most of my wardrobe falls into the category of well, black relived by faded black with highlights of more black, this seemed ideal for me and fellow Goths out there. Apparently a £2.5m ad campaign in the Summer was aimed at “young, affluent British consumers - a generation notorious for wearing black and dark clothes” Well first big disappointment – it’s not black! OK, you may think that I’m being unreasonable here (or else plain daft), but I had envisaged that this newcomer to the scrubbing board of laundry enhancements would be the washing equivalent of tipping a pint of the black stuff into the machine. Instead it is the usual creamy white colour of washing liquid the world over. The clear plastic bottle does have a greyish tinge to it, with a black plastic band on the top but it’s just not the same. Memo to Unilever: Any chance that the next redesign could feature a skull & cross bones, the odd crow or gothic castle on the label, just to get into the spirit of things? So does it smell like Black Velvet? Thankfully no. Black Velvet, far from reeking of Guinness & Champagne like it’s alcoholic (and may I say, totally vile) namesake, has that standard soapy aroma, nothing special, nothing nasty, nothing highly scented, just normal. So that was the appearance and aroma testing over, now on to the practical bit. Is it any good? After scurrying around to collect together the pre-requisites for this trial ie my dirty washing in assorted shades of “dark”; long black skirt, mangy black top, decent black top, black jeans and assorted black T-shirts + “unmentionables” in that odd shade of grey, I was ready to rock and roll, well do the washing anyway. The bottle says that the 750ml is adequate for up to 14 normal washes if you use the bottle cap as a guide for measuring. It’s the standard “one cap for normal, two caps for heavy” instructions on the bottle, and the liquid should be added directly to water trays rather than using a dosing ball or straight to clothes. I shouldn’t imagine it will metamorphosis your clothes to brilliant white if you don’t follow the instructions exactly, but hey, this was for Dooyou! The bottle is a contour style, meaning that it is easy to hold and pour, having a “waist” rather than just being straight, there is the standard lip for pouring, making measuring easier and the main lid is easy to twist off, meaning that this design would be good for people with struggle with tight lids. The downside is that I should imagine it’s pretty easy for children to undo as well and the product doesn’t seem to contain Bittrex to prevent children drinking it. From personal experience, (that is forgetting I’d got this on my hands and then eating a biscuit – urghhhh!) I’d doubt that more than a sip would get swallowed unless your child has a perchant for soapy drinks! As this is a biological product containing enzymes, it says that it isn’t suitable for Silk or Wool (damn, that’s a quarter of my wa rdrobe ruled out) but I’m sure a non-biological version will follow. Once the liquid was in the machine, it seemed to produce a good amount of lather and bubbles – I wasn’t paying that much attention to the froth-o-meter! The liquid dispersed well, there was no residue left in the tray, unlike some of the other brands that seem to have the stickability of a slug when it comes to actually getting involved in the wash, and the clothes didn’t feel sticky once the wash had finished. So again, perfectly fit for purpose. Whilst the clothes were drying off, I wondered just how this stuff was meant to work, all the bottle says was “It’s different because it actively helps to keep your blacks as black as new” and that it doesn’t contain bleach (which makes sense if you don’t want to lighten something!). Maybe the secret is in the list of active ingredients, so for the scientists out there, these are the active ingredients: <5% Polycarboxylates 5-15% Anionic surfactants, soap 15 – 30% Nonionic surfactants Well any clues there chaps? I ventured over to the Persil.co.uk website, only to find that Black Velvet isn’t listed on their site yet, but apparently you can buy Persil Revive online, fascinating! And no, I really couldn’t be bothered to ring the Persil Careline: 0800 776644 to ask how it worked just to be told “because it does!” So what’s the verdict? My clothes admittedly still looked black, they were clean and smelt nice but I can’t help thinking that Black Velvet is probably no more effective than any other colour-specific washing liquid/powder/ tablets/capulets etc. At £2.99 for 14 washes, its comparable with other liquids on the market and not overpriced but as I usually opt for whatever is cheapest, I’m not probably the world’s best judge on this area! To be fair, I only have used this once and it may be in the long term that clothes do stay blacker using it but as I’m not prepared to do some sort of Head and Shoulders “I washed this half in Brand X and this half in Brand Y” with my beloved midnight collection, I think I shall keep an eye out for this on offer but not bother to hunt it out especially. ****Update**** Well now that the bottle is almost empty and I have religiously used it for my dark wash, I’m still no more impressed than I was originally, clothes come up clean and don’t look faded, but I’m certain that my usual washing liquid would be just as effective. The Other Half has been quite surprised at how many times I insisted his new black jumper needed washing over the last month or so – well if it did work it’s only right that he gets the benefit too, and if it made no difference, he wouldn’t notice! If a new campaign was run that actually showed some sort of before/after example, as well as stating the time period that this is effective over, I might reconsider, but after falling victim to the ploys of the evil ad-men once, (OK, twice if you include THAT coffee), I’d still be dubious. On this performance I can’t particularly recommend this product as being more suitable for black clothes than a standard colour powder or liquid. Yes, it works OK as a way of cleaning your clothes, No, I don’t think that my blacks look any different. In fact, you’d be better off taking the good advice given in Comments and invest your couple of quid in few Dylon Colour Fast Dyes to revitalise your fading clothes. Wonder if it would work on fading looks as well! ****
Keep pub names relevant! I'm not actually alone here, a while back an MP, Nicholas Winterton, tried to bring legislation in to preserve pub names by introducing a Bill which makes the name of a public house part of the licence conditions and be changed only after local consultation. Whilst doing the research for this op, I was amazed to find that there are regulations by the score dictating what the size of the sign is, what scale it has to be and even how bright the lighting of it is, but there is nothing to govern the actual name. Barking! (Well Barking Dog actual) So, in the case for the Prosecution, I urge those with law making power to take a simple step to preserve some of Britain's heritage without the need to whack a blue plaque on a wall or even spend money! I originally thought that this law probably wouldn’t improve anybody’s standard of life or prevent cruelty in all guises from continuing to occur, but it would merely serve to preserve a very underrated part of our heritage and history - the traditional pub name, but apparently I was wrong from the comments left on this op. It never occured to me that taxi drivers might suffer loss of revenue due to pub & club names constantly being changed - you can imagine the scene now "but I've been waiting 20mins outside "Froggies for a cab" "sorry squire, no such place, you don't mean The Jeremy Fisher do you?". And what about the historians and archaeologists, pub names are used to glean vital clues about locations of villages now lost, of ownership of local lands and details of significant events, I'm convinced that the "Firkinspoon & Carrot" won't feature highly on any TimeTeam plans in future years. Yes the onward march of the chain pub, bars and drinking venues has meant the demise of the humble Rose & Crown, Red Lion and King’s Head and the rise of the Rat & Carrot, Firkin & Ferret and my particular loathsome favourite, The Slug & Lettuce. Add to that equation the O’Neill’s, Ryan’s Bars and Flanaghans and the local history and eccentric origins are all but consigned to slop trays of time. Pub names tended to reflect either local trades (Bakers Arms, Papermaker Arms, Coopers Arms from my local area), local characters & events from history, (Sixteen String Jack, Earl of Essex, The Lord Napier) or national heroes & events (The Royal Oak, The Lord Nelson, Rose & Crown). Generic, bland or "zany" names do nothing to create a sense of identity or convey any sense of history. Not that all chains are bad, evil destroyers of local heritage – some actively promote them. I am, of course referring to the JD Wetherspoon pub chain who pride themselves on giving their pubs names that reflect local history, however obscure, and are usually done after consultation with the local community. They must have rubbed their hands with glee at being able to use The Great Spoon for my local in Ilford (if you want to know the reason then refer to my opinion on Ilford In General, plug plug) but a more touching story is behind the Eva Hart in Chadwell Heath. She was a local resident who was a survivor of the Titanic and now she has a more lasting memorial than any headstone or inscription – she has a pub named after her. I look forward to Gothiron’s Gargoyle as a token of thanks for this op in the near future! But pubs have always changed names I hear you cry. Well yes, but it was usually to reflect a change in either a local or national situation. Many a White Boar, named in honour of Richard III, were repainted to Blue Boar’s following the battle of Boswoth and they may well have been The White Hart in honour of Richard II at some point. The Sun was for Edward IV and the coronation of Henry VII caused a flurry of Rose & Crowns. The Royal Oak serves as a reminder of King Ch arles II shinning up an oak tree to fox the Roundheads searching for him. A varitable tapestry of history through something as simple as a pub sign. Many of the walking tours of London use the pub names as a way of telling the local history (I’m steering well clear of the Elephant & Castle debate here chaps!) Just what does the Frog & Firkin mean to you? What really gets me is that the chains lack any imagination or inclination to reflect contemporary society & professions. Where are the equivalents of the Wig and Pen, the Smugglers Arms, Sweeney Todd? - I would have thought that someone would have come up with The Minister’s Folly in memory of the Dome, The Spider and Globe for the internet (world wide web geddit?) or the Free Kick in honour of a certain Mr Beckham (or even The Diving Swan in honour of any one of the temperamental Weeble-esque strikers in the Premiership). Surely someone near Whitehall could be persuaded to have The Spin Doctor. It’s obviously a dying art coming up with an imaginative, relevant name for the local watering hole to remind the passing world of events and origins. My favourite pub name? Well it’s got to be The Guinea Pig - East Grinstead, West Sussex. The name comes from a nearby hospital that during World War II pioneered the use of plastic surgery. Some 600 patients were treated at the hospital, mainly pilots and aircrew and these became members of the Guinea Pig Club - referring to the innovative surgical work of Sir Archibald McIndoe and his colleagues. Check out the website below for the most brilliant pub sign ever! So M’lud please see in the dock all those chains that have come up with “amusing” and “witty” modern names for their trendy themed pubs at the expense of colourful and meaningful names that have their roots in the mists of time and once provided more information in a mere name or sign than could be told in any Lonely Planet G uide. Your Honour, sentence them to restoring the names of the pubs they have stolen the identity from and bar from common parlance the mentions of Lettuces & Slugs unless it’s a description of salad, condemn the Firkin & Hogshead back to the obscurity of ale measurement and remove the Carrot and Rats back to the garden where they belong. For more info on pub signs try http://www.bjcurtis.force9.co.uk/ as a great web site! And any new pub owners out there, The Gargoyle & Gothiron would be a great name - and I'd even come and open it!
Well if this was to be really helpful, the category should have appeared in the Summer allowing you plenty of time to make lists, check it twice, find out whose been nuaghty or nice etc etc. As it is now mid December and if you haven’t even started the Christmas present shopping then you probably starting to get a bit twitchy, well settle down and appreciate the Gothiron Guide to Good Christmas Shopping for People Who Aren’t As Organised as Me! (cue ironic laughter from the wings) So, where do you start in this Mission Impossible task? 1. Make your list of people to buy for. Sounds blindingly obvious, but whilst it’s easy to remember Mum, Dad and Gran, sometimes the further reaches of the present-buyee list tend to get forgotten. Have you included your godchildren, are you buying for Aunts as well as the nieces, what about cousins, your neighbours, kid’s teachers, friends off-spring. When you consider the permutations, it’s a frightening list (and you haven't even seen the in-laws!)and no wonder people can get left out. Way that I find best is to sort them into family groups, friends and “Others” and check you’ve got them all covered – this also focus your mind on things like cost, location and how many cards to get and whether you can make any 3 for 2 type savings when buying things. (I’ve assumed that you won’t be going down the home made hamper route this late in the year!) 2. Timing! Know when the last posting dates are for abroad (hint: you’ve missed it for most of the world - Airmail Western Europe is 14th December according to www.royalmail.com) as well as UK (21st for 1st, 18th for 2nd). If you’ve missed the dates for relatives abroad then don’t put your feet up thinking “one less pressie to buy” but investigate online money transfers (Western Union for example) so they can buy something themselves (how e ver much we complain about giving money being an easy cop out, I’ve yet to find any one give it back to me!) The other alternative is to buy something online from a company based in the country they live and see whether they can ship it direct for you. Will be cheaper than it coming to you and then you sending it out. A lot quicker too – you don’t have to wrap it! The second timing thing is: decide on a day to do your shopping by and stick to it! It’s easier to do your shopping in one place (or joy of joys one shop!) than flit around. Choose your location, hit it early to get a car parking space near the shops, and do that shopping! Alternatively, make a large coffee, get a comfy chair and log on! Online shopping is less hassle than battling around those pits of hell called shopping malls but you do need to know what you are after otherwise you’ll going to waste as much time with aimless browsing. Check that presents are going to arrive in time though! Online shops rarely have the irritating 28 days for delivery thing but they might not be able to deliver in time for you to then send stuff out unless you are prepared to hire a courier to then whizz presents around the country (believe me, it has been done!) 3. Decisions, Decisions Hardest one the lot – have a list of what to buy! Include in this the dreaded paraphernalia needed to wrap the darn things. Sticky tape (or a glue gun), paper, pens that actually write on wrapping paper, gift tags (if you are into that – white computer labels are just as handy and much cheaper). Don’t forget jiffy bags and brown paper if you are sending things through the Post. In fact, abandon wrapping paper and invest in mega loads of brown paper. With a couple of gold and silver pens you can doodle on the paper and it will look just as good as wrapping paper but ten times cheaper! A quick but pricey alternative is gift bags, simply sling everything in them, seal the top and there you go. Of course if you were super organised you could have made these yourself but Just In Time planning comes at a price, what you save in time you pay for in the purse! Knowing what to get people is fairly difficult when you’ve loads of time but is actually easier when time is against you. You are focussed on needing to get things by the cut-off date and therefore you might not get exactly what people really want but at least you get them something. So here are a few hints for that last minute shopping spree. Find out people’s preferred perfume/aftershave. Hardly the most original idea or the cheapest but hey we are talking lastminutechristmas.com here. Most big department stores do good deals at Christmas and if you are really lucky then you might get a bonus gift which can either go to the recipient or be used as another gift! Magazine subscriptions – again you need to know what mags they like and whether they already get a subscription (not likely!) but Good Housekeeping is a good choice!!!! Again you might be lucky in getting a gift for yourself/recipient as part of the deal. Another bonus is that your recipient will be sent a card notifying them of the subscription getting you off the hook in posting things to them Chocolates Track down your local Thorntons, buy nice chocolates, again check out the 3 for 2 offers. Even better, Thorntons will ice a message onto some of the larger Christmas gifts, thus proving that you aren’t a heartless person who has run out of time and ideas this Christmas! Again, husbands out there – Chocolates are not an acceptable offering on their own, only as a supplement to another present! Vouchers! If you are really strapped for ideas, vouchers are appreciated (although not by wives from husbands!) but do try to think about what can be bought for what cost. My Dad’s compa ny always used to give him a £15 for Harrods (no joke) there isn’t a lot you can get for £15 in Harrods although I did a small fluffy hippo from the toy department. Woolworth’s vouchers are good choices for kids as are Boots & WH Smith. Adults, well Debenhams are safe but boring bet and I’m always happy for M&S Vouchers.. Black and Red are not good ideas for underwear (unless specifically asked for!) I just can’t stay away from bras can I? This is more of a guideline for the blokes out there who have come up with the idea of undies for their loved one than a present idea. My personal view is that unless you know the exact style, size and brand that is the desired then don’t bother! Do not think that underwear is a treat for you lads! If you are venturing into the realms of flimsies then remember the following: All black is fine, black and anything is probably likely to see your beloved in the returns queue at the earliest chance. Cream/Ivory/Lavender are good choices in preference to white. Neon pink, blue and gold are probably best reserved for fancy dress Bridget Jones may have made big knickers publicly acceptable, however be prepared for a face like a boot if this is what is unwrapped on Christmas morning – practical isn’t always the best answer. Don’t even think about putting stockings in a stocking as a subtle suggestion (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean) – you may end up wearing them yourself (whatever turns you on!) Flowers Order a bouquet from Inter-Flora or a local florist and arrange for a date nearest to Christmas, costs a bomb but useful standby. Alternatively, bulk buy amaryllis bulbs in pots, assorted poinsettias or hyacinths in bowls and distribute to the florally minded or garden-bereft people on the list. Another advantage with plants is that you don’t have to wrap them up. Alcohol Again, a boring present but one rarely refused. Obviously you need to have an idea what people like, Champagne is a good choice, tie a red bow on it and it looks neat, sling it on a bottle gift bag and another present is solved, likewise judging by the current trend on Dooyou, a large bottle of Bailey’s would be the No.1 gift. Again, 3 for 2 offers abound in supermarkets this time of year so no need for that booze cruise to France. Writing Paper, Notelets, Stamps! Well you do expect a thank you letter don’t you for the lovely present that you’ve sent them! 5. Delivery So that’s the no-brainer presents done. Get them all wrapped up, write the gift tags/computer labels out and then work out which need posting and which you are delivering by hand and store them separately. Decide upon a convenient time to trek to the post office for anything that needs posting, avoid pension day, Saturday mornings or half an hour before closing time and prepared to shell out a fortune in postage costs. Have a blank cheque to Post Office Counters written out and sign your life away. Always ask if things are cheaper by parcelforce rather than standard mail and resign yourself to the fact that some won’t arrive before Christmas! If you can find out whether sprawled out members of a family will be congregating in one place then you can send the lot to one address and get someone else to play Santa! For hand delivered presents, remember that it’s never too early to give presents! If anything it makes them feel guilty that they haven’t got you one yet and will help them organise their shopping! The other benefit is that the more you give out, the less you have to post! 6. Disaster! I’ve been given a present and haven’t got one for them! Well, either accept it graciously in the spirit it was intended – that they like you well enough to get you a present and that’s all that matters or ensu re that when you buy the chocs and booze to keep a couple ready wrapped with a blank name tag on it, ready for writing at short notice. Panic over. So that’s the cheats way of cutting out the hassle at Christmas as far as present buying goes. There are advantages to planning ages in advance (you have no reason to enter a shopping mall in December and retain your sanity) and doing your present buying online throughout the year but there are downsides to that as well. Namely you forget what you’ve bought, you have to be in for the postman to deliver parcels unless you fancy a trip to the sorting office and something else always looks more tempting in December, but I really would recommend not leaving present buying to Christmas Eve, unless you are a total sadist (or my husband!) Now that those useful hints are out of the way, what I’m looking forward to the Hassle Free Guide to Families at Christmas, any takers?
Christmas pudding, like mice pies (as they were referred to last week) is part of the great Christmas culinary traditions and yet, what is the alternative festive pud for those of us who either have had enough of the main course to now resemble a Christmas Pud, or else just plainly don’t like the awful thing? Step forward Gothiron’s Hot Pineapple Wowser! Well actually it’s more accurate to say Gothiron’s Mums HPW as I had to ring her for the actual recipe, my version being not particularly measured and more estimated. Serves 4 – 6 but if you want to up the servings, just up the ingredients! 1 medium (4/6 oz) can of pineapple pieces in natural juice – rings/slices do just as well so get whatever is cheapest, chunks tend to retain the heat too much and scald your tongue. 2 medium sized free range eggs (doesn’t have to be Free range, it’s your conscience!) 2 oz caster sugar ½ oz of butter/marg/suitable spread of your choice 2 tablespoons of plain flour Few drops of vanilla essence (or if you’re me, the whole lot as the lid was loose) Water Method Pre heat the oven to Gas Mark 5 (or whatever temperature it’s at depending on what you are already cooking. Unearth a suitable sized oven proof dish, this recipe works best if you have something like an oval Pyrex/glass dish, medium sized is fine. Strain the pineapple, retaining the juice and put the fruit into the bottom of the bowl. Use the butter and flour to make a basic sauce base (ie melt the fat, remove from the heat, add the flour and mix until smooth, returning to the heat if necessary. Add sufficient water to the fruit juice to bring it up to ½ pint and stir this into the sauce base. Return to the heat until smooth consistency is achieved. Remove from heat and allow to cool off to blood warm (ie you can stick your finger in to it without burning yourself) Separate the eggs and slowly add the yolks to the sauce mixture, add vanilla drops and stir in until a thickish sauce is achieved. Return to the heat if sauce won’t thicken but don’t boil. Remove from heat and cool, then pour over pineapple. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl and gradually add the egg white until soft peaks form in the mixture. This isn’t going to be a rock hard meringue but not a soggy one either. If you want, add a pince of Cream of Tartar to the mixture if it is given you grief. Add more sugar if you have a sweet tooth. Once meringue looks like a badly designed wedding dress, spread evenly over the pineapple & sauce mixture, wipe the edges of the bowl clean (to stop burning) and shove in the oven for as long as you need. If you are only cooking this then 30mins at gas mark 5 does it nicely, if you are using the oven for othe things, just bung it in on the lowest shelf and check. It’s not a souffle, it can take the oven door opening to look at it. Like all good Gothiron creations it's robust and can take some handling! It’s ready, not when the smoke alarm goes off, but when the top is golden and springy to the touch. Serve hot, remind guests that it is very hot and to wait a sec before diving it. Unless you have obnoxious dinner guests that you wish to silence for an hour, in that case tell them not to wait and tuck in! It’s not terribly high in fat (certainly not compared to Chrissy Pud) but isn’t the most slimming of meals either – but then what’s the point of low fat puddings! Variations I guess you could stick in appropriate alcohol into the sauce if you like or subsitute other canned fruits but I’ve never tried this so this is your moment for experimentation. Fresh pineapple isn’t good for this recipe as it seems to curdle the sauce – if you want a really simpl e desser for fresh pineapple then chill slices of pineapple, sprinkle them with brown sugar and whack them under the grill to carmelise (or blow torch them if you have that handy!) serve with brandy snaps and gorge! So what are the origins of this seemingly fool proof pud that has been adored by members of the Gothiron clan for the last 40+ years? According to Mother Gothiron, it was a recipe from the 1957 Christmas Edition of Radio Times and was designed as a children’s pudding that you could stick in the oven whilst eating the main dinner. As there is nothing particularly festive about it, other than mum only making it at Christmas, it’s a great pud for all year round but it always reminds me of Christmas!!
A stack of beautifully wrapped presents nestling under the tree, the waiting to see the appreciation in the faces of the recipients, the frenzied unwrapping, the polite thank yous and then the trip to the charity shop to give the unwanted presents away in the New Year, the thud of the credit card bill on the mat come January. Welcome to the lifecycle of a Christmas present. Alright, that’s a pretty cynical view, but maybe it’s time to simplify your Christmas a bit and actually rethink how and why you give presents. Wouldn’t it be better to actually give something people will use rather than just smile politely at (or not in the case of my in-laws) and if you are just buying that Body Shop gift basket because you’ve run out of ideas, maybe you need to reconsider the person you are buying for and what their needs are. I guess debating whether my mother in law could do with a new broomstick probably isn’t the most charitable idea I’ve ever had! One of the most valuable things you can give someone is time. Short of developing a time machine in the shed, it’s not possible to wind back the hands of time or even to stick a spanner in the works and hold it back, but it is possible that you can let somebody enjoy their time more. One of the suggestions I see in books quite often is to give IOU Time Vouchers (which you make yourself) which promise to “donate” three hours worth of baby sitting, couple of hours worth of cooking or ironing and that perennial favourite, help with the gardening or whatever it is that someone would appreciate (Three hours housework anyone?). Well why not take it a bit further. If you are preparing to give babysitting time then combine it with Cinema Gift Vouchers – thereby giving the reason for the babysitting. Rather than promise to do the ironing, contact a local ironing service and book time with them, likewise the garden, book a couple of ho urs worth of a local gardeners time (unless you genuinely love working in the garden) and wrap up some bulbs or packets of seeds as a small gift. Afterall, we all like to unwrap something on Christmas Day. One of my friends gave her sister a “Pass Your Theory Test” book as a spur for her to start driving lessons, the rest of the family continued the theme and paid for lessons between them – I bet she still got that deicer and scrapper gift pack from Halfords though! But it’s just giving vouchers you complain, well yes, but you have actually customised the idea a bit and helped someone free up some of their time for themselves so that they can de-stress and do something they want to do instead. A double present in fact. One of the nicest things that my sister and myself do is agree not to spend loads on each other, but get something “practical” (last years gift to her was an assortment of tights, various shades, thickness and colours) and then we give a donation to a charity to the value of what we would have spent. She supports the NSPCC; I support the Humane Research Trust. I can do without stocking filler presents (White Chocolate Orange exempted), the charities will use that money to help people who genuinely need it. This idea is really good if you have to send presents by post, give a small (light!) present and the money you save on postage, donate to the person’s favourite charity and include a card to tell them this is what you’ve done. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate presents, of course I do, but that isn’t what Christmas is about. For me Christmas is a chance to think of others and see how I can help them. I don’t always manage the totally virtuous approach to present buying (I’m not that boring!!) but do try to think why what I’m buying is appropriate rather than just thinking “that will do, it’s only for X YZ” Children are easy to buy for but it’s those pesky adults that cause the brain ache. I genuinely despair of things under the heading of either “gift sets” or “novelty items” in the shops – why not make your own, that way you probably give someone exactly what they want rather than an expensive basket + the odd thing that they can’t stand. My sister did this for me one year, choosing an Italian theme and there were things like assorted packs of pasta shapes, sun dried tomatoes, porcini and pesto. All from the supermarket and therefore not costing a bomb and it decent sizes. She got into the swing of things by wrapping it in crepe paper in Italian flag colours – a similar commercial one from a well know retailer had less things in it, smaller sizes and was over £30. As I’m a supporter of fair trade programmes, I’ve already got the components for a “Fair Trade” hamper comprising of the café direct coffees, Fairtrade chocolate (as recommended by a fellow doo-youer a couple of months ago and other assorted ethical items. The aim of this hamper to not only to satisfy the coffee/choc a-holics but also to promote the Fairtrade programme. Why do one bit of good if you can do more! Fine idea you think, but all this is taking more of my time and causing me more stress. Well yes, it might take time to add in a few extra things to your shopping basket when you do your weekly shop if you are doing the hamper thing, and yes, if you’ve promised to babysit then you’ll going to have to do it but if you begrudge giving your time to someone, then what are you doing giving them presents in the first place? Of course you could just buy a 3 for 2 offer of socks for the men and bubble bath for the girlies but I think I’d enjoy the personal touch a bit more, and afterall, it’s not the receiving but the giving that counts. Now, where’s my chocolate orange gone!
Rubba Ducks - Ducks with attitude! The real dilemma was what category should this go under, Collectibles, Children’s Toys, Presents for Men or probably the yet to be launched category of Gothiron’s Weird Stuff (the present my nephew is getting from me for Christmas would fit nicely in that category!. These aren't your bath-standard yellow ducks, these are Rubba Ducks from the USA! So what’s so brilliant about ducks you quack? Are you trying to capture a lost childhood you sad person? Not a bit of it, I never liked the standard rubber ducks you get, shiny bright yellow things that bob around in the bath and are usually more accurately described as Plastic Ducks, I’m not even that barmy about ducks in general and was always a Daffy rather than Donald person when it came to cartoons. The reason that I have become totally addicted to Rubbaducks is this: they are just fantastically odd! Yes kids would live them but of yes, adults will love them more! Rubba Ducks are themed ducks, hence the idea that they could quite easily fall into the Presents for Blokes category, and are bit like an aquatic version of Beanie Babies. They are fully working rubber ducks – ie they are made of rubber and float in the bath but their attraction is their quirky customisation. The ducks are all the same basic “duck shape” but then are customised to have individual characteristics, which are moulded onto them. Duck Tape for instance is the Handyman’s duck, resplendent with safetyspecs, and tools in his pouch, Duckerball is football/soccerball patterned (but still duckshaped), Teacher’s pet is apple featured, Sitting Duck looks like a target and Cowduck is cow patterned and is like a cowboy and so on. You get the drift, there are over 50 over them and this op isn’t a list! Woolies charges £3.99 per duck – personally I think that they don’t realise just how collectab le they are! Favourite Duck for me – or as my husband phrased it, “the one that is weird enough” is Gray. It’s a gray duck with a nose stud and is the oddest thing I’ve seen (apart from my nephew’s present) – at last, a rubber duck for all the Goths out there. It’s really hard to explain what they look like, best thing to do is look at the website. This op splits in to two parts as my sheer delight over Rubbaducks is partly down to the ducks themselves but almost as importantly, the excellent website www.rubbaduck.com. Word of advice here –it uses Flash5, works best under Netscape and make sure you have a decent sound card! Even if these ducks didn’t exist as merchandise, not have their own TV cartoon in the States and you couldn’t get the T-Shirts, Swimsuits and knickers – Rubbawear to all tastes as it were, the website alone would be enough to justify an op. It’s great! The Flashmovie features mean that it can take a while to run but is feature filled as a result. Mouse over various headings and there is relevant animation and sounds. Oh yes, the sounds – no there isn’t quacking, but rather a nifty theme tune (and yes, those of you even sadder than myself, you can get a cd of the song) and various other soundbites (or should that be sound pecks?). You can register your details and store a “wanted list” on the site, as well as read up about the forthcoming retirements, new lauches and special features. There is the “Rubbawear” section, a bit about the TV show and even a quiz. Plus of course see pictures of all the ducks. Brilliant! Children will love this site, and overgrown kids like me will throw a total strop when their long suffering partner suggests that he would quite like his computer back to look at the Sci-Fi sites. Now the bad news…… The only pla ce I have seen these is my local Woolworths, and they are situated in the baby toy section rather than Toys in general. In America they are available at Toys-R-Us and departmental stores but so far my duck-hunt options are restricted to Woolies and Ebay but I’m confident that the ducks are out there! You can’t order the ducks or merchandise (other than T-Shirts and cd) from the website – this is a big minus in my eyes but then that would make the whole collectable things just too simple. Like Beanie Babies, they have a limited lifetime and are retired and replaced with newer models during the year (no, they don’t have first wife ducks!) The site is totally US focussed with no international links or details of availability outside the US, but then is true of the TY Beanie Baby site and various other collectible web sites. So if you want an original idea for someone and you can get a Rubba duck, then do it. Only please mail me to tell me where you bought it!! So what was my nephew’s present? Whilst in Glastonbury I found a brilliant toy and book set entitled “My First Gargoyle” – he’s a lucky boy that his Aunty Gothiron is prepared to part with it!!
Ok, I'll admit it, I'm a dust slut, I really find the idea of housework pointless unless there is a specific reason for it (my mum ringing to say I'm dropping around in a few minutes provokes a flurry of dusters and Pledge). Personally I subscribe to the Joan Rivers idea "what's the point of house cleaning, 6 months later you only have to do it all again" So therefore it may seem perverse that this op is extolling the virtues of that fine publication, Good Housekeeping. My conversion to GH came about partly because I was fed up with the "How to bonk for Britain" type articles in She & Cosmo; not ready for the Mills & Boon fiction/knitting patterns within Woman's Own and never likely to be in possession of a figure that would be of interest to Vogue and so I found my choice of monthly reading a bit limited. Yes I wanted my mind stimulated, no I didn't want to be dubbed dull, yes I wanted to read about interesting people, no, Jordan's latest boob op doesn't fall into that category. So goodbye Hello and hello Good Housekeeping (courtesy of some stranger who left a copy on the train!) GH has all the things you'd expect from any woman's mag (apart from knitting patterns!), features on clothes, make-overs (with a very holistic spin to them - it's not just your make-up they review), furnishings, cooking, lifestyle & health and short stories but the whole spin to it is just so much less patronising than some of the other mags on the market. GH has all the things that other racy women's mags have but it all seems to be done in a less voyeuristic way. Yes, you will find articles on the best undies to wear under that party dress but they will cover (or uncover as the case may be) real sized women, not stick insects who could wear a plaster for foundation wear! If there are boobs on view in GH then it's more likely to be an article on breast cancer surgical reconstruc tion rather than "match these knockers to their owners." There are great features, interesting interviews with famous women that go a bit deeper than "Ooh what colour nail varnish are you wearing today, Cindy" and the back page column by Maureen Lipman is a real delight. The features on health are informative rather than scare-mongering and always give practical advice on recognising symptoms and also treating them, there will usually be a personal account accompanying the article which I always find interesting. GH sticks true to its background when it comes to Christmas and does have terrific cooking & entertaining features in the November for December issue. There are brilliant vegetarian alternatives to the standard turkey dinner - the white nut loaf can be heartily recommended, as well as quick meal ideas, the wines to serve with the food and tips on how to make it all a bit easier. If you're not following "Delia" then GH is just as helpful. Plus if you really want to make your own table decorations and door wreaths, then that's there as well. In fact a GH Christmas would be great in my opinion if I had a GH tested and approved family to go with it. But it's all a bit nobby I hear you cry, not a bit of it, if GH thinks something is the best, then whether it's mince pies from Greggs or bubbly from Asda or the latest multi-toaster from Duralit, it will recommend it. Price is no guide to quality and the famous GH triple-testing procedures tend to prove that. It's sound advice, well researched and presented in an informative way and doesn't limit itself to just "girly things." DIY tool reviews, car safety features and computers have all featured this year along with the vacs, washers and irons. Yes some of the articles reviewed and described may be a bit out of my price range, but then I'm pretty unlikely to be parting with £800 for a pair of shoes a s reviewed in Cosmo. Still we can all dream and it's always nice to see how the other half live. Aspirational journalism at it's best. GH can best be described (by me anyway) as a thinking woman's magazine - yes it's glossy and glamorous but has depth to it and is suitable for a wide age range. It's one magazine I can see being read by the whole female side of a family, regardless of the generation gap - that's if you can wrest it away from the man in your life first. So if you are struggling for that present idea for a lady in your life, then a subscription to GH is a good investment. At less than £2.70 it's money well spent as it's a magazine that I tend to keep for a few months and reread rather than just abandon it to the bin once I've read through it the first time. So how did I, Dust-Slut Extraordinaire end up a total convert to this bastion of standards? It was a Christmas present subscription from my mum. Plus a dusterbrush. Plus a can of Pledge!
I take it as read that the major things like war, famine, cruelty, racism, poverty, disease, abuse in any form etc would be things that I would wish to vanish so I'm selfishly going to use my 10 Wishes for me - welcome my own, very selfish and non altruistic Top Ten Wish List. No1. I Wish That?. Selected Family Members would pack it up! This has to be tactfully done to protect the innocent - (well actually to protect me in case they read this op). I come from a small family but married into a big one and it seems that size really doesn't matter when it comes to petty grudges, personal slurs and plain unpleasantness. Biting your lip, turning the other cheek and making allowances all seem to apply to me and not the extended hordes that are my relatives. I have to enthuse that the present they have got me is just what I've always wanted (whilst mentally editing that to "That will look nice in Oxfam's window") as I've been brought up to be polite, whilst they can make the comment "but of course I won't be using it" and I'm meant to refrain from getting the hump. My wish is not that they are all suddenly nice to me, but rather that I had the ability to turn them to frogs when they are particularly vile. No.2 I wish that Personalised Number Plates on Cars were made illegal Why not just have "PRAT" and have done with it. Ok you have enough money to get a personalised number plate, great - then why don't you do something constructive with it, do people really think that having BOB 2 or B1G AL makes the rest of us green with envy. And no this doesn't stem from the fact that my "new style" number plate looks like its been constructed from those letters you couldn't sell. A crown nomination for someone who can make a good mnemonic for KJZ! No.3 I Wish That Underwired bras were properly made I've lost count of the times that I've t hought I've developed alien tendencies and grown a metal antenna from my armpit. Bra manufactures must work on the same principle as light bulb ones, that is that if you make it too good it won't get replaced and profits will fall. So Wish No. 3 Double stitch the seams, glue the damn things in place, only please stop me being pinched in the arm by a metal spike after three months wear. Plus it will save the embarrassment of getting the washing machine bloke out to investigate a grinding noise only to have him fish out said article with a smirk ! No4. I wish that goods didn't take 28 days for delivery I can buy something on Ebay from the States, pay $5 for shipping and it's with me within four days. I buy something from a magazine and I'm luck to see it arrive in the same month. It's time that companies realised that on-line competition will wipe them out purely because they seem able to deliver items within acceptable timescales. Maybe I could advise said companies that payment will be 28 days as well. So Wish No.4 Good Customer Service! No.5 I wish that people wouldn't use using long words in an effort to impress! I have one of these at work. He prides himself on his knowledge of the English language and is on a personal crusade to make three syllable words compulsory and considers it a personal affront if he doesn't get asked to explain the meaning of some obscure word within a report. Whilst I'm all for a good vocabulary, variety of expression etc, etc, I do try to ensure that I don't exclude two thirds of my audience by using archaic, elaborate and generally noncey words. To get "triumvirate and oleaginous" in one sentence was a bit too much for me. Or do I just suffer from hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia? No.6 I wish that I had more confidence Low self esteem and a lack of confidence have probably been the reasons why things have gone wrong in my life. I am gradually addressing this issue through self-help books (watch out for the Gael Lindenfael ops coming soon) but if I could have the confidence not to have to double check arrangements, always assume that anything I do will go wrong and that anything that does go wrong is my fault. So please a dollop of confidence would be much appreciated. No.7 I wish that I get a Terry's White Chocolate Orange as a Christmas Present It's a simple enough wish in my opinion, but will it materialise? Will it heck! No.8 I wish that I get a stack of good books for presents Quite likely to happen as my sister comes up trumps most year with a historical biography - forget the soaps on a rope, a book token would do me. The second best birthday present I ever had from my husband was my choice of five books from a London bookshop and then I spent the afternoon at Regent's park reading them. Bliss. No.9 I wish that West Ham would win their Christmas and New Year's Fixtures The fixtures being Derby, Liverpool and Leeds - please Santa, that nice Mr Roeder needs the nine points more than their managers. Being a season ticket holder along with my mum means that my Boxing is likely to go rapidly downhill if it contains a 0-5 scoreline. No.10 I wish that the person who works with me wasn't moving away (but wish her all the best!) It's been a real pleasure to work this person, who introduced me to the delights of Dooyou, reminded me of how good Ebay is and in addition has been so supportive when things have been pretty naff. It has made work fun knowing that someone else appreciates my odd sense of humour, doesn't think that I have a weird accent and agrees that Ms Combat Nipples is a bit of a cow! So my final wish is - have a good life and I hope you get everything you wish for too! and the bonus wish of course is everyone else get what they want as well!