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My sister suggested visiting Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as we were staying with her for the Easter Weekend.
The museum is free entry (with charges for special exhibitions). It is housed in a lovely old building with some really lovely features including an Edwardian tearoom.
We visited the art section, there are some excellent pre-Raphelite paintings (Edward Burne-Jones in particular) and we also loved seeing the ceramics section. There were some amazing works of art and there was quite a bit of interactivity as well. They have a great section called 'In Touch' and you can touch works, there are listening posts, and all sorts of other things to play with.
We were really lucky to see the Staffordshire Hoard which has been saved for the West Midlands (hurrah) - it was brilliant to see the really fine metal work that was buried with people hundreds of years ago. So interesting and brilliant to see it for free!
We had lunch in the tearoom and they had a good choice of hot and cold options.
We visited other sections such as the Egyptian mummies and there was a lot that we didn't get round to - there is lots to see and do in this museum and is great for kids as there are plenty of interactive displays.
Thoroughly recommend this museum and art gallery for everyone!
I visited Thinktank with my sister, parents and my two nieces (baby and 2 1/2 yr old).
We got a reduction on the price by travelling there by train. It is a short walk from Moor Street station and very worthwhile doing this as parking isn't free.
It is located in a big building which also houses the IMAX cinema and university / college buildings and the Thinktank spreads out over 4 floors.
You enter on level two which is 'the present' and this has several sections on topics like 'your body' and 'wild life'. We headed with my niece to 'Kid City' as this was aimed at her age group and this was great for her. There was a big water play pond (with waterproofs to wear), a doctors and dentists, a cafe, a garage and some other fun places to play. Lots of emphasis on role play and there were dressing up clothes and lots of toys to play with. My niece had a great time and other kids were all having a lot of fun too!
The rest of the zones have a lot of interactive displays with games and things to explain the science (for example games to explain how the brain works and models of the digestive system - complete with sound effects!!!)
The ground floor has the 'past' section with a lot of history about Birmingham especially it's huge industrial heritage. There is a steam train, tram and other machinery and a lot of explanation as well. There is also a lot of information about the local people working in Birmingham about 150 years ago.
The third floor is all about the future and has a lot of very interesting information on robotics, genetics and other futuristic science.
We also watched a short film in the planetarium which was free - it was all about the stars and was suitable for a young audience.
We didn't visit the first floor - I don't think there is a lot there.
There is a cafe on the ground floor but was quite busy so we went to a smaller one located just outside the front entrance. Prices were reasonable and we had a good lunch there.
Overall it was a great experience, although my niece was too small for most of the explanations, she loved pressing all the buttons, turning the knobs and pulling the levers and seeing things happen as a result.
I think it has a great balance for all ages - information aimed at various ages and a lot of fun!
I can see it being a regular trip with my niece as she gets older and can understand more of it!
I first used The Bookpeople through my workplace. We get regular deliveries of a selection of books. You normally have a few days to look over the selections and see if you want to buy them. Your orders are then delivered on a set date. The ranges changes each time but is always good value, normally mostly non-fiction (cook books, history, guides etc) and always some good kids choices. I found them great for presents - I normally pick bits up throughout the year ready for Xmas as the prices are heavily discounted.
I then discovered they are also online as well. I've bought a range of good books from them - all at great prices.
They have some great deals on sets of books (eg. all the Sookie Stackhouse novels) and the range of childrens books is excellent. They have the latest books but doesn't have the same depth as Amazon or similar.
I think it is a great site to browse if you are looking for a book on a certain subject or want to get a gift for someone.
I've found the delivery service to be excellent, my order came very quickly and I had no issues at all with it.
There are great offers and deals on this site and if you love books, it is worth checking out.
I've seen this film a few times now and I really enjoy watching it.
Originally I thought it would be another chick flick of which there are so many. However I think this has a lot more subtlety and depth than so many of this genre and is a genuinely heart-warming film.
The story centres around two sisters, Cameron Diaz (Maggie) and Toni Collette (Rose). I've enjoyed both these actresses previous work and find them to be very engaging and watchable.
Rose is older and much more responsible with a senior law career, nice flat, tidy life etc, Maggie is the younger sister who is irresponsible, flirtatious and fickle.
Rose seems to spend half her time getting Maggie out of scrapes but the crunch comes when Rose finds Maggie in her bed with her boss who is also her lover. She throws Maggie out and Maggie decides to head to Florida to find her Grandmother.
Their Grandmother had not been part of their lives and Maggie had only recently found out about her existence.
The comic section of this film really comes into play when Maggie lives with her Grandmother - Ella (played by Shirley MacLaine) who lives in a retirement community.
The film really focusses on the relationship between the sisters and this is beautifully played. Even things like the incident where Maggie sleeps with Rose's boyfriend is clearly part of a much bigger story involving their complex relationship and as the film progresses we learn more about the girls childhoold.
The film covers some sensitive issues which are rarely featured in films of this nature and I felt they were handled beautifully and with sympathy and compassion.
However the film never feels mawkish or overly sentimental.
The film, of course, has an upbeat ending but does end well and with a really positive outlook for the future.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this film if you like your chick flicks with a bit more intelligence and depth.
For ages I'd been meaning to try out the Tweezerman tweezers, I'd been keeping on with my older tweezers and was reluctant to spring the cash as Tweezermans are definitely at the pricey end of the market - Boots.com currently has them for £16.
However once I got my Tweezermans I was totally converted. They are super sharp and excellent for getting all hairs even very short ones or very fine ones.
They are great for sorting out stray hairs, tidying up brows - anything you need tweezers for.
I've got the hot pink tweezers as per the photo above and I recommend getting such a bright pair as it makes them easy to find in your makeup bag or on your dressing table.
They also come with a plastic cover for the ends. I've managed to keep this and I really advise trying hard not not lose this as the ends are sharp and this cover both protects your fingers and also stops the tweezers themselves getting damaged.
I've had the tweezers for a while now with no problems and you can even send them off to be resharpened for free (to Texas though!).
You may feel that £16 is a lot for a pair of tweezers but this is one product where the extra money really shows and if you like a nice sharp brow you need some nice sharp tweezers!
I was intrigued with the premise of these books and looking for some light hearted escapism and this book certainly fulfilled this.
The story centres around Percy who is a 'normal' 12 year old, in the past year some odd things have happened to him which he can't quite explain. However it all makes sense when he discovers his father is in fact a Greek God!!!
He finds his way to a camp for the children of Greek Gods and Goddesses and ends up on a quest with his friends - Annabeth and Grover.
As he goes about his quest he learns more about his special powers and his relationship with his father.
The books are a lot of fun, they are based on the Greek myths but brought into modern day America and so this leads to some very amusing situations but also quite scary ones!
I enjoyed the pace of this book, it went along quickly but not so that you felt confused.
Percy is a very likeable hero and his friends Grover and Annabeth counter-point him very well and they form a great trio.
Although I'm long past my childhood I can imagine enjoying this greatly when I was younger and think this would make a great present to a younger relative.
There is a film of the first story out now and it will be interesting to see how this transfers onto the big screen. I can imagine it will look amazing with the right special effects!
I'm looking forward to catching up with Percy in his next adventure!
I work as a makeup artist and always have a pack of baby wipes on hand. They are invaluable for clean ups both of faces, my hands and even my work space.
I always look to buy a brand which has a plastic clip cover rather than a sticky plastic cover. I find the sticky plastic covers tend to loose their 'stick' after a while which means the wipes dry out more quickly.
I was pleasantly surprised to note that the Morrisons own brand had this style cover.
I purchased a pack of 80 sensitive wipes. I prefer the sensitive version as so many people are allergic to fragrances. I can't remember the exact price but it was in the region of a £1 and there was a special offer if you bought three packs (3 for £2.70)
I found these wipes to be very good indeed. They are easy to pull out of the pack, they don't stick together so you end up pulling 5 or 6 out at once and they are quite hard-wearing so they don't fall apart easily when used.
Although fragrance-free, they do contain extract of aloe vera and camomile so there is a gentle scent to them which I found very pleasant.
They certainly did the job, cleaning my hands in between clients so easily got rid of mascara, lipstick etc so I'm sure they'd be fab on a babies bottom!
I'm a regular at Pizza Express. They have branches everywhere and I know that I am going to get a good meal at a reasonable price when I go here.
They are great for some sustenance on a shopping expedition or a speedy meal before a film or a play.
The menu changes regularly but the old favourites remain. They have a few starters - garlic dough balls, garlic bread, bruschetta etc
The principal mains are, of course, the pizzas. My favourite is a Soho which has rocket, parmesan and olives added after cooking. I also enjoy a Sloppy Giuseppe which has spicy beef on top. One of my friends swears by the Padana which has goats cheese on top.
They recently launched the Leggera pizza which is basically a pizza with a hole in the middle which is filled with salad. This is a lower calorie version of a pizza and this together with the low calorie drinks section on their menu clearly shows that many of their clients are women. I would say this chain is very popular with groups of women catching up and also families on the weekend.
They also do a range of salads which I always enjoy (Nostrana is my favourite - chicken, avocado, potato and more) and also a range of pasta dishes although I rarely try these.
They have the usual range of wines and beers (Peroni & Nastro Azzurro) together with a big range of soft drinks plus coffees. I really enjoy a mint tea and they serve a fresh mint tea (fresh mint leaves immersed in boiling water) this is very refreshing and they are one of the few places to offer this.
They do have a full range of desserts (mostly Italian) and I noticed on my last visit that they do a small selection of coffee with dessert options. You basically get a mini-dessert and a cup of coffee so ideal if you fancy something sweet but don't want a full on blow out.
There are often vouchers going for this chain so worth signing up to their mailing list for the 2 for 1 deals or dinner for a tenner.
They also do a wide range of charity work and a number of their dishes support various good causes.
This chain is reliable, tasty, enjoyable and good value but I go there so much I wouldn't choose it as a venue for a special meal. I don't think there is enough of a wow-factor for that.
I'm currently nearing the end of a £1 for 3 copies trial for this magazine.
I'm interesting in interiors so thought I would try this out.
It is a monthly magazine from the BBC so linked in with Antiques Roadshow and has it's own version of that where readers can send in pictures of their own antiques and get advice and valuations. There are also behind the scenes articles and other AR related stories.
There are lots of articles on a wide variety of interiors matters and several homes are featured with lots of advice to 'get the look'. They also cover related features, this month has lots of Christmas decorations ideas and also a feaure on retro hobbies (jam making, jiving, knitting etc).
There are plenty of articles on antiques and the back of the magazine features lots of info on finding an antiques dealer to suit you, together with a calendar of events.
The photography is very important in interiors magazines and I find this to have excellent photography, very evocative but also clear enough to see details of the furniture etc.
Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen has a regular column and I find him to be entertaining and fun.
In short this is a good magazine but I already subscribe to Elle Decoration and I can't see this taking over as I prefer more modern / 20th century design and antiques.
I've been doing surveys for over a year now for extra cash and vouchers towards Christmas and generally to help with my budgetting.
I've found Ipsos to be one of the better ones to be doing. This year I've managed to rack up approx £60 worth of vouchers, which has been amazingly helpful for Christmas shopping!
You do this by signing up with them - you enter a few personal details and they send you regular email invites for surveys. You click on the link and the first page tells you how many points this survey is worth. It is normally around 150 points for a 20 min survey.
You then answer a few screening questions (age, location, gender etc) and then if you pass, they move onto the main questions. You can answer questions on your current usage of various products or answer questions on new product details that you are given.
As some info is confidential you do have to be careful to keep anything you learn to yourself and for this reason they often screen out journalists or those in marketing.
The points credit to your account almost immediately and although finding out how many points you have is a bit fiddly it is easy enough to redeem them. You can ask for £5 or £10 vouchers and they have them for a limited range of shops. However they are ones most people use like Amazon, Boots, Argos etc. I've ordered Boots mostly in the past and have found they arrive within a week which is pretty good for postal vouchers (considering I had to wait 8 weeks for an e-voucher from another survey company!!!)
The other benefit of them is that if you screen out of a survey they will still give you around 10 pts which is more than other survey companies!
I had a problem only once with them asking a large number of questions before screening me out but I think then I got 50 pts so wasn't too bad.
Generally it is only a few questions before you are screened out.
Doing surveys is never the most interesting way of spending your time but these surveys are no more dull than any others and are normally presented in a reasonable and intelligent way.
I'm starting to be more ruthless now and no longer working with some survey companies as feel the rewards too small - I'm going to keep on with Ipsos though!
I'd heard a lot about Liz Earle products and in particular this Cleanse & Polish. I bought the Healthy, Beautiful Skin Kit for £25.50 which has a 50ml pump bottle of the cleanser, plus a toner and moisturiser and one muslin cloth . A 200ml tube is £20.25.
These products can be bought from Liz Earle shops - they have a store in London and one on the Isle Of Wight plus some products can be bought in a few John Lewis stores. Otherwise they have an easy to use website and deliver the products in a speedy fashion and beautifully wrapped and presented.
To use this cleanser you simply rub one or two pumps of the product onto your dry skin and then using a muslin cloth which is dampened with hand-hot water - remove the product. Finally rinse the face in cold water and dry.
I was a bit misled by the name, I expected it to be self-heating product - but that was probably my silliness!
I found it easy to use and I like to use a cleanser with water as I feel it really gets my skin clean. This product was good for getting rid of the last traces of make up.
The muslin cloths are good at removing the cleanser and I found they had a very soft exfoliating action. I would definitely recommend you use an additional weekly exfoliator though as this wouldn't remove the need for this.
Whilst I was pleased with the effects of this cleanser and support the natural and ethical values of this brand, I don't know that it had a good enough result for the cost.
I got a 50ml tub of this body butter as part of a gift bag and have been using it in my travel wash-bag.
This product is advertised as being for very dry skin and although my skin isn't that dry, I like the rich nature of this cream.
This body butter is very thick and has good creamy texture. It sinks into the skin well leaving a pleasant sheen. The fragrance is fairly subtle but definitely noticeable and I found it very pleasant.
It is very moisturising and I found it left my skin really soft and smooth.
This is a fairly ethical product, it is made with Community Trade shea butter and isn't tested on animals.
I think this product would be suitable for the whole family due to the unobtrusive fragrance.
Another ideal use would be on a long flight. This nourishing cream would be great for those heavily air-conditioned flights which are normally very drying. The 50ml tub would be allowed as hand luggage.
Although the full size body butters are quite expensive, you can sometimes get them on special offer or as part of a gift set so would definitely look out for this product again.
This is Five's big Autumn show and I've caught all the episodes, either when broadcast or online.
The premise is that at the same time the whole world blacked out for 2 mins & 17 seconds. Soon after this, we discover that they all had a vision of the same date - 6 months in the future.
These 'flash forwards' have either left people full of hope, full of despair or mild indifference (some people 'saw' themselves sat on the toilet, or eating breakfast as they always do!!)
The show focusses on Mark Banford who is a FBI agent tasked with investigating this incident.
The supporting cast include his wife, Olivia, their daughter. Mark &Olivia's colleagues (she is a doctor) and Mark's AA sponsor. We also discover that the father of one of Olivia's patients will play a big role in the story.
Each week more twists and turns appear. The show often introduces and idea and then appears to completely forget about it for weeks on end (Somalia anyone?)
Some of the dialogue is very clunky and ridiculous and the storylines can be risible. You can't believe the FBI would investigate these matters in such a way!
However despite all these faults (which can be unwittingly hilarious) I'm hooked. Maybe I just want to find out what happened to cause the blackouts or to see if everyone can either make their future or change it.
The show is on a break right now as dictated by the US tv schedules but I'll be back with it in 2010 - just praying they wrap the story up without dragging it out too long.
I'd heard about this programme as it was shown on Satellite TV before making it to Terrestial. It is currently on Channel 4 on a Wednesday night at 10pm.
So far I'm loving this show. There seems to be a real vampire trend at the moment with Being Human (which I also loved) and, of course, Twilight.
However this is much, much, darker and much much more graphic than Twilight.
The show is set in Bon Temps which is a small town in Louisiana - vampires have recently 'come out' following the introduction of Tru Blood which is a synthetic human blood so vampires no longer need to feed on humans.
Of course not everyone is happy to have vampires in their midst and there are plenty of vampires who still like to feed on real human blood.
The central character is Sookie Stackhouse, a local girl working in the bar (who happens to have mind-reading powers) and Bill who is a vampire that she takes an interest in. Bill was originally around in the civil war days so has the courtly manners and turn of phrase of that time.
Sookie is Anna Paquin and I love the mix of innocence and knowing that she brings to the role. Bill is played by Brit, Stephen Moyer and is very dark and sexy.
The supporting cast are fantastic and include Tara, her mother and her cousin (Lafayette). Sookie's brother Jason spends all his time chasing women and drugs - especially V (vampire blood is a strong hallucogenic drug). Sookie's grandmother is a wise woman with lots of home baking and Southern hospitality to offer.
There is a story running through the first season of a murderer who appears to be targetting women who fraternise with Vampires and it seems like he would like Sookie to be his next victim.
There are a lot of side stories in this show and some really great and interesting characters, all of whom have well-fleshed out stories and appear very real.
This show isn't for the faint hearted, there is plenty of sex, drugs and blood. Last weeks episode could have been an homage to Carrie!
This is worth watching if you like your drama dark, blackly humorous and with a twist.
I use National Express regularly. My parents live in a town with no train station and this is the easiest way to visit.
National Express tickets can be bought online, they have an easy to use website and you can print off your ticket there and then. They also have a mobile ticket option which texts you your ticket if you don't have access to a printer (small charge for this).
It can be tricky to turn up and buy a ticket if you are travelling from a less used stop or out of office hours. I once had a driver nearly refuse to take me from Northampton on a Saturday as he didn't want to sell us tickets. There was no other option of buying a ticket and in the end he agreed.
The coaches are generally fairly comfortable. Some routes have leather seats and the leg-room, although not huge, isn't too bad.
Your journey is obviously dictated by the road conditions and on a Sunday evening or other peak times it isn't surprising to be delayed.
The other side of this is that the timetable is fairly generous and if you get good traffic you will often arrive early or if your coach starts off late, they often make up the time on the way.
The good thing about National Express is that they offer FunFares which are low cost fares to popular destinations (from £1). They are non-refundable but can offer amazing value.
My default mode of transport is normally the train for the comfort and the speed, however this can be really expensive sometimes and so the coach normally beats this significantly.
I've not taken a long-distance journey. The most I've travelled is 3hrs so not sure how they factor in breaks and things for journeys spanning the country.
I've not had too many nightmare journeys, the worst are normally due to bad traffic.