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[Note, this review is for the 8x42 model of these binoculars].
When looking for a good pair of birdwatching binoculars, you can do a lot worse than look to Opticron. They won't break the bank to the degree of some of the top brands such as Nikon, Ziess and Swarovski, but provide great, mid-price bins that will do for most circumstances.
These binoculars are a marvel for the price, giving a clear, crisp image through good quality glass, and perform reasonably well even in low light. I wear glasses, and the twist-down eyecups work brilliantly, with long eye relief providing a great viewing experience without ever being tempted to remove my specs.
These are nitrogen-filled, meaning they're supposedly waterproof up to 3m. While I have yet to experiment with dunking them into water, it's great to not have to worry about getting them caught in a downpour, and to be be able to give them a good wash should they get dirty.
The binoculars also have a very good close focus of under 3m, meaning they're great for getting better views of such animals as dragonflies and butterflies.
The focus wheel took a bit of getting used to, as it's slightly on the stiff side, but now feels like second nature. The weight of 682g is fairly light and usually barely noticeable, although after a long day they do occasionally cause a bit of a pull on the neck, but this is unavoidable with binoculars of this size. The rubber coating gives a good, natural grip as you use the binoculars.
While you will undoubtedly get a better view through more expensive binoculars, these are fantastic for <£400. I've had mine for nearly two years now and never regretted it. If you're tempted to by a top pair of a Swarovskis or similar, at least try out a pair of Opticron BGA SEs first, to see if the top end bins are really worth the £500+ price difference!
This classic Britpop album was re-released a few years ago, with an excellent disc of bonus material.
The album itself should be familiar to anyone who likes British indie music. After the success of 1994's His 'N' Hers, Different Class was the album which shot Pulp, and particularly frontman Jarvis Cocker, into the major leagues. The lead single, 'Common People', became an anthem for the era, arguably beating any of the output of the so-called rivals Blur and Oasis as the song most synonymous with 1995's 'Summer of Britpop'.
Different Class is something of a masterpiece, with some of Cocker's best lyrics, combing a heady mix of sexiness, menace, comedy and social commentary. As the name suggests, the British class system is an overarching theme of the album, with 'Common People' and the snarling 'I Spy' the most obvious tracks.
Sex is also never far from the forefront, but always viewed from a rather skewed viewpoint. This comes to a head in 'F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E.', a sprawling, sweaty song that views love as a rather seedy inconvenience, and 'Underwear', a tale of coming to your senses during a one night stand and wondering what the hell you're doing there, via the tale of unrequited teenage lust of 'Disco 2000'. And the other theme is need for belonging, from the call to arms of the bullied that is 'Mis-Shapes', to the bittersweet tribute to the rave scene of 'Sorted for Es and Wizz', and songs about the joy and madness and ultimate futility of nights of excess, including the raucous 'Monday Morning', and its comedown flipside of 'Bar Italia'.
And in the middle of this there's a straight up - if rather quirky - love song in the shape if the rather lovely 'Something Changed'.
Much-feted as one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, and it's not something I'd argue against. No-one tells a story in song quite like Jarvis Cocker, and this is some of his very best work. If you don't own this album then, really... why not?
As for the bonus disc, it' a mixed bag of lost b-side gems, live tracks and bizarre rarities that will only get fans excited. Of the better tracks there's P.T.A., a perky song that hides the rather sinister tale of a sexually inappropriate teacher, 'Mile End', a story of urban hell in a tower block, and 'We Can Dance Again', an unreleased demo that is the best hit single the band never released. Other tracks are odd but never less than interesting, including a vocoder remix of 'Common People', and a version of 'Disco 2000' with Nick Cave on vocals
A lot has been written about Lana Del Rey, and the reality is somewhere between her ardent fans and her rather harsh detractors.
It's easy to see why she's been hard to warm to for some, with her highly polished and rather manufactured look, image and sound. There's also the matter of her lyrics, riddled with cliches, with clanging examples such as "heaven is a place on Earth", and "I will love you till the end of time". But there also something quite fascinating things about this album. It's a juxtaposition of ice-queen vocals and sweeping majesty, merging emotional balladeering, and hip electro-indie, with a twinge of country and a subtle hint of R&B. It's an artificial, carefully-crafted album, hard to truly love, but with a melancholic, emotional core it's hard to be totally unmoved by.
It's far from perfect - singles 'Video Games' and 'Born To Die' do stick out as highlights, and If you like your music soulful and punchy this isn't an album for you, and some may find the rather samey tone dreary. But if you want an album bleak yet romantic, sexy but cold, then you could do much worse than this.
Sheffield's Pulp were one of the more unlikely start of the Britpop era. They were a band that had been plugging away in obscurity since 1979, with their already post-30 frontman Jarvis Cocker suddenly thrown into the limelight and temporarily becoming the most famous man in the country.
This collection compiles their most famous songs from their initial pre-Britpop success, through their mid-90s superstardom, and back into relative obscurity in the early 2000s, before their present hiatus. It compiles the singles from their albums Intro, His N Hers, Different Class, This Is Hardcore and We Love Life (perhaps wisely omitting their more difficult earlier material!), plus a few extras such as 'Underwear', a much loved album track off Different Class, and new track 'The Last Day of The Miners' Strike'.
From the outset it's easy to see why Pulp were held up as such mis-shapen pop geniuses, writing quirky songs with lyrics we can all relate to and toe-tapping pop sensibilities. 'Common People' and 'Disco 2000' are of course the most famous songs here, but more obscure fare nestling among these massive hits include earlier singles such as 'Lipgloss' and 'Razzmatazz', and later tracks that saw out their career such as 'Bad Cover Version' and 'The Trees'.
In my opinion there are no bad tracks on here - some may not like the more reflective later work such as 'The Trees' and 'Sunrise' to the more giddy and immediate stuff from His N Hers and Different Class, but everything here is worth a listen and has something good to offer.
Even if you've only ever heard the big singles, this is an album well worth buying and listening to, especially as it's fairly easy to find these days for under a fiver.
Little Boots, aka Blackpool's Victoria Hesketh, was an artist much touted as the next big thing at the end of 2008, and seemed to be some kind of electro-pop saviour. On first listen I was mildly disappointed with the first major single from her debut 'Hands', the rather mainstream poppy 'New In Town', which at first I dismissed as some kind of inconsequential pop fluff in the same vein as Sophie Ellis Bextor, and unlike the more credible-sounding singles that preceded it.
However that single, as with the rest of the album, gets under your skin and makes you love it. The pop sensibilities are superb, with 80s flecked electronica mixed with shiny late 00s pop and a touch of 90s hardcore in some of the electronics. And Miss Boots isn't just a pretty popster, she's a full-on synth geek putting together a gamut of great squelches and beeps, hidden away under the pop sheen.
It seems fitting that one of the highlights of the album, the track 'Symmetry', features the vocals of one Phillip Oakey, the man who equally made electronica and shiny pop meld together with the Human League in the early 80s.
So look past the rather sugary coating of this album and you'll find a fantastic album beneath. Little Boots didn't get quite the success that the initial hype suggested, but it will be interesting to see where Ms Hesketh goes from here.
Sometimes an album comes a long that makes you stop in your tracks, and this was definitely one of those. The Decemberists are an American band with a bizarre obsession with English folk, which they interweave with indie rock, prog and a whole melting pot of other influences to create something utterly unique and never less than spellbinding.
This is a massive, sprawling concept album, telling the tragic story of the heroine Margaret, who falls in love with a forest-dwelling shape-shifter called William, incurring the wrath of the jealous Forest Queen, and encountering the villainous Rake on the way. Although ostensibly very pretentious, the story is beautifully told, both lyrically and musical, with light moments interluded with dark forboding and giddy chase scenes. At times it's quite heavy guitar-wise, much more so that previous Decemberists albums, but it never veers too far away from its folky influences.
The slightly "hey nonny no" feel at times may put off a few, but this is a brilliant and complex composition that deserves a good few listens.
Butterflies, on the whole, are big showy things with bright wings, and there are relatively few in the UK. Their drabber cousins the moths, on the other hand, are often small, brown and there are hundreds of them - an identification nightmare.
This book is one of the best moth ID books out there, with some brilliant illustrations of some 874 species of "macromoth", which represent nearly all the larger species found in the UK. Despite covering so many species, the plates do not look crowded, and while the text is necessarily concise, it packs in such details as when their flight periods are, their habitat, and gives similar unrelated species to look up which they may be confusable. They are pictured in various different forms, with males and females shown if significantly different, and some species shown with wings folded or unfolded.
The book itself is very thoughtfully bound, with a laminated front to protect it from the elements, and spiral-bound so that pages can easily be laid flat while the reader is ferreting around in a moth trap.
The only real problem with the book is that there's no key - that is if you're a beginner that does not already know their moth families quite well finding your small brown moth in a book full of illustrations of small brown moths will be a nightmare. However if you're an already fairly knowledgable moth-er then you will find this book indespensible.
What if the US military started to believe in weird stuff? That they could train soldiers to walk through walls, subdue the enemy by walking into conflicts with baby lambs in their arms and playing peaceful music, spy psychically on terrorists, and combat their enemies by staring them to death?
It sounds too wacky to be true, but here British journalist Jon Ronson investigates those who claim that these, and other, ideas on the edge of sanity have actually been policy in parts the American military since the 1970s. The book's strange title comes from the military "goat lab" where weird experiments are said to have taken place, including the belief that one man managed to do the impossable and stare a goat to death.
This is both a hilarious and disturbing book, showing that some insane ideas have been floating round the military establishment, getting some scarily credible funding and policy behind it in the past. As the War On Terror thickened, generals were looking to "think outside the box", and at times this bordered on the supernatural.
But while it's easy to laugh at some of the crackpots on show here, dark sides are shown, such as the bizarre torture techniques of Abu Gharib, and the mass suicides of the Heaven's Gate cultists, both that have links back to these strange military ideas.
Ronson is an excellent author, with a great nose for strange stories. The only criticisms would be there's a lot of details and people in the book and concentration is needed to follow all the strands, but if you give it the effort it's a very rewarding book indeed.
After the inspired lunacy of Being John Malkovich, which saw the lead characters sucked through a magic portal into the head of the titular actor and eventually use him as a weird puppet, it was hard to see how writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonez could get any stranger.
Arguably they managed it with this film. In it Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman and his (fictional) twin brother Donald. Charlie has been commissioned to write the screenplay for an adaption of (real life) non-fiction work 'The Orchid Thief' by (real life) author Susan Orlean, here played by Meryl Streep. Struggling to adapt the book, and leave the trappings of his previous metaphysical writing style, he writes himself into the adapation, turning it into the film we're actually watching. Confused? You will be!
This is possibly the most self-referential film ever on the screen, and it's very hard to work out what's real and what's not, as the film zips between Kaufman writing the film, Orlean writing the book, and events that inspired the book (the orchid-smuggling escapeds of a - real life - John Laroche). Kaufman's portrayal of himself is as a paunchy, balding, socially awkward man is very self-deprecating, although his fictional twin brother could be seen to represent his more outgoing and socially acceptable alter ego.
In the final act things go very strange indeed, with all sense of reality going out of the window, as Donald takes the writing reigns and the whole thing becomes a send-up of how Hollywood bends the truth and sensationalises true stories to fit the conventions of movie narrative. The ending is confusing and not a little smug, and although the film is eminently enjoyable, you do feel it is probably a little too clever for its own good. It does rely on a lot of knowledge of the workings of film from its audience, and some of the in-jokes get lost on non-industry viewers.
Adaptation is a very intelligent film that deserves to be seen, has some genuinely laugh out loud moments. You'll need your wits about you to keep track with the wildly veering narrative, but it is very rewarding with a lot to say about the conventions of film-making, the processes of making films and (bizarrely) human need for passion and even the nature of Darwinian evolution. However the winking, knowing, self-referential nature of the film may grate on some, and if you like your films with neat, straighforward stories... well, avoid!
Please note this review is based on seeing the film at the cinema, and as such does not include any details on the DVD extras or packaging.
I'm sure I'm not alone among blokes at groaning at the name Richard Curtis - king of the romcom. The fact is his films are a mixed bag of foppish, middle class English Britflicks that range wildly in quality. Four Weddings is quite good but ruined by the awful 'is it raining, I hadn't noticed?' line at the end. Notting Hill is annoying and unrealistic. Love Actually has a number of intertwined stories ranging from poignant and well-realised (Alan Rickman's mid-life crisis and almost-affair) to absolute rubbish (Kris Marshall's trip to America to get laid).
The good news is this isn't a romcom as such, but a period romp through the days of 60s pirate radio ships, with a stellar comedy cast that includes such starts as Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy, Nick Frost, Katherine Parkinson, Chris O'Dowd, Kenneth Branagh and Rhys Derby.
The bad news? Well it isn't very funny, and grossly overlong. The first hour and a half groan on with hardly a titter to be had, which is an absolute crime in a comedy film featuring the talented cast at its disposal. The characters jostle for position and become cartoonish chariacatures - Hoffman's laconic American, Ifans' sleazy maverick, O'Dowd's lovable loser, and so on. Worst of all is Parkinson's character, who essentially has a script that says "I'm a lesbian" over, and over again with no character development whatsoever.
Subplots come and go with little resolution, and the sign of a decent story (such as the rivalry between Ifans' and Hoffman's characters) fizzle out just as they get interesting, and genuine conflicts seem to have very little long-term consequences. Worst of all is the shoehorned romance between the virginous newcomer Tom Sturridge and (admittedly very pretty) strumpet Talulah Riley, a character that doesn't deserve the attention of the nice young chap pursuing her. The only plot that really does work is attempts of straight-laced cabinet minister Kenneth Brannagh to close down the pirate radio stations, and even that is rather stilted and cartoonish.
The fact also that the rebellious, pioneering world of 60s pirate radio is turned into such a cosy, middle-class friendly world is also possibly an insult to those involved in creating such a counterculture. Yes there's the very merest hints of drug use and much sexual abandon among the characters, but most of the time they're having a chummy old time playing board games.
It has to be said, however, that the film picks up pace tremendously in the final act (despite the efforts of a dull plotline to find the true identity of Sturridge's father), as Brannagh's masterplan reaches its conclusion and the film ends with a genuinely exciting, if predictable, climax. And some of the performances are superb, especially Hoffman, Nighy and O'Dowd, who work with their limited material with all the talent you'd expect of them.
OK, it's a lightweight comedy and not a real drama based on true events, but for a comedy to lumber on so mirthlessly for so long with such great potential in its ensemble cast is a true crime of cinema. It's a film that will pass the time, and the ending is very well realised, but you get the horrible feeling the cast is having a much bigger laugh making the film than the viewer is watching it. Don't watch this expecting it to be the laugh riot the poster (and no doubt DVD cover) says it is, and expect to be disappointed by a cast that can all do so much better.
It says a lot about the British that when Nestle brought in their foil wrapping for KitKats, which does a good job of keeping the bar nice and fresh, there was an outcry. You see there was a ritual involved in eating a KitKat, taking off the outer paper wrapping and then scoring each finger of chocolate with your fingernail on the inner, silver paper before snapping off the fingers and eating. A simple, inexpicable pleasure that was destroyed with the introduction of such trifling matters as actually keeping the bar edible for longer...
For the unitiated in KitKats (there must be someone!), the bar is a Nestle chocolate bar consisting of four (or two, in smaller multi-pack bars) fingers of chocolate-covered wafers attached to one another in rows and there to snap off and eat. There is very little else to say about them, they are about as simple as chocolate and wafer treats get...
KitKats are a perrenial favourite, their red and white design iconic and the name known by all. While far from the most exciting snack in the world, they are perfect for a lunchtime treat and a welcome addition to everyone's lunchbox. While Nestle chocolate is arguably not as nice as that of rivals Cadbury, the choc and wafer go together very nicely indeed. A four-finger bar, however, weighs in at 213 calories - despite their less obvious calorific value, this doesn't come in much behind a gooier snack such as a Mars Bar.
I must admit, however, I am one of the nostalgic types who liked the old ritual of eating a KitKat, and as silly as it sounds I do miss it. But at least we still have chance to savour the tasty chocolate inside!
I must start this review confessing I am a Morrissey fan, but not the rabid kind that doesn't admit the man has his flaws - he's been peddling the same album for the last couple of decades, some of his opinions are a bit iffy, and some of his output in the past has been decidedly below par.
However the previous two albums to this one, 'You Are The Quarry' and 'Ringleader of the Tormentors' were some of his best, especially the latter which saw him experimenting with a more grandiose sound and lyrically overcoming some of the themes that had become Mozza cliches. That is he seemed to be in the throes of love (hetero- or homosexual we'll possibly never quite know), and allowed himself to sing about the rather un-Moz themes of actually having sex and (heaven forbid!) happiness.
Whatever love affair Moz had while writing 'Ringleader...' must now surely be over, and sadly this has meant a return to some of themes of loneliness, celibacy and being unloved that have started to become somewhat tired for a man pushing 50. And the lush arrangements of Tony Visconti that graced 'Ringleader' are now back to typical, slightly lumpy pubrock that has underpinned most of his solo output.
The best tracks on 'Years of Refusal' are corkers, with opening track 'Something is Squeezing My Skull' a Morrissey classic, with pithy lyrics and a tongue-twisting middle eight. Single 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' is another great track, if retreading some of the more tired Morrissey territory lyrically ("I'm throwing my arms around Paris/As only stone and steel accept my love"). Perhaps the best track is 'All You Need Is Me', a savage song with a great, driving guitar part, that is dripping with Morrissey's trademark wit, but spoilt slightly by the bad taste left by the fact this, and 'That's How People Grow Up', have already been released as bonus tracks on, and released as singles from, last year's cash-in 'Greatest Hits' album.
The rest of the tracks fare less well, with silly mariachi on 'When I Last Saw Carol', and other rather lacklustre tracks that bang away as typical Morrissey album tracks, both musically and thematically.
This album is by far not the worst he's ever produced (you'll have to go back to his nadir in the mid 1990s for that), but after his last two phenomenal comeback albums is something of a disappointment. The good tracks are excellent, and good enough to make this worth buying, but it's still not his best work, and Morrissey newcomers would better off buying 'You Are The Quarry', 'Ringleader of the Tormentors', or one of his early albums such as 'Viva Hate' or 'Your Arsenal'.
This review is based on my experiences in the branches in Sheffield, and on the South Bank in London.
I'm not a massive fan of chain restaurants, but you sometimes end up using them because they take the mystery and risk out of finding somewhere to eat in unfamiliar cities. Wagamama is one of these, and is a restaurant which specialises in quick, tasty, no-nonsense Pan-Asian food, such as curries and noodles.
The first thing you notice about Wagamama is the long, pew-style seating arrangements. I've never been to the Sheffield branch when it's been heaving, but the London restaurant I visited was very busy indeed, and you can end up rather close and personal with strangers sat on either side of you when you dine. Not a massive problem, but it would be unfortunate if you had the misfortune to sit among a noisy or obnoxious group.
The menu isn't huge, and has a small variety of soups, noodles, salads and rice dishes, along with side dishes such as dumplings stuffed with poultry known as gyoza (the duck ones are delicious). The meals I have tried here are chicken ramen, which is described as "noodles in a pork and chicken soup topped with a marinated and grilled chicken breast, seasonal greens, menma and spring onions", which is a fairly tasty dish but not one I'm desperate to try again, and chicken katsu curry ("chicken fillet deep-fried in panko breadcrumbs, served with a lightly spiced curry sauce and sticky white rice. garnished with a combination of mixed leaves and red pickles"). The latter is very nice indeed, and I've plumped for this option on a number of occasions.
Meals are quite reasonably priced, averaging about £6-10 for a main, and while drinks are on the slightly expensive side, you can opt from the complimentary green tea at no charge.
Service is quite unusual in that dishes fly out of the kitchen when they're ready, which means sometimes one diner may get their food at a different time to their companion(s), but this has never been a big problem during any of my visits. This has even been the case at the London restaurant I visited, which was heaving. Service has always been cheerful and prompt, even though the London branch had customers queueing out of the door, the tables were turned around so no-one was waiting too long (although the experience would have been a lot more depressing if had been raining!).
If you want somewhere with branches around the country, where you can have a reasonably-priced, quick and tasty meal, then Wagamama is well worth a visit.
Maltesers are marketed quite strongly - let's face it - at the female end of the chocolate buying market, bigging up the fact they're the "lighter way to enjoy chocolate" and hinting that calorie-conscious ladies have the permission to feast upon these chocolately snacks guilt-free. But fear not - these are tasty chocs we can all enjoy, not some kind of slimmers' chocolate also ran!
For the unitiated, Maltesers are spherical balls of honeycombed malt, wrapped in Mars milk chocolate. In reality gram for gram they actually contain more calories than many other chocolates (including Mars Bar and Kit Kat), but their honeycomb middle mean you'd have to have a fairly whopping amount to make up 100g, and an ordinary-sized packet contains a mere 186.8 cals (although NOT eating them would be an even better dieting aid, of course...).
For those of us who don't care about our expanding waistlines, Maltesers come in a range of sizes ranging from the teeny "fun-sized" packs (who decided small packets were more "fun" than huge ones, eh?!), to whopping great buckets. More useful are the cinema-style packs, that theatres charge about a million pounds for and, while sizable, I still manage to eat before the trailers have finished (but perhaps that's just me...).
Maltesers are quite light, and are nice and crunchy and tasty, but this can be deceptive and you can sometimes cram a few too many in, leading to a temporary medical condition I like to call "Malteser Belly", where your entire stomach is stuffed to bursting with balls of malt and chocolate. So be careful!
I've just had a can of 7Up for the first time in a while, and I thought I would share the experience with the good People of DooYoo...
PepsiCo's 7Up is a lemon and lime soft drink that I'm sure many of us forget exists. It seems to be eclipsed by its rival Sprite (made by Coca Cola), and always seems a bit 80s retro. I have clear memories of a child of the animated 'Cool Spot' and 'Fido Dido' characters, which in my mind consigns it to the past, along with Mountain Dew and Tab Clear.
It's a very old drink indeed, first formulated with the snappy name "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda" in the 1920s. Many myths exist as to why it's called 7Up, but the drink's Wikipedia page gives most credence to the answer that the '7' was the atomic mass of Lithium (one of its early ingredients, believe it or not), and the 'Up' from the fact that this ingredient was seen as a hangover cure at the time.
Taste-wise, 7Up is a refreshing citrussy blend of lemon and lime, which I'm not wholly convinced would pass a blindfolded taste-test with Sprite - they're very much similar drinks and I can only believe Coke v Pepsi brand loyalty would make consumers pick a firm favourite out of the two. It is a nice drink to drink chilled on a warm day, but perhaps not one you could ever imagine anyone going really wild for.
So Fido Dido and Cool Spot may be consigned to the bin of 80s nostalgia, but the drink still survives!