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You know how some people follow their dreams? And a few of them actually make it? I have a friend who is a playwright and a performer (I know, I'm bragging!). She's performed at Edinburgh Fringe and she recently starred in a set of short sketches in a Victorian style black box theatre. How nice to have a genuinely creative friend and not another drug addled headband maker. Gourmet Girl and I turned up to watch this set of plays after a spot of shopping and drinking and we absolutely loved it. So when I saw the next instalment mentioned on Facebook, I clicked the link provided ,straight through to TicketWeb, to get Gourmet Girl some tickets for a birthday treat.
The website is straightforward, fairly basic. You choose your tickets on a bland, inoffensive screen. You put them in the basket and check out with a credit or debit card. Annoyingly they don't take PayPal, but you can't have everything. The screen shows your completed purchase, job done. I chose tickets for a Wednesday night, booked the following day as annual leave from work so that I wouldn't be rushing home chasing M&M to bed and turned my attention to buying travelcards and suchlike to get there. I've ordered from this website once before and all went smoothly, I had faith that the tickets would turn up in the post as before.
The day before the performance I was a little concerned that my tickets hadn't arrived. I reassured myself that there was a helpdesk number and once I got to work (5p a minute from a landline- ha!) I rang it. It led through to this annoying push-button phone tree, where you end up jabbing buttons until you feel like your fingers are going to bleed. After all this nonsense, I then sat for 30 minutes on hold (£1.50 for the mathematically minded) before deciding that this must be a busy time and I would try again shortly.
Later that morning, I realised that they must have either a) lots of problems with their tickets or b) a seriously understaffed call centre and I managed to stay on the line for a 51 minute hold (£2.55) during which only the first verses of the four worst songs in the world were played on repeat. Through a tin can by the sound of it.
Eventually my call was answered and it was like pulling teeth. The girl I spoke to could find no record of the tickets. She couldn't find the show on the system. Or the venue. I began to get a bit tetchy because I could see both of these on their website and how can you sell tickets for something you insist you have no knowledge of? Especially if it will be performed somewhere that doesn't exist? She couldn't find the details of my transaction, even after I spelt my surname twice, gave her my card details, read out my home address.
She uttered the words that almost pushed me headlong over the edge 'I can't find your transaction, so I can't help you...' Her voice trailed off, indicating that she was going to END THE CALL. With my patience at an all time low, I informed her that I was not going to hang up. I ended up speaking to the supervisor. Slowly and patiently (an indication of how grown up I am now) I gave the time and date that TicketWeb had seen fit to remove the money from my account. I could see it clearly in my online statement. Right there with the charge for posting me these tickets. I told her that I was becoming irritated. I'm pretty sure my surrounding colleagues were already aware of the mounting tension.
The supervisor found my booking. I don't know how, seeing as none of my information could lead representative #1 to find it. She said that my tickets would be available for collection at 'the box office'. I enquired through gritted teeth as to the whereabouts of this 'box office'. She replied that she didn't know. They didn't hold that information. Unbelievable. I realised I would have to get to the venue very early and hope. I've been there before and there's no box office.
Whilst on hold between the first assistant and the supervisor, I'd read the reviews of TicketWeb on trustpilot. A common complaint was that the helpdesk tell you the tickets will be at the venue and then they're not. I asked her to contact the venue and she put me on hold, returning to claim that she'd confirmed the tickets would be there. Notice, she still didn't know where I would pick these up from.
I was returned to the original representative, who asked if there was anything else she could help with. I didn't think she'd helped with my first query, I was in some doubt as to whether she'd be any help with anything, ever. But I said nothing except goodbye. Then I waited on the line to dissatisfiedly complete the customer satisfaction survey I'd elected to take back at the phone tree stage. It wasn't forthcoming.
Were my tickets at the venue on the night? No. Because it was a small venue, because there were two empty seats where we should have been sitting, because we found an understanding member of staff, we got in. Is there a box office? No. And no-one at the venue could think where these people meant me to go.
So, one star because the tickets were easy to order and because I have to rate. That's it. Everything else with this was difficult and the overpriced, slow helpdesk is anything but helpful. I won't use TicketWeb again unless I really have to - for big tickets, sellout concerts and the like I would rather pay more to buy the tickets elsewhere. It's not just the event you book, it's the time out of your calendar, the travel, maybe the hotels and the babysitter. In my case it wasn't just tickets, it was my friend's birthday. If you buy tickets from these people and they don't show up, you could end up a long way out of pocket and disappointed.
Some years ago I used to work with this guy who was about as smug a dad as you could ever have the misfortune to meet. He used to dish out constant righteous parenting advice to his co-workers (all of whom were under 25, single and not in the least interested). Looking back on this advice, it was nearly all wrong or didn't apply to me when I became a parent. However, the one snippet that stuck with me was "you always have dry hands from washing and sterilising everything".
I didn't wash and sterilise everything, the house stayed a little grubby and M&M never took a bottle. Some two years in, the thing that dried my hands out was toilet training. Wiping, washing hands. Washing her hands, washing my hands. Washing the poo of the wall and spraying the floor with dettol, washing my hands. And then, just as we were pretty much through this stage, a bacteria outbreak at work left me compulsively washing my hands there and using alcohol hand gel which only exacerbated the problem. The skin on my hands ended up cracked and sore, with flaking between my fingers.
I tried Aveeno, which caused me to shed tons of skin for some reason (embarrassingly, all over my desk) and Palmers Cocoa butter which provided less than half an hour of relief and wiped off on everything. I'm allergic to E45 and most other medicated creams and the whole thing became a daily annoyance. Eventually, while out for lunch I spotted a 50% off banner in the window of the body shop. Annoyingly, the hand cream wasn't on any special offer, but there was a fair old selection. One with Almond Oil for your nails, one with Absinthe, a Rose one which the assistant said was for 'mature' skin. And on top of these all, the best selling one, Hemp Hand Protector.
I had planned to choose the cream based on the scent. The Hemp Hand Protector was the least nice smelling of all of these, but so thick and luxurious that I ended up buying a handbag sized metal tube for £5.00. It squeezed out like toothpaste, holding a thick, waxy, ungloopy shape. And when I smoothed it on it glided over my hands and absorbed really easily. My hands felt smooth and clean and soft.
The smell is hempy - like an organic food store, freshly cut grass, a scratchy shirt bought at a festival stall. It reminds me of shops where they burn incense or hot geothermal pools with magic mud. It's grown on me, a change from the fruity , perfumy alternatives without chemical potency. I don't mind it on my hands in the least. As mentioned, it's a metal tube, making it easy to squeeze every last drop out. I don't love the packaging, the little brown screw on lid is functional but annoyingly small and easy to lose if you fumble it on opening. The green and brown label is unattractive and not particularly easy to spot on a busy shelf. Overall it's more hygienic to have a squeezy tube, but this could have been prettier.
In terms of staying power, the beeswax means that you can keep lovely soft hands without having to reapply everytime you head to the sink. I'm really happy with this as a purchase and with it sinking into my skin so easily, theres no wiping off excess or leaving greasy spots on paperwork or my iphone screen.
After swabs of all the sinks and dishwashers, the bacteria poisoning has been blamed on factors external to our office and with the weather finally waming a little, dry skin will hopefully be pushed aside as a seasonal problem. However, I'll be keeping this to hand (geddit?) to deal with my feet before I bare them in flip flops. Even as I type this, my hands look a million times better without that itchy flaking.
Lets begin at the beginning. I have long, reasonably straight hair that at present I can sit on. It's not coloured (I've been too busy to bother with all that for a while) and it's not permed or overly straightened. It's fine, but there's a lot of it, a large hairband round it twice secures a tight ponytail and with the length it's so easy to get it dirty, especially with M&M toddling around, always on the ready to smear yoghurt - or worse- into it. And with long hair comes the work of regular washing,; because past shoulder length, you can't do grungy beach hair without it looking like matted dreadlocks. On top of this, I go swimming a couple of times a week, so I need a good conditioner to get my hair back to a smooth and shiny state after the blast of chlorine.
My hair tangles with devastating ease. I have many childhood memories of painful tangles and knots which had to be cut out (and back then I had a classic 1970's bowl cut, so the length wasn't to blame). M&M has inherited this trait and I now get to do battle with her hair every morning as well. Ever since conditioner became popular, I've been a devotee.
For over ten years I had unquestioning brand loyalty to Pantene, which I bought by the bucketful. It was my first haircare love affair. But the final straw came when the increasing prices pushed it over £3 for a 300ml bottle. I began to shop around, testing everything on the shelves of the pound shop or on offer in the supermarket. And Dove Conditioner, regularly on half price in Tesco and Asda at £1.25 for 200ml was a tempting bargain.
My first choice is Dove for coloured / damaged hair. Mine is neither, but this is just a little more moisturising than the other variations and seems to leave even the very ends smooth.
In the 1990's Just 17 insisted that any more than a 50p sized dollop of the new fangled conditioner would make your hair look lank and greasy, but I always needed the equivalent of a fiver with Pantene and the supermarket own brand conditoners. Any less and my hair would be dry and split, full of tangles. The huge advantage of Dove is how little I need to tame my waist length hair. One palmful smoothes on easily, brushes through without a problem and keeps the tangles well and truly at bay for at least 24 hours. One bottle usually lasts me at least a week and this is great value for money.
It takes slightly longer to rinse out than the other brands I've tried, but in the powerful showers at swimming, I can linger another minute under the hot water and know that I won't need to reapply. The smell has been changed from the washing powder odour they used to favour, to a softer, more floral scent that doesn't overpower but can be smelt on my dry hair if you stand close to me. It mixes well with my deodorant and perfume, there's nothing offensive or chemical about the smell at all.
And how is my hair? Soft and so, so shiny! It can be a little flatter than I like, but this is a perfectly acceptable trade off and it still feels light and clean. I've noticed less splitting, less breakage when I brush and hardly any shedding compared to what I saw with Pantene. I love what Dove does for my hair and this conditioner is so good that it's inspired me to try their soap, shampoo and deodorant. It can nearly always be found on special in Superdrug or the major supermarkets and unless they hike the price unreasonably, I'll carry on repurchasing.
Last December, we drove along the seafront on a typically dark winter afternoon, marvelling at Brighton's lights; the glittering letters of the pier, the outline of the giant wheel and the cosy fish and chip shops dotted along the promenade. M&M had finally woken from a long snooze in the car seat and I was calling out directions using the google map on my iphone.
We parked in a side street and once The Boyfriend had sorted out the parking permit (£10 for 24 hours from reception) we bundled the luggage out, stretched our legs and headed into our hotel. From the outside, it was two beautiful Georgian terraces with a view over a central green square and the dark sea. Three tiled steps led up to a door where we rang the bell and received a warm welcome from the staff.
The communal areas, a sitting room to the front of reception and a spacious adjoining breakfast room, were modern and cosy, carpeted in deep pile stripes. After being shown these, we were escorted up to our room on the top floor. The stairs were narrow and slightly uneven and the chunky carpet didn't make for secure footing. Fair enough, a lift would probably not fit with the period features, but I would have preferred constant lighting rather than the timer switch. However, I wasn't about to complain as we'd been upgraded from a luxury double to a suite.
I should have sensed something was amiss when I phoned to make our booking and the only difference between a standard and luxury double was 'more space' rather than fresh flowers or a Jacuzzi. Why was space so precious? Well... our suite was around the size of a normal hotel room, so the other rooms must be miniscule. It was also roasting hot. Initially it looked okay, three walls were painted a patchy gold colour and the fourth, behind the bed, was covered in black 'feature' flock wallpaper.
As I sat down however, I noticed that the original bay window had a good coating of mould above the peeling paint and the bathroom, with a narrow toilet, sink and shower, was arranged in a line inside what must have once been a cupboard.
Don't get me wrong, there were nice points about our room too. There was a good size flat screen telly to watch from bed and a dvd player, (though these were let down by the wires looping down the wall and a lopsided piece of paper with the instructions stuck to the shelf with blu-tac). The hospitality tray with tea bags and a kettle was lovely, the mini bar adequately stocked. It was strange as it seemed everything had been thought about, yet attention to detail was lacking. None of it lived up to the expectations created by the very slick website.
My two biggest concerns were the lack of fire exits (the fire evacuation instructions were missing from the usual spot on the back of the door) and the hotel policy of closing down at 9pm every night. My first point most probably doesn't need any elaboration; it's always a concern on the top floor of anywhere with multiple occupancy, let alone somewhere with narrow steep stairs and no more than one door to get out.
The closing down at 9pm made me feel like this wasn't a hotel; apparently if there are any problems, you can phone a mobile number to summon someone living nearby. What if you don't write that down and then you get locked out? What if there's a break in? Or you fall down the stairs and break your leg? Are you going to rely on other guests to hear you and help you? But what if there are no other guests? Or the other guests are the problem? You may well say that these are unlikely, but there's a good reason most hotels man the desk overnight. Also, if you arrive late to check in, you can forget it.
Despite my worrying, we managed to sleep in our sauna style room and enjoy a shower in the morning before breakfast. And coming downstairs, the big round table in the gorgeous breakfast room had been reserved for us and the sun shone over the sea view. We ordered a full English, a Vegetarian version, Rice Crispies, yoghurts and fruit. This was pretty much everything on the menu (no pancakes or porridge which was a shame), but it suited us fine and it was really, really nice. The waitress was lovely and the lady on reception was exceptionally helpful in planning our day.
The location of the hotel is good, but the detail lets it down. For the money we paid, even at a reduced internet rate and with a free upgrade, I had hoped for more.
M&M's second Birthday was looming (tempus fugid!) and my supremely organised and thrifty friend Miss Moneypenny had already sent out invitations and done the ground work for her son's party, which was scheduled for the day before. I needed to get myself in gear, but the best I could do at this late stage was a half-baked Facebook event pleading with some mummy friends to turn up and a quick text round the family.
I asked M&M what she wanted and luckily her aspirations were no higher than 'cake and balloons' with a focus on Scooby Doo. The balloons were purchased at a grubby nearby party-warehouse and all The Boy had to do for his part in proceedings was take them back to be inflated on the Saturday, ready for the party on Sunday. I had the hard end of the deal - the making of a Scooby Doo cake. To make matters worse, my attendance at the local cake club had convinced everyone that I was a culinary genius, when actually I go to stuff my face. I was going to have to come up with something good.
I watched the making of a 3d fondant covered mystery machine on youtube, I thought about gluing loaf cakes together with Betty Crocker or buying a specialist tin. With just under two weeks to go, I realised that making this thing was going to be near impossible when I also had to provide a buffet on the same day, let alone do a full week at work, begin potty training and go on holiday abroad before the party. I needed a compromise. Miss Moneypenny, in her infinite wisdom of preparation showed me what she was going to do; a tissue thin cake transfer with Mickey Mouse and her child's name would simply stick onto a cake from Costco and voila! I resolved to find a similar one online that night and order it as backup. If all else failed I would slap one of these on the cake.
Google took me to Picture My Cake and unable to find any bad reviews, I ordered from them. It's a fairly basic website, just a heading banner and a click and pick style. The pictures were reasonably indicative of what the final result should look like.
They had a good selection of cartoon style toppers, which were made from an edible rice paper. You simply put the text you wanted and selected a picture (Scooby Doo) and this fantastic cake transfer would come with 10 free cupcake toppers for just £3.49. Brilliant. I clicked and ordered this and threw an extra 24 mini Scooby Doo toppers into my basket for good measure. I was delighted to find they took Paypal too, as this never feels like real money. You had to 'create an account', which I hate, but needs must. To be on the safe side, I paid an extra £1 for 1st Class Post.
The toppers arrived in a plain brown A4 envelope, which thankfully hadn't suffered too much at the hands of Royal Mail. I opened it to find the cake toppers encased in a clear plastic wallet and a small set of instructions that simply warned me not to open the toppers until I was ready to use them. This is when I began to feel a bit annoyed. The 10 'free' toppers (not free in my opinion, but included in the price I paid) were awful - smeared and stretched and not within the circle line. Fred and Daphne were obese and scary, with blurring and overprinting. The 24 'paid for' ones were pretty smeary and stretched too. The large topper for the main cake was quite faded, lacking the colour shown on the website, but thankfully okay.
I managed to make a simplified cake myself and bake it in a huge square roasting tray by taking it round to Dad's house in the car. The journey was a fraught one as I was driving at two miles an hour in order not to spill the mixture wedged in the passenger footwell and causing tailbacks across town. I was almost there when I realised I had forgotten to add sugar and had to drive back to re-mix. When the cake finally turned out ok and had been iced, I breathed a massive sigh of relief.
Removing the cake topper carefully from the wrapper, I looked again at the instructions. I needed a steady hand to cut it out with scissors, but it was pretty thick, like a large biscuit. Miss Moneypenny's neat and seamless transfer had been thin and had needed a few moments in the freezer in order to place it onto the cake without it drooping or folding. This simply sat on top. I wondered if it would be affected by the moisture in the icing and somehow disintegrate a little, making the picture the main feature as opposed to the chunky rice paper. When I realised it wouldn't, I added another layer of buttercream on top and squished it down so that the top of the cake was at least flush.
M&M was beside herself with excitement at her monstrous chocolate "Dub-Do" cake and exhibited exceptional patience when she was told she had to wait until the party to eat any.
On the day, just as I relaxed from the cake debacle, the discovery was made that The Boy had not taken the balloons to be inflated as ordered and the warehouse place was shut. He was dispatched far, far, across town to remedy this at extra cost. But this was no portent; things went okay. People turned up, ate sandwiches, bought gifts and had a good time. When I hit the home strait of the party and carried my masterpiece tentatively across the church hall, the '2' shaped candle flickering on top, everyone ooohed and aahed appropriately. Sat on Dad's lap, she blew out the candle like she'd practised and smiled with delight.
So, I gave my gorgeous daughter her Scooby cake, but I was disappointed with the service and product I received from Picture My Cake. I took photos of the awful, unusable cupcake toppers and sent an email to them. A few days later, with no response, I sent another, pointing out I deserved at least a partial refund. No response was forthcoming.
So there you have it - there are plenty of better personalised cake toppers available for less money on Ebay; I can't recommend this company as they sent mediocre / faulty product and never responded to my emails. The main topper did the job, but the best rating I can give is 2 stars. The topper was thick, chewy and hard to cut, the picture was faded and the cupcake ones were absolute rubbish. The congratulations were directed to the taste of my cake rather than the lacklustre décor.
M&M burst into Little Brother's hotel room in a fabulous outfit; lightweight jeans and a long sleeved pink t-shirt to protect her from the sun and of course, her sunhat and heart shaped 'Little Miss Sunshine' sunglasses. She danced in a circle, trainers flashing and pouted for him to take a photo and document this latest 'Elton John Phase'. With these finishing touches complete, we ambled down the soapy smelling hotel corridors and out into dusty heat to catch the bus into Dubrovnik.
The buses stop by the Pile gate at the Old Town and this was the easiest way for us to enter the walls (though there are two other points, one at the Ploce gate). Tickets are sold in the little information kiosk to the right as you come into the town and we sensibly stocked up on chilled bottles of water too. The entrance is up the steepest set of stairs to the left of the gate, past a relaxed little hut where a man checks your tickets. We huffed and puffed our way up these stairs and I noticed some other visitors were finding it a struggle. Lucky M&M was perched on Dad's shoulders; she's no lightweight and I don't think my knees would have survived the strain of carrying her up.
Reaching our start point at the top, we were amazed by how high the walls are. Wide and solid, the marble walkway is worn but mostly even and ridged by low (waist high) walls which give you a reasonable feeling of security. M&M was plonked down and toddled off at speed, with the rest of us in tow. There are some places where a railing replaces the side walls, but other than this she didn't have much of a view!
We headed around the walls in the mandatory anti-clockwise fashion, marvelling at the sparkle of sea and stone to the left and the glow of the terracotta roofs over twisting streets to the right. Dubrovnik is like a fairytale and although September was meant to still be part of the busy season, the walls weren't crowded and the pace was unhurried. It's recommended that you do this kind of walk either early in the day or a couple of hours before closing to avoid the midday heat. We'd chosen to start about 4pm with M&M covered in factor 50, thereby giving ourselves enough time to do at least some of the route before a 6pm finish.
In the Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer always refers to 'The shining sea', something which I'd never reflected on before, thinking it to be nothing more than a poetic turn of phrase. With more than ten years since I'd even looked at the covers of my Classics, this bought back great chunks of literature and the romantic views of the islands were breathtaking.
We stopped along the way to take photos, to watch M&M glug away at the bottles of water or chase pigeons around courtyards. There were cafes, public toilets, artists selling their wares. There were watchtowers to climb and benches to rest and let other more hurried walkers pass. We saw people painting pictures of the walls and courageous swimmers leaping from the rocks into the sea. We looked down onto fountains, gardens with sleeping cats and bars where you can take your drinks through a hole in the wall and out onto a rocky outcrop. The walls are not the rectangular style fortress of Aigues Mortes, they are geographic, meandering the coastline and eventually turning along the harbour and then tracing the side of the mountain, taking you past the cable car.
There are exits along the way and you can just do a short stretch if you like. We'd planned to take it easy with M&M, but in the event she was full of energy and happy with the leisurely stroll, so we carried on past them and finished the final stretch. This side of the walls has a different feel, with the rocky hillside rising sharply to the right and the view of the whole town, the sea and the islands making it the best point to take a picture. There are a lot more steps here and therefore there was a lot more carrying going on. She was tired at this point and we ended up swapping cuddles, a bag of cheesy crackers and promises of pizza at Mea Culpa (see my other reviews) for compliance.
If you're not up to climbing a lot of stairs, then this last bit of the walls may not be for you. However, it had the best panoramas and it was a great feeling to complete the circuit and see the town at sunset. We took around an hour and 45 minutes to complete this, but then we all walk pretty fast and the smallest member of our group didn't have much of an attention span. With all the distractions you could easily make a relaxing afternoon of it and stop for scenic drinks and snacks.
Walking the walls is the best way to see Dubrovnik's Old Town and either get your bearings on arrival or marvel from above at the squares and alleyways you've already visited. For around £6 each (M&M went for free) it was a bargain.
We arrived at the airport in an intense electrical storm, descending in a wobbly and turbulent Easyjet, through black cloud and flashing lightning. As the cabin collectively breathed a sigh of relief and began to unclench from the armrests, the doors to the plane opened, letting in a fug of warm air. The smartly dressed ground staff were on hand in a light smatter of rain and we disembarked quickly, to a cool clean interior and an efficient luggage carousel.
If you stand outside the airport, a bus for the equivalent of 5 euros each can take you into Dubrovnik and from there you can catch another bus to your accommodation. With a car seat, pushchair and monster suitcase in tow, it seemed both inconvenient and uneconomic to travel this way and Dad, Little Brother, M&M and I piled into a taxi. We'd left Gatwick on the 06.55 as the sun rose and we were all a little sleepy and disorientated. M&M babbled away to the driver, who asked if she was speaking Russian. We were headed along a beautiful winding cliff road to Babin Kuk, the wooded hilltop where our hotel complex was.
I'd booked the trip online the previous week, fishing around in the reviews to glean some expectations and borrowing Best Friend's guidebook. Our hotel was the Valamar President, on the edge of the complex and pulling up outside, the smooth marble façade gave it a look of luxury. M&M was anxious to get out and stretch her legs. She toddled around enthusiastically, bouncing a ball given to her by our friendly driver. Of all of us, she was the one who should have most needed sleep, but she seemed the least tired.
Our welcome at reception was warm and friendly and contained the information we were all most interested in - the wifi password - as well as the times of breakfast and our room numbers. The lift was a cable car down the slope of the building and when we arrived in our huge adjoining rooms, we were greeted by a beautiful, shining view of the sea from the sunny expanse of balcony. M&M announced it to be 'amazing' and we stood in the warmth of the morning, enjoying the heat and the start of our break.
We lazed about in the rooms for a while, M&M napping in the crisp white sheets and a gentle breeze blowing through the patio doors. We explored the hotel, the spa on the 5th floor, the man made beaches, the restaurant and went for a walk around the wooded gardens of the complex, where mini golf, table tennis and little shops selling knick-knacks and flip flops were de rigueur. Dubrovnik has plenty of high end hotels, competing at reasonable prices with entertainment, Jacuzzi and a buffet breakfast. It's possible to stay in the Hilton or the Excelsior, right next to the old, walled part of the city, but for bigger swimming pools and a calm centre for your holiday, the bus ride out to the peninsula or the short boat journey to the islands seem worthwhile.
On that first afternoon, we took the bus from the stop outside our hotel, along the winding road into the town, disembarking where the walls drop down the rocky coast to the sea. Dubrovnik's walls are breathtaking, complete and glorious, surrounding the old part of the town and letting you enter through an archway and drawbridge at the Pile Gate to smooth marble streets and swirling steps. Leafy fountains and shaded corners, pavement cafés and small ice cream shops line the main street, Stradum, which literally shines in the sunshine. There are beautiful churches and overgrown balconies and best of all, plenty of tourist information and public toilets.
We wandered around, getting our bearings and eventually eating dinner on the corner of the Fruit and Veg market square, by the flight of steep stone steps up to the Jesuit Church, in a restaurant called Arka. This boasted a 'Vitamin Bar', though we were too interested in real food to find out what that involved.
They had plenty of average tasting veggie options for me and I picked a cheesy Moussaka with chunks of aubergine and courgette. Little Brother chose chicken and fried potatoes, while Dad had fish and M&M ploughed her way through a monstrous plate of chips supplemented with white bread - exactly the kind of food she would never be allowed at home. We finished up with an ice cream in the harbour and an early night which fitted well with the relaxed and sleepy pace of Dubrovnik in September.
That night, a storm hit; the windows of our rooms shaking with the thunder and the flashes of lightning over the sea illuminating the bay. Somehow Dad and Little Brother slept through this, while M&M and I watched it with amazement. The following morning, the torrential rain drove everyone indoors for breakfast, with seals approaching the beach and fish jumping in and out of the sea. We ate our fill of fried eggs, fruit and pastries and settled in the room for a morning of cartoons and the Russian shopping channel. The staff seemed as surprised by the storms as we were and water came through into the long corridors of our hotel, though not the rooms.
We swam in the unheated indoor pool, but with M&M and I finding it a little on the cold side, we'd removed to the Jacuzzi in the courtyard when the sun came out for the afternoon. With a good coating of suncream and trainers instead of flip-flops, we caught the bus in again and spent a relaxed afternoon walking the walls (see separate review) and dinner at Mea Culpa (another separate review).
The last full day in Dubrovnik dawned bright and seasonably sunny. By now, everyone was relaxed and fully in holiday mood. At 29 degrees, the weather beckoned us first down to the pebbly little cove by our hotel for a paddle in the clear water and then to the big outdoor pools on our complex. After a lazy morning, we made a late trip to town to go up and down the mountain in the cable car. There wasn't a great deal to do on top of the mountain, just more unbelievable aerial views and a chance for M&M to destroy the gift shop. But as usual, everything was clean and shiny, there were plentiful public toilets and polite and helpful staff. Normally Little Brother or I would have insisted that we charged round town n a final rush of sightseeing, but with a toddler in tow and a general air of calm that permeated every street, we wandered along the lamp lit terraces with M&M on Dad's shoulders.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Ragusa 2, with silver service, complimentary Croatian dessert wine and fantastic food coming in at under £50 for all of us, even when M&M polished off a huge helping of Spaghetti Bolognese and Little Brother and I found room for monstrous slabs of chocolate cake. The staff spoilt M&M, fussing over her and letting her peer into the 'scary' lobster tank. Then a final warm stroll around town with ice cream, a little bop to Agadoo and Kylie for M&M at the toddler friendly disco and we even squeezed in a moonlit trip to the beach before bed.
The next morning, as we sat out on the patio, enjoying breakfast in the sunshine, we were agreed that Dubrovnik had a lot to offer. It's sweet and compact enough to be easily navigable and if you're so minded, you could cover most of it within a few days. If I went back I would see a few more churches, the monastery and the Sponza Palace. I'd take a boat trip to the islands or Montenegro and a Jetski round the peninsula. Our lazy three days only scratched the surface, but we had all needed a relaxing holiday and we were looking for a beach / pool / family friendly break as well as history and culture. I loved this undemanding holiday; I would unhesitatingly recommend it as having something for everyone.
We headed down the steep stone stairs after an afternoon of walking the walls. Dad had M&M on his shoulders, Little Brother had the guide book in hand and I lagged behind, taking a final few photos of the magnificent sunset over the Old Town.
"Found it", Little Brother announced, directing us along the shiny marble paving of the Stradum. Mea Culpa was apparently the best pizzeria in the whole of Dubrovnik according to Time Out and at six, we were all ready for an early dinner. There are five Mea Culpa restaurants in Dubrovnik in varying degrees between a café and full on restaurant and this was the Pizzeria, serving (obviously) pizza, pasta, risotto and salads. Turning down an alley, we came to the back of the restaurant and a narrow street full of seating. The tables belonging to Mea Culpa were mixed in with those for another restaurant and it took a minute to establish that the less comfortable and solid tables and chairs were unfortunately the ones we needed.
M&M flopped down into the seat, dislodging the thin hard cushion which fell to the floor. She was hungry. 'Really hungry' and 'very hungry', because every sentence is currently filled with superlatives and it had been a very long time since lunch. The four of us sat and waited, occasionally catching the eye of the waiter until I got up and rescued some menus from a nearby table. This somehow stirred him into action and he came and took our drinks order.
The drinks arrived a bit on the warm side and without ice, the restaurant wasn't busy and we had time to appreciate the surroundings before the order was taken. There was no view other than the cramped tables and it wasn't the cleanest area, with litter on the street between the tables. This in itself was surprising given that the rest of Dubrovnik is immaculate. The kitchen door opened out right next to our table and at one point during our meal, one of the metal bars from this door came loose, narrowly missing the man at the next table.
Eventually cornering the waiter, we ordered pizzas (the house speciality after all) which came huge and hot. They were nice enough, but nothing special, with the toppings whole in the centre, continental style, rather than chopped and scattered. Mine was a vegetarian one, with asparagus, the pale Croatian peppers and sweet corn and M&M and I, though hungry, only finished about half. Dad and Little Brother had a more meaty one each, which they said were ok. A plus point was that the cheese was on top of the toppings, sealing them in and keeping them warm (I hate it when they put the cheese on first in that lazy Dominos way).
M&M and Dad began to squabble cheerfully, their ongoing game of the day was for each of them to declare ownership of everything. For example 'My chair' would be countered with 'No, it's MY chair'. At this point they'd moved onto Dad saying 'It's MY fault' and M&M insisting sincerely that it was hers amid a fit of giggles. Funnily enough, I said I thought Mea Culpa was in fact the Latin phrase for 'My Fault'. I was later to find out via Google that it can also be used to mean (even more appropriately) 'My Mistake'.
It was all an ok-ish kind of meal, but of all the meals we had in Dubrovnik, this was the most hyped and least special. If this was the best pizza available, I felt sorry for the local inhabitants. In fact, the pizzas at the restaurant next door looked suspiciously better. Prices were around 80 -90 Kuna for a pizza, which compared to other restaurants was on the expensive side. For far less than we paid here for three pizzas, two lemonades and a beer, we enjoyed a sumptuous and more central three course meal the following night at a much nicer and cleaner restaurant.
M&M and I went to the toilets, only to find the one cubicle so cramped and disgusting that I opted to hold on and she preferred to change her nappy in the street. The toilet was utterly smeared and the sanitary bin overflowing. The waiter seemed irritated to be dragged away from his sycophantic photo shoot with a large group of diners opposite. Obviously he was hoping for a tip that reflected their numbers. He bought the bill without offering any coffees or desserts and we had no desire to soak up the atmosphere.
The company was delightful and the pizza adequate, yes. But based on the unspeakably awful toilets and very poor service, I wouldn't recommend it in the slightest. There are a great many cheaper and better meals available within a minute's walk.
We left, into a warm comfortable twilight, feeling full at least.
I remember someone mentioning Tampopo when it opened in Reading. Always keen to try new restaurants, I googled the menu but dismissed it, because I had no idea what the meals were (too many names like Nonya or Gaeng Wan) and it was lost in a sea of new Asian places to eat and a non stop whirl of social engagements. When Gourmet Girl texted me a year later and asked me to come and try it with her, I was feeling more adventurous and tripping over myself for a couple of hours of adult company. She was waiting in the pub after work, an empty pint glass in front of her and a voucher for buy one get one free on main meals at Tampopo.
We made the short walk through sheets of rain, grumbling about the unseasonably cold and gritty July weather and burst through the doorway of the restaurant with relief. From the outside it was unassuming; inside were long wooden tables and hard benches, low orange lights, a bright wall of red on the right and a long stainless steel open kitchen to the left. It was pleasant enough, but with that draughty canteen feel that works a lot better in summer, or in Thailand.
It was pretty empty, but eventually a member of staff appeared and seated us at the end of a table near the window. We slumped gratefully, peeling off our wet coats and shaking out her umbrella. There are none of the convenient bag hooks you get at the Yo Sushi or Wagamama, so we just dumped all our stuff on the window ledge and the floor. Gourmet Girl has both a new job and new admirers since our last meal out and expressed genuine surprise at all the interest. Obviously the supreme effort she put in at Fat Club lately has highlighted how tall and blonde and glowing she is. I had a show and tell with all my mobile phone pictures of M&M which were duly admired. Then the waiter was back asking for our order.
"Can I have some.....guidance?" I asked, looking at the confusing array of food. The menu was divided by Small Dishes (Apparently these are starters / sides rather than light meals), Soup Noodles, Wok Fried Noodles and Rice Dishes, Stir Fries, Curries and Stews and finally Accompaniments (more sides). He asked if it was our first time eating at Tampopo - which we both felt was a question we should have been asked on arrival - then ran through an explanation of how the colours on the menu linked into the countries on the placemat map. The number of chillies pictured on the menu denotes the heat of the dish and there are 'V' for vegetarian options and 'Ve' for Vegan.
We ordered drinks, but I needed a soft option as I'm still feeding M&M, so I picked the Ginger Beer. Gourmet Girl had no such concerns and ordered up exotic bottled beer from Laos. Five minutes of concentrating later, she selected the Chicken Katsu Curry at £9.50 without allowing her decision related frown to spoil her new hot look. I peered at it all again and pointed at vegetable Gaeng Keow Wan, which I didn't attempt to pronounce. This looked like the easiest dish with no meat or peanuts, a kind of Thai Green Curry.
Like Wagamama, they write on your placemats to indicate who has ordered what and like Wagamama, the staff wander blindly around the restaurant when the food comes out, unable to read their colleagues scrawl. What was so wrong with table numbers?
When we flagged down our food, it looked good, though my bowl of curry was worryingly small and the jasmine rice barely half a cup. The Katsu curry was much larger and came with its own rice and an enviable sesame side salad. I had failed to notice the two chillies pictured next to my meal, so the first bite of spiciness came as a surprise. The sauce was beautiful, with unexpected depth and only a hit of creaminess. The freshness of the lime leaves and the hint of perfume from the lemongrass were in harmony. The vegetables consisted of one square cm of aubergine, three thin slices of carrot and a couple of green beans, there was no substance to the dish at all and even with the rice I was left feeling decidedly hungry. I wished I'd ordered more, but then I'd expected a main meal and a side dish to be plenty after a big lunch and an afternoon of shovelling biscuits. Gourmet Girl fared better and even topped up with some Prawn Crackers (which were forgotten by the waiter and sat on the side until after our meal) but she didn't look full and she didn't leave a crumb.
We ordered what seemed to be the most filling dessert available, fried bananas in a breadcrumb coating, with caramel sauce and a scoop of ice cream. Of the other desserts, all were just overpriced ice cream or rice pudding when, to be honest, we'd had enough rice with the meal. The bananas were slightly sour, the coating bland. The caramel sauce was a faint watery smear and the ice cream portions minuscule. It was a fairly terrible pudding on every level.
We used the toilets, which were modern and gleaming, with those high doors that leave your legs on display. The Lush branded soap by the sink was a nice touch, and everything seemed clean. They also have a little shop which stocks the Tampopo products, like the curry paste and accessories such as Rick Stein books on Eastern cooking if you feel inspired enough to try making this stuff at home. It's a good crack at the 'complete' experience.
The bill for this light meal was a staggering £36 for the two of us including drinks. Although it was tasty, the price is way too high for such tiny portions and the cold restaurant, hard seating and lacklustre service just don't merit the spend. I might come back for lunch or a snack if I'm in town, though not dinner. There was very little atmosphere on the night we visited, with just a handful of bedraggled customers who were lingering to avoid the terrible weather outside.
Anastasia Steele is a dull girl, living in the shadow of her best friend Kate. The story opens with her living in an apartment paid for by Kate's dad and studying rather than partying. She has never been drunk. Even more strangely, she claims (in 2011 no less) never to have had her own email address. For someone living away from their family and in their final year at University, she has a remarkable (read unbelievable) lack of experience, life or otherwise.
Amazingly, hot boys are tripping over themselves to be with boring Ana. Perhaps they have mistaken her lack of personality for mystery, her repulsion of their advances for a playing-hard- to-get aloofness. If so, they're misled, for neither of these is the case and the most interesting thing about her is her name, which she of course prefers to shorten to its most concise and boring form. I suppose she'll make a nice little wifey though, as she's always cooking and skivvying for Kate.
I had misgivings when I saw this book; anything where the characters immediately have 'power' surnames like Steele always rings alarm bells, probably thanks to a deeply ingrained fear that it will become an adult version of Sweet Valley High or a biography of Robocop. Dickensian surnames, a Scroggins or a Blatherwick just don't trigger this fear to the same extent. And when the surnames are in the blurb of anything not written by Austen or Bronte, I hear the hysterical screaming of Chick-lit.
So why did I get it? Number one on the Amazon Bestseller list and less than £3 at the time of writing, I managed to get it free when I bought two books which are slightly more to my usual tastes. I was bored to tears with Twilight and gave up on the film before halfway, so the comparisons drawn between the two might perhaps be lost on me and didn't lend themselves to my selection. I'm not a reader of 'romantic' fiction, but all the editorials and the constant online references to this had piqued my interest. To be straight, I'm nosy and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
So, Ana is sent by dynamic student newspaper editor Kate to interview Christian Grey, a young, hot, billionaire. A self made man with lots of interests - flying helicopters, kinky sex - and as far as anyone sensible can see, nothing in common with her. Of course, he fancies her because everyone does. Who wouldn't? He stalks her. He feeds her. He tried to entice her into a pretty weird relationship. Will she sign up to it?
Despite my opening paragraphs, I liked this book. It was nothing like I expected; an easy read in remarkably good taste considering the subject matter. It was like a dirty and slightly uneventful Danielle Steele. (My Great Aunt had a stack of these when I was a teenager) As it's part of a trilogy, you're expecting a degree of incompleteness, an unsolved mystery. And this delivers exactly that. Granted, the mystery lacks compulsion; I don't care enough about Christian's dark past to dig out the books that follow, so I probably won't. But it terms of an interesting little romp, this is fantastic.
Ana (who has to wear Kate's dresses, because she has no clothes or style of her own) is quickly and quietly sucked into Christian's world. After all, she doesn't have to do anything. He does all the chasing. He does all the choosing. Her half of the deal is simply to take what he dishes out - in every way. I read this on the plane, sat amongst countless other women with copies on their lap, or poking out of their handbags. I wonder if the popularity is in part due to a subconscious desire to have a man who provides, who knows exactly what he wants? To be absolved of any decision and to have no-one expecting action from you, even in the bedroom? Perhaps this book has earnt its status and reputation by providing a window into this dream.
But the reality is that no-one could be this malleable. Ana is breathtakingly bland, a blank canvas with no preconceptions, I had cause to wonder what the appeal of submission was to a woman with no power in any area of her life? Surely it was de rigeur for her to give in, rather than a means of escape from the everyday. For the rest of us, with our choices and pressures, it can be an interesting fantasy to relinquish control.
Overall, I'm ambivalent about the book - I won't rush out and buy it for my friends, but I'll happily pass my copy along. I didn't think it was that badly written, though it's a little childish and repetitive in places and I hate the heroine.
We got to the point where M&M just hated getting into her Maxi-Cosi car seat. The other kids her age seemed to have long since outgrown their equivalent seats and it was only because she was pretty tiny and I'm budget conscious (to put it politely) that she was still being squished in there. She had become inquisitive and lying down, rear facing, when she could be upright and pretending to drive was a rotten deal. I started hunting for the next seat along. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but they were stupidly expensive, especially the few rear facing seats that are available to the UK market. It seemed I was googling and reading Which reports around the clock, worried about what to get.
But then, I saw the Nania Trio car seat in Asda. It was an all-rounder, adjusting to take you from birth to age 4. It could be rear or front facing. It was twenty quid. I reasoned that at least it would do as a stop gap, a spare for Grandad's car. And it stopped the never ending whirl of car seats rushing around in my head. Into the trolley along with all the other impulse purchases!
When I got home and began my paranoid googling for the reviews, most people seemed pretty happy with the seat. I was annoyed to discover (as I hadn't been able to from the box) that you couldn't use this as a rear facing car seat for toddlers, only newborns. Personally, I wouldn't have used it for M&M as a newborn, it's a hard seat with very little cushioning, even rear facing I think this would be too upright and there's no head rest to stop them bouncing around and hitting the sides.
The main issue presented on the internet was that ASDA don't safety check their seats and they can be thrown around and damaged, making them unsafe in the event of an accident. Well, Halfords in Reading were terrible when I bought the expensive Maxi-Cosi, they never safety checked it in any way and repeatedly refused to fit it because none of the staff were trained, so that isn't a great deal of difference. I did check under the seat cover on the Nania Trio, making sure that the polystyrene and plastic weren't cracked or dented and we fitted it into the car.
Having the instructions on the side of the seat is a godsend, meaning that it's easy for forgetful Grandad to fit into his car when he collects M&M from nursery and for me to remind myself what to check before a journey. It fits using a normal seatbelt, no fiddly modern requirements like Isofix. And it's light, so I can carry it around when needed. We found that lifting the headrest in the car and replacing it after fitting the seat keeps it even more secure, with no wobbling. It's a 3 point harness, the two over arm straps fitting together and clicking into the central holder, with a red button release. The straps themselves are easy enough to adjust, even with M&M in the seat.
There are a couple of things I don't much like - it's very low, so M&M can't see sheep or cows from the car window until she grows a little more. Also, when she's asleep and we need to put her in another car or carry her into the restaurant to doze through a meal, the thin back of the seat means that removing the seatbelt nearly always wakes her. The lack of cushioning makes it unsuitable for long journeys, but fortunately we haven't had to suffer any of those with it. We haven't got air conditioning, so our car is hardly the height of comfort anyway. When she falls asleep, the angle of the seat means her head flops forward a bit, but usually I can correct this just by propping her up with a jumper as a pillow. Oh, and the button sometimes sticks a little when I go to lift her out - on the bright side, that gives me confidence that she won't be able to open it.
It's been over six months and we still haven't got round to purchasing a new car seat. But then she loves this one and I'm very happy with it, so we can take our time choosing. I would never compromise her safety for the sake of money, the fact that this cost so little is a bonus.
It was an unexpectedly warm and balmy night as we arrived at Gatwick by train. Our plan was to get away from the terrible English weather by visiting The Boy's mum in Spain, so we were a bit perplexed to find that the week we'd booked had become a heat wave. It had been a quiet and relaxing after work journey, with M&M spying cows and sheep in the rolling Surrey countryside, but time was wearing on and bedtime was in our sights.
The Boy lurked outside having a cigarette, while M&M and I looked for the entrance to the Sofitel at the North Terminal. We were flying from the South Terminal, but the monorail between the two is quick and easy. It wasn't well signposted, so we wandered past it before realising that the covered walkway leads out from the escalator area and that there's no need to go past the shops. I had happy childhood memories of staying at the Sofitel (though back then it was Le Meridian and something else), so when I realised our check in time would be 7am, I booked it without hesitation. I know, I know, staying in the airport is expensive - but when you factor in the worry of having to get a shuttle to an outside hotel and all the possible lateness in the morning when you have to drag bags and a buggy and traipse round a dozen other hotels waiting for people to get their things loaded up, it becomes worthwhile. And I'd booked through Booking.com, making the price for our room £142.
We entered into the enormous lobby area; the hotel is built round this central courtyard, with brightly lit glass lifts shooting up the sides and inward facing rooms overlooking it. There are a couple of bistro and bar type cafés, water features, tasteful music and a subdued and expensive atmosphere. (Back in the 80's we had shiny floors and a piano that played itself. Some things can't be improved upon, I suppose.) Annoyingly, the reception desk had an equally enormous queue, most of which seemed to consist of people complaining.
When the couple ahead of us had finished complaining, we swooped, anxious to check in. The process was annoyingly slow. The first major irritation was that although I'd booked weeks in advance, the rooms are allocated first come, first served on the night. So at 9.30pm, we'd ended up with the absolute dross. By that, I mean the rooms over the monorail, which are noisy, with a monorail shuttling past every couple of minutes all night long. I point blank refused these and the receptionist (who to give her her due, was very pleasant about this) managed to find us an interior room looking over the atrium. I think this was in part owing to the charms of M&M, who was perched on the counter, smiling and chatting. I was relieved we didn't get a room overlooking the runway; The Boy is an unenthusiastic flier, to say the least.
The second irritation was that we needed a credit card. Not a debit card. I have debit cards, I'm good for the money, so why are they not enough? On production of The Boy's credit card, the fact that we have different surnames produced a reaction of shock and confusion. I'm not sure if this creates an issue with the computer system, or whether it was just outright horror that we aren't married. But this took time to resolve.
What next? Did we want a cot for M&M? Very thoughtful of you, but no. I have no intention of paying your astronomical cot charge when I know full well my child won't sleep anywhere other than in the bed with me. Did we want breakfast? No, not for an extra £20 per person. Especially when we can get some fruit and so on from the M&S at the entrance. We finally got our card keys and headed up to the fourth floor.
The room was okay, but not designed for two (or even three) people in my opinion. It was tiny and narrow, with a spectacular view over the atrium from the full length window. The odd shape made me wonder if they'd carved the rooms up to get more people in since my last visit. A small coffee table with just one chair was by the window, with a small double bed in the middle. A large mirror faced the bed, with a wooden shelf underneath. Below the shelf was the empty mini-bar, which was handy for storing the breakfast. Above were tea and coffee making facilities and one of those tellies that looks like a computer monitor. It was all fairly standard, if cramped. The small bathroom had a fixed head shower over the bath, a deep white basin and matching toilet. There were a couple of meanly sized and very threadbare towels and a set of those cheap generic 'spa' shampoo, conditioner and bodywash. Here I was particularly disappointed, having seen from tripadvisor that other reviewers fared better.
The air conditioning in our room didn't work properly and given it was so hot outside and we were three to a bed, we spent an unpleasantly warm night. M&M had a tooth coming and was ridiculously overexcited, sitting up in bed and shouting until she was coerced into sleeping in a headlock. The bed itself was fairly comfortable, but a strange arrangement, with a duvet type mattress cover underneath you. This only made us all more hot and bothered. All said and done, it was an uncomfortable arrangement and I think if I had the choice, I'd have gone for a 'normal' bed. Or at least a full size double.
It was one of those nights where the alarm goes off about a minute after you finally get to sleep. The tea facilities were very welcome in the morning and M&M and I took it in turns to sit in the solitary chair at the table. She was too excited to eat the fruit and 6am was too early for anyone else. Mostly it got thrown on the floor. The shower was good and powerful, with decent water pressure. I'd washed my hair the night before, so a splash of the body wash was enough. The mirror was well lit, so I applied a thick coating of eyeliner and pocketed the shower cap and a pack of cotton buds which had been provided. The water was nice and soft too, so cleaning your teeth is pleasantly foamy. I emerged refreshed into our muggy, steamy room and shouted again at The Boy, who was still trying to sleep.
The lifts on the way down were slow. The kind of slow where you would definitely take the stairs if you didn't have luggage. Looking around with a fresh pair of eyes, the corridors are pretty dated and shabby. Thankfully the checkout was a great deal quicker than check-in and our flight was sufficiently delayed so that we were able to maintain a leisurely pace. They have online check in available at the doors for those who aren't travelling with infants. A nice touch, which means that you can just drop your bags off and save queuing if you so desire.
All in all, the dreadful air conditioning and the funny bed made it difficult to sleep, but if you want to breeze into the airport in the morning, you can't beat the convenience of the Sofitel.
Tired and with an outbreak that looked like Chicken Pox, I was searching for a miracle amongst the beauty counters. Liz Earle skincare seemed to have been in every magazine, so I made a beeline for that. Hunched over the pushchair and smeared with biscuit, I probably wasn't the glossy dream customer, but that was exactly what spurred me on to buy the Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser. I wanted the pump starter kit I'd seen online for £14.95, but the assistant told me that the smallest and cheapest version she had was a tub costing over £30. And as the easiest way to try it was to buy a mini set at £22, that's what I went home with.
The key to C&P is the muslin cloth and the set had two. This washcloth situation always makes me a little wary; remember the Eve Lom skincare that was the holy grail a few years back? I think that the old-school use of a muslin cloth and the exfoliating powers of this ordinary cloth are too often mistaken in the beauty industry for brilliant chemistry and revolutionary skin renewal. You can buy a pack of 5 muslin cloths for less than £3 in Asda's baby aisle. And granny was right to say that a hot flannel will open your pores and remove more dirt than just splashing a bit of water on your face.
Putting aside my cynicism, I tried the cleanser for a week. You rub it on to dry skin in a circular motion and then allow it to dissolve grime and make up and rinse it off with the cloth, soaked in hand hot water. The cleanser smells and looks a bit like pale clay and is squidgy rather than a liquid or gel. The application was okay, but not entirely comfortable as the thick consistency of the cleanser and the motion of applying it to a dry face cause the skin to drag a little. This allegedly stimulates the circulation and starts the cleansing process. There's no lather and it's a little hard to tell if you've missed an area as the cleanser isn't visible on the face.
Taking it off again with the cloth, I noticed a satisfying collection of dirt and make up build up and my combination skin after use wasn't dry or uncomfortable. No tight feeling at all and no puddles of oil on my cleansed skin, so a reasonable result. My only complaint was that the muslin cloths provided were a bit scratchy and hard, though this improved with washing.
But I haven't repurchased. Towards the end of the week, my skin became worse. Irritated and over exfoliated by (fairly gentle) use of the cloth, it started to become red and sore. Worse still, I began getting deep spots all over my face where the cleanser was supposedly drawing out impurities. I've said it before, but some things are best left buried. Also, for the price, the smell and feel of this cleanser weren't particularly luxurious and when I returned to my usual brand I found I preferred a foamy effect which somehow makes me feel I've cleansed more thoroughly.
Last, but not least, I don't want grubby cloths hanging around my bathroom and I don't need the extra washing. I prefer one use make up remover wipes to all this fiddling about. This isn't the right cleanser for me.
On Thursday morning, as I stood yawning and dishevelled in front of the bathroom mirror, I glanced at the sink and toilet and then did a double take. They had been meticulously coloured in parallell black lines. Could this be the bath crayon lying on the laminate, or....could it be the remains of my precious Revlon Grow Luscious mascara? It could. With the sun coming up and M&M chatting excitedly at my feet, I did the best I could with half melted eyeliner and optimism, then we headed off to work and nursery.
At lunchtime in Boots, the whole world was rammed in and jostling umbrellas. Conveniently I picked up a new mascara with my sandwich. Having liked my previous Revlon purchase, I stuck with the brand and chose Double Twist, purely on the grounds that the poster promised more volume and length than the one next to it. Getting back into the office, I headed to the toilets and flicked it through my eyelashes. Unsurprisingly in such a short fat container, it was a short fat brush, plasticky rather than bristle. Ostensibly to maximise length but also to get the stubby lashes nearer the eye.
First impressions weren't good. The formula was incredibly wet and sticky, so the brush was glued up before I even got to apply for the first time. The wetness meant that as I applied a single coat, I ended up with a row of speckles in a line beneath my eyebrow. These needed to be rubbed off and took my foundation with them. Annoyingly that was at home and couldn't be reapplied.
The effect was pretty dramatic, possibly more than you'd like for daytime use. Initially I was happy with it, dark and smouldering - I'm a dramatic kind of girl - but then I leaned in towards the mirror and on closer inspection I noticed the nasty little clumpy blobs on every eyelash. It looked fairly dreadful. I'm not sure what the worst thing was about this mascara. The clumps were the tip of the iceberg; it set like concrete after a single coat, giving me rigid, brittle eyelashes which felt uncomfortable and unnatural. It gave no curl at all. The massive, chunky brush was a pain to use and prevented me from creating any kind of swoosh. Hard spidery lashes were the upper limit. And the constant flaking through the day irritated my eyes, leaving them red and swollen.
I am hugely irritated to have paid £8.99 for this, I'm thinking of posting it back to Revlon with a note to say just how awful it is. I had to stick with it an entire week and on top of all the application problems, it was a pain to remove with my usual wipes and thanks to the gluey nature of it I lost a fair few eyelashes. For the week I was using this, I had to comb through my lashes with the brush from an old bottle and even that was hard work. M&M took one look at it and threw it in the bath; it's not even good enough for colouring in the toilet.
Those of you who have read my other reviews will remember that at 38 weeks pregnant, I moved out of Dad's house and into my own little home. However, when M&M was first born, doting Grandad was able to bond as he saw her every single day. Every morning I would arrive, struggling through the door with our leaden car seat and my baby in her snow suit, place her carefully down in the living room under the window and head back out to the car to drag in binliners of washing. The previous occupants of my lock-stock-and-barrel home purchase had somehow managed without a tumble dryer and I was having to cart all my washing round to Dad's on a daily basis.
I tried the classic clothes horse by the radiator, I draped washing over the banisters until it made the whole house feel damp, I had to listen to Dad's grumbling about how I was burning out the motor in his dryer and running up a huge electricity bill. There were heated discussions when Dad removed washing I still deemed to be damp because in his opinion it was 'nearly' dry. I had a baby who was wearing inside out babygros and I had a car that smelt like the launderette. Line drying wasn't an option in the thick of winter, when I tried my sheets froze on the line. Like anything else, you get used to it, but driving the washing around was inconvenient. All this was solved when a friend of Dad's turned up one Saturday morning with a second hand tumbledryer, the Creda Advance.
As I stood in the kitchen, in my pyjamas, M&M winding her arms around my neck, he demonstrated the good points of my new dryer. As a 'condenser' dryer, it didn't need an unsightly outlet through the exterior wall to expel vapour - this just collected in a removable water container at the bottom. As this water is distilled by this process, it's perfect in our hard water area for using in a steam iron (not that I own one of these yet) preventing scale build up and damage. If you're on water by meter, which we are, then you can always use this water on your plants and so on to save a few pennies more.
There is a downside to this though; when the machine has filled the water compartment to the maximum, the 'empty water' light at the top of the machine comes on (very dimly, so I don't always notice in daylight) and the machine stops drying your clothes. Fine if you're in the kitchen to deal with it, but annoying if you're elsewhere in the house and don't realise, or if you come home from work to find your sheets still wet because the container was three quarters full when you began drying. There's a horrible buzzing alarm to tell you when the drying timer has finished, but not one to warn you about the water. Another annoyance with this is that the container, when full, is incredibly heavy and unwieldy. With a round hole in the top about the size of a bottle lid, you wouldn't think you could spill the water, but the weight as you carry it to the nearest sink, arms shaking with the exertion, means you do. I know I should empty it more frequently, but it has a large capacity drum and a load of towels, dried for an hour, easily fill this.
The filters are also slightly annoying to empty; there's one in the door, which instead of catching most of the fluff, ejects it into the door panel and this in turn requires long hoover nozzles and a lot of poking around to empty it. As with most condenser dryers, the second filter, which you empty periodically, consists of a heavy metal grille at the bottom of the machine, below the water container. Given the volume of washing and drying I do, I take this out once a week. The easiest way I've found is to blast the hosepipe through it, generally pushing out enough fluff to restuff my sofa cushions. There's no getting away from emptying filters though, regardless of machine type. And it's one of those jobs that makes the machine last so much longer when done properly, as well as avoiding the fire risk from all the fluff and heat.
The dryer itself is light and easy to move around when emptied of water and clothes. Since the original 1970's plug socket in the corner of my kitchen began sparking, I've had to slide the dryer round the laminate to attach it to whichever pound shop extension cable has room. It's brilliantly portable in this respect. The high and low settings are intended for different types of clothes; the suggestion is that cotton is dried on high and everything else is subjected only to the gentle setting. The combination of an active toddler and the lack of child lock mean that I have dried everything on every setting - but with no shrinkage and no increase in bobbling. Luckily, the inclusion of an interlocking device means that the machine stops immediately if she ever manages to open the door.
Overall, I'm delighted with the drying results. After over a year of two washes a day, this secondhand machine has proven amazingly reliable and is energy efficient so cost effective to run. As an added bonus, it dries out the air in the kitchen and has caused the damp in the laminate from a previous leak to resolve itself and our floor to flatter back out. It could be improved with the addition of a sensor to let you know when the clothes are dry, rather than the timer based alarm, but that's a minor gripe. Some would say it's environmentally to tumble dry clothes - but drying at home is surely better for the planet that driving elsewhere to do it.