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grheliz

grheliz
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Member since: 24.05.2011

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    • 17 Photo Flawless Primer / Make Up / 44 Readings / 41 Ratings
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      09.12.2011 14:02
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      Good first try product for a primer newbie

      When I heard about people using things called 'primers' on their faces all I could think of was my dear old Dad, doing something called 'priming' to bits of woodwork before he put on the top coat. I suppose that's not a bad analogy. Sometimes even the best foundation or tinted moisturiser can't cover up uneven patches of skin.

      My skin isn't bad for my age but I do suffer from areas of enlarged pores in my t-zone, mainly the after-effects of a teenage acne problem. As I've got older the pores have grown larger, despite regular maintenance on the affected zone. Recently I had to have some photos taken for business purposes and I really didn't want to look as though I had really bumpy skin.

      I was shocked at how expensive some of the best-reviewed primers were--well above £20. Not justifiable for me. Our only make-up store in the nearest town is a Boots, so when there was a special offer on for the 17 Primer plus a few other bits and pieces I decided this was the time.

      I read the instructions and discovered that I was to put the primer on just before the make-up went on. I discovered that if you leave it too long, it can go slightly crumbly as foundation is applied. In consistency the primer is not unlike the glue you get from a gluestick pen (remember those?). I was a bit dubious but as soon as the primer went on the enlarged pores on my nose, they did seem to look smoother, less noticeable. I topped up with foundation, which I don't usually wear and was pleased with the smooth effect.

      For day-to-day, I only wear tinted moisturiser and the Vichy one I use isn't that 'covering'. The primer still works well with it, just giving the skin that smoother, more even appearance. The Vichy goes on really well as well.

      All-in-all, given the good price I found on the 17 Primer I would give it a four out of five. It performed better than I would expect but doesn't seem to quite last the day.

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      09.12.2011 09:51
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      I miss it so it must have been good. Please, Santa, drop some into my stocking!

      I read a long article about Elizabeth Arden and the somewhat romantic way in which she created the famous Eight Hour Cream (involves thoroughbred horses, so has to be good). Back a year or so ago when my cash flow was healthier I invested in a deal, which involved a tube of Eight-Hour Cream, hand cream and tinted lip balm. That was three years ago and we are still using the cream.

      I thought I'd break down each 'issue' we use the cream for and tell you how it performs.

      Sore skin behind ears.
      We put a bit of Eight-Hour behind one of children's ears when he gets a bit sore there. It might be dermatitis or eczema). The result was noticeably less irritable skin. An advantage when you travel on the school bus and are a teenager and other teenagers comment on the 'fungus' behind your ears!

      Sore, chapped lips when playing sport.
      So far, Eight-Hour has been used by both children when playing football, rugby, hockey and undergoing cross-country runs. I think it compares very well with Vaseline and other lip salves, being slightly lighter to apply. We decant the cream into small travel pots and send them to school with the kids.

      Applying over knees and elbows while putting on fake tan.
      To avoid hideous mistakes, I rub a little of the cream over knees, bony parts of feet, etc, when I'm putting on fake tan or 'holiday' skin. Works well.

      Lipsalve
      I've run out of the eight hour lip balm and I thought I wouldn't miss it. I was wrong. It's less sticky than the Boots product I'm using instead. I shall have to ask Father Christmas to be kind to me.

      All in all, I think this is (almost) worth its price. It is expensive, so I am knocking off one star for the cost. But the lightness and lack of stickiness of the product and the success we've had using it for a range of family skin complaints means it's definitely a good, all-round cream.

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      13.10.2011 20:39
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      Transport yourself away to the world of the Mortmain family

      Most people associate Dodie Smith with those charming dalmations. In fact, she was a playwright as well, and also wrote I Capture the Castle, one of the funniest young adult novels of the twentieth century, and possibly the first of the modern genre that reproduces the full torment and excitement of being not quite an adult but not quite a child, either.
      ,
      Cassandra Mortmain and her brother, sister and former servant's child live in a dilapidated ruined castle. Their stepmother is an artist and 'muse', and their father is the author of a one-hit wonder novel.

      He hasn't written a word in years. They are achingly poor. It is the thirties. There are no benefits. The girls, Rose, who's nearly 21, and Cassandra, 17, are seemingly totally unsuited for any form of paid employment. Their main asset as a family is Rose's lovely face and pretty hair.

      When two rich American brothers inherit a local manor house, the Mortmain girls become Jane Austen's Bennet sisters, transported into the twentieth century. Rose must marry the heir! All their troubles will be solved by an injection of American cash. Younger sister Cassandra is the more thoughtful of the two and the more intelligent: Elizabeth to Rose's Jane Bennet, except that Rose doesn't share Jane's scruples.

      Rose is sure she can love the wealthy and doting Simon, of course she is, because it would be terribly wicked to marry for money.

      Or would it? Food is short in the Mortmain household. Even furniture is a little short as much of it has been sold. Cassandra is shocked to think that her sister might not really love Simon, whom she charms into proposing. But can she really protest too much? It is quite nice to benefit from American largesse (Cassandra enjoys the presents, new clothes and rich food as much as anyone). And Simon is very good with their father, recognising him as a creative genius and doing all he can to coax a second novel out of him.

      But everyone seems to be suffering from a misfiring of Cupid's arrows. Cassandra has a suitor she doesn't love: Stephen, the son of a former servant, and the only person in the Mortmain household capable of earning money. Cassandra actually has a bit of *thing* for Simon, but of course he's in love with Rose. But who's Rose in love with? Even the adults seem to be getting into a pickle with romance.

      Meanwhile if Cassandra's father doesn't actually manage to get a second novel written he will probably drive himself insane. He has taken to collecting all kinds of weird and wonderful objects, including fish bones from yesterday's supper, and broken plates. Desperate measures are needed to force the book from him. Cassandra favours regression to investigate past trauma, but they could really do with a psycho-analyst to do it properly and there aren't many of those at large in Suffolk in the thirties. On the other hand, the family do own a rather useful dungeon. Could they, should they . . .? but it would be telling too much to go any further in this direction.


      Growing up, falling in love, seeing your parents as flawed and confused human beings, getting in a muddle, it's all in this novel. Think of Pride and Prejudice twinned with Adrian Mole and you'll get a sense of the kind of read on offer from this book, but it won't come near giving you a full sense of its charm. It works brilliantly as a novel for teenagers, but anyone who loves well-written prose would enjoy it. The book also benefits from some beautiful black and white illustrations, which give a sense of the lost England captured in the book. Dodie Smith wrote it in exile in America and you can almost feel the homesickness oozing off the pages.

      This is a book that will take your mind off your own life. The world of the Mortmains is in turn bizarre, worrying and endearing. I felt homesick for them almost as soon as I'd finished reading.

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        11.10.2011 16:32
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        Well worth a try if your wrist is flipping on the court

        After a long break in my tennis playing I am determined to finally improve my game so that I can join in with family and friends without total humiliation.

        I've actually been playing for years, on and off. But I have a real problem keeping my wrist from 'breaking' during ground strokes: it tends to flip, like a squash player's. It's annoying that the problem hasn't been diagnosed before, really, as it is very hard indeed to correct an ingrained fault. My frustration led me to carry out some online research and I found some good reviews on this product, and this company website, which has some useful video footage:

        http://squarehittennis.com/WristAssist.html.

        Clearly plenty of other people out there have been having trouble with their wrists.

        What the Wrist Assist does is hold the wrist in a position so that it can't flip while you're hitting a forehand or backhand (or indeed a volley). The cuff goes round your wrist and attaches via an elastic cord to the neck of the racket. It sounds as if it would feel terrible but it's fairly comfortable. Yet you're almost forced into keeping your wrist in the right position. At first it feels weird and unnatural, but after a while you don't notice that the WristAssist is still on your wrist. It's really not uncomfortable as the device is padded. The cuff fits reasonably well on my very thin wrists, though I did have to pull the connecting cord to the racket neck a little tighter than advised by the instructions.

        The idea is that your muscle memory will be altered so that the correct position becomes natural. The instructions recommend playing with the WristAssist on for perhaps ten minutes, and then taking it off and playing unaided. In this way you shouldn't become dependent on it.

        My tennis coach is fierce with me. If he tells me something has improved I tend to believe him. Since I've been using the device he hasn't once shouted at me for breaking my wrist. Of course he still complains about all the other faults I'm committing but now I know that I'm not going to flip my wrist I don't feel that I'm trying to concentrate on eradicating a whole raft of faults. I know what it feels like to hit the ball with a 'good' wrist now. I think it's definitely the case that the Assist has helped my forehand.

        I'm giving the device four out of five only because I did have some partial success with a home-made device (constructed from a shampoo bottle, some stretchy bandage wrap and a piece of elastic). It wasn't as comfortable as the WristAssist but cost about £1 to construct at home. I suggest borrowing one before you buy. My WristAssist, from Stringers World, came to £44.72 including postage.

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        25.08.2011 12:19
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        Best hand mixer I've had for years.

        My husband was dispatched to buy probably our fourth beater in a two-year-period. I was a little nervous about this, as in the past he has adopted a boy racer attitude to kitchen appliances: speed and power matter most. Well, speed and power *are* sometimes useful, but if you're beating a pancake mixture, too much early speed will decorate your kitchen ceiling before you can say crèpe.

        So when I saw a Good Housekeeping Institute sticker on this hand mixer I felt more confident. The first thing I did was test out the slowest setting with the whisk attachments on some icing sugar and softened butter I was using to make buttercream. Would the slowest setting be gentle enough to ensure that the icing sugar didn't coat the kitchen worktop and cupboard?

        Reader, it was! Once my butter and icing sugar were incorporated I whizzed through the higher settings. There are five settings on the KMix hand mixer and the 400 watt motor can easily handle a mixing bowl full of hard work. It will certainly be able to manage the Christmas cake mixture I'll throw at it later in the year. The result on my first testing was a lovely, light, fluffy buttercream. Other experiments with pancake batter and beaten eggs were equally felicitous: no 'decorated' ceiling and kitchen cupboards. I actually had the feeling this gadget had been designed by someone who bakes and cooks themselves and knows what is required in a mixer.

        The KMix comes with two dough hooks and a neat little stand. The flex can be tidily wound round the base of the mixer so that when it's on the stand there are no loose ends trailing. As we have a bread maker I haven't needed the dough hooks yet, but these will probably be useful for making up small quantities of pizza dough.

        Usually I'm pragmatic when it comes to kitchen appliances. I cook a lot and performance is the most important thing for me. But the retro appearance and feel of the KMix is a real pleasure. I have the vanilla-coloured mixer, appropriately, given the number of cakes we bake, and it has a slightly squared-off design which is rather Nigella-ish and makes me think of the 1950s. It is a little heavier than some other manufacturer's models. I find this makes it easier for me to handle slightly hard butter, for instance, where a bit of force is helpful (and it will definitely help with heavier mixtures, such as the Christmas cake mixture mentioned above), but people with arthritis, or smaller children, might find that they can't use the beater for long periods.

        More importantly, the mixer is easy to keep clean. I hate models that have too many nooks where bits of cake batter can fly in and fester.

        All in all, for a mixer you can keep in a cupboard, out of the way, and bring out to tackle cake baking, pancakes, egg beating, etc, the KMix is a winner.

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          22.06.2011 09:53
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          Chill by a cool, mossy, pool

          In general I'm a fan of the great French houses' perfumes: Chanel, Dior, etc. It takes quite a lot for me to go off piste and try something that has its provenance elsewhere.

          A few years ago I sprayed a little Eau d'Issey onto my wrists. During the day that followed I enjoyed the scent and asked my husband to buy it for me as a Christmas present. In retrospect perhaps Christmas wasn't the best time to start using this scent, for reasons I will go on to explain.

          l'Eau d'Issey is a cool scent. When I wear it I think of waterfalls, lilly ponds, freshly-cut melons and that 'walk on a beach on a breezy day' element. It's an aquatic floral scent. It's also a little bit Zen: I find it clears my brain, as though I'm sitting in a Japanese garden contemplating something simple but beautiful.

          Simple but beautiful just about sums up Eau d'Issey. When I first apply it I get a hint of lotus flower, possibly a few more blossoms, rose, perhaps. Then there's the melon: either honeydew or candeloupe, but very subtle. As the day goes on there's even more of a note of flowing water. It sounds strange to say that a perfume should smell of water but it does. Think of the spray coming off a fast-flowing Highland spring: the freshness and coolness. Towards the end of the day there's something muskier there, too, or perhaps some cedarwood or sandalwood.

          When I'm trying to describe a scent I find it's clearest to explain where and when I'd wear it. I'd wear Eau d'Issey for a work day when I need to concentrate hard on a complicated project. I need a clear head and a focussed mind. I would also wear it when I wanted to feel slightly self-sufficient. It's not a come-hither perfume. Not that it's not alluring: it is, in its subtle and fresh way. But it doesn't scream, 'Look at me'. It gives off a calm, assured air. My mother sometimes wears Dior's Dune when she's in work mode and Dune puts me in mind of Eau d'Issey in this respect.

          Who would wear it? Think of a girl or a woman who is happy to be her own person. She's not looking to wow you or seduce you. If you're intrigued by the cool notes of the melon and lotus, and refreshed by the mossy, watery, notes, you'll want to move closer to her to breathe in more of her scent. She probably won't mind either way; she'll be content in her own little world.

          At the beginning I said that I didn't think this was a perfume to wear around Christmas. In my opinion it would be overwhelmed by cinnamon and chocolate and red wine scents. This is one to wear when you need to retreat into your own private world of calm. Friends and loved ones can join you if they want but you're not needing to send out desperate come-hither signals. You mightn't wear it on a date if you were desperate to entice. You'd wear it if you were interested but not needy; confident, but not over-the-top: not the kind who needs to wear overwhelmingly heavy or 'sexy' perfume.

          L'Eau d'Issey isn't cheap, £37 plus on Amazon for the EDT version, rising. But in the world of perfume you really do get what you pay for: longer-lasting notes that are less likely to turn sour on you.

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          • Home-tek HT807 / Vacuum Cleaner / 67 Readings / 66 Ratings
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            08.06.2011 10:35
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            The good suction and long power cable make up for the negatives

            Imagine someone has started to make a new-marque Beetle car, got bored half-way through and decided they'd prefer an armadillo or an elephant. Then they've shrunk the resultant mutant. That's what this little Home-tek resembles.

            But don't be deceived by the 'little' descriptor. This mains hand-held vacuum has powerful suction at 730 watts. We bought ours from Lakeland four years ago to store upstairs and avoid lugging the heavy Dyson up there to vacuum the top of the staircase or deal with small 'incidents'. We also use it for car cleaning.

            The vacuum comes with an-inbuilt extension hose and also a crevice tool and an extension tool that you can fit to enable you to get right into crevices and awkward corners. More on that in a moment.

            I wasn't expecting this little hoover to be as powerful as the Dyson. Obviously it's far smaller, but its suction seems as strong on a per-inch basis, if this makes sense. You wouldn't use the Home-tek for vacuuming a large floor area but it is perfect for staircases and cars. I vacuumed my stairs a few nights ago and was impressed (again) with how nicely the carpet pile was standing up when I'd finished.

            The brush and detachable solid hose pick up well. When I lasted emptied the dirt collector pod I was surprised at how much was in there: including some long and awkward fibres, which the Home-tek had dealt with easily (no winding their way round essential motor parts and causing damage). To use the attachments you flip the front vent of the Home-tek over, so that the turbo brushes are covered and suction goes elsewhere. To return to the 'normal' setting you reverse this movement so that the brushes are exposed again and suction returns to this part of the vacuum.

            The six-meter power cable is generous and means you should be able to reach a car parked on a drive without too much difficulty. My only problem with the cable is that there are no clips on the Home-tek to wind it around. We loop the cable round the motor itself, which is reasonably convenient, but clips would make it easier and neater to store.

            Another slight gripe I have is with the fact that you're supposed to clear the Hepa filter after every use. The dirt collector pod will take enough grime and dust from a minor household spillage upstairs that I don't always need to empty it after every quick use, but I'm worried that leaving it will in some way damage the filter. So far this doesn't seem to have happened, though. Admittedly we use this mainly for fairly light jobs (although I am about to use the home-tek to clean my husband's car interior: wish me luck). If I had to tap the dust out of the filter after every use it would slightly negate the time-saving benefits of not needing to get the Dyson out to the car or upstairs.

            Elsewhere around the home the Home-tek is too tall to fit under our sofas but we are able to use the brush and detachable tube to reach under them, if needed. You can use it to clean curtains but I would sound a slight note of caution here if you have arthritis or are just not very strong: the 3.2kg weight can feel quite significant if you're holding it at head height or above for more than just seconds (and I weight-train).

            The dirt collector pod itself is fairly easy to remove (look for the little black button to release the catch). The power on-off switch is also sensibly positioned just where your thumb would naturally look for it: on the top of the handle.

            Having a mains- rather than battery-powered handheld vacuum makes a lot of sense. There's no worry about having to complete a job before the batteries need recharging. For me, this is one of the main attractions of the Home-tek.

            The main drawback apart from the niggles I've mentioned above is the noise. Imagine having your head inside a small jet engine at take-off. That's a little bit what it sounds like--to me, at least. The Home-tek is disliked by our dogs and children for that reason. However, you probably wouldn't use it for long and lengthy vacuuming jobs so I am only going to take off one star for this issue, along with the lack of cable clips, and the filter-clearing point. At around £39.99 (on Amazon) this little armadillo/Beetle/elephant is great value for money.

            I found this little video on the Home-tek website about the way the cleaner can be used and emptied: http://home-tek.tv/video/huntervac
            It's quite useful at showing you how everything fits together and how to use the accessories.

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            • Callanetics (DVD) / Fitness DVD / 55 Readings / 52 Ratings
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              06.06.2011 18:44
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              Other exercise systems have come and gone but this just does what it sets out to do

              I was first introduced to Callanetics (named after Callan Pinckney) in the late eighties. I was only in my twenties then but found them hard enough. I noticed they were quick in working though and my stomach did seem to be sucked in after a few sessions. At that time I just had the book and it was a bit cumbersome to flick between the pages. Using a DVD is far easier.

              So what are Callenetics? They are very small, very precise movements that concentrate on an individual muscle. If you're used to 'big' movements on gym equipment you may surprised at just how little you need to little to move to give muscles a very intense workout. Note that word, intense. You'll be surprised at how tired some of those muscles feel when you've finished. You won't be jumping around and if you're worried about high impact exercises and the effects on your joints, you've come to the right work-out. There's no jumping about in Callenetics.

              Callan herself was a trained dancer and her method owes a lot to her training (and to that of Lotte Berk, the German-born dancer). Think of a ballet dancer and you think of controlled movement, not people thrusting limbs and sweating. To an observer it might not seem that you're doing very much at all when, to give an example, you're doing the buttock, hip and thigh exercises. But take a look at the photographs of people's derrieres in the book version, if you can get hold of it (or google them). Bear in mind that these pictures were taken pre-digital wizardry so there's no airbrushing going on here. Watch how Callan's clients' backsides head north over the course of just a few sessions of Callanetics.

              These exercises work fast. In terms of getting toned and slim they are far more effective than Pilates or what you might have been taught to do in a gym. The stomach exercises are quite different from conventional sit-ups in that you only move your torso about an inch at a time. But it's the inch that matters, the inch that really hurts, the inch that will pull in your stomach so that you look slimmer. Various permutations on this basic move will have you raising one leg, then the other, then both, in the air to make it even more devilishly hard on flab and hard on the causes of flab.

              These stomach exercises and those designed to turn your backside into more of a peach than a saddlebag shape are the ones I like the most. However, I do have one small caveat: things have moved on a bit in the way we look after our spines since the original Callanetics exercises were developed. Sometimes I do feel that my neck is a bit stiff when I've finished. If you are prone to round-shouldered-ness, the stomach exercises mightn't be for you. I also feel that some of the general stretching exercises I've come across in Yoga and Pilates make me feel better than the ones in Callanetics. But the flab-busting properties that Callan offers are so good that I'm not going to take off any stars.

              When I've finished a session my body feels tauter and tighter, that's for sure. It's as though I'm wearing an invisible corset.

              I actually spend more time on the advanced Callanetics exercises these days. I'm fit and healthy but I'm blowed if I can finish the whole set of them. As far as the Original exercises are concerned, I've found the best way to manage them in a busy day is to split them into sets. Otherwise they take around an hour. I do the leg exercises in the kitchen, using the worktops as a bar. I do some of the buttock/hip/thigh sets in my son's room later on in the day (he has bunk beds which are great to hang onto). I do the leg squeezes using my bedroom chair just before I go to bed. Next day I might do the sit-ups in the sitting room while the television is on. And the others are squeezed in where I have the time. If you can split them up into segments over a day or two it makes it easier if you're very busy.

              Some of the newer Callanetics DVDs do actually split the different sets of exercise into sections for you so you can devote just 20 minutes a day but I think it's easy enough to do this yourself with Original Callanetics on DVD.

              What's a typical Callanetics exercise? You're sitting on the floor with a chair in front of you. You're sitting very straight and your legs are one each side of the chair legs, off the ground. You're squeezing that chair so hard that Callan matter-of-factly tells you not to use a valuable antique chair. You might break it with the power of the squeeze.

              I would thoroughly recommend this DVD if you have a wedding or beach holiday coming up and you want to lose inches.

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                06.06.2011 14:15
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                A worthy competitor with far more expensive brands

                Anything involving words like moisturiser or tinted tends to have my skin breaking out in little red hives. Not so Vichy Lumineuse. I've been using it on and off for nearly six years ago, having stumbled upon it in an independent chemist.

                I use the Nude (01) shade for most of the year, switching to Peche (02) when I have more colour. My only real gripe is that my preferred shade Natural (00) seems to have been discontinued. You can sometimes get old stock on eBay, but it's quite expensive (£19.99 this morning when I looked). Nude is fine but when I'm feeling very pasty I have to be careful to blend it in well and perhaps just use it around the cheek area of my face, where I naturally have more colour (and more to cover up in terms of blemishes and moles, etc).

                I notice that my most recent purchase seems to have been updated ingredients-wise, and now boasts vitamins and fruit extracts. Vichy Lumineuse comes in two types of formulation: satin (normal to dry skin) and matt (normal to combination skin).

                The tinted moisturiser is easily applied onto clean skin. Most of the year I find I can almost get away without using any other kind of moisturiser if I'm using the formulation for dry skin (satin), but occasionally if there's a dry wind I need something extra as well as the Vichy. It provides enough of a wash of colour to give some decent coverage without looking like foundation (sometimes tinted moisturisers aren't quite covering enough for my skin). It is easily absorbed and I find I don't get any kind of tide mark, unless I've switched to Peche too early in the season when my skin isn't ready for it. If I look at photographs of myself the moisturiser definitely gives me a healthy glow.

                What's the real winner for me, though, is that I simply don't react to this product. Not at all. Never. I've splashed out on far more expensive products and found that even when they're noted for their hypoallergenic or non-reactive properties my skin still doesn't like them.

                My other very slight gripe is that although the promotional leaflet and other marketing information (on the Vichy website, for instance) talks about the UVA and UVB protection afforded by the Lumineuse it's hard to work out exactly how high a factor this is. It could well be that this information is included in the leaflet inside the box, but I tend to discard the packaging and then I can't remember what it said. For me this is important. If I'm going to be out and about under a warmer summer sun I need to know whether I need to back up the Lumineuse with some additional sunblock. I think it would be sensible to make it clearer on the tube itself exactly what there is (or isn't) in sun protection terms.

                For this reason and for the discontinuation of the Natural shade (very popular in the UK, according to the reviews written by disgruntled Vichy customers on forums), I'm knocking of a star. It's still worth four stars for its reasonable price (£11-£13) and the fact that it suits my skin so well.

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              • Bobbi Brown Blush / Make Up / 42 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                05.06.2011 13:48
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                Healthy glow that works out very reasonably given how little you need to apply

                I've been a more usual buyer of Boots various own-brand blushers but I'd read good reviews of Bobbi Brown's products so I asked one of their assistants for advice on a product that would be flattering and natural. I wanted a powder (creams often cause a reaction on my skin). She recommended the Tawny shade for my pale English skin. I was aiming for a healthy glow so that I don't look half-dead on cold winter mornings.

                The assistant told me to apply the blush with a big brush on the apple of my cheeks (to find the apple you smile and it's the round bit that you want to brush).

                I found that I didn't need a lot of the blush to get the desired glow. I was expecting to have to reapply half-way through the day but this wasn't necessary. The Tawny shade gave me a natural colour, as though I'd had a brisk country walk (in fact I have a brisk country walk every day of my life but still need blusher). Bobbi Brown claims that this is a 'silky' formula and this has been my experience: it's not chalky or powdery and goes onto my face smoothly. I've had to have photographs taken for various work matters and I am pleased with how the blush brightens my appearance in these pictures. It's flattering. As well as applying to the apples of my cheeks I put a sweep over my brows when I'm going out and this works well.

                One of my gripes about powder blushes is that if you drop them the powder smashes up and becomes impossible to use. I did accidentally drop the Bobbi Brown blush into the sink and expected the worst. There is a kind of fissure across the surface as a result of this mishap but the contents haven't shattered and I can continue to use it as normal. I was impressed by this.

                All in all, despite its fairly high cost of £17, I thought the blush was good value. It certainly lasts. I've had this tawny blush for over two years now but have more than half the powder left. (I'm now wondering if I'll have to dispose of my Tawny on grounds of hygiene before it actually runs out, as I'm not sure whether it's very good to keep make-up for quite so long). I will be sorry to throw it out before it's run out, as I like the glow it gives me. The packaging seems durable and you can add the blush to one of their customisable palettes for three, four or six items (see bobbibrown.co.uk), which would be very convenient for taking on trips or to work. The little black squares that single products come in are very smart in their own right, however.

                All in all, this is a five-star blush in my opinion.

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                  04.06.2011 18:34
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                  Keep your wits about you as walk down the steps.

                  You will needs your wits about you to walk Thirteen Steps Down with Ruth Rendell.

                  Mix is a fitness equipment maintenance man. Gwendolen is his cantankerous and ancient landlady. His cultural interests are reading up on the murders committed at nearby 10 Rillington Place. The elderly Gwendolen favours Thomas Mann and Ruskin. They inhabit a large, dark rambling early-Victorian villa in Notting Hill, close to the Westway, which hums sighs with incessant traffic.

                  Mix isn't just obsessed by Christie's infamous, necrophiliac, Rillington Place murders, he's well on the way to emulating his hero. For Mix is very, very taken with Nerissa, a beautiful model who looks like a softer version of Naomi Campbell, a girl too kind and well-mannered to tell him to get lost. In the meantime he messes around with Danila, a girl he has picked up during work hours. Danila doesn't matter and he certainly doesn't waste good wine when they date: any old plonk will do to relax her enough for him to get her into bed. But this undemanding dalliance doesn't stop his stalking of Nerissa and his anguish when she manages to skip out of his way every time he thinks he's getting close to her.

                  Something nasty is going to happen. Alone in his flat at the top floor of the decaying mansion Mix plots and reads up on Christie murders and methods of body disposal. Gwendolen paces the house and spies on Mix, going into his flat when he's out to examine the contents of his fridge, wishing him gone. But she needs his rent.

                  In the meantime, a couple of modern day witches cast spells and read cards for the gullible (including Nerissa). Gwendolen's long-suffering friends wonder why they have put up with her for so long: she's rude, grimy and ungrateful. And she really seems to hate that lodger of hers.

                  Things at the house are never dull. A ghost pads the upstairs floors and Mix is convinced it is that of Christie, come to advise and warn him. Gwendolen's cat isn't getting fed and yet retains his sleek and well-covered beauty. And all the time the traffic along the Westway never stops hurrying people on their way. Modern life is fast and furious but back at the house, in the mouldy rooms and up the dimly lit stairs, (Gwendolen scrimps on lightbulbs) there's a hint that grudges old and new are slowly about to come to a head.

                  Throw in an urbane and intellectual Sikh neighbour and an observant asylum seeker, the only two seeing clearly, and you have a rich cast of people: humorous, creepy and engaging; Asian, British, Middle-Eastern and African.

                  I've always loved the mischief in Rendell's books, and this one has it in plenty. There's a Dickensian relish for London itself: the variety of people pounding its streets, the range of their dreams and aspirations, the 24/7 supermarkets and the secondhand bookshops, the modern, sparkling, gyms and the dusty plane trees. Everyone's trying to get somewhere or something. Nerissa the model wants a 'nice' boyfriend who loves her for herself. The asylum seeker wants to stay alive until he can go home. Mix wants to consummate his 'relationship' with Nerissa. And Gwendolen wishes the whole lot of them six foot under. Which is certainly where some of them could end up by the end of the book. The question is, who? You know someone's going to clock it but you can't be sure who.

                  I actually enjoyed this book so much that when I realized I was about to inadvertently reread it after a three-year break I didn't mind at all. In fact I think I enjoyed it more the second time round as I could relish the information planted early on that might lead you to draw the correct conclusions. If you're reading for the first time you might think you can guess what's going to happen but you'll probably be wrong. And even if you've worked it out you'll be surprised at the way in which the crimes are ultimately uncovered.

                  My advice: keep your wits about you and watch all the characters carefully.

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                    03.06.2011 11:08
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                    Children's Odyssey and coming-of-age in war-ravished Europe

                    I'm calling this a children's Odyssey although Ruth, Edek and Bronia and their friend Jan are not trying to get home to Warsaw, which has been obliterated in the Second World War, but to reunite themselves with their parents.

                    Ian Serraillier wrote The Silver Sword in 1956 and in my opinion it's still one of the pick of the crop of children's literature written about the war.

                    When the children's schoolmaster father, Joseph Balicki, is arrested by the Germans for turning a portrait of Hitler to face the wall in his classroom and their mother is deported to Germany as a slave labourer their outlook is grim. The war is in its closing stages and the destruction wrought by the Nazis is about to give way to the chaotic and often vicious arrival of the Red Army.

                    Some time afterwards Ruth, Edek and Bronia, the Balicki children, now living rough in ruined buildings, rescue a scruffy urchin, Jan, who possesses a broken silver sword letter opener. The letter opener was given to him by Joseph Balicki, on the run from the prison camp in which the Germans incarcerated him. Along with the gift, Joseph charged Jan with a message: if Jan ever comes across his children, he should tell them to make for Switzerland (their mother was Swiss), where their parents will wait for them.

                    The children embark on a journey across the burned-out and despoiled landscape of Poland and Germany, reliant on the kindness of strangers. What I like about The Silver Sword is that expectations as to who might be generous to a group of Polish children are sometimes subverted. It's the German farmer and his wife who are particularly kind to them. We discover that the farmer lost both his sons in the war: a reminder that things aren't always black and white. There are good Germans and bad Germans, just as there are kind Russians and greedy Russians. Ruth remembers that, in the early years of the German occupation of Warsaw, some of the German soldiers gave her sweets.

                    Sometimes it's the kindness of adults that the children have to fight, as well-meaning people try and prevent them from going further on this dangerous and possibly futile mission.

                    The silver sword Joseph gave Jan, now broken, but still treasured and loved, becomes a symbol of the children's determination, their utter refusal to believe that their mother and father won't be waiting for them in Switzerland.
                    This mission will require immense sacrifice from all the children. The urchin Jan will have to choose between the dog he's adopted. Edek's health is terribly damaged by the suffering he's endured both during the journey and the proceeding years. Ruth has sacrificed years of her childhood to become a surrogate mother to the group. Little Bronia has barely any recollections of normal family life.

                    Without giving away the ending I will just say that the tension as the children approach the German/Swiss border is nail-biting until the very end. But this is so much more than an adventure story: it's a coming-of-age story and almost a saga. Above all, it's deeply moving but completely non-sentimental. Ian Serraillier was a Quaker and the book quietly makes the observation that acts of violence, by whatever side, are fruitless. What matters is love and humanity. Who better to encapsulate this sentiment than Michael Tippett, whoses Child of Our Time is quoted at the beginning: Here is no final grieving, but an abiding hope. The moving waters renew the earth. It is spring.


                    I've read this book to my children when they were about eight and ten. Children of ten and above who are interested in history would enjoy it. I still like to read it myself every few years.

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                    • Comvita Manuka Honey / Other Food / 40 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                      02.06.2011 15:10
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                      Has never let me down

                      Comvita honey has been in my home medicine cabinet for the last three years. Usually I buy either the 10+ or 15+ UMF (unique manuka factor) versions (the strong, the more potent).

                      For those new to the world of curing with honey, just a few words of explanation. Honey is an ancient healing substance, used by the Egyptians and Greeks, among others, on wounds. The hydrogen peroxide in the honey inhibits the bacteria's ability to multiply. To a degree, all honey does this, but Manuka honey is particularly potent as the bees in New Zealand who produce it feed on the manuka bushes. The antibacterial properties of this particular honey are such that it has been used to treat MRSA in hospitals around the world.

                      I don't like taking antibiotics unless it's essential and I dislike my children taking them, too. We first bought the honey when we had a bout of impetigo in the family. Impetigo usually strikes on Friday nights in this house, when the GP's surgery is about to close for the weekend, meaning that we couldn't get antibiotics or antibiotic cream even if I'd wanted them. So we treated our nasty infectious bits with Manuka honey bought from our local Holland & Barrett. By the Monday morning we were fine for work and school.

                      It's sticky to apply, there's no getting away from it, but it works. The little patches of red and golden skin ooziness just dried up. What I liked about it is that there was no hard crusty skin left when it had cleared up. That's the beauty of the honey.

                      I then tried it on a series of ingrowing toenails suffered by my son. In both cases I took him to the podiatrist, who treated the nail and then suggested antibiotics from the doctor. I told her I wanted to continue with Manuka honey and she was a little concerned. In the end we compromised and she told me what to look out for with my son (who was twelve at the time). I promised to take him to the GP if there wasn't significant improvement, and to carry on with twice-daily salt soaks.

                      I applied the honey with a disposable, blunt, plastic spatula and watched carefully. {Look away now if you're squeamish or eating something}. The horrible pus in the toe seemed to come out very easily every time we soaked it. The red line of inflammation on the toe started to recede. After two or three days there was no question that the toe was healing well (obviously the podiatrist's good work had helped here, too).

                      Again, as the toe healed there was little rigid scar tissue. The skin was soft where the tissue had been at work.

                      I took him back to see the podiatrist and she agreed that it had worked well and there was no need for the GP to look at it. Unbelievably, about fifteen months later we had another toe incident. This time my son was about to go on a five-day school trip overseas. I took the precaution of getting antibiotics just in case things didn't heal up well (didn't want the teachers having the responsibility for a nasty infection). My son forgot to take the antibiotics with him, so for five days it was just him and the mighty Manuka. Back home, I held my breath and crossed my fingers and half-expected he'd come with a gangrenous foot.

                      He was just fine. The Manuka honey (and, to be fair, the seawater) had done the job).

                      I have also applied honey to a nasty boil. It seemed to work well and almost as quickly as anything the chemist or GP might have given me.

                      Other applications have been for sore throats: try it with some lemon juice, but don't get the honey too hot as I have heard this reduces its 'powers'; and for spots, which it gently zaps.

                      Caveat--I would never recommend anyone treat themselves/their family if they are concerned about a serious infection. Get medical help. We are all fit and well, with good immune systems, which is why I've been happy to use the honey.

                      Manuka honey is not cheap. We pay around £15 for our +15 Comvita (currently £18.49 at Holland & Barrett). My husband always winces but I refuse to economise. You get what you pay for. I always have a jar in my cupboard. We have actually also invested in a tube of Manuka cream as well, as it's slightly less sticky and easy to apply and we use it for a range of things, including windburn and sunburn. But for really horrible 'toe incidents' I will probably stick to the jar of honey. I trust it and it hasn't let me down.

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                        01.06.2011 19:07
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                        Dry heels, cracked elbows, dry hands, biscuit- kneecaps: all will benefit from baby bottom butter

                        I have a shameful confession. My dear and wonderful mother offered me a tub of this a couple of years ago and I turned it down. I knew better, of course. Waitrose, Shmaitrose. Like I'd put something designed for posteriors on my skin.

                        Take one large slice of humble pie.

                        I reacquainted myself with the butter about five months ago when we were having a(nother) cold spell. I seemed like almost every part of my skin was feeling dry and crackly. Dry heels. Eczema. A nasty red ring round the mouth in windy weather. Hands like leather (not the good kind, the stuff they use to clean cars).

                        Baby butter is not expensive. We live in difficult times. I use olive oil to clean my face because it's the cheapest thing I can find that is natural and doesn't bring me out in hives. But even I could tip my purse upside down and find the less than three pounds this cost (it's currently £2.54 on Ocado and the same at Waitrose online). I wanted something for my crusty old woman elbows and knees. The label told me the ingredients were olive oil (good), vanilla (yum) and camomile oil (nice). I still don't know what anthemis is but it's in there, too.

                        It certainly smelled good when I got it home and started using it on various dry parts. The butter itself is a light cream colour. The first thing you notice is a heady but not over-the-top smell of vanilla. The camomile is there too but in a more muted form. The butter does have a baby-tone to it: a clean-baby-just-out-of-the-bath aroma which is comforting. To the touch the butter feels quite, er, buttery; that is: it leaves a slight film behind on the skin. Don't panic. It's a good film, not a bad film. I applied it after bathing and the film sealed in all the moisture. And it smelled wonderful. In fact I had to keep sniffing at bits of myself for the rest of the evening.

                        I'd read about grown women putting it on their faces and originally thought that would be a bad idea on my reactive skin. However, when I was on holiday without my usual little flask of olive oil and feeling a bit chapped and sore after a windy winter beach walk I decided to use it like a cleanser. So I massaged it into my skin and used a hot flannel to remove it thoroughly as I didn't want to leave the film on my pores. Next morning I planned on spending the day locked up in the bedroom because of course I'd be covered in a red break-out.

                        Well I wasn't. I don't think I'd get away with using the butter in this too often, but as a one-stop emergency cleanser, especially when your skin is dry and chapped (after a day on the sky slopes, perhaps), it's not bad at all. I'd always want to remove it with the warm face cloth, though.

                        Other things I have used this for: children's chapped and sore faces. Ezcema on children's elbows. Husband's dry skin. But when they pinch the tub I always go and find it and bring it back because it's all *mine* and they can spend their own £2.54s. At the moment I'm trying to get my feet ready for sandals and fit-flops and it's doing sterling duty softening up my heels. I've also just used it as a hand cream and my hands feel almost baby soft.

                        Other things I have thought about using this for: cake icing. Seriously, it does smell great.

                        I've had pot for five months now and I've noticed that if it's warm, the butter slightly separates, with the oil becoming more liquid. I've actually used a teaspoon to mix it back together successfully. But at this price, it's not something I'd complain about. As the months go by the lovely scent is becoming less marked, but that's to be expected.

                        All in all, I'd say this out-performed some other products costing three times as much.

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                          01.06.2011 11:03
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                          Powerful weapon against hayfever

                          I bought the hayfever reliever three years ago to deal with moderate hayfever. We live in a village surrounded by fields of oil seed rape and other allergy nasties and I was finding it increasingly expensive to keep my hayfever under control using anti-histamine tablets and a nasal spray. Not only that, our nearest chemist is an eleven-mile round trip, so if you run out or forget to order before a bank holiday, you can find you're wheezing and sniffing with no relief. And even when they did work the tablets and spray only ever seemed to partially ameliorate my hayfever symptoms.

                          It's worth summarising what bad hayfever feels like. Your head feels blocked. Your eyes water and are puffy. Sometimes the top of your mouth itches. You sneeze all the time. If you're trying to work on something requiring concentration you feel as though there's a large fluffy pillow around your brain. Hell.

                          The Lloyds Reliever was on display in our Lloyds and I bought it on a whim. It cost around fourteen pounds back then (sometimes the price drops during winter, so if you were really canny you could predict your hayfever crisis and stock up on one then). It weights a few ounces and consists of a base unit with a start button and a wire which divides into two small wands. You put one wand up each nostril. Simples.

                          Except for me, to start with, it wasn't. As soon as I inserted the wands my nose would go into spasm and I would start a volley of sneezing. Tickling doesn't begin to describe the sensation. The first year was not a success and it seemed as though the hayfever reliever would be consigned to a drawer.

                          Roll on three years. Loratadine tablets are still pricey and inconvenient for me to get hold of if I run out. I re-discover my reliever in a drawer and decide to try again. This year I refine my method with the wands. Whereas I'd previously jammed them in so that they scraped the sides of my nose, eliciting the sneezing spasm, this year I didn't push them in as far and tried to avoid touching the nostril tissues. I wasn't sure it would work in this position as it didn't seem to accord with what the instruction booklet advised. But it seemed worth a try. You have to keep the wands in place in your nose for a two-minute period (a bleep tells you when you can finish). You do this morning and night at least (sometimes I do it three times a day). During the 'zapping' period you feel a mildly warm sensation. It's not uncomfortable. Ignore anyone who laughs at your red nose. The light therapy created when your nose turns red is nuking the nasty histamine that causes you all the misery.

                          So what have I noticed? My hayfever symptoms are better: not totally gone but much less annoying. I am writing this with a window opening on to an oilseed rape field. My left eye is slightly itchy but it is nowhere near as bad as it has been in the past. I am not sneezing. I don't have an itchy upper mouth. And best of all, I do not feel as though someone has inserted the pillow around my brain. I can think. The effect seems to be somewhat cumulative on me. If I miss a session I feel slightly more snuffly the next day. But we must be coming into peak hayfever time (beginning of June) and yesterday evening I was out on a playground field helping with maintenance. I didn't sneeze once.

                          The Lloyds reliever is definitely worth a try if you are feeling desperate. The design this year seems a little different: the little base unit is more of an egg shape. It still seems to be £14.99 at the time of writing, down from £39.99 (I'm not sure they're ever the supposed full price). To put that in context, at the moment, at Lloyds you can buy 30 Loratadine tablets for £6.85, that is about 22p a pop. Which means that in about 69 days, a summer season, the reliever has worked out as no more expensive than going the medication route. And your next summer would see you in a financial win situation.

                          I've forgotten to mention battery life. That's because I haven't yet had to change the batteries. Not in the three years I've had it. It's still running on the original ones I must have bought then.

                          Just another note: don't use this if you have nasal polyps.

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