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jillmurphy

jillmurphy
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Member since: 25.06.2000

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      29.08.2005 20:23
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      Recommended by me with four Dooyoo stars.

      Is the Lakeland Bulk Yoghurt Maker. Gosh, how exciting.

      You get an outer unit – base with power unit and domed lid - that does the making of the yoghurt. You get an inner unit – bowl and domed lid - that does the holding of the yoghurt. You get a rather useless spoon thing. It is all very easy really, the Lakeland Bulk Yoghurt Maker. You take a pint and a half of milk, a tablespoon of yoghurt and you mix it together in the inner bowl. You put the inner unit into the outer unit. You plug in the outer unit. You look at the fiddly ticker thingy on the top and decide not to bother with it. You wish it were a proper timer or not there at all. You go away for between six and ten hours – eight is good, but timing is not crucial. You return. You switch off the machine. And hey presto! You have yoghurt. It ain't 'ard.

      Of course, there are caveats. If you use UHT milk, you can put it straight into the yoghurt maker. If you use ordinary milk, you may need to boil it first. If you like thin, runny yoghurt, you use skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. If you like thick yoghurt, you use full fat milk. If you like Greek-style yoghurt that is "set", you add a tablespoon or two of powdered milk and if you can be bothered, you strain it once it is made. You err towards a longer fermentation time if you like thick yoghurt and a shorter one if you like runny yoghurt.

      After you have made your yoghurt, you decide whether to eat it plain or flavoured. You can flavour it with chopped fruit or fruit puree if you want sweet, or with herbs if you want savoury. You store your yoghurt, plain or flavoured, in the fridge for up to five days.

      It is all there in the instructions. It is all very easy.

      Advantages that spring to mind...

      Fresh yoghurt tastes so nice! Even the freshest of yoghurts from the supermarket are days old. Yoghurt made that day and then chilled is lovely. It is sweeter, almost tasting as though it has sugar added. Eat it once, and the nicest Yeo Valley or Rachel's yoghurt from the supermarket just will not taste the same. What you make will keep for five days and will stay that sweet for two or three. After that, it develops the trademark "tang" of shop bought yoghurt.

      It saves money! A 500g pot of plain yoghurt costs at least a pound, more if it is organic. My rough but reasonably accurate calculations put the cost of 500g of homemade yoghurt at around 40p – and this takes into account using organic milk, milk powder to thicken the yoghurt AND the cost of the electricity. Use UHT milk, and the cost goes down to under 35p.

      We are eating more healthily! Greedy Jillory uses far too much fat in her cooking. However, when the yoghurt maker is on the go, she uses much less. She makes coleslaw with a yoghurt dressing instead of mayonnaise with olive oil and eggs. She makes frozen yoghurt desserts in place of ice cream made with double cream. She finishes soups and casseroles with yoghurt instead of that same double cream.

      It is easy to look after! Really, it is. The only real washing up to do is the inner bowl. The outer unit just needs wiping thoroughly. It is not like many kitchen gadgets that have many parts that all need washing and are all fiddly. However, do be aware that hygiene is very important. You must clean a unit that heats milk gently for hours properly or you will run the risk of unpleasant, not pleasant, bacteria. Moreover, you cannot put the bowl in your dishwasher, so do be careful – there are internal ridges that could harbour traces of old yoghurt. Still, the yoghurt maker is refreshingly faff-free.

      Not only is the yoghurt cheap to make, the yoghurt maker is cheap to run! It is a very low wattage unit, using less electricity than a slow cooker and a similar amount as a light bulb. Although I do love bread from my bread maker, I admit that it is not really an economical item. The bread may well be nicer, but it is not really cheaper.

      You can make such a variety of dishes from a plentiful supply of fresh yoghurt. We eat it as a dessert, either with fruit or fruit puree mixed, or in place of cream over pies and crumbles. We make frozen yoghurt in our ice cream maker. We mix it with fruit juice for a yoghurt drink. We add it to soups and curries. We add mint or chives and use it as a dip for our Kettle Chips. We use it as salad dressing. The list is endless.

      But... as ever... there are annoying things...

      Once your yoghurt is ready, you need to store it in the fridge. Clearly, the easiest, most hygienic way to do this is simply to lift the inner unit from the outer one and put the covered bowl straight into the fridge. However, the unit is BIG. It occupies almost half the top shelf in my fridge and it is so tall that it will not fit into any other shelf. This can be annoying. I tend to transfer the yoghurt into a Tupperware box with a flat lid and this is much more suitable. It is irritating to need to mess about like this, not to mention less hygienic.

      The instruction booklet is clear and contains all the information necessary. However, necessary is the operative word. After reading it, you will know how to make yoghurt. You will know which type of milk will produce what results. Your results will be accurate. You will know how to maintain and care for your sexy gadget. However, you will not have any real ideas what to do with your yoghurt once it is there. A litre of yoghurt is quite a lot of yoghurt. I have found many uses for the yumptious stuff, but Lakeland really did leave me to experiment alone. I would have liked a recipe section included. It had taken me upwards of six months to practise, research, experiment and build up a large repertoire of possibilities.

      If you do not keep up a production line of yoghurt, you will need to buy a new – albeit small – pot of live yoghurt each time you begin again. The unit is most efficient when you are using the last spoonful of yoghurt from one batch to begin the next batch. This is not a fault of the machine, but it does rather defeat the object, and with the best will in the world, you will not always need a continuous supply of fresh yoghurt. You can buy starter sachets from the EasiYo range at Lakeland – but these are expensive at £7.50 for six. Therefore, there is no "store cupboard" way to keep the makings at home. You will need some yoghurt to begin.

      The electrical lead is a real fiddle. It is long enough – about three feet – but it does not curl easily under the base, where it is designed to curl. Petty, maybe, but it is forever getting in my way!

      How about some tips for getting the most from your sexy new appliance...

      If you are dieting but love the taste of full fat, creamy yoghurt and its thicker texture, use Cravendale milk. You will need to boil the milk first and the yoghurt will still be runny, but it will TASTE just as creamy as yoghurt made with full fat milk. For the dieters amongst you, Cravendale milk rocks!

      Watch the freshness of the yoghurt you buy to begin your yoghurt making. Buy it with the longest date possible. Older yoghurt may no longer be "live" and your milk may fail to ferment. There is nothing worse than throwing it all away. I have found Yeo Valley to be the most reliable.

      If you are trying to improve your children's diet by buying a yoghurt maker, then good for you! Lose those additives and preservatives! Nevertheless, try to make things fun. Plain yoghurt looks boring to a child. There is so much more to it all than plain yoghurt. Be creative. For instance, we spent the fortnight after going to see Shrek 2 drinking bright green shakes made with the yoghurt and kiwi fruit blended together. Know your market, parents.

      Remember that the yoghurt is at its sweetest for the first day or two. Use it then to make desserts, drinks and shakes. The third day it makes excellent dips and salad dressings. After that, it may be too "tangy", so if you have some left, use it in soups, curries or casseroles. Be organised about it all and make food that suits the age of the yoghurt best.

      There are always some boring factual bits for skimming through...

      You can buy the yoghurt maker at www.lakeland.co.uk or from any of Lakeland's shops. The shops, though, do not stock the entire Lakeland range, so ring ahead if you are going with the intention to buy.

      It will set you back the princely sum of nineteen English pounds less five English pence. That is less than twenty quid. If you used the yoghurt maker twice a week, it would take you around five months to be seeing a saving. I think that is good going, considering the excellent quality of the product, which is far better and fresher than anything you will buy in the supermarket.

      Do I recommend it? What do you think? Despite the minor quibbles, yes. Resoundingly, yes. With the Lakeland Bulk Yoghurt maker you will improve your own diet, motivate your children to eat more healthily and save money to boot. What more could you want?

      (A tidy flex and a fridge friendly bowl would be good!)

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        06.08.2005 20:18
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        A lovely little book and it'll make you cry.

        In our village, lives a cat called Felix. Ostensibly, Felix belongs to one of my neighbours. However, Felix is an itinerant cat. He belongs to no one. And yet, he belongs to everyone. We all feed him, we all pet him, and we all laugh at his antics. However, we none of us own him. Red Dog is such an animal; he belongs to everyone. And yet, he belongs to no one.

        Red Dog, though, has more than a tiny village in Devon at his disposal. Red Dog has the vast expanses of Western Australia in which to indulge his restless spirit. Possessed of boundless energy, an inquisitive soul and an independent streak a mile wide, Red Dog is famous in the community. When the travelling bug bites, he goes to the bus station, hops into his seat right behind the driver, and away he goes. If there are no buses, then he simply waits by the road and hitches a lift. No one turns him down. He is Red Dog, after all. Red Dog's travelling is legendary, but so too is his appetite. He has been known to wolf an entire can of dog food in under nine seconds, although he prefers to filch sausages and steaks from those ubiquitous Australian barbies.

        Louis de Bernieres' book traces its eponymous hero through anecdote and memory. For Red Dog was a real dog. Inspired by a bronze statue of him in the town where he lived, de Bernieres collected and collated all the many stories about Red Dog. We hear about his scrapes, his travels, his troubles. We hear too, about the land he inhabited and the people he knew. Some of the stories are funny. Some of the stories feel like a little slice of social history. Some of the stories are sad. Binding them together, making them flow is Red Dog himself: independent, stubborn, inquisitive, capricious, cheeky, and filled with wanderlust.

        I seem to be one of the few left cold by de Bernieres' most famous creation, Captain Correlli and his Mandolin. I thought it was a dire, sentimental book. Red Dog could easily have been equally trite, but somehow it is not. It is warm, it is tolerant, it is evocative. It is full of imagery, but it clearly written in a way that is accessible to all. It brings to mind the sights, the sounds and the smells of Western Australia in huge, great blasts that I almost felt the heat as I read. I saw the shimmering mirages as they rose from the horizon. I felt the heavy, thick red dust on my skin. I understood the ancient rocks as they watched the pioneers, impassive. I appreciated too Alan Baker's beautiful, apt illustrations in sun-blinded blacks and hot reds and I smiled at the cheeky flick animation of Red Dog in the corner of each page.

        More important though, for me, was the sense of community, of storytelling that pervaded its every page. If, like me, you are of the mind that all stories should be written down, that all stories are worth telling, then you will understand what I am saying. Reading Red Dog is as an evening spent in convivial company, in reminiscence, in anecdote, in the sharing of a good tale. It is part of those great folk traditions found in almost every society. These traditions understand the value of shared experience, shared memories, shared stories, all told and re-told by those who care for their community. They provide our continuity, our anchor and our guide. I am glad that the people of Dampier have a statue in honour of Red Dog. I am glad that the stories about him are still a part of spoken lore. And I am glad that de Bernieres has written them down for many more people to share. I hope too, that he is not the last to tell the stories about Red Dog.

        Reviews of and publicity for Red Dog have confused me a little. Some seemed to think that the book was intended for "younger readers". Some suggested that the sad parts render the book unsuitable for children. And yes, some of it is sad. These prescriptions seem irrelevant to me. Red Dog is a small piece of modern folk lore and as such, it is open to all. That is its point. You do children a grave disservice if you believe that their hearts and minds are not ready for the sharing of such things. Moreover, you do adults an equally grave disservice if you feel that a short, clear, tender tale is beneath them.

        Red Dog is… for all those who love dogs… for all those who love Australia… and above all, it is for all those who believe that everything we do and everything we are is contained within stories shared and passed down.

        I loved it.



        ISBN: 0 09 9429047

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        • Nestle in general / Other Food / 109 Readings / 120 Ratings
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          22.08.2004 20:40
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          Dear Nestle, I feel there are some things I need to get off my chest. I don't like you. In fact, I hate you. There, I've said it. And now I've said it, I think it's time I told you exactly why. ? I hate you because your children's cereals are so expensive. Currently, at Tesco, a 375g ? 12 serving ? pack of Honey Nut Cheerios costs £1.63. A pack of my usual cereal, Weetabix, also a 12 serving size, costs £1.24. A Weetabix serving is not only 20% bigger than a serving of your offering, it is fully 25% cheaper. Why is this? ? I hate you because your children's cereals have so much added sugar. The sugar content of Honey Nut Cheerios, for example, runs at over a third of the total; 35.2% to be precise. Only one twentieth of a Weetabix biscuit is sugar. Why are you trying to rot my teeth? Why are you trying to rot my children's teeth? ? I hate you because your cereals are too salty. A recommended serving of Honey Nut Cheerios will pump half a gram of salt into me. I'm only supposed to eat six grams of salt in an entire day. Honey Nut Cheerios are a sweet breakfast cereal, why do they also need to be a salty one? Why are you trying to up my blood pressure and put me at risk of a multitude of health problems, including strokes? ? I hate you because you pretend your cereals are healthy by going on and on about their added vitamins. What is the point of an over-processed food that then adds synthetic vitamins to replace what was lost? Why don't you just admit that supplements are only necessary for people who eat crap like the cereals you produce all day every day? I would rather get my vitamins BEFORE they've been manufactured OUT of my food, thank you. I'd
          rather eat them as I am supposed to ? in foods in which they naturally occur. Please don't try to fool me that your products are healthy, because they are not. ? I hate your cereals because they have so many peculiar and horrible ingredients. I understand that a honey and nut flavoured breakfast cereal will contain cereal grain, honey and nuts. What I don't understand is the need to include a swathe of unpleasant sounding extras, to whit: Partially Inverted Brown Sugar Syrup, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Trisodium Phosphate, Flavouring, Antioxidant, Tocopherols. What are these items? ? I hate you insist on continuing to market your baby milk formula in the developing world in ways which contravene an internationally agreed code of conduct and which put babies' lives at risk. Why do you think it is ok to flout international codes and why do you have such a total disregard for human life? Don't the poor and the powerless count? Don't babies lives matter to you? They matter to me. ? I hate you too because of the way you treat coffee farmers across the world. Millions of people are out of work by your refusal to trade fairly or to concede any ground at all. Why do you think it ok to bully powerless people like this? Why do you destroy businesses? Why does your range not include a Fair Trade coffee so that your customers can make their own choice? ? I hate you because you misrepresent the unfair way you do business and the suffering you cause real people. I hate the way you employ marketing and advertising men to spin the truth. Why aren't you using the hundreds of thousands of pounds you spend creating these smokescreens to benefit the people you are mistreating and bullying? ? I hate you because it is so darned difficult to avoid buying your
          products. You have your sticky fingers in just about every slice of the pie, don't you? It's maddening. And the rate at which you buy and sell brand names is just plain ridiculous. You're into coffee, chocolate, cereals. You're into petfood. You're into soft drinks. I don't want to buy anything you have anything to do with and I resent the fact that you're making it so difficult for me. Are you intent on world domination or something? ? I hate you because your promotions are designed to blackmail parents into buying a nutritionally poor, ridiculously sweet cereal for their children's breakfasts. What is this Box Tops For Education scam? Why does a begging note to purchase your unhealthy cereal appear on the school newsletter sent from our headmaster? I have already saved 39p by buying a HEALTHY cereal, Weetabix, for my children's breakfast and your token is worth only 10p. It's a scam, not a bloody donation! I'm sending my children in with the money, not a cut out from your box top. ? I hate you because your last freebie, The Pro Football PC CD-Rom, caused me to have a row with my son in the middle of the supermarket. I rarely argue with my son, and I resent the fact that your advertising campaign and your sneaky choice of freebie caused my son to be determined to buy a packet of your Honey Nut Cheerios. I made him buy it with his pocket money. ? I hate you because the fact that I made my son buy your Honey Nut Cheerios with his pocket money, caused me to have a row with my husband in the middle of the supermarket. He said that at times, I take ethics too far. Too far? Goshdarnit, as far as you are concerned, I don't take them far enough. ? I hate you because, having bought
          Honey Nut Cheerios with his pocket money, my son discovered the Pro Football PC CD-Rom to be utter crap and to add insult to injury, he didn't like eating them because they are so sweet they "made his teeth ache". Damn and blast, but I hate you, Nestle. You suck. Unkind regards Disgruntled of Devon Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php

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            14.08.2004 21:56
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            Marianne is bored. She is recuperating from a nasty illness and her doctor has prescribed a lengthy period of bed rest. Her usually sunny disposition has disappeared and in its place has come boredom, irritability, frustration and that dreadfully debilitating kind of tiredness that comes from having done absolutely nothing for days and days and days and days and endless days. As a last resort to amuse her depressed daughter, Marianne's mother fetches her trinket box for Marianne to sort through and play with. Inside it, Marianne finds a pencil she cannot remember ever seeing before. It is an ordinary looking pencil; stubby, and in need of sharpening, but something about it attracts Marianne and she takes and begins to draw. She draws a house, a garden, a boy at the window. That night, Marianne has the most remarkable dream. In it, she finds herself inside her own picture. The house is there, the garden is there, the boy is there. The boy's name is Mark, and he too exists both in Marianne's dream and in the real world. Marianne has a tutor, Miss Chesterfield, who teaches several ill children, so that they do not fall too far behind at school. Mark is another of her pupils; he has polio and his recovery still lies in the balance. Marianne discovers that each time she draws with the pencil during the day she and Mark are transported to the dream house at night. Marianne and Mark do not have an easy dreamscape relationship. They bring their bad tempers and their unhappiness with them to the house and they argue often. And when they argue badly one day, Marianne draws boulders around the house, outside the garden fence, and thinks to herself, "If he tried to get out of the house now, they would see. They watch him all the time, everything he does. They will never let him out." And aft
            er that, the dream turns into a nightmare? Ultimately, Marianne Dreams is not a horror story for children, although it is both eerie and powerful. Rather it is a story about coping with adversity and confronting demons. Marianne and Mark feel as trapped in their real lives as they do in their dream lives. Their illnesses have made them feel powerless, useless, frustrated. Their self-confidence is dented; it feels as though recovery is too far away and as though they will never be "normal" again. They are, in short, depressed and angry at the world. What they must do, though, is learn to face their negative feelings and to use them in a positive way and the dream world gives them an opportunity to do this. At first, they snipe at each other and try to rid themselves of anger by imposing it on the other. Gradually, though, they recognise the common foe ? for the evil boulders, read their illnesses ? and begin to work together to devise a strategy for escape. And as they do this in the dreamscape, so they begin to make progress recuperating in the real world. It IS scary, though! Marianne Dreams frightened the bejeezus out of me when I first read it as a child. The boulders, with their one, blinking eye and their low, droning hum of whispers are menacing. An atmosphere of danger and threat pervades the book and Catherine Storr builds tension remorselessly. Despite its strong, positive messages about fear disappearing when faced, I would hesitate to recommend Marianne Dreams for a young, sensitive child who likes to read alone. The sort of child who watches TV programmes such as Goosebumps and who enjoys being frightened would not find it unsettling past its last pages, but those who take to heart the image of menace probably would. I think, though, that it would most certainly be worth reading aloud to chil
            dren who might otherwise get nightmares, for it is a fine story, skilfully told. Reading it together would enable the parent to discuss what the boulders represent and this would in turn help to reassure a nervous child and give it strategies to cope with fears about other things. My younger son, Kieran, who internalises most worries, found listening to and talking about Marianne Dreams very interesting, but confessed that he would not like to read it alone. My older son, Conor, however, thought it was deliciously scary, although I fear the deeper meanings entirely passed him by! Marianne Dreams probably falls a little short of what critics today insist on calling "crossover fiction" ? that is, writing intended for older children, but that which could also successfully entertain an adult on a lazy afternoon. Its target audience is, I would say, confident readers of eight or nine up to at most ten or eleven. It is not a modern book, written in the late fifties, and as such the language is very middle-class with no current slang When Mark suffers a relapse, for example, he is not taken into a modern intensive care or high dependency ward, but is put into an iron lung to help him breathe. Marianne and Mark are clearly of primary school age. For these reasons, I imagine that once they hit Year 7 and senior school, most children would have moved on. Despite these reservations, I think Marianne Dreams is a great book. Catherine Storr is a wonderful writer ? one of those rarities who can sneak unerringly into the minds of children and write for them without a trace of condescension. Her voice reminds me of people like Nina Bawden and Jacqueline Wilson ? she is never patronising and her words are always authentic. Whether you choose to let them read it alone, or to read it to them, or simply to enjoy it yourself
            , I recommend it highly. ISBN 0-571-20212-8 Faber Children's Classics £4.99 Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php

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            • Solaris [2002] (DVD) / DVD / 28 Readings / 64 Ratings
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              10.08.2004 03:27
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              • "You might miss the point"

              The space station is called Prometheus. Prometheus was the Titan who gave fire to man and in doing so, incurred the wrath of Zeus. His punishment was to spend eternity chained to a rock with ravens sent to eat his liver. Each time, his liver would regenerate, leaving Prometheus to endure the same agony day, after day, after day. However, Prometheus knew that one day Zeus would need him. One day, redemption and forgiveness would be his. He needed only to keep faith. The space station Prometheus is studying the planet Solaris. The question is what gift does Solaris represent? What punishment will this Prometheus undergo? And is redemption possible? Psychiatrist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) receives a visit from The Company. They bring with them a message from Gibarian, leader of the crew on board Prometheus, begging Kelvin to come to his aid. Once on board, it is immediately apparent to Kelvin that things are not as they should be. Only two crewmembers remain alive: Snow (Jeremy Davies) and Dr Gordon (Viola Davis). Gibarian has committed suicide. Snow is lost in a manic world of his own and Gordon has locked herself in her room. Blood spatters the corridors of Prometheus. Then, Rheya (Natascha McElhone) appears. Rheya is Kelvin's wife. However, Rheya committed suicide three years ago. "I don't remember anything. I only remember you." Who is Rheya? Herself? A spirit? A ghost? A Solaris creation? Solaris has a bit of history. Based on a book by Stanislaw Lem and filmed previously by Andrei Tarkovsky thirty years ago, I have read the book but not seen Tarkovsky's offering. All three differ considerably and I think
              that Soderbergh's interpretation deserves an individual review. And so, I shall forget the book, and the comparisons of the films I have read, and just let you know how I felt when I watched this latest version. There is little new, or groundbreaking here. That is not the point. We have seen monsters conjured from the darker recesses of our minds in much that science fiction has to offer. We have seen and read about angels. We know that we are an imperfect race and we have speculated often that the true power in the universe is an impassive force, uninterested in our hubris, but merely there. Solaris simply takes these various existential musings and offers them up to us for our consideration. It asks us not to look out, but to look in. It does not answer our questions, but rather directs us to the only answers of any use: our own. This is not a plot-linear film. The action sits in the background, behind the impressions. Solaris is beautiful: a pink and mauve electric storm. Yet it is also solemn, magisterial and impassive. Under its aegis, characters move around in a kind of dreamscape: puzzled; afraid; self-aware. Chris Kelvin is being asked to answer his own questions, just as Dr Gordon is being asked and just as you are being asked. Your own answer is the only thing that really matters. In a dream-piece such as this, I am not sure what there is to say about the actors' performances. Clooney walks around a bit, McElhone looks enigmatic, Davies twitches and stutters, Davis shuts her mind to possibilities and admits only fear and loathing. It's all internalised. The film flits back and forth between earth and Prometheus, between dream-states and true consciousness, between the past and the present. Everything is on hold. Scripts and visuals and score blend together, leaving you with a series o
              f impressions, rather than a sense of plot or of resolution. The score seems deeply appropriate ? a percussive, floating, ambient sound of the type I don't generally like. However, it fits the moodiness of the piece perfectly. There are lots of pauses, quite a few words, a deal of soul-searching, and, significantly most of what action there is turns out to be pointless. Solaris is not about deeds; it is about thought. Eventually, Kelvin must make his choice, though, and this choice will be the one action in the film that has any real meaning. Will he choose faith, or reason? And there, with faith, we have it. For me, Solaris is a film about faith. Not any kind of denominational faith, although its musings on redemption owe a great deal to Christianity, obviously, but the faith in the heart of any human being. As the closing credits rolled, I felt uplifted, yet wistful. I may not believe in a god, but there is plenty in which I do believe. I believe in truth and justice. I believe in forgiveness and redemption and above all, I believe there is a moral purpose to life. And I think, in the end, Solaris celebrated that faith I feel inside. It gave me confidence to trust in my own answers. I cannot say what it would mean to you, for I think it is a piece of work that will mean something different to each person watching. That is its quiet truth. Solaris isn't for the fainthearted, because it is an exploration of your faith, and whether or not you have the courage to trust in it. Not all questions can be answered by the physical. It is not a film for those who like only to spectate. It is for those who wish to take part. And it really is quite beautiful. I am sure that Prometheus would have liked it. If you need narrative in your films though, don't bother, because Solaris will, go like the beauti
              ful Concorde, way over yo' tiny head.

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              • More +
                05.08.2004 03:13
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                In a Columbine-style massacre at her high school, Vancouver teenager Cheryl Anway loses her life. Ten years later, her boyfriend ? actually, secret husband ? Jason Klaasen still struggles to come to terms with her shooting. Twelve years later, Heather struggles to make sense of her relationship with Jason. And thirteen years later, Reg Klaasen finally speaks of the way his faith has twisted life and the damage he has done, especially to his son. And them's the bare bones of Douglas Coupland's latest novel. Hey Nostramus! is a novel of these four voices in turn. Firstly, we hear from Cheryl, after she has died, in some kind of holding place. Cheryl was a young Christian evangelist and a pretty, unassuming girl, full of adolescent love for her boyfriend Jason, but also for life and the beauty of the world. Her voice is almost Keatsian: "I felt slightly high because of the beauty, and the inside of my head tickled. I wondered if this is how artists go through life, with all of its sensations tickling their craniums like a peacock feather." Cheryl and Jason had married, in secret, not long before Cheryl died. Cheryl took this secret to her grave, where it remained in peace, but it is not so for Jason. Ten years later, we find the boy-husband still locked inside his pain. Jason holds on to his fury, because it is all he has: "Hey Nostradamus! Did you predict that once we found the Promised Land we'd all start offing each other? And if you were such a good clairvoyant, why didn't you just write things straight out? Thanks for nothing." Heather is a good woman, but a lonely one. She is at once trusting and suspicious. She lives a quiet life as a court stenographer. She's a pillar of the community. So
                mehow, Jason has found a way in through the wall of her loneliness, and he is the most precious thing in her life. She seeks desperately to penetrate his corresponding wall, but it's hard and she's afraid: "But I do know that as a species we're somehow hard-wired to believe lies. It's astonishing how willing we are to believe whatever story we're tossed simply because we want to hear what we want to hear." Reg is the kind of born-again Christian who believes he has a direct line to God in a less than humble way. Reg is a prideful man, a wrongful man, a man who knows everything about God, except the truth. And now, he's being forced to confront the consequences of a life filled with the wrong sort of piety: "Reg always thought that God had a startling revelation to hand him, a divine mission; that's why he always seemed so aloof and arrogant and distant from the people and events around him: he was the chosen one." Ooh. Gosh. Lots to say. Douglas Coupland is, I suppose, a cult writer. His is the kind of work popular with the angsty undergraduate, or the Tarantino devotee, perhaps the kind of person who likes listening to Nick Cave. He's a contemporary writer, appealing to the contemporary ? and occasionally pretentious! ? culture vulture. People who go to Tate Modern like Coupland - his work is full of the current fashion for arch, satirical pop-culture references. Well, I was an angsty undergraduate. I ? mostly ? like Tarantino. And Nick Cave irritates me sometimes, but interests me more often. I've been to Tate Modern, more than once (but sshh about that). So I guess you could say Coupland is someone I'd be likely to read. You might be a person altogether less interested in gaining kudos point
                s from the books you read, though. And if you are, you might well feel tempted to allow Hey Nostradamus! to pass you by. You might feel that it's likely to be superficial, style-over-substance stuff, the literary equivalent of that fashion faux pas, the puffball skirt, as it were. Well, y'know? not so. Hey Nostradamus! is actually a tremendously engaging book. It's dark, yes. It's arch and on occasion it's darkly funny, yes. It's full of the kind of comment on the banal nature of consumerism that is the hallmark of the modern cult artist from whichever genre, yes. And yes, it's rather terrifying to think of reducing a Columbine-style shooting to a cultural reference on the level of a can of Coke or the Atkins Diet. But Hey Nostradamus! is also? somehow? warming. Its characters, while not always behaving sympathetically, are sympathetic. They are real, honest and above all most dreadfully human. And in this way, through characterisation, Coupland has produced a book with a serious theme that is accessible and a pleasure to read for both the fashion victim and the casual reader alike. Not much happens, not in the foreground, anyway. This is a book of feelings, of impressions, of thoughts? of people really. It does a valuable thing, in that it reduces an enormous, significant event to the level of individual experience, and by doing that, Hey Nostradamus! reveals, in actuality, the true, frightening scope of the shootings far more ruthlessly than news reports or analyses ever could. It's not a perfect book by any means though. There are some clunking plot devices spoiling the flow ? Heather's involvement with a clairvoyant wasn't necessary and made me feel that the anti-organised-religion hammer was being banged far too heavily upon my head. There's a strange blackout sequence of Ja
                son's which grated on me immensely. Both situations I think betrayed a fault in the structure of Hey Nostradamus! in that they were contrived as explanations for previous or later behaviour on the part of one or other of the four narrators. These explanations for motivations and actions would have been better left implied and I felt patronised by them. But it wasn't the end of the world. Most of all, Hey Nostradamus! was a very moving book. Coupland has been previously criticised for weak characterisation in his novels and justifiably so. Perhaps Hey Nostradamus! is his answer to those critics, for in it he has left behind tight plotting and the harder edge to his humour, replacing these things with real, three-dimensional, utterly credible people. Here it is Coupland's narrators, and not his clevernesses or his jokes, which mount the challenge to the problems of our age: the consumerism, the religious bigotry, the anomie suffered by some. And somehow, it's much more attractive that way. I've enjoyed reading all Coupland's books, although none of them are perfect, and none yet - including Hey Nostradamus! - would I describe as a classic. But I have a real and a strong impression of an author of genuine feeling and genuine talent, an author with a lot to say, and an author who, book by book, is gradually finding his voice. One day, Douglas Coupland will write a classic. And I think it's well worth keeping tabs on him along the way. Hey Nostradamus! is structurally weak, but it is immensely touching. Don't read it if you like your loose ends tied in scout-style knots; don't read it if tension and gripping plot is your thing. But don't ignore it from any sense of snotty anti-fashion. If you like people, if you like to think, better still, if you like to think about people, then
                you'll like Hey Nostradamus. And yes, it made me cry.

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                  31.07.2004 03:15
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                  John Pilger is an unreconstructed leftie. He is probably one of the few people left who use the word "comrade" without a trace of irony. Journalist, writer and maker of TV documentaries, Pilger has won just about every award going, including an Emmy. He is Australian, but bases himself in London. His abiding theme is of that of modern imperialism, known by some as the global economy. In this book, The New Rulers of the World, Pilger continues this theme and updates it. There is little new material here. The book is, essentially, a bringing-up-to-speed refining of his previous work. At its heart, lies the argument that wealthy nations and global corporations (with the US at their head) wield a modern day imperial power whose greed and rapaciousness is a force in the world far more destructive than that of any terrorist organisation. In fact, his point is that these are the real terrorists. There are four essays. The first, "The Model Pupil" deals with Asia and the birth of globalisation. It talks of the bloodbath in Indonesia and the rule of Suharto. It speaks of a million deaths and the carving up of Indonesia's economy by western corporations fully aware and dismissive of those deaths and countless other human rights abuses. The second, "Paying the Price" talks about intervention in Iraq since before Operation Desert Storm but spends most time in an analysis of the effect on Iraqi civilians of the sanction blockade, particularly on the children. It is distressing reading. "The Great Game" talks about the aftermath of 9/11, and the prologue to it, if you like. It exposes western foreign policy's role in the destablisation of entire regions and it exposes more corruption than you could have possibly made up i
                  n your own personal conspiracy theory. Finally, in "The Chosen Ones" Pilger returns to his native Australia to discuss the plight of its first people, the Aborigines. This too, is distressing reading. I don't really want to précis the book here for you any further than I have. What then, would be the point in you reading it, save to acquaint yourselves with the sources and to check the verification of Pilger's facts? Neither do I want to pick out the most sensational of tidbits from the endless record of the suffering of real, normal people. That seems irretrievably tasteless. These are Pilger's themes and I think you need to explore them for yourselves, not through my review. Does that make sense? Oh, you know, I was brought up with John Pilger. As soon as I was able to read, I read him, there in the Daily Mirror at home, alongside people such as the recently deceased Paul Foot, a man who will be missed terribly. (What a shadow of its former self is that newspaper today). In all those years, I have never had any cause to doubt his sincerity. He is, whether you agree with him or not, a man of integrity. His research is impeccable, his sources open and well-documented. His argument is clear, cogent and very difficult to dismiss. His writing is restrained and accessible and yet his anger at injustice leaps at you from his each and every page. He is a seasoned campaigner and you simply cannot mistake the fact that he is the genuine article. I can say with much truth that this man has been a huge influence on my political thinking throughout my life, although I do not agree with everything he says by any means. The Rulers of the New World is, I would say, of interest to a broad range of people and not just those in sympathy with the theorists of
                  modern imperialism. For those who do sympathise, he is more accessible and less of an intellectual challenge than such writers as Noam Chomsky and George Monbiot. Pilger is not a rarefied academic and although I like both of these writers, I cannot deny that they are an effort to read. Pilger is also better than either Chomsky or Monbiot at relating his themes to the lives of real, normal people. He is less? well? inyerface than Michael Moore. He does not make jokes and he does not spend half his books self-publicising. Much as I like Moore too, I confess to spending some time reading him thinking, "If you say 'my film, Roger & Me' once more, I will throttle you man"! Pilger sticks to his subjects and does not make his books personal crusades ? I think of Moore as a bit of a "willy jouster" and I find this often gets in the way of his points. Pilger is not like this. Whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, one has the inescapable feeling this is a man who wishes to expose what he sees to be the truth, and has no need to squash his ego into the equation. For those politically neutral, Pilger is happily uninterested in party politics. He provides an accessible point of view refreshingly free from the taint of sponsored think tanks and he is clearly not motivated by self interest. And for those who consider a global economy to be the best hope for all our futures? well? then it is always good to read the enemy when he is as clear and as cogent as this, is it not? A variety of perspectives is invaluable to everyone. At only two hundred pages, do not be deceived into thinking that The New Rulers of the World will be an easy read, for it is not. It is accessible in style and Pilger does not pitch it above the heads of those of us who do not spend our lives
                  in the circles of politics or the halls of academe. However, its scope is massive, its cast of characters huge and its narration of recent history exhaustive. It will require your concentration. It is, though, an enlightening, angry, crusading read that exposes a view of the powerful that you may find both convincing and shocking. Just the sort of thing I like then! ISBN: 1-8594-412-X List Price: £8 More info on John Pilger at: http://www.johnpilger.com

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                  • Public Notice / Archive Internet / 25 Readings / 69 Ratings
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                    25.07.2004 20:10
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                    ********** TheDuke says: This isn't really a challenge, although more of helping hand for Dooyoo to understand the members and hopefully, in return, a chance of a better understanding of Dooyoo for us. This is how it works: You write an open letter to Dooyoo giving them your feedback on the site as well as any suggestions you may have for taking the site forward addressing any concerns you might have etc. The important thing is the feedback, so include as much or as little as you feel is appropriate to yourself. Don't worry if someone has mentioned a point that you want to raise ? it's also important that Dooyoo see how many people have praise, concerns or suggestions about aspects of the site. Then you do three things: first, you post your "opinion" on Dooyoo (the category is listed below) and include some blurb in it which I'll post below. Second (and this is the important bit) you email your opinion off to Dooyoo directly via the dooyooteam@dooyoo.co.uk address so that they can read it. Third, if (and the 'if' must be stressed here) or when you get a reply, then you post their reply onto the end of your letter thus giving a complete picture of your suggestions and concerns and how Dooyoo views them. Obviously, the blurb bit is important as people don't like you quoting their emails, so if a certain piece of text is included in the opinion, then they'll know what people's intentions are. ********** Dear Dooyoo, I'm a Dooyoo Dinosaur. I've been here since Pol Pot's Year Zero. I was here when writing ten, one paragraph opinions each day was the norm. I was here when there was no such thing as a crown. I was here when you didn't have Community Guides but you did have Dooyoo Gurus. I was here wh
                    en we all started trying and we were getting over a hundred reads for our opinions. I was here when Aurora turned into a disaster and when you sacked most of your staff. I'm still here. Some would say that I'm a glutton for punishment! There are lots of good things about your site: there are good things if I look at it without reference to Ciao, your UK competitor, and there are good things when I compare it with Ciao. Here, I have a forum that I can use to earn a small piece of pin money, where I can give information about products and services I have used and where I can gain information about products and services I might wish to use. It's all a great idea. It's what the internet *should* be all about. Here, I can give and receive honest information, untainted by marketing speak. The site is democratic: it doesn't tell me what I can or can't say (within reason) and anyone is free to contribute. I like that. Your competitor, Ciao, has an unpleasantly competitive set up. You do not have this. Its reward system is geared to a very narrow view of what constitutes desirable content. Yours is not. The bulk of Ciao's reward money goes to a very few members. Yours is spread more fairly. Ciao's atmosphere is often tense and uptight and the site feels cliquey. Yours is not; it is laid back, relaxed, more artsy, if you like. If it were not for some very silly, very amateur problems, I would far prefer Dooyoo to Ciao. Aurora - your two-year-old "redesign" was a disaster. I know it. You know it. Everyone knows it. The VC guys knew it, cos they sacked half your staff. We now have a situation where opinions appear in a format without capital letters and with seemingly random bolding. It looks dreadful! We have a s
                    ite crippled by navigation impossible to er... navigate. Pages are up to 800kb in size, making them ridiculously slow to load. The site search facility is bolyxed. Because you don't have enough staff to cope, you have decided to suspend product suggestions in several categories and to upload bought-in databases instead. Other suggestions wait months before they are implemented. This is not working. Members cannot write about current products because they do not exist on site, or because they cannot find them via the bolyxed search facility. Your competitor, Ciao, sees submissions at a rate of over 200 each day. Your submissions run at about 200 per week. This is not healthy for your revenue and it is dispiriting for your members. While I would like to see my opinions get read by members 100 times instead of the current 40, I realise that you probably couldn't afford to pay me this any more. I'm not too fussed about getting more reads. However, surely YOU are fussed about getting more submissions. Aren't you? I realise too, that you're skint. You have no tech staff to speak of - they were all sacked two years ago, weren't they? So it doesn't matter what I suggest here - if it costs money, you ain't gonna do it. Here, for what it's worth, are my two paltry ideas for what might stimulate submissions without costing you any money... * Get to grips with product suggestions. Currently, you are trying to encourage submissions for empty categories by offering 20 prizes of £3.50 per month in various categories. Scrub this, it is pointless. If you aren't accepting suggestions and members can't find your products by your useless search facility, they aren't going to write enough new opinions to make it worth it. Use that £70 per month to pay someone for adding member suggestions. £70 isn't much
                    , I know, but I can guarantee you would find an existing member who would do it from home at minimum wage. Make the admin suggestion tool available to someone - I know you can do this, because you offered this to an ex-member of staff sacked during the Aurora debacle. £70 would represent 14-15 hours per month of adding product suggestions. This would stimulate MORE opinions to be submitted than your current, pointless competition. * Sort out the community page! If you don't have the resources to correct your problems, at least use the community page not to advertise pointless competitions, but to inform members of the various workarounds produced by kindhearted members. Put the link to Charlie Consumer's Capital Punishment solution there. Put the link to the Tooyoo Guestbook facility there so that members get chatting and the site becomes more "sticky". Explain there how to do a domain search via Google, so that people can actually find - AND WRITE ABOUT! - products that exist on your site. Better still, put a Google search box there! Advertise the Opinionators forum there, too, so that people stay interactive. These are two very simple things. They would not cost you any money, yet I believe that they would really help stimulate a greater number of submissions, which let's face it is surely what you want. Withdraw one pointless competition and replace it with including items that people actually want to write (and read) about. Rejuvenate your community page so that it gives information about how members can tackle your ongoing usability problems. It's not 'ard. It is, surely, a win-win situation. For the life of me, I cannot see why you have not done these things already. Thanks for reading. (!) Let me know what
                    you think. Jill The above was sent as part of the Dooyoo Members' Feedback Initiative. The content is intended to provide constructive criticism for taking the site forward from the member's point of view, and has been posted to the site as an opinion. Your reply, if any is received, will be posted into the end of the opinion giving members a better idea of the Dooyoo and the site.

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                      20.07.2004 20:49
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                      ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Malu says: Wat, another write-off? Oh yes, indeedy. Let?s put some life into dooyoo and get some pennies out, dooyoo owes us, dontchathink? If it weren´t for us clinging faithfully and stubbornly to the comatose site, it would long have been buried in the internet graveyard. Of course we can only become stinking rich if everyone participates and reads everyone else´s ops. According to I Like Blue there are about 100 active members, 100 x 100 that would be wonderful! This category is just perfect, it doesn´t specify what kind of contribution is expected, you can write on the jewellery you have and like, want to have but can´t afford, detest and would never wear, there must be something for everyone ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● My daddy worked in a factory. He left school at fourteen and started work in a factory, in a job sponsored by my uncle. That's how it was then, in 1950. He worked for the same man, with my uncle, for the next twenty years. When the owner retired, he made everybody redundant but my uncle and my father used the redundancy money to buy the machinery and set up for themselves. Their old boss made them a good deal. He was fond of them. My daddy's factory smelled of hot metal. It was dark and dirty and? heavenly. Inside, they bent long pieces of tube, worked on big, big sheets of metal. Sparks flew everywhere. The floor crunched beneath your feet as you walked across a carpet of shavings and filings and tiny pieces of solder. As a child, I loved it in there. Out of the dark, hot, filthy factory came beautiful, shiny pieces of metal: special darts made of tungsten for top darts players; polished plug sockets for five star London hotels; pieces of the set for B
                      6;C programmes; wrought iron gates made with special designs for rich pop stars. On Saturday mornings I used to take a needle and spend hours picking out the pieces of swarf from my daddy's burned palms and fingers. They all had to go before he'd get ready to go out on my parents' Saturday night jazzfests. I swear I could dig that needle half an inch into his hands before he felt a thing; they were so calloused. To this day, I cannot bear to see a man with soft hands. There's Electra for you. Anyway. Years later, I was getting married. I didn't want a religious service. I am not religious. I didn't want a fairytale dress. I live in jeans. But I did want something to be "special". I wanted a special ring. I didn't want a run-of-the-mill plain gold band. I didn't even like gold. I wanted to design my own ring. I had sketches and ideas, but nobody to ask. "Andy will do it for you!" said my father. Andy, so it turns out, was a customer at the factory. Andy was (don't laugh!) a Hell's Angel and my father had been making sexy chromey bits for his bikes for years. Andy was also a jewellery maker. And so, a few days later, I found myself knocking at the door of a filthy, run-down house. Paint peeled from the window frames, weeds grew as tall as my head in the front garden. But in the drive were several huge, shiny motorbikes, lovingly polished. Andy was huge and scary-looking with lots of tattoos and hands the size of dinner plates. He made Lemmy look camp. I cannot say that I felt optimistic. I should have had more faith! Andy's house smelt like my daddy's factory. It was dark and dirty and it smelt of hot metal. Inside the living room were several sets of motorbike boots and
                      leathers, an old chair, a workbench and an enormous hide hammock affair, slung across the room and covered in tools. I sat down and tried to explain to Andy that I wanted a ring that looked medieval ? I wanted it to look thick and chunky, but at the same time, delicate. I said I disliked gold and I showed him some vague sketches of silver rings with jade insets that I'd done. I showed him too some photocopies of Ancient Egyptian and Persian jewellery that I'd taken, together with more of Tudor jewellery, pointing out what I liked in each. Andy didn't say a word. He just turned around to the hammock and picked up a small bag. He poured the contents into my hand. Seven moonstones lay there, glinting prettily. They were perfectly matched in colour, but were of slightly different sizes. "I can make you exactly what you want from these," he said, "and I'll use platinum to set them. Ok?" "Er? ok," I said. Andy measured my finger and that was it! Three weeks later, I went back to the house that smelt like a factory and picked up my wedding ring. You should see it. It is beautiful. The seven, delicate moonstones are each set into a thin, fine band of platinum. Each setting is carefully joined together, so that my ring is a series of ovals, all of a very slightly different size. The ring is thick, chunky; it looks old. And yet, because of the gentle-not-glitzy, sheen of the moonstones, the fine, fine, silver-not-gold setting, my ring looks pretty and delicate. If there was an ounce of the artist in me, it is exactly what I would have designed. It is my most treasured possession. I love it. And I'll always love that smell of hot metal, too.

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                        15.07.2004 19:41
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                        Whaddyareckon? Richard III had a big hump on his back and smothered his nephews high up in a damp, dank room in the Tower of London? Or is he the most wrongly maligned figure in English history, blackguarded by the upstart Tudors so that the English people would accept them as rulers? Ask any historian and they will tell you that their job is - for the most part - detection. History is all about finding clues. History is about piecing together tiny shreds of evidence. In this way, the historian hopes to interpret the past. We all like a good murder mystery, do we not? And so, what better subject for a writer of popular history than the most famous murder mystery of all; the story of the Princes in the Tower? This double murder has fascinated for over five hundred years. The disappearance ? and we assume, death ? of the erstwhile Prince of Wales and Duke of York has never, in the public imagination at least, been satisfactorily solved. Did the boys' uncle, Richard III really "do them in"? Or should we look elsewhere, to Henry VII perhaps, or perhaps even further afield? These are the questions Alison Weir hopes to answer in her book, The Princes in the Tower. Alison Weir writes "straight history". Although her subjects are usually the famous, romantic figures from history ? Henry VIII, Eleanor of Aquitaine and here, Richard III ? hers is not the sensationalist style of other current best-selling historians. She is not a Simon Schama or a David Starkey. Neither does she attempt a political or philosophical analysis of her subjects. You will not find Hobsbawm-style Marxist theory here. Rather, you will find a straightforward examination of the available sources and an
                        attempt to construct a plausible narrative. Weir writes a good story, too. Her style is sparse, direct and yet it is tremendously evocative. It is as readable as any novel. I find her characters are vivid in the same way that a good writer of historical fiction can breathe life into figures from the past. I am a great admirer of hers for she manages to produce intelligent, interesting books. They are accessible to the general reader with little background knowledge and yet they stand up perfectly well as basic academic works of use to student and historian alike. The Princes in the Tower takes all the evidence available ? from the writings of Sir Thomas More, and the Croyland Chronicles to the account of Dominic Mancini, and assesses it with shrewd and intelligent reasoning. There are two camps in the story of this murder: the pro-Tudor camp ? and you can include Shakespeare in this! ? which backs Richard III as prime suspect and the revisionist camp, which sprung up after the discovery of a copy of an act of parliament ? Titulus Regius - suppressed by Henry VII. Titulus Regius was the act of parliament disinheriting the two princes and elevating Richard to the throne. It casts doubt on the validity of the marriage of the princes' father, Edward IV, and declares the two boys illegitimate. Weir's interpretation is highly persuasive and indeed, is probably the most plausible explanation of events. However, I feel that some of her justifications on the veracity of Thomas More are perhaps more her judgement than weight of evidence. I also wonder about her speculation on Henry's ruthless suppression of Titulus Regius. But then, that's half the fun with a mystery, isn't it? It would be dull if I didn't put my own pinch of salt in somewhere!
                        The Princes in the Tower is more than just the story of the two little boys. It is the story of Richard III and Henry VII, it is also the story of the close of the Wars of the Roses ? that battle between York and Lancaster that had dominated the English political scene for almost a century. It is the story of the beginning of the reign of the Tudors. If those little boys had not died, it is possible that we would never have seen a King take six wives and found an established protestant faith in this country. It is possible that we would never have had a virgin queen. So much could perhaps have been so different. It is fascinating for this reason. But perhaps the real pull of this book is as contemporary as it is historical; perhaps it is timeless. The death of a child is such a sad thing. Life lost young diminishes us all for the young form our future. We need them. And I think we are never satisfied until we achieve closure on the deaths of children. We need, more than we need anything, to know why and how a child died. I doubt this story will ever go away. Weir's book is a rattling good read, perhaps appealing most to those who enjoy historical fiction but are looking to move on to something a little more authoritative but that is still engaging and interesting. It is not a heavy book either in style or in length. Just a little more than two hundred pages long, it's noted well with good acknowledgement to sources, yet it is never dry. My copy is a jolly posh Folio Society edition with a super foreword by Ruth Rendell, but you can buy it from Amazon, published by Pimlico, for the princely (groan) sum of seven English pounds and nineteen English pence. An excellent example of intelligent popular history. Recommended by me. To find out who Alison thinks
                        dunnit, you will have to read it. So there. ISBN: 0712673792

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                          04.07.2004 16:30
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                          Do you have children? Is your house noisy? Of course it is. Would you like to add a few more decibels to the cacophony? Read on, MacDuff. What is this Bop It Extreme 2 thingy, then? It looks rather like a steering wheel, although the top and bottom parts of the circle are missing. Instead, the "wheel" arms have brightly coloured knobs and buttons on the end. The basic premise of the game is that you listen for spoken instructions and perform some action or other on one of these knobs. The yellow Twist It needs to be er? twisted. The green Flick It needs to be er? flicked. The blue Pull It needs to be er? pulled. The orange Spin It has to be er? spun. Finally, the centre button of the wheel, Bop It, has to be er? bopped (read slapped)! You get the idea, right? To begin the game, you switch on and wait for the instructions, behind which thumps a rhythmic dance beat. Oh, it all sounds dead easy! Ha! Not so! It takes a little bit of getting used to! I am not blessed with great co-ordination, motor skills or spatial awareness and I took rather a long time to get the hang of it. Conor and Kieran ? seven and eight - caught on much more quickly though, and Michael ? over forty! - had it sussed from minute one. However good you are at it, though, Bop It Extreme is dangerously addictive. It is one of those games where, every time you mess up and it is game over, you find yourself saying, "Just one more go, just one more go," and before you know it, an hour has passed. If, like me, you generally fail miserably, the computer-generated voice pointing out this fact is jolly annoying! Is it not a one-trick pony, though? Well, yes it is, in the sense that you only ever respond to instructions. However, there
                          are several "modes" of play. You can play it as a single player in the way I have described. It has a reasonably long shelf life even in this way because it is so addictive and because you can keep track of your high scores. As you get better at it, the instructions come faster and so there is always the motivation to see how far you can get. This is Vox Bop Solo and you can also play it with others by comparing scores. You could try Vox Bop Pass It, which is the same game with a pass the parcel twist and on the instruction Pass It you must er? pass it! Winner is the last player left in. Or you could try Vox Bop One on One ? in this game two players take one side of the wheel each and respond to only the instruction that apply to them. And when you have mastered all the Vox Bop modes, you can start all over again with the Beat Bop modes. These remove the spoken instructions and you need to rely on listening to the various beats as cues for which knob or button to flick, twist, pull, spin or slap. You can also choose different beat styles. Yes, but I have no children, and this is just for kids, is it not? I bought Bop It Extreme 2 on a recommendation in a review on this website, and I certainly bought it with my two children in mind. It has certainly proved popular, with not only Conor and Kieran, but also with all their friends. Bop It Extreme seems to have peer group pulling power, judging by the crowds of children knocking at the door, wanting to have a go. We have owned this silly toy for a couple of months now, and it is still out and in use every day. However, it is not just the children playing with it. Michael and I find it hilarious. My dad ? who is almost seventy! ? is determined to beat Michael's high score of 121 and even my mother falls
                          about laughing and takes her share of turns. I would say that Bop It Extreme could be played and enjoyed by a huge range of people, provided they all like NOISE. It is particularly funny with a glass or two of wine inside you! Oh, go on then, I am tempted. Tell me the boring bits. Bop It Extreme 2 is available it seems, from most toyshops or gadget places. I bought mine from Amazon because I am a) lazy and b) had some vouchers. It will set you back £23 plus postage there. Larger Woolworth's stock it though, for £20 and this is the cheapest price I can find. You will need to buy three AAA batteries, as the game does not come complete with them. It is not greedy though ? in the eight or ten weeks we have owned Bop It Extreme 2, it has seen constant use, and we have not yet needed to replace them. The game is sturdy and strong ? hordes of seven to ten year olds have thrown it around and cast it aside to no ill effect at all and none of the knobs and buttons look worn or wobbly. The manufacturers recommend Bop It Extreme 2 for ages eight and up but my nephew, who is two, has enjoyed himself with it, even if he cannot quite play the game properly. I would think most children from five up would enjoy it and be able to play, although perhaps any older children or adults might refrain from doing too well themselves as a kindness. Shall I buy it, then? Oh yes, do! I really cannot think of any reason why you should not, as long as you do not mind noise. Bop It Extreme 2 is N-O-I-S-Y. Really, really noisy. It is also riotously funny. It would also make a fantastic Christmas or birthday present ? at twenty quid it seems like quite a lot of money for what you receive but it is well made and sturdy and it does have longevity. In
                          comparison to many toys out there, I think it is excellent value for money. Is there anything else I should know? Um? I should add that my high score is eighty-two. That is quite pathetic. Darnit!

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                          • More +
                            26.06.2004 22:43
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                            • "Pain in the neck"

                            Ok, I admit it. When talking laundry, my green credentials fall flat on their face. My intentions are good, but my results suck monkey rude things. It is true. I do not like laundry. I do not like sorting smelly socks, retrieving sticky sweets from pockets, or pens, or five-pound notes, or precious trading cards. I wash them all, to deleterious effect. I do not like pegging out washing. I do not like ironing. The whole laundry shebang is far too effortful for a lazy person like Murphy. Sod the energy consumption ? I tumble dry far too much. This is why, when my old tumble dryer was deemed too geriatric to be moved from London to Devon, I bought a new one as soon as my little lazy feet hit Devon soil. I bought a Creda advance T622 Condenser Dryer, and I was hoping that I would be able to rename it Murphy's Laundry Fairy. However, things did not work out quite as I had hoped? I bought this model for a number of reasons ? some of them good, some not so good. Firstly, I chose a condensing model, not a vented model, because initially I needed to place the dryer in my kitchen. The dryer was not going to sit anywhere it would be possible to site a vent hose and I did not want a hot, steamy kitchen, full of expelled moisture from a tumble dryer. This had been the case with my previous dryer and I was fed up with the heat, the steam and the resulting sticky surfaces. Condenser models have a reservoir to collect the moisture from dried clothes. Secondly, I needed a full 6kg load capacity because I do nowhere near enough pegging out and far too much tumble-drying. Thirdly, I needed many things for the new house and I had a budget. The Miele dryer that had caught my beady eye was twice the price of the Creda ? I paid £209 at Comet a year ago ? so that
                            one was scrubbed from the list. Fourthly, I was in a hurry and had suitcases of laundry to do and the Creda was available on a two-day delivery. I told you I was lazy! I have had the dryer for a year now. It is a good dryer. It dries very efficiently. It is easy to use. Twist the timer, press a button and go. There are two heat settings and so it is possible to dry delicate items without damaging or shrinking them. My sofas have removable covers that should only be dry-cleaned but I can wash them on a delicate 30-degree cycle in my machine and dry them successfully on the cool heat setting on the Creda with no problems at all. It seems to work more quickly than the drying guide on the front would tell you ? a full load of general washing should take around 90 minutes according to the guide, but I find 70 minutes is sufficient. I can dry a full load of jeans in only a little more time than that, despite the guide recommending almost an hour and a half. I have used the Creda at least every other day (oh, the shame for a wannabe environmentalist!) for the past year and it has had no problems at all. Because the drum rotates two ways, clothes emerge barely creased. If you are quick to remove and fold laundry when the programme has finished, you will need to iron hardly a thing. It is a sturdy, dependable, efficient drying machine. So far, so good. It is not Murphy's Laundry Fairy though. It is NOISY. It is really, really noisy. Whirr, whirr, thump, thump: this is a noisy machine. Thankfully, it is no longer in my kitchen but now in my conservatory ? two rooms away from where I am watching TV or listening to music. This is a blessed relief. Nobody wants to have to turn up their television to drown out the sound of the appliance in the next room. Far noisier than my
                            washing machine, I was dreadfully disappointed by the Creda. My husband works nights, and I could not do any drying during the day while the dryer was in the kitchen because the darn thing woke him up, it really is that loud. It is HOT. My goodness, perhaps it is because the condenser is so busy turning steam back into water, but this dryer gives off a lot of heat. Again, this does not matter much to me now the dryer is out of the way in my conservatory, but when it was in my kitchen it was a real pain. I could not bear to use the dryer while I was cooking for fear I would expire. Perhaps, this winter, I will be glad of the odd burst of heat in an otherwise unheated conservatory, but last winter, in my kitchen, I found it a real drag. It is a PAIN. I fear that my daydreams of a Laundry Fairy led me to expect too much from the Creda. I thought the condensing action would be As If By Magic. I really did not realise there would be so much to it. Not only do you need to clean the fluff filter after every load ? I did that with my old tumble dryer anyway ? but you also need to empty the water bottle. If you do not do these two things religiously, the one will prevent your washing from drying at all and the other will flood your kitchen floor. You also need to clean out the condenser unit once every half dozen or so loads. This is a real pain in the neck. The unit needs to have water run through it to remove the fluff and detritus. However, the unit is large and you need a decent pressure of water to clean it successfully. I cannot fit the unit into my kitchen sink and under the tap ? it is just too big. I cannot pour jugs of water through it because that will not remove the fluff properly. Therefore, I have to take it out, walk it dripping through my dining room, into the hall and to the
                            downstairs bathroom and run it under that tap. Then I have to clean out the bath. I know how lazy I am, but you all think that would be a real pain too, right? Ack. I dunno. Was I expecting too much? Probably, yes. Does it serve me right for being so lazy and not pegging out more washing? Probably, yes. Should I stop with the mental bargains ? "If I tumble dry I won't have to iron, so it's not as wasteful of energy as all that, is it?" "I buy renewable source power, so it's ok, honest it is, isn't it?" ? and just be honest and use the tumble dryer less? Probably, yes. I am disappointed in this purchase though ? the Creda is noisy, gives off far too much heat and is a pain to look after. It does, however, do a very good, very reliable job of drying clothes and for an appliance at the cheapest end of its type, it was not a bad buy. Not now it is out of the way in the conservatory, anyway! I really wish it were a Laundry Fairy though. Ho hum. Boring bits: Energy rating: C Kilowatts per hour: 3.4 Size: 60cm wide standard appliance Cost on my tariff to dry a full, standard load: 40p Purchase price: around £209

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                            • General / Discussion / 9 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                              19.06.2004 20:23
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                              I thought we might all like to play lazy debating. So here are a few issues for you to think about - and write about. By filling this in, we get to distil our views into just one paragraph. I rather like this idea, because I am a lazy opinionator, who doesn't like to plan or research, but just likes to type as the mood takes her. I have lots of strong opinions on current debates, but I'm just too lazy to sit and properly structure an entire piece on any of them. A few gut reactions in one paragraph is a format that suits me fine. So, here goes? ● Do you believe in life after death? No. Don't ask me why I don't, or to rationalise it. I have a conviction that is all. No, I don't. ● Should smoking be banned in public places? No. It is reasonable to ban it in the workplace. One should not be required to spend seven or eight hours per day in a potentially toxic atmosphere. Pubs, clubs and restaurants must make their own decisions as to what is the most profitable position to take with regard to smoking. We can choose which establishments to patronise, whether we are, or are not, smokers. Otherwise, are we going to ban polluting cars and lorries? Polluting factories? You cannot start and stop with smoking. Clean air is precious, granted, but let us not pretend that smoking is the only thing fucking up our lungs. ● Is capital punishment wrong? Yes. It is so wrong. There are all the usual arguments against it. There is always the possibility of executing an innocent person. As a deterrent it does not work (the murder rate is higher in the US states with capital punishment than without). The system inevitably skews in favour of the rich and educated and you end up executing the poor, the black, the illiterate. I agree with all of these ar
                              guments. More important than any of the "practical" reasons though, is the moral argument. State-sanctioned killing is wrong. The penal system should not have retribution and revenge at its heart. It should have safety, rehabilitation and reconciliation at its heart if we, as a people, can ever hope to move on. I realise that it is not possible to rehabilitate everyone, but to kill in return for a killing is not the answer. Every time we execute a person in the name of the state, we lose another tiny piece of our humanity and we will never get it back. Capital punishment demeans us all. ● Should cannabis be legalised? Without doubt, yes, it should be legalised. So should all other drugs. Let's legalise it, tax it and control it. Let's stop all that money being made without a penny paid in tax. Let's clean up and licence the supply. Let's protect children from evil men. Let's lose the guns and the violence. Most of the problems surrounding drug use are made infinitely worse by the fact that they are illegal. Let's reduce the stigma of being a junkie too, and provide proper, working programs for the casualties. ● Is beauty only skin deep? If you believe this, then you are a sadly limited person living a sadly limited existence. ● Do animals have rights? They have the right not to suffer abuse at the hands of human beings, yes. They have the right not to be farmed industrially so that we can have cheap food on our plates, yes. But I am not an anti-vivesectionist, or a vegetarian. I wouldn't buy a lipstick that had been tested on animals, but I would take a medicine that had. I don't buy factory-farmed meat, but I eat omnivorously. ● Does Britain still need a monarchy? I don't care! I don't particular
                              ly want a presidential head of state, but I would like to see our lot riding around on bicycles like they do on the continent. They are boring, spoiled people, living boring, spoiled lives and who actually expect the rest of us to swallow the gumph that arriving at a hospital wing in a limousine and cutting a ribbon or two is "living a life of public service". I think lollipop ladies are more deserving of payments from the Civil List. In the end, though, I just don't really care about these dull, indulged people. (Prince Charles gets half a brownie point for his environmentalism though!) ● Should fox hunting be banned in England and Wales? Yes. Y'know? what I find so offensive about fox-hunting are the rituals in it all. People being blooded, shouting "tally ho", wearing ridiculously expensive hunting pinks, toasting each other at the outset. Ewwww. It's so um? redolent of posh people taking the piss when and where they like because they're posh, isn't it? Having spent the last year changing from being a townie, to being a country-dweller, I've had to revise my prejudice somewhat. Hunting provides a livelihood in areas where the local economy would suffer terribly without it. However, I can't see why these people need to rip apart foxes. Why can't they ride to hounds in drag-hunting, for example? Farmers need to protect and control their farms. I eat rabbits shot by farmers regularly. But there has to be a less offensive way to control foxes than riding to hounds and getting off on tearing them to tiny pieces. ● Should Britain join the Euro? Gah. I hate this debate. I can't stand all that parochial, insular Britain is defined by having the Queen's head on a coin stuff. In the end, I don't think the quality of l
                              ife of the average Brit will alter that much whether we join or don't join. We'll just all carry on as we were, really. We might see some benefits, but they will be balanced by some disadvantages. It's much of a muchness to me. If it all boils down to a choice between remaining European or moving further statewards then I would choose Europe over the US every single time. But I'm not a fan of the EU. It's a nasty, cheating, abusive trade association that shits all over people who don't belong to it. ● Should all fire arms be banned for private use? Yes! If you don't need a gun for your job then you don't need a gun. Full stop. No one ? except farmers with shotguns and the like - should be able to keep a gun at home. And particularly not a hand gun. ● What is your opinion on legal prostitution? Gosh, well I guess yes, get it off the streets. Provide the working women with some legal protection. Try to control teen prostitution through licensing. Take power away from abusive pimps. Let's have health screening for prostitute and client alike. Get people in the sex industry paying tax at last. Anyone earning money should be contributing to the exchequer! What would happen to those poor women ? and there would always be some, wouldn't there? ? who couldn't get a licence though, for whatever reason? Would they be pushed even further into a deep and seedy underground? If prostitution were legalised, I'd be worrying about those women. On balance though, I say yes, legalise it. ● Are we living in rip off Britain? I don't really understand what this question really means. What's a rip-off? We're living in a rich country and our standard of living is far better than many, many other cou
                              ntries. Food is cheaper than it's ever been. We own more than we ever have. Why are we not satisfied with this relative prosperity? If the question is asking whether I think duties on items such as tobacco and alcohol have now passed the point at which a law becomes unenforceable, then I think yes, they have. If you're asking whether I think various industries are unfairly price-fixing such items as music CDs, film DVDs and software, then I think yes, they are and the greedy fools deserve to be pirated. ● What is your opinion on pornography? Most of it is um? crap! I'm as ready for a bit of erotica as the next person, but it's never erotic, is it? Ugly people with fake bits panting away don't really float my boat, I'm afraid. It's all so um? lowest common denominator, isn't it? If they made some upmarket porn, I might use it. But if it was upmarket, would it still be porn?! My mother has a theory and it goes something like this: for porn to be attractive to you, you need to think it's naughty in some way, else it won't do anything for you. Well, I don't see anything naughty in it at all. If you like porn, you're welcome to use it. So perhaps that's why I remain remarkably cheap thrill-free. I'm too liberal for my own [sweaty] good! Ho hum. I guess I'll live. Provided all parties are of age and consenting, then it's fine by me. ● Is genetically modified food right? Well, there is some fine rhetoric associated with it, isn't there? With GM crops we could feed the world, sustain the starving. And, even better, we could do it all without compromising our own greedy lifestyles here in the rich countries. I think most people would agree that this is an attractive proposition. I do not know eno
                              ugh about genetic science to really make informed comment. However, when I see the grasping hands of the big corporations and brands all over what's happening, I begin to wonder. Monsanto and people like that were saying the same things about DDT and other such post-proved poisons decades ago, weren't they? If I thought that profit was being put where it belongs, behind safety, I might approve of GM technology. But I don't think this is so, and I shan't be putting myself forward as part of a possibly Frankenstein experiment, thankee. No GM for me. There. Finished. How did I do?! Why don't you have a go?

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                              • More +
                                14.06.2004 00:56
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                                BO's not very nice, is it? We don't want BO, do we? In a previous incarnation as employee and office manager, I had the most unwelcome task ever ? that of taking an employee to one side and telling them, ever so politely, that their personal hygiene lacked a thing or two and that their colleagues were complaining about having to sit next to them. That's not a very nice thing to have to do, believe me. So, it's no wonder that deodorants and anti-perspirants have become a booming industry, is it? We're all out there in search of the best possible product, the wonder-item which will save us from ever having our office manager ? or anyone else for that matter ? shifting uncomfortably in front of us, trying to find a nice way to tell us that our armpits honk. And we do need a wonder-item, a best possible product, for we sweat. And left untended, microbes grow in our sweat, and? well? they smell bad! Our sweat doesn't smell, but those microbes sure do. Help is at hand, for courtesy of other reviews hereabouts, I reckon I've found the best possible product, the wonder item. It's Pitrok. Pitrok rocks (that's your free pun for this opinion, if you find further, then they are, I assure you, unintentional). Nope, you haven't seen it advertised. Nope, it's not made by any of the big names in Health and Beauty. Nope, it hasn't been highly researched by teams of scientists who talk about lipids and suchlike. Nope, they didn't need any animals to test it. Nope, it doesn't run out after just a few weeks of use. Nope, it doesn't destroy the planet. Nope, nope, nope and lots more nopes. Pitrok is just the best thing for your armpits. And it's so simple, you'd never believe it. Pitrok isn't? ? a deodorant. A deodorant is something you spray or smear ont
                                o your armpits hoping to mask the acrid smell of those dirty, low-down microbes with a sweeter smell. Underneath the sweeter smell, the acrid smell still lurks, I'm afraid to say. Pitrok isn't? ? an anti-perspirant. Anti-perspirants act chemically to prevent you from sweating. Yes, we're so paranoid about appearing squeaky-clean and as fragrant as Lady Archer, that we won't even allow ourselves to sweat. Y'know, guys, we're supposed to sweat. Sweating serves a purpose, otherwise we wouldn't do it. It's the body's way of ridding itself of toxins. You don't want to keep the toxins. Pitrok is? ? a solid stick of natural crystal. It's just a lump of mineral salts. But the magic of it is that it stops those nasty, low-down microbes from emitting any nasty smells. It does! It's like magic! It doesn't stop the sweat ? and I know this is a hard one to take in, but that's a GOOD thing, honest ? but it does stop the smell. It doesn't mask the smell, it stops it. Woohoo! I bought my first Pitrok about six months ago. It comes in a (recyclable-ish) plastic tube ? looking remarkably similar to any deodorant or anti-perspirant tube ? with the lump of crystal inside. You simply push up the crystal until a little bit is extruded from the top of the tube. If you've just got out of the bath or shower and your skin is wet, then you just rub it on. If your skin is dry, then you'll need to moisten the crystal a little by running it under the tap first. It doesn't smell. Not at all. It's completely odourless. And this lack of smell does take a bit of getting used to. We've all got so paranoid about our pits y'see, that we can't quite believe something will work if it doesn't blow out our noses. But, this la
                                ck of smell does have a distinct advantage. It means I can wear whichever perfume I like without fear of a multitude of smells all clashing together and me leaving the house smelling like the cosmetics floor of a department store. I just smell of my perfume. And wonderfully, it works. An application of Pitrok's crystal once every morning has served me well over the last six months. It's tremendously effective. Even in those hot days of the summer heat wave, I promise you that I did not smell. Nope. Not a tiny bit. No danger of someone with an embarrassed look on their taking ME to one side, thank you very much. After a day out at Paignton Zoo, I'll admit I gave my armpit a nervous sniff or two. But there was nothing. Not a single smelly, evil microbe to be found. I can't remember a time when I've had to apply it twice in one day, so it's long-lasting too. Pitrok really, really does work. I have fairly sensitive skin. My husband and children have very sensitive skin. We have to use Surcare washing powder else we run the risk of sore, flaky patches. Previously to buying Pitrok there were only one or two deodorant products I could use ? Original Source and Dove ? without getting painfully red and itchy, and only then if I made very sure to wash off all traces before I went to bed. Pitrok, being simply natural salts, doesn't irritate my skin at all. I can't remember the last time I felt uncomfortable; certainly not since I've been using it. The same goes for my husband. Most anti-perspirants contain aluminium chloride, a real nasty which closes up your pores and has been linked to the aggravation of respiratory diseases such as asthma. Pitrok doesn't contain any such thing, and it's my guess that was my itchy, sore problem all a
                                long. 7;e spend a fortune on facial cosmetics to unblock our pores, so it can't make sense to spend another fortune on things to block them under our arms, can it? And I haven't finished waxing lyrical yet! Pitrok doesn't rot your clothes ? no chemicals y'see. It doesn't leave stains on your clothes. I wear black nine days out of ten and I no longer need to worry about waiting around for my deodorant to dry before getting dressed because Pitrok doesn't leave any white marks. For a mother in a rush every morning ? which I am! ? this is the most enormous blessing. And there's even more! Pitrok will set you back between five and six quid, depending where you buy it, which at first glance is not particularly cheap. My previous choice of similar product, Original Source Roll On, cost about two quid. But then, Original Source wasn't still going strong after six months. My Pitrok crystal is. I might have splashed out more than double the price in the first place, but over time, I think I'll actually save money. I still can't quite believe it! If you buy in to the general paranoia about your armpits, you should know that as Pitrok doesn't stop you sweating, it doesn't stop the possibility of your clothes being sweated upon. There is a chance, if you sweat heavily, that you might get damp patches on your clothes. If you can't bear that thought, then that is the only reason I can think of for why Pitrok might not be for you. It's a totally unpractical, cosmetic reason, and I don't care if I sweat or if ? heaven forbid ? other people can SEE that I sweat. I'm supposed to sweat. But you might care. And if you do, then perhaps Pitrok won't make your grade, or at least, not during the hot, sticky summer months anyway. Yo
                                u'll be missing out though. Let me go through the benefits again? Pitrok does? Stop you smelling Give good value for money Pitrok doesn't? Prevent your body ridding itself of toxins Stain your clothes Test on animals Cause allergic reactions Exacerbate asthma Interfere with the smell of my perfume Bugger up the planet In my book, that's a five star product! You can find Pitrok at most independent health food shops. But if you have any trouble then you can buy it from the manufacturer's website at www.pitrok.com, or from that excellent online purveyor of right-on goods, www.naturalcollection.com. Buy some today. Go on. And spread the word! Pitrok really is the best possible product of its type. So there!

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                                • Yu-Gi-Oh / Archive Game / 10 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                                  05.06.2004 05:51
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                                  • "General shysterness"

                                  Well, on one level, this is all very complicated stuff. On another, far more significant level, though, this is all very simple stuff. On the one hand, we have an extremely complex card game inspired by an extremely complex TV cartoon. There are many characters ? all with magical powers ? and lots of sub-plots and complicated inter-relationships. On the other hand, we have a very simple deprive-parents-of-every-penny-possible fad, like all the other fads targeting the underage consumer. Gah. Yu-gi-oh is a very popular cartoon series for children, shown on Sky One. A young lad manages to solve a puzzle that no one else has been able to solve. It is a bit like the Gordian Knot though ? all very easy when you know how. This gives him magical powers and he transforms into an ultra-duellist, fighting ? of course ? on the side of truth, justice and all that jazz. And, what do you know? He duels his enemies, always having been placed under some unjust disadvantage. Over several series ? although I think only two have been shown so far in the UK ? he duels to save er? his sister, his grandfather, the world. You get the drift, right?! I have the basic idea, but I really think you need to be under twelve to appreciate all the many nuances. You can buy a PSOne game based on the programme. You can buy a PC game based on the programme. You can buy a GBA game based on the programme. You can buy the books of the series. You can buy the DVDs of the series. A PS2 game is in the offing, as is a movie. As if this were not enough, you can buy a trading card game with Yu-gi-oh branding all over it. I am just waiting on the lunch boxes. Sigh. To be able to play the Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game, you will need to buy a starter pack. This will set you b
                                  ack ? depending on where you shop ? between a fiver and nine quid. Ebay is the cheapest place to look and here you will pay five or six pounds for brand new packs. High street shops such as WH Smith and Woolworth's charge eight pounds. I bought from probably the most expensive place, Amazon, but that was because I had some vouchers to use. There are four different starter packs available but only two on the high street. From what I can make out, the second pair of starter packs are not yet officially released in the UK, but have found their way into the online shops. It is all so darned involved, though, do not quote me on that! For your five to nine pounds, you get a pack of game cards ? 43 "normal" and 3 "foil". The foil cards are obviously the super duper or, in Yu-Gi-Oh speak, the rare ones. Of course, they are not rare at all, just expensive. You also get a rule booklet and um? er? something optimistically called a "game mat". The game mat is a fold out piece of paper. Not card. Paper. Yes people: you too can fork out the best part of a tenner for a pack of playing cards. The cards are not even of top quality; they are less sturdy than a Top Trump card for instance, and about on a level with those Soccer Shoot Out cards you may have seen. The game itself is like any other trading card game. You begin with a set number of "life points" and you duel with them using the character attributes on the various cards. The aim is to reduce your opponent's life points to zero, at which point you have won the duel. It is all like an incredibly complicated Top Trumps. And when I say incredibly complicated, I mean INCREDIBLY COMPLICATED, in capital case. There are so many
                                  rules, so many exceptions, so many tactics and counter tactics it is ? frankly ? ridiculous. The Yu-Gi-Oh packs recommend their game for children of eight and upwards, but I do not think many eight-year-olds would be able to play it correctly. My two children, at seven and eight, certainly cannot. Neither can I, at forty. Conor, in particular, is a bright child; he whups both his parents at chess. Yet the intricacies of this card game are utterly beyond him. Observation of my two and their pals tells me that each gang of children simply make up their own, pared down rules, and I imagine the game is played in thousands of different ways up and down the country. Annoyingly, to begin a duel, you are supposed to have a deck of fifty cards. That is interesting, is it not, given that the starter packs contain only forty-six cards? Never thee fear, oh parents of bottomless purses, though, for there are booster packs available at almost every retail outlet near you. These will set you back an absolutely shocking two to four quid, and contain six or nine cards. You are beginning to see what an expensive fad this is, aren't you? Amazon Marketplace and Ebay are probably your best places to save your overdraft a hammering. As a parent, you may have trouble distinguishing which are the best cards to buy ? some cards carry a great deal more kudos than others, y'see. I find it all a total nightmare. I think the older fan of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards uses them in a more geeky, trainspotter-y collector fashion and this pushes up the price of certain cards on the auction sites. One imagines the manufacturers control release of certain cards too; it's all about creating demand, sadly. I resent these corporate tie-ins. I resent being asked to pay such an amount of money for what is no more than a pack of playing cards. I resent still furthe
                                  r buying a starter pack only to find that I will need at least one booster pack even to begin to play a solitary "proper" game. It is difficult to explain to a seven year old that one booster pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards costs the same amount of money as seven packs of football stickers, for to a seven year old, the one equates to the other. And in reality, the seven year old has it right, does he not? The Yu-Gi-Oh trading card game mounts an exorbitant assault upon any parent's purse. It would not be quite so bad if the cards were of high quality, but they are not. It would not matter so much if the game mat was sturdy, but it is not. It would not matter so much if there were a finite number of cards and packs to collect, but the releases are seemingly unending. And in the end, what has the child received? A game made so complicated simply to allow its manufacturers to force more and more purchases and a game far too complicated for its target consumer. I have bought one full-priced starter pack, one full-priced booster pack and made several second-hand purchases from Ebay. Altogether, on this Yu-Gi-Oh game, I have spent around twenty quid. Frankly, I feel raped. It has to be said though, that Conor and Kieran play with these cards for hours upon hours ? they duel between themselves using their own, made-up rules, they compare their collection with those of their friends, poring over details for more hours upon hours. This particular fad has lasted two or three months in these parts, and shows no sign of dimming. And much as it irks me to admit it, both my sons have probably had more than twenty quidsworth of enjoyment. It sticks in the gosh-darned throat though. Bloody tie-ins.

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