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ladybracknell

ladybracknell
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Member since: 05.11.2008

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      24.06.2014 14:08
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      • "Very easy to grow"
      • "Glorious perfume"

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      • "Rather untidy little plant"
      • "Not the prettiest garden plant"

      The essential scent of summer evenings

      It''s often the case that Nature has a way of compensating for inadequacies and that seems to be so in both the human, animal and botanical worlds. A prime example of this must certainly be matthiola longipetala, which is the Latin name for the night scented stock. This is one of the most unobtrusive little plants with very little to recommend it in the looks department but what it lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for with its evening perfume because then this sweet little annual really packs a punch. Suttons sell their packets of annual flower seeds for 1.99 GBP providing approximately 1600 seeds which is more than enough to keep the garden delightfully perfumed all summer long. Because these little plants are so unremarkable with their tiny pale pinkish white cruciform flower heads and nondescript sage green foliage and rather untidy growing habit, it''s best to sow them amongst other, more showy plants where they can hide away during the day and release their heady scent during the hours of darkness. Night scented stocks are remarkably easy to grow as all that''s required is a scattering of seed and the occasional drink of water. To ensure the garden is perfumed all summer long, it''s best to sow successionally, say every, week or so until the packet is empty and the best places to sow are under windows and beside doorways and garden seats. This hardy annual thrives on neglect preferring dryish soil which hasn''t been over-fertilised. If you sow the seeds amongst other plants and shrubs, you probably won''t even notice these plants growing until you step outside into your garden on a warm summer''s evening to be greeted by a wonderfully potent scent which is a mixture of the heady sweetness of honeysuckle and jasmine and the clove-like scent of garden pinks. It''s intoxicating and though Nature has designed this to attract night-flying insects for pollination, its appeal most certainly isn''t lost on human nostrils either. Suttons seeds are available in most garden centres and online from their website and also frequently can be found on sale in supermarkets and discount stores where they may sell for considerably less than the recommended 1.99 GBP. I confess that I buy very few packets of hardy annuals these days but I make a point of buying night scented stock seeds every year. For me their perfume is the essential scent of summer evenings.

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        21.06.2014 18:09
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        • "Removes all make-up and leaves skin clean and moisturised"

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        • "A tad expensive!"

        Definitely money well spent

        At something over GBP 14 for this starter kit, no-one can deny that it''s a little on the pricey side, although the kit does come in a neat little zipper bag with the pump action cleanser and two muslin cloths. Despite the price, I''ve been using this product now for many years and I''m convinced that it has helped keep my complexion looking good and the wrinkles at bay. Not only that but the product is British made and uses only natural, plant based ingredients and is produced in a highly ethical manner with absolutely no animal-based ingredients or animal testing. The pump-action container provides 100 ml of product and about two good squirts of cleanser will be sufficient to cleanse the face and neck so even this smaller offering will last a considerable amount of time. The cleanser has a wonderfully creamy texture and feels similar to a thickened liquid soap but unlike soap, this cleans without leaving the skin feeling taut and dry. The scent is fresh and herbal with the strongest aromas coming from the eucalyptus and rosemary which gives it a slightly toothpaste-like smell but don''t let that put you off because the results are amazing. Apply the cream directly to the skin without water and gently massage it into the face and neck. The formula of the cream is designed to remove all make up and even heavily applied mascara just seems to wipe away at a stroke. Once the cleansing part of the process is done, it''s time to polish. The muslin cloths are of a slightly open-weave with just enough nap to exfoliate the skin without being too abrasive. Rinse the cloths in hand hot water and wipe the cream off the face and neck. All the make up and grime of the day will be transferred to the cloth leaving the skin feeling fresh, clean, soft and moisturised. To finish off, splash some cool water onto the face to close the pores. I find that most of the make up and grime on the cloths will rinse out under the tap and I tend to use the same cloth for a couple of days. The cloths can be washed in the usual way and I tend to bung them into the washing machine with everything else and they come out clean as a whistle. Over time they can become a little discoloured but it''s possible to buy additional muslin squares either direct from Liz Earle or more cheaply from other high street outlets such as Boots or Bodyshop. Although this kit can be bought direct from Liz Earle, there is a GBP 3.75 delivery fee which bumps the price up considerably. John Lewis stock Liz Earle products and it''s free to order click and collect either from a John Lewis store or a local Waitrose which is much more cost effective. I highly recommend this cleanse and polish starter kit and I guarantee that once used, you''ll never want to use any other cleansing product.

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        03.04.2014 16:07
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        • "A gripping story from dual perspectives"

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        • "Some of the history is very subjective and not proven"

        Interesting read but the history is very subjective

        There can?t be many people in Britain unaware that Richard III?s remains were discovered lying under a Leicester car park, reigniting interest in this highly controversial king. Whilst acknowledging that there remains a big question mark over the fate of his two young nephews, Richard?s guilt remains unproven. The evidence against him has all been passed down to us through Henry Tudor and his allies, whose blackening of Richard?s name was merely their attempt to justify Henry?s own highly spurious claim to the throne.

        This book documents the search and subsequent discovery of Richard?s remains and is the joint effort of Philippa Langley, a devout Ricardian and prime mover in bringing the search for Richard into being, and historian Michael Jones. Documented history, in the main, provides a far different picture from that painted by the Tudors. History reveals a highly intelligent, brave and very loyal man and one, moreover, who wasn?t the tyrannical despot that the Tudor?s though it has to be said that that is my reading of the man as there are times in this book when I questioned Dr Jones?s interpretation.

        The two handed approach of the book telling the story from two very different perspectives, makes this an uneven read but also refreshingly exciting for a history book. The chapters are written alternately allowing Philippa Langley to deliver all the excitement of the search for Richard?s grave, inevitably infused with her partiality for the man. Her chapters are then followed by Michael Jones?s much more unemotional view of events but which still retains excitement, mystery and quite a bit of fifteenth century swashbuckling and I defy anyone to read the chapter about the end of the battle of Bosworth without feeling some sympathy for Richard?s final moments.

        One of the prime discoveries of course, was the fact that Richard did, indeed, have scoliosis, curvature of the spine, though not nearly so bad that he would have been the ?crook-back? of Shakespeare?s play. The medical facts point to Richard having no more than a slightly raised shoulder.

        This isn?t the usual dry and dusty history but an almost unputdownable read and Richard emerges as neither hero nor villain but as very human, his actions explained in the context of his era.

        I struggled with Dr Jones?s chapters, where I found his interpretation of the facts strange, making me think he?s more inclined to accept the unproven Tudor version of events than documented and irrefutable history. Some of his conclusions conveniently ignore the facts so as to fit his viewpoint. In fact, there were several times where I wondered why Philippa Langley, an avowed fan of Richard, would have agreed to team up with an historian who is so obviously a supporter of the Tudor team.

        This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in this period but it?s gripping enough to also appeal to anyone with a passing interest in history or archaeology, though its lack of objectivity makes the history somewhat flawed.

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          09.03.2014 13:52
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          A great basic sewing machine which is ideal for general household sewing.

          When The Great British Sewing Bee hit our screens last year, like thousands of others in the land, I was tempted to dig out my old machine and give home sewing another bash. Back in the day I'd often use my trusty Jones sewing machine to knock up a quick mini skirt (those were the days!) or, later, made little dresses for my daughter as well as making a curtain or two but then about 20 years ago the machine was consigned to the dark recesses of the cupboard under the stairs. Now, with renewed enthusiasm I dug it out only to be confronted with a huge and heavy monstrosity which only grudgingly switched on and promptly snapped the drive belt which was completely perished. Time for a new machine.

          After doing a bit of research online, the name which kept cropping up in a positive way was Janome and though many of these machines were priced at way beyond what I was prepared to pay, there were a couple of lower end models which I thought would fit the bill. Luckily, John Lewis had this particular model (the 2070) on special offer at under £100 and that's the one I bought.

          When the machine arrived I couldn't help but compare my old Jones with this twenty-first century machine and in terms of overall build quality, my Jones was like a Rolls Royce in comparison: beautifully constructed from top quality materials and with its own hard outer case. The Janome, along with its soft plastic cover, certainly looked sleek and modern but it weighed at least half as much and was constructed of a much lighter weight plastic with very little metal on display other than the essential moving parts. Even the thread spools were made of plastic! Fortunately, as I found out, light weight plastic doesn't necessarily mean lesser quality.

          This is one of the more basic models in the Janome range but comes with all the essential accessories (additional needles, buttonhole foot, spare bobbins and darning plate) for general sewing, all tucked away in a very compact way in a special compartment within the extension table. This extension table is easily removed by a simple pulling motion to allow for free arm sewing for such tasks as sewing in sleeves etc.

          Like most electric sewing machines, this one has a foot control and though, again, this is made from plastic whereas my previous machine had a heavy duty metal and rubber one, the amount of pressure required to set the machine in motion is so much less that the need for a heavier construction is no longer necessary.

          When it comes to threading the machine, nothing much has changed since Mr Singer first constructed his first commercial machine and the only problem I had initially was that I suffer from poor eyesight these days and struggled to get the thread through that pesky little eye!

          Where this machine scores over my old dinosaur is in the ease of adjusting the stitch size and thread tension, not to mention the fact that the choice of stitch patterns available on the Janome is greatly increased, offering seven (including zigzag/overlocking) which should suffice for most everyday sewing projects. Reversing the sewing direction is also incredibly simple on this machine and is done by merely throwing a switch. By now, I was more than impressed.

          In action this is a great little machine for the money and is ideal for anyone wanting to perform general sewing tasks such as making or altering clothes or curtains. I can't pretend to be the world's best seamstress and have been known to produce some seriously wonky seam lines in my time but that's now a thing of the past because this little beauty comes with seam guidelines engraved into the sewing plate, along with guides on centreing the needle and cornering. And when it comes to hemming, unlike my previous machine which simply stitched one way with one stitch, the Janome 2070 has a zigzag stitch and a blind hemming fuction which has consigned hand sewing hems to history.

          I still haven't used all the functions that the machine can perform although I keep promising myself that one day I will do a machined buttonhole using the special foot but until then, I'll stick to my tried and tested method of hand-sewn or bound ones.

          Other tasks which can be performed by this machine are smocking, which would be ideal for creating clothes for infants and very young children, and applique, for anyone wanting to create more decorative items.

          The machine comes with a fairly comprehensive instruction book which is not only well illustrated but also explains all that the machine can do in a clear and easily understood manner. The instruction is certainly good enough to allow even a complete sewing novice to approach any task with confidence.

          After about a year of use, I've found the Janome can handle just about anything I've asked of it. I've only used it a couple of times for making clothes, but it's certainly proved useful for making slight alterations to clothes and for other sewing projects. I even created a table runner for Christmas plus matching napkins in less than an hour and saved a fortune into the bargain! I still have slight reservations about the build quality but I think the flimsiness of the plastic shouldn't be too much of a problem as long as the machine is treated with care and respect and despite that, I would still award this machine 5 stars.

          A sewing machine is a long term purchase and, as such, requires careful thought before buying. Although more serious sewers should probably opt for a higher spec machine, I'm more than pleased with the performance of the Janome 2070 which has already proved itself ideal for my more basic purposes.

          It's still possible to buy this machine for under £100 and it's currently being offered for £99 plus free delivery, sewing thread and scissors from Sewing Machines Direct as well as a from a couple of other online sewing machine suppliers.

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            27.01.2014 13:33
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            Not just a re-telling of P&P but a whole new story more from the servants' perspective

            It's a fact universally acknowledged that a family starring in one of the best known novels written in the English language must be in need of a support team of servants. The Bennets of Longbourn are experiencing changes in their lives but so, too, are their staff. The lives of upstairs and downstairs are inextricably linked, with masters and mistresses and servants equally dependent on each other.

            Jo Baker's first novel not only gives the reader a glimpse into the world of the upper echelons of Georgian society but also a long, hard look at the tough world of the lower orders and in particular the servant classes; a world which is far from glamorous but every bit as relevant.

            When this came up as my book club's monthly read, I was afraid this would simply be yet another re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, this time from a below stairs perspective and I really wasn't looking forward to reading it. I feel that Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have been done almost to death. I'm pleased to say, this book is far more than that. Jo Baker has created an engrossing story which vividly tells of the lives of the family and staff who live at Longbourn but with only fleeting references to the doings of the Bennet family and then only when it impacts on the lives of their servants.

            The story is told in the third person and in the first part of the novel this is mainly from the perspective of Sarah, one of the Bennet's housemaids. Sarah is perfectly situated to view the changes taking place in the lives of both the family and also in her own life, especially after the arrival of James Smith, the Bennet's new footman. To the family, James is a welcome addition to their staff but below stairs he brings the world outside Longbourn to their doorstep and is quite a breath of fresh air, hinting of travel to far distant lands and possessing a knowledge of world events which they never dreamed of but also holding a secret which will resonate far closer to home.

            Sarah has been at Longbourn since she was seven years old and has been living and working under the kindly wing of Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, ever since. Just as the servants are little more than shadowy figures in Jane Austen's novel, in Jo Baker's book this is reversed and although the family make frequent appearances, it's only really in order to help the story along. And that story bears little or no relation to Pride and Prejudice. This has a totally different and completely original plot.

            Longbourn is no Downton Abbey either and the lives of Sarah, Polly and the Hills were certainly neither easy nor glamorous. These servants have been born and lived all their lives within the close confines of rural Hertfordshire so the arrival of the new footman brings with it a fresh dimension. Initially, James doesn't confide in them about his origins and life before Longbourn but his conversation tells them that he's far wider travelled and better read than any of them. To Sarah especially, James is a handsome mystery wrapped in a very attractive conundrum. In fact, much of the story pivots on James's origins, his previous life and his reasons for burying himself in the relative obscurity of Hertfordshire and the Longbourn's servants' hall.

            Much as I love this period of history and even though I was aware of how difficult life was for those not born into a world of privilege, reading about the daily lives of servants makes me utterly thankful to have been born into more enlightened times and though there is still plenty of inequality in the world, at least many of us now have the opportunity to change our circumstances. For the servants of Longbourn, even though they were well treated, life was far from easy and for Sarah and her fellow servants it involved rising at half past four in the morning then scrubbing and cleaning until hands bleed and bodies ache before staggering off to bed for a few hours rest but only after the family have retired, and then rising at dawn to once again endure another day of toil.

            There are occasions in the book when I felt that I didn't like the Bennets quite as much as I did in their original story. They appear at times to be a little thoughtless and dismissive of their servants but that, too, demonstrates the realism of this novel.

            This isn't just about the hardships of servant life in Georgian times, however, and the author touches on many issues of the day such as slavery, politics and war. None of these subjects are rammed down the readers' throats but are introduced through the medium of the characters giving a great sense of realism to the story and it made me re-evaluate my views of those less fortunate people such as servants, farm workers and slaves and just what courage it must have taken for these people to face every day of their lives.

            The mystery of James is only revealed very gradually throughout the story and it's quite a way into the book before the reader has any inkling of quite how much he truly impacts on the lives of everyone at Longbourn.

            It's a long time since I've enjoyed what is to all intents and purposes a historical romance quite as much as I did this one. The originality of the main characters of the story and, indeed, the story itself, make this a thoroughly enjoyable read which is also informative and thought provoking. The setting and many of the characters may first have belonged to Miss Austen but Jo Baker has brought a totally unique dimension to the original text which makes this novel entirely her own creation.

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              17.01.2014 14:38
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              A piece of kitchen kit which is becoming more and more useful

              These days I always seem to have quite a healthy balance of Amazon vouchers thanks to various gift givers and Dooyoo payments and as I had a couple of vouchers which were due to expire, I needed to buy something from Amazon pretty quickly. As I already have enough books on my Kindle to last me well into the next decade, if not for the rest of my natural life, I decided to check out other bargains on offer and the only thing which really took my fancy was this Shef halogen oven and having seen similar products advertised on various TV shopping channels, I decided that I couldn't live without one any longer, especially at the knock-down price of £34.99!

              When it arrived, I played with my new toy to see how it worked but like most kitchen gadgets, it was gradually being used less and less and inevitably it found its way into the cupboard where it stayed for the next few months with only one or two times that I used it. When Christmas arrived, however, and I had a house full of hungry relatives and a conventional oven which was struggling to cope, I once more liberated the halogen oven from its cupboard prison and it more than proved its worth. It's back in the cupboard now but is brought out far more frequently than before and is gradually taking over from my conventional oven in terms of usage.

              What exactly is a halogen oven?

              A halogen oven is basically a glass bowl and a lid which contains all the working parts: a heating element, fan, timer and temperature settings. The halogen element is simply an intense light strong enough to cook food. The element heats the air and the fan circulates it around the bowl. Because the bowl is smaller in capacity than a conventional oven, it heats up more quickly and often means cooking times are greatly reduced thus saving on both time and energy costs.

              What I got for my money:

              The Shef halogen oven has a 12 litre capacity and 1400 watts of power and can cope with just about anything from light snacks to full on roast dinners and everything in between. More to the point, it does it about a third more quickly and uses approximately 75% less electricity.

              The oven itself is comprised of a stand with handles which enables the user to move it easily, a large capacity glass bowl and the lid containing the halogen element, fan, and the timer and temperature controls. The basic model also comes with two cooking racks and a pair of tongs. I should state here that I initially thought the tongs had been missed out of my kit because they actually don't look anything like I expected and I tend not to use these rather flimsy ones but instead use my own more heavy duty tongs.

              Along with the oven, Shef provide a small booklet which gives simple operating instructions and a few recipes to get things started. Personally, though I found the operating instructions adequate and using the oven is very straightforward anyway, there really wasn't any other useful information or recipes contained in the booklet. To remedy this lack of information, I bought 'How to cook with a halogen oven', a 99p e-guide by Sarah Flowers and this has proved invaluable. This guide also has a really good selection of recipes many of which are suitable for vegetarians.

              The Shef in action

              As all the working parts of the halogen oven are incorporated into the lid, this is pretty heavy. This particular model has a lid which is fully detachable so it's important to find somewhere to place this when removing during the cooking process as the lid becomes extremely hot and shouldn't be placed directly onto work surfaces. When I replace this current oven, I shall certainly be looking for one with a hinged lid. There are lid stands available which can be bought for a reasonable amount but I haven't done so.

              There is a fail-safe locking mechanism on the lid and whenever this lock is undone the oven immediately stops working.

              The halogen oven can cope with almost every forms of cookery be it roasting, baking, broiling or frying, to name but a few and mostly at reduced cooking times and also requiring much less in the way of fat or oil, making it not only cost effective but a healthy option, too. The temperature settings also allow for pre-cooked food to be reheated or frozen food to be defrosted.

              When I first got my oven I immediately wanted to cook something and as at this time I didn't have my trusty e-guide, my first attempt was just a slice of toast. It has to be said, the halogen oven doesn't grill toast any faster than my gas cooker but for anyone with an electric oven, using the halogen oven would immediately save fuel. My next cooking experiment was baked potato and here the oven comes into its own, producing wonderful baked potatoes which are crispy on the outside with lovely fluffy centres and all in just under an hour which is far less time than either a gas or electric cooker and though it doesn't score time-wise over the microwave, the quality of baked potato is far superior.

              The capacity of the oven is sufficient that it's perfectly possible to cook a complete main course including meat and vegetables which does away with all those pots and pans. Although I don't eat meat, my family does and meat prepared in the halogen oven seems to be far more tender and moist than that prepared in a conventional oven. I do eat fish and the halogen oven is great for this producing fish which is moist yet perfectly cooked.

              Best of all, when the cooking is over and done with, the halogen oven has a self cleaning system so with a squeeze of washing-up liquid and some water, the clean up is a very simple process.

              During cooking the halogen light comes on until the oven reaches temperature and then switches off before coming back on again when the temperature drops below a certain level. I found this a bit disconcerting at first as I thought the oven had broken. On the plus side, there's something rather cheering about going into a dark kitchen and seeing the oven all lit up and dinner cooking away.

              Is it worth it? The pros and cons

              If I'm being absolutely honest, as I already have a microwave I rarely use, and a slow cooker which is my favourite piece of kitchen equipment, I really didn't need to buy this additional piece of kit. Having said that, it certainly scores highly when compared to the microwave, certainly in terms of versatility, most notably because it doesn't turn pastry soggy and inedible, it's possible to cook food in metal or foil containers without microwaves zapping round the oven and it works more like a conventional oven though at reduced timings. It's also far more portable meaning that it would prove a very useful piece of kit for taking on holiday. I've already decided that when my microwave eventually goes to that great scrap yard in the sky, I shan't buy a new one but will replace it with the halogen oven which has already proved itself to be far more useful.

              I've discovered a few cons so far. The first one is that the booklet which accompanies this oven is woefully inadequate and you'll definitely need to seek out other sources of information on how to get the best from your halogen oven but the internet has plenty of useful sites though you do have to look quite hard to find them, and the Sarah Flowers e-guide is great.

              The detachable lid hasn't exactly been a problem other than needing to find somewhere to put it when removed during cooking as it's very hot. It isn't just the lid which gets hot either; the bowl gets hot, too, and because it's quite deep, it's best to take extra care when removing pots. Also process of putting dishes into and removing them from the oven is quite awkward.

              I found that the oven requires quite a bit of experimentation in order to find the ideal cooking time/temperature and it doesn't pay to blindly follow recipe timings as these may not be accurate for your particular oven. From discussions I've had with other halogen owners, each oven seems to be different.

              Once you've become used to the halogen oven, it's highly likely you'll want to buy some additional pieces of equipment such as the extender ring which gives the oven even more capacity, or the various accessories such as the frying pan, steamer, air fryer etc. These are reasonably prices but do bump up the overall cost.

              Although my oven is still going strong, I've gathered from various websites that when the element goes the oven is rendered useless and most ovens don't allow for the element to be replaced. At the price I paid, if this lasts only a couple of years, I'll still think I've got a bargain.

              Summing it all up

              Although this was something of an impulse buy and it took a while before I fully appreciated its versatility, week by week I'm becoming more reliant on my halogen oven and I'm using my conventional oven less and less. This is an ideal piece of kitchen equipment for anyone living alone not least because it provides a means of producing a meal using just one piece of equipment and one moreover that cleans itself when the cooking is done.

              The portability of the halogen oven also makes this a great choice for anyone with a caravan or camper van where space is at a premium.

              When halogen ovens first came onto the market they were expensive and not always totally reliable. As the technology has improved so has their longevity and the price has come down substantially. When compared to a microwave, the halogen oven scores highly in terms of cooking. Even with those microwaves having an incorporated grill, the cooking may be faster but the microwave can't compete with a halogen oven when it comes to overall versatility.

              This Shef halogen oven certainly won't replace my conventional oven entirely but it's certainly proving every bit as useful.

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              • MUA BB Foundation / Make Up / 130 Readings / 129 Ratings
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                31.12.2013 17:59
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                The best of the BB products I've found

                Although I've embraced the use of BB creams, all of which claim to provide a total solution by combining a moisturiser with foundation as well as lightening complexions and covering any skin blemishes, I haven't been entirely delighted with the results from the products that I've tried so far. Whilst watching a YouTube video on budget priced makeup from the excellent Pixiwoo, this BB cream was hailed by those ladies as one of the best ones on offer.

                MUA is Superdrug's budget cosmetics range with prices starting at 99p. This BB cream retails currently at £3 for a 30ml tube so it certainly isn't going to break the bank. MUA further muddy the waters when it comes to defining what exactly constitutes a BB cream by describing this one as a Beauty Balm Foundation! Quite frankly, though, I don't care whether it calls itself a BB cream or a foundation, this is definitely the best yet.

                One of the warnings in the Pixiwoo video was that the light shades in this product are very light and only really suitable for those exceptionally fair skins which come with red hair. Their recommendation was that the medium shades would be pale enough for most lighter complexioned women. Unlike most BB creams which generally offer just three choices of light, medium and dark shades, MUA offers a wider colour range of eight shades which should be suitable for just about all ethnicities. There are three medium shades (medium, medium rose and medium dark) and I plumped for the basic medium. This is definitely a very 'light' medium, if that isn't a contradiction in terms and is definitely suited to pale or sallow complexions.

                MUA claim this product is based on the Asian beauty balms rather than the European equivalents. The Asian products are designed to provide full coverage which also illuminate complexions whilst evening out any imperfections and I can report that it certainly does just that.

                Unlike the lightness of the shade, I found the consistency of this BB cream was anything but. It's much thicker and heavier than others I've used and I don't know whether it's because my skin is pretty dry nowadays but initially it didn't apply very easily. In fact, the second time I used it, I first applied a small amount of moisturiser which helped it glide on much more readily. Once applied, however, this product gives a great finish, not completely matte but with just enough sheen to give the complexion a beautiful dewy look which lasts for hours without needing any touch up. An added bonus is that a little bit of this foundation goes a long way. It's over three months since I bought my 30ml tube and there's still plenty left.

                One very minor drawback with this product is that the tube, which is wide and squat, seems to be a little too big for its contents. It's necessary to squeeze for a long time to get all the air out before any product emerges.

                I would recommend this product as the very best of its type and one which is suitable for any age whether it's a young girl who want to disguise less than perfect teenage skin to the more mature woman where the imperative is to detract from all those fine lines. I've always been impressed by the products in the MUA range and this is a very worthy addition.

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                  28.12.2013 14:00
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                  Sally Hansen proves that nail polish doesn't have to cost the earth to give great results

                  When I came to the end of my bottle of Maybelline's 'Caramel Rose', a lovely browny pink nail polish, I was faced with the problem of trying to replace it. Sadly, I'd had this bottle for so long that Maybelline no longer manufacture this shade or even one remotely like it, so I began trawling through various manufacturers' colour ranges, all without success. I'd more or less resigned myself to having a go at mixing some colours together myself to try to replicate the shade I wanted when quite by chance I spotted this Sally Hansen nail polish which, if not exactly the same shade, came a pretty close second.

                  I've used Sally Hansen nail hardeners and nail polish removers before but never tried any of the nail polishes so wasn't sure what this would be like, though given Sally Hansen is a brand confined exclusively to hand and nail care, it was a fair assumption it would be OK. In fact, it was way more than OK and Sally has found herself a new fan.

                  The colour palette isn't huge but has something for everyone and covers just about the whole spectrum from very pale shades and neutrals to much darker colours including deep purples, greys and even a black. The shade I bought was So Much Fawn which isn't particularly well named as it's definitely not a shade of fawn I've ever come across before. It's much more a neutral pink-brown, go-with-anything sort of colour.

                  It's pretty obvious that a good deal of care and attention has gone into this product beginning with the design of the bottle. Like all nail polish containers, it's clear glass and the base though smaller than the main body of the bottle, is heavily weighted to give it stability. The printed information is kept to a minimum but what there is is almost impossible to read because it's so small.

                  The company claim that this polish provides a complete manicure which incorporates a base coat, strengthener, growth treatment, nail colour and top coat all in the one product. Personally, I think this may be the case with the lighter shades in the range but for the darker colours, I'd be reluctant to use this polish directly onto my nails in case it stained them.

                  The silver cap with the usual integrated brush is finished off with a rubber edge which makes holding the brush both comfortable and non-slip, allowing greater control when applying the polish. The brush itself is the best one I've ever used. It's fairly large in size and it's flattened giving a broad painting edge so that most of the colour is applied with the first stroke, and one stroke is all someone with very narrow nails would need. Even broader nails would only need finishing off with additional strokes either side.

                  The rich, creamy consistency makes application easy and at a pinch, it would be possible to get away with only one application although for a truly well finished look, two coats is better.

                  As someone who rarely uses rubber gloves, my nail polish needs to be pretty robust and though Sally Hansen nail polish may not quite be up there with the Leighton Denny, Nails Inc or Opi brands, it certainly produces results which are every bit as good considering this is a mid-range nail polish which retails at a much lower price. It's been my experience that irrespective of how much one pays for a nail polish, they none of them last anywhere near as long as they claim and this one is no exception. Having said that, it does perform very well and it certainly doesn't chip like so many cheap polishes do. Instead this seems to simply wear away round the nail tips and edges, which is easily rectified with a quick touch up every so often and this allows me to maintain great looking nails for up to a week.

                  This Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure polish retails for around £5.99 for a 14.7 ml bottle which, in my opinion, is exceptional value. The colour range may not be as large as some other manufacturers but it provides a wide enough choice that there is likely to be a suitable colour to appeal to most tastes and its staying power is as good as any top-of-the-range polish.

                  My first experience of using Sally Hansen nail polish has definitely made me a convert to this range. It's great value for money.

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                    18.12.2013 15:34
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                    Just about as close to the perfect vacuum cleaner as it's possible to get

                    When my old Dyson finally died, I resolved that I would replace it with a better brand. After two Dysons, both of which failed to live up to their marketing hype, it was definitely time to check out the competition. Although I'd initially intended to buy a Henry, I decided to research some other brands as well. I'd hoped to buy British but, sadly, the British manufacturing industry is just about dead on its feet and the British Mr Dyson has already failed me twice, besides which they're built somewhere in the Far East these days making them not quite as British as they should be.

                    Of course, before making a final decision I first referred to a few of the reviews from Dooyoo's star vacuum reviewer, Nar2, who is definitely a champion of the Miele brand. Having done my homework, I did eventually plump for a Miele, the S8310 Power Plus cylinder model, which is small, relatively light and yet, punches well above its weight. The fact that it's a Which Best Buy was the clincher. I was not disappointed with my choice.

                    Price:

                    As a premium brand, this means that the vacuum does come with a premium price attached but it's possible to get pretty good discounts online. I bought mine through Peter Tyson Appliances (a fantastic supplier who offers free next day delivery and the best price on the internet I could find.) I paid £149 including the free delivery. This may still seem a pretty hefty price compared to the average vacuum cleaner but it's considerably less than a Dyson and after a few months of use, this little wonder has proved to me that you get what you pay for.

                    About the Miele S8310:

                    If you're one of those people who like colourful domestic appliances, this may not suit. The Miele S8310 comes in only one colour; Obsidian Black. Personally, I don't care what colour my vacuum cleaner is as long as it sucks up the dirt and dust.

                    This model may be compact but it packs a lot of features into a very small space. It comes with a full set of tools (crevice tool, upholstery and dusting brush) which are stored neatly in the body of the appliance so that you always have the right tool to hand with no need to go searching through cupboards to find where you last stored the crevice tool and the like.

                    The controls are set out in a line on the main body of the appliance. They're very simple to use with a separate on/off switch and a choice of five suction levels from the lightest for curtains to full strength for hard floor surfaces, selected by means of pressing the plus or minus button. There is also an adjustment switch on the cleaner head to cope with different floor and carpet surfaces. The one touch cord rewind works perfectly every time fully retracting all the cable. My Dyson always stops with about 3 feet of cable still to retract which I have to force back into it by hand.

                    The telescopic suction tube can be adjusted to any height at the touch of a button and the tube itself is easily removed for close work such as cleaning awkward spaces or getting into the corners of the stairs. The long electrical cord means that the cleaning radius reaches 11 metres so it's possible to easily clean the stairs in one operation without having to unplug half way through the process.

                    At 7.1 kg, this is something of a lightweight, certainly compared to my aged Dyson, and it makes cleaning the stairs a much easier task than I've ever found it previously.

                    All this comes with a 2 year guarantee and the machine has been tested for a twenty year working life.

                    The S8310 in action:

                    As soon as the S8310 is switched on, the user is made aware that this is a high quality appliance. Unlike the Dyson which operates at a dull roar just below the decibels one expects from a jumbo jet, the Miele's 2200w motor purrs like a pussycat and even at the strongest suction setting only gently whines. The lower level of noise doesn't mean that this machine is lacking in suction power. And, boy, does this vacuum cleaner suck!

                    My house is a mixture of laminate flooring, rugs and fitted carpets on the stairs and in the bedrooms and the S8310 tackles each and every surface with aplomb. The highest suction setting is supposed to be used on hard floors but quite frankly, it's so powerful that I'm always afraid it will suck the laminate right into the machine and tend to use a slightly lower setting.

                    Moving around isn't a problem either. The triangular configuration of the three casters on the underside of the cleaner is designed to allow free movement in any direction and also let it turn on a sixpence. Each caster has the capacity to rotate 360 degrees and set into each caster is a small wheel allowing the cleaner to move smoothly across the floor.

                    Drawbacks?

                    Although, in my opinion, this machine comes as close to perfection as it's possible to get, there is one thing which some might consider a drawback. It isn't a bagless cleaner and the replacement bags are fairly pricey. It's worth searching around on the internet though as there are huge price differences between suppliers.

                    The bags have a 4.5 litre capacity and though they are supposedly for single use, I have been known to empty the bag into the compost heap and re-use it without any mishap.

                    Sucking it all up:

                    I wholeheartedly recommend this little gem of a vacuum cleaner to anyone with an average sized home with mixed floorings. The S8310 is powerful enough to cope with just about any cleaning job from your soft furnishings to your hardwood floors.

                    Miele is without doubt a luxury brand and as such it provides those extra little touches which make any cleaning task easier. For instance, the handbook says that when vacuuming up very fine materials such as plaster, flour, talcum power or the like it's likely that this will cause an electrostatic charge to build up which could possibly cause mild static shocks. To prevent this from happening, Miele has incorporated a fine metal strip into the suction tube handle and as long as the user maintains contact with the strip, they'll be safe from the effects of static build up. This may be a little thing but it demonstrates the level of care and attention to detail which has gone into the manufacture of this appliance.

                    The Miele strapline is 'Immer besser' (always better) and so far, it's been my experience that this is absolutely true.

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                      06.09.2013 15:29
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                      A good attempt to explain Beethoven in terms of his music and his motivation

                      In my time I've read several biographies dealing with Beethoven's life and try as they might, I've found most of them have just missed the mark, largely because they were written in a very subjective way. Ludwig van Beethoven seems to have been a man who polarised opinion during his life and to some extent still does today. Much as I admire Beethoven's music, I wanted to know about the man himself, warts and all.

                      Phil Grabsky is an American film maker who has made several documentaries including three dealing with the the musical greats, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. These documentaries all follow roughly the same format. Here Beethoven's life is recounted mainly chronologically and his life story is interspersed with excerpts from Beethoven's letters as well as a series of talking heads interviews offering expert opinion on the man and his music. The narration is by Juliet Stevenson.

                      Some of the written Beethoven biographies tend to concentrate heavily on his music but in such a manner as to make for difficult reading for anyone who hasn't had an education in classical music. As I can just about pick out Chopsticks on a piano and can't read a note of music those sort of biographies leave me feeling very inadequate and certainly no wiser about either the man or his music. This film aims to recount the history of the man himself and explain his music in terms of what was happening in his life at the time he composed various pieces.

                      The film begins with a close up of a pianist's hands playing a lyrical passage from one of Beethoven's symphonies. This is accompanied by voice-overs from various contributors from the world of music offering their summation of where Beethoven ranks in the pantheon of composers, all of them placing him firmly at the top as a composer who in many ways defined what music is. One of these people, however, perfectly sums up Beethoven the man and his music when she states "His music is so firmly rooted in everything human with all its frailties and weaknesses and shortcomings. He's often perceived as a misanthropic character but his music is also the music of an inveterate optimist; of someone who never gives up in thinking that men can be better."

                      Ludwig's life began in relative obscurity. Born in Bonn in December 1770, he was the first child of Johann and Maria van Beethoven to survive infancy and though little is known about his parents, his mother is said to have been gentle and his father stern. His father was a court musician and the young Ludwig's own musical talent was recognised and nurtured early on by his father resulting in Ludwig's first public concert at the age of seven. He wrote his first concerto at age thirteen and even today it's regarded as an incredibly complex composition and fiendishly difficult to play. In fact the pianist who explains this and also plays it, makes several mistakes and makes several attempts to get it right!

                      Ludwig's early life in Bonn seems to have been hugely influential on his musical development. A new Elector, Maximilian Franz had been installed who was an enlightened and cultured man who encourage a flourishing of music in the city. Though the van Beethoven's weren't aristocratic, they mixed in those social circles, allowing the young Ludwig to acquire a social polish he might not otherwise have done.

                      By his mid teens Beethoven was a court musician like his father, earning his living playing the music of Mozart and Haydn and it was soon recognised that young Ludwig also possessed the musical potential of Mozart. Though it's known that Beethoven visited Vienna and legend has it that he met Mozart, there isn't any documentary evidence to support this and his visit was cut short when he was called home to Bonn as his mother was dying. There is a very poignant excerpt from one of Beethoven's letters at the time voicing his unhappiness at the loss of his mother, which was rapidly followed by the death of his sister. This seems to have been a turning point in his life with his father's increasing dependence on alcohol, leaving the teenaged Ludwig having to take responsibility for his two younger brothers.

                      Beethoven may not have met Mozart but he did meet and impress Haydn when he introduced himself to the composer when he visited Bonn. Haydn recognised Beethoven's talent and offered to tutor him resulting in Beethoven journeying to Vienna to continue his musical education and where he continued to live and work for the rest of his life.

                      Much is made during the documentary of the strength of Beethoven's personality. As a young man, he was well presented, smartly dressed, striking looking and even had a horse for a while, though eventually he got rid of it because he kept forgetting to feed it. I suppose that's the equivalent of forgetting to put petrol in your car but with more devastating consequences!

                      Like most people beginning their artistic career, he borrowed heavily on the style of other composers such as Mozart and Haydn. As one of the talking heads wryly remarks 'Once Beethoven realised he was as good as Mozart and Haydn, he wanted to be better" which is a fair indication that Ludwig possessed a strong competitive streak.

                      By his early twenties Beethoven was firmly established as the number one pianist/composer in Vienna and was publishing his music which gave him an income. He was also developing his own musical ideas which were not just experimental but revolutionary for the day taking music in a totally new and exciting direction. The general consensus seems to be that Beethoven possessed the arrogance of youth, believing in his own genius. Though his career may have been going well at this stage, his love life wasn't progressing quite so well. Sadly, his search for lasting love proved elusive throughout his life.

                      Phil Grabsky's telling of Beethoven's life story with all its drama, passion, humour and tragedy is engrossing and frequently emotional; especially the tragedies of which there were a great deal.

                      The biggest tragedy of Beethoven's life must have been his deafness which was very evident by his thirties and it left him feeling suicidal. The letter Beethoven wrote, known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, is one of such utter desperation written when Beethoven had reached the absolute depths of despair. Fortunately for the world, he came through this period to emerge stronger and more determined than ever to pour onto the page all the music that was in his soul. This was definitely another turning point in his life and his music seems to have taken on a much deeper meaning and become filled with so much passion after this time.

                      There's no doubt that Beethoven was a passionate man, not just musically but politically, too. He was living in revolutionary times, literally. The French Revolution had taken place and after the initial horrors of The Terror, Napoleon Bonaparte had risen to take leadership of France. Beethoven was initially an admirer of Napoleon's leadership and had even dedicated his third symphony to him. When Napoleon then proceeded to crown himself Emperor, Beethoven was so filled with rage that he obliterated Napoleon's name from the music score, leaving a large hole in the paper. The symphony was renamed the Eroica.

                      The documentary is peppered with little vignettes from Beethoven's life and snippets from his own letters, all building up a picture of a wildly passionate man, arrogant and unthinking at times, and even sometimes a bit bitchy but underlying it all is a desperate desire to love and be loved. His life experiences, both good and bad, seemed to find their way into his music and he poured all his hopes and dreams into his compositions. These emotions are explained in musical terms by some of the experts but always in ways which are immediately understood. They also explain just how revolutionary Beethoven's music was. By today's standards, the music sounds very normal but that's because Beethoven rewrote the music rule book.

                      I don't know whether the director deliberately picked some of the talking heads because of their looks or their expertise but it's fair to say that a couple of the male experts could carve out a career as Beethoven lookalikes with their flowing white locks.

                      Overall, this documentary offers an insight into Beethoven's life and the experiences which formed his personality and his music, though whether it gives the complete picture is moot. What it does do is leave the viewer with a deeper understanding and affection for the man.

                      There's a plaque in St Paul's Cathedral quoting Sir Christopher Wren which says 'If you seek my monument, look around.' In Beethoven's case, if you want to really know and understand the man, don't read a biography or even watch a documentary; they can only skim the surface. Beethoven's music transcends spoken language and expresses emotions which can't be expressed in words. What Phil Grabsky manages to get across in this documentary is that the real Beethoven is to be found when you listen to his music.

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                        01.09.2013 13:32
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                        OK for summer use but there are far better BB creams out there

                        Since their introduction into the beauty market, I've tried several BB creams with varying levels of success and, so far, haven't found the perfect one, though some have come close. One I tried quite early on and dismissed was from Nivea Daily Essentials but I've since revisted this BB cream and have somewhat revised my opinion.

                        What is a BB cream?

                        BB creams began life in Asia and from the offset there seems to have been some confusion as to whether the BB stood for beauty balm or blemish balm, a question which still doesn't seem to have a definite answer. That being said, the general consensus seems to be that these creams should all offer moisturising properties, an evening out of complexion and sun protection. Though very similar to tinted moisturisers, BB creams go one step further by offering regenerative ingredients such as antioxidants. The cream was initially created by dermatologists for patients who had undergone laser skin surgery but, of course, once the beauty industry got hold of the formula it morphed into a completely different product.

                        What does Nivea Daily Essentials offer?

                        Most of the early European BB creams began by offering a 3-in-1 beauty product which moisturised, evened out the complexion and gave skin a healthy radiance. As the market became more competitive, so did the claims from the various beauty manufacturers, some even offering 10-in-1 creams.

                        Nivea Daily Essentials BB cream provides a 5-in-1 offering which it claims will:

                        Even skin tone
                        Cover imperfections
                        Illuminate the complexion
                        Provide light, absorbant moisturising
                        Provide sun protection

                        This cream comes in a 50ml plastic tube and as far as Nivea is concerned, the BB stands for blemish balm which is enriched with minerals, vitamin B5 and a hint of colour.

                        This retails at £4.99 in most high street chemists and supermarkets. The product is viable for 12 months.

                        What does it deliver?

                        To my mind the consistency of this BB cream is far more like a foundation than a moisturiser with its thicker consistency. It comes with the trademark Nivea scent; sweet and lightly floral. The thicker consistency gives reasonably good coverage and although my personal experience is that it doesn't completely cover every flaw, it certainly evens out the complexion somewhat. Where it does fail is in covering darker marks such as thread veins and age spots or even faint freckles although it's fair to say it does make them appear less noticeable.

                        It completely succeeds in moisturising, however, and leaves the complexion looking dewy and more importantly for an old bird like me, more youthful. That isn't to say that it hides the wrinkles but it does seem to offer a light reflecting quality to the complexion which goes some way towards making them look less obvious.

                        One of the major drawbacks with nearly all BB creams is the limited choice of colours, most simply being restricted to light, medium and dark. In this respect Nivea is no different and this was the main reason for my initial dismissal of it. I'd chosen the light tone and even that was too dark for my complexion. Having now tried several other BB creams, I've discovered that this seems to be the case with many of them and my opinion is that this is a deliberate attempt to make complexions appear more healthy and as though they're slightly tanned. Unfortunately, if the cream isn't smoothed from the chin into the neck, the darker colour leaves a tidemark. When I first tried this cream back in the cold and wet Spring, this tanning effect was the deal breaker for me. It left me looking unnaturally tanned, like a cast member from Coronation Street and as my normal complexion is very pale, verging on sallow, this was not a good look. However, since we've enjoyed a glorious summer, the complexion tone achieved by this cream now looks far more natural on me though for very pale skinned people, this would still only be an effective cream during the summer months.

                        As far as sun protection goes, this offers SPF10 which is fairly low protection but is perfectly adequate for those such as myself who aren't into sunbathing and choose to sit in the shade.

                        Summing it all up:

                        This cream has several pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it has excellent moisturising properties for smooth, soft skin and is light reflecting enough to make wrinkles appear less obvious and it has a lovely scent.

                        Unfortunately, for me, the minuses still outweigh the pluses. The coverage is thick enough that it might as well be a foundation and yet it fails to cover complexion flaws such as thread veins or darker pigmentation. I already own a foundation which is lighter in consistency than this and still provides better coverage. The colour of even the lightest shade is too dark for anyone with a fair or sallow skintone and I would caution anyone with a medium or darker toned complexion to go for a shade lighter than they usually use.

                        I'm a big fan of Nivea products and have used their creams and body lotions all my life and I can't fault them but sadly, this BB cream just misses the mark for me.

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                          19.08.2013 17:34
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                          C E Lucas-Phillips shares his decades of gardening expertise.

                          Back in 1979 when we bought our new house, along with it came an expanse of rubble strewn wasteland that we laughingly referred to as the garden. Creating a real garden from such unpromising material required some serious help which came in the shape of this book. From my first, tentative gardening steps Brigadier C.E. Lucas-Phillips, a decorated veteran of both World Wars was my constant companion and guide. Some 34 years later, though I'm slightly more knowledgeable about gardening, there are still occasions when I refer to this book knowing that the information I'll find there will be straightforward, practical and sensible.

                          This book was originally published back in 1952, republished in 1979 as The New Small Garden (the copy I first acquired) and updated and republished once more as simply The Small Garden in 2006 with innumerable reprints in between. That is surely testament enough to the value placed on the good advice to be found within the pages of this book.

                          My rather grubby and battered version begins with a brief introduction by the man himself, though I believe this has been left out of the most up-to-date edition and replaced by a foreword from the Duchess of Devonshire. This is followed by a very brief glossary of gardening jargon which is particularly useful for complete beginners and then the Brigadier gets down to the main business.

                          C E Lucas-Phillips' first paragraph is very reassuring: "This is a book by an amateur for amateurs. In presenting it I have thought chiefly of those of us who have only small gardens, as most of us understand the term, who have no time or inclination for mixing ounces of this or that per square yard, but who would like, with small resources, to turn out a garden in which we can take pleasure and pride."

                          This sets the tone for the entire book with a writing style which is avuncular and conversational but which nevertheless imparts decades of the author's own gardening experience and which is easily translated to fit the reader's own garden. It really is like having a conversation with a favourite, though sometimes irascible uncle.

                          It must be said that C E Lucas-Phillips doesn't mince his words when it comes to his gardening prejudices. He refers to jobbing gardeners as "The number one gardening pest"; he bemoans the dying out of the old style nurseries, at that time gradually being replaced with garden centres; and positively refuses to use Latin names except when absolutely necessary, insisting that a good old English name is far more appealing.

                          Part One introduces the new gardener to the fundamentals of creating their own little piece of paradise beginning with layout and design, the basic needs of the plant, the tools required to maintain a garden and how to grow, prune and propagate. These first steps are taken at a gentle pace and the degree of gardening expertise is gradually increased.

                          Part Two deals with ornamental plants: flowers, bulbs, shrubs and trees with each section having an accompanying alphabetical list of a select few plants and varieties. These are necessarily restricted in length but there is enough of a choice of plants for any budding gardener to fill their borders with colour or give a good idea of what to plant and where. The part also includes an additional brief word on some specialities such as irises and heathers and there's also information on hedging and lawns.

                          I particularly enjoy the author's instructions on rock gardens which includes his drawing of how not to create a rockery with the legend "Here lies poor Fido" underneath.

                          Edible plants such as fruit and vegetables are dealt with in Part Three. This is a really useful reference source for anyone planning on growing fruit with detailed instructions on how to grow fruit not only in tree format but also how to cordon, espalier and fan train fruit trees. As with the flowering plant section, there are lists of fruit and veg varieties which are ideal for growing in a small garden though, given that the book was originally published in 1952 the more modern varieties are missing. No Braeburn or Gala mentioned here.

                          The next section is probably the one that is least useful nowadays. It deals with how to recognise whether insects etc are friend or foe and when the enemy has been identified, how to kill them off. Again, times change and some of the chemicals mentioned are probably prohibited for garden use nowadays. The 2006 edition has probably updated this information. I've always gardened organically so never use chemicals of any kind anyway.

                          For the newbie gardener, Part Five will prove invaluable. It isn't totally comprehensive but it deals with the year's work and takes the reader month by month through the gardening jobs. This is only covered in very basic terms but gives enough information about the main tasks to be undertaken.

                          The text is interspersed with lots of great photographs, both colour and black and white, many of them taken in Brigadier Lucas-Phillips' own garden. Some of these do look a little old fashioned, I suppose, but they also fill me with nostalgia for the beautiful, richly scented gardens from my childhood.

                          The appendices and index bring this excellent little tome to an end by which time the reader will be well on the way to being a fully fledged gardener and with the horticultural knowledge to prove it.

                          Gardening is as susceptible to changes in fashion as interior decorating and some of the ideas the author puts forward are no longer considered trendy but the basics of gardening never really change and he manages to impart his many years of gardening experience in such a pleasant, easy and informative manner that the reader absorbs it almost as though they were enjoying a gentle stroll through the author's garden whilst having an animated conversation.

                          Sadly, C E Lucas-Phillips died in 1984 but through the medium of this book, his gardening expertise lives on and is still available for generations of would-be gardeners to come.

                          Book details:

                          ISBN: 978-0711224827
                          Publisher: Frances Lincoln
                          384 pages
                          Price: £7.19 (paperback). Used copies available from £2.30.

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                            18.08.2013 16:12
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                            My first meeting with Adrien English but it won't be the last.

                            Synopsis:

                            Adrien English runs a crime and mystery bookshop in Los Angeles. It's not making him a fortune but he gets by. His life is ticking along, much like his arrhythmic heart, until his old school friend comes back into his life. When Robert Hersey is found lying dead in a back alley clutching a chess piece in his hand, suddenly Adrien finds himself the prime suspect. True Adrien and Robert were heard having a loud disagreement in a restaurant but that doesn't make him the murderer and the LAPD's finest don't seem remotely interested when Adrien's bookshop is ransacked, thinking he's trying to divert suspicion away from himself. They are equally disinterested in what appears to be an attempt on Adrien's life and when another friend of his is also brutally murdered, he's still the number one suspect. With such a hostile attitude from the police, it's beginning to look as though he's going to have to do some serious investigating of his own if he wants to avoid the possibility of wearing an orange jumpsuit.

                            My opinion:

                            I came across this book purely by accident in a charity shop which was selling off books at three for £1. I'd found two and grabbed this one after a casual glance at the synopsis on the back cover. What I failed to read was the by line which stated: "A classic gay mystery available in print again." Had I read that line, I probably wouldn't have chosen the book, thinking I wasn't the demographic that the author had in mind, but in that case I would have missed a rather good story.

                            I liked Adrien English from the beginning. He is smart and intelligent and with a nice line in witty self-deprecation. He isn't exactly poverty stricken but most of his money is tied up in a trust fund which doesn't release any money until he hits 40 and he's only 32. As well as selling mystery books, he's also been writing one of his own which has just been accepted for publication. The bookshop is doing well enough for him to offer employment to his high school friend, Robert, whose marriage has just ended when he came out but unlike Adrien, who is going through a dry spell after his long-term relationship ended, Robert is making up for lost time. When Adrien finds some money has gone missing, he questions Robert but this ends in a rather loud and public argument and with Robert storming out of the restaurant to meet someone. Several hours later, he's found stabbed to death.

                            LAPD Detectives Chan and Riordan are investigating but are obviously hostile, especially Detective Jake Riordan, and Adrien has them both pegged as homophobic. When Claude, one of Adrien's friends says he's sure he's seen Riordan before in a local leather bar, Adrien thinks it's obviously a case of mistaken identity, but can't help a bit of wishful thinking.

                            As the body count increases Adrien begins his investigation despite police disapproval. His approach is pretty much like in one of his mystery novels and the clues and red herring fly thick and fast with lots of possible leads which turn into dead ends, leaving the reader every bit as clueless as Adrien. The pacing is good throughout and the fledgling friendship between Adrien and Detective Jake Riordan is interesting.

                            All the characters are very realistic in that they act and speak like real people. The author's writing style is easy and erudite and above all, it's restrained. There is no purple prose or hyperbole to be found in this novel.

                            Having a gay leading protagonist adds an extra dimension to this novel. The story is told in the first person and through Adrien we're able to see just how much casual homophobia there is in the world and how hurtful unwitting comments by people can be. Having read this book, I shall certainly be more careful in future about what I say in the hearing of gay friends and acquaintances.

                            The different approaches to the investigation taken by Adrien and Detective Jake Riordan reflect their differing attitudes towards their sexuality. Adrien is completely at ease with being gay and is out to his friends and family, well his mother anyway. Jake, on the other hand, is so far back in the closet, I fear he may never find his way out. He hates that he's attracted to men and is fighting against it as hard as he can and I'm afraid poor Adrien may be caught in the crossfire.

                            Because there is some sexual content of the homosexual kind in this book and the odd four-letter word, the powers that be, deem this to be unsuitable for under-18s. At the risk of being shot down in flames, I'd say the gay sex in this book is innocuous in comparison to some of the heterosexual content to be found in so called mainstream books and they never come with a warning. Some sex scenes, in romance novels for instance, are sometimes verging on the pornographic. Let's face it, children can pick up and leaf through a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey and its ilk in practically every supermarket in the land and that's full of gratuitous sex and it's badly written to boot. I wouldn't regard any of the sex in this book as either gratuitous or particularly pornographic, neither is it described in gory detail and, quite frankly, it's far better written than many mainstream novels, too. If it didn't offend this middle-aged old biddy, surely it can't be that bad. Rant over.

                            Don't think that this is simply a 'gay' mystery novel; this is a really enjoyable read with a well plotted mystery at its heart and the beginnings of an interesting romantic entanglement and it has universal appeal, except possibly if you're a homophobe. This is the first in a series of five mystery novels featuring Adrien and Jake and I'm already working my way through the other four stories.

                            I'm giving this novel 4 stars though I'd really have liked to give it 4½. I'd never heard of Josh Lanyon before picking up this book but I shall certainly be seeking out more of his work after I'm through with Mr Adrien English.

                            The paperback isn't cheap at £7.08 but the Kindle edition is more reasonably priced at £3.79.

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                              15.08.2013 19:14
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                              A charming little oil burner.

                              Last time I ordered from Body Shop, they had a special offer of £10 off orders over £30. As I had ordered £20-worth of goods and there's a limit to how much gloop I can slap on my face or wash my body with, I looked around the site for other things and spotted this lovely little soapstone oil burner which was selling for £10, making it free with this special offer.

                              These oil burners are hand made in India by craftsmen skilled in the art of carving soapstone. Body Shop, as you probably know, are committed to environmental issues and Fair Trade products and this extends to their community trade partnership with TARA. Although they claim it's handmade, it's evident from the markings inside that this has been turned on a lathe, so I think the term 'hand made' is a fairly loose interpretation of the word.

                              Soapstone being a natural product, no two oil burners are the same but all the ones sold by Body Shop are in a dark brownish beige streaked with even darker brown or black striations. Mine actually is much lighter than the one shown in the picture. It's carved in two parts with the oil well being separate from the body. There wasn't any warning about this on the box so when I initially tried to take it out, the well came out first and I thought I'd broken it before I'd even christened it! When I took out the delightfully pot bellied base, however, it became clear that this was how it had been made.

                              The burner is discrete both in appearance, design and size. It's sort of dumpy, standing just under 4 inches high and is probably just over 4 inches in width. It's fairly plain in design with a large circular opening in which to place the tealight for heating the oil and around the top of the base are 9 small circular vents, possibly to prevent the burner from becoming too hot or then again, maybe just for decoration. The oil well is a quite deep with a lip which allows it to rest comfortably on top of the base. In fact, this well is deep enough that this can double as a burner for wax tarts (though it can't take a whole one at once) as well as for oil.

                              Oil burners are best used by filling the well with water and adding a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. Because the burner isn't very tall, the well heats up very quickly allowing the oil and water mixture to release it's perfume almost straight away and depending on the choice of essential oil, it isn't long before the scent is released. I find the heavier, oriental oils such as patchouli and sandalwood are potent enough to scent the entire house, whereas the lighter, more floral fragrances such as lavender don't disperse quite as easily into other rooms.

                              There are a few do's and don'ts to using this product, most of which are fairly obvious such as keeping away from anything flammable. One instruction though is rather confusing. Whilst informing how to use the burner it suggests using a few drops of Body Shop's own home fragrance oil or pure essential oil but this is immediately followed by a warning that pure essential oil should not be used with soapstone. I've used pure essential oils with my burner without ill effect so I can only assume the instructions mean don't use pure essential oil alone in the burner but always dilute with water.

                              There is one drawback I've discovered so far and that is that because it's in two pieces, once alight and heating the oil, it's impossible to move it elsewhere because the body is too hot to touch. I've solved this problem by placing the burner on a small saucer but this does detract from its looks somewhat.

                              I'm really pleased with this burner which has far more charm and character than my other rather bland ceramic burners.

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                                11.08.2013 13:54
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                                Fast: not as in speedy but as in not eating!

                                Since hitting the dreaded menopause some years ago, I've struggled somewhat to keep my weight under control. Personally, I blame HRT which may have smoothed out the mood swings and made me feel like an 18-year-old again but along with that came the appetite of an 18-year-old, too. As my waistline expanded, so did my desperation to get my figure if not back to it's original youthful proportions, at least back to being only slightly overweight rather than borderline obese. I tried various diets with only moderate levels of success. I tried one diet which did the trick but at the expense of giving up lots of foods I liked so I eventually gave it up. Last summer I watched a documentary about intermittent fasting and it's no exaggeration to say that it's changed my life for the better.

                                The original documentary:

                                Michael Mosley, the presenter, is a qualified doctor although he's never actually practiced medicine, choosing instead to become a reporter with the BBC. His father died as a result of his diabetes and following the results of an MRI scan Michael undertook as part of another BBC science documentary, he was told that he was a TOFI (thin outside, fat inside), that his cholesterol levels were very high, as was his blood sugar placing him on the verge of becoming diabetic himself. He set about investigating ways to improve his health and lower his blood sugar and reduce his internal fat and not unnaturally, looked to the world of science for answers. This led him to the research being undertaken into intermittent fasting and his findings were enough to persuade the makers of the Horizon programme to commission a documentary on extending life using Michael as their guinea pig. What he discovered was that by denying his body food intermittently, he not only lowered his cholesterol levels and his blood sugar but also lost weight. This sparked so much interest amongst viewers that Michael Mosley wrote a book detailing his findings. The book was co-written with dietician and food writer, Mimi Spencer.

                                The diet:

                                This is one of the easiest diets anyone could possibly devise. Among the benefits claimed for following this eating regime are better health, improved energy levels, longer life and lower BMI and, as a consequence, weight loss. All that's required is to eat normally for fives days a week but restrict calorific intake to 500 calories for women or 600 calories for men on two days. The restricted eating days can be done either consecutively or not and once a person reaches their correct weight, this is maintained by reducing fast days to one per week.

                                The book:

                                Written in collaboration with Mimi Spencer, a dietician, the book explains in detail the science behind the theory. In simple terms Michael Mosely points out that humans are not grazing animals but, back in the mists of time, lived a feast or famine existence never knowing whether there would be plenty to eat the next day or not and consequently, our bodies adapted to this lifestyle, which is why we store fat in our bodies to help us through the lean times. Modern living allow those of us in the west to eat whatever we like, whenever we like and we've turned ourselves into the grazing animals we were never designed to be.

                                During the course of his investigations, Michael tried various forms of intermittent fasting but eventually settled on the one described above. He ate a low calorie breakast and then another low calorie meal in the evenings, with the total amount of calories consumed being 600, roughly a quarter of the daily requirement for a man. This is based on the average man requiring a daily intake of 2,400 calories (2,000 for a woman).

                                As well as the background information about the diet and the authors' credentials, Mimi Spencer has created some recipes for suggested meals on fast days. There are tables of calorific values for a range of foods, details of how to calculate your BMI and also links to websites giving recommended daily calorific allowances calculated on age, height, weight, etc.

                                Does it work?

                                Well, it worked for Michael Mosley and it's worked for me and thousands like me. Reducing your calorie intake for a couple of days a week can be done but I won't say it's easy and you will feel hungry on occasion but it's possible to get through the hunger. Knowing that it's only for one day and you can eat normally again tomorrow helps enormously.

                                My mother is 93 and although not in very good health now, she certainly was until she was almost 90. She was part of that wartime generation who lived on strict food rationing and it's true that the people of this country were never as fit and healthy as during that time when they were all pretty hungry most of the time and I'm pretty sure it's why so many of them are living to such a ripe old age.

                                Like Dr Mosley, I've chosen to 'fast' on Mondays and Thursdays, although those days aren't set in stone and I've changed my fasting days occassionally. The 500 calories allotted for a woman can be taken in whatever form you wish over a 24 hour period. I tend to have a breakfast of porridge made using water and with a few blueberries added, plus a cup of coffee with milk just to get me started. This works out at around 170 calories, leaving 330 calories for an evening meal. So all I'm doing, in effect, is skipping lunch. Although food is restricted, liquids aren't and you can drink as much water, fruit tea, black tea or coffee as you like and this will certainly help to keep the hunger pangs at bay.

                                By the time the evening meal arrives, I could quite happily eat my own arm but I generally have a small piece of fish with vegetables or a vegetarian meal such as Tuscan Bean Stew. As 330 calories isn't much, I've found that Mimi Spence's recipes provided at the back of the book helped a lot, though I've since devised a few of my own.

                                Weighing it all up:

                                This diet really does work and even if you don't have any great weight to lose, there are benefits to following this eating regime: Who doesn't want to live a long and healthy life? A ringing endorsement also seems to be coming from the medical profession many of whom are not only trying it themselves but recommending it to their patients.

                                Since beginning this way of eating, I've lost 27 lbs of unnecessary blubber so far and dropped two dress sizes. I feel fitter and healthier than I have for years and I almost (though not quite) look forward to fasting days. Initially, my weight loss was around two or three pounds a week but as my weight reduced and my BMI returned to (almost) normal, this has slowed to about one pound a week. Once my BMI reaches normal, ie 25 or under, I'll start to maintain with just one day's fast a week.

                                I've recommended this diet book to everyone I know. A couple of friends are doing it, and losing weight, my brother and his wife have just begun and they, too, are losing weight they haven't been able to shift through normal dieting. In fact, I haven't met anyone who has followed this eating regime and hasn't reaped the benefits of the Fast Diet.

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