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After our cheap vacuum cleaner finally bit the dust (sorry) after three years of use (or non-use, depending on which housemates lived there at the time), I decided to do a bit of research before choosing the next one. What I really wanted was a Dyson or one of the Samsung robot cleaners, but pushed for budget and with a house that seems to be shrinking in size every day, I needed a small hoover at a decent price.
To provide a bit of background, our house has laminate flooring downstairs and wood floors upstairs with the exception of the bathroom and kitchen which are lino. The only carpet in the house is thin, poor quality stuff on the stairs which is desperate need of replacing. We have three cats, one of which shreds a tremendous amount of white fur, so we needed something strong and hardy enough to cope with pet hair as a priority. For this reason I initially looked at the Dyson Animal hoover, a handheld which my parents own and which is advertised as being particularly good for pet hair. Having used it at their house a few times I was quite impressed, but with a price tag of nearly £200 it was way out of my budget.
Browsing Amazon I came across the Black & Decker VH780 which seemed to fit the bill. Initially I wasn't sure whether it would be able to cope with a whole house, being described as a mini dustbuster and weighing in at only a couple of kilos, but I decided to take the risk. It's got great reviews on Amazon and DooYoo, which is always a good sign, and when it arrived it didn't disappoint.
Looks and packaging
The picture above makes it look a lot more blue than it is; in the flesh I'd describe it as a deep purple with a shiny (not metallic) finish. This model isn't available in other colours at the time of writing this review, which is a shame because I'd much prefer it in black.
It arrived in a small box, and is quite easy to carry around (if you were intending to lug it back from the shops or pick it up from the post office). The vacuum itself is a bit heavier than it looks, but even when I accidentally dropped in on the laminate floor it didn't scare the cats. When it runs they just stare at it from a distance with really wide eyes (compared to our old hoover where they'd run outside immediately if I even went near it).
What you get
The box is the right size for the product, which is fantastic as there's no wasted packaging, and also means that it doubles up as a place to store the vacuum when not in use. There's a cardboard insert and the body of the vacuum came in a plastic bag, both of which I removed for recycling. Inside the box, you get the body of the hoover with attached plug and pre-fitted filters, a fairly cheap but practical black bag with 'Black and Decker' on it, a short instruction booklet and a variety of nozzles and tubes. The black bag handily stores all the attachments if you're worried about the dirt or parts getting lost.
There are so many attachments that I did find it quite overwhelming to start with! The instruction booklet is mainly made up of diagrams with numbers and letters on them, which to be honest I find quite confusing. There are written instructions in the back which refer to the diagrams in the front which made things slightly better, but I did feel it could have been explained and organised a little better even though admittedly they do have several languages to accommodate. What you need and attach depends on what you want to use the hoover for, although as a rule you'll need to pull down a small 'door' of plastic at the front of the hoover to insert your chosen attachment.
The attachments included are:
3 grey nozzles which each taper to a point (they look like the nozzles on glue bottles but bigger). These are used for inflating - yes, this hoover can also be used as a pump to blow up air beds, paddling pools and similar - fantastic!
2 metal poles - Attached together you have a firm tube with which you can use the hoover like a full size pull along hoover.
3 different sized and shaped purple attachments which fit onto the end of the metal pole for covering larger/smaller areas (probably good for cars as well).
2 grey attachments, again with slightly different shaped ends, which can be fitted to the main body of the hoover for direct hand-held hovering which is extremely powerful.
A reasonably wide purple 'foot' (sorry, no idea what the technical term is!) printed with the Black & Decker logo, which is designed to be used with the metal pole attachment and is basically a rectangular piece of plastic with a small black brush fringe underneath for picking up extra dirt, as you'd see on a typical hoover.
To be honest there are more attachments than most people will need, but this hoover really does have something to suit everyone and any type of cleaning.
Once I'd got used to the attachments, it was actually pretty easy to work out when is best to use each. Switching the vaccum on and trying it, I was extremely impressed with how powerful is it. At 2000 volts it's far stronger than my previous vacuum and will lift the lino up slightly in the bathroom (carpet and other floor types seem to have no effect in this regard thank goodness!). It cleans extremely well, and it's bagless so less maintenance there too. It can cope with cleaning several rooms, which I'm very impressed by, and there's an indicator on the side to announce if it gets clogged. With the amount of hair and fur in our house, as well as dust from the wooden floors, I'm impressed that this vacuum far surpasses our previous one despite its small size and copes equally well with all floor types. It doesn't need emptying as often as you'd think and because it's so easy to handle emptying it into tall bins is much easier than with a full size hoover.
Advantages and disadvantages
The fact that this vacuum can be used in so many different ways is a real advantage; you don't need separate products for inflating, hovering and cleaning your car as this does all three!
The other huge benefit is a really long cord (I'd estimate it at about six foot), which means that cleaning the stairs or the bathroom where plug access is difficult, is made a lot easier.
Cleaning the stairs without having to lug and position a heavy hoover is a major plus for anyone. This Black and Decker doesn't have a place to store the cord inside and it's recommended in the instructions that you wrap it round the hoover when not in use. At first I was slightly annoyed that it didn't store neatly away, but to be honest I now think it's an advantage as the cord just sits when you leave it and you aren't forever pulling more cord out or accidentally pulling along extension leads as I always seem to do!
Having used both the Dyson Animal handheld and this, I would opt for this Black and Decker every time unless you're desperate for a cordless hoover. Although the Animal holds more, it's much louder, not as powerful, much heavier, requires a lot of charging and is far more expensive.
I'd recommend this hoover to anyone looking for a reliable vacuum for a smallish house, a second home or caravan, or for car/stair cleaning. As it has so many uses, is lightweight, takes up very little space, can inflate as well as hoover, looks good, the noise is reasonable AND it's priced at a very reasonable £40, I really can't complain. This is one of the best products I've used in a long time and I can't give it anything other than five stars.
I've stocked up on quite a few Yankee Candles recently, and one of the wax tarts I purchased was Pink Sands. Testing them out in the shop I was immediately drawn to Pink Sands because it smells a lot stronger than most of the other scents Yankee Candles offers in wax tart form, and I really liked the scent. I've been put off buying several scents that I quite like as I feel they're better designed for bathrooms and utility rooms, but Pink Sands is one of those scents which is really suited to any room I think. I burn my candles in the living room to rid the house of the smell of cat, so it's important that the candle does this job effectively but doesn't give us a headache.
Pink Sands is unsurprisingly pink in colour, but it's a soft baby pink. I'm not sure this suits the scent very well as just by looking at it you'd probably think that it's a subtle gentle smell. In fact it's got quite a sharp fruity tone to it, but it smells fresh too and there are different layers of scent which are noticeable as you continue to burn and smell the candle.
Yankee Candles are available in a range of forms, including tea lights, glass jars and votives all at varying prices. I purchased the Pink Sands wax tart for around the £1 mark from a Hallmark shop, but you can buy the candles online if you can't track them down locally. The wax tarts have no wick, so you will need a suitably sized burner and a tea light. Simply put the tart in the top of the burner and light the candle underneath. As with all candles, you shouldn't leave this burning unattended at any time.
I was very impressed with Pink Sands, because within just a couple of minutes of burning I could smell a gorgeous fruity lemonade type of scent. It's definitely one of the stronger scents and the smell of cat disappeared almost straight away. I burned it for two whole tealights, so about 6 or so hours, and the smell had faded only slightly. I'm very impressed with the longevity as I think it will last for several more hours yet. Once the tea light has been blown out, the smell lingers for a couple of hours before dispersing. I should mention that the lower floor of my house is pretty open plan and we always keep the conservatory windows open, so you might find the smell lasts longer in your own home environment.
I'm very glad I purchased two of the Pink Sands wax tarts at the same time because this is my favourite Yankee Candles scent to date. The colour could be brighter and the name a little more reflective of the strong fruit scent, but overall I'd highly recommend this and rate it five stars.
Photoshop has been an industry-standard graphics editing program for as long as I can remember. It's kind of like the iPhone of the software industry...although there are no 'killers' that come anywhere close to being as good.
Photoshop, despite its name, isn't just for photos. You can do practically any kind of image creation and editing in it, which is one of the reasons for its hefty price tag. CS4 isn't the latest version; the current version is CS5, and the release cycle is every 18 months or so. At the moment you can buy Photoshop CS4 from Amazon for £475, with CS5 clocking in at a hefty £700. This isn't a 'I'll give it a go and see what I think' kind of purchase (trials are available if you're looking for that), but a professional grade editing and creation tool. If you're on a budget, then Photoshop Elements is pretty amazing for the much cheaper price of around £50 (even the people at Adobe say that this is an absolute bargain, considering).
To get the cheapest legal copy of Photoshop that you can, find somewhere that offers student discount (and get a student if you need one!) and then make sure you upgrade in the small window between versions where they offer existing customers a much cheaper upgrade.
Unless you're a designer or a web creative, you're probably going to be underwhelmed when you open up the software. Adobe CS4 has stricter piracy procedures in place than previous versions, and will check to see if it's a legitimate version every time you open the software. This does add valuable seconds to the start up time, and unless you have a plenty of RAM, you'll probably want to minimise the other programs you have open whilst you're running Photoshop, especially if you're working with high resolution images.
Once loaded, you'll get a grey screen with toolbars on the left and right, and a row of menus above. CS4 has a kind of built in tabbing effect, which means when you open or create images, they'll appear next to each other and you just click the tabs to navigate between them, or close them or save them as you wish.
Each version of Photoshop builds on the previous version, which means that a lot of features stay the same or have minor additions, and then you have a series of new features on top of that. This is great for people who work with different versions of the software or are upgrading from an earlier version as it means you don't have to 'relearn' the software and the placement of the tools from scratch. There are plenty of books available on learning Photoshop, and plenty of videos and written tutorials available for free online too. The best thing you can do though, is just familiarise yourself with the program on your own. Simply open a photo or other image and play around with all the effects on offer. Once you have an understanding of how you can adjust your images, and use layers and masks, then you can move on to more complicated effects. All you really need is a lot of time and some patience. I'd recommend avoiding some of the amazing examples of things you do can with Photoshop (particularly advanced tutorials) as you'll quickly feel frustrated and out of your depth.
Some examples of tools (and consequent effects) include:
- The crop tool - A basic tool to make your images smaller and remove bits. This tool is found in all image editing programs, and even things like MS Word.
- The selection tool - You can select text, parts of images and whole images with this to do things like remove backgrounds from images, create borders, and copy and paste images.
- Various text effects - You can do things like make your text 3D, add shadows, add different colours, create textured text and much more.
- Colour picker - Using this dropper you can identify the exact name/number of a specific colour within your image so you can use it elsewhere.
- Grid tool - Use this to align different layers on an image, to position things accurately, find dead centre of an image and so on.
One of the things I love about Photoshop is that there are so many things you can add to it. There are plenty of brushes you can download from the internet to give you lots of design shortcuts. You can use all the fonts on your computer in your images. You can also make use of patterns and textures to add to your images.
Photoshop supports a huge range of file types, so you can save your images as the standard .gif, .jpg, .png, and hundreds more. The only one I've ever missed is .ico, as Photoshop CS4 doesn't support that particular format.
There are plenty of cheap and free alternatives to Photoshop, but anyone who says they are 'just as good' clearly hasn't used (or needed to use) Photoshop to its full potential. It's got a hefty price tag but there's nothing quite like it. If you're a light user try Elements first because it's so much cheaper, but if you're a designer or a photographer then Photoshop is essential, and CS4 is a great option because it has almost the same functionality as CS5 for a lot less money.
A few years ago when we moved into our house, we had an extremely hot bout of weather. My house doesn't have the best insulation, and once the conservatory gets warm the entire place just gets unbearably hot. So off we headed to B and Q to get a fan.
Unfortunately everybody else in the same area had the same idea, and by the time we got to B & Q, there was very little choice. I'd wanted to buy a small desk fan, but the only fans they had left were huge. I couldn't wait any longer or try any other shops, so in the end I picked up this Bionaire fan for £50. I can see it's gone up in price since then, but I can't see it ever needing replacing so it's pretty good if you have the space.
One point to note is that this fan doesn't have a stand and the height can't be adjusted except by placing it on something such as a table. It's large in size, and pretty heavy as it's metal, so not ideal for transporting. I can carry this on my own for a few paces, but you wouldn't want to be carrying it on your own or down some stairs, particularly if you're not strong. It has a small metal handle on the back which is secure enough to carry it by.
The other thing to mention is that this fan is incredibly powerful. I set it up in my lounge, and it's strong enough to blow the canvas prints I have off the wall from a distance of a metre (and a height difference of around 2 metres). For this reason these fans work well in the gym; I've noticed them recently as my local gym and they are used in the advanced spinning classes to keep the cyclists cool. My cats absolutely refuse to walk past the fan when it's on (from any distance), which is useful if you need to do any animal herding.
The fan has three different settings, none of which are particularly mild. I'd say that the lowest setting is probably close to twice as strong as your average standard desk fan. For this reason, you're going to be cold within minutes of sitting in front of this fan in anything less than a pair of jeans and a thick top (unless you're exercising of course).
The fan can be angled simply by pushing the top back (which angles it up) or pulling it forward (which angles it down). It's easy enough to do, and it angles enough to blast cold air onto your ceiling if you wish. You can't angle it left or right; to do this you have to move the whole fan.
I have no idea how much electricity this fan uses, but I imagine it's a large amount, which puts me off using it quite a bit. However, it's so powerful that walking in on a hot day and simply turning it on for five minutes is enough to cool you down. If you want to pretend you're in an advert or on a photoshoot with your hair streaming behind you, you can do that too.
Would I recommend this fan? Well, it's not been nicknamed 'The Beast' in our house for nothing! It's probably not best suited to the home environment unless you like being freezing cold all the time and don't care about your electricity bill. It's still going strong after five years and it's a good fan, but be aware you need space to store it and small animals will literally be blown away.
On a recent trip the The Body Shop to pick up a comb and shampoo, I was advised by the friendly assistant that I qualified for a free pot of their Hair Butter because I was buying the shampoo. Never one to turn down a free gift, I had a quick check of the ingredients to make sure they didn't include parabens (they don't), listened to the girl's explanation of how to use it, and then happily took it home. The assistant had been really enthusiastic about how great the product was, and whilst I do prefer to keep my hair washing as simple as possible, I decided to give it a try.
The pot I got was a 50ml plastic tub, which retails at around £3. I thought this was really good value for The Body Shop, particularly as you only need to use a nut-sized glob at a time. I estimate that if you used it 4 or 5 times per week, which is probably a little excessive, it would last for at least a month.
I love The Body Shop's Rainforest shampoo, which is the same range as this hair butter, though I'm less than impressed with the conditioner that they do (which is extremely thick and almost the consistency of slightly melted spreadable Lurpak rather than a liquid conditioner). Thankfully, the hair butter is a bit less thick but still of a more suitable consistency for butter. It's a white kind of colour - not dark enough to be cream but not quite light enough to be actual white either. I wasn't struck by the smell; it doesn't smell anywhere near as nice as the shampoo and is quite artificial and 'busy' when you first smell it. It's got floral and citrus hints it in which don't mesh well together at first sniff. However, in small quantities it's ok after a couple of minutes.
The instructions say to massage into wet hair and leave for five minutes, so it's kind of like a hair mask. My hair is pretty normal, slightly bordering on greasy, and this butter is for dry hair to add moisture. For some reason you can only buy the butter in moisture or coloured hair formats, and since I don't have coloured hair I chose the moisture one.
Because you're only supposed to use a tiny amount, I didn't really feel this made much of a different to my long hair, and it didn't make my hair feel smoother straight away like a conditioner does. I did try using more the next time I used it, but even watering it down a tiny bit had no real effect other than making my hair look greasy.
Normally I wash my hair every other day, and have done for years (ever since I started washing my hair myself when I was a kid!). I've never had a shampoo or hair product that makes my hair greasy the next day, but this hair butter does even after using only a small amount. My head feels slightly itchy the next day after using it, my hair feels limp and lifeless, and I'm annoyed that I have to wash my hair again. To put it into perspective, if I go without washing my hair for four days, that's how my hair feels after using this hair butter. If I use a tiny bit and completely avoid my roots, then it just doesn't have any effect at all. My hair is easy to brush, but I rather think that's because of my new tangle comb rather than this hair butter.
I would recommend avoiding this even if you like The Body Shop's Rainforest range. The tub is nice, it's easy to use, the smell I can get used to, but as a product it's unfortunately pretty rubbish. Only worth trying in a free sample or £3 50ml size if you've got extremely dry hair.
I bought my first Yankee Candle wax tarts at the weekend in an attempt to get rid of the smell of cats and paint in my house. I previously bought some scented (Orchid and Coconut) candles from Sainsbury's, but the smell was practically non-existent, so I decided to go for something a bit more expensive. Obviously I'd read lots of good reviews of Yankee Candles on DooYoo, and at just over £1 per wax tart, I decided to pick out a few. House of Fraser currently have 30% off selected candles, so I ended up purchasing four wax tarts, one of which was this Fruit Salad scent.
I'd been advised that wax tarts last up to eight hours, and that you need some kind of decent oil burner to melt them as they don't have a wick of their own and will need to be heated via a tealight. If that sounds like too much hassle for you, you can also purchase Fruit Salad in the form of tealights, votive and glass jars, all at varying prices from under £1 to over £20.
The Fruit Salad scented candle is a pale orangey/yellow in colour, and the wax tart is disc shaped with softly serrated edges to create the impression of a tart. Initially I broke it in half and placed one half in my burner; however, it melted a lot faster than I expected so I ended up using the whole thing. I'm not convinced about it lasting eight hours, but after six hours there's still a small amount of candle left to burn, and the scent had filled my living room after about fifteen or so minutes after I lit the tealight.
I find it really difficult to describe smells, but I'd say that Fruit Salad has a fresh, and unsurprisingly fruity, smell. I had some people round for a BBQ at the weekend and reviews were mixed - one friend really liked it, a couple of people weren't particularly keen on the smell, and someone else suggested that it was like fruit salad flavoured Starburst sweets. So on one hand it's not the most 'natural' of scents, but on the other it must smell quite like fruit salad for my friend to be able to guess it first time! The scent isn't unbearably strong; I think we'd all have been happy to leave it burning for the full length of time without thinking that it was too strong or even headache-inducing. I also like the flexibility of this scent as it would work well in any room of the home, unlike some of the other Yankee candle scents like Clean Cotton, which lend themselves more to utility rooms and bathrooms.
The smell is fairly strong and all cat and paint related odours have completely disappeared. I wouldn't say that the scent lasts significantly for more than three to four hours after burning in our house - we've had the door open quite a lot, BBQ smells and lots of people to interfere with it as well though - but I'm extremely impressed at how well it works after using various air fresheners and other scented candles which have just had no effect. I like my home to smell nice and as much as I love my cats I don't want to be hit with the smell of them or their food when I walk through the door, and as this candle is so effective at eliminating (or masking) smells I'm sure I'll be buying a lot more in the future. Apparently I'm not the only person who feels this way because there was a big gap on the shelves in House of Fraser where most of the Fruit Salad scented candles were missing - more so than any other scent - so I have no hesitation in recommending it to you. The only disadvantage is that it doesn't seem to permeate into adjoining rooms at all, even in a small house with the connecting doors left open, and the scent doesn't last as long as I'd like for the price.
I'm slowly replacing things in my kitchen - I really need a new kitchen, but that's beyond my budget right now - and one of the things on my list was a new bin. When we first moved in about five years ago, we ended up buying a cheap set of plastic dish drainer and bin; the drainer's life ended years ago but I never got round to replacing the bin.
Brabantia bins are well-known for being expensive and high quality. I did look at the Simple Human range too, but the reviews were quite as good and they aren't a brand I'm as familiar with. As my parents have a Brabantia bin at home and we also have them at work, I knew they are good.
The bin I chose was advertised as a 30 litre brushed steel touch top bin. In fact, when I got it, it had a sticker under the lid saying 25-30l, which I would say is more accurate. Brabantia do bins in quite a few sizes, from small kitchen and bathroom bins to 50 litre+ bins, which I would say would be suitable for families of 6+, or perhaps slightly smaller families that do no recycling at all. The 25-30l bin is a little on the small side for our household (four humans and three cats), even though we recycle quite a lot of stuff. I'd say the bin goes for about 5 days before it needs to be emptied - our old bin was once a week. However, this bin has a bit of a different shape to the 40l and 50l ones; it's tall and thin, which makes it ideal for our tiny kitchen, although it does take a bit of time to get used to, especially as it appears to get fuller quicker at first (my spacial awareness is rubbish).
The bin is available in shiny chrome or brushed stainless steel; I chose brushed because I thought it would require less cleaning, and whilst it's gained a few fingerprints, it looks fine considering I've not cleaned it in over a month. The lid is black plastic, but it does look quite smart. I've read a few reviews about people having problems with the catch, but I haven't experienced this at all at home, work or my parent's house. We do use the mechanism fairly frequently - all four of us use the bin multiple times a day and we often have visitors around too. I do like the touch top design of the bin; you simply press down lightly on the front of the lid and it pops up, and then you repeat again to close. Pedal bins are more hygienic, but I find them awkward to use and they are especially awkward in small spaces. I also like the fact that the bin lid doesn't get as dirty as my old bin, which had a swing lid. There's no food or dried stains to have to clean off the lid all the time, so it stays fresh and smart. I can't smell the bin after a few days the way I could with my old bin, so that's a huge advantage for me.
Brabantia bins are designed to take Brabantia refuse sacks, but I just use regular black bin bags without a problem. As the bin has an inner plastic bin inside, I just pull that out, put the bin bag in, and then replace the inner bin, being careful to tuck down the excessive plastic of the bag so it's not visible when the lid is on. I do find that it can be a bit of a struggle to get a full bin bag out of the bin sometimes, and I think this is due to its long, thin shape rather than anything else. However, it really depends on what you put in the bin and how often you empty it; I prefer to squash down the rubbish as much as possible to fit more in there.
I bought my bin from Amazon for just over £50; I believe it was a return as it was described as 'like new' rather than new, and was an order fulfilled by Amazon Warehouse rather than just Amazon. I've had no problems with it so can only assume it was an unwanted present or was considered to be too small/big.
However, it didn't come with the free pack of Brabantia refuse sacks which usually come with brand new purchases. As the RRP of the bin I bought is around the £100 mark, I believe they are pretty expensive for what is, at the end of the day, a plain bin, although they do include a ten year guarantee. For that reason I'd recommend buying online from Amazon or another store offering a substantial discount.
Brabantia also offer bins which are designed to open automatically via a sensor, which sound like a good idea except for the fact that people walk past our bin constantly (that and they are closer to £200). I don't expect to have to replace this bin in at least the next ten years, so it's a good investment for me. The shape means we've freed up more space in our kitchen, so we can now get our clothes out of the washing machine more easily and there's even space to put another one next to it for recycling should we choose to.
Overall, I would recommend the 30l brushed stainless steel bin if you can get it for less than the RRP.
Whilst I love almost everything about Italy, I've never studied the language before and I decided, just before my recent trip to Rome, that it was about time to start learning. I'm not great at languages and I studied German in school, so I wanted something quite light and fun to start picking up a few words. So I decided to buy this Usborne book, aimed at children - The First Thousand Words in Italian.
I bought the paperback for around £5 on Amazon, and it arrived with a nice glossy cover and good quality pages. It's a pretty large book - much taller and wider than your average paperback, so it's not ideal if you actually want to take it on holiday with you. It's also not the kind of thing you want to be reading in public unless you're accompanied by a small child!
The format of the book is very simple; there are plenty of double page spreads with a scene on each, then at the end of the book you get an index and a pronunciation guide, as well as some very brief notes about grammar (when to use 'il' etc.). Each double page spread has brightly coloured pictures and a setting such as a park, street, kitchen or similar. There is plenty to talk about in the pictures, and of course the typical Usborne duck needs to be found on every page - a somewhat welcome distraction!
Around the edge of each double page is a thick white border which has some smaller images - for example, on the zoo page there are various animals around the edge. Under each animal is the word for it in Italian. The basic premise is that you locate the animal (or other object) in the big picture in the middle, and presumably you ask your child where the 'leoncini' is for example, and they pick it out. You could also cover up the words and test your child if they are of reading age.
There are a number of issues with this book, which means it will only be a good purchase for certain people. Firstly, whilst this book is great for nouns, there are very few other words. There are absolutely no basics of conversation such as 'hello', 'thank you', etc., which I think is a huge oversight and was something I'd expect to be in any kind of foreign language book, particularly one which covers the first thousand words. For children, this would open up the opportunity for role play and pretending they were in a café, playing in the park etc.
Secondly, the book is apparently aimed at people who either a) already know the basics of Italian grammar or b) already know Italian and are teaching it to a child. This book is not a great buy if you're a beginner, because each page only has the Italian words on. Not all the mini pictures are easy to identify, particularly as in some cases there is more than one object which the word could refer to, and in some cases I had no idea what the picture was supposed to represent. The index translations, rather unhelpfully, are only in Italian to English, so there's no way of quickly finding out what a particular English word is in Italian, which drove me completely crazy.
Finally, as Italian isn't a phonetic language - at least not to a Germanic speaker anyway - I had to continually flip to the back of the book so see how a particular word or set of syllables should be pronounced. I understand that they wanted to keep the book simple, but they could have offered phonetics or pronunciation tips under each Italian word.
I imagine that some parents would consider buying this for their child as a kind of fun educational book - this isn't the kind of book a child will be able to get anything out of on their own (apart from enjoying the pictures and finding the small objects in the large picture on each page), because it requires concentration and a great deal of flicking back and forth to see how things are pronounced and to double check definitions. A parent and child aren't going to get too much out of this book unless one already knows Italian; I think that a child would get extremely bored with a parent flicking back and forth and trying to figure out pronunciation and correct forms every couple of seconds.
There is also a website to accompany the book, usborne-quicklinks.com, which apparently gives you the opportunity to play a few games and get more out of the book.
Overall, it's bright, colourful and good quality, but it's not for the average non-Italian speaker, and it has some serious flaws. I'm going to give it 2 stars, because I can see it being useful to bilingual families that already have some native speakers, but not including basics such as 'hello' is a massive flaw. Whilst there are plenty of useful nouns in there, there are some very strange choices as well which I can't imagine would come up in conversation much, and some words which are extremely similar in concept that feel like a bit of a waste. You'd be better off printing some pictures off the Internet and writing the Italian, English and pronunciation underneath for free.
Over the past few years I've slowly been replacing items in my kitchen to create a silver theme with the appliances. With that in mind, I decided to buy a new toaster fairly recently. Whilst our original toaster still works fine, I like to have a back up just in case!
Researching & buying
I read a lot of reviews all over the web before I settled on this Prestige toaster; however I did have a specific set of requirements before I started looking. I wanted a two slice toaster that was as compact as possible (my kitchen is extremely small), a brushed silver colour (too much cleaning required for polished!), that held regular size slices of bread and wouldn't blow up. I did originally think that maybe I'd be better off narrowing my search by price as well, but it's lucky I didn't because there are very few toasters which met my requirements. In fact, a grand total of about 2. Once I'd disqualified the ones with bad reviews, I was left with 0. Hmm. Back to the drawing board.
In the end I decided that colour was the best place to compromise, and as my slow cooker, bread bin and blender all have black on them as well, I decided to include that in my search. I ended up buying this Prestige toaster for £24.99 from Amazon based on Amazon, Argos and Dooyoo reviews which were pretty enthusiastic about it. There were a couple of reviews from people who complained that their toast wasn't quite evenly done on both sides, but I'm not the kind of person who has time to check - or care. As long as it's not black on one side and raw on the other, it'll do.
Looks and Features
The toaster casing is predominantly black plastic, which is actually much better than my first choice of silver as there's much less chance of anyone burning themselves on it compared to a metal casing. As we are quite clumsy, use the kitchen at a different time to our housemates and have cats, this was an important advantage for us. If you have kids it's probably something to consider as well. The area just around and on top of the slots is a shiny chrome, but it's only a tiny bit to clean and not very noticeable if you can't be bothered. The stripe down the front, as shown on DooYoo's picture above, is a light grey/white plastic. The toaster is nowhere near as shiny as it looks above, and it looks quite classy with the exception of the 'Cancel' and 'Defrost' text above the buttons on the front which just makes it appear really cheap and awful.
However, they are practical if you have bad eyesight because you shouldn't have too much of a problem reading them. I might try to scratch the wording off with my fingernails at some point because it's cheaply applied.
Whilst this toaster is not any wider or longer than my previous (small) toaster, it is taller. So it doesn't take up any more 'useful' space on my worktop than my previous toaster, which is a definite advantage for a small kitchen, yet it is tall enough to do a good job toasting. This is actually more impressive than it sounds, because companies seem to be making their toasters bigger and bigger, and not all of us have the space - particularly as you need to pull it out from under cupboards to avoid damaging them. It's hard to find a good, reasonably sized toaster.
One of the nice features of this toaster is that there are a series of lights on the front, corresponding to the numbers 1-5 for you to identify how well done you want your toast (5 being practically burnt, 1 being lightly toasted). The lights will also flash to tell you what stage your toast is at, i.e. if you set it to number 4, the first light will start flashing, then as it reaches stage 2 you will get two lights flashing etc. This is great if you want to take your toast out early but aren't sure how well it's done, or if you want a rough idea of how much longer you have to wait. It also means that you can tell whether the toaster is already in use from across the room, which is useful.
To use the toaster, you simply put the bread in, push down the lever, and then select how well done you want your toaster by pressing the button as many times as you require to light more lights up. The defrost and cancel buttons work well enough with a simple press. The Cancel button isn't really necessary when you can just switch the toaster off at the plug, but some people might appreciate it.
The toaster is advertised as having an 'auto pop up' feature, which is pretty much expected with a toaster. Using medium sliced bread it doesn't pop up too well and the lever needs to be pulled up to get the toast out, aka the 'high-lift facility' which is supposed to be for small items but is in fact necessary for pretty much everything. The crumb tray is easy to remove as advertised and it's suggested that you empty it after every time you use the toaster (I haven't emptied it at all yet). There are variable width slots although I would be quite dubious about being able to use toaster bags in them to make a cheese toastie - they just don't look wide enough to me.
The most important thing to me was the depth of the slots. My housemate in particular was annoyed with our other toaster because there was always a white untoasted 'stripe' at the top of the bread where it was too tall to be toasted. With this Prestige toaster, the reviews were fairly vague about this, but as there were no complaints I decided to live dangerously (ha). The final verdict is that it will *just* toast a slice of medium sliced white bread from Hovis and the like, but if you make your own or prefer large loaves you will have to deal with the white stripe effect.
Whilst I like my toast only lightly done ('warm bread' as some people call it), we do have a range of different preferences in our house and this toaster caters for all those needs. Most people will probably have the toaster set on 3 or 4 for a warm honey colour, but the important thing is that the bread will be evenly toasted and toasted all the way to the ends. It took me a really long time to find a toaster which ticked all the boxes, but I made the right decision thanks to the reviews.
* Doesn't take up much space
* Toasts pretty evenly
* Nice feature to show how well your toast is done/doing
* Varied levels of browning/toasting
* Doesn't get too hot
* Looks fairly good
* Reasonable price
* Fits medium slices of bread
* A bit cheap looking close up (particularly the text on the front)
* High-lift lever is necessary for removal
* Anything larger than medium sliced won't be toasted to the top
This toaster is also available in red, and there's a matching kettle for both colourways if you want to co-ordinate.
My parents adopted a poodle puppy almost a year ago, and he's the most dustbin-like animal I've ever seen. Unlike our Pomeranian, who will amble over for a treat when he can be bothered and much prefers walks to food, Pepper will eat anything and everything in sight, from tennis balls to packets he finds in the streets. He's had incredibly sharp teeth since he was tiny, and he's pierced my finger so that it bleeds on more than one occasion whilst 'playing'.
Needless to say that there are very few dog toys that will last longer than five minutes with Pepper. Leave him alone with something for more than ten minutes, and you'll come back to slobbery chewed bits of plastic all over the floor. As well as being annoying to clean up (presumably, I wouldn't know!!), they aren't very safe for him or the other animals in the house, so he needs to be kept an eye on.
My sister bought this Kong toy with the hope that it would last a bit longer. Although Pepper is past the teething stage now, my nickname for him is 'Vampire Dog' as he still loves to bite and chew things a lot. We've bought products from the Kong range before for both cats and dogs, and they are well-made and cleverly designed products although a little more expensive than standard toys.
This Kong toy is, I believe, available in a few different strengths (designated by colour) and sizes, although we have the standard medium red one as shown in the picture above. Ours came with an attached rope (although it's not the Kong Dental toy) - fantastic for Pepper as he loves tugging and wrestling - although I think it may also be available without. You can buy it from Amazon for around £5, so it's a little more expensive than other dog toys but will last a lot longer.
The Kong toy is an odd shape, being bulbous in general but narrower in the middle so that a dog can easily grip it in its mouth. This is a big advantage over rounder toys like balls, where you'll get a handful of slobber and possibly teeth marks if you try to wrestle with your dog as you can't get a good enough grip. It's also better than toys with holes, such as hoops, tyres and plastic doughnuts, because inevitably the plastic gets stretched and weakened quite quickly and snaps.
The rope is also extremely well-made, and despite me thinking that Pepper would gnaw through it quickly, it lasted a good few months before it was defeated. I might be being paranoid here, but I would be careful about leaving your dog on its own with this toy whilst the rope is attached, just to avoid strangling or swallowing - particularly if you have other pets. Even after the rope has come loose from the toy, it can still be used for playing with your dog if he/she enjoys wrestling, as there's a knot at the end for easy gripping.
The red Kong toy itself is still in reasonably good shape, although it's not indestructible and does in fact have teeth marks and holes in it, so to be honest I'm doubtful as to whether it will last the year. However, this still represents great value and longevity compared to Pepper's other toys. We will probably buy the black 'extreme' one next to see how that compares!
The other problem is that the removal of the rope makes it a bit less enjoyable for both dog and human. Pepper does enjoy running around with it in his mouth sometimes, and dropping it (loudly) on the floor, but it's too heavy to safely play fetch indoors, and even outside you still have to be careful if you're a rubbish thrower like me, because you could cause a lot of harm. It doesn't really bounce either.
Apparently you can fill the hole in the middle of this toy with treats, but we've never tried that. I think Pepper would get too frustrated and redouble his efforts to chew through the toy to get to them. I'm also concerned about the safety aspect of this.
Whilst Pepper will still play with this toy for short periods, he doesn't like it as much as he used to when the rope was attached. I think perhaps the fact that it isn't as easy to chew is less satisfying for him in a bizarre kind of way. If I ask him to bring me a toy he's more likely to come back with a half-chewed tennis ball or his rope than this Kong, so I don't think it's his favourite either.
I'm torn with how to rate this ball because it's really well-made compared to Pepper's other toys, but he doesn't like it as much now the rope's gone. I appreciate that you can only make a rope and toy so strong, but as Pepper is only a small poodle, I'm not sure how this would fair with a medium-large dog. On the basis that it's great quality and a good, innovative shape, I'm prepared to give this 4 stars.
Last September we got our garden decked, and the wood was treated enough to last a year. With the current lovely weather and my dad nagging at me to get it stained, I finally got around to purchasing some decking stain. My first stop for things like this is Wilkinsons, but the cheapest decking stain they had was around the £30 mark, so I went to B&Q to find out what they had.
The Ronseal decking stain range is priced about the same (give or take a couple of pence) as B and Q's own brand range, and my local store had about eight different colours in stock ranging from a pale golden colour to a deep mahogany. As well as the picture on the tin, there were helpful samples stuck to the display so we could see what the colour looked like on actual wood. Although the fence and the conservatory are quite dark, we decided to pick a slightly lighter colour so the garden wouldn't look too dark (we have plenty of ivy as well). So we chose this 'Rustic Pine' colour, which looks like a fairly nondescript mid-brown on the tin - I think dooyoo's picture above is of a different shade.
2.5l cost just over £20, which was over double the price of the wood stain I bought for the fence and conservatory, but I figured it would be a good investment. Although there are no amazing claims on the tin such as 'perfect finish' or 'designed for heavily used decking' or anything like that, the price was a big plus for me and I figure these things are all pretty much the same anyway.
The tin is metal and has an easy plastic carry handle on the top - very handy when you're carrying it almost two miles in 25 degree weather - and the lid is easy to prise open with a screwdriver. I was quite surprised as how purple the stain looked in the tin, on the brush and on the decking - I did stir it thoroughly but it didn't make a difference. However, it started to dry very quickly and after a few minutes it looked a more normal wood colour. Our decking is extremely light - as close to white as you can get whilst still being blonde - and this 'Rustic Pine' is not the shade on the tin or on the sample at all for our decking. It's a light honey colour, despite the fact that we've given it multiple coats. I do like the colour, but I would have appreciated a warning on the tin or the display about how the stained wood might not be anywhere close to the colour on the tin. I'm sure this is really obvious to people who have stained decking before, but we hadn't so we assumed the colour of the sample would be the colour we'd get. It does state on the back of the tin not to allow the stain to get into any water supplies and to transport it and dispose of it carefully.
We used a basic paintbrush to apply the stain, and our cats were very interested in what was happening to start with. A couple of them ran over the decking only a few minutes after we'd started painting (grrr), but the stain was touch dry already, probably in part due to the weather, and they didn't get any on their paws or in fact complain that it was wet. The tin states that the stain is rainproof in 90 minutes, which is obviously great in England. No preparation is needed before painting either, other than cleaning your decking. As ours is so new we simply brushed it down and it was fine. I did notice that the stain looked a little patchy in places, but that might be because there were three of us working on it separately and it's difficult to see which bits you've already coated. It's fine once you've spotted the bits you've missed and gone over it thoroughly though! I had to buy a second tin to finish the decking, which measures probably about 3.5 by 2m. So it may be easier to get a bigger tin in the first place if you want to put multiple coats on. We still have almost all the second tin left, which will be handy for topping it up.
A few days on, the decking has become a tiny bit darker but still nowhere near the colour on the tin. For that reason I'd suggest testing it out on a small bit of wood beforehand, or buying a lighter colour and then applying a darker one over the top. Despite the hail and rain in the storm we had a couple a days ago, the stain is looking great and is holding up well.
I don't buy Sainsbury's Basics food very often, but I'm more than happy to buy the Basics cleaning products, particularly things that are just going to get thrown away after use. So when I saw these 'refuse sacks', aka big bags to your average person, I decided to buy some as they were only around 75p.
For this you get 30 bags, and they aren't huge, so if you have a large bin you might find these won't reach to the bottom. However, as we have a smaller kitchen bin than most people (I'm 5'2" and it comes up to my thighs), these are actually the perfect size for us.
I was worried that they would split very easily, but pulling them off the roll they seem to be of fairly good quality and I haven't experienced any ripping getting them off the roll. They are a bit thinner than more expensive bin bags, and are a bit more grey than black in appearance, but they last fine. We do a LOT of recycling in our house, so despite there being four humans and three cats plus plenty of visitors, on average we only fill one black bag of rubbish per week. Considering there are 30 bags on a roll, these last forever and if people need to transport things or use them to take the recycling to the council site then I'm not bothered as they only cost 73p. They also make reasonable dust sheets for painting at a pinch, and are cheaper than buying even the cheap plastic ones.
I've only experienced the bag ripping a couple of times when we first started using then, and occasionally the plastic looks a little strained in places. But considering it's only making a journey of about fifteen steps from kitchen bin to outside bin, this hasn't really presented a problem. The rips have only been small and not caused any problems. We've also not experienced any issues with leaking, although it's not often that liquids are put in the bin. We never put anything sharp in the bag as we recycle all our cans and tins and most of our plastics, so this may make a difference. We don't overfill the rubbish bag either, although it is comfortably full by the time I change it at the weekend.
Overall, I did think that these bags would be thinner and weaker than they are. If you have a bigger bin or get through a lot of rubbish bags per week then you may wan something stronger that will last outside. As we have a wheelie bin this isn't a problem, although there's a chance in some areas that your bin bags may get ripped open and this would be more likely to happen with these bags.
We're used several rolls of these now and they are usually my first choice. They aren't suitable for every household, but they suit us just fine and the only real flaw is that they aren't particularly environmentally friendly; but that's not surprising given the price.
After reading some very positive reviews on DooYoo and Amazon, I decided to buy one of these Zoom Grooms for my three cats. One of them in particular, Halo, tends to leave a lot of fur everywhere, and I thought a good brushing may help solve that problem. I picked up a purple Zoom Groom on eBay for around the £5 mark (including postage). It was a few pence cheaper than I'd seen elsewhere, and aqua ones are also available.
What is it? Well, the Zoom Groom is a soft rubber brush designed to massage your cat as well as remove any loose hairs. One of my cats is very clingy, one is just plain affectionate, and the other is just very laid back, so I thought they would get on pretty well with a Zoom Groom.
When it arrived I was a bit surprised by the rubber 'bristles', as they seemed very pointy even though the ends of the spikes are flat. Running it over the back of my hand, it did feel quite uncomfortable and I was a bit concerned. Picking it up though, you can tell it's well made as you'd expect from such a good brand as Kong. It's cat shaped, but fits nicely into the hand and you can hold it from either the wider end (the body) or the narrower end (the end) without discomfort. For that reason it's good for kids and those who have much bigger or smaller hands as well as those who have average size hands. In this respect it's an excellent design. I also like the cat design and ridges on the back. Overall, it's a quality product as would make a nice, unusual gift for a cat owner.
When it arrived, I was keen to use it straight away, in the style of a normal brush. Halo, my clingy cat, was instantly suspicious, whilst Chief, my affectionate cat, caught a whiff of it and wrinkled her nose up in disgust before stalking off. Out of curiosity I smelt it, and weirdly enough it doesn't smell like plastic at all but more like marzipan and home baking! Or maybe that's just my Zoom Groom. Anyway, I persevered and eventually managed to try brushing all three cats with it.
Halo was distinctly unimpressed and sat there for a bit without purring whilst I Zoom Groomed him. After a few minutes he got up, moved down the sofa a bit and sat with his back to me. That's typical Halo speak for 'I'm not happy with you' (and most often occurs when I shift my legs whilst sitting on the sofa).
Sin, the laid back cat, didn't seem to care much either way, but he didn't sit down for long and moved off to get some food (which, considering he hates the food that was out, says a lot).
Chief, the affectionate cat, seemed to think it was ok and sat on the table for a while whilst I Zoom Groomed her. She wasn't purring, but she did rub her head against the brush a couple of times. That doesn't necessarily mean much, since she pretty much does this to everything, including random sales people's legs and bits of wall.
In terms of how effective the brush was, it seemed to pull quite a lot of fur off the cats, particularly Chief and Halo. It was also very easy to remove from the brush, as you can pull it out and roll it up into balls easily, so there's less mess than I expected. As a brush it doesn't do a fantastic job - I was a bit worried that my shorthair cats' skin would be rubbed raw from using it for more than a few minutes, and it seemed to loosen hairs further as I saw tiny clouds of loose hair that came off when I brushed. They just seemed to settle back on the cat's coat despite repeated brushing, and if anything this has made the cat fur problem worse in the house. It may work better on long haired cats and those with thicker coats. On Sin's coat I got almost no hair off at all, so if your cat doesn't shed much then it's a completely pointless tool if they don't enjoy it either.
Other reviews have commented that the Zoom Groom made their cat's fur shinier. I didn't notice any effect on my cats' coats other than furrow/plough-effect rows down them from the spikes which I was tempted to plant seeds in. To be fair though, they do have extremely glossy coats already.
I thought this would be a nice treat for my cats and hopefully reduce the fur problem in my house, but unfortunately it doesn't look like that's happened. The cats don't enjoy being brushed with the Zoom Groom, so it's unlikely that your cat won't enjoy being brushed with this unless she/he enjoys being brushed in the first place. I do have several Kong products that I'm happy with, but unfortunately this one isn't great. I'll probably keep it around for my next set of foster cats, but I don't hold out much hope.
When I started uni back in 2005, one of the things I got for Christmas was a Turbie Towel from my mum. It drives her absolutely mad that I use two towels for every bath or shower I take, but I do have long, thick hair and it's horrible when you have loads of wet hair dripping down your back. I don't like to put my hair up too soon after washing it because hair is much weaker when it's wet. So the Turbie Towel was a pretty good solution.
It's basically a curved, short towel which narrows a lot further along. To use, you simply place the wider end over your head, cover your hair with the rest, then twist it all and put it through the loop like a turban. I've found the easiest way to use it is to tip your head forward so your hair falls straight down, but it's a lot simpler than I've described it!
The towel itself isn't particularly thick, but it does stay in place and it's a much better solution than simply wrapping a big thick towel around your hair, because it inevitably comes undone or falls off. It's not the most attractive look, but it's good when you're in a hurry and don't want your hair to make your clothes wet, or when you're getting ready for bed and want your hair to dry a bit before blow drying.
I have found that, as the Turbie Towel is quite thin, it sometimes gets a bit soggy and I've had it so long it's less absorbent than it was. For that reason, I tend to quickly towel dry my hair before putting it in the Turbie Towel. It's available online and on the high street for a few quid - less if you shop around - and makes a nice secondary present or stocking filler. It can be bought in various colours (mine's yellow), and it's easily washable. I just chuck mine in with my clothes or towels and it comes out looking practically new. The only thing I wasn't massively keen on was the big cardboard box packaging, which obviously needs to be recycled. I would've preferred a small waterproof bag for easy travelling.
Storing is easy as well; you could put it on the radiator or in an airing cupboard to dry faster, but unless I've soaked it through mine will dry through within a day of hanging on my wardrobe door. As it's small and light, it really does cut down on towel usage, and as my house is only small, I love having things that don't take up much space. Of course, this isn't a necessity product, but I do find it very useful, and unless your hair is short enough to fit in a hand towel, you'll benefit from this as well.
I consider food to be one of the most important things I buy, so I buy organic food and not Sainsbury's Basics. However, I was in a rush the other day and rather than heading back to the fridge aisle to pick up pizza bases, I just threw a couple of these in the trolley instead and decided I'd add toppings and top up the cheese and tomato as needed.
These pizzas are 65p each, and they're pretty small, so they're not that much of a bargain compared to making your own or buying premium brand large pizzas when they're on offer. For kids or dieters, they're probably pretty good, although I know my housemates who polish off a large 14" pizza each for a meal would be very disappointed because this is probably about a 7-8" pizza at most. The advantage is that you shouldn't have too much trouble fitting it in the freezer. The ingredients aren't worrying, and half a pizza is around the 350-400 calorie mark. For this reason I tend to have half a pizza for one meal; however I was still hungry after so I had to have another quarter.
After removing the cardboard box and plastic packaging, you put the pizza in the oven for around 18 minutes. I was quite surprised that it took this long as they normally take 10-12 mins, but it does have quite a thick base. I was pleased to see the cheese was evenly spread, as was the sauce.
Checking the pizza halfway through cooking, I wasn't impressed by the oily film that covered it like water. However, after the pizza had fully cooked it seemed to go away - although it had already put me off. With the extra toppings I added, the pizza was ok. The biggest let down was the sauce, which was incredibly watery and quite artificial tasting (when you could taste it that is). This did ruin the taste for me quite a bit, as it's not up to par with any kind of pizza, even an own brand, non-Basics Sainsbury's pizza. The crust was quite nice, although it was crunchy so if you like soft crusts this isn't the pizza for you.
I had the other quarter of pizza for lunch today, and it did taste nice cold. The toppings held well, and it wasn't greasy or soggy even after carrying it to work in just a sandwich bag, so that's a big plus point.
If price is the main factor for you or you're buying them for, say, a kid's party or a quick lunch, then you could do a lot worse and you'll probably see them as a bargain. I'm lucky enough to have quite a big food budget and I wouldn't buy these again. Although to be honest, I wouldn't buy a £4 frozen pizza either when it's so cheap and easy to make your own, particularly if you buy premade bases.
Overall, I can see these are good in several ways, but the sauce is too much of a disappointment so I'll give them 2 stars.