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kitschkitty

kitschkitty
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Member since: 30.06.2008

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      05.07.2011 11:41
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      Chic Greek!

      It would seem that The Printworks in Manchester are finally beginning to take a sensible step towards encouraging independents to set up shop. Nestled in amongst corporate microwaving giants such as Hard Rock Café, Old Orleans and Lloyds Bar is Papa G's, a Mediterranean bar and grill specialising in Geek cuisine. Having read a couple of favourable reviews, I decided to treat the future Mr Kitschkitty to a meal, having forced him to endure a day's worth of shopping.

      The neon lighting and ultra modern furniture starkly contrasts with your stereotypical Greek restaurant. There's no chintzy lace, save for the few pieces that are displayed in homage to the family run restaurant's lineage, no candles in wine bottles and certainly no clatter of smashing plates. This is Greek with a contemporary, chic twist and sat alone in an empty restaurant (admittedly on a Sunday afternoon), it seemed stark and soulless. The musical accompaniment to our meal was an interesting Eurovisionesque sound track which added a certain kitschness to the proceedings.

      Fortunately, what Papa G's lacked in atmosphere, it made up for in flavour with a relatively comprehensive menu which was reasonably priced. Papa G's Meze Starter was a generous combination of calamari, spicy sausages, dolmathes, aranchini, halloumi, chicken wings, houmous, taramasalata, tzatziki and flat bread and the flavours were sublime.

      The calamari was nigh on perfect, not at all rubbery and served with a delicious lemon mayonnaise whilst the chicken wings were sticky with just the right amount of spice and the aroma and flavour of a genuine chargrill. The flatbread and dips were out of this world with the houmous taking the prize as the best I have ever tasted. The aranchini (mushroom risotto balls coated in crispy parmesan) had the perfect texture, and a sweet and nutty flavour courtesy of the parmesan and a herb which I couldn't quite place. Papa G's dolmathes (stuffed vine leaves), although not a personal favourite, were flavoursome and filling. It was only the halloumi which proved to be a slight disappointment. Covered in sesame seeds and served with a somewhat bland red pepper salsa, it lacked a certain oomph, nothing a bit of mint wouldn't have sorted out I'm sure.

      Having gorged ourselves on the very generous Meze, we chose not to indulge in a main course, although that's not to say the menu didn't appeal. Freshly prepared, homemade pizzas, barbecued souvlaki skewers as well as a selection of family favourites will certainly be tempting us back again.

      The service, as you would expect in an empty restaurant, was excellent and attentive. The food was served reasonably quickly with a sufficient delay to assure you that it was all freshly prepared and cooked to order. The chefs worked in an open kitchen area without a microwave in sight. The atmosphere was lacking unfortunately, although I have no doubt that much of this was down to the timing of our visit - it would have been altogether different on a busy Friday or Saturday night. The décor was perhaps a tad too modern for my liking and made the restaurant feel almost clinical. A contemporary take on a traditional Mediterranean restaurant would have perhaps been more fitting and more homely.

      The food and affordability of the menu though means we'll definitely be giving Papa G's a second chance. The restaurant's passion for food shone through and made a refreshing change from the usual fare served at the Printworks and what it lacked for in atmosphere, I'm sure will be made up when we take a table full of friends next time to create our own.

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        14.02.2010 17:04
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        Tea for two and two for tea - oh and coffee, cakes, hotpot and more!

        If you've ever ventured into Nelson town centre, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this an unlikely location in which to find fantastic, well priced food served in a contemporary and relaxed setting. But there is a little gem nestled in the greasy café crown of Nelson town centre known as The Courtyard Bistro which can be found inside the new ACE Centre on Cross Street.

        Step into The Courtyard and you'll instantly forget you're in the run down mill town of Nelson. It's a fresh, contemporary space which oozes sophistication without feeling stuffy. From the curvy sofas to the comfortable bistro tables and outside eating area in summer, The Courtyard is simply a great place to eat great food, preferably in great company.

        The menu has something for everyone and includes Halal, vegetarian and gluten free options as well as a selection of dishes especially for children. There's also the addition of daily specials available to further whet your appetite. The soup of the day is a firm favourite of mine - hearty homemade soups and broths served with freshly baked crusty rolls for a little more than £3. But if you're looking for something more substantial, you won't be disappointed. There's the typical café fare of paninis, sandwiches and baked potatoes on offer alongside more filling dishes such as chef's homemade Lancashire hotpot and the attention grabbing Cajun chicken sizzler. And the devilishly divine Chicken Caesar and tuna Nicoise salads both deserve a special mention, although I must confess to adding a side order of chips when I stray onto the healthy path. For those with a sweet tooth, there is a large display of the most scrumptious homemade cakes on offer which are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of freshly ground coffee.

        The staff are particularly friendly and polite and manage to add to the homely atmosphere without being too intrusive. Orders are taken at the bar but from then on, you can sit back and enjoy being waited on. The service is quick enough to make this an ideal venue for a lunch break from work but leisurely enough to assure you that all the food is freshly prepared and cooked and not simply nuked in the microwave. Lunchtimes can be exceedingly busy but advance reservations and orders are an option. It just goes to show what a popular venue The Courtyard has become in the few months since it opened and the relaxed atmosphere isn't lost despite the hive of lunchtime diners.

        The availability of Wifi makes it a popular afternoon spot too for business types in suits and arty types like me who like to while away the hours writing novels in the hope that one day they will be published. There's also the option of afternoon tea (or coffee if you prefer) served with sandwiches and home made scones. There is also a monthly 'Cinema Paradiso' offer available where, for a mere £6 you can enjoy an afternoon tea in The Courtyard and also entrance to a classic film at the ACE Centre cinema. This month's film is Amadeus, a personal favourite of mine, so I'm attempting to tweak my rota at work to enable me to go.

        In the evenings, The Courtyard is open when there are show nights at The ACE Centre and serves as the main bar for theatre shows, gigs and comedy nights. It also played host to Pies, Peas and Poetry recently, an evening of, you guessed it, pies, peas and poetry as recited by local actors. The £5 ticket price included a more than generous serving of homemade pie, mushy peas and pickled beetroot, the perfect accompaniment to the evening. I'd definitely recommend keeping an eye out for similar events in future.

        So if you live in the vicinity already, or perhaps you find yourself passing through Pendle, The Courtyard Bistro is well worth a look in. There's something to suit every taste and budget and it really is a tranquil haven hidden amidst the bustle of Nelson.

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          27.01.2010 17:25
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          Helping My Shabby Chic Dreams Come True!

          When I decided to reinvent my bedroom and create a shabby chic boudoir to die for I had just one little problem in realising my dream. This darn credit crunch we are going through meant that I needed to carry out a drastic transformation on a limited budget. And this is where Wilko's non-drip gloss came to the fore and saved the day.

          Coming in at £4.97 for a 750ml tin, I was certain that with a little gloss and a lot of imagination I could carry out a transformation so drastic, it would make Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen look like an amateur. Now I realise you may not all believe me here, and there were moments I doubted myself, but after almost a week of hard work and flair, I have succeeded ,with the help of the aforementioned non-drip gloss.

          So, I shall start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start. Up until a week ago, my DIY and interior design experience was limited to say the least. I had the concepts but had never put the time and effort into making them a reality. Since I already had a hand me down bed, wardrobe and chest and drawers, I couldn't justify investing in any new furniture so I decided that gloss was the way forward to create a Parisian boudoir befitting a girl such as me.

          As I scoured the shelves of Wilkinson's I went for the cheap option. The tin is simple and to the point. Wilko's non-drip gloss is suitable for interior and external wood and metal. I was painting inside, and the furniture included a pine bed. I was sold. The choice of colours was limited. There was pure brilliant white or magnolia. I was hoping to achieve an antique white finish to my furniture so decided magnolia would just have to do.

          For the more experienced decorator, you might not need a non-drip gloss. I on the other hand am an impatient and haphazard decorator who admits to needing all the help I can get. Non-drip gloss seemed the most idiot proof of the glosses on offer but that's not to say it's impossible to go wrong.

          Having done a little research on the internet prior to my furniture decorating marathon, I was aware of the need to sand and prime the furniture first, particularly the modern beech veneer wardrobe and drawers. Having read various reports online, it would seem applying any gloss directly to a veneer is just going to result in tears as it has nothing to stick to.

          Obviously, I knew I should sand and prime but sanding furniture is such hard work darling, so I stuck to priming only but ensured 2-3 coats for an even coverage. And then to use the gloss. The instructions on the tin, although short and to the point, really are useful. Apply the non-drip gloss with a brush direct from the tin (I'm liking this as there's one less thing to wash after), don't mix or stir the paint (well that's saved me some physical exertion) and don't overspread the paint. Hmmmm. That was the ambiguous one which I only fully understood after overspreading the gloss.

          This gloss is a dream to apply, you need to load up the brush (although not too much as non-drip isn't true of large dollops of paint clinging precariously to the end of your paint brush), and apply to your surface. A few strokes of the paint brush and you'll achieve an even and drip free finish. Unfortunately, if you get overzealous and keep painting over the same area, you will 'overspread' and end up with a rather streaky looking result. Fortunately, a second coat applied correctly rectified the problem and saved the day for Wilko's non-drip gloss.

          The tin advises to allow 16-24 hours for the paint to dry and between coats. I ignored this and found 4-6 hours between coats was sufficient, although I did allow my bed frame nearly a week to dry before putting the mattress back on. Gloss is a deceptive thing in that it appears dry but will still mark or smudge of you apply pressure. I found the best way to check if the gloss is dry is to press in an unnoticeable area and see if you leave a mark. You need to be able to apply a lot of pressure or even attempt to stick your fingernail in the paint to know it is completely dry. I doubt this is a technique professional decorators use but, what the hell, it worked for me.

          In terms of value a 750ml tin of this gloss claims to cover 10 square metres. I have no idea of the size of area I covered but to give you an idea, I painted a double pine bedstead (2 coats), a 5 drawer chest of drawers (2 coats) and half of a large double wardrobe (just the first coat) before having to crack open tin number 2. Not bad for £4.97. In fact, that really is exceedingly good value for money if you ask me.

          So, for the finishing result? Well it's gorgeous and I couldn't have hoped for better. Obviously a change in the wall colour and some other design choices have completed the look but the furniture looks fantastic and better than I could have hoped. Just for those who are curious, some beading and vintage handles and drawer knobs also contributed to creating the shabby chic look. Alas, Wilko's non-drip gloss, although amazing, is not a miracle worker! The magnolia colour is far nicer than I had anticipated too and actually dries paler than when applied. In fact, it looks to me just like the antique white colour I was hoping for.

          If you're looking for a cheap, cheerful and very nearly fool proof gloss, you really can't go wrong with Wilko's non-drip gloss. It's easy to apply, cheap, has a great finish and, despite several knocks and bumps already with the hoover, has stood the challenges I have thrown at it and failed to chip. What more could a girl ask for?

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          • Reconstruction (DVD) / DVD / 45 Readings / 45 Ratings
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            25.01.2010 23:03
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            To Tell A Beautiful Lie

            "This is a film - it is a construction."

            And so begins the rollercoaster ride that is Christoffer Boe's stunning debut feature. It will confuse, amaze and delight but, perhaps most importantly of all, it will keep you gripped for its entire 90 minute duration.

            Reconstruction is a Rubik's cube of love, emotion and memories. Alex is (he thinks) in love with the beautiful and thoughtful Simone. But one evening, he has a chance encounter with Aimee and decides to follow this mysterious and alluring woman across the nightscape of Copenhagen to embark upon a new affair. But after a night spent with Aimee, Alex's whole world begins to crumble as his past is no longer his own and his memories no longer seem real. Confused yet? Well you should be. But it's a pleasant and thought provoking confusion that will keep you guessing the film's outcome right up until its denouement.

            You could easily classify Reconstruction as a romance since love is a fundamental element of the film. But that would ignore all the many subtle nuances Boe works into the script and cinematography. The stunning architecture of Copenhagen provides us with a breathtaking backdrop that perfectly frames Alex's story as it twists and turns back on itself until you forget where the film began and you completely lose sight of where it might end.

            This is as much about the art of film as it is about the art of storytelling and, as such, it does teeter on the edge of pretentiousness. But the excellent casting in Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Alex and Maria Bonnevie as Aimee makes it absorbing enough to ignore Boe's slight overindulgence. Bonnevie evokes a 1940's starlet with her flawless complexion, luscious red lips and the ability to bring elegance and sophistication to even the most questionable of wardrobe choices (beige patent knee high boots - need I say more?) Meanwhile Kaas smoulders on screen with his rugged good looks and pensive distant expression. He is a man on the edge of love, and yet dangerously close to losing everything and everyone he has ever known. Each path he chooses leaves another irrevocably closed. The supporting cast is equally impressive and convincing with minor characters all playing major roles in the outcome of Alex's future.

            Reconstruction has been likened to Memento, no doubt because of it's non-linear progression. If you're a person who is easily put off by subtitles and swayed by films that don't repeatedly state the glaringly obvious, then Reconstruction is not for you. On the other hand, if you appreciate character progression, the art of each pan shot and immersing yourself in both the story and the art of cinema, then this will be right up your street. Boe's inexperience doesn't show in the writing and direction, instead it brings a fresh eagerness and ability to explore new elements of cinema and storytelling. This is a film best viewed in company as it will make you think and you won't be able to help yourself talking about it.

            Boe himself said "Why make a movie about love-the king of clichés? In fact why make a movie when there is Hitchcock, Godard, Tarkovsky and Carax?" But you only need to watch Reconstruction to understand exactly why. After all, this is a film. It is a construction.

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              25.01.2010 21:39
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              Worth the effort hammering the nails in when you get the finished result.

              I first spotted these Umbra wallflowers at my friend's house. She remembered buying them a few years ago from a little gift shop in the Lake District but beyond that, she had little help to give me in terms of where I too might find a set. So, after hunting high and low (at this stage, I wasn't aware they were manufactured by Umbra), I manage to find various sets for sale on Ebay.

              There are a few colours and designs available including white, pink, chrome and a rather hideous neon green flower and there are also butterflies and dragonfly designs if you hunt hard enough. I opted for the white flowers, as my friend had, to make a feature wall above my bed in my newly decorated shabby chic boudoir.

              On Ebay, I managed to purchase a set of 25 wallflowers for £26 including postage. They're no longer available direct from the Umbra website in this design and this was the cheapest I found online. So a couple of days later, my flowers arrived and I was very excited indeed.

              The flowers are just as you can see in the picture above. They each have 4 petals and come in 5 different sizes ranging from a 2.5 inch diameter of flower to 4.5 inches. The box contained 5 of each size, a very sparse diagram to show you how to install the flowers and some nails to attach the flowers to your wall. The flowers themselves are made of a plastic which surprised me as I'd always assumed my friends were ceramic. Now I know, they look plastic but fortunately not in a cheap and nasty way.

              Now is probably a good time to point out that, unless I received a set different to those being sold everywhere else, these are not magnetic. I also asked my friend about this after installing mine and she confirmed that hers were hung the same way as mine with no magnets coming in the box. Which brings me to the hanging process which was fiddly to say the least.

              The nails that come with the flowers have a head that is just the right size to clip the flower onto the nail using a small hole in the back of each flower. The nails come with a special bit of plastic that prevents you from hammering them entirely into the wall, leaving enough of the head available to clip the flowers on to. So, just to confirm, they aren't magnetic, and you will have to nail into your wall. Which makes them more of a permanent feature than something you might just pop on the wall as a whim. Now these nails are fiddly to say the least. They're shorter than a normal nail and, despite my dainty child sized hands, there was no way I could hold the nail and hammer it without hammering my fingers. A nifty solution I found was using a pair of pliers instead of my fingers to hold place and hammering. It worked, but 5 of the nails ended up bent in the process and therefore useless. Which might not have been so frustrating had there have been more nails than needed but, you guessed it, Umbra cunningly only supply 25 nails for your 25 flowers.

              One nail made such a hole in my wall as it refused to go in that I resorted to using No Nails to stick a flower over the unsightly mark it had left. So, as you can probably guess, my wallflower pattern is somewhat random which fortunately is precisely the effect I was aiming for.

              So, fingers and wall still in tact (just!), my flowers are hung. Do they look good? They look fantastic, perfectly framing my 'Always kiss me goodnight' decal above my headboard. They fit my shabby chic look but could just as easily take pride of place in a contemporary bachelor pad. The style is simple yet really eye-catching and I love being able to bring some 3d design to my walls and add a focal point to the room. And at £26, they work out at just over a pound each which makes them a bargain in my eyes.

              So if you're looking for a quick, simple and relatively cheap solution to brighten up a wall, then look no further than Umbra's non-magnetic, rather difficult to hang yet stunningly effective wallflowers. It really is worth enduring the hassle of bent nails and fiddly hammering when you witness the result.

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              • Wendy And Lucy (DVD) / DVD / 51 Readings / 49 Ratings
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                07.01.2010 18:08
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                Much Ado About NOTHING!

                At work, they take the mick out of me for my love of what the uneducated call 'arty farty cinema.' It's an uphill struggle to explain to my colleagues about the raw emotion and cinematography that so many independent films encapsulate. When I stumbled across Wendy and Lucy via various reviews, I thought this could be a perfect case in point. The inclusion of Michelle Williams in the starring role as Wendy, despite the films indie roots, was sure to give it some credence. After all, how many twenty-somethings haven't watched or at least heard of Dawson's Creek? Whilst Dawson's Creek may have been a dire ode to the angst of various thirty year olds pretending to be seventeen year olds, I expected far better things from director Kelly Reichardt with Wendy and Lucy. Alas, I was left sorely disappointed.

                The plotline of the story is paper thin. The viewer is introduced to Wendy (played by Williams) and her dog, Lucy. Wendy is clearly a down-on-her-luck waif of a woman who is travelling across America to Alaska where she hopes to find work. Her beloved dog accompanies on her journey through smalltown America as we share an insight into her journey on limited means and watch us she forms an unlikely 'friendship' with a security guard. Along the way her car breaks down (predictable - yawn), she gets arrested (what do you expect for stealing?) and she loses her dog (of course we saw that coming). Will Wendy ever be reunited with her shaggy friend? Whilst the story could only ever go in one of two directions, I'll leave that resounding, awe inspiring, profound question unanswered for any of you who choose to watch the film.

                Many have praised Williams' performance in the film but here I have to disagree once again. Throughout the 80 minutes of 'drama' Williams' facial expression changes only between being asleep and looking painfully torn and heartbroken by a past we will learn nothing about. Empathy is difficult when we know nothing about a character and one 5 minute phone call to her sister and brother-in-law unfortunately isn't sufficient insight into Wendy's past to provoke any sort of response from the viewer. The security guard and car mechanic (perhaps the only other two memorable characters we meet en route to the film's conclusion) seem far more interesting. But then again, we don't find out much about them either.

                The little drama there is is painstakingly strung out making Wendy and Lucy seem like a challenge in perseverance, despite a relatively short 80 minutes running time. That said, I paused at one point to make a cup of coffee, thinking the story was finally going to pick up pace, only to re-establish my place on the sofa, press play and see the credits roll. It was a bittersweet finish. Sweet because the marathon that was sitting through this film had finally come to an end and bitter because I was left wondering what the point of it all was.

                I appreciate nuances in drama, subtle nods to characters' pasts, gentle looks at society as a whole. I like subtlety, innuendo and a delicate plot in my choice of films. But Wendy and Lucy tries to encapsulate all of this without ever serving any purpose. Had Wendy been a more rounded character, I might have spent longer wondering about the breakdown in her family relationship, why she is travelling in search of a better life, where she has come from and so on. But the truth of the matter is I instead spent my time wondering why critics had adorned this film with praise and how on earth did Wendy and Lucy manage to win one, let alone four awards?

                It's films like this that give independent cinema a bad name. Try telling someone who has stumbled across Wendy and Lucy about the delights that indie filmmakers have up their sleeves and it's a nightmare even for an Oxbridge debating team captain. Forget Chinese water torture or listening to incessant David Gray songs, 80 minutes of Wendy and Lucy is enough to drive even the most psychologically sound of people to the edge of sanity. OK, I admit a slight exaggeration there but unless you're preparing for some feat of mental endurance, there really is no need to touch this film with a bargepole.

                If you want to watch a film about a dog, Marley and Me or Old Yeller should be far higher on your watch list than this. If you want to watch Williams' then E4 back to back reruns of Dawson's Creek would be preferable (but still very painful) and if you want proof that Reichardt isn't a complete washout, then check out Old Joy. Either way, there's no reason to watch Wendy and Lucy. As one reviewer so eloquently commented, 'It is only marginally more absorbing than watching paint dry.' And I couldn't agree more.

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                • etsy.com / Online Shop / 62 Readings / 58 Ratings
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                  03.01.2010 23:56
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                  You Betsy I Love Etsy!

                  Whether you're on the look out for a new shabby chic accessory for your home, some vintage fashion, or a kitsch felt brooch then head on over to the treasure trove that is Etsy.com.

                  Let's face it, we've all heard of Ebay and nigh on everyone has used it. But if, like me, you're one of those people who remember the good old days of grabbing a bargain and finding quirky oddities a la Weird Al's Ebay song, then you'll probably be tiring of the commercialism of Ebay. No longer does Ebay encourage the small time sellers, but instead it's geared up to big businesses who offer masses of mass produced items to the masses.

                  And so rather than rant about the demise of Ebay, I'll let you in on a little secret. It's simple really. Just head on over to Etsy where you'll find individuals selling vintage finds, homemade charms and all those little pretty things you don't necessarily need but can't help but covet.

                  Navigating the website is simple, particularly if you've used Ebay before. It is, after all, an online auction site and so the layout is familiar, although with a more homely and welcoming feel than that of Ebay. At the top of the homepage, clear tabs direct you to buy or sell as well as directing the way to other useful areas of the website such as the community and blog sections and 'Your Etsy,' which is simply 'My Ebay's' equivalent in Etsyland. You'll need to register in order to buy or sell which is a simple and painless process although you're free to browse the website for treasures without handing over any personal details.

                  Just like Ebay you can search for items you're looking for although I find Etsy is far better when browsed and I'm constantly finding things I never would have dreamt of searching for but now realise my life isn't complete without owning them. Unfortunately, Etsy really does have that much good stuff on there, your bank manager won't thank me for telling you about it. Browsing is simple with categories listed down the left hand side of the page to guide you in the right direction. There's something for everyone here from candles to jewellery, furniture to geekery (if it's weird and wonderful, it'll be hidden in the geekery section!)

                  As you might have noticed by now, I have fallen in love with Etsy. A combination of a recent house move combined with my love of all things vintage and kitsch means I can while away the hours browsing the website and adding items to my favourites list. When it comes to buying, the process is simple too with most sellers accepting Paypal and offering very competitive postage prices. Unlike Ebay, there isn't a bidding element involved with every item I've ever seen being offered simply on a 'Buy It Now' basis. There's lots of bargains to be had, though of course there are some things that seem extremely overpriced.

                  Etsy is predominantly an American site although there are British sellers on the website and you can choose to browse items for sale in the UK only if you so choose. I do find though that most sellers in the US are happy to post internationally and those that don't state they will in their listings can usually be talked around with a polite email along the lines of "I really, really, really want XYZ. Please will you post to the UK?" Trust me, it works. And, in my experience, you couldn't find a friendlier or more helpful bunch of sellers. If you are looking to source your bargains from the UK, then I can also recommend Folksy.co.uk which is Etsy's British equivalent. Unfortunately though, Folksy just can't compete in terms of the number of items and the sheer range of goods that Etsy has on sale, but I'm sure I'll get round to giving you an in depth analysis of Folksy at some point in the very near future.

                  As well as all the regular features you'd expect from an auction site, Etsy has some quirky extras that make it an even more fun place to browse when you have a spare few minutes. Extra features when buying include 'Pounce' which will transport you via the click of a mouse to sellers who just sold an item and undiscovered new sellers waiting to make their first sale. Another indispensable tool I have found since moving house is shopping by colour. Click a colour on the colour chart and Etsy will cleverly find items to match. It's not without its faults but it's a fun little tool which has helped me to find some artwork to perfectly compliment a new retro green chair I have my eye on over at Ebay.


                  If you're looking for a new Bluray DVD player or a radiator cover for your 1989 Ford Fiesta, you won't find it here but if you're looking for something that will bring a smile to your face and a bit of shabby chic, retro flair or purely artistic charm to your home, desk or jewellery box, then look no further than Etsy.com.

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                  • La Zona (DVD) / DVD / 42 Readings / 38 Ratings
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                    02.01.2010 22:48
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                    A thriller with a message

                    The plot may be sparse, the characters simple and the dialogue minimal but La Zona is a film that delivers on every level. It's as much a film about what isn't said as it is about what is and there is an eerie realism to the sinister plot that makes for essential viewing.

                    On the surface, the plot is minimal and perhaps implausible. Set in a wealthy suburb of Mexico City, La Zona is a gated community idyll that starkly contrasts with the backdrop of Mexico's slums. One stormy evening, the electricity fails and the secure community of La Zona is disrupted as petty thieves seize the opportunity to infiltrate the gated utopia. But when events spiral out of control Miguel, a young teenager who crossed La Zona's boundaries to partake in an evening of stealing, finds himself running from the vigilante justice of La Zona's residents. The council of La Zona convenes and decides to deliver their own revenge to Miguel and a compelling and dark story ensues as justice and morals are called into question.

                    If you're looking for a Hollywood all-star cast, guns, explosions and gratuitous everything else, then you won't find it in La Zona. This is more of a Guardian of films than a Daily Star. Admittedly, it's a slow burner at times, but it is guaranteed to build the suspense, make you think and leave enough unanswered questions at its conclusion to make it a refreshing break from the tedium that has been adorning television screens over the festive period. This is a film about politics, society, but perhaps most importantly of all, human nature.

                    Whilst the cast list may not be familiar, the story is conveyed with a harsh realism from start to finish. Daniel Tovar and Alan Chavez are both particularly worthy of a mention. Chevaz's outstanding performance as Miguel is impressive for such a young actor and Tovar similarly shines as Alejandro, both bringing depth and a convincing realism to their characters. Despite the sparse dialogue of La Zona, both manage to convey their characters with a maturity that outshines their years and the relationship between the two characters is a heart-warming central theme of the film.

                    Pla manages to infuse the viewer with a guilty sense of voyeurism, utilising faux CCTV footage to add a grainy realism to the proceedings. Despite years of Big Brother gracing our television screens, there's still an awkwardness in watching the proceedings unveil in the surveilled world of La Zona.

                    The plot does unfortunately have its flaws. At times, characters and elements of the story seem 2-dimensional and director Pla shows a distinct disregard for subtlety. The rather too clinical distinctions drawn between right and wrong, crime and justice, corruption and innocence occasionally show too much heavy handedness on Pla's behalf, perhaps a simple reminder that this is his debut feature film. But the thrill of the chase, eerie cinematography and dramatic score soon put the film back on target as it overcomes various lulls and gallops towards its dramatic denouement.

                    La Zona is a film that kept me captivated almost throughout. Whilst there were moments where it appeared to lose direction, they were brief enough to be forgiven and the thoughtful plot and dialogue were complimented by a suitable dramatic score. It's a thriller that manages to maintain its suspense and is a refreshing piece of cinema which, despite a directoral debut and an unfamiliar cast, is convincing and thought-provoking.

                    Overall, La Zona manages to deliver just the right amount of pathos, combined with a generous dollop of drama, a sprinkling of thrills and just enough surprises to keep you intrigued until the final scene. The critics appear to agree too with La Zona having received 17 film awards, including International Critics Award at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Whilst the premise behind the film may not be entirely unique, Pla approaches it with a thoughtfulness and depth that will make this a film to remember.

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                      20.04.2009 21:22
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                      Go Ahead and Check the Calories Per Packet, Not Slice

                      Everyone knows a diet should only be started on Monday. So after devouring a kitchen cupboard full fo junk food yesterday, I commenced my healthy eating regime today. Unfortunately, my lunch of a bowl of soup and a couple of Ryvitas, although quite healthy, proved to be rather unfilling so when a colleague suggested a trip to the hospital shop, I jumped at the chance. In a bid not to spoil the diet entirely on its first day, I headed to the healthy snack section where my eye settled on a packet of Go Ahead Crispy Slices in orange and sultana flavour. Being a hospital shop, the pries were extortionate and I paid about 65p for a packet of 3 slices. This evening, I managed to pick up a multipack that has 5 packs of 3 slices in it for a far more reasonable £1.50.

                      Go Ahead, for those of you not familiar with the name, is a brand of foods produced by McVitie's that promises to be lower in fat and sugar than your standard snacks. Given that my usual treat of choice from the hospital shop is a chocolate bar, the Go Ahead products on offer did promise to be a far healthier alternative.

                      The packaging describes these as 'sultana and orange flavoured filling in a light crispy biscuit.' My parents used to buy orange flavoured biscuits when I was a child and I've always had a penchant for orange flavoured sweet things so the other flavours on offer received little consideration. The packet also lures us dieters in with the promise of just 57 calories and 1.1g of fat per slice which sounds healthy, even if I'm not particularly au fait with recommended daily allowances. Of course there is some cunning marketing at work here since each packet contains not one but 3 slices, tripling the nutritional values emblazoned across the front of the packet. Nevertheless, it still worked out as healthier than a double Milkyway.

                      So once the hunger pangs started this afternoon and my tummy started growling uncontrollably, I reached for my packet of Go Ahead Orange and Sultana Crispy Slices and got stuck in. The crispy slices do look quite appealing although I'm disappointed by the glistening granules on top which look like sugar that's probably there to make them look nicer and adds unnecessary sweetness and calories to the snack. Taste wise, I find myself impressed too. The orange flavour is distinctive and refreshing and there are plenty of juicy sultanas. The biscuit is sweet and very crispy indeed, though perhaps bears a closer resemblance to a sweet Jacob's cracker than a digestive. The slices are definitely morish but a packet of three should suffice even the greediest of appetites. And so I'm free to continue work for the rest of the afternoon, safe in the knowledge that my sweet tooth is satisfied and my stomach has stopped growling at innocent passers by.

                      This evening, I picked up a multipack of the Orange and Sultana Crispy Slices as well as the Apple and Sultana Variety. Yes, I admit, some fruit would be a far healthier option and I did make a point of stocking up on healthy nibbles as well in a bid to shift some pounds before summer. Unfortunately though, I'll openly admit to lacking will power so these Crispy Slices are on stand by for moments of weakness to stop me opting for cream cakes and chocolate bars instead. As far is flavour is concerned, these taste great and not like diet food at all. But this isn't a surprise really since the high sugar content means they aren't technically a diet food. If you have the motivation to reach for a carrot stick when you need a nibble, then avoid these at all costs, but if you struggle to say no to your cravings for sweetness then at least these are slightly healthier than a choccy bar.

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                        19.04.2009 15:14
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                        Not worthy of the hype.

                        Regardless of the marketing hype, there are a number of beauty products that have achieved cult status over the years. Take for example, Yves Saint Laurent's Touche Eclat or La Mer's Crème de la Mer moisturiser both of which are endorsed by beauty editors the world over and coveted by women the world over. But on the back of these premium priced products (a 30ml tub of Crème de la Mer will set you back a whopping £88!) there has been a great deal of hype towards more reasonably priced products. Whether you have an active interest in beauty or not, the astounding success of Boots No 7 Protect and Perfect Serum on the back of a BBC Horizons documentary surely can't have passed you by. And now there's a new kid on the block in the form of Liz Earle's Cleanse and Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. If you believe the beauty editors and the fashion mags, this is a miracle product that will leave any skin type feeling soft and smooth and looking radiant.

                        A starter kit will set you back £21.75 on the Liz Earle website and includes a 200ml tube of the Cleanse and Polish cleanser as well as 2 muslin cloths to enable you to create an authentic spa quality hot cloth cleanse in the comfort of your own home. Whilst this certainly isn't cheap, it's far from an extortionate price and is on a par with premium brands such as Clinque and Estee Lauder. Ever the sceptic, I of course chose not to part with my cash to enable me to sample this product. Fortunately my patience paid off and a recent offer in Marie Claire magazine meant I received a 30ml tube of Cleanse and Polish and a muslin cloth for free, all beautifully wrapped in Liz Earle tissue paper and accompanied with various literature boasting of this award-winning cleansing system's fantastic properties.

                        The first thing I noticed was that this was promoted as being suitable for all skin types. As my skin is dry, I tend to choose a cleanser specifically for dry skin but Cleanse and Polish claimed to have all skin types covered and the inclusion of cocoa butter amongst the list of naturally active ingredients certainly seemed ideal for my dry and tight skin.

                        Having read up on the instructions for use, I was ready to pamper my skin with its first ever Cleanse and Polish experience. The cleanser itself is a white cream that looks similar to a moisturising lotion. The first step is to gently massage this onto dry skin and this part of the process claims to 'purify, soften and stimulate the circulation.' The next stage is the polishing which requires you to rinse your muslin cloth in hand-hot water and wring out before gently polishing the cream off your face. I patted my skin dry and quickly examined the results. My skin did feel noticeably smoother and I did think the skin tone looked more even, although that may have been psychological due to the fact my skin had been pampered with an expensive cleanser and I was hoping to see some instant results. Whilst the instructions do advise you follow the process with Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic (a toner I assume) and Liz Earle moisturiser, I was disappointed to find my skin felt tight straight after washing. This is usually a sign that it is dry and, despite moisturising, it didn't feel as hydrated as I would have hoped.

                        It is recommended you use Cleanse and Polish morning and night and so I persisted with the routine for a couple of days. I was, however, very unhappy to find my skin broke out in spots, something which I don't generally have a problem with. I convinced myself though that this was good. The Cleanse and Polish was purifying my skin, Rome wasn't built in a day, give it another week etc. etc. But after another week of dedicated twice daily cleansing and polishing, my skin was still spotty and other areas were so dry they were becoming flaky. Having endured 2 weeks of looking like a spotty teenager I could take it no longer and switched to my previous brand of cleanser. Within a few days, the spots were gone and the dry flaky patches were soothed with copious amounts of moisturiser.

                        Cleanse and Polish definitely did nothing for my skin leaving it in a far worse state than before I started using the product. Obviously, I have beauty editors, awards and QVC presenters disagreeing with me but I really don't think this is a product worthy of the hype. If you're lucky enough to get a free sample, then by all means give it a go but I wouldn't want to spend any of my hard earned cash on this.

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                        • The Strangers (DVD) / DVD / 82 Readings / 76 Ratings
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                          19.04.2009 09:43
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                          Scary masks + Liv Tyler do not a good horror make

                          My first introduction to The Strangers was courtesy of a billboard that featured the haunting and frankly quite scary image of three masked faces. Stephen King's It managed to create a generation of people who were terrified of clowns and this simple poster offered the possibility that The Strangers could pick up where Jason's hockey mask left off and use simple masks to instil horror and terror in those who watched the film.

                          The film begins with the now tired and overused suggestion that it is based on real events. Of course, you don't have to be a movie buff to take promises such as this with a pinch of salt and having read prior to the film the so-called real events on which the film was based, I was sceptical from the beginning. The film also gives the viewer a rather unsubtle spoiler in the opening scene as the final scene of the film is played as an introduction. It certainly doesn't take a genius to work out where the plot will end up.

                          But of course I persisted and we soon meet the characters of Kristen McKay (Liv Tyler) and James Hoyt (Scott Speedman) who arrive at the Hoyt family's isolated summer house in awkward silence following an altercation at a wedding reception earlier that night. First time writer-director Bryan Bertino doesn't make much effort to create amiable characters. Instead Bertino seems to hope that the uncomfortable silence between the two will enable the viewer to sympathise with the couple as and when required. Just after 4am, there is a knock at the door and, following a weak attempt to build some pathos into the film, we are introduced to the three masked strangers and the appropriate terror ensues.

                          You don't have to be a particularly astute reader to have noticed that The Strangers failed to capture me, horrify me or impress me in any way, shape or form. With Liv Tyler heading the bill, I had hoped that this was a sign of an excellent script and plot by a previously unknown writer that she couldn't resist getting her teeth into. Unfortunately, it would seem Liv has lost favour in Hollywood and instead found her way onto the set of The Strangers by scouring the bins of more successful actresses and begging for roles using previously rejected scripts. The dialogue is sparse but what little features in the film is clichéd and irritating. The character of Kristen does little other than whinge and I found myself rooting for the sadistic masked slashers in the hope that she wouldn't feature too heavily in the film. Having turned down a wedding proposal from James, Kristen later whines that she has run out of cigarettes. It's 4am. They're in the middle of nowhere and she's just declined her boyfriend's proposal of marriage and yet the bumbling 'hero' of the film drives off to purchase some smokes for his girlfriend.

                          Of course, it is a fact of slasher films that the central characters do stupid things and it's an element that most viewers can turn a blind eye to but in the Strangers, the actions of Kristen and James are downright idiotic. Despite the couple finding themselves in possession of a loaded shot gun, the three masked villains manage to run rings around the couple, despite their only weapons being their wit and, later in the film, an axe.

                          Another let down with The Strangers is the general lack of suspense. Ten minutes could elapse with nothing happening other than Kristen looking scared and backing into a corner. The suspense that may have existed during the first minute or two soon evaporates and the element of surprise when the masked strangers suddenly reappear is more of a welcome relief than a terrifying ordeal.

                          Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the film was due to having seen Ils, or Them to give it its English language title. The plot of The Strangers has been heavily drawn upon from Ils and yet the haunting suspense, dark and sinister atmosphere and intensity that Ils drew upon were aspects Bertino chose not to replicate in The Strangers. Even the 'shock' ending will provide little shock value to those who have previously watched Ils. I feared the intensity and pathos of Ils would be lost were it to be remade in Hollywood and The Strangers proved me right. Ils goes to show that the premise behind the story, though littered with horror clichés, can be successfully translated to film. The Strangers goes to show how, even with a Hollywood budget and a potentially half decent plot, film makers can still fall a million miles short of making the grade. Don't be afraid to be a stranger to The Strangers. Just watch Ils instead.

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                            13.04.2009 18:13
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                            Life's all pain. Pain, gloom and misery... Hey, 33% extra free. I am doing excellent shopping.

                            Originally released in 2003, when I finally sat down to watch the first series of Peep Show this afternoon I couldn't help but ask myself 'how have I not got round to watching this sooner?' Admittedly, I rarely watch TV which is why I tend to miss the boat until a DVD reaches the market but I've still had 6 years to get my arse out of gear and give Peep Show a chance. Perhaps it was the promise on the box from The Observer that Peep Show has proven to be 'cult viewing.' Call me a skeptic but cult viewing is a term that (unless used by me) tends to mean a programme with a small but dedicated fan base which loosely translated means it isn't very good. But during a brief hiatus from the excruciating pain of toothache, I decided to while away my bank holiday Monday in the company of Mitchell and Webb et al.

                            Peep Show gives us an intimate look at the mundane and sexually frustrated lives of flat mates Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb). At first glance, and certainly for the first 2 episodes, the concept seems to lack enough depth to give us any comedy of note and definitely falls shy of the 'cult viewing' tag emblazoned across the DVD case. But then something strange happens and within 40 minutes or so of meeting the dysfunctional odd couple of Mark and Jeremy, I found a strange affiliation with their characters forming. Mark is awkward and socially inept and yet I felt a certain empathy as I cringed at his social blunders. The scenes may be exaggerated but the situations are oh so familiar. Similarly Jeremy, referred to as a 'work shy freeloader,' may appear confident both in himself and his prowess in the bedroom but his self-doubt and naivety make him another loveable character.

                            Being in their late 20s and single, Mark and Jeremy's sexual frustration is a recurrent theme throughout the series and introduces us to a number of other characters including Sophie (love of Mark's life and colleague), Toni (the neighbour Jeremy is intent on bedding) and Johnson (well it wouldn't be complete without an inkling of a homosexual affair).

                            One of the interesting features of the series is the way in which it has been filmed, giving us a very intimate and voyeuristic view of the characters. The events are shown to the viewer almost entirely from the point of view of either Mark or Jeremy, although occasionally the POV of other characters is utilised. Add to this the very candid and amusing addition of Mark and Jeremy's internal dialogues and Peep Show quickly establishes itself as a uniquely intelligent piece of comedy. Unlike many American comedy series, the producers don't feel the need to bribe the audience into thinking it's funny with copious usage of canned laughter. Instead, the dialogue, acting and interaction between the cast does that for us and provides us with some hilarious, if unlikely comedy. Whilst Peep Show does include plenty of subtle humour that will bring a smile to your face, the writers haven't been shy when it comes to making light of taboo issues. Never before have I laughed so hard at a scene set in a hospice and Mark's session with a therapist makes for comedy gold.

                            Since series 1 is quite short at just 6 episodes, I decided to prolong my enjoyment of Peep Show by checking out the DVD extras. I don't want to spoil them for you but Mark's video CV and Jeremy's audition tape for Big Brother in particular are sheer comedy brilliance and essential viewing. Dare I say, Mark's CV in particular may even outshine the series itself.

                            If you haven't watched Peep Show yet, then it really is worth a go, particularly if you appreciate awkward, cynical British humour. I'd certainly urge you to reserve judgement until you're a couple of episodes into the series. I do think it takes time to fully establish the central characters but once you become familiar with each of their nuances and quirky oddities, you'll find it hard not to see a little bit of yourself in each one of these awkward and inept characters. There have now been 5 series of Peep Show shown on TV with series 6 expected to be aired later this year and series 7 already having been commissioned. I now have series 2 and 3 to keep me company for the rest of the day and with a string of awards to boot, I have to agree for once that Peep Show undoubtedly makes for cult viewing.

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                            • bview.co.uk / Internet Site / 92 Readings / 87 Ratings
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                              12.04.2009 22:50
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                              If You've Got Aview You Can Earn at Bview

                              There seems to have been an influx of websites of late all promising rewards for writing reviews on local businesses. In case you haven't noticed, I am a whore to the review writing scene and have worked my way through most of these sites in an attempt to sort the wheat from the chaff. As I check through my reviews on Bview.co.uk, it would appear I first stumbled upon the site back in August 2008. Unfortunately, back then, similar sites such as Helphound and Qype were offering far more lucrative incentives for my reviews and so Bview fell by the wayside until they emailed me a couple of months ago offering 30p for each review I wrote. After a pitiful attempt at earning some extra funds for my rainy day account, an email last week promising 45p per review if you write 20 or more reviews this month has finally given me the incentive I needed to share my wit and wisdom regarding every pub, kebab house, clothes shop or bank I have ever frequented in a desperate bid to earn enough to cover the extortionate costs of renewing my passport.

                              But as Julie Andrews famously sang, let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Bview is a website which enables you to read and write reviews on local businesses. As a writer, it means you can earn a few extra pennies for writing relatively short reviews on any business you're familiar with, from your hairdresser to your dog's hairdresser, your dentist to the local DIY store he or she buys their drills from. There are thousands of businesses listed but you also have the option of adding a business that isn't already registered on the site so there really is no end to the businesses you can review. As a new reviewer, you will earn £5 for your first 15 reviews which is paid by cheque or Amazon gift voucher at the end of the month. Your reviews need to be at least 150 words in length. Once you've written your first 15 reviews, if they are of 'exceptional quality' (Bview's words not mine), you'll be invited to become an Local Expert which enables you to earn up to £100 per month through writing reviews.

                              As far as writing on Bview is concerned, it's quite an easy process, especially considering the low word count. I tend to write a minimum of 200 words as I struggle to give an accurate picture of a business in less but if you can be informative and concise then the payments here are quite reasonable. Whilst other users can rate your reviews, there is no incentive for you or them to do so as it is only writing reviews that attracts incentives. This can make it seem like a somewhat thankless task and Bview certainly lacks the community spirit that you find here on Dooyoo. It also means writing reviews can become quite tiresome quite quickly but the increased incentive of 45p per review this month will definitely spur me on to write some more reviews. The review writing process has changed in the last day or two and has definitely improved in my opinion. Until recently, your review had to be split into a pros section and a cons section which I found a tad cumbersome and disruptive in terms of my writing. Fortunately, this has now been changed to a simple box where you can write your review in one go, just as you would here on Dooyoo.

                              I've only received one payment from Bview (although there may have been an Amazon voucher in the past that I've forgotten about). I chose to be paid by cheque and my earnings for last month arrived last week which was a quick service. As a review, although it feels a bit more like work than here at Dooyoo, Bview has provided my savings account with a small trickle of additional income and is worth a visit as an extra platform for earning money from reviews.

                              But it's important not to forget the purpose of Bview and the reason the site pays members to write reviews. Ultimately, it is a resource for users who are looking for impartial reviews on businesses throughout the country. Unfortunately, I find the reviews on here to be a bit hit and miss. Many businesses only have one review which can make it difficult to get an overall picture. One restaurant I reviewed as being awful has recently been reviewed by another user who raved about how fantastic it was. Perhaps it was the owners of the restaurant in question or this person was unfortunate enough to not know what a curry should taste like but for an inquisitive reader searching for a review on the given restaurant, neither my review or that of the other user would appear particularly helpful since they offer such opposing opinions. I've just looked up the Early Learning Centre in my home town and it has 3 reviews but not one of them suggests to me that the reviewer is familiar with the Burnley branch as they are all quite general opinions on ELC and not specific to the branch in question.

                              That said, Bview is reliant upon its reviewers to create a database of useful and informative reviews and whilst it continues to pay me to write, I'll continue to add my two penneth about various establishments across the country. If more people contribute helpful and informative reviews, then it has the potential to grow into an invaluable resource and the extra pennies in my rainy day account are certainly not to be sniffed at.

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                                12.04.2009 12:11
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                                Knock Off Quality at Designer Prices!

                                The recent credit crunch has had a considerable impact on my perfume addiction and so I've found myself turning to half finished bottles of scent as my newfound frugalness prohibits me from spending copious amounts of money on new designer fragrances each month. Gucci's eau de parfum II has been languishing on my bathroom shelf for a few months now. Despite the uninspired name and uninspired bottle, the Gucci brand name means you can expect to pay £30 for a 30ml bottle unless you scour Ebay listings and internet perfume sellers for a discounted offer.

                                One would think that the manufacturer's description of a fragrance would be a good place to start in getting an overall impression of the perfume. Alas, Gucci appear to have fallen into the trap of getting some sort of tree hugging, fairy chasing, cookie tripping English teacher and poet laureate wannabe to compose their product description which is as follows: Gucci Eau de Parfum II is a floral fruity scent with a distinctive musk base. Fresh, luminous and filled with a soft and discreet Asian breath, it is a radiant and sexy expression of timeless feminine chic.

                                And so it would seem it is up to me to disambiguate the description as I draw upon my Northern heritage to conjure up a more realistic and comprehensible interpretation of the scent. Fortunately, the mad men at Gucci hadn't completely crossed over to Lala Land when they wrote the first sentence and floral and fruity are certainly words I'd use to describe this fragrance. The fragrance notes include mandarin, blackcurrant, violet, blackberry and jasmine which would certainly explain the floral and fruity aroma. This is the predominant scent of Gucci II and is a light and feminine aroma which is flirty and subtle. The distinctive musk base brings an added depth to the perfume and gives the fragrance a more mature scent, contrasting with the fruity floral top notes sufficiently to prevent this from smelling like I imagine eau de Barbie might.

                                But from hereon, the marketing team at Gucci seem to enter waffle territory as they talk about 'a soft and discreet Asian breath.' I have no idea what this strange image alludes to but I suspect it is a subtle admission by Gucci regarding the perfume's staying power. As an eau de parfum, I would expect the fragrance to last on my skin all day but unfortunately this is one area where Gucci II fails as within a couple of hours, only the slightest and most delicate of scents remains on my skin. Perhaps this explains why the bottle has stood so unobtrusively on my bathroom shelf for so long. The girly floral fragrance makes this an ideal scent for daytime use but the lack of staying power makes it an inappropriate choice if, like me, you prefer to spritz and go in the morning without worrying about topping up your scent periodically throughout the day. As an evening fragrance, it lacks the sensuality and allure that I would choose for a night time scent.

                                Unfortunately for me, Gucci II just misses the mark. It would seem Gucci are basing their prices for this perfume on the Gucci brand name and not on the quality or longevity of the scent. Whilst it's a pretty and feminine scent, the fact the fragrance only last on my skin for a couple of hours at most makes this a rather extortionate purchase and at £30 for a 30ml bottle, Gucci have somehow managed to avoid giving their buyers either quality or quantity for that price. So unless you have money to burn, this isn't a fragrance I could recommend.

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                                  06.04.2009 15:23
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                                  A town for all seasons

                                  Having already read some fantastic reviews on the town of my birth, I wasn't entirely sure if there was much point in me adding my two penneth. But having spent the first 18 informative years of my life growing up there, I decided I perhaps do have enough Shrewsbury trivia to warrant an alternative guide to Shropshire's county town. Of course if you're looking for valuable information on National Trust sites in the area or the opening times of Shrewsbury Market, then the Tourist Information Centre would perhaps be a better port of call. But if you're intrigued by some of the more obscure stories behind the town, then I hope the following will be both entertaining and enlightening.

                                  Despite its relatively small population of around 100,000, I tend to find that everyone I meet has either visited or passed through Shrewsbury at some point. Most people have brief but fond stories of their time spent in Shrewsbury but one harmless drunk I met in a pub showed less affection towards my hometown as he described the many months he spent bunking up with another fellow in a rather chilly Victorian building. It was not until he pinpointed his location to me that I realized his less than favourable impression of Shrewsbury had been garnered from a stay at Her Majesty's Pleasure at the Dana, now more commonly referred to as HMP Shrewsbury. According to a 2005 report on the UK prison population, Shrewsbury prison is the most overcrowded prison in England and Wales so I can only anticipate that the above scenario will become more common place.

                                  Of course, if you choose to make a visit to Shrewsbury for social reasons, then you will be free to explore and enjoy the town. The town centre is filled with timber framed buildings to admire and a visit during the spring or summer wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Quarry Park to admire the flora and fauna in The Dingle. But if you search a little harder, you'll find some of the quirky oddities that sparked my initial love of Shrewsbury and have ensured it retains a place in my heart 8 years after heading 'up North.'

                                  Let's face it, despite the fact the Shrewsbury is a town steeped in history, not everyone is partial to visiting museums or partaking in guided walks in order to appreciate the town's historical roots. So I have found the perfect compromise. It's not often that I would recommend visiting a McDonald's restaurant but the McDonald's on Pride Hill in Shrewsbury is an exception to the rule. This is the oldest building in the world to house a McDonald's with some of the exterior walls dating back to the 13th century. So whilst the children enjoy a happy meal, you can sit back with a McFlurry and admire the historical surroundings. Incidentally, before you take offence, the large banners downstairs refer to King Cnut, also known as Canute the Great. A quick glance can easily give the wrong impression and perhaps a more derogatory view of McDonald's than this particular branch deserves.

                                  So now you've witnessed some 13th century architecture, albeit in the guise of a fast food restaurant, now it's time to take a trip to St Chad's church. Like a mother disguising vegetables in pasta sauce, I have another trick up my sleeve to make a seemingly boring trip to a church a far more exciting experience. Of course I'm sure there will be visitors who will marvel at the unique and controversial design of St Chad's church which features a round nave as designed by architect George Steuart. But if the church's complex fusion of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian styles fails to impress then perhaps a trip around the graveyard will prove to be more interesting. Christmas just isn't Christmas without curling up on the sofa to watch one or other adaptations of Dickens' enduring classic A Christmas Carol and, despite the annual influx of demonized, Americanized and muppetized interpretations, there is one version that has always been my favourite. Clive Donner's 1984 film of A Christmas Carol starring George C Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge was filmed in Shrewsbury and features some fantastic and familiar scenes from the town as well as my personal favourite performance of Scrooge. Visit St Chad's graveyard and you will still find Ebenezer Scrooge's gravestone which was erected in 1984 for the filming of A Christmas Carol and has remained there ever since.

                                  And if you need another incentive to explore the historical buildings of Shrewsbury, then perhaps the promise of ghosts and ghouls might intrigue you enough to venture around some of Shrewsbury's more famous historical buildings. Rowley's House, for example, not only houses Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery but is also the home to two costumed figures who have been seen wandering the corridors of this large timber framed building. Shrewsbury also offers the opportunity to combine ghost hunting with some light refreshment with pubs including The Hole in the Wall, The Nag's Head and The Dun Cow all boasting stories of hauntings and apparitions.

                                  And finally, if you're looking for another good reason to visit Shrewsbury, then the list of Proud Salopians that have inhabited the town will surely be enough to whet your appetite. Lauded as the birth place of Charles Darwin Shrewsbury was also home to famed Salopians Wilfred Owen and Robert Clive (Clive of India). But more recent celebrities from in and around the town include actor Pete Postlethwaite, writer of the Brother Cadfael series of books Ellis Peters (and incidentally Brother Cadfael himself) as well as Roy Wood of Wizard Fame, writer of Well I Wish it Could Be Christmas Everyday and father of my childhood friend. And then there's the famous scholars who attended Shrewsbury School which include Michael Palin, John Peel, Tim Booth (lead singer of James), Willie Rushton and Michael Heseltine. So you will amongst illustrious company if you spend a weekend in Shrewsbury.

                                  As I've said, Shrewsbury's Toruist Information Centre (located within the Music Hall, at the back of The Square) will provide you with plenty of leaflets and pertinent information regarding particular attractions. Despite the laid back and relaxed atmosphere of the town, there really is something for everyone in the vicinity. Fro historic timber framed buildings to quaint gift shops, from haunted pubs to idyllic gardens of The Quarry Park, Shrewsbury is a town with plenty to keep you occupied and hopefully you'll leave with fond memories of this little town.

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