- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
Ok, I’ll say it now. I’m sorry about the title but do consider that I have been away for ages so what do you expect? I’m still breaking myself in gently. I’d like you to remain nice to me at all times. OK!? Anyway, to cut to the chase, a friend and I decided that there had to be at least some small excuse in each our lives for a little bargain break somewhere along the lines. Unfortunately, the maximum time we could afford was less than a weekend at most and we thus, being Northerners, decided on a mini-cruise break from Hull to Amsterdam to help kill the monotony and give us a change of scenery for a few hours. Says a lot for the north of England folks, I know. * By the way, a mini-cruise break of this ‘genre’ (trying to be posh here) is, in this case, a night on the ferry, a day trip into Amsterdam via arriving at Rotterdam (all coach transfers between Rotterdam and Amsterdam included) and another night on the ferry returning home – PHEW! * We’d each heard from a few other friends about the merits of a ‘bargain break’ P & O deal to either Holland or Belgium and decided to go for it three weekends ago as it proved a cheap and cheerful way to spend some time on the continent and was guaranteed not to break the piggy bank (the QE2 cruise will be featured some time next year folks so wait up – no but seriously we are both currently saving for our own ‘dream trips’)! So, Switch cards in hand and phone to ear, we booked the break approximately 36 hours before sailing time – a kind-of strong-willed, ‘sans panique’ last minute decision. Impressive, eh? We arrived at Hull at 4:00pm on the day of sailing to the spacious yet, how shall we say, unpretentious boarding area at Hull docks – sounds so, so glamorous doesn’t it (?) (grey river ‘Umber, grey sky, great bridge though down the line and oh yes! – I almost forgot to mention- free car parking!) and eventually boarded the ferry at around 4:30pm for the nine o’clock sailing. “Hmmm, a little early?” Jules started to think but merrily made her way along the queue to board the ship. Check-in consisted of a ‘get-tickets’ job at the main entrance of the boarding and then showing a boarding pass and passport at entrance to the ship. No problems, fine, on to the ship, start thinking about duty free and then - “ding, ding, ding” alarm bells began to tinkle in the head of our fair Jules – “What no security?” she cried like a long-lost sheep peering over a wall, her heart now beset with angst. Well, yes, maybe I am exaggerating a little but it did concern me that, in these times of just travel concerns, not a single bag or other piece of luggage was checked or scanned. Call me unjust or just downright cynical but isn’t a ferry trip (and a long one at that (10 hours approx.)) about the same in travel and terror terms as a flight? I’ll leave to decide your own answers but to me, flight and/or ferry are about on the same agenda. Worrying? Independent of security issues though, the ships used on this journey are second to none. P & O widely brag that the ferries used on the route between Hull and Rotterdam are “the world’s largest luxury cruiseferries” and it’s difficult to argue with that. ‘The Pride of Hull’ and ‘The Pride of Rotterdam’ ferries are a cut-above their Dover to Calais ‘sister ships’ and are (despite their ‘little-on-the-large’ size) still roomy, airy, elegant and rather sleek vessels. On top of this, for us, both crossings were extremely smooth and we hardly knew we were actually at sea. To fill the time between boarding and sailing there is a good amount of things to do on the ship to stop you from getting bored. The ship has duty-frees shops (as you would expect) which spec ialise in cosmetics, booze and chocolate (no harm there then!) and are open from boarding until approximately 11:00pm so you have loads of time to buy or browse as obviously, a sensible person will leave their purchasing until the return trip for reasons I will go into later. Regarding this shopping there are certainly some bargains (as well as the obligatory crap) in store and I would recommend the odd ‘in-boat’ splurge. On the homebound trip I made full use of the current lager offer of 5 cases of Stella Artois (each case 24 x 25cl bottles (aw, cute) and got one case free (hurrah!) for the shockingly cheap price of £24. 65 or 38.70 Euros (can’t get a symbol for it on my PC - grrrr). Anyway, that is 144 bottles to you mate. Cheap at half the price (or thereabouts)! It’s about the same pricing as can be found at continental hypermarkets like Auchan and deals like this are normally exclusive to one product on ship. Wine prices are also drastically reduced but, as a wine snob (and you have to be careful dahling!) I felt there was little choice in brands and variety. If you are a spirits fan however then Bob’s your uncle – if you know a brand’s name then dependable is your game (must stop watching those quiz shows)! The ship also offers other traditional forms of entertainment in terms of two cinemas (with a choice of a handful of films available to view at the supplement cost of £6) and a revue-style ‘after dusk’ entertainment show. The latter is not really my type of thing so I suggested we obviously trawl the bars (and we did!) spending most of our time in an Irish bar drinking pint-on-pint of cool and cheap Amstel (Irish v Amstel? – no, I don’t get it either). I guess there are (at least) another three features that have to be covered in order to justify the strengths of taking such a cruise, all of them being the mega-important, backbone issues of accommodation, food and price. Ha ppily, I can again comment positively on all of them. Accommodation, as you would expect, is either in inside or outside 2 or 4 berth cabins. We booked a seaview ‘outside’ cabin for the additional £10 upgrade cost. Our cabin was equipped with 2 (rather strange but comfortable) couch cum beds complete with fresh and clean bed linen and pillows (important – remember cleanliness is next to godliness in my travel dictionary), hanging space, storage space as well as a handy en-suite ‘bathroom’ (containing sink, basin and shower). Nothing was amiss in here and, although small and basic, I couldn’t fault a thing. Sorry consumers! Food came at a price or at a supplement extra to the cost of the voyage. The pre-book (reduced) price we paid AT TIME OF BOOKING was £12.40 for a buffet dinner and £6.35 for breakfast. Dinner was (as it says on the tin) buffet style with waiter/waitress service for the first part of the meal for orders of entrées, wine and other drinks. There was a choice of three main courses, salad bar(s) various desserts and a cheeseboard (and I’m a sucker for a good cheeseboard). Again, I couldn’t fault either the food or the price. Ditto breakfast with a choice between either full English or continental to the sight of Rotterdam’s dramatic portside architecture. Sorry that I have no further complaints consumers! Mucho apologies! The last thing to be said (and always the last thing dear friends!) concerns the price. How much for this little sojourn? Well don’t worry my customers – it’s not that much really. All in all (2 night’s accommodation, coach transfers on the continent, outside cabin and two dinners and breakfasts) the trip came to a rather un-whopping cost of £110 pounds each! Rather impressive for the transport costs of a different day trip me thinks (and I haven’t even gone into the antics in Amsterdam, they’re for another opinion som ewhere and a large one at that)! Be wary however that positive price changes are a part of P & O’s policy and they often offer ‘two for one’ or BOGOF deals on some crossings according to season. You’ll find all the blurb on this and more at [www.mycruiseferries.co.uk] as well as information on deals between their other route of Hull to Zeebrugge (with Bruges as the day-trip destination). So in eventual summary, I would wholeheartedly recommend this trip to anyone wanting a quick and cheap change of scenery. That said, the trip is possibly only economical for those of us that live in the north of England/Midlands region and/or in fair commuting distance to Hull. Personally, I would certainly travel this enjoyable way again but might sensibly address some rather large safety issues with the company before I go. It would be fair to say that the ‘experience’ of being on board ship is both pleasant and relaxing whilst eliminating some of the hassles of airport travel. The trip, seen either as a mini-break or as an extended day-trip, from English coast to Rotterdam (and beyond!) is not quick but, taking place as it does during the night, this ‘mini cruise’ can offer a sensible and casual alternative to arriving at the continent and can act as a prelude to a really fun day’s play – but, like I said, that’s ANOTHER opinion. Anyway, happy travels and, as ever, please enjoy!
Hey, what a title folks! I figured it was about time I added something a little risqué and slightly frisky to my work. Hell, knows I’ve endeavoured to portray myself as the innocent type for long enough and anyway, in case you didn’t know, sex sells here and I’m going to jolly well move with the times. Shocker that. By the way, if you want to be completely sordid and just read the ‘willie’ section you’ll just have to scroll on your own accord – think twice if you think I’m giving you any tips because I’m too busy concentrating on the sensible stuff first so b******* (ooh hasn’t my writing got ‘edgier’ since I’ve been away?)! I’ve decided to review this magazine as I personally think it’s a quality read and deserves positive attention. Although, I sometimes berate the omnipresence of this deepening genre of glossy magazines and their emphasis on ‘tack’ culture and advertising spend, this is a specimen that I don’t try to hide under the magazine rack as it actually offers a balanced and intelligent view on life from a female perspective. It’s less sassy than Cosmo (if you can label Cosmo as sassy that is!) and less whore than More (sorry but that magazine is nothing but a watered down porn mag (notice that all the males on this site instantly rush from their seats to rush out and buy it). In many respects, Marie Claire is very much a global magazine. Published monthly (cover price £2.90, published by Southbank (IPC Media) and available everywhere (yeah, all good newsagents)!), it was established as early as 1937 (when it was then issued as a weekly) and currently there are 24 international editions published around the planet. Its core target market reader, reflected through any close inspection of its editorial and advertising content, seems to be the late twentysomething through to the late-thirtysomething (and beyond) female. Adding o n to this, the magazine is very much geared to the ‘middle class and upward’ type reader or (by stuffing the terminology) those with a bit of a social conscience and with a decent amount of cash to splash. If the combined gloss and advertising calibre are anything to go by then this magazine is certainly shifting in the direction of projecting desired affluence and a real feel for luxury or how else do you justify a fashion section of a magazine that thinks nothing of displaying Chanel separates at almost £2,000 quid a pop? Can you afford ‘em, chuck? This is certainly NOT Take a Break territory folks. The ‘stand-out’ feature of Marie Claire as a lifestyle as well as fashion magazine is a constant inclusion of quality journalism from issue to issue. This publication is certainly not shy in tackling areas generally considered taboo in some other female presses and (as a contrast to its luxury fashion and lifestyle drive) has covered topics such as third world poverty (hunger and starvation), homelessness, anorexia, female genital mutilation, rape, alcohol addiction, etc., throughout previous issues. Basically things that Vogue and Tatler (dahling!) would not touch with a begging and blazing bargepole. Concerning the current issue at hand now (‘cos I know you can’t wait for the ‘willie’ bit), I’ll give a run down of the September edition to exemplify what typical fashionista and writing fodder is generally captured between the sheets. Structure is a prerequisite here me thinks. * EDITORIAL CONTENT * By saying ‘editorial content’, I’m basically meaning anything apart from a fashion and beauty article as I’ll deal with them later. Editorially featured in this months issue are: 9/11: THE DAY MY LIFE CHANGED FOREVER This is an interesting article that brings together several womens' reactions to the World Trade Center atrocity. Interestingly, women of differing creed and colour are asked the same questions pertaining to the disaster (some of them more directly affected than others) and the future of America in general. Presented in a snappy photojournalism style it captures people in their everyday life without ceremony, so to speak, and the viewpoints offer a general vision of people wanting to get on with their lives whilst demonstrating a realisation of what is now important. I’M A GOOD CATHOLIC GIRL – JUST LIKE MADONNA Er, no folks, that’s not actually me speaking – this is an interview with Heather Graham. (*** This is the one folks*** - WAIT FOR IT) – IS HIS A TINY PANINI OR A GREAT BIG BAGUETTE? Yes ladies and gentlemen, this IS the willy article! Presented in descriptive and story-telling form, five men (dare to) speak about the intimate particularities of their genitalia. Folks, it’s a right laugh. Each guy in term admits to being (their words – NOT mine) - a ten incher, pierced, wide, Mr Average and er, mini sized and then describes what effect this has over their sexual performance listing all notable advantages and disadvantages. This is all fronted by a two-page introductory ‘cover’ shot of the same (brave) lads holding various bread accompaniments -baguette, bagel, ciabatta, submarine and finger roll (to categorically reflect the aforementioned qualities) over their groin regions. This is, of course, done in the best possible taste and ends up being a non-offensive, laugh-a-sentence, complete and utter giggle. * MARRIAGE BROKE US UP * Textually explored here is the bizarre relationship between marriage and break-up in so far that an eventual marriage between a long-term cohabiting couple will all too often end up being the deciding factor of their divorce. If you have your dou bts then here’s a couple of facts and figures lifted from the page intended to get you thinking: + Three out of five cohabiting relationships will lead to marriage, but cohabitees are four times more likely to break up than married couples. + Divorce proceedings cannot begin in the UK until a year after marriage. (I’m including that last fact as I admit to actually not knowing it myself!) * IT ALL STARTED WITH A GLASS OF CHARDONNAY * This article explores the relationship between women and alcohol. It is interesting in saying that although women think they are in control of casual social drinking, alcohol ultimately takes control of them in the long term. This piece illustrates the link between alcohol and the dangers of binge drinking, the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases and ultimately death. Obviously, an intelligent treatment in this way makes for exceedingly sobering reading where the worst case scenario is not only emphasised but also made realistic. Although there are many more good quality articles to be found in here, of course, I clearly won’t go into them all for if I did I’d surely be here until next week not to mention spoil the fun of your own reading discoveries. *** I said however that I would touch briefly on the other mainstays of the magazine – these being fashion and beauty. Without the distance and automatic power trip of ‘being Vogue’, Marie Claire still takes the female moral ground in running a wide base of detailed fashion and beauty coverage. Using the September issue purely as illustration again, there are 21 fashion as well as 10 specific beauty articles to be found, both aspects glossing over current trends and product news as appropriate. Happily, both take stock of the budget as well as the luxury customer with the fashion message accentuating the pull of the high street as well as the push of haute coutu re. Health, lifestyle, and travel articles round off the package as well as the customary ‘regular’ articles that run from edition to edition - problem pages and horoscopes fittingly fitted as standard. This issue also remains competitive by offering a free gift (a rather handy black canvassy handbag (well, I’ve seen worse) as well as by featuring various giveaways and offers between the covers. And finally … well, there you have it – a veritable bombshell of a magazine within a nutshell or two. My final verdict would ultimately be one of recommendation as, for me at least, Marie Claire remains a realistic, intelligent and gripping read. As well as featuring the fashion and beauty glamour and gloss that all us ladies aspire to (if we choose to admit it or not!), MC doesn’t lost touch with the world at large. A read every now and then is sure to make you reflect, ponder, desire, want and aspire as well as endeavour to raise your own social conscience. And in this specific September case, of course, it’s going to make you chuckle long and hard about those willies and bread shapes I had the pleasure of mentioning earlier. Did I say long and hard? Absolutely. No. Pun. Intended.
I’ve chosen to review ‘Let’s Go Europe’ guide as in many ways it can be described as a travel bible of some form. In brief here, it’s huge (1006 (count’em!) pages of written information excluding 46 extra pages of coloured maps to be found at the front and rear of the book)! It’s up-to-date (every Let’s Go book is revised annually) and it’s also wide-reaching (it includes fairly-detailed reviews of major European cities and regions from (as it says itself (p.79)) ‘Athens to Abba’ – or from Greece to Sweden in my own sketchy translation! To be precise 39 (no more and no less) countries are featured. Content(s)-wise, it does concentrate on budget travel which can be counted as either a positive or negative point in accordance to your own particular needs (it’s great if you’re looking for Europe’s ‘cheapies’ in the food and accommodation line but less great if you really require a little more luxury on your well-earned travels). Price-wise, the RRP of the book is £15.99 in the UK, $22.99 in the US and $35.99 in Canada although, as a tip, copies that are a year out (for example, if you purchase a 2001 copy in 2002) can most often be found at a greatly reduced price. I bought my copy in a book clearance store in the glamorous resort of Bridlington for a mere £2.99 (I know, I know – what a rock chick je suis). Cheap at (way less than) half the price thanks very much! The motto here is ‘look around, shop around’ of course. As a concept, this book, in its own invariable doorstopper form, can be said to be an absolute must for the average traveller. It can be anything from a basic reference point (possibly for the more experienced traveller whose needs are generally more minimal) to a provider of more specific route and indeed itinerary information (in this case for the less experienced traveller whose needs are potentially grea ter). In any case, it is greatly deserving of a space on one of your shelves and is able to inspire more than a few dream itineraries. In looking at the book in more detail, I’ve decided to write about its pros and cons (or my likes and dislikes regarding the book) in a detailed list form. What follows represents my own particular viewpoints on the product and, as ever, I respect the fact that yours may differ greatly from pro to con and area to area. PROS (include): + A methodical, well-marked guide to each city and each area. Using Paris here as a random example, the guide includes tips on: * Getting there and away (including flight, train and bus information). * Getting around (a more specific guide to all varieties of public transportation). *Orientation (a geographical distinction between the main two halves of the city (la rive gauche et la rive droite (the left and right banks of the Seine)). * Practical information (listing tourist and financial services, local services and emergency and communications information). * Accommodations (roughly five pages listed by each ‘arrondissement’ or area). * Food and cafés (roughly four pages again listed by arrondissement). * Sights, museums and entertainment (roughly seven pages listed mainly by each ‘tourist’ area or genre). * Shopping (by arrondissement). * Nightlife (ditto). … And finally… Phew! * Excursions from Paris (various towns and tourist attractions in northern to mid-France). So, as you can (hopefully!) see, information for especially major cities is extremely comprehensive and again, in the nature of ‘budget’ travel, should be able to provide most, if not all, required details. + Clear language, yes, that’s right - clarity of English. I don’t want to be too patronising here but the book is written in a straightforward and no-nonsense way – essential for any well-meaning travel guide. Descriptions are clear and are often (very) straight to the point yet they almost always instantly provide sufficient information kind of at the touch of a button or, more aptly, at the flick of a page as you may prefer to say. + Inclusion of accurate maps. So, so important this and I say they’re accurate because I’ve used ‘em! A travel book without (accurate) maps is a little bit like not being able to organise the proverbial p*** up in a brewery or like the ashtray on a motorbike syndrome (sorry, for the comparisons but)! Zip! + Suggestions of possible itineraries I know fairly and squarely that most happy ‘travelbunnies’ want to make there own plans but having a page to finger guide to possible routes can often give even the most hardened traveller just a bit more inspiration. As an ex-Eurailer, I am all too well aware of the pitfalls of pithy mock-inspiring but never-ever possible journeys. All I’m saying folks is that sometimes you need a few written (nay screwed) down words to point you in the right direction. Know whatta mean? + Inclusion of a ‘handy’ language glossary. Yeah, once again, I have to state the obvious (hands up the bleeding linguist around here!) but if you are planning to travel around Europe you absolutely need a language chart/glossary (complete with pronunciation tips) in order to enhance your journey. And here you can practise until your little heart is content with the fine linguistic prowess of ‘perfect’ English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and (finally!) Russian. Good innit? Phew again! Indeed. CONS: - I’ve decided to group the ‘cons’ bit together in paragraph form as it reads better but also because I generally don’t have anything really, awfully and terribly bad to say. My two major criticisms of ‘Let’s Go Europe’ (and often of any!) travel book in general are: * this book is far too bulky and heavy to be ‘handy’ & * this book (again like any other!) can be too subjective rather than not objective enough. Your travels are NOT someone else’s travels and vice versa! By these I mean that firstly the book is quite impractical with its sheer width and depth. Again, from ex-Eurailing experiences I know the book can act like a piece of gold bullion in one’s rucksack and can tend to weigh one down somewhat. Still, the way to overcome this is to actually become a bit of a sad git like me! Research your destination(s) well in advance and photocopy relevant information, maps etc. to store in a file as a lightweight more practical alternative. Easy eh? Similarly, regarding the subjectivity issue, make sure you use this guide and others like it as only part-of your total file of information. As you are obviously aware, the *Internet (*‘cos my dictionary says it’s capital ‘I’’) offers a plethora of travel information, articles and recommendations that can be finely researched and tuned to any individual itinerary. By and large, you’re bound to have a more invigorating (enjoyable, suitable, perfect, etc. – delete as required) trip if you make maximum use of all the resources you can possibly pull together. (Tip: CIAO, Dooyoo and Epinions (the American equivalent of these sites) are positively brimming with recommendations as if you didn’t possibly know that already!) Anyway, I think I’ve got it covered here and there or just about but my last words are, as ever, pretty damn simple: DO try to get a copy of this book by hook or by crook (beg it, steal it, borrow it, look at it and, as you like, photocopy it (at work!). But DON’ ;T make it the ‘be all and end all’ of your journey. Be flexible AND practical, shop around furiously for mines of travel information from other locations, store ‘em together, pack lightly and have a great trip! Enjoy everywhere and anywhere! Happy travels! - J
Hiya folks! Yes, I’ve been away for absolutely ages but I’m excited to be back at long last in the ‘restful’ period of the school holidays – it’s uncanny that isn’t it, it seems I only write when I actually have time to breathe!? In the meantime loads of thing have happened one of the most major being buying a house ‘en solo’ with all its little ‘difficulties’ and mortgage problems. Sit down comfortably folks and I’ll tell you another of my famous stories. Glad you had rest from me, eh? I already knew I was going to encounter mortgage problems when I was living in the USA after my undergraduate degree. My student loan deferment forms had arrived in London and guess whose ‘trusty’ friends didn’t ship ‘em over stateside. Yeah mine. I ended up getting a CCJ and have had credit problems to one extent or another ever since. Sob sob. Automatically then I knew I needed help from a mortgage lender who could take my problems into account. High street lenders didn’t want to know as a CCJ often markets you as irresponsible, so I tottled of to a broker and shared the secrets of my short and sad credit history. Southern Pacific was recommended to me as a lender that takes mortgage enquiries into account irrespective of past credit history problems, thus they’re a good lender to turn to even if you’ve previously been sent packing, spitting and pleading from the doors of other lending companies. They are a reputable company and adhere to the regulations of the Mortgage Code (I checked this out through speaking to various brokers). Naturally, as you would expect, their interest rates are higher than some companies (although by no means astronomical and unrealistic) and their redemption penalties remain high for the first three years of a mortgage term (6% of outstanding mortgage balance). In terms of figures, it you were interest ed in getting such a loan, you should expect to initially put down 10% of your property’s value to qualify at this mitigates overall risk and you could then expect rates (using my own mortgage as an example) of a fixed rate of less than 6% for a discounted period (normally for anything up to 18 months) and then at a variable rate (currently at 6.75% for my mortgage). Again, I personally find these rates realistic especially if seen as a temporary measure. Ultimately, all mortgages demands are treated as individual cases but I would certainly recommend in the company in being able to help with mortgage provision for problem cases in the short term. When my period of three years payment is up, providing my student loans are paid off in full, I will certainly turn to a high street lender to seek better rates for the remainder of my mortgage. If you’re still interested, it only remains to be said that most brokers who specialise in adverse credit would surely be able to recommend Southern Pacific. However, if you have any problems with this I would recommend Simpleloans (on (01543) 303170) as a broker (no, I’m not advertising it’s just that I used them myself and they’re very good). Anyway, in the words of the French – c’est tout. And I really hope this advice is in anyway helpful to you folks out there who really have had difficulties with some of the more pompous lenders that exist. I couldn’t go without that last insult. Over and out folks and it’s bloody good to be back! PS – Be nice to me!
What can I say / not say about Sinead O'Connor? For years I have found her magical music haunting, fragile, beautiful and, put rather simply (as opposed to commonplace diva ‘artistes’ like Tina Turner), the best. Yet sometimes I find myself unique in my views. I don’t know if it’s a female versus male thing here but many of the men who have come into contact with me playing this music seem to hate it along with then hating me for playing it. When I was playing this album last week one of my dear, male mates said, “turn that crap off!” A few years ago when I was planning to see the film ‘The Butcher Boy’ in which O’Connor plays a tiny cameo as the Virgin Mary, another male friend said “I’m not going to see that bloody film if SHE’S in it!” So what’s the problem with Sinéad O’Connor; what’s wrong with the music, the voice or the person? To presume in advance on her music and persona, could it be that people can’t forgive her honesty, and at that, her femininity? Talking music now, this fifteen track collection starts with Nothing Compares 2 U which, in spite of its popularity, is something I would not credit as her best piece. This song, popularly penned by Prince, is sparse in melody and rhythm but can’t help seeming like a qualified downer to start the collection. If you like the song but not the vibe, check out Prince’s slightly more upbeat version. However, the tone changes as Mandinka follows with its mad, moronic but again very musical energy. The Emperor’s New Clothes follows this dusky vibe and from here O’Connor’s album, and her quest for identity, really does start to set off. I could go on to quote every piece that follows as a classic piece (and they are!) but in particular (the dramatic) Troy, (the regretful) Success Has Made a Failure Of Our Home, (the lilting) You Made Me The Thie f Of Your Heart (listen to the Irish vibes here) and (the sheer musical) Just Like You Said It Would Be - showcase O'Connor's unique spellbinding talents and her need for exquisite if again feminine, drama. At first you can wonder why the musical Rice/Webber ‘clanger’ of a song ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ appears on this collection (which could and should possibly be kept just for ‘originals’) – but if anything this piece does illustrate what can be described as the delicate beauty of the singer’s voice. The secret, in fact, to enjoying this album does come with each song and, within this, finding a hidden purity in both the music and the lyrics. O'Connor's voice proves to be continuous mixture of soft and sharp as she sings her tome of everything from sensual vulnerability to isolation. As a music fan, I know that O'Connor has come into a lot of criticism for her beliefs and her inbuilt, shameless sense of extreme and sometimes admittedly melodramatic drama. At the same time all I can say is thank goodness that there is an artist around who is so original. It is hard for most music to be like this collection, a fact that makes this album so rare and so plainly ‘good’ that it surely has to be treasured. Whatever your preconceptions of O’Connor may be (men take note here!), I would ask you in your heart of hearts to give her a chance. Get hold of a copy of this, close your eyes, look out the window and wait for the storm to come over the sea. PS. If any there are actually any males out there who DO like this album – please let me know! You may just be a rare breed – something I’ve never come across before! Track listing: Nothing Compares 2 U, Mandinka, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, Fire On Babylon, Troy, I Am Stretched On Your Grave, Success Has Made A Failu re of Our Home, John I Love You, Empire, I Want Your (Hands On Me), Heroine, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, You Made Me The Thief of Your Heart, Just Like U Said It Would B
Let’s face it, the time was always meant to come when ‘our Jules’ here would endeavour to write a review on the perils of shopping – and here it jolly well is! I would normally write with some trepidation on this kind of thing because, contrary to male/female myth, I am NOT a born shopper and I do prefer to get the business over with quite quickly and with the absolute minimum fuss. Two non-female quirks illustrated here then. But even though shopping and shops (and shopping centres!) sometimes scare me, I tend to go for them when pay-day is near (either on, just before (chequebooks!) or just after (while the money is still there!)) – at these times, I suppose I see them totally in a different light! Meadowhall then, the demure palace of steel-city (that’s Sheffield to you!) capitalism, as seen from the outside, looks like a mix between a ‘blocky’ building-brick concrete jungle and a glass and light-encrusted fairyland. See it ‘by night’ and you may well think Christmas has come early in South Yorkshire (as so it ought). It is large enough to be called ‘large’ but once inside is surprisingly easy to navigate (well, it is once you get the hang of it)! The choice of shops that Meadowhall houses is actually quite amazing and I suppose that you could stereotypically refer to the cliché here that ‘there is something for everyone’. Large stores include, Marks and Spencers, House of Fraser, Debenhams, W H Smith, H & M, Next, Boots, and Sainsbury’s, whilst small(er) store range from anything from the chains (Principles, River Island, Benetton, Ravel, Monsoon, Gap, (and far too many others to mention) etc. Most of these demonstrating a clothing ‘bias’ of course, as does the centre itself. Other popular shopping sectors include mainly audio/visual stores (all the major names, Argos, Dixons, Our Price, etc.), and an abundance of mob ile phone outlets (basically you name it and it’s here – the website I’ve listed at the end will help clarify). Everything else from opticians to sports shops are obviously also here in addition to a range of service-orientated stuff like banks and travel agents. Another reason why this shopping centre is ‘fantastically-famous’ lies in the fact that it also provides an abundance of leisure facilities, namely a multi-screen cinema and a plethora of typical ‘American mall-type’ eateries, McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut included. That’s why the (big) kids love it folks! Looking at it from a ‘consumer op’ perspective there is definitely plenty here that would merit it an easy five stars. The centre is certainly spacious enough to keep any ‘big-bucked, big-spender’ happy and it offers precious consumer-valued additions like free parking, and generally good and clean facilities in-centre. It’s a place you could potentially spend (and the clue was in this word) a plastic-burning good few hours, credit facilities pending of course. On the downside of this (and mainly from personal experience), if you’re skint then you might as well keep away, you’ll have nothing to do and the taste of cheap pizza and flat Coke can get rather boring after the second slice and tenth mouthful. Point taken I hope! Before we go though, I’d like to be at least a little frivolous in these roving dooyoo times in adding a little bit on my favourite store in this huuugggggeeeeee place (slight exaggeration I know!) – well it’s (as many a dooyoo writer has previously praised) HMV. If you’re a music fan, a visit to HMV alone here is definitely worth the trip. Expect to find every ‘album’ (and more!) that you’ve ever looked for between these wide and many aisles. Expect also, to spend the readies. Buying an album (or three!) from this massive se lection will never be enough. Music fans – you have been warned. Also remember to leave enough stacking room in your car for the purchases! OK – personal opinion now ended! The overall tip then is if you’ve got money – burn it here! – You’ll love the place and it’s an ‘easy’ place to be if you’ve got that kind-of disposable time. But if the quids ain’t on your side – you really would be better staying in at home and counting them. Save them until later and then, when you’re in a shopping mood, make the trip! And even if you’re a ‘mostly shopping cynic’ like me, you’ll still be able to live with yourself for visiting – it is bareable! Have fun and like my mum always says – don’t spend up! PRACTICAL INFORMATION Meadowhall is open 10am – 9pm (Monday to Friday), 9am – 7pm (Saturday) and 11am – 5pm (Sunday). Meadowhall lies off junction 34 * M1 or just by Sheffield to where there are also excellent public transport links. For all your ‘shopping concerns’ – there is a Meadowhall website – www. Meadowhall.co.uk Meadowhall is now incidentally a ‘no-smoking’ zone, so don’t expect to go fag in hand and get away with it (my mate didn’t)! That’s about all folks! So again, enjoy!
The public versus private education debate is one that interests me very much and my reason for writing up on this subject at the moment comes from discussing the school-fee situation with my cousin. She is currently considering if she and her husband can actually afford £4,000 per term fees for their daughter (I know I never could – I personally find this extortionate (who wouldn’t? – overdrafts anyone?)). Adding to this, as an ex-state school educated pupil who comes from a large family of mostly public school educated relatives, I consider the debate to be possibly even more interesting and relevant, as well as sometimes farcical. I personally often beg the question on if private education is ‘really’ required for as many school pupils or does it just merely represent snobbery of need (and moreover need of snobbery) in many cases? As most of you know (and for those who don’t, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again), I am a teacher in a (far from exclusive) regular comprehensive (the education ops keep rolling in folks – can’t help it!). So, it would also be realistic to say that I do sometimes ask myself the question on which sector (state or private) I would like to teach in – normally though the answer is ‘state’ so at least something about this choice must be right. Anyway, here goes with the cases and arguments and eventually less of my personal warbling and droning on! PRIVATE EDUCATION – THE ARGUMENT FOR Like for all things in life, reasons for parents preferring a private education for their children do exist. Notably, these arguments would all accrue to the fact that private education is traditionally ‘supposed’ to provide a well-above average social, moral, spiritual and academic experience for their children; just like a private ‘anything’ is supposed to give a greater premium and return than the average model of everything these days (think healthcare, etc. for similar models of this thought). Other arguments accredited to private education are often to do with issues of tradition and experience. Many families, I feel, want to educate their children through the same methods and standards that they have experienced and, in this case, some families that have ‘traditionally’ and ‘historically’ always been privately-educated are often the ones most resilient to change. In this way, it also comes down to a question of identity and what type of provision is expected for a particular family. Other reasons that prove to be fairly modern arguments for sending one’s child to a private school involve issues of resources, facilities and classroom planning, etc. – where all of the aforementioned are meant to be more bountiful, plentiful, streamlined (with apparently smaller class sizes, etc.) and generally more ‘cohesive’ in the public school environment. These factors are probably some of the most notable that add to other ‘stereotypes’ being eternally linked to the private education scene and again can add to the more-than-common myth that private education always produces better GSCE and A-level scores and on the whole ‘better’ results. See later to check if all this lives up! STATE EDUCATION – THE ARGUMENT FOR It may seem like an oxymoron this, but there ARE reasons and arguments for state education – I’m convinced. Obviously, the first one is associated to the cost where, to all sections of the community, a state education is free (taxes excluded of course). Above all this, all state schools are, by law, bound to offer a good, varied range of subjects offered by the National Curriculum – so there is no escape, by any means, from state schools offering an ‘inferior’ choice/range of subjects. Another argument for s tate education refutes many other well-established arguments about its being. In other words, what I’m going to say about the teaching quality in this ‘brand’ of school often goes against the grain of the well-gargled media hype. From what I’ve seen so far in many state schools, the teaching quality is normally good to excellent, especially with the presence of experienced state-education teachers (they’ve seen it all – they’ve taught it all). The most obvious other argument for state education is that is provides an amazing opportunity for social mixing. Comparing state education to private education here, in the former you are likely to come across all walks of life as opposed to just a slice of life. So, when justifying this for life ‘outside of the classroom’ and ‘after school’ then arguably state education does provide more extensive opportunities for general life preparation and the like, etc. See later to check if all this lives up! THE RESULTS OF MY ‘SMALL’ JURY – OR - CHOOSING AN EDUCATION THROUGH A SCHOOL SECTOR – THE BALANCED APPROACH All in all, within the remits of a shorter-than-it-should be opinion, I’m going to give you my forecast in the balanced way by giving you my own personal overall opinion of the two sectors as well on giving you hints on how to find/choose/ensure a good education for your child. The ‘julietta’ approach to this would be to concentrate on looking at the reasons for educating your child in a particular way. Do you want your child to start off in life of privilege and expectation or would you like your child to have a non-committal and easy approach to class sectors (we all know that this line of thought is bound to go either way in Britain)? I personally would go for the latter and would choose a state school regardless of how much money I was earning and would then acce pt that the real search for a school would start here! (I could call this part of the opinion – THE REAL SEARCH - ) If, by this point, you’ve done your homework and have managed to find a school sector to suit your child – you now have one last decision to make which would be to choose the right school! Although I could start another opinion on this, I prefer to do it right here as this is the issue that once again refutes the whole ‘state versus private’ debate. At the end of the day, the curtain can be easily drawn on this opening line, as it is not the choice between state and private that is important. CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCHOOL – IS THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL. In summary, there is a vast amount of schools on offer for every catchment area in the country. Look at each on its own merits! If you set your own checklist criteria (for example, what subjects are offered? What is the pupil/staff ratio? What extra-curricular activities do you provide? What is your discipline policy? Etc.) and look around a range of schools comparatively – then you should be well on the way to choosing the best for your child whilst hopefully saving a heck of a few (or more!) thousands of pounds. One last point before I go though – I would never say the need for private education doesn’t exist (there are some excellent private schools in this country and their very existence minimises the number of pupils in state schools potentially allowing a smaller pupil/staff ration as this continues) – but it’s just considering that whilst most of Britain’s parents will never be able to afford the fees, I will always prefer to recommend the merits of a good, decent state-school education. Take it from me folks, the words ‘good’, ‘comprehensive’ and ‘available’ can be linked in the same sentence and often, an outstanding adjective like ‘excel lent’ can be peppered into this as well!
I was reading and rating a few opinions the other day and stumbled upon a couple in the category of bullying at school. My reasons for doing this seemed a little odd at first I suppose, as to be honest I normally only read opinions in the categories I’m most interested in (music, travel, books, etc.) when the time I can actually spend on dooyoo is limited. However, as I am generally (and genuinely) interested in personal interpretations of subject matter, I still continued to read on. Luckily, I was never bullied at school and have never ‘specifically’ thought of myself as either being bullied or as being a ‘victim’ at all until I read further into the opinions and grasped the true concept of the word ‘bullying’ and then - it clicked! Yes, I have been a bullying victim and so have a lot of other people I know. And it’s never just something that happens in school – it can happen anywhere in various contexts. WARNING – A LOT OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ENTERS HERE SO IF YOU ARE THE TYPE TO GET EASILY BORED WHEN SOMEONE TALKS ABOUT THEMSELVES – SWITCH OFF NOW!!! My own experience of being bullied unfortunately occurred in the workplace and on two separate occasions. In both circumstances, the situations were spookily similar, but particular to me. I started my first job in marketing three days after graduating from my first degree. I don’t know if I was actually ‘looking forward’ to working after years of studying but it was something I had to do to pay the bills as living in London can’t be done on thin air alone. That said, I was happy about the job I would be doing – it was a graduate job, in a large international company and my two (female) bosses seemed really ‘nice’. At that point, that was enough to naively make me want to take the job (I wasn’t a cynic then!) – along with the fact, of course, that I’d be earning mo re than my poverty-stricken student loan and parental allowances! Things seemed to go smoothly in the job; in fact they went very smoothly indeed. I did well on everything I was ‘supposed’ to do, made some good contacts, sold repeat business contracts to clients, completed work before deadlines, did more and more ‘training’ and was happy to make the coffees. I was unfulfilled though – this wasn’t an intellectual or professional job but, at the same time, it was doing wonders for my overdraft (isn’t that what jobs are for?) - so I was content enough until a certain point. I tend to be a very intuitive person and progressively it seemed to be that the more competent and popular I became, the more ‘unpopular’ I seemed to become in the eyes of my ‘female’ (and the concept of female is important (to me) in all this) bosses. At the time, I didn’t know if it was paranoia but I started to be watched like a hawk, consequently making me start to feel like a little mouse, again the concept of ‘feeling’ is hard to define but is an important element in this. As my presence grew within the confines of the building this only intensified and when I eventually won a company award and a few hundred quid bonus for my efforts this finally came to a head when a meeting with my bosses confirmed to me what they were thinking about me. Totally unprecedented, I was told from kind-of out of nowhere that they thought that (and I know these are random reasons but I’ll quote them from their horse-like mouths): 1. My speech was too eloquent and my language too flowery for marketing – I would have to tone it down. 2. I had an attitude problem - I would have to stop being so ambitious in the company (folks – I had NO particular ambitions in the company – I’m NOT a pushy person, just a hard-worker and I’ve never stepped on anyone’s toes in my whole life). 3. My skirts were too short and from them I was gaining too much male attention (folks – I hate wearing short skirts and believe me I have NEVER done anything like this to do the aforementioned – saying that – I wouldn’t know how to flirt with clothing if I tried, combat trousers are my clothing ‘du jour’). In all, my bosses actually suggested on top of these reasons that I should work ‘less hard’ and try to keep a lower profile with my work in addition to, apparently, my appearance. As you can imagine, the merely conscientious over-achiever in me didn’t know how to take this and tears in the toilet were (at the time) the only acceptable way out. My bosses took my major accounts off me and left me with crap and being on the cusp of turning 23 I decided to simply bugger off to America on a company-sponsored transfer and save my own soul – I obviously had nothing to lose and was young enough to have no commitments. By luck and youth, I finally got away and it was comparatively easy – although there was something already about the ‘female boss syndrome’ that came from out of nowhere and left a bad taste on my tongue! After returning from the States, I ‘foolishly’ took another job in a similar set-up of marketing company. In hindsight, I think I must have been mad because almost a carbon copy of events happened. Again, my two bosses ended up being female and for whatever reason I ended up being bullied/victimised or simply a scapegoat (again). A short catalogue of errors done to me included ‘experiences’ when: 1. My bosses told me that I should wear MORE make-up to work. (Sorry, but I’m a ‘natural’ gal and ten coats of Polyfilla does not suit me – DOES IT ANYONE?!) 2. After finding a lump in my breast, I was ‘advised’ that it was nothing to worry about and that it would be completel y unsuitable to take time off in the week for a medical appointment or breast scan. When I had such an appointment, I later found out from the office secretary that my bosses awaited London-bound and return trains as they presumed I was job seeking. 3. My manager tore out a selection of jobs from the local press for me to apply to as she found ‘my presence too ambitious for the ‘‘rest of the office’ culture’. Demeaning and undemocratic to say the least! This all said, somehow I ended up classifying my bullying rightly or wrongly so in the female against female category – something I have made sure will be a avoidable condition in future work settings wherever possible. In a bit of a conclusion though, through these and other unquoted, often more serious, work scenarios, I know that any kind of activity that can be ‘compartmentalised’ into bullying of any kind can offshoot a load of adjectives that the victim him/herself feels. Through bullying it is easy to feel lonely, useless, unloved, unlovable, stupid, worthless, etc. often ending up with the victim feeling like a complete and utter zero in life. And since this op is about ‘member advice’ on this issue, then I have just one main thing to say. In a situation of bullying, the fortunate or unfortunate thing that always comes out in the wash is that the victim of bullying always feels exactly like that – a victim – a complete, utter and solid victim. And with such a strong sensation of feeling like this, the victim is conversely in a strong position to sort it out. As relevant to my ‘bullying in the workplace’ issue my major advice to anyone who finds themselves felling ‘trapped’ in this rut is simply to get out (quick) if and wherever possible. Work is a place where the worker should be allowed to grow, achieve, blossom, etc. in an environment which supports the wishes and potential of the i ndividual - it–is not a place to be or to feel stunted. If something or moreover ‘somebody’ makes your life hell in what should be a everyday, familiar and normal situation – then, up and leave if you are lucky enough to be able to and can cope with the practicalities. Mental sanity is, after all, worth it! Nothing is worth a living hell for the sake of the sick and insensitive minds of a few individuals – do everything you can to ultimately believe in yourself and make a change that suits yourself (better). Talking to HR departments and such like in larger, more anonymous companies may be appropriate but only you would know. In any case, if you feel that you are being victimised in any way, shape or form, most companies are increasingly often prepared to deal with such ‘problems’ through their personnel departments and should be equipped to deal with any problems that hinder the ‘normal’ work environment. By the way, if anyone has experienced similar female to female competitiveness/ bitchiness/ bullying in the work environment, then I’d be extremely interested in your comments/advice/reviews, etc. A genuine thanks for reading here and don’t EVER let anyone stand in your way!
Sorry folks but I’m going to do my standard ‘language teacher op’ thing here within this article (as per!) and try to implicitly convince you/encourage you to learn a language! You have been warned (ok?) but it’s a tough job and somebody’s gotta do it and I suppose I’ll do! My mental framework for trying to persuade you to do all this comes from another typical day in the secondary school ‘language’ classroom where half of the kids I teach turn around (almost continually) and say “but Miss, why do we have to learn French/German?”, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes I’m fed up of having to convince them of a reason – they just won’t take anything above face value but you (dear customer) are a different, more-mature matter! In hindsight though, I think some of the reasons for learning languages (or at least for learning just ONE ‘other’ language) are self-explanatory. It would be impossible to think that we could live in a world where other cultures didn’t exist. Languages, in this way, help to preserve history, culture, identity and a sense of self – it might seem a bit deep but languages tell US who WE are and what could be more important than that?! Future generations will have to learn this more than anyone, as they will increasingly have to cope with this fact more and more on a continual basis (but try telling them that now)! As adults and at a time when people become more responsible and more interested in their own learning, the desire to learn a language becomes steadily more popular (look at a list of local language courses!) and so this ‘petit’ guide to learning a language is geared towards those of you who are thinking of taking the plunge and dipping into other tongues (but not literally of course – (yuk!)) within the realm of your own ‘safe’ community! My three basic, ‘golden- rule’ tips for finding (and keeping) a good, local-based language course and following on ever-effectively are as follows: 1. Do your research and find a GOOD course provider I know it sounds obvious but please do your research! Seek and (ye shall) find other budding linguists in the area (lots of people take part in language courses!) who will readily recommend a good place to learn. If other people have had a positive experience in learning the lingo, then it’s more than likely that you will as well! 2. Decide if your teacher is a role model Interesting one this – but also relevant! I know it may sound patronising again but consider your teacher carefully. I have attended some language courses that have been brilliant in addition to a few that have been pitifully horrible. Some teachers hold classes that are brilliantly conversationally based while others have relied on handing out ‘dog-eared’ photocopied sheets to reinforce language drills! Think to yourself – do I want to learn to speak the language or do I want to be reduced to merely desiring to make paper aeroplanes? Speaking is key -–but some language class teachers craftily DON’T do (too) much speaking. Again, you have been warned. 3. Decide if your class is supportive (enough) Again, this reason may seem a bit like a super-clanger but it is important!!! From experience, I can quote that I have been to some classes that are ‘all’ about self-advancement. This is fine in moderation (ambition is not a crime) but again, think of the people you’ll be spending your time with in the closeted-chains of the language class; do you want to spend your time with the bloke from the chippy who thinks he’s the best thing since sliced-Gérard Depardieau or do you want to spend your time with Molly from the corner shop who is totally scared of making a ‘faux- pas’ every single time sh e opens her ‘bouche’? Er, well … probably the latter actually! What I’m actually trying (and probably failing!) to sum up here is the fact that the language class that contains supportive people who are willing to try hard but are equally as willing to fall on their faces and make countless errors will probably be your best ‘language’ success bet. If you end up in a class full of other members who like the sound of their own voices too much, then move to a class like Molly’s – you’ll do better for it! I hope, within this, that some guidelines and advice is sound and makes (common) sense – if it’s in any way inspirational then WOW, even better. It’s just that I remain, stoically passionate about languages myself and after spending my time in a Gérard-like Italian evening class full of loud voices and crumpled sheets, my own ‘sotto voce’ has finally convinced me to take some of my own simplistic advice. Bonne chance anyhow (just open your mouth and go for it!) and finally, CIAO, SALUT ET GROS BISOUS
And boy! – doesn’t she feed well?! The sheer fact that I have decided to review a cookbook at this moment in time says something about (the state of) my life, my mental health and my appetite. Within this, it says that I am: a, often hungry, b, often (too) tired (to be able to ‘read’ another ‘type’ or ‘genre’ of book), c, generally too food dependant at the moment. The additional sheer fact pertaining as to why I decided to review a Nigella Lawson cookbook would also hint that I: a, have less sense than time to cook this collection of recipes, b, adore good food, c, have a rampant sweet as well as savoury tooth. SO THERE! Although this is a very lavish and extremely coffee table-esque book to even attempt to review, I have to say one thing in advance; that this book is an awesome addition to your cookery library, so at least have a look at it even if you’re not thinking of buying it. This 239 page mini-volume (excluding index) will have your taste-buds whirling and screaming within seconds as you open this book to a mixture of ‘food-porn’, still life food displays nestled amongst a decent bit of food narrative and recipes. The structure of this book is delightful. Following on from a brief food preface and a few conversion charts, Nigella places her recipes into neat little sub-chapters, each of these imaginatively titled (is this a novel we have here?): All-Day Breakfast, Comfort Food (I’m saying nothing! – (my addition here NOT hers!), TV Dinners (yes please – ditto above), Party Girl (well, I try to be – ditto above again), Rainy Days, Trashy, Legacy, Suppertime, Slow-Cook Weekend (I could say ‘if only’ (ditto above again) at the risk of sounding naff!), (and finally) Templefood. If you think this list of recipe categori es seems even the least bit tempting then try the recipe titles to convince you. I don’t know about you but recipes such as ‘raspberry and lemongrass trifle’, ‘chocolate pots’, ‘easy sticky toffee pudding’, ‘chocolate cloud cake’, ‘chocolate fudge cake’ (ok folks – I admit it! – there IS a chocolate bias going on here) and ‘bitter orange ice-cream’ (ok again folks – so there is a ‘sweet’ bias going around here too) – are certainly enough to get me going!!! If you are a savoury fan however, don’t’ feel left out – there is still loads here to tempt anyone from recipes from the agonisingly sumptuous (and I’ve cooked and imitated it – it’s wonderful) ‘Thai yellow pumpkin and seafood curry’ to the exquisitely simple ‘salmon fishcakes’ (easy to make and delicious). Rather than comment on a list of recipes though (which is too easy to do taking a book like this!) – what impresses me about Nigella’s book is (as you’d probably expect) – the style. I am by no means a food ‘snob’ – but what you get here within the realm of a few pages is a beautifully-presented celebration of a range of foods – cooked in concoctions from the most simplest upwards. A starter like ‘salmon with ginger, soy and rice vinegar’ is probably the simplest starter to not cook – and yet, could be an easy dish that, without such vivid pictorial presentation, you could forget about offering. In this book, the photography of this dish (credit to Francesca Yorke) is so unstoppably mesmerising that it will make you salivate in all the right places (ditto, ‘chocolate fudge cake’ and all the aforementioned dishes). Added to the fact that every single recipe is ‘backed-up’ by a suitably lavish photo, your taste buds really don’t appear to stand a chance! Another natty, little feature of this collection lies in the overall narrative itself. Nigella gives a prelude narrative description to each chapter, and within this every single recipe is informally 'introduced’ in more than a few lines where a little bit of ‘urban’ (or such!) philosophy is given to each dish – this has the effect in leaving the reader less ‘cold’ than the average cookery book – know your taste, know your dish, know what you’re getting, etc. All in all then, it would seem that I recommend this cookery book – and indeed I do. If you like cooking, at least from time to time, and you appreciate ‘decent’ food writing as well as interesting but ultimately ‘cook-able’ recipes then you could do a lot worse than finding a space for this on your kitchen shelf. In a time when ‘time’ and ‘good’ cooking are desirable but paradoxical commodities, books like this will become as essential as, … well, … bread and butter. And whatever else prevails, it’s good to find books by cookery devotees rather than by grinning idiots but I’ll save the Jamie Oliver opinion for another time! In the meantime just go and search out a copy of this – and drool forever ferociously!
Ok – I know that some of you are by now fed up of my constant references to teaching (and languages) but a couple of people out there have actually followed-up the teaching bit of my random personality as they have aspirations of becoming a teacher themselves (good luck to them – I would always encourage people to go for it!). In this case, what I propose is a quick run down of the basic training you need to go through in order to get qualified as a teacher in secondary education (sorry, but I can’t comment on the primary sector). THE BASICS First things first though, before we even get to the qualifications bit – before becoming a teacher you have to ask yourself some basic but obvious questions. Amongst others, you have to ask yourself if you see yourself actually ‘being’ a teacher and funnily enough, this is not as patronising as it seems. Before picking up your own crayons and your pencil case and waddling off back to university, it is helpful if you consider the current climate for teachers. I’m not even talking about pay and conditions (that’s another area I’ll save for later) – I mean you have to appreciate what it can be like in some schools. Basic teacher training by route of a postgraduate qualification (a PGCE – Postgraduate Certificate in Education) means you have to normally spend two long placements in schools and considering that most kids in this country are taught in mainstream secondary schools you will have to deal with these very ‘normal’ conditions of teaching varied, very ‘streetwise’ kids of differing academic and behaviour levels. If you accept these and are still interested in becoming a teacher – read on. If, by chance, the words ‘streetwise’ and ‘kids’ have frightened you, you have my permission to exit this opinion now. Accepting that the PGCE is the most popular route for people w ho want to enter teaching after their undergraduate degree, here’s an insight into what it’s like. Yes folks, warts and all. The PGCE year is probably one of the most hectic, dramatic and melodramatic years you will ever have in your life. In theory and practice, it takes a normal graduate of any subject and transforms them into those mystical things we call – ‘teachers’ and it can be heart-wrenching stuff! WHAT IS THE PGCE COURSE LIKE? A PGCE is always a mixture of academic study (yes, folks ‘more’ essays have to be written) and more importantly classroom teaching – out of the two, teaching practice in schools is the larger element and counts more as to if you actually pass the course or not. Considering that this practice is more valuable than any teaching theory, it is useful to know what to expect and how you are graded in the classroom. Most universities and teacher-training institutions alike will grade the classroom assessment of you into something like the following categories: 1. Subject knowledge – your level of the subject specialism you are teaching to pupils. 2. Classroom management – your ability to ‘manage’ the class as a whole, including some unruly pupils (obviously they do occur and your ability to deal with them can affect your performance in this category both positively and negatively). 3. Planning and teaching – your ‘organisational’ ability – how well do you plan lessons and how well are pupils able to learn as a result of your classroom and lesson planning? 4. Monitoring and assessment – your ability to mark pupils work and give feedback, etc. 5. Other professional qualities – your ability to increase the role of a teacher as much as possible (for example by offering extra-curricular activities, participating in parents evenings, etc.). H OW WILL I BE ASSESSED? Thus, in terms of assessment, during the course of your PGCE year, you will be watched by accredited school mentors, other teachers, heads of faculty, school heads, etc. to see if you are capable in the above criteria. If so, provided you have backed up your teaching file with the string of required essays, lesson notes etc. (these requirements vary between each course-providing institution), then you will pass. As a warning, assessment is not as twee-sounding and straightforward as it may seem. As a student teacher you will find that it is not only pupils you have to deal with but adults as well. Being ‘watched’ as a trainee can leave you in the vulnerable position of having to teach, learn (from the kids), watch and be watched all the time. If you hate being scrutinised (mainly by ‘insistent’ adults rather than pupils) then again you have the permission to leave this review now. BUT WHAT IS IT ACTUALLY LIKE? If I made the PGCE qualification seem too simple (and surely I didn’t?!) – then the overriding question in this opinion is to be found in the heading above, but saying this, asking of ‘what it is actually like’ is a question capable of bringing about a huge range of answers. Making it as personal as possible here, I found my training year to be one of the best years of my life for better or for worse. Normally it is the common opinion between my other friends (who have also trained to be teachers) that this is a make or break year. Training for any profession is a big thing and can take a huge chunk out of your life (often leaving your friends, family, relationships, social life, etc. in the lurch) whilst forcing you to make other sacrifices (planning, teaching, thinking ‘all the time’ etc.). Above all this, teaching initially carries the burden of having to deal with ‘difficult’ kids with a huge range of personal, be havioural, learning problems, etc. As kids are additionally and ultimately your ‘canvas’ in this game – you learn to create a side in your personality here that makes you experts with them and the structure of the PGCE, with its breakdown of concentration in various categories, helps you to do this. I’ve been teaching now for two years and looking back five years or so ago, I never would have dreamed I would have been able to do this job, knowing what I know now. The rubrics of doing a PGCE however make it all possible. It’s a course worth doing and a job worth aiming for but think ‘wisely’ before doing it and be prepared to work bloody hard. Good luck to you all and, as ever, if anyone needs more specific advice on this course, please feel free to just ask me!
To me, Marian Keyes is ‘the’ stalwart lassie of British/Irish female fiction. She is no Victor Hugo (but who is?), but she has churned out some classics of her own genre. In terms of Last Chance Saloon, I'd like to say some very nice things about this book. I mean, I like Marian Keyes immensely. She is a warm, funny and knowledgeable writer – but my personal opinion is that this book has let her and the reader down somewhat - especially when one compares it to her previous more serious/much wittier (and believe me the two can be combined) 'light' fiction. The book deals primarily with three friends who have left their native Ireland to live in London and the plot extends to two of the female friends having 'boy trouble' whilst the gay male friend develops cancer. This said, the story does not lead to any deepening of feeling at any point - 'boy trouble' is brought out as the central axis of the plot whilst poor Fintan, the gay character, merely sits in the background as some kind of pitiful reminder that these girls must make themselves happy with love and lads before it's too late and spinsterhood is upon them – hence the title, Last Chance Saloon. With this certain lack of depth in the plot, I, as a regular reader, felt more than a little let down. Marian Keyes can normally cope well with mixing serious background subjects (alcoholism, young pregnancy, etc.) with warm, light-hearted 'love' play - see Rachel's Holiday and Watermelon for excellent, heart-warming examples of this. This book unfortunately joins the masses of 'young' female fiction that is obsessed with messages of 'boy meets girl or else everything else is a tragedy' stuff which is more than a little sad as she has obviously intended to present, with the inclusion of a cancer victim, such a strong contrasting background subject to give the whole book SOME depth to add to her usual width of work! If you haven't read Marian Keyes before - try any other tome and you will be pleasantly surprised and reeling at how great and original a 'young female' writer she is - she can bring out heartbreak and joy in one single sentence and her earlier work has surely inspired a bevy of young, female authors to write in this way about similar, everyday subjects. This book still has its moments (backed up by great cover reviews and reader reviews – most opinion titles for this book hint that most other dooyoo contributors like it!) - but, for some of the regulars, they are so, so few. I found the book tiresome (and boring!) to get through and missed Keyes’ ability to make me turn the page at a quicker pace. I still have ‘Sushi for Beginners’ – Keyes’ next book – on my bedside table and I hope I won’t be falling asleep (or counting the pages) as often. But to give me a little solace, I’ll be reading a more ‘serious’ book first. P.S. In future Marian, try to include a little more sensitivity in your work! Cancer is a serious illness that does not necessarily give permission to be ‘treated’ in a comic and trivial manner. Think about it please!
I could have labelled this opinion 'How I lost my heart to a football fan on two different occasions' - but clearly I would be digressing! However, I'll let you into a couple of my little secrets - number 1: I generally hate football (sorry folks!) and number 2: I only read this book the first time because I was going out with a Spurs fan who blabbed on about the said sport all the time. Sad but true. On a positive note, the relationship lasted only a little longer than the book which is already a quick read - so, no harm done in the long term. Yes, I recovered. This said, the book provides an ideal platform to get into a football fan's actual psyche. The average British/English football fan is stereotyped as male, mid-twenties to mid-thirties, loves guzzling ale and would prefer to spend his Saturdays watching men running round a pitch in the British weather, i.e. the pouring rain. 'Tis true. The same man would prefer to do this even if his team loses each match every season (which is strangely normally the case - there are no winners in football) or even if temperatures match their Siberian equivalent - 'tis still true. In this case, the fact that Hornby chooses to write a whole book on the beauties of football can make it a fascinating read for anyone. Fever Pitch is basically a tribute to both the history and hysteria caused by English football. Hornby (as a real-life Arsenal fan) has a unique talent here in weaving a story out of autobiographical moments with a slight narrative where the glory and obsessive nature of football is eeked out on every page. Within this you can quickly deduce that the thing always and forever on a football fan's mind is HIS fixture list (sorry to masculine-ise it but it's true - HER'S are more logical!) and everything else (friends, family, love and moments) is second best. Each year, each month, each season of the narrator's life can be calculated and d escribed by footballing moments - such is the craze, the frenzy, and the desperation for his team and the beautiful game. For those who may feel too 'footballed-out' by this review -you can always try the film version. This little ditty, starring the wonderful Colin Firth, is a far more sensitive football-account than the book. Firth plays a football-crazed yet vulnerable man who even seems troubled by his obsession. The film also mingles in an aspect of love (something that is not heavily referenced in the book) and loss where a girlfriend becomes an outsider on match day - thus appealing to women probably the world over who ultimately always stand on the periphery of the game. I would recommend the book to anybody. Although completely devoted to football it's still a great account and shows some great (autobiographical) work by Hornby. He did the same for music in High Fidelity - read that one as well rather than see the film. As for his later and more recent fiction - About A Boy and How To Be Good – I personally don't think Hornby has been able to keep the spontaneity of his earlier writing. His passion as a writer counts for a lot and his work in Fever Pitch displays this more than anything. Happy reading!
Let’s explain this little gem in simple terms. So, I’ve been teaching all day at school. Listening carefully, speaking when and where necessary and adding to the valuable and worthwhile discussion. And I’m the teacher not the pupil, she adds. So after a day of working with the priceless wonders (that’s the pupils to you mate) what does she want to do of an evening? Chill her boots that’s what! A typical example would be as follows (routine not necessarily followed): 1. Walk to corner shop 2. Walk to shelf. 3. Walk away from shelf. 4. Walk to shelf again. 5. Repeat as necessary (at least five times or more). 6. Pick up offending article. 7. Pick up shopping basket. 8. Pick up Toblerone, Lucozade (or Larazade – product-branding sweetie!) and packet of Frazzles crisps for fabulous après-dinner consumption factor. 9. Proceed to checkout. 10. Look rather embarrassed. 11. Purchase anyway. 12. Proceed to chip shop. 13. Order chips, sausage (battered), scraps – wrapped. 14. Look embarrassed (again). 15. Pay anyway. 16. Walk home. 17. Eat sweeties/snacks etc. before exquisite chip-supper whilst reading offending article (a sin you may say). The question, of course, in this entire blurb is – What is the offending article? Answer: Actually, not what you think it may be, but alas, in fact, NOW magazine!!! From the relative importance it obviously has in my sad, young life – NOW magazine is a symbolic lifesaver. Yes, I have GCSE’s and A-levels and even a first-class degree but strangely by reading this magical mag, I have now grown to appreciate the privilege of knowing and seeing at first hand some of the more important facts in life. From recent reading, I have now accumulated the knowledge of: 1. The preferred colour of Geri’s (Halliwell to you darling) swimm ing costume. 2. The lip-‘product’ that gives Catherine Zeta ‘Douglas’ (I’m ahead of the facts luvvie!) a full and perfect pout. 3. Victoria’s (you know who that is!) wardrobe secrets. 4. Alleged silicone-implant victims (cannot be listed for legal purposes) 5. Who went where last week? 6. Who’s leaving who? 7. Who’s seeing who (both of the above all ‘showbiz’ darling and the leaving comes before the seeing – that I have learned)? 8. Who’s doing what with who (well, babies ARE the current trend)? 9. How much weight Vanessa Feltz/Sophie Dahl have actually regained/lost respectively? 10. What colour is the new black? Etc. The summary in all this being that NOW magazine (you get the sense of this stuff here?) has an important purpose in life itself. Contrary to mass-popular belief, I don’t believe that reading this ‘type’ of magazine means you have a sad, pathetic desire to see how ‘the other half’ live and breathe. I, like most people, read magazines like NOW because they are fun, friendly and completely, refreshingly trivial (for a change). NOW is a perfect anecdote to relaxing reading as it provides a look at people we look up to (whether we say we do or we don’t) as they are. Unlike Hello or OK, NOW acts a warts-and-all gossip-fuelled, ranting picture guide to all the personalities that life throws before us. Through glorious-colour and fabulously and thrillingly-spun editorial, the public is allowed to live and re-live their full voyeuristic and even narcissistic fantasies on seeing (what are really) ‘their’ peers leading the lives they lead as well. The Guardian newspaper recently reported NOW as Britain’s fastest growing weekly magazine read. At 95p a shot, long may this unadulterated pleasure/treasure trove of a magazine continue in a mad, mad world! Hats off to the meaningless meaningful generation, I would say.
If I had to describe myself in any context, one thing that would surely come up would be the fact that I am a book-sinner. This simply meaning that I spend far too much of my time reading books to the detriment of all other meaningful life tasks, household chores, personal hygiene (only kidding) etc. Saying this, the day was bound to come when I would assign myself to a bookclub (cheap books even if JUST part of introductory offers are too good to miss) and Mango was the first one I joined. Talking currently, the opening deal with Mango (as going right to press) is that you can take advantage of 5 books for just 50p each (you also get a free book – again currently this is The Boy Next Door by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees), from then on, as part of your membership entitlement, you are obligated to buy a further 5 books in your first year of membership (all books are up to 40% discounted). Although I am not a die-hard fan of the flirty, twenty/thirty-something fiction that continues to be ultra-fashionable in the present publishing climate, I was still able to choose a mix of books ranging from light to heavy fiction to biography. So, even if Mango IS, by intention, strongly geared to the young and female market (and takes advantage of the fact that the books it sells are stalwart singleton-classics); a periphery of other books means there is still a background range to pick from. For the record books are categorised in the following ‘genres’ (for all you intellectuals out there, don’t be too put off now!): Everybody’s Talking Between The Covers Thrills Deep and Meaningful (and finally) Girls On The Pull If anything, this category list gives you a real feel of what to expect from a club whose featured authors include Marian Keyes, Helen Fielding, Jill Mansell, Candace Bushnell (to name but a few) et al. In terms of keeping you up-to-date with books available, Ma ngo send you a brochure every four weeks as a back-up to their fairly comprehensive website, then ordering can be done either online or over the telephone. In terms of personal experience with the service, my introductory offer included the wrong book (which was a little disappointing) but a quick phone call sorted this out (the correct book arrived in three days and a sticky label was sent was the free return of the offending article). As a top note, I would recommend Mango to anyone who has wide-reaching and open-minded reading tastes and someone who likes a bit of a cheapie when they see one. After all, if you read more than a few books a year and you like following current trends you’re not going to complain about getting 5 books for £2.50, are you? If you are more of a connoisseur, prefer Charles Dickens to Marian Keyes and don’t appreciate a quick, cheap thrill – then there’s always another bookclub or the library to join instead! Happy reading!