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low_rider
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Member since: 07.03.2002

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    • More +
      08.03.2010 20:13
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      A few hours cheap entertainment, leaving you with a stronger wrist from all the waving.

      I adored Soul Calibur 2 on the Gamecube, and when I saw this I decided to pick it up. I didn't realise when I bought it that this is not, unlike the other Soul Calibur games, a beat-em-up game like Street Fighter etc. Instead, it is a third person adventure, designed especially to take advantage of the Wii's unique controls. The game also, for those who have enjoyed the Soul Calibur mythos, explores the history of the swords Soul Edge and Soul Calibur in greater detail, in particular focussing on the knight Siegfried, who becomes corrupted by the evil Soul Edge and becomes the dread knight Nightmare in the other games.

      Set in a fictional sixteenth century, a young knight desperate for power discovers the evil sword Soul Edge, and in doing so unleashes the Evil Seed, a wave of destruction that spawns a number of monsters called Evils across the world. A year or so later, Siegfried is with the Holy Roman Emperor, whose capital in Vienna is under attack from the leader of a band of thiefs: Barbaros, who has taken the Holy Sword Soul Calibur and used its power to try and take over the world. Siegfried is charged by the Emperor to defeat Barbaros, and in doing so gathers a band of familiar faces to him from the Soul Calibur series, such as Ivy, Astaroth, Taki etc, to aid him in his quest.

      So far, so good - unfortunately, the game degenerates pretty quickly from the description on the back of the box. The problem is that gameplay is not well thought-out. Levels are played in a linear sequence; you move through an environment in a line, and periodically stop to defeat hoards of ever spawning enemies. There are a few very basic puzzle sequences to solve from time to time, such as finding some switches and hitting them in the right sequence to activate a door, but they are so basic that even a 4 year old wouldn't have any difficulty working them out. Missions become endlessly repeated, and have little variation. Generally, you have to either defeat all enemies or defeat a boss. There are a few different locations but you end up revisiting them to replay them time after time. You unlock new characters as you progress, and during a level can (usually) pick 2 of them to play with, and you can swap them during the game. As the characters differ in terms of speed, attack style and weaponry, it is a good idea to pick complementary characters to deal with anything the game can throw at you, e.g. someone big, powerful and slow with someone small and fast.

      Controls are simple; swinging the remote swings your weapon, and the nunchuk joystick is used for movement. You can also shake the nunchuk to perform a forward charge, or dodge to the side or rear. You can block attacks by pressing Z, and hitting B makes you jump. However, the game becomes something of a button masher, with the exception being that instead of mashing buttons, you end up waving the wii remote manically and frantically to execute your attacks. Although you can string different swings together to create combos, the problem is that unlike the other Soul Calibur games, which had a very fluid combat system that allowed you to go gracefully from combo to combo, there is not enough finesse in swinging to achieve the results you want. Basically, you just wave frantically and hope it'll string together. Furthermore, the camera action is distinctly unhelpful; it is slow to move around, and it automatically locks onto an arbitrary enemy and stays focussed behind you on that, making it difficult to see into the peripheral. Third person games can have very fluid camera actions - look at the Zelda series - but the camera in this game is at best ok and at worst a downright hindrance to game play.

      There is a two player mode for the game which I haven't really taken advantage of as my wife isn't a big fan of violent games. You can go through the game's levels cooperatively, and I believe there are various challenge modes, but I do not believe you can fight each other in a one-on-one match. We did have one go playing a level in co-op, but the experience wasn't great - you just get in each other's way and it doesn't really add anything.

      Overall, the game isn't that bad. It is diverting enough, and it is fun to learn more about the mythology of the Soul Calibur universe. Unfortunately, this game feels incredibly rushed, with little thought going into it. The dialogue of the game is hackneyed and annoying, and it constantly tries to hammer home the point that seeking power for the sake of power is a bad thing. This ends up getting ridiculous, and one of the non-playable character's backstory, which is supposed to be poignant and moving, becomes stupid and somewhat inappropriately funny because of how it always ends up a semi-lecture on how much it sucks not to have power, because his sister died and could no longer bake him his favourite Hungarian treats. Literally, that is how stupid it is.

      As a stick waver (i.e., button masher for the Wii), the game is ok - it kept me entertained enough to keep playing it. However, as you can tell from the length of this review (compared to my other game reviews!), the main problem with this game is that there is not enough to it. It is not a game I want to play again and with the benefit of hindsight, I probably would have preferred to spend my money on something else.

      Overall, I would say go for it if you are a serious fan, or looking for a simple, reasonably entertaining way to pass a few hours, but do not expect great things. I would give it a rating of around 60% - ok, but nothing memorable.

      N.b. A large portion of this review was previously published by me under the name fairleee on amazon.co.uk.

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    • More +
      16.12.2009 16:21
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      The best wood nailer around

      We all (well, most of us) know the pain of aiming for a nail, and hitting your thumb instead. It was this pain that perhaps spawned the creation of the nail gun - that, and the fact that it gets the job done about 10 times faster!

      The Powers W3 Wood Nailer is part of the Powers Trak-It range of gas-nailers, specifically designed for wood-to-wood applications. It is a first-fix framing nailer: for those who don't know, this means that it fires large nails ideally suited for things like wooden frames, tiling roofs, setting decking, installing fencing etc. Some of you might well be familiar with the main competitor of the W3, the Paslode IM350, and having used both in my time I can honestly say that this is a superior beast.

      About Powers:
      Powers are an American company. Powers were originally part of Rawl, the first modern fastenings company who created the legendary Rawlplug. They are a huge multi-national company in their own right across the US, Australasia and Europe, but don't have much of a presence in the UK. They sell a range of fasteners, anchors and tools. Powers do not sell direct, but through a network of authorised dealers. The best I have found for the UK is a company called Dynamifix; contacted details for which shall be provided at the end.

      The W3:
      First off the bat, I like the way the W3 looks and feels. It is not too large, being 38cm long by 11cm wide. There are good site-lines on the tool; the top of the casing is flat which allows you to easily see the wood you are working with, so you can get the nailer into the right place. It isn't too heavy at 3.6kg, but more importantly, the tool has a perfect balance. When you hold it in your hand, the balance keeps it sitting upright. This is a marked difference to the IM350, which is front-heavy. When I used it, it tugged down on my hand and I had to work harder to ensure I kept it straight and level. I don't have that problem with the W3.

      The magazine is set at a 34 degree angle. This serves several purposes; first, it makes it more manoeuvrable, as it is easy to fit the nose into tight spaces. Secondly, it allows you to fit more nails into the magazine. The nails are collated by a strip of paper which blows away when fired. It is easy to spot 34 degree angled nails, as in order to fit in a strip, the tops of the heads are clipped, creating a D head nail. The magazine takes up to 40 nails at a time, which is very useful especially when working on a roof etc., as you don't need to load very often.

      The nails range in size from 50mm-90mm, so there is a huge range for whatever needs to be done. The nails come in a number of varieties for both indoor and outdoor use. A very nice feature is that the tips of the nails are coated in a yellow resin. This acts as a lubricant on entry, and the friction generated melts the resin. It then sets, and gives an extra fix. I have swung off a beam connected with just one of these nails; they are incredibly strong and have the highest pullout value around.

      The W3 has a number of helpful features. The nose has a number of teeth at the end. These allow you to grip the nailer into the wood to keep it steady. However, if you don't want to mar the surface of the wood, I have found that Powers do a thing called a Contact Top - basically a little plastic collar that sits over the teeth to protect the wood. We had a problem once using the IM350 which also has these teeth; unfortunately, the IM350 equivalent of the Contact Top requires the tool to be taken apart to install it, so the Powers Contact Top is a very clever little feature that is easy to pop on and off. At the bottom of the magazine is a nail-catch, which catches the nails when you take them out of the tool instead of allowing them to fall onto the dirty ground and get all filthy. Again, a simple feature, but a useful one. The magazine track is made of aluminium which is lightweight and easy to clean (especially compared to the IM350!).

      In terms of performance, this is the fastest gun in the West. I have experimented (or, if I'm being honest, played - this is the ultimate Boy's Toy, after all) and have been able to fire over 3 nails a second. Of course, you will never do this when working on a job seriously as it will not produce a level of high worksmanship at that speed; you can't be accurate enough. The W3 can fire over 1000 nails in an hour (again, it is incredibly unlikely anyone will do this), and as a fully charged battery lasts up to 5700 shots, according to the brochure. I have never fired this many in a day, so cannot confirm, but it does seem to last a long time. It has 95 Joules power rating - not 90 as said in the title - making it one of the most powerful nailers available. I have never had a situation where it hasn't been able to get the job done. If you find that the nails are being driven too far into the wood, there is a handy little penetration depth adjustor on the side of the tool, which can be easily tweaked to get it right.

      What's in the box:
      When you buy a new W3, it comes in a black plastic case. Upon opening, you find:
      1 x W3 Wood Nailer
      1 x Battery Charging Unit
      1 x AC/DC Adaptor Cord
      2 x Batteries
      1 x Safety Glasses
      1 x Disposable Ear Defenders

      How the W3 works:
      Nailers work by using either electricity, gas, air or gunpowder to provide the force to fire the nail. The W3 uses a hydrocarbon-based fuel cell, which is, in my opinion, the best option: electrical nailers require a lead to a power source and pneumatic nailers require a hose attached to an air compressor. This means you cannot move about freely with them; a real issue when working somewhere like on a roof when manoeuvrability is key. Powder nailers are dangerous, and actually require licences to operate, as they are classed as guns.

      The W3 uses a combination of fuel cell and battery. It is an indirect-fix (as opposed to direct-fix) nailer: what this means is that the nail is indirectly driven by a piston rather than directly driven by an explosion. This means the nailer cannot be used as a gun, because an indirect-fix nailer has a two-step trigger: firstly, you push the nose firmly against the base material. This delivers a charge of gas into the cylinder, and the nailer is 'live' - ready to fire. You then pull the trigger. This creates a spark which combusts the gas. The combustion drives the piston which drives the nail. The piston then returns, and a new nail is fed into the barrel.

      So, using is easy:
      1. Insert a charged battery into the base of the tool
      2. Insert a fuel cell into the rear of the tool and close hatch
      3. Insert nails into the magazine, pull back magazine slide and release - this is on a spring-coil and will feed the nails into the barrel.
      4. Press down firmly onto base material, and pull trigger!

      Impressions on use:
      I was incredibly impressed the first time I used this. Previously, I had used an IM350, and I really do think this is a superior tool. I really appreciate the balance; it makes it very easy to get the positioning right. The tool looks neater than the IM350, despite being a bit bigger. It is easy to use in difficult and hard to reach areas thanks to the slightly longer nose, and I felt a noticeable difference in kick-back: the kickback of the W3 is absolutely minimal, so even when I use it overhead it didn't give me any problems. I have used it a number of times, and I have never had any repair issues. I think the fact it is a little bit bigger is also because it is sturdier. The I350 is a great tool, but it does seem to be more prone to breakdowns.

      No matter what application I have used it for (decking, fencing and general DIY projects) it always gives me a perfect fix. I love its reliability; knowing that whenever I get it out of its case it is going to get the job done for me incredibly quickly and well. However, a note of caution - this is designed for WOOD applications. If you need it for concrete, masonry or steel then Powers do a different range of nailers for them.

      The Powers nail range is larger than the Paslode range, so I have more choice, and on a product analysis I found they came out stronger. It should be noted that the Powers range of nails and gas also fit the IM350 - however, the Powers range is anything from 5%-20% cheaper, depending on where you shop, so even if you remain devoted to your IM350, I would still recommend checking out the Powers nails. The tool itself costs around £350 (same as an IM350). This seems like a lot, but I have used mine more than enough to justify it, as it means I can get a job done in half an hour instead of half a day. The tool is very safe with its double trigger mechanism, and is also very reliable. I would say you are more at risk from a hammer, and it does a better job than hammering!

      Would I recommend this tool? Yes, definitely. It is expensive so don't bother if you aren't going to use it, but you don't need to use it very often to reclaim the cost. It is more reliable than any other nailer I have used, it is incredibly fast, it is powerful and it gets the job done. Furthermore, the fact that the nails are interchangeable with the IM350 means that if you own one, you can get your nails for cheaper from Powers. It saves you money and is a better product - there is no downside at all, as far as I am concerned.

      Contacts and websites:

      www.dynamifix.com and sales@dynamifix.co.uk. Dynamifix is a preferred dealer for Powers (who only operate through a dealer network). I get my nails from them, and they are fast, courteous and reliable, as well as very cheap. The website is still under construction, however.
      Update: The website is now completed and I have been able to place orders through it - very simple and easy to use.

      www.powerseurope.nl. The European website for Powers, with full technical information on all their products.

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      • More +
        07.12.2009 12:02
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        A perfect wedding at a perfect hotel.

        As some of you may know, I got married in August. We had decided that we only wanted a small wedding, as Mrs. F's family is very, very extended, thanks to the fact that none of them are on their first marriage. Northerners, eh? Still, can't say anything as I am one, now. The divorces and intrigue made for a huge logistical headache, and we couldn't be fussed with it.

        Initially we were planning to go abroad, and get married by ourselves as part of the honeymoon, but after much cajoling from parents and siblings, we agreed to get married in the UK. As we are based in York, we wanted to find a small, luxurious hotel, and Marmadukes, a three star hotel just outside the city walls, answered our needs perfectly.

        The Hotel:
        Located in a leafy side road off Bootham, a popular Edwardian road just outside the city walls and Minster, Marmadukes consists of two beautiful old Victorian houses. It used to be part of the De Bretton group, which went into administration early this year, due to unpaid bills. If you search for Marmadukes, you might well find links telling you it is in administration, but fear not! There is a new management structure in place and it is doing better than ever.

        Marmadukes is a boutique hotel, and you can tell how much care and attention has gone into decorating it. You find wonderful old antique furniture throughout, including a very valuable old Regency Sofa in the main hall, which create a sense of opulence and comfort. If I had one complaint, it is that the two lounges on the ground floor are quite dark - St. Peters Grove is a very leafy road, and you don't get much sunlight. The lounges only have one window, so I found them a little bit dim.

        However, Marmadukes recently had a new conservatory-cum-dining room built. With windows at both ends and a vast skylight, it is a bright and sunny room. With a water feature outside one of the windows, we knew it would be the perfect room for the ceremony. This is also the room where breakfast is served in the morning. Next to the conservatory is the bar, a well-appointed and chic affair that serves a variety of wines and beers.

        For conferences, there are several state-of-the-art conference rooms with projectors, etc. We had vetoed the idea of holding a board meeting before the wedding so didn't use them, but we did store things in them and they looked great, with really comfortable leather chairs!

        There is a beautiful walled garden outside, filled with lavender. My wife thought it was so lovely she actually based her decision to have the wedding at Marmadukes on it! With wrought iron tables and the pleasant buzz of bumblebees, it is an ideal place to enjoy a lazy light lunch on a sunny day, and sit back and sip at a glass of wine.

        There is a spa at the end of the garden, complete with sauna and hot-tub, which are free for use by hotel guests.

        The rooms:
        There are 20 rooms in total, so the hotel is very quiet, even when full. Each room is decorated individually and is a different size. There are two single rooms, then a number of petit doubles (smaller rooms), deluxe doubles (larger rooms), four poster suites (huge beds!) and finally the Loft Suite, a three room mini apartment at the top of the hotel.

        Again, the furniture tends to be antique, and looking at it you can tell it is of high quality; real hard wood, with all the decorations and flourishes in a master carpenter's repertoire. The rooms vary in size, and sometimes it can be a little misleading - we were shown a number of the rooms, and were surprised to see that one of the four poster suites was, if anything, smaller than one of the petit doubles, despite costing more! I would advise you to ask to see the room first. If you aren't satisfied, ask to see another.

        Each room has a bathroom, and almost all have a bath - I believe only the singles have just a shower. The bathrooms epitomise luxurious bathing. Slate-tiled floors provide a chic and cool finish, and thoughtful touches such a bath-side tables and champagne buckets (yes, champagne buckets in the bathroom!) make you realise that this is a hotel with comfort in mind. "Look", the furnishings say, "why not use us? Order some champagne, light some of those candles over there, and why don't you two have a bath together?". It would take an iron will to resist the call of the bucket.

        As Bride and Groom, we were given the Loft Suite for the night.

        Wow.

        When you first go through, you find a lounge, with two leather sofas, LCD TV, DVD player, Playstation and computer desk (WiFi is provided to hotel guests). Then through a corridor. On the right, you have the piece de resistance of the Suite, the Bathroom (it deserves a capital letter). Complete with a free standing bath, separate shower with side-by-side shower heads, you almost miss the defining feature of the room - a barrel sauna built right into the wall. Let me repeat that - a barrel sauna. Literally, someone stuck a huge barrel into the wall and then installed a sauna into it. Does it get any more luxurious than this? The toilet is in a small, separate room to the bathroom, which was a great touch. Through to the left, you have the gorgeous bedroom, with a king-size bed, CD player and separate dressing room.

        To be honest with you, I would happily live there, if I could ever afford the 300 odd pounds a night it costs to stay.

        Food and restaurant:
        When Marmadukes went into administration, one of the first things to go was their full time restaurant. As a result, they lost their four star rating and now have a three star rating. This works to your advantage, though, as it reduces costs whilst giving you the highest quality stay you will ever have at a three star hotel. They do provide a cooked breakfast. You order hot food from a menu, and the breakfasts are sublime; local meat, well sourced and well cooked. Highlights include scrambled eggs with salmon on an English muffin, and a full Yorkshire breakfast. What distinguishes a Yorkshire breakfast from an English breakfast I have yet to find out, but one thing I've noticed about Yorkshire is that they always have to have their own version of things. London Eye? We have the Yorkshire Eye. Puddings? We have Yorkshire Puddings. Bread? We have Yorkshire Flatbread. Hollywood hunks? Sean Bean, baby!

        They are slowly reintroducing a dining service into the hotel, and are doing regular gourmet evenings where a three course meal is provided. They also provide a full menu service for events (such as our wedding). The food was fantastic and individually tailored to our requirements. I had potted duck for starters, which was the tenderest I have ever had, with slow cooked lamb for mains. The lamb fell apart in my mouth, and was delicious, sweet and herby. The creme de la creme was the chocolate terrine I had for dessert with boozy cherries. York is nicknamed Chocolate Town as it is the home of Terry's (of the chocolate orange) and Nestle. This dessert was the chocolate maker's art rendered down into the epitome of rich, sweet, cocoa-ey chocolateyness: I wasn't even allowed to finish it, as my wife quickly stole it from me and consumed it with a look of rapture on her face. Quite possibly the highlight of her day. The food is incredible, well worth a try.

        Overall:
        Marmadukes is a really beautiful and luxurious hotel. The staff are friendly, courteous and efficient, and as it is a small hotel, you get to know them quite well. Best of all, you really get the feeling that nothing is too much trouble for the manager, Andy, and his team. They went to every length possible to ensure that our wedding went off without a hitch. Andy even took it upon himself to take care of my new sister-in-law's baby during the meal, so she could enjoy herself without worrying! Andy has really turned the place around, and flicking through the guest-book - always a good gauge of a hotel - I found nothing but positive reviews.

        The hotel is built around the idea that guests should be comfortable, something that you just don't get in larger hotels. Individual touches in each room, such as unique portraits and pieces of furniture, make you feel less like you are staying in a hotel and more like you are in some Jeeve's-and-Woosteresque country house, with every need attended to by a busy and invisible staff. The beautiful garden and spa provide a quiet haven in one of the busiest areas of the most popular city (after London) in the UK. If I had to sum up the hotel, I would say relaxing, comfortable and dedicated to you.

        If you are looking for a venue for a wedding or meeting, I would heartily suggest Marmadukes. Marmadukes does have a civil ceremony licence, but if you want to get married elsewhere, it is a stone's throw from the registry office and very close to town, so would be easy to get to if you had a ceremony somewhere in York. We had a perfect day, and it was all thanks to this small haven down a leafy road in beautiful York.

        Website: http://www.marmadukes-hotel.co.uk/
        E-mail: reservations@marmadukes-hotel.co.uk
        Tel: 01904 640101
        Prices: Available on enquiry

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        • Terrorism / Discussion / 48 Readings / 44 Ratings
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          04.12.2009 12:56
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          Here's hoping humour can get us through this...

          STOP
          Disclaimer: the following may contain satire.
          CARRY ON

          If we are to believe the media, then terrorists are lurking around every corner, plotting our downfall at every step, hiding anthrax up their bottoms and large paramilitary armies up their sleevies. Prior to 9/11 (or 11/9 as it should properly be called in Europe), the major terrorist bugbear in the UK was the IRA man. However, the IRA were less of a threat, because at least they played fair - giving us warnings of bombings etc. Of course, this very British sense of fair play only acts against them, as such values merely prove that, ultimately, they have more in common with Britain than they would like to believe, and therefore should be part of the Empire.

          The current global terrorist bugbear is Islamic extremism. Never mind that such extremists are in the minority, never mind that the majority of Muslims condemn the actions of suicide bombers and other terrorists. Statements from such prominent Americans as radio presenter Michael Savage such as, "not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists happen to be Muslim" (which has become something of a motto among various right-wing groups in America) merely propagate the fear that beneath every Turban lies a ticking time bomb. Therefore we can ignore the fact that since the majority of Muslims do not wear turbans (which is more associated with Sikhism, although many Muslims will wear headdresses), much of the fear engendered against the wearers of turbans is completely misplaced.

          Indeed, we now know that terrorists, rather than being a generic term for freedom fighters of varying backgrounds, beliefs, goals, aims and methods of achieving said goals, are a worldwide and united group of Islamic Extremists bent on bringing down the West under the leadership of that famous wheelchair-bound Bond villain and leader of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sorry - I meant Osama Bin Laden, and the dialysis machine he is hooked up to. So easy to get the two confused.

          The fear of terrorism hugely outweighs the fact of terrorism. Several years ago, the Shetland Isles were organising the Island Games, a series of athletic events and games that the various islands take part in. Despite the fact that they were expecting an audience of, at most, 10,000, and the fact that it was the Shetland Islands (a.k.a. least offensive place in the universe), they still created a Terrorism Response Committee. This was working on the assumption that the terrorists had slept through the Olympic and Commonwealth games, and were ready to take down the world's next major sporting event, as well as bringing down the decadent Western institution that is the Shetland Fisherman's Association - which, as we all know, is the one stumbling block in the terrorists' attempt to impose Sharia Law upon the UK.

          Terrorism has affected me personally; as Muslims all wear beards, beard-wearing has never been so unfashionable. I have a beard, because without one, thanks to my balding head and round face, I look scarily like Matt Lucas. However, I see the look of fear and revulsion on people's faces when I go out in public, and I dread visiting London lest I am chased down and shot on the Underground in a case of mistaken beardentity.

          Terrrorists have numerous ingenious methods of attacking the UK, such as dousing a jeep in petrol, setting it on fire and driving it into Glasgow airport, based on the belief that petrol explodes, rather than burns, when lit. It was also based on the idea that such an attack could scare a Scotsman enough that he wouldn't visit the Duty Free shop. We are told that there are terrorist manuals available on the internet, and we can only assume that they must have FAQ sections at the back:
          Question: Why won't my petrol explode when I set it on fire?
          Answer: have you tried praying to Allah? You must be strong in faith!
          Question: How do I create a 'dirty' bomb?
          Answer: Intelligence suggests that you need Uranium cake. If you cannot get hold of any, try some regular cake. It might still work. That's what Abu Hamza did, and he is definitely someone to trust when it comes to explosives.

          We are told that it is only thanks to increased vigilance and security measures that the terrorist organisation SPECTRE (sorry, Al-Qaeda) have not yet taken over the world and obliterated its gold supplies with stolen nuclear weapons. We know this is their plan after seeing it in an intercepted terrorist training video entitled "Goldfinger". This is why we must have CCTV on every corner and a three hour wait at the airport to get through security. These checks now include removing your shoes and passing them through an X-Ray scanner to detect explosives. This is nonsense, as clearly there is only one way to walk whilst wearing shoes filled with explosives: very, very carefully. All you need to do is search anyone walking on their tiptoes - although this could lead to problems for ballet dancers.

          We are told that this is why the police need to be able to hold a terrorist for 90 days without charge - because if they haven't found the evidence they need to convict within 40, they are going to need some extra time to find it (i.e., plant it).

          There have been some benefits brought about from this. You may have heard of the George Dubya Drinking Game. It is simplicity itself; just find a speech of Dubya's on Youtube, and drink any time he says 'terrorist', 'terrorism' or 'democracy'. There are rumours of an extreme version, where you also drink any time he says 'freedom', but anyone who has played it has not yet come out of the alcohol-induced coma to confirm. It should be pointed out that in a strictly honest universe, this games should be called Hello-And-Goodbye-Mr-Braincell-And-Any-Sense-Of-Moral-Decency.

          So, how do we deal with terrorism? I think I might have an answer - love. There is so much aggression, so much hate developed against terrorists that it is no wonder that they are the way they are. If everyone hated me so much that they kept forming Coalitions and Holy Crusades to drop bombs on my house then I'd probably want to blow stuff up in return, too. Our hate for terrorists has caused them to hate us, and that hate has shrivelled them from fine, upstanding, noble human beings into the stunted, hairy, smelly, twisted beings that they have become. Love is the antithesis of hate, and love always conquers hate. Therefore, I propose a method that should allow us to put an end to terrorism. I hereby declare that we should call this week International Hug-A-Terrorist Week. Everyone must go out and find a terrorist, give him a great big hug and tell him how much you love him (don't go into too much detail, though). And, if you can't find a terrorist, just find a Muslim - because, as Michael Savage said, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.

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          • More +
            03.12.2009 13:08
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            A wonderful Caribbean honeymoon

            Please note this is a very long review, but I hope it is worth reading!

            I got married in August to the lovely woman of my dreams, and decided to plan a surprise honeymoon for the pair of us. We both love the outdoors and adventure, preferring holidays that allow us to experience new cultures, and see wonderful new things. We aren't big fans of city holidays, so after doing a bit of research, I though that Tobago, with its wonderful mix of beaches, rainforest and Caribbean culture, would be ideal.

            A little about Trinidad and Tobago:
            The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago comprises of two islands in the Southern Caribbean. Trinidad is the larger and more populous (around 1.3 million), whereas Tobago is a lot smaller, with a far lower population (around 50,000). Its first encounter with Europeans occurred when Christopher Columbus landed in 1498. It became a Spanish colony in the eighteenth century, only to be conquered and become part of the British Empire in 1797. It was a haven for a number of European settlers, including French and Dutch, influences of which can be found through the islands. T&T gained independence in 1962. The industry of Trinidad is largely based on petrochemicals, whereas Tobago's main industry is tourism. The currency of T&T is the T&T dollar, although the American dollar is widely accepted, especially in tourist regions. The main religions are Christianity and Hindu, with a very small Muslim population. English is the official language, but there are a number of slang and creole terms which may be unfamiliar to you. However, we had no problems at all getting by.

            Climate:
            T&T lie within the tropical regions. However, the islands lie just outside the main hurricane belt, so are lucky enough to avoid many of the worst hurricanes that hit the Caribbean. Annual mean temperatures are around 26 degrees celsius (yummy and warm). Annual rain fall is 250cm. This is very high, but much of the rain is concentrated into sharp, quick bursts early in the morning. Don't be put off, however, the rain is lovely and warm - one of our guides described it as 'liquid sunshine'. There are two seasons; a wet season (June to December) and a dry season (January to May). This makes the first half of the year the 'high' season for tourism. We went there in August, in the middle of the rainy season. We did notice the rain, but for the most part any showers passed within half an hour. We only had one day of bad rain. This played to our advantage; the island was quieter, and our hotel was quite empty, giving us lots of peace and quiet.

            There are few mosquitoes and so is a low risk zone for malaria, but unfortunately there are plenty of other biting insects. Take plenty of insect repellant. On another note, there are very few poisonous insects and snakes in Tobago, so don't be afraid!

            How to get to Tobago:
            Tobago does have an international airport (Crown Point) on the Southwest tip, but there are few charter flights which fly to it directly. We flew with Monarch, and Virgin also has a route to Tobago, but I don't know if any other airlines have direct routes. You can also fly to the far larger international airport in Trinidad (Port of Spain), and then catch a flight or ferry across to Tobago.

            Monarch flies to Tobago once a week. It is a circular route; first it calls at Grenada to drop off and pick up passengers from there, and then heads to Tobago. It then flies directly back from Tobago. Published flight times are 9 hours for the outward journey from London Gatwick, and 8 hours return from Tobago. The extra hour for the outward flight is to accommodate the stop-off at Grenada. However, we found that the stop-off at Grenada generally takes a lot longer than an hour, so expect the outward journey to last at least 10 hours.

            Accommodation:
            There are a number of large resorts in Tobago, many of them located in Crown Point, near the beaches there. I didn't want to stay in a large resort, and a little bit of searching came up with the Blue Haven Hotel. This is located just outside Scarborough (the capital of Tobago), and is a small, boutique hotel with its own beach. It was incredibly popular with film stars in the fifties (Rita Hayworth stayed there, and even filmed a film there!). It fell into disrepair during the seventies but was then purchased and lovingly restored, and is now widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Tobago. Each room looks out over the sea. Rooms are large, comfortable and come with air conditioning, a must in the heat. There is a swimming pool, bar, restaurant and beach restaurant. The hotel is right next to a beach, Bacolet Beach. It is not a private beach but tends to be dominated by hotel guests, and is reputedly the beach at which Robinson Crusoe was supposed to land! Staff were friendly, courteous and efficient, and we would definitely stay there again.

            Towns on Tobago:
            The towns of Tobago are not large; even the capital, Scarborough, would barely register as more than a village in the UK. Scarborough and Crown Point are the main towns in the South. The centre of Tobago is dominated by a rainforest, so the rest of the towns and villages are scattered around the edges of the island. As it is such a sparsely populated island, the towns are something of a shock. They tend to be somewhat shack-like in construction, and you don't see any buildings more than two stories high. There is little in the way of shopping as most shops are for locals, and anyone who is looking for more of a city should visit Trinidad's Port of Spain.

            Getting around Tobago:
            Anyone who has driven along English country lanes will have a good understanding of the roads of Tobago! Outside of Scarborough and Crown Point, the roads tend to be narrow and windy. You can hire a car which is to be recommended if you will be doing a lot of travelling (cheaper than hiring taxis), but you must be over 25 to hire a car in Tobago. Unfortunately I am not, so we were largely reliant on taxi services and also the transportation provided by the tour guides we used. Taxis are easily recognised as their number plates start with the letter H (for 'Hire'). Cars starting with the letter P (for 'Private') are privately owned. Many car owners in Tobago will offer themselves as taxis to tourists and locals. However, you should never accept a taxi ride in a P car, as this person is not a registered taxi driver and could be dangerous (although it is unlikely, it is just good sense).

            Taxis do not have fare metres fitted. Although there are published fares available, negotiate the rate with your driver before you get in. There are also bus routes and so called 'maxi-taxis' (they operate along a set route like buses, but will pick up and drop off at any point along the route) which are a slower, but cheaper, option of transport.

            Culture of Tobago:
            Tobago is a very Caribbean place; lazy, laid-back and good natured. The locals are friendly and more than happy to talk to tourists. Women should be aware that it is quite a macho culture and the local men will often try it on, but the safest bet is just to smile and laugh. For anyone looking for a holiday romance, you should be aware that AIDS and other STIs are a serious problem in Tobago. If you do have sex with a local, make sure you use a condom!

            Tobago does not have much of a night life, and the bars that tend to stay open late into the night tend to be tourist places. Having said that, Tobagonians are exuberant and fun-loving; 'liming' is the term they use for going out and having a good time drinking, dancing and singing. It is a very musical culture. T&T is the birthplace of the steel drum, and Soca music (a blend of reggae and calypso dance) can be heard everywhere. It is wonderful music, full of energy and beats, and you will often see locals breaking out into spontaneous dance.

            The main nightlife occurs on Sunday night, with the famous Sunday School in Buccoo, near Crown Point. There are street barbecues, shops, bars, and a local steel drum band plays. We went, and it was wonderful - so much fun. It is an amazing culture, so warm and friendly, and it really puts a smile on your face

            Food:
            The cuisine of Tobago is creole, a word meaning made up of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, due to its long history of colonisation and settlement. Indian, Caribbean, Italian, French and even Chinese all make their mark. Pizzas are popular dishes, and as curries. Seafood is obviously a staple, and never have I had fresher or tastier fish. My wife hates fish, but every meal she was ordering it! There are local specialities such as curry chicken, crab and dumpling, and stir fries, and all are made with fresh, local spices. For the less adventurous there are places which will serve pizzas, fish and chips etc., and there is even a KFC in Crown Point. However, I do not see the point of going to another culture and eating fast food, so I did my best to try as much local food as possible.

            Because our hotel was rather isolated from the main restaurants of Tobago (which are mainly in Crown Point, to cater to the tourists), we mostly ate at the hotel and a hotel close by in the evening, which served excellent local food. During the day we would eat at whatever local restaurants were near us. A highlight was Jemma's Tree House in Speyside (the North of the island). Built on stilts around a tree, they serve huge quantities of excellent local food. It is very popular with tourists, but the food is top notch.

            Food at restaurants tends to be a similar price to food in England. However, if you decide to eat at the roadside shack restaurants, you can often get great food for a good price. Just be wary; the quality will vary hugely!

            In terms of alcohol, being the Caribbean, rum is incredibly popular. Be cautious when ordering, a standard measure is around a triple! There are also two local beers, Caribe and Stag, both of which are tasty and refreshing.

            Things to do in Tobago:
            Birdwatching is incredibly popular, and there is an island off the north coast of the island called Little Tobago, which is a wildlife sanctuary. Tours can be arranged. The centre of the island is a protected rainforest. The rainforest is the longest continuously protected rainforest in the world, having been protected since the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, in 1963 a massive hurricane swept across Tobago, uprooting nearly every tree. As a result, the rainforest is still quite young. You can organise tours into the rainforest. We took one, and it was fantastic; there is so much wildlife to see and it really is beautiful - one of the highlights of the trip.

            Diving and snorkelling are very popular, particularly around the north side of the island where there are a number of hotels and companies specialising in diving holidays. We went snorkelling, and it was a wonderful treat. There are so many exotic and beautiful fish, and the water is incredible and warm. I could have stayed there all day. There are several wrecks around Tobago to explore, as well as numerous reefs. Do be aware that there are fire corals in the water, and any attempt to touch them will cause enormous pain. For those concerned, you never see large sharks around Tobago, and none are dangerous to humans. The most common is the nursing shark which, if disturbed, will simply swim off elsewhere. However, always follow your dive master's instructions.

            There are golf courses on the island which are reputed to be very good, as well as fishing and off-road biking and driving. We didn't try any of these, but they are very popular.

            There isn't much history left over from colonial times, but there are several areas such as Fort King George (near Scarborough) are well worth a look, and are a nice way to spend a morning.

            If you know what you are doing, you can organise such things yourself. As newbies to the island, however, we decided to go with a tour operator, Katerina Dumas Tours. You pay a bit more, but you get transport (and often food) provided, as well as experienced guides. Tours are an excellent way to explore the island in safety and relative comfort. There are a number of tours you can do, and tour guides are normally more than happy to tailor a course to you - for added expense, of course. A whole day tour will normally cost between £60-£90 for two, but food, travel and a guide are included.

            One of the best tours we did took us on a boat trip out to Nylon Point. This is a pool in the ocean a short distance off Crown Point. There is a collapsed coral reef, so the water is only about a metre deep, and you have beautiful white coral sand underneath. The water is incredibly clear (hence its name - clearer than a pair of nylon tights!). This keeps the water incredibly warm with the heat reflected back off the coral sand. A number of tour boats go out there. One of them has a huge speaker system attached which blasts Soca music, and another has a barbecue. You end up with a huge party out in the middle of the ocean, and it is incredible - the best part of the honeymoon.

            Beaches:
            Of course, a major factor in choosing Tobago as a honeymoon destination were its beaches, so as to have a chance to lie down and relax in the sun. The most famous beech in Tobago is Pigeon Point in Crown Point, which is the only beech in Tobago with white sand. The beaches in Crown Point are very touristy, and so it can often be difficult finding a space. There are a number of beautiful, small, secluded beaches in Tobago, such as Bacolet Beach and Englishman's Bay. If you can, take the chance to visit them, as they are real havens.

            Advice for tourists:
            Crime:
            Crime can be a problem, so be on your guard for pickpockets. However, the police take crimes against tourists very seriously. There have been one or two well-publicised cases of attacks on tourists, but there are very rare and unusual. As long as you stay safe by locking your doors and trying to stay in areas with some security (such as a gated fence), you should not have a problem. Women are advised not to walk around by themselves, especially at night, and not to accept lifts from strangers, but these are universal rules.
            Drugs:
            People think of the Caribbean as a 'Rasta' culture, and the laid-back attitude of the locals seems to confirm this. I often caught whiffs of marijuana, and one of the friendliest locals we got talking to positively reeked of it. However, be aware that T&T are very anti-drugs, and drug taking is not tolerated by the police. If you are caught, you can face a very serious jail sentence.
            Homosexuality:
            T&T have quite a macho culture, so if you are gay, you are advised to be discreet. There are some gay-friendly areas, but to be on the safe side, do not be overly affectionate in public. This is a problem which the T&T govt. are trying to address, but do be aware.
            Health:
            Tobago is tropical, so the sun shines brightly all year round. Wear factor 50 sun cream, and stay out of the midday sun. You don't need any inoculations to visit Tobago if you come from the UK, nor do you need to take any anti-malaria pills.
            Visas: Most travellers from the UK and EU do not need a Visa. There is a Departure Tax to pay (around £12 or so), but this is incorporated into the price of your plane ticket. However, do check before your travel if you need a Visa.

            Overall Impressions:
            Everything about Tobago is heavenly, from its sun-kissed beaches to its exotic rainforest and the incredible local culture. This was a perfect honeymoon and an amazing way to start married life. Although the towns are a bit disappointing, we were not looking for a city-break, and for those desperate to shop, you can easily get over to Port of Spain in Trinidad. I definitely want to return, as we only had a week and it was not enough to experience all that this jewel of the Caribbean had to offer.

            Useful websites:
            http://www.mytobago.info/ - A really useful website run by a couple who visit Tobago every year. A definite place to check before you go.
            www.gov.tt/ - The government of T&T's website. Useful to check for health advice etc.
            www.lonelyplanet.com/trinidad-and-tobago - The Lonely Planet guide. We ordered one, and it proved invaluable as a source of information to take with us.
            www.bluehavenhotel.com - The website for the hotel we stayed at.

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              01.12.2009 17:24
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              Wonderful, definitely worth a read

              The fantasy genre is one that is in all too much danger of becoming tired and worn out. There are few truly superb writers out there, and fewer still original story lines. The strength of Eragon is that it takes a number of common fantasy elements and manages to wind them together into something greater than the sum of its parts.

              Story:
              Eragon, an orphaned farmboy raised by his uncle, stumbles across a strange gemstone when hunting in the forest. To his surprise it hatches into a dragon whom he names Saphira, and Eragon must take upon himself the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders, a now extinct group of men and elves who policed the continent of Alagaesia with the aid of their companion dragons. Alagaesia is ruled by the ancient but powerful King Galbatorix, a fallen Rider responsible for their downfall, and Eragon must flee capture by the Empire with the help of Brom, a mysterious story-teller who knows more than he is letting on; Murtagh, a young man who has escaped from the influence of the king and who has a dark secret; and the elusive Varden, a range of freedom fighters sworn to overthrow the corrupt and evil king. Can Eragon save Alagaesia and become a true Rider, answerable only to justice, or will he become merely a pawn in a worldwide power struggle?

              My opinions:
              When I said that Paolini took elements from a number of different fantasy tropes, you can see what I mean. You find the Lord of the Rings in the use of dwarves, elves and Urgals (monsters that take the place of Orcs). Dragons are frequently used in the fantasy genre, both evil and benign. Magic, sword fights and battles all have their place. And, of course, the idea of the come-from-nothing young hero, chosen by destiny to represent the Light in its struggle against the Dark is so common as to be a cliche. Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Rand al'Thor from The Wheel Of Time, even Frodo from Lord of the Rings are all examples of the bucolic, naive young boy touched by destiny.

              However, Paolini takes these conventions and works with them to create something refreshing and original. The idea of a group dedicated to preservation of justice and harmony is again common (Jedi, Aes Sedai etc.), but the dragon rider concept is new and original. Paolini creates a wonderful and epic history for the land of Alagaesia, which allows us - and Eragon - to understand just what it is that Eragon must become. The concept of magic is given a useful twist. It is no longer some Deus Ex Machina; an unlimited force outside the laws of metaphysics. Magic comes from within: one's own strength. It takes the same amount of physical energy to use magic to perform a deed as it would doing it physically, and if a deed is beyond your capabilities, the magic will drain you and leave you dead. By limiting it this way, Eragon cannot resolve everything with a wave of a magic wand.

              The characters, if slightly cliched, are well drawn and interesting. They learn and grow throughout, and the chemistry between Eragon and Saphira is wonderful. Galbatorix remains a faceless terror; we never see him, but his agents and his name are lurking around every corner, a constant threat to the harmony of the world.

              Eragon has to learn that not everything can be solved with battles and strength alone: he lives in an incredibly political world and has to learn how to deal with scheming and plotting. The Varden are a wonderful example of this. They are united through a desire to fight the empire, but as with any group of this nature, opinions on how to do this are divided, and there are power struggles and jockeying for positions within the ranks, with many hoping to use Eragon towards their own ends.

              The book becomes something of a metaphor about the will to power and where it will lead us. Galbatorix came to rule through bloodshed and must use bloodshed to maintain his rule; he makes alliances with his enemies and is willing to sacrifice his subjects for his own needs. One does not need to expand too much to see links between this world and ours! There is discussion about how the Emperor is rotten, but the Empire itself is sound - one cannot simply form a Coalition, march in, overthrow it all and expect everything to work out. The Varden are weakened by internal struggles, and alliances between the Varden, the dwarves and the elves are sketchy at best. Eragon has to learn to become an iron fist inside a velvet glove. He has the power, but must learn to wield it - next-to-unlimited physical prowess in the form of Saphira cannot win every battle.

              The language of the text is rich in description, fast paced and easy to read. Paolini was a teenager when he started writing this, but it is difficult to tell: he shows a maturity beyond his years. Whilst sometimes his imagery can be a little stilted, his psychological understanding of his characters is excellent. There is plenty of action, but I found the most enjoyable parts of the book to be descriptions of the politico-historical background. He creates a varied, three dimensional world of magic, power and intrigue, and weaves together many strands with great skill.

              Eragon is first in the Inheritance Cycle. The second and third books, Eldest and Brisingr, have been released, and we are currently awaiting the release of the fourth and concluding book. Paolini has achieved a wonderful result, all the more incredible coming from one so young, and anyone who is a fan of fantasy should give these books a go. Overall, I would say about 89%.

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                01.12.2009 15:10
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                Incredible, is darker, addition to the Zelda series

                N.b. please be aware this is quite a long review! Apologies.

                Legend of Zelda is one of the oldest and most renowned video games series. For the most part, the games are set in the mysterious kingdom of Hyrule, where an undying villain, Ganondorf, frequently returns to terrify the land. The hero of the games is a young boy called Link, a Hero continuously reincarnated to be a light against the darkness. He is often aided in this by the beautiful Princess Zelda; a wise and good young woman who wants to save her kingdom.

                Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game for the Wii, and is one of the best games yet to grace the console.

                Place within the Zelda timeline (ignore this section if you wish!):
                Placing a Zelda game within the series' timeline is tricky, as Nintendo are notoriously vague about where each game is placed. Twilight Princess follows on from the two N64 Zelda games, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Twilight Princess takes place 100 years after the events of Ocarina of Time, and takes place in a different universe to the events of the Gamecube Zelda game, the Windwaker. For a full discussion on the split timelines of the Zelda series, Wikipedia has some good in depth information if you are interested.

                The story:
                Link is a young man, a horse wrangler from a small village in Hyrule. He is chosen to accompany one of the town elders on a journey to Castletown, the capital of Hyrule, to present a sword to the king. The day before they set off, the village is attacked by mysterious monsters. Link sets off after them, only to encounter a black wall across his path. He is dragged across it, and enters the Twilight Realm, a separate world of near darkness that exists on the outside of his universe, but is somehow infringing upon it.

                Most people become ghosts when they enter this Realm, but Link takes the shape of a wolf. Rescued from the prison in which he wakes up by a morally ambiguous imp called Midna, he escapes, and meets Princess Zelda. She tells him that the Twilight Realm has invaded their world, and charges Link with the task of banishing it. Midna aids him with this, encouraging him to find artefacts of power, Fused Shadows, to defeat the King of the Twili, Zant. Link and Midna must travel back and forth across the land of Hyrule, through both the normal world and the Twilight Realm, to return it to the light and to defeat the mysterious power behind the mad King Zant. Along the way he must try to recover the mysterious Mirror of Twilight, which will allow him access into the Twilight Realm and its evil king.

                Gameplay:
                As ever with the Zelda series, the game is a 3D third-person role-playing game with free movement and a vast world to explore. You control Link, and use him to move across vast plains, through dungeons, defeat enemies and, transforming between wolf and human, save the world. Those of you who played Ocarina of Time will remember the sheer shock at the size of Hyrule field; it was unprecedented in a game at the time. This world is even vaster, from the volcanic region of the Gorons, to the incredibly massive Zora-filled Lake Hyrule, and all the areas in between.

                You are free to explore the world as you will, but progression through the game takes place along a set path. As ever, there are the traditional trap-and-enemy filled dungeons to defeat, at the centre of which lurk enormous bosses to be defeated. You cannot play these dungeons out of sequence, and often you are required to accomplish side quests before you can move onto the next dungeon. This provides you with many, many hours of gameplay. Littered throughout the land are hidden caves, wherein you might find goodies such as Pieces of Hearts (which increase your overall life), money (the money form is the Rupee) and other such things. These are not required for completion of the game, but many true Zelda fans will not consider the game to be fully completed until you have gathered all the optional items available!

                These "side quests" as they are called, are fun, and there are also mini-games located within the game. An example would be the Fishing Pond. For those of you who played Ocarina of Time, you will remember the Fishing Pond with great fondness, where you could while away many an hour fishing, to no purpose other than to catch the biggest fish you can. Other mini-games include an archery-style game, where you raft down some white water rapids blowing up targets with arrow-bombs, for example.

                Gameplay therefore has several separate stages. Firstly free movement, where you are free to roam across the world, completing side quests and playing mini-games. As a horse wrangler, you are reunited with your faithful horse Epona, and can cover large distances at speed on her back. Dungeon raiding is when you are in a dungeon; you progress through it, defeating enemies and solving puzzles and finding keys to allow you to move on. In each dungeon you fight a mini-boss who provides you with an item (bow and arrow, boomerang, hookshot etc.) that will allow you to move further through the dungeon and will prove instrumental in defeating the boss, as well as being needed in later dungeons. Thirdly, you have the Twilight Realm. In this realm you are transformed into a wolf, and you cannot return to your human form until you are able to banish the Twilight from the area. Later in the game you become able to transform between wolf and human at will.

                A sad departure from previous games is the loss of a musical instrument (the Ocarina and the Windwaker) to perform songs that will aid you in your journeys. As a wolf, Link can sometimes howl to make certain things happen, but learning and performing songs is not part of the game. A shame, in my opinion, as it was one of the most original inventions of the Zelda series.

                Link and Midna:
                Link is controlled with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The joystick moves him, twisting the remote changes the angles. Slashing with the remote performs a sword strike (or bite in wolf form). You can target enemies and lock onto them, at which time the camera focusses behind you to give you the best view. Whilst locked on you can jump sideways and backwards to dodge blows, and you can also perform a defensive roll. You can shield yourself with your shield, and you can also equip secondary weapons and items which are activated with different buttons. Interestingly, this is the first game in which Link is right handed. It was modified in this way to follow the use of the Wii Remote, which is generally held in the right hand. However, as a left hander, this did not affect my game play. When transformed into a wolf, your options are limited. You attack with you teeth, and can use Midna to create a force field that will harm any enemy in its range. You can also jump huge distances as a wolf, and later in the game, whilst in wolf form, can transport yourself across the map using portals.

                Midna is an Twili imp with a mysterious past. When Link is in wolf form, she rides on your back, and when a human, she hides in your shadow. She seems to have magical powers, and can provide hints and tips on how to defeat enemies, just as Navi the fairy does in other Zelda games. She is obsessed with defeating Zant, and is somewhat self-serving and selfish, but eventually proves to be honest and loyal. You cannot control her directly.

                Combat:
                You fight with either sword, teeth or items. Link has various slashes he can perform with his sword, and he will combine them into combos. Each enemy has their own weakness to be exploited, and boss battles are normally a matter of finding a way to get the boss to expose that weakness to attack (such as hookshoting their vulnerable tongue down to ground level for you to slash at). Human and Zelda have different fighting styles suited to different situations.

                A new addition is horseback fighting; Link can now use his sword whilst riding Epona, and this is used in several boss battles. It is hard to get right, but very fun.

                A sad loss is the magically charged Spin attack, where you sweep around with a fiery blade to deal death to all opponents in the vicinity. However, a nice feature is that addition of optional new attacks which can be learnt at different points in the game. You can learn a Finishing Move, the Shield Bash (self-explanatory), and then various other attacks. One allows you to deal death in a single blow if you time it right. You do not have to learn these (they are side quests), but they do come in useful.

                Items:
                As always in the Zelda games, you find various items that allow you to defeat your enemies and move through the enormous landscape. The hookshot has a welcome return (but with a twist), as an extending chain that can lock on to distant objects and pull you towards them. There are also some new items to discover, some of the quite interesting and some of them rather silly, which I don't think will be making a comeback. You used to be able to judge your progress through the game by seeing how many items you had collected and how many you had left to collect, but the producers changed the item selection screen, so that they appear in a concentric circle, which makes it impossible to judge how far you are through the game. When you get a new item, you can often use it to accomplish new side quests and reach new areas within the world, so they are very useful.

                Graphics:
                The Windwaker was rendered with cel-shaded graphics, and it was decided not to return to that format for this game. Although they looked great, the cartoonish aspect of cel-shading made people think that it was a game for kids. As a result, the graphics are fully rendered in this game to make it seem more adult, and the game does, indeed, have a more adult feel. The lighting is more dramatic and darker. Monsters are bigger and scarier, and for the first time you can see blood droplets during combat. Combat becomes more aggressive; one of the moves you learn, the Finishing Move, allows you to leap in the air and plunge your sword through your enemy's chest. The movement between light and dark also gives the game a more adult feel as you are immersed in the corruption of the Twilight Realm. The twilight becomes a manifest symbol of evil, and its monsters are often twisted versions of good characters in the normal world.

                The music, whilst retaining the traditional Zelda score, is more melancholy and haunting. Frequently set in a minor score, using flutes and violins to great effect, an overall feeling of fear is found through the strains of music that echo mournfully as night falls in the kingdom.

                Overall impressions:
                You really feel like the Zelda series has grown up with this game. It is more rugged and dark from the outset, with Link's idyllic home invaded by hideous monsters, and the bands of Twilight that lay across the land like scars. Link's attacks are more violent, the enemies more terrifying, and the twisted perversion of Twilight becomes an embodiment of all our fears. Those subjected to it are turned into ghosts, left crying out in fear, unable to comprehend what is going on. The lightheartedness of many of the side quests in previous games (such as the mask gathering of Majora's Mask, and the island hopping in Windwaker) is gone. There are a few refuges of fun and light, but for the most part this is a dangerous and scary world, and I felt constantly under pressure to progress with the game.

                Overall, I think this is no bad thing. It is a very different Zelda to what we are used to, but without change you get stagnation. The game, as ever, is incredibly well produced, with a gripping storyline, interesting new items and an incredible and massive world to explore. This is one of the finest Zelda games yet, and deservedly so.

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                  30.11.2009 13:00
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                  Fun, but not as good as original

                  Prince of Persia is a long-running computer game series starring the eponymous Prince. This is the conclusion to the Sands of Time trilogy. The first in the trilogy was Prince of Persia (PoP): Sands of Time, the second was PoP: Warrior Within and the third was PoP: Two Thrones. Rival Swords is an updated version of the Two Thrones game rereleased for the Wii and PSP.

                  The story so far:
                  In the first game, the Prince unwittingly destroys a kingdom by unleashing the Sands of Time with the Dagger of Time, a war trophy, after being prompted to do so by an evil Vizier. With the help of Farah, an enslaved princess; the powers of the Dagger of Time which allow him to reverse, slow and freeze time and his acrobatic and marshal skills, he undoes the damage by returning time to before the Sands are unleashed. He finds Farah to explain what has happened to her, and slays the Vizier.

                  In the second game seven years have passed, and the Prince travels to the Island of Time. He is being pursued by the creature of fate, the Dahaka, who wants to kill him as he should not exist in the timeline. The Prince hopes that by slaying the mysterious Empress of Time, he can prevent the Sands of Time from existing and therefore save his life. He finds portals on the Island which take him back in time, and he meets a mysterious woman, Kaileena, who turns out to be the Empress of Time. They fight, and the Prince kills her, which unleashes the Sands, dooming the Prince. The Prince finds a magical mask, the Mask of the Wraith, which transforms him into a sand monster and allow him to go back in time to prevent himself from killing the Empress. He then defeats the Dahaka, and saves both of their lives.

                  The story continues:
                  In Rival Swords, the Prince and the Empress are returning to Babylon, only to find it under attack by the Vizier. As the Prince never unleashed the Sands of Time, the events of the first game never came to pass, and so he never killed the Vizier. The Empress is taken captive, and the Vizier kills her with the Dagger of Time, and uses its powers to turn himself into a god. The Prince is partially corrupted by the release of the Sands of Time, but recovers the Dagger. He must find his way to the Vizier to kill him with the Dagger, and on the way is reunited with Farah, who has no memory of him. However, the corruption of the Sands cause him to periodically turn into a Sand Wraith, with improved fighting and acrobatic skills, and he is plagued by a dark inner voice that tries to pervert his intentions.

                  General gameplay:
                  The gameplay remains similar to the previous games. The Prince has a range of acrobatic abilities, such as wall running, vaulting off walls and over enemies, the ability to swing and jump from poles and more. The game is a combination of puzzle solving and combat. The game is linear; you are not free to explore as you will but follow a set path, and much of the game is based around trying to work out how to get from point A to point B, when there is no floor between point A and point B. You must use the full acrobatic abilities of the Prince to do this. There is also a combat system for fights.

                  The Prince:
                  The Prince has two separate characters; his normal self and his Sand Monster alter-ego. Transformation between the two occurs at set points during the game and each have their own abilities and merits. The Prince isn't as strong or as acrobatic, whereas the Dark Prince is stronger and more acrobatic but his health constantly depletes unless you can find Sands of Time to replenish it. There is an interplay between the two. The Dark Prince is a dark voice inside the Prince's mind, and often helps the Prince by pointing out dangers. he also undermines the Prince and encourages him to accomplish his own goals, ignoring others. In time the Prince realises the the Dark Prince is not his inner self, but is instead the Sands of Time trying to gain dominion over him. The chemistry between the two of them is a lot of fun, especially when the Dark Prince is mocking the Prince. The Dark Prince also has a separate combat system; using the Dagger Tail, a length of chain embedded in his arm, which extends and can be used to devastating effect.

                  Progression through the game:
                  As I said, gameplay is linear, and you move along a set path. Gameplay is roughly divided into three stages; progression and puzzle solving, where you must use the Prince's abilities to move forward through the game, often solving puzzles that prevent onward movement (such as finding and activating various switches that will open doors etc.); combat, where waves of enemies attack until you have defeated them all, allowing you to move on; and boss-battles, set piece battles that require you to use strength and cunning to defeat large, powerful enemies.

                  The Sands of Time:
                  You have various powers which become available throughout the game. The first you gain is the Recall, where by pressing a button you can reverse time for a few seconds. This is the most useful feature and the one you will use most, whenever you miss a jump and fall to your death, or fail to block an enemy's attack and die. The second feature you learn allows you to slow time; this is especially useful in combat as your enemies are slowed, giving you an advantage. It is also helpful for when you activate a switch but do not have enough time to get through the door before it closes. You also can use the Sands in combat to kill or drive away enemies, but these are less useful skills.

                  Combat:
                  The combat system follows the twin-weapon model of Warrior Within. However, there is an addition, the Speed Kill function. Stealth becomes a greater part of the game, as the enemies are bigger and tougher than in previous games. If you can sneak up behind them, you can initiate a Speed Kill, which allows you to kill instantly and silently. When you begin a Speed Kill, the screen flashes. During this time you must swing your Wii remote to make the strike. Mistime the stroke and the enemy can block it, forcing you to fight him one-on-one.

                  The Prince has a variety of combos he can unleash. Weapons are controlled using the Wii remote and Nunchuk; swinging the Wii remote activates the primary weapon, the Dagger, and the Nunchuk activates the secondary weapon. For the Prince this would be a sword or axe, and for the Dark Prince it is the Dagger Tail. Unlike in the first game, where the Dagger of Time is used to provide a finishing blow to kill sand monsters, in this game the monsters seem to have a set health bar. Once you hit them enough times, they die.

                  Graphics and music:
                  The graphics are a little disappointing. The Prince's arms extend out from his body, making him look like a monkey, and the images aren't as rendered as they could be. Music tends to be Persian-style, but updated and modernised. The music was one of the big draws of the original game; Persian themes and motifs but scored for electric guitars and drums. In the second game, the producers screwed up, and changed the music into full-on metal which just didn't work as well. They changed it again for the third game, but again got it wrong: they returned to the Persian-style, but got rid of the rock. A great shame, as the music was one of the things that made the first game so cool.

                  Overall impressions:
                  The storyline has become even more confused with the time-travelling motif, but it is fun to see the return of Farah and that dastardly Vizier. The puzzle-solving and acrobatic abilities of the Prince are as fun as ever, and remain challenging enough to leave you scratching your head in various areas trying to work out how to advance. The combat system isn't as good as the original game. The emphasis on combos leaves you swinging your remotes wildly, and you don't use the Prince's acrobatic abilities as much. The Speed Kill function had a lot of potential, but is a bit disappointing. In the first game, when you struck a finishing blow to kill an enemy the Prince had a number of different ways he could do it. There are very few variations on the Speed Kill, so it gets boring quickly. The varying abilities of the different Princes are fun and make a nice change, but it feels a bit too gimmicky.

                  Overall, the game is fun, and a good end to the trilogy. However, it cannot measure up to the original game, and tries to hard with its new gimmicks (such as the Speed Kill and the Dark Prince) instead of focussing on the problems that made the second game a disappointment (such as the combat system and music). The game makes use of the Wii Remotes abilities, but you feel that it could do more - swinging the remote in a different direction could do a different sword blow, for example. However, if you are a fan of the Prince of Persia series, then you should definitely play it.

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                    29.11.2009 13:08
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                    Best place in York

                    York is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK, and no wonder: not only is it a beautiful medieval city with much surviving architecture (the Minster is a notable example, and the Shambles, an entire street of medieval houses, in one of the most photographed areas in England), but it also has a vibrant shopping district, a number of tourist destinations, a huge amount of street life and a number of fantastic bars and restaurants.

                    Evil Eye is, in my opinion, one of the best places in York. Located on Stonegate in the centre of town (another very popular street with tourists), it doesn't look like that much from the outside. This is partly because the foyer entrance is a liquer and tobacconists. As a result, Evil Eye is incredibly popular with the locals, but not so well known among the tourist population, as they assume that it is a shop, not a bar and restaurant.

                    Evil Eye is spread across three floors. On the ground floor, you have the bar and a number of tables. There is also an outdoor heated courtyard, which since the smoking ban came into effect is the refuge of all you smokey joes out there - a bit of a shame, as it means that in the summer when the weather is nice you can't sit outside without getting smoked on. On the first floor you have two separate rooms; on the left as you come up the stairs you have the "bed room", which has two beautiful carved wooden double beds covered in cushions on either wall, and a few tables at the end of the room. The beds are incredibly popular in the evening, and you will either see huge groups of students huddling up on them or a couple snuggling up together. The room on the right is an internet cafe, with a number of computers available for browsing the web for the reasonable price of £1 per half hour. On the second floor are the kitchens, the toilets and a lounge - however, at the moment the lounge is closed off to the public, but I believe it can be hired out.

                    Evil Eye is a cocktail bar, so behind the bar is a huge shelf holding every kind of alcohol imaginable. Just looking at it can lead to brain-cell suicide. There is a comprehensive cocktail menu containing a huge range, from shooters to martinis to long drinks, all reasonably priced. Prices range from £2 for the shooters to £6 for the most expensive cocktails. A nice touch is that most drinks have two different price tariffs, one for using "house liquers" (i.e., cheaper ones), and a more expensive price for a cocktail made with "premium liquers" for those who prefer the finer things in life.

                    They famously had a drink banned: it was called the Hellshot, consisting of a shot of 89% Balkans vodka and 90% absinthe mixed up together. You had to sign a waiver before you could drink it, promising not to sue in the event of going blind and promising to clean up if you threw up. However, the council informed them that they would not renew their licence if they continued to serve it. Don't worry - you can still buy each ingredient individually!

                    Evil Eye also has a great beer selection, from locally brewed beers from the York brewery to world beers such as Cusquena, a Chilean beer brewed at 10,000 feet in the Andes. They do not serve cheap, shoddy, mass produced lagers such as Fosters and Carling, and anyone who asks for one is met with a frosty stare by the barmen and is informed, "we don't sell bad beers". Don't be afraid, though - the bar staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgable, and will have a crack at making any drink you ask them for. There is also a great, if small, wine list, including some real gems. There is an English wine which is lovely, a range of French and new world wines and also some Thai wines. Thailand is not a traditional wine making area, lying outside the traditional lines of latitude for wine production, but the Monsoon range are real gems - fruity, spicy and easy to drink.

                    Although they nominally sell Thai food, the cuisine is actually a broad range from across Asia, including the Phillipines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Tibet. Evil Eye say that they import fresh foods and spices from Asia weekly, and you can really tell: the food is fantastic, really well prepared. Portions are huge, and reasonably priced. A main course typically costs around £6 to £7, with side orders such as rice and chips around the £2 mark.

                    There is a range of delicious salads, made with fresh herbs and veg; incredible soups (such as the Vietnamese Cau Lau, where pork is simmered with cinnamon, star anise and other spices and served in a huge bowl with noodles and broth), fantastic stir fries (the Pad Thai is incredible; one of the most fragant versions of this classic Thai noodle stir fry I have ever found) and excellent curries, ranging in spiceyness from mild to very hot. The green and red Thai curries are lovely, and a particular favourite is the Mussaman curry, which is out of this world. There is a really good burger for the less adventurous, and as the dishes are made from scratch you can order most of them as vegetarian options, and if you aren't too fond of really hot foods you can ask them to keep the spice down.

                    On Sunday they serve the famous Evil Roast, where you get a massive roast dinner with a choice of meats or nut roast. They start serving at 12, and finish at 6 - however, it is so popular they often run out long before then!

                    As food is cooked fresh, the one downside is that sometimes food can take a long time to appear. Normally you get it within 20 minutes, but I have had to wait up to an hour before, especially at lunchtime, where there is often a rush of orders. Check with the bar staff first if you are in a hurry. Service is from 12-9 Monday to Thursday, and 12-7 Friday and Saturday.

                    Besides food and cocktails, they also do a range of smoothies using fresh fruit and milkshakes. There is a wide range of coffees and hot chocolates, too. One of my wife's favourite is called the candy swamp, which is a hot chocolate with minstrels and malteasers added. The minstrels sink to the bottom, where they melt but remain solid inside the sugar shell, and the malteasers floats and go soggy and gooey. They give you a spoon to eat it. I am not allowed to speak to her while she finishes it; instead, I must wait, in silence, whilst she communes with the chocolate gods. Coffees and hot chocolates are around the £1.50 to £2.50 mark - very reasonable, especially when you consider it would cost a lot more than that at Starbucks for an inferior drink!

                    The different rooms of Evil Eye can be hired out for free for parties, and you can even hire out the whole place for events. For extra cost, they can lay on a buffet for you, and in the summer, you can organise a barbecue there. However, in typical Evil Eye style, this is no ordinary barbecue, as the meats on offer tend to be zebra, crocodile and ostrich.

                    Evil Eye is a fantastic place, and my favourite restaurant in York. I have been going there for over three years, and have never been disappointed. I had my first date with my wife there, and we also ate there with some family the night before our wedding. If you do visit York, Evil Eye is an essential experience. It is also Johnny Depp's favourite place in York, so you have the Deppster's guarantee of approval.

                    Opening hours for the coolest place in York are from 10am to late (although you are unlikely to get in until after 11pm). It is very popular with students, so bare that in mind, but if you want a great night out, I can't think of a better place

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                      12.07.2009 13:50
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                      Great budget fitness regime, but not a game.

                      One of the arguments that convinced my lovely wife-to-be that we absolutely should have a Wii was the health advantages; the wii remote takes game playing to the next level by incorporating bodily movements into play. It has been shown that playing on the Wii for half an hour is as good as walking for half an hour - far better than sitting on your arse playing Xbox 360.

                      My Fitness Coach is one of the many 'games' on the Wii which have realised that people have bought the Wii for more than just cheap gaming thrills. It is not a game, as such - it is a full on fitness exercise program, like those exercise videos C list celebrities always release whenever they have lost a few pounds thanks to hard work (i.e., surgery), and want to make a quick buck.

                      Unlike the Wii Fit game, this does not use a Balance Board, or any other form of special equipment. I believe that there is a new fitness game out, which comes complete with a thigh strap which holds the Nun Chuck remote, whilst you hold the Wii remote so the game can monitor your form and positioning, but this does not do that, as you simply follow the exercises that Maya, the lovely yet slightly frog-eyed American pixelised fitness coach of the game, guides you through.

                      This is probably the largest flaw of the game. The Wii remote is an amazing thing, but this game does not take advantage. Once you have started your exercise program, you put down the remote and simply follow the exercises being performed on screen. As you are not being monitored in any way the game has no idea how well you are performing the moves, and so feedback is automated, the same you would get from a fitness dvd. Maya periodically shouts "good job!", "you're doing it!", "way to go!"; even though she has no idea how well you are performing the moves or even if you are performing them at all, as you could well be sitting down with a cuppa enjoying the sight of someone else doing exercise, even if she is a computer character.

                      So, onto game play itself - the game is simple enough to use. When you first use it, you have to create a profile. The game has space for four profiles - enough for a family - as well as the option of a "guest pass", which I have not used but I believe allows you to do an exercise program without creating a profile. However, it is recommended that you create a profile, as you provide biometric details (height, weight, measurements of chest, waist, hips, legs and biceps), as well as taking part in a "fitness test" to see how fit you are, which involves giving a resting heart rate measurement (one of the hardest things in the game to do, as finding a pulse with your fingers is far harder than many people realise!), as well as an active heart rate, which means taking your pulse again after two minutes of "jumping jacks" (or star jumps as we civilised English call them). Two minutes is a long time - I go to the gym three times a week, and I found it difficult, and I am still young. I imagine that if you are older and less fit, you would really struggle. You also do upper and lower body strength tests, which involves seeing how many press-ups and sit-ups you can do. I cannot stress enough that you should be honest with these. I know the temptation of adding an extra ten onto your score but you will be impressing nobody (remember, Maya is a fictional character so you ain't gonna score by giving her two tickets to the gun show), and the more honest you are the more personally tailored your work-out programs will be.

                      If you own any home fitness equipment, such as an exercise ball, free weights or a step bench, you can tell Maya and she will use these in the work out. I don't own any, and it isn't an issue, so don't think you need to run out and buy a load of stuff.

                      You can then choose a primary focus for your work-out programs. Mine is core strength (abs etc.), but you can choose cardio, flexibility, upper or lower body etc. You then make a commitment of how many days you will work out per week and how long for. I do two 30 minute sessions a week, fitted in around my gym sessions. Once you have finished with your profile, away you go!

                      Once you are ready to start, you choose a focus for the day's exercise program (it can either be your primary focus, or the focus Maya recommends based on your profile, or or a focus you just fancy doing), then the music you would like to have playing, and finally the space you want to do your exercise in. Initially only three types of music and three exercise arenas are available, but more are unlocked as you progress. It isn't that much of an issue, though - all the music sounds the same anyway, and I'm too busy watching Maya to make sure that my form is correct to worry about a pixelated back drop.

                      Once your work out begins, you put down the remote and simply follow the exercises on screen. A word of warning - you do need a bit of space around you, as there are some exercises which require you to move back and forth. Also, if you have an exercise mat, have it on the floor nearby, as it will come in handy for floor exercises. If not, I would suggest laying a towel on the floor. Your workout is divided into sections; the three most important being the warm-up (to get the heart rate going), the main exercise, and the cool down (mostly stretching). STRETCH BEFORE YOU START YOUR PROGRAM! Otherwise you risk doing yourself an injury.

                      Periodically during the exercise Maya will ask how you found the last five/ten/one minutes of exercise, so that if you found it too easy or too hard you can tell her, and she will adjust the difficulty setting accordingly, which is a useful interactive touch. Also, a brilliant feature is that each work out is different. There are loads of exercises you can do and Maya picks different ones each time (and you unlock more as you progress), so, unlike with a fitness dvd, you won't find yourself doing the same thing time after time. At the end of your work out, you are provided with a break down of your progress, including a rough (and I think highly inaccurate) calorie count.

                      However, the game does have some flaws, the most notable being the one I have already mentioned, in that the wii remote is left on the side, not used during your work out. There are some smaller issues, too, which seem to me to stem from bad design. For example, when Maya asks you how hard you found the last segment, the three options - No Sweat, Working Hard, and Couldn't Keep Up, are arranged in a top-down list. When you have been working hard, your hands shake a bit, and that isn't a good thing with the Wii remote, so you might find the pointer slips down from the option you wanted to select onto a different option. This could have been easily fixed by arranging the options in a side-by-side list. Secondly, Maya asks how you have been finding the exercises at really erratic intervals - sometimes she waits 10 minutes (what are you meant to do if you found the first 8 minutes too easy and the last 2 too hard?), sometimes you only do one exercise before she asks you again (what's the point?). That just seems like sloppy design to me. Thirdly, Maya spends too much time with her pep talk, when it would actually be far more useful for her to talk you through the exercise, as well as explaining what it is useful for. It can be quite hard following what she is doing on screen sometimes, and it would be far better is she talked you through it rather than just chanting "good job!" at me, when I'm standing there scratching my head trying to work out how she seems to have managed to make her legs bend in completely the wrong direction. Lastly, some of the exercises are based on Pilates. Pilates relies heavily on breathing techniques to get the most out of your exercises, and this isn't really explained, which is a shame.

                      However, for £9.99, you can't really go wrong with this. If you want a more game-like experience then get the Wii Fit, because this is not a game, it is simply an aerobics class. However, the ability to create a profile, the large number of exercises available and the interaction of telling Maya how difficult you are finding it makes this a far better investment than Yet Another Rip-Off Exercise DVD by Davina McCall. It does have some flaws, but the benefits far outweigh them, so this is an excellent budget choice for someone who wants to start or implement an exercise regime in the comfort of their own home. I do mine in my underwear.

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                        08.06.2009 12:34
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                        Fantastic!

                        We are somewhat unusual as apartment dwellers in that, as we live on the ground floor, we have a small private garden outside. Our place isn't huge so when we wash our clothes we have the eternal problem of where to put those cumbersome drying racks; far better, we decided, to stick up a washing line outside and take advantage of any and all nice weather. To this end, we purchased the Minky Retractable washing line. These come in 2 varieties; the single line (pictured), and also a double line. However, as there are only the two of us we thought that two lines would be excessive, and so bought the single line. Minky has a reputation for producing high quality items which unfortunately are often quite expensive; not so with this, as you can find it online at Amazon for less than £4. Bargain.

                        The Product:

                        The washing line itself is stored on a reel within the outer case; a rather boring grey colour about 6 inches in diameter and about 2 across, so it is small and easy to store, and it weighs just under 2kg. When mounted, it extends about 7 inches from the wall. The line is extendable to 15m, and can carry quite a bit of weight - I don't know the exact load bearing abilities, but suffice to say I have had two sodden, extremely heavy mattress protectors hanging from it to dry without any problems. The line is coated in white PVC which can be easily cleaned, and has a small blue clasp at the end of the line which attaches to a retention hook. The mounting case also comes with a small pivot at the bottom; this is to tie the washing line around once you have extended it to prevent it from retracting.

                        What's in the Box:

                        You get a 15m line in a grey retractable casing; a bracket and pin for attaching the product to a wall, a hook-ended retention screw, two countersunk cross-headed screws and three 8mm rawlplugs. Instructions are printed on the outside of the box.

                        Installation:

                        This is designed for use outdoors. To put it up, you will need an electric drill with an 8mm drill bit (if you are installing the bracket on brick then you will need a masonry drill bit; if you are attaching it to a wooden post then a standard drill bit will do), and a cross-headed screwdriver. Firstly, measure out the distance - make sure that the space between which you will be hanging it is 15m or less. Choose a suitable height for the product - ideally you would want it at least 1.8m off the ground. To install the bracket, hold the bracket against the wall and mark the drill points using the holes in the bracket as a guide in order to get the spacing right. Drill a deep hole at both points, and clean out any dust etc (holding a vacuum cleaner nozzle against the holes is an easy way to do this!). Then, insert the rawlplugs. Now, you can screw the bracket onto the wall using the screws provided. On the opposite wall, drill another hole for the retention hook (ideally at the same height), insert the last rawlplug and screw in the hook-ended screw. The washing line is attached to the bracket using a removable metal pin, so when you have finished using the washing line you can remove the pin simply by sliding it out and you can then remove the washing line. I store mine indoors when not using it - it is weather-proof, but I don't want it swinging about on the bracket in the wind when not using it.

                        Using it:

                        To use the washing line, extend the line and fasten it over the retention hook. Wind some excess line around the pivot at the bottom of the housing case to prevent the line from retracting. Once your washing is dry, take the line off the hook, unwind the line from the pivot and guide the line back into the case. The line does retract very quickly, so keep a hold on it as otherwise it will whip about!

                        You might also want to consider using a prop with the line to provide a bit of extra support.

                        Verdict:

                        This really is an excellent product; ergonomic and affordable. The installation is easy enough as long as you are comfortable using a drill, and the product is very sturdy - we have been using ours for over a year now and have not had any problems with it. It is designed for the smaller garden and it is a nice alternative to having a clothes tree or even just a regular line strung up, as it is discreet, and can be easily taken down so it won't take up any of your precious garden space. We have ours extended to about 14m, and that is long enough for a full machine load of 6kg+ to hang out with some space to spare, and I have yet to find a maximum load capability - the line itself is very strong, and the wall fixings are very secure. If you do need a washing line, I would highly recommend this, as it is an excellent solution for the smaller garden, and I really cannot think of any flaws.

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                          28.04.2009 15:41
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                          If you are thinking about university, do consider York.

                          Going to university is one of the most exciting periods of your life - adults always tell you to make the most of it (in that thoroughly annoying way they have); you are in a place surrounded by like-minded, intelligent people who will go on to be some of your closest friends, and you are still young enough to know everything and be absolutely right in all your opinions. I am now in my final term here at York, and all in all, I am so glad that I came.

                          The University:

                          Located (obviously enough) in the city of York in North Yorkshire, it is a modern campus-based university built in the '60s. It is about two miles outside the city walls, so is close enough that you can easily get into town either by walking or by bus (there is a bus route, the no. 4, serviced by a number of highly phallic purple bendy buses that come every 10 minutes), but distant enough that it does feel like a campus - a lot of people like to have a campus as it means that everything is self-contained, so if you prefer campus universities to the kind spread out all over a city, then this would be for you. The only exception to this is King's Manor; a collection of beautiful old buildings right in the heart of the city nextto the art gallery where a lot of tutors have their offices, and is also a centre for postgrad teaching.

                          The University is built around an artificial lake, known to contain several thousand types of bacteria due to the fact that, even though it is only about 5 feet deep, the bottom two feet of that consist of duck, goose and swan faeces, of which the university has a more than abundant supply. Every year during Fresher's Week some idiot decides to jump in, and then has to go to hospital to be immunised. The lake is quite a pleasant feature; unfortunately, due to the fact it is artificial, when it was built all the flora and fauna were introduced at once, and as a result a balanced equilibrium of the eco-system never developed. This means it turns green in Spring and occasionally smells. The propectus for the university makes the uni look beautiful; this is because it shows a lot of pictures of King's Manor, Heslington Hall (a lovely local manor house next to the university that used to be owned by the Lords Deramore but is now administritive buildings for the uni), and a lot of attractive shots of the lake, with the rather grim pebble-dashed concrete blocks that comprise the rest of the uni only just peaking in the corner of the picture. What was the appeal of concrete to the free-loving, psychadelic nature of the '60s we shall never know, but suffice to say the buildings are really quite unattractive - and, being so unattractive, have of course won several architectural awards. There are several more modern buildings, including James and Alcuin College, which are nice enough, but unless you are a fan of concrete the university is not all that nice to look at. The creme de la creme of the concrete monstrosities is Central Hall, the biggest venue in the university capable of seating several thousand, which sits by the lake looking, depending on whom you talk to, either like a spaceship or a giant pimple.

                          However, we should never judge a book by its cover, and despite its unattractiveness it is still a great university.

                          Currently in development is the Heslington East complex; a new addition to the university which will be a whole new campus, increasing the university's capacity twofold. We can only hope that they aren't bewitched by the lure of pebble-dashing...

                          The Colleges:

                          The university opeates on a collegiate system. Currently, there are eight colleges: Langwith, Derwent, Vanbrugh, Goodricke,, James, Alcuin, Halifax and Wentworth. Wentworth is the postgrad college (although postgrads do pop up in other colleges as well). Each college has its own JCRC (Junior Common Room Committee, the undergrad college council), classrooms and lecture theatres (with the exception of Halifax), halls of accomodation, cafe, common room and bar. Langwith College has the newly built Student Union venue, which is called the Courtyard and is run by YUSU, the York University Student's Union. The university itself runs the rest of the college bars, so they offer very cheap drinks, but whilst the Courtyard is more expensive, all profits go back to the students via YUSU, and it is also one of the nicest bars on campus.

                          Each college is responsible for its own administration by the Senior Staff such as the Provost as well as the JCRC. Colleges organise their own events - film nights, quiz nights, bar crawls etc. which are always very cheap, as the prices are normally just to cover costs. Each college (with the exception of James and Goodricke, which share) has its own Porter's Lodge, who for the most part are friendly souls, happy to help out in times of need, such as when you manage to lock yourself out of your room after taking your shower and have nothing but a towel on. Each college also produces their own merchandise, for the most part the ubiquitous hoodie - that key symbol of student life.

                          Halls of acommodation:

                          Students are encouraged to spend their first year within halls, and I think it is a good idea as it is a good way to meet people. There is a discussion board for the uni halls on Dooyoo, so I won't talk about them for too long. Suffice to say that they are fairly hit and miss; the older colleges - Langwith, Derwent, Goodricke and Vanbrugh - are renowned for the poor quality of their halls, with Goodricke widely agreed to have some of the worst. You can choose whether to have ensuite accomodation (obviously for a price) or to share bathrooms, and there is also the provision for single-sex corridors and floors if that is a particular issue for you. I believe that most of the university accomodation are self-catering, but there is a meal scheme, called the MAD scheme, which allows you to buy vouchers in bulk to use in the canteens for your meals at a discounted price. Vanbrugh College has recently been built a set of new halls, but it is pot luck whether you get something nice or something really rather dingy. Hopefully, however, once Hes East is built, the standards of accomodation will improve.

                          You pay the university rent, so the university acts as your landlord, and although the rent is expensive, all bills are included. TV licences, however, are not, so if you want to bring a tv you must get one. If you don't have a tv, however, you will spend your entire time in halls being bombarded with threatening letters from the tv licensing agency telling you that they are going to send an enforcement officer round to get medieval on yo' ass if you are watching tv without a licence. Just bin the letters as soon as they turn up.

                          The Administration and Welfare:

                          The university generally ticks along as well as any large institution can in this mad world so tied up with red tape that it is next to impossible to get anything done. People complain about it, but what else is new? I haven't really noticed anything serious, so I wouldn't worry too much. The university charges the full whack for top-up fees - at the moment just over £3100, so be aware of that.

                          The Student's Union, YUSU, is one of the most important institutions on campus as it is the medium of interaction between the university and the students. For a lot of people a role within YUSU is their first heady taste of power, but student politics are really pretty tame. The YUSU officers always seem to be getting voted off due to being incompetent. One of the main things YUSU takes responsibility for is student welfare and safety, so expect to be bombarded with condoms and rape alarms in your first week - I was given 27 condoms on my first day alone. They do provide condoms free, which is nice. YUSU is a member of the NUS, the National Union of Students, so students can apply for the NUS Extra card for a tenner, which gives you a lot of deals and discounts at a number of places, both local and national, including Pizza Hut, Topshop, Amazon.co.uk etc. For more details see nusextra.org.

                          The Welfare system is pretty good; I had a friend who, struggling under heavy loads of work and a recent death in the family, went for counselling which the university provides. It is easy to use, it is free, and it did seem to help her. There is also a student-run initiative called NightLine, which is a support service provided by students between 8pm and 8am at night. You can ring them, email them or pop in to visit them at their flat in Wentworth college. They are there for whatever you need - a chat, a sympathetic ear, and also can provide free condoms and free pregnancy kits, which can be requested anonymously to be sent through the internal mail. I have never had to use them, but I think it is a great service. Your college also provides two Welfare reps, who again are there if you need someone to talk to, but if you are dealing with a more serious issue (bereavement, depression etc.) I would recommend going to the counselling service.

                          Societies, Sports, Facilities etc:

                          As with any university, there are a number of societies (or socs) that you can join: the Real Ale Soc, the Pant Soc (pantomime society), Kart Soc (go-karting), foreign student socs... you name it, it probably exists. Prizes for the most original suggestion. Socs are subsidised by the university so membership is practically free - normally just a couple of quid for a year. If you cannot find a soc that tailors to your interests, then you can start one up with support from YUSU. There are a couple of bigger socs, like the Drama Soc, and for sports, there is the AU - the Athletics Union. Membership costs £40 for the year, but this gives you free membership to any sport socs as well as discounted rates for booking pitches or courts, as well as discounted rates for the Fitness Suite, which is the university gym.

                          There are tennis courts, astro pitches, grass playing fields as well as indoor facilities for basketball, squash etc. The Sports Centre recently underwent an £800,000 refurbishment program, so it all looks really good now, and the gym has been greatly improved. There isn't a pool, unfortunately, which is a downside, but there are a number of council pools in York.

                          Other facilities include Market Square, the university shopping area, near campus. Due to the fact that the university charges a huge rent on these places there aren't many shops within the complex; but there is the SU shop, called YOURShop, as well as a Costcutters, Blackwell's bookshop and a copy-and-print shop. Unfortunately the computer shop had to close down, which I think is a problem as it provided cheap software and repairs.

                          The library is fantastic; it is huge, contains all the information you could ever want, and has knowledgeable and helpful staff. The only problem can be when a teacher asks you to read a book in the library for next week of which there is only one copy - it means that there are then 30 people trying to get hold of it. However, if you check your seminar sheet in advance, and see what reading you need to do, you can do it in your own leisure.

                          Academic Life:

                          As a university, the academic side is almost as important as the socialising, societies, sports etc. Each department is different, so I cannot comment on them all. I am studying English Literature so am a member of the English and Related Literature dept., widely regarded as one of the best in the country, particularly for its medieval studies. Each student is assigned a supervisor within their dept., whom they meet twice a term to discuss their progress and any issues. Your supervisor is part of your Welfare system; for any academic problems (for example, due to my mother's recent illness with cancer I have fallen behind in my work and have had to apply for an extension) they are the first port of call, and on graduating they will often provide a job reference for you.

                          Each dept. is different and is assessed differently - my course is very heavily based on essays, and in fact I have only sat one exam in my entire three years here, which was yesterday. The future Mrs. F., however, is in the Linguistics dept. and has mostly sat exams, with only a couple of essays thrown in. Each dept. varies in the number of contact hours you have a week - I have never had more than 7, as most of the work I have to do is reading, but for something like science you might well have 30+ hours of contact time a week.

                          Obviously, if you are considering York, then do come to an open day as every dept. is different. Find out how your course is assessed, what kind of contact hours you have, how it works, whether you have free choice in your modules... anything you can think of, ask, as if you don't then you may well end up on the wrong course for you. I have really enjoyed my course, but Mrs. F-to-be hasn't, as it was somewhat missold to her as an arts degree, when really it is a science degree. The university is among the top of the academic league table so the teaching is generally of a very high standard, but this is a very important decision, so make sure you read up on it.

                          In Conclusion:

                          All in all, I have really enjoyed my time here. Remember, you are only going to get out of university what you put in, so if you make no effort, you won't enjoy yourself - and it will be your fault, not the university's. I have had a cracking time; I met my future wife on a bar crawl in Fresher's Week, I have made some great friends and I have loved my course. The social life is great (a lot of people complain about it due to the small number of clubs in York; as I am not a clubber, it doesn't bother me), as York is a great night out and the uni bars are good. York itself is a wonderful place to be, and even if the university isn't very attractive, York is; and the fact that most of my lessons were taught inside grim concrete blocks does not change the fact that I have received a very high level of education here.

                          If you are considering university, York is a great place to come. However, never make such an important decision on a whim; make sure you find out as much as you can. I hope that this has been useful, but there is a lot more that I have not been able to tell you, and your course itself is the most important thing, as if you don't like it, then it will make a big difference on whether you have as amazing a time here as I did.

                          To find out more about the uni visit the website:
                          www.york.ac.uk

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                          • More +
                            20.04.2009 00:59
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                            A wonderful mini-break, even if the room wasn't quite as great as it should have been

                            As the future Mrs. F hit the dreaded 21 this month (already she believes her youth is half past her), I thought that we should do something special. Then travelzoo popped its weekly top 20 travel deals email into my inbox, and on the list was a special offer giving two people the chance to spend a night in a double room at Oulton Hall in Leeds, complete with a three course meal, a bottle of wine in the room and a spa treatment, all for £79 per person. Considering that we have paid £115 for a night in a shabby 3 star hotel before, this rate seemed excellent, and so after a bit of research, we decided to go for it.

                            The hotel:

                            Oulton Hall is a converted mansion dating from the 18th century near Rothwell, in Leeds. It spent a short period of time as a mental health institution but is now a 5* luxury hotel; indeed, it claims that it is the only 5* golf resort in Yorkshire. Recent refurbishments have equipped it with not only an 18 hole golf course, but also a new top of the range spa, gym, pool, sauna etc.

                            On Arrival:

                            On check-in (from 3pm onwards) the hotel staff were very friendly. Unfortunately there had been a bit of confusion about the spa treatments included in our package; I had rang to arrange a time but had got through to an answering machine, which promised me that someone would ring me back if I left a message. I did leave one, including my contact number, asking them to ring me so we could arrange a time. They never did ring back. When we checked in at 4pm, the concierge assumed that we had just been to our treatment, as it had apparently been booked for 3pm. However, we were assured that it could be rearranged, and that either we could see the spa staff ourselves, or they could ring us in the room. We opted to see them, and refusing any help with our bags, set off.

                            The hotel itself is very impressive to look at; a beautiful imposing building. The lobby is clean, and to get to the bedrooms you head through into a large reception hall, complete with chairs, sofas, and a beautiful piano, as well as a lovely staircase. Paintings hang from the wall, and antique furniture abounds - it does look excellent. Finding our rooms proved to be a bit of a maze; the wings of the hotel are very long and the intersections all look the same. Eventually we found it (really we should have opted to have our luggage taken to the room, and then we would have had a guide!), and let ourselves in.

                            The Room:

                            The room, to be honest, was a little disappointing, considering that this was a 5* hotel. It was a standard double, and although very generous in size, the decor wasn't all that much to look at. The carpet was a rather grim greyish zig-zag pattern that somewhat put me in mind of a travelodge, and the bathroom was on the small side and looked like it hadn't been done in a while - yellowish tiles etc. Shower gels, soaps, shampoo and moisturisers were included, but a lot of what you would expect to be provided as part of the room in such a hotel - a bottle of water, writing pads etc - weren't, although we did find our bottle of wine waiting for us. The furniture was mostly pine, and looked well made, if not the most attractive, and a tea service was provided. The tv had a Playstation remote attached as apparently Playstation games are available; however, they are pay-per-play games so we decided not to opt for it! A nice touch was the inclusion of an ironing board, iron and trouser press (they get a lot of businessmen staying) as well as a golf putter and an electronic putting platform - one of those target things which shoots the ball back out if you putt it. Neither I nor the future Mrs. F are golfers so we didn't really take advantage of that or the golf course, so I won't comment on the standards of golf.

                            The Food:

                            We were booked for dinner at 8 o'Clock in the Grill restaurant. The dress code is smart - no jeans or trainers, preferably a proper collared shirt - but jacket and tie are not required. We were very impressed. We were allocated the £30 a head set three course menu. The restaurant was romantically lit, with pleasant music playing in the background (mostly a mixture of jazz and easy listening), and the waiters were friendly and attentive, and they had an excellent somelier. The level of service was exceptionally high (perhaps in part due to the fact that the restaurant was less than half full), and the food was superb. I won't go into details of what we had, but the beef I had for my mains was perfectly cooked and extremely tender, and the future Mrs. F's fish fillet tasted extremely fresh. When I mentioned this to the waiter he told me that Oulton Hall tries to use as much local produce as possible and as fresh as possible, and I have no reason to doubt this. Along with an excellent cheeky Auzzie red (slightly expensive at £30 for the bottle; but if you want high service then it has to be paid for somewhere), we had a wonderful evening.

                            We slept well, although I did find the bed a little uncomfortable, mainly because I don't like feather pillows. The room was a little hot because although there is an air conditioning unit, it was a little noisy in the night so I turned it off. However, no major complaints. Breakfast was served in the grill restaurant again and was a fairly standard buffet - cooked food (all hot and fresh; I saw waiters regularly replacing and replenishing) as well as a cold range of cereals, breads, pastries, fruit etc. All good.

                            The Spa:

                            We had rebooked our spa treatments for the morning but had used the pool the night before. The pool isn't particularly long, nor particularly deep, and I imagine that at peak times it could get a bit crowded. The sauna was lovely, however, as was the steam room, and the gym (although I didn't use it) looked very well stocked and high tech. If I wasn't suffering from some kind of groin strain (no sordid comments, I pulled it at my own gym a few days before), I would have loved to have taken advantage.

                            As for the spa treatment: it was great. Our package allowed us each to choose either a manicure, pedicure, back massage or facial. Being comfortable with my masculinity, I decided to have my first ever facial. I was taken into a small but pleasant treatment room. The therapist left whilst I took off my top (I wasn't that fussed, but I imagine that if you are a bit nervous then you would appreciate this), and then tucked me in with a blanket and got to work. She was friendly and chatted to me a bit, and explained about the various potions she was using. It was incredibly relaxing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did find it a bit unusual the way that when she was massaging my neck her boobs kept pressing into the top of my head. I wasn't sure if it was part of the treatment and decided not to say anything, but it seems to have been an optional extra - Mrs. F to be also had the facial but didn't receive similar treatment! After the therapist finished, she gave me a booklet detailing the products she'd used as well as her recommendations on what I should get (however, there was no pressure to buy anything), and then led me into the "relaxation room" - a room full of beds - where I could rest to recover from the excesses of the morning.

                            The Departure:

                            After that, we checked out. This was delayed a little by an inexplicable £6 charge on the bill, until we worked out that it was a service charge in the restaurant which should have been deleted as I left the money on the table. An honest mistake, so no problems.

                            The Conclusions:

                            All in all, we had a great mini break and Mrs. F to be thoroughly enjoyed her birthday treat. The hotel is a really beautiful place, and the spa is fantastic. The only minor complaint is the standard of the room - for the price we paid it was certainly acceptable; however, if I had paid the full rate I would not have been happy to have been provided with that from a 5* hotel, simply because it was not of a particularly high standard - it felt a bit tired, in need of a do-over, and the amenities within the room weren't the best. Having said that, I would certainly recommend Oulton Hall based on my experiences (which should by no means be taken to be complete, as there was plenty of the hotel I never sampled), particularly if you are a golfer as the course is meant to be excellent, as I found the staff friendly and professional, and the facilities superb. If you can find it on a similar deal, then I would say absolutely go for it, and the only thing that kept this from getting a five star rating here was the fact that the room was barely 4* standard, but that was the most basic double they do, so the better rooms could well be nicer.

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                            • Withnail And I (DVD) / DVD / 49 Readings / 47 Ratings
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                              18.04.2009 19:37
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                              A perfect tragicomedy

                              The film opens on a pan shot around a 1960s flat, whilst an improvised saxophone solo of Whiter Shade Of Pale hauntingly resounds; a solo by King Curtis taken from the album "Live From Fillmore West". Curtis was murdered later that evening in the Fillmore's car park, so this is his last live recording, lending huge poignancy to the film; reminding us of the brevity of life, and the fleeting nature of time.

                              We are in the arena of the unwell.

                              This film focuses around Marwood (the "I" of the film), and his friend and flatmate Withnail (pronounced Withn'l), who are both out of work actors living in 1960s London. The film is set right at the end of the swinging sixties; with London (as one character remarks) coming down from the heady trip of the freedom of that era. This film could be classed a comedown or hangover film, as pervading it is the deep sense of uncomfortableness as the brain catches us with the real world; there is a sense that the long-dreaded tomorrow has arrived, and we are not yet ready for it.

                              On the comedown from their latest bender, Withnail and Marwood decide that they need to leave London and get into the country, to recharge and refuel, and to have a holiday. Borrowing the key to a cottage in Penrith in Cumbria from Withnail's Uncle Monty, they head off only to find that far from a bucolic paradise, the countryside is just as much a part of the real world and all its problems as London.

                              The plot is virtually non-existent, and this is part of the reason that the film never achieved widespread success on its release; it was advertised as a fish-out-of-water style farce, with two city boys hilariously out of their depth on a weekend retreat to the country, but this is not what the film is. The strength of the film comes from the perfection of its acting and the knife sharp dialogue. Richard E Grant is perfectly cast as Withnail, an alcoholic, drug-dependent actor with vaguely aristocratic roots who is selfish, egotistical and tragic in his inability to move within the norms of society. Paul McGann plays Marwood, a kind soul who has the misfortune to be caught in the malaise generated by Withnail and is all too often dropped right in it by one of his self-serving acts. Richard Griffiths brings more comic relief (but comedy that is, at its heart, rooted in tragedy) as Uncle Monty, the ageing queen who takes a shine to Marwood, and Ralph Brown plays Danny, Withnail and Marwood's drug dealer, otherwise known as "headhunter to his friends"; a crazed, slightly psychotic man who spouts vaguely philosophical notions.

                              The film might be classed as a tragicomedy. There are certainly moments of sheer slapstick, such as when Withnail goes fishing with a 12 bore shotgun, or the encounter with Jake the poacher, where Withnail utters the immortal lines, "Don't you threaten me with a dead fish!"; or the Camberwell Carrot, the giant spliff that Danny invented, so called because "it looks like a carrot, and I was in Camberwell when I invented it", or the infamous scene where Withnail necks a can of lighter fluid because he can't find any booze, and then promptly throws up on Marwood's boots. (A bit of trivia: Grant was told that the can would contain water, but the film crew actually filled it with vinegar. Grant kept it down whilst saying his lines, and then really did throw up over McGann's boots!)

                              However, the slapstick comedy is outweighed by clever dialogue, and the timing and acting of the lead players are what really add to the comedy, as we laugh at their misfortune; their attempts at dignity, which all too often descend into profanity, mock the belief in the dignity of man. Much of the comedy of the film is found in the tragedy of the characters; Withnail's injured pride, Marwood's abject fear in being placed in terrible situations, such as facing down a randy bull or an even randier uncle Monty, Monty's closet homosexuality, and even Danny the drug dealer is a tragic character - we are first introduced to him because he has lost his shoes, and came into their flat to get out of the cold. The clownery of the slapstick comedy that is found in the film is all the more funny as it tears down our belief in a rational, logical world; we are coming down from the ultimate trip, and ultimately this is a film about endings: the end of friendship, the end of youth, the end of the sixties, the end of dreaming, the end of the belief in the possibility of a better world.

                              The character of Withnail is based on a real person; an actor called Vivian MacKerrell, known to the writer and director (Bruce Robinson) when he was at the Central School of Speech and Drama in the sixties. He said that Withnail And I was about 70% autobiographical, and much of the dialogue and action is based on conversations and events that happened to him. As a result, what is achieved is a somewhat "kitchen sink" effect; this is not a film about great men and great deeds, nor is it meant to be; rather, it is a window into the lives of two rather ordinary weirdos. Robinson manages to bring sparkle to even the most banal episodes, such as an argument about the washing up:

                              Withnail: Right you f****r, I'm gonna do the washing up!
                              Marwood: You can't. It's impossible. I swear to you. I've looked into it... Listen to me. Listen. There's a tea bag growing... [...] there might even be something living in there!
                              Withnail: What is it - a rat?
                              Marwood: Possibly - possibly...
                              Withnail: Then the f****r will rue the day!

                              The pure bathos of this episode is wonderful; Withnail sounds like a general declaring war, and when we see the mountain of washing up that has built up, the look of fear in their eyes in unmistakeable. After Withnail is burnt by the kettle which has been left on the hob, and screams, causing Marwood to believe he has been bitten by the fictional rat, they beat a hasty retreat:
                              Withnail: I think we've been in here too long. I feel unusual. I think we should go outside.

                              In terms of production, Robinson has gone for an authentic look. There are some anachronisms but that is inevitable in a film with such a small budget, and contrary to what some might say, do not detract anything from the film. It is set to a fantastic 60s soundtrack that includes Hendrix and the Beatles, and the score composed for the film is perfect; haunting and melancholy. The direction is excellent; Robinson worked hard to make sure every scene was perfect, ordering numerous retakes. The scenes are often filmed with the camera slightly too close to the characters' faces for comfort; adding to the sense of unease and unwellness, and the acting is perfect. Grant was teetotal before the film, and so Robinson took him out and got him drunk so that he could learn how to play a drunk person.

                              This film seems to be one of those people either love or hate as one of those "cult" films, and it seems those who do love it really love it - I myself have seen it almost 50 times, and that is not unusual for Withnail fans! It is a tragicomedy, and underpinning the laughter is a deep sense of melancholy and a feeling that the end is nigh. The film ends with a solo shot of Withnail, under an umbrella in a rainy Hyde Park, swigging from a bottle of excellent wine and giving one of the greatest recitations of one of Hamlet's most famous speeches:

                              What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals--and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me-- nor woman neither, nor woman neither.

                              This is a true gem of British cinema, and really must be seen. It truly is perfect; I have never before or since seen a funnier or more tragic film, and the characters delight, disturb and move us because of how real they are. They are all refugees of the sixties, lost souls losing their place in the world, and the watching of this film is the most bittersweet experience you could imagine.

                              This DVD can currently be found on Play for £2.99. Also included are some extra features; the "Withnail And Us" documentary feature, a commentary by Paul McGann and Ralph Brown, behind the scenes stills and the original theatrical trailer. A lot of the information for this film came from the BFI monograph of the film written by Kevin Jackson.

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                              • So F**king Rock (DVD) / DVD / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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                                18.04.2009 12:17
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                                Some of the best stand up you will see

                                N.b.: Due to the nature of the item I am reviewing, some people might find some of the review offensive, so if you are of a very sensitive disposition, you might want to stop reading and have a cup of tea instead :-)

                                For those of you who don't know, Tim Minchin is an Australian comic, actor, musician and writer. He hit the (slightly) big time in 2005 when his show, Dark Side, won the Festival Director's Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Since then he has had sell-out shows in America, the UK and Australia, and has appeared in various TV shows in the UK, including Never Mind The Buzzcocks. This is his first stand-up DVD of his So F**king Rock tour performed at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London in 2008. Please note, there is also a DVD called So Live, which is essentially the Australian version of this show performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2007, but that is only available in Aus and NZ.

                                Tim Minchin's style could be compared to Bill Bailey, as it is as much about the music as it is about the stand-up. However, I do not think that is the best comparison, as I think Bill Bailey thinks of himself as a comic first and a musician second, whereas Tim definitely thinks of himself as a musician primarily, who just happens to sing funny songs and supplement the space in between with stand-up. When he was trying to "get famous", he recorded an album with his band in 2001, and although record companies were interested, they couldn't work out how to market it to the teenage market as the album was a blend of serious pop songs and his funny songs. It was when he released an album of just comedy songs that things began to take off, leading to him becoming a very successful cabaret singer. In fact, the best comparison would be a more 18-rated Flanders and Swan, or (for any who are familiar with their work), similar to the current cabaret act Kit and the Widow.

                                The format of the show is based around his songs, which for the most part are all played on his piano with a couple prerecorded with a fuller range of instruments. He opens with the titular track, So F**king Rock, a wonderful piece of rock-pop that, although led with rocking drums and guitar, is in fact quite subversive of the whole "rock-star" image, as he mocks his "girly mascara", his chemically straightened hair, and claims that the fact that he doesn't wear shoes is just "an affectation". It is a hilarious song about the image that musicians try to promote, and even as we listen to him singing "I am so f**king rock!" he is at the same time undermining this claim as he mimes along: pointing to himself when he sings "I", his chest when he says "am", miming sewing when he sings "so", thrusting his hips on the "f**king" and self consciously punching the air on the "rock". You cannot take the music industry seriously when you see him perform.

                                After his songs, he performs some stand-up. At first I was a little confused by his style; he is very understated and doesn't show nearly as much energy as he does during his songs. However, as soon as he gets into his stride he becomes very funny indeed; talking about his career, his home life with his wife and new baby (possibly the funniest segment in the whole show), and religion. His religion bashing is perhaps my least favourite bit simply because I think it has been done too many times and is too easy to do; I am not religious myself so it doesn't offend me but jokes like "not only is Darwin's theory of Evolution wicked science but it is also so - what's the word? - oh yeah, right!" just aren't all that funny any more. However, he more than makes up for it with a fantastic routine about Tony the Fish, the first fish to have feet as an evolutionary freak, and also his song, 10 Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins, which mocks the idea that whilst sex on earth is a sin, apparently in heaven it is fine. It is very well done and very funny, although if you are religious then I imagine you would find it offensive!

                                Other highlights include:
                                - His "love song", Inflatable You, an ode to a blow-up doll;
                                Any sexual position's feasible
                                Although you don't bend at the knees at all
                                Your hooters are so firm and squeezable
                                Increasable, un-creasable you.

                                - Rock n Roll Nerd, a song about trying to get famous as a rock star when you just aren't that cool (one feels that this song is at least semi-autobiographical!).

                                - His Peace Anthem for Palestine which satiricises the pointlessness of religious conflict by exploring the similarities of Jews and Muslims rather than their differences:
                                You don't eat pigs
                                We don't eat pigs
                                Why not not eat pigs together?

                                - His environmental anthem, Canvas Bags (Take your canvas bags to the supermarket!) is brilliant; it really rocks and it a very enjoyable song.

                                For me the best is his final song, Dark Side, which again explores the music industry from a satirical perspective by puncturing this myth that artists somehow have a "dark side" of brooding potential, when really it is just a carefully constructed and cliched image:
                                I can have a dark side
                                If you want me to
                                I can have a dark side
                                I can develop my brooding potential
                                If pain's what you want in a man
                                Pain I can do
                                I can have a dark side too

                                There are of course far more songs on the DVD, but I think the best way to appreciate them is to buy the DVD and see for yourself! At the moment it can only be found on HMV (although copies do pop up on eBay from time to time), and currently it retails online for £15.99. However, I have found it instore for £12.99 and I actually bought my copy from the online store in a sale when it was reduced to £8.99, so do have a hunt around for a bargain. The show itself is 2 hours, so you are getting value for money, and it is, quite honestly, one of the best stand-up dvds I own. There aren't any extras on the DVD but that isn't a problem for me as I don't watch them anyway, but there are chapter selections (so you can jump straight to the songs which are highlighted), and there are also subtitle options.

                                I would absolutely recommend this for anyone who enjoys great comedy. He is funny, with a dry, intelligent and kooky sense of humour. He plays great music, and his songs are fantastic - the lyrics are hilarious, and the tunes rock. If you want a taster of his stuff to see if you like it, then you can see his performance of his song If I Didn't Have You (which isn't included on the DVD) at the Secret Policeman's Ball on YouTube:
                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gaid72fqzNE
                                If you like that song then you will love his stuff. You can also visit his website at http://www.timminchin.com/.
                                This really is a must have, so go for it!

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