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I don't normally write reviews of websites, but felt particularly inspired by this little gem I stumbled across, 'Broken Window Prints'.
I was looking for a present for my best friend's birthday, and wanted to get something a bit more imaginative than smellies or an Amazon voucher for once. She's really into her street art, design and that sort of thing, so I thought a piece of carefully selected artwork would make for a cool present.
What it's all about
'Broken Window Prints' is run, according to the website by a 'nomadic, overly curious and opinionated boy street photographer' and an' easy-going girl designer and illustrator' who produce limited edition prints based on their own studio designs, pencil drawings and street photography. Their own synopsis gives more info than this and reads really nicely, but basically they create very cool artwork in a Banksy-esque vein, some of which is accompanied by a healthy dose of social commentary.
The designers' inspiration comes from the 'Broken Window Theory', which is described thus (apologies for the long quotation, but I don't think I can put it any more succinctly in my own words):
'.... a theorised set of events that fall into place and may happen to a building or neighbourhood after the onset of the first un-repaired 'proverbial' broken window. The deterioration may lead to vandalism, graffiti and further degeneration of the area. The 'Broken Window' theory has not really held true under modern day analysis, as there are many factors that lead to the degeneration of a neighbourhood, but it is often the neighbourhood with the most 'Broken Windows' that has the most graffiti.'
My favourite section of the website is the 'Urban Art Gallery', which is mainly computer-created designs featuring thought-provoking images with some droll humour, and beautiful butterfly pictures filled with slices of colourful graffiti art. It was one of these that I brought for my friend's birthday, and I've since brought one for myself too. I also really love the pencil illustrations section - the drawings are absolutely amazing. They're intricate studies of stunning women, with a kind of character that I've not really seen before in figurative art. The funny thing is that I've never really liked figurative stuff or portraits, but for some reason I can't stop staring at these pictures! The other main section is 'Street photography of graffiti artworks' - this kind of thing isn't so appealing to me, but even through my old-fashioned eyes I can see that it's very cool stuff that a lot of people would 'dig'!
How the Website Works
What I really like about the site is how simple and clear it is - it's not huge and sprawling like so many, and you don't feel overwhelmed by it. It's quite new, I think, so I guess it will expand to an extent. It would be nice to see an even larger selection of work on there, but I prefer quality to quantity anyway. Viewing each artwork is straightforward - just click on it and you get an expanded view which also gives details such as the paper type and how many editions are available, then gives an option to 'Add to cart' with either domestic delivery or international. The photographic prints are £35 or £45 respectively, and everything else is ten pound more. Buying the print was pretty standard stuff -you get taken to a checkout where you can pay in the usual ways, such as Paypal, bankers draft etc. Incidentally, you can pay through Paypal using your card details even if you don't have an actual Paypal account, which I hadn't realised before.
The picture I ordered, one of the 'Butterfly Graffiti' collection, arrived a few days later by recorded delivery in a flat card envelope. The print itself was also in a plastic wallet, and was in perfect condition (all prints are A3 size, from what I can tell). It was signed and numbered by the artist, and there was a Certificate of Authenticity that gave the details of the artwork. I was so impressed with the print, and had second thoughts about giving it to my friend! The colours were vibrant, the design crisp and clean. According to the artist, it was printed on 'heavyweight museum grade archival paper, using quality archival Giclee inks' and more specifically 'Hahnemuhle German Etching'. I'm no expert on this kind of thing, but I did think the paper worked perfectly for the art it supported.
I've since brought a print for myself, and the process went just as smoothly. The prints are gorgeous, and really good value. The website is simple, clear and easy to use. I'd like to see a greater variety of work on there and perhaps more size options but this will probably happen with time. I'm giving it five stars because I love the art so much and the service was great. The negatives can't detract! All in all, a lovely website selling top quality prints.
I brought this toaster mainly because of the way it looks - I am a bit shallow when it comes to my household gadgets and appliances! Although it was expensive at almost £45 in Argos, I thought it would be worth it because it's so unique looking. It has that retro look that reminds me of old 1950's radios and the like. The front and back panels are a shiny deep red colour while the sides and knobs are stainless steel, making for a very stylish look.
The other thing that appealed to me about this toaster is the fact that it has four toasting slots, which is handy if you're making toast for someone else as well as yourself at the same time - you can actually both eat together rather than doing it in batches. That said, some two-slot toasters have long slots that can accomodate two slices of bread in each anyway, so I guess that would have been an alternative option.
What I really like is that each two slices of toast can be set to a different level of browning, therefore accomodating for different tastes. Disappointingly, however, one of these settings doesn't seem to be working now (I've had the toaster 4 months), and is permanently on a low setting. This isn't too much of a problem for me and I haven't bothered exchanging the toaster, but I think if it was stuck on a high setting I might have to return it, as I find these settings are only any good if you like your toast a bit burnt, which I definitely don't.
Apart from this fault the toaster has performed very well - it toasts quite evenly, the slots are chunky enough to fit thicker breads or even bagels into, and there is a simple lever to release the toast early if you're getting impatient. There is also a defrost setting and even a 'reheat' setting which allows you to warm toast up again without it going all stiff and weird. With my old toaster I would tend to just start with a new bit of toast if I was a bit slow with the first, but that does waste bread so I find the reheat option quite useful.
The toaster is quite easy to clean and has a removable crumb tray to aid this. The shiny surfaces, especially the stainless steel, do tend to get a bit mucky but come up nicely with a good wipe over.
Another good thing is the long cord, which means I don't have to try and fit the toaster right by an outlet, where the microwave needs to be.
Overall a very good toaster, especially the funky design, although I was a little disappointed by one of the settings seeming to disconnect after only having the appliance for a few months.
Now this is my kind of product! Cute, pink, girly, faddy and nifty! Not that everything in my kitchen is like this, but I feel that the occasional item to reflect the girly part of my character can only be a good thing. And there is something very girly about making cupcakes (although I'm sure there must be secret male fans out there too).
I'd seen the cupcake maker in Debenhams but thought it a bit expensive, so looked it up on Amazon where it's a fair bit cheaper at £24.99. I think if it's something that's going to get a lot of use (like mine has) then it's well worth the money. Back to the colour briefly - I should mention that it's currently only available in the baby-pink colour shown. This isn't a problem for me, but I know it would put some people off, especially men-folk.
The maker is basically the same as a waffle iron or sandwich toaster except, obviously, it makes cakes instead. But it works in the same quick and efficient way. There's no setting up needed for this appliance, just take it out of the box, give the inside a wipe out and plug it in with the lid closed. There are red and green indicator lights on the front - the red one tells you the machine is plugged in, the green one will go off after a few minutes to tell you it's up to temperature for cooking. Then you add your paper cases to the eight spaces available and spoon in the mixture. Making up the mixture still seems to take me a while so I like to have this done before even plugging the gadget in. Once the mixture is in place - it shouldn't more than half-fill the space because the cakes will rise too much and burn on top - the lid can be closed and held in place with a little latch, like on a toaster. After eight minutes most mixes will be thoroughly cooked, although it's a good idea to test one cake before taking them out as occasionally they need an extra few minutes. So far all my cake have come out perfectly formed and even, something that never seems to happen when I use the oven.
Then you can decorate them however you like.
Helpfully, the gadget comes with a little recipe book of fairly basic cakes to try. This is good to get you started but now I'm going to buy a dedicated cupcake book for some more exciting recipes. As with oven baking, you can add anything you want to the mixture, including fruit, choc chips etc. The cake spaces are a little on the small size, put personally I prefer them like this. The great thing is that a soon as your first eight cakes are cooked and removed, you can keep going with however much mixture you have to quickly make as many cakes as you like. I found this especially useful when I was roped into helping my friend make cakes for a hosiptal fundraising stall she was doing. It just made the whole process so much easier and quicker.
Although fairly bulky - 31.5 x 29 x 10.5cm (W X D X H) - and weighing almost 3kg, I find the appliance easy to store due to its flatish shape, and moving it is easy due to the inbuilt handle shape on one side.
It's also easy to clean, although you do need to leave it to cool for at least 20 minutes, and then simply wipe over the insides with a soapy cloth.
The only real problem for me is the short length of the flex - I have to shift the microwave right out the way so that I can plug this appliance in. So I think the product could be improved by having a longer cord, as well a range of colours to choose from.
Overall I'm very happy with the cupcake maker - it's quick and easy to use and I find the results are much better than for oven made cakes.
Now this is my first ever ice cream maker so although I can't compare it to similar products on the market, I can say at least that the ice cream-making process was a little simpler than doing it manually. I had a gift voucher from Argos and this gadget caught my eye, although I probably wouldn't buy something like this under normal circumstances. It was just under £25.
I'm not a huge ice cream fan myself but my nieces are and always seem to want it when they come round. I thought I may as well practice some different recipes on them, and that getting this gadget would make it easier. It is simple to use - after freezing the main bowl (capacity 1.1 litre) in the freezer for 24-hours, you simply pour your mixture in with the machine on, so that the spatula on the underside of the lid automatically stirs at the same time. Then pop it in the freezer, and the spatual continues to rotate so that the ice cream is kept smooth and chunk-free. Depending on which recipe you choose (there are numerous ones supplied with the product), the ice cream will be ready to eat in half-an-hour upwards. Although the ice cream is very smooth and tasty (and has met with the approval of my nieces), it can come out slightly on the wetside, and sometimes I've just had to put it back in the freezer in a normal container to harden up a bit.
I've got mixed feelings about the maker. On the one hand, it works well, produces nice ice creams, and saves me going to the freezer and stirring all the time, but on the other hand saving me from doing a bit of stirring is not really that much of a big deal - it's not too difficult and I find that it doesn't have to be stirred as often as you're told. Also, the product has the disadvantage of needing to be in the freezer for 24 hours before use - not great for a spontaneous person like me and I don't really have space in the freezer to keep it in there all the time.
But overall I do like the product - it's neat and effective, as well as easy to clean (just a case of taking the lid and spatula off the main bowl). My nieces certainly seem to prefer my icecream these days - I'm just not convinced that the space taken up by the product is justified by its usefulness.
I would never buy a kitchen appliance this expensive myself, but as I was getting married I decided to put it on the list in the hope one of my more generous relatives might decide to purchase it for us! I'd seen some reviews for the Actifry that were generally very glowing, but with a wedding coming up, buying it ourselves just wasn't an option. I think it was around £150 at the time, but is currently available from Barmey for £138.99.
It is expensive, but so far we've been really pleased with the product. Reports of getting the 'best chips ever' have been proven correct! Although I'd say the absolute best chips I've had have been at various restaurants, in terms of cooking at home, the Actify rules. Chips come out golden and slightly crispy, just how I like them, and best of all, only contain 3% fat compared to chips that have been in a deep-fat fryer due to only needing to add a splash of oil during cooking (none is really neccesary for oven chips, but I prefer home made). I did have a deepfat fryer previous to this, and the chips came out so oily that I had to roll them around in kitchen roll prior to eating! In the end we stopped using it because it felt too unhealthy (and I didn't like the weird smell).
The actify is different because it doesn't rely on tonnes of oil to cook with - instead it makes use of superheated air circulated evenly around the container. I guess in this way it's more like a traditional oven, but obviously a lot smaller.
Cooking times are pretty reasonable - about 30 minutes for 'average-sized' chips, a bit quicker for fries. Another great thing about the actifry is that it can be used to cook all sorts of things, not just chips and potato wedges - i.e. meat, vegetables etc. These tend to take a little longer, but considering how nicely thay come out I think it's worth it. A handy recipe book containing 30 recipe ideas is included with the machine, and I've worked fairly successfully through about hall of them.
In terms of ergonomics, the fryer doesn't take up too much room in the kitchen and is well worth the space it does take. It looks very smart in a modern kitchen and is easy to clean (the removable parts can go in the dishwasher). Also, because it uses so little oil, I don't have to spend ages scrubbing at grease stains.
The fryer can cook about 1kg of food, which should be enough to provide small portions for several people. Ideally, I wish it could fit a lot more in there, for tea parties etc, however normally there's only me and my husband using it.
The settings are all very simple and clear, and the transparent lid allows you to check on the food. The lid is, however slightly awkward to fit back into place after removing and I worry about snapping the little plastic clips that hold it on.
All in all a very useful, smart piece of equipment, although I don't know if I'd spend £150 of my own money on it.
Avoid, avoid, avoid! I wish this is what someone had told me before I wasted £15 (ok, I know it's not that bad) on these straightners in Superdrug.
I was lulled by the sleek look and cheap price - they reminded me of something you would see stylists using in hair salons, so I stupidly thought they might work like that too. But no. I'm not sure how these things made it into the shops, as they don't even get hot enough to straighten hair, especially when it's thick and stubborn like mine. I left them to heat up for about ten minutes as instructed, and then tried straightening a small chunk of hair. All that happened was that the lock looked slightly smoother afterwards - but it still turned upwards at the end as if nothing had happened to it at all. I left them to heat up for a bit longer, tried again and eventually gave up. Although I had succeeded in making my hair look presentable enough to go out in public, the results were far below what I would expect and would never be good enough if, for example, I was going on a date. The other thing was that I found some of my hair got caught in the sides of the 'floating' ceramic plates which a) was sore and b) resulted in a not-so-lovely burnt hair smell.
There were no safety features (I always expect this kind of thing to have an automatic turn-off mechanism), other than an indicator light to tell you they were on.
Overall, I don't think the low price and stylish look of the irons compensates for their poor performance. I have since splashed out on some GHDs and the difference is amazing - they get at least twice as hot as the VS880, straighten in one sweep, don't catch my hair, take only ten seconds to heat up and switch off automatically.
I've had my Cookworks breadmaker almost a year now, and on the whole it's been very useful, although I have to say I've been fairly unadventureous with it and mainly stucky to plain breads and sometimes pizza dough. The breadmaker actually has 12 settings though so it provides a lot of options for different types of bread. The 12 settings are: Basic ,Whole Wheat , French ,Sweet ,Fast Bake ,Quick Bread ,Dough (pizza bases) ,Bagel Dough ,Eurpean ,Gluten Free ,Jam and Marmalade ,Bake - and there are also three different crust settings for extra versatility.
Although I've found the machine generally very easy to use - you just plop all the ingredients straight into the bread tin and a blade even kneads it for you - ideally I wish it would cook more quickly. This is just because I'm very impatient though, and want things done yesterday! Most of the settings take around three hours, although there are some Fast options, - I think the quickest is 58 minutes. This is totally acceptable, however I do find the taste on these settings isn't quite as good as the slower ones. That said, if you can be patient and wait the three hours for your bread, you'll be rewarded with perfectly cooked, tasty results that I think the supermarkets struggle to beat. And of course it's totally fresh and you know exactly what's gone into it.
Utility is also enhanced via a very clear LED display on the front of the machine that tells you what's what, and easy to press buttons with time settings. There's also a clear section on the lid so you can see the progress of your bread. In terms of cleaning it's quite simple, as long as you remember to keep the tin and kneading blade oiled to stop bread mixture becoming encrusted on them. Unfortunately the components can't go in the dishwasher, however there's really not that much to wash anyway.
Additionally there's a timer delay button so you can set the machine to start cooking, so for example you've got fresh, warm bread for breakfast the next day. This definitely gives me an extra insentive for getting out of bed in the mornings!
As well as the Breadmaker itself you get a couple of measuring cups to make it even simpler, and a recipe book with lots of different breads included. I find the book isn't always that clear, and have sometimes just used the recipes as a starting point for an idea, which I then improve on with better recipes found on Google.
The machine isn't noisy, although it's fairly bulky (It does provide quite big, tall loaves though - 1.5 and 2lbs in weight). Mine is too big to fit in any of my kitchen cupboards and I use it a lot anyway, so it tends to just stay on the counter jostling for space with all my other gadgets.
I paid around £48 for the Breadmaker in Argos, but I have seen it for many and varied prices since then, so it's definitely worth shopping around.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the efficacy of my latest modern gadget - the Philips HR1861. Having last tried juicers a couple of years ago and been generally disappointed by the mess and clumsy chopping (even with blades breaking on tougher fruit), I was reluctant to fork out again. However, I've been on a health drive this year, and when I got to test out the juicer at my friend's flat I decided it would probably be worth the £79.99 outlay (I paid full-price, but look out for it in sales).
The juicer caught my attention initially because of its funky modern look - I thought it would go well in my kitchen! It does match the stainless steel toaster and kettle perfectly. Apart from being very smart looking, it also works incredibly well. I've been totally won over by how easy it is to make a fresh smoothie from scratch, not even needing to chop, peel, or otherwise prepare the items beforehand. For me this is great, as preparation is a big deterrent to my healthy eating regime! The other great thing is that the 'micro-mesh' filter actually takes out all the yucky bits - seeds, peel etc, so you're just left with lovely smooth, tasty juice. Because the pulp container is a handy 2 litres in capacity, and the 'feeding' tube is very large, you can make quite a bit of juice in one go, and store some in the fridge, rather than just getting enough for one drink (as with other juicers I've had).
In terms of cleaning, all the relevant bits come apart easily and are dishwasher safe. Only down side is occasionally there are some juice drips out of the side of the machine, but really nothing major. The noise is probably less than for most juicers.
Very satisfied with this neat product.
Having noticed my teeth start to yellow a bit as I get older, I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a proper electric toothbrush rather than a manual. I did have a battery-operated brush many years ago but never noticed any superiority over a manual, so this time decided to follow the good advice of reviewers and purchase an electrically rechargeable specimen.
I ordered my Braun Oral-B Professional Care 3000 from Amazon for £47.95 with a slightly heavy heart - I'm only used to paying about 40p for toothbrushes. I was shocked to discover the normal RRP is £99.99! I'd never pay that.
Anyway, so far I've been very pleased with my investment, on the whole. My teeth definitely feel a lot cleaner, and I think they look brighter. The manufacturer promises whiter teeth in 21 days - I've been using this for 4 weeks now and I'd say they are perhaps a little whiter, although not dazzling. Another claim is that this brush removes twice as much plaque as a manual brush - I think this could be true.
The thing I like best about the brush is its versatility as 3 different brush heads are included - precision clean (which I normally use), floss action and 3D white for polishing. The heads are quite small, making it easy to reach the difficult spots, and on the 3D mode the brush moves in several different ways making for a very thorough clean.
Other nifty features include a 'stuttering' sound every 30 seconds to remind you to move onto the next quadrant of your mouth, and a longer sound after 2-mins to signify the end of brushing - 2-mins is the time recommended by dentists (I always thought it was 3?!) Additionally there's a little red indicator light to tell you if you're brushing too hard, although as a gentle brusher anyway I've never seen this warning yet.
Charging the brush is probably the thing I find most annoying about it. I seem to have so many rechargeable items these days I'm constantly tripping over recharging units of some kind! Irritatingly the plug is a two-pin bathroom variety - how many people have plug sockets in their bathroom?! So I have to accommodate the recharging unit in my bedroom with everything else. It also takes quite a long time to charge, and then the battery lasts a week or so. I know other people seem quite pleased with this, but personally I think that if you're only getting 28 minutes of brushing after hours and hours of charging then the product really isn't as energy efficient as it could be.
Additionally the brush heads are fairly expensive - about £3.50 for one - however they apparently last really well - mine is still in great condition after 4 weeks. You can use any Oral B brush head except pulsonic/sonic.
Overall I'm very happy with this brush. I do feel I'm doing the most for my teeth and gums and so far would say the money was worth paying.
Last month I decided to treat myself to something I've been wanting for a long time - a decent espresso maker. For too long I've struggled by with a cranky, clumpy old machine that only produces sub-standard coffee at best.
I wanted a quality gadget, but couldn't afford to pay hundreds, and the Presso was just about in my price range. I was first attracted by the look of it - it's unusual and funky in appearance and I knew it'd look great in my kitchen. I was further intrigued to discover that it's manually operated and doesn't need to be plugged in.
This feature has turned out to be one of its best, as I often have to move things around in my quite small kitchen to make space for cooking etc. Sometimes I just leave the Presso on the living room table, which is extra convenient if I've got guests over. Remember though that you still have to replace the coffee if you want extra shots and also fetch boiling water, so you still have to move around a bit! It's just good that the cordlessness gives some flexibility.
So the other great feature, of course, is the quality of the coffee. It's yum! Now I'm realistic, and won't say it's better than the best beverages I've had in some coffee shops, but it's still better than any other homemade coffee I've had, by a country mile. I find that it works better for cappuccino and americano than for espressos, but that might just be my personal taste.
Another good feature is that you can experiment till your hearts' content - with fresh or filter coffee, with grinding beans, with different strengths etc.
It's also very easy to use - simply place your coffee of choice into the steel filter, reattach it then pour boiling water through the heat-proof cylinder at the top. Then you lift up the lever arms, put your cup in position, then lower the arms back down. This action forces the boiling water through the coffee at high pressure, and, with the addition of a milk frother, leaves you with a perfect cup of your favourite brew!
There's also the option of delivering one shot or two, into two different cups at the same time.
This machine looks great - it's shiny and modern and also quite compact. Even better, it's very quick and easy to clean. I really feel it has slightly improved my whole life, mainly by making mornings more efficient!
There are no big drawbacks with the Presso. It can take a while to learn the best amount of coffee to put in, how fine it should be, how quickly to pull the levers down and that kind of thing, but I think that's all part of the fun experimentation process.
Probably the thing that annoys me most is how this machine is billed as being environmentally friendly as it doesn't use electricity. However, of course, it's impossible to use without boiling the kettle, so I think that's a bit of a thin claim. That said, the kettle boils a fair bit faster than my old espresso machine used to.
In conclusion I'd recommend this product, even for picky coffee aficionados. It's chic, easy, and produces great coffee.
Currently it's £79.99 on Amazon - but I'd suggest waiting for the January sales.
This mini-chopper results from collaboration between TV chef James Martin and appliance manufacturer Wahl, and is one of 14 kitchen gadgets in the range.
Knowing this, I was somehow fooled into expecting a quality little product despite the low price (currently on sale at £16.98 on Amazon).
Sadly I was disappointed. All I was really after was something to make smoothies with, and a bit of help with chopping vegetables when making a proper dinner. In retrospect I wish I'd just got a proper blender, but I was taken in by the small size, neat appearance, low price and celebrity endorsement of the product. I thought it would sit nicely on the counter and not take up too much space - which, to be fair, it does.
However, I've found that the device is only mildly useful at preparing smoothies - it can deal with really soft stuff like bananas if they're already broken up a bit, but if I try to be more adventurous and use something tougher like apple, the blades just jam, or else knock the chunks of food around inside. Similarly, I've found that it really can't cope with any hard vegetables, and softer ones tend to be chopped very unevenly.
Although the product is very easy to take apart and clean, I'm still not sure it's worth the effort for the results it gives. Also, despite the small capacity of the jug (350ml), the base is fairly chunky in comparison, so overall the product is not as compact as I thought it would be.
The positives: Well, it is quite smart and modern looking, as well easy to use. There are 3 settings, which can be selected using a simple control dial on the base. (Unfortunately setting 1 doesn't really seem to do anything). As before, all the parts are detachable and easily cleaned and reassembled - the parts can also be put in a dishwasher. Additionally the machine is not too noisy, and has 3 little rubber feet, which keep it nice and secure on the work surface. Oh, and there's a little James Martin recipe booklet too, although you'll need to buy a proper blender to prepare the dishes!
Overall, not a particularly effective device, unless you stick to a few select ingredients all the time. Not sure whether to blame JM or Wahl for its failings - but it's worth mentioning I did have a USELESS curling tong from Wahl. Am yet to be convinced by this manufacturer.
I received this gift set at Christmas time and have been using it more or less successfully since then.
Although I wouldn't normally be too excited about this kind of gift, I had needed a new kettle for a while and have never owned a toaster, so was quite happy to unwrap smart and stylish examples of both on Christmas morning.
I'm not generally into the stainless steel kind of look, I find that it always seems to be a part of an over-used, modern minimalist décor, but somehow these items looked good in my kitchen and made me feel rather grown-up.
Several months on I still like the look of them but find that I do need to wipe the outsides frequently as they can seem quite smeared. It's also necessary after cleaning to give them quite a rub with a dry cloth to keep them shiny. Apart from this extra bit of effort, I've found the two appliances have worn better than plastic ones I've had before, which can end up looking quite grubby and old despite cleaning.
The kettle is better than the toaster. It sits nicely on its detachable base, has a nice comfortable handle and a lid that pops open easily with the flick of a switch. I've found that the lid sometimes needs a little tap to close it properly now, but that may just be my particular kettle. Like many other kettles you can get about 8 cups of tea from it and it boils around average speed, without too much noise. I know some people have complained about the kettle leaking from the lid when being poured - I do notice a few dribbles but nothing too dramatic. I guess this is a pretty important design flaw of the product though.
The water level gauge is acceptable but does become hard to see sometimes with the condensation. I find that I judge the amount of water more by the weight of the kettle these days.
The toaster is average; to be honest I prefer using a grill. I would agree with other reviewers that the two toasting slots are not really quite big enough for chunkier breads and that toasting tends to be fairly uneven. However I think I've had these same problems with pretty much every toaster I've ever used so don't really feel I can point the finger at Russell Hobbs in particular over this.
As long as you can keep an eye on the bread and turn it around if needed, you can end up with a fairly acceptable piece of toast in a relatively short time.
It's good that the toaster has a defrost function, but I'm a little impatient and normally just use the normal toasting settings.
As the set was a gift I'm not sure the price it was bought at, however I did see it on Amazon a few months ago for around £30. I think it could be found cheaper than this, for example on sale in hypermarkets.
Overall I would say the set is quite reasonable quality for the price. It has minor flaws but I find that kettles and toasters always do.
And I've (almost) been converted to the brushed stainless steel look.
For months I was put off buying this series, as I knew the protagonist's name to be 'Patrick Jane'. Of course, he is simply called 'Jane' a lot of the time by his colleagues. Writers: why oh why give such a handsome man such a girly name? The only possible reason I can think of is that you were trying to make the opposite of a Jack Bauer type character.
Anyway I got over this, and I'm glad I did - his silly girly name seems fairly inconsequential once you've heard it a few times.
Jane's history also deterred me for a while, as I thought it could over-shadow things too much. He used to work as a very successful (fraud) psychic, until carelessly discussing a still-at-large serial killer called Red John one day on a TV chat show, which prompts said killer to viciously murder Jane's wife and little girl. In the aftermath of this heinous crime Jane relinquishes his phoney career and instead hooks up with the police, using his considerable skills at reading and manipulating people to help trap murderers. Of course, he is always hoping to catch up with Red John and wreak bloody vengeance on the monster, and this is the running theme of the show.
The relatively recent double murder and the obvious enormity of it's impact on Jane all but obliterates the opportunity for him to have any romantic liaisons, something which I think is a bit of a shame for a leading man. This absence is not particularly noticeable though, since very little is seen of any of the characters' private lives - quite an unusual situation, I think.
However, contrary to the grief-stricken, embittered, shell of a man I was expecting to see Simon Baker deliver (double homicide is such a downer after all), his portrayal is actually more positive and three-dimensional than that. Although his hurt and vulnerability is obvious to see, he also has a devilish sense of humour and takes a childish delight in simple things, such as building a vast sandcastle on the beach and practicing some playful mind-trickery on his bemused colleagues. In addition, he has little interest in superficial things, living simply, always wearing the same couple of suits and not taking more than he needs, preferring to be generous instead. It is not clear if he's always had these traits - I suspect much of the character we see has developed after his tragedy.
Needless to say, Simon Baker is incredibly attractive in this role, although I still haven't decided whether I want to mother him or jump him. On the one hand he's sweet, smiley and vulnerable, on the other he's hugely intuitive to the point of arrogance sometimes, and can control people without them even knowing what's going on. As a 'mentalist', defined dictionary-like at the beginning of each episode as 'Someone who uses mental acuity, hypnosis and/or suggestion. A master manipulator of thoughts and behaviour' he is required to make a lot of intense eye contact with interviewees. To be honest, I would be happy for now, just to make eye-contact with him. Marriage would follow later.
The supporting characters are, as I've noticed with many modern TV dramas (see 'House', 'Criminal Minds', 'Life'), pretty nondescript, weak even. Maybe they're only there to make the star shine more brightly. Even the female lead, Agent Lisbon, seems to have no personality besides her basic police detective façade. That said, Robin Tunny is very believable in the role, even having her hair pulled up in a split-ends garnished ponytail, when called for.
The short-term story lines are fairly interesting, usually enough that I'm not too distracted by Jane's watery support cast - Lisbon, two bland guys and a gorgeous yet plain female newby, the oddly named 'Grace Van Pelt'. The only point of interest amongst this bunch is a developing attraction between Grace and one of the guys. Sadly it's not exciting. To be fair you do get more of a sense of the characters in later episodes, but they turn out to be mainly comedic. I feel they would benefit from being a little more gritty and realistic.
The team are actually the CBI - "Californian Bureau of Investigation" as they have to explain to people every time they rock-up at a murder scene. The murder mysteries are fairly standard for this type of show - I can usually pick out the culprit pretty much from inception by choosing the most unlikely character - e.g. angelic daughter, grieving widow, friendly village-idiot who you can guess will undergo a Keyzer Soze style transformation at the end of the episode and reveal himself to be the killer.
My biggest gripe with this show is that the storylines do tend to become rather repetitive and predictable.
Jane notices the little oddities in the characters' behaviour, uncomfortable body language etc, and stares at them intently to see if they're lying. People often mistake his intuition for psychic skills. While entertaining, some of it's a little obvious and I find that I can pick stuff out just as well, and I'm not a mentalist (some of my friends might beg to differ). That said, I think it has been filmed that way so the viewer can follow what's going on and understand some of Jane's actions without him having to explain every little thing to his colleagues. It also means you can feel all smug when you get things right.
I don't think psychology or behaviour are really explained here any more than in similar shows such as 'Cracker'. However, it's undeniably the case that Simon Baker is much easier on the eye than Robbie Coltrane. I know I'm shallow, but I don't care. I want TV that looks good as well as holds my interest.
Although generally satisfying and entertaining, I'm not sure this show would keep me hooked if it wasn't for Simon Baker. Not just because he's handsome and beguiling (honestly), but because of the humour, charm and subtlety he brings to an otherwise mediocre drama. Previous credits for this actor include 'Home and Away' and 'The Devil Wears Prada' - big names, but unfortunately for him, only lightweight roles. 'The Mentalist' has finally given him the opportunity to create a character, which he does to great effect.
This gripping series revolves around the work of the Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU), a fearsomely perceptive team of FBI agents who also happen to be master psychologists and profilers. They have their own plane and travel to the location of heinous crimes - generally murders - to assist the clueless bods of the local law enforcement with the investigation.
But don't assume that this is yet another formulaic cop show where someone gets murdered and then the smart detectives spend the rest of the episode catching the bad guy. Well, it is a bit like that I suppose, but only on the surface, for 'Criminal Minds' really knows how to mix things up and create the kind of tension I normally associate with all-action fare such as '24', or 'Dexter'.
The team is led by Agent Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) a solemn but good-hearted guy, who, at the beginning of series 1, returns to the unit from an extended period of sick leave following a disastrous 'mission' which left 6 of his agents dead. The damaged, wizened leader is assisted by 'Hotch' (Thomas Gibson), an equally serious, straight and no-nonsense character with years of experience under his belt. Agent Morgan (Shemar Moore) is younger and a little more light-hearted. I presume he's supposed to be the male totty, but he has that kind of look that makes me think that if he weren't an actor, he'd be working in a mobile-phone shop. You know the sort.
The cool, calm and collected Elle Greenaway (Lola Glaudini) has a background in sex crimes, which often comes in useful for the profiling of suspects, while JJ (AJ Cook) is 'the pretty one' who deals mainly with media relations. Youngest member of the team is Dr Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), who sometimes gets ribbed by the others for his youthful appearance, lack of social skills and tendency to spout his encyclopedic knowledge at every opportunity. This character irritated me a little at first as I felt that it was a total rip-of of Zac in 'Bones' (i.e. genius office geek, loveable but lacking social skills). However he does come into his own a little more as the series progress and I have warmed to him - I just wish he'd cut his hair and stop looking so ill.
The team are assisted by computer boffin Garcia, a larger-than-life blonde floozy type, who flirts with mobile-phone-shop boy and seems to over-estimate her charm. She still irritates me.
I said earlier that the show mixes things up and creates a lot of tension, and I think one of the ways it does this is to set the storyline over a very short time period, often just a few hours, to cultivate a sense of urgency. There is always some race against time - for example someone has been kidnapped and will be killed very soon if not found, or someone is initiating arson attacks at an alarming rate.
The BAU must identify the 'unsub' (unidentified subject) and help the police track him/her down as soon as possible. They do this by critically analysing crime scenes and evidence to develop a highly accurate profile of the suspect, and predict what the next move might be. I know all crime shows do this, but in 'Criminal Minds' it tends to have a much greater depth and involve highly engaging conversation between the characters as they delve into their extensive knowledge of criminal behaviour to gain understanding of the present situation. My one little gripe here is that sometimes they speak a little fast (and mutter a bit), such that I can't always keep up with the volume of ideas and information presented. It may just be that my brain ticks over a little too slowly - I experience the same problem when watching 'House'. Generally though, I usually feel that I'm learning something, always a bonus.
There is very little of the teams' personal lives presented, and I must say the characters are not particularly exciting. Initially I thought this would make it difficult to stick with, until I realised how captivating the storylines were, enough to fill an episode with quality content by themselves. In fact, by the end of an episode I feel as I've just watched a movie.
I would like to see some more chemistry developing between the characters - their interactions are just a little bit too 'professional' - and I hope this will emerge in series 2.
Be warned - although the actual violence is not usually too explicit in this series, there are plenty of gory crime scenes. This adds to the gritty reality of the show so I can't really complain. I tend to just let my eyes glaze over a bit when something yucky is on the screen, then tune back in when the characters start saying interesting stuff. Incidentally I've realised that pretty much everything I'm watching at the moment revolves around murder......hmmm.
The last small criticism I have is that sometimes the team has an epiphany about a fact that really isn't that mind-blowing - i.e. they'll have a super-important realisation that I thought was pretty obvious, such as 'This murder can't have been committed by Whatshisname, it must have been a COPYCAT'. Duh. Maybe I really am watching too many crime shows....
On the whole though, there are a lot of interesting insights. I'd love to know whether a team such as this in real life would have the same level of accuracy and efficiency. I doubt it.
The only real moment of calm in this show comes when the team are relaxing on their plane as they fly back to the Quantico Headquarters (a real place I think) in Virginia. There'll always be a shot of the plane, then the voice of one of the characters reading some fitting philosophical quote. Rather than being cheesy, I find this to be a nice-touch that is quite thought provoking. I'll finish with one of my favourites that I think is applicable to many of the series' plot lines, and is courtesy of Confucius:
"Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves".
'Taking Lives' is the kind of film that, for me, epitomises the label 'average' In this case it's a real shame since the opening sequence of the film promises so much more, as does the dramatically illustrated DVD case and all-star cast.
But after the first few exciting scenes, the action begins to fall a little flat, never really managing to revive the initial sense of fear and intrigue. Instead it nestles comfortably into the formulaic rut of so many other serial-killer movies, except with shoddier police work.
The film starts proper with FBI profiler Illeana (Angelina Jolie) arriving to help solve a gruesome murder in French Canada, much to the delight of one male detective, and the predictable consternation of another. Jolie is probably the first real issue I have with the film - she's a reasonable actress but I can never believe in her characters. I think it's because she's just too ridiculously good-looking to be anything other than a Hollywood star. I have the same problem with Catherine Zeta Jones, and normally avoid the films of these two actresses. Additionally, Jolie simply looks too young for the role.
Illeana's first job is to interview the murder witness, an art dealer called Costa (Ethan Hawke, the only actor in the film that seems interested in his role), who has an air of suspicion around him for a while, although it is soon dismissed by the cops (not so easily by the viewer, and it's hard to say whether this is intentional).
As the investigation progresses and it becomes clear that the killer's main motive for murder is wholesale identity theft of the victim, the team learn more about the suspect through talks with his mother, and rather superficial profiling observations by Illeana. Costs is kept in the story by the emerging threat posed to him by he killer, allowing Illeana to develop feelings for him as you know she will.
I find much of the rest of the film a little hazy. It seems composed of dreary scenes centred on the cops talking/Illeana and Costa talking and the tiresome antagonism between Illeana and Paquette (Olivier Martinez), punctuated by bursts of action where an attempt is made to catch the killer. It's quite frustrating to watch the team let him slip through their fingers on several occasions, almost as if nobody can quite be bothered. Illeana and Costa finally give into their passion in a rather plastic sex-scene, before the tempo of the action actually rises a notch towards the end and even leads to an-almost surprising finale.
Other than the ending, nothing else in the film caught me by surprise or made me care about the characters.
Although I have been quite negative about the film, I have given it 3 stars since, all things considered, it is reasonably entertaining if you don't expect too much. The actors are nice to look at - particularly Martinez - which always earns brownie points in my book, the setting is atmospheric and there is some interest in wondering how things might turn out between Illeana and Costa.
The murders themselves are on the boring side, if quite gory, but the way in which the serial killer chooses his victims is of greater interest and originality.
Perhaps the real problem I have with this film is the fact that I'm used to watching great TV series such as 'The Mentalist', 'Bones' and 'Criminal Minds' where you get a good story, drama and humour all woven expertly together in the space of 40 minutes. I felt that 'Taking Lives' offered much less but in double the time.
Just as an aside......I think the DVD cover is testament to the success of Keifer Sutherland - he is pictured much more heavily than Ethan Hawke despite having a much smaller role. Personally I would have liked to see more of him, especially as then I could have pretended I was watching '24'.