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After Christmas and New Year I, like many others before, made the hasty decision to get fit and lose weight as I pinched the excess around my middle. "It has to go." I told myself as I tucked into the chocolatey leftovers from Christmas and poured the open wine down the sink.
What is Exante?
Exante is a complete meal replacement diet which promises to keep you on the straight and narrow and whose slogan boasts 'Simple Weight Loss...". The diet is low calorie and you replace your conventional means with the packet meal replacements that you purchase. By eating any combination of three of their products, you are receiving your recommended daily allowance of vitamin and minerals.
How does it work?
The diet relies on 'Ketosis' which is a metabolic state which is where your body uses up fat stores to produce energy. This is meant to happen within a few days of starting your diet because you are not consuming the calories that you normally would so the deficiency kick starts the process. It is meant to be a viable option for any level of weight loss required and can also be used to help maintain your weight also.
There are four plans you can choose from and it is based on your BMI which you work out as part of the registration process. The different diets have inspired names such as 'Total Solution' and 'Simple Solution'. You choose the one for you. At the 'Total Solution' level you consume just the sachets and receive 600 calories a day; the recommended daily intake for a woman is 2000 calories a day so you can imagine what it must be like for those who want to blitz their body weight off.
The other diets you have to supplement with other meals and snacks in order to reach the different calorie levels, with the sachets providing the initial 600.
There are different ways of doing this diet; you may want just milkshakes or you may only like the taste of certain things so you can mix and match your sachets or buy a bumper mixed pack (usually a cheaper options). There's also a starter kit if you just want to try it over 2 weeks which I would highly recommend.
The options are
Shakes in flavours Vanilla, Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Strawberry, Banana, Toffee Caramel, Mango and Passion Fruit, Forest Fruits and Christmas Pudding Flavour (currently on discount to get rid of from the Christmas season!
Soups in flavours thai chicken, pasta, ham and mushroom, mushroom, tomato and basil.
Ready meals in red bean chilli, pasta carbonara, turkey dinner, curry, spaghetti bolognese, shepherd's pie, mushroom risotto, apple and cinnamon porridge and porridge oats.
Drink mixes in raspberry, mulled wine (clearance), orange, peach, irish cream coffee, coffee, elderflower and white wine, hazelnut coffee, blackcurrant drink and hazelnut flavour coffee.
I'm usually someone with a lot of stamina and resilience. If i want to achieve something, I can be quite motivated and disciplined. I hoped that the Exante diet plan would allow me to gain that all important control over what I was eating and take the guess work out for me and I can't deny that that is true as it is controlled.
However, I am a fussy eater also, although the minimal options were all ones that I was happy to eat and that is why I felt this was an accessible diet to me.
I bought the 4 week meals and shakes pack as I'm not one for granola bars so knew they would be wasted. My first morning I opened my first sachet of apple and cinnamon porridge. I tipped my powder into the bowl, added water and heated my paste and took a slurp. Wow...it was so sickly sweet I could barely swallow it. I did get it down but decided that this flavour was probably not the one for me and put it down to not liking that particular one.
Others that I tried were the shepherd's pie, the red bean chilli, the mushroom risotto and the curry. Of all the options the curry was the most bearable. Whilst a stronger person may have been able to stomach it long term, and some one with more weight could definitely manage if they were really driven because the impact would be so evidently so quickly, how any one sustains themselves on three of those a day is beyond me. I was lethargic, head-achey and miserable throughout the two weeks that I had a go. I felt unfilled by the food and felt like I was living on the bear minimum and couldn't appreciate the impact as I felt so run down and weak.
I did supplement the meals because I needed to but I felt they were very bland and left me craving. None of the flavours really had much flavour or distinction to them and because pretty much every one was a paste, my craving for solid food to actually chew just grew massively. I found it hard to believe that porridge couldn't have been crafted to mimic actual porridge as the white paste which issued was hard to get to any sort of consistency except watery and was quite tasteless.
The reviews have been really positive and I think that for some people this is a great way to manage their diet but you must be resilient and very strict with yourself. I really couldn't get on with this diet and didn't have the energy for much. I felt a bit demoralised with every sachet I tried to get down. However the shakes were something to look forward to; especially the banana for me, and since my trial run there has been a large variety of additional shakes added from the original range so I think they should run with this as one of their strengths.
I feel that the meals need more attention and need to been more yummy. I appreciate it's hard to get the balance and if they can get that balance, it would further their success but otherwise that is what keeps me clear of returning to this particular diet. However, others who are less fussy and more driven may have more success. It's a tough one but this is definitely not for me!
Fragrances are so hard to place; they are very personal, can turn on one person's skin and stay fresh and vibrant on another's.
I place Paco Rabanne's fragrance with a certain collection of those distinctive, unique fragrances. In that pile I would place 'Le Male' by Jean Paul Gaultier, the distinctive and far too publicised fragrance that is pumped through Hollister stores and Angel by Thierry Mugler. They are very distinct, very specific fragrances which I can pick out from any other, and One Million, for me, is one of those.
The container is a solid, gold bar. It has a slightly sloping lid and the back has a black bottle back. The gold fronting makes it look quite expensive and opulent, with a decorative front for the number 1 and a sophisticated swirl design pressed into the gold bar. The packaging is also simple and gold, with the design in black.
It is a rich fragrance; spicy and leathery. According to ThePerfumeShop.com, the breakdown goes as follows:
Heart notes : Spicy masculine flower, rose, musk
Top notes : Sparkling fresh fruits, blood mandarin, peppermint
Base notes : Sensual leather, amber
Scent : Woody oriental
Feel : Daring, irresistible, seductive
I am addicted to this fragrance; my partner wears it and I am obsessed. I can pick it out so distinctively when someone else is wearing it. It sounds ridiculous but I find it highly masculine and very sexy; it's not overwhelmingly spicy or heavy. It's the sort of scent which draws compliments and is refreshing. It is an evening fragrance as I think day-to-day it would be considered too heavy. What's great is it's also hardwearing - it doesn't wear off instantly or within the hour. Admittedly my partner douses herself in it (she's wears men's fragrances) but it really lasts!
I've only ever purchased the two different Eau de toilette's and usually on a special occasion. The 50ml retails between £35 -£45 and the 100ml between £52 - £65. At Christmas I ordered from Boots.com and the 100ml was £32.50 which is an absolute bargain. I went to a Perfume Shop store and got the 50ml for the same price, so it's a good idea to scope out the retailers around special occasions, as you can get the bigger bottle cheap sometimes!
A gorgeous fragrance, distinctive, sexy and worth spoiling yourself with!
It has become a handbag essential; the large off-white tub and blue lid has been condensed into the much more favourable (and a lot less medicinal looking) small circular tin.
Truly pocket-sized, I never used to notice its existence but now, as a school teacher, I've realised its popularity has grown as the girls I work around are always within two foot of a tin somewhere in the depths of their school bags.
I am someone who is blessed with large, full lips (Angelina Jolie eat your heart out!). The curse of my monster trout pout is that they are particularly good at splitting; when they dry out it is on epic proportions and it is very evident when they are thoroughly dried out. I currently have a split down the centre which, due to my sneezing as I'm harbouring a cold, split further and leaves me irritable and dabbing blood frequently. Wanting to enter the classroom without looking like I've been smacked in the mouth every weekend means that lip care is high on my list of priorities!
I used to subscribe to the traditional Chapstick; but what I've discovered with this product is you get more of a gloss and more of an overall soaking of moisture glistening across your lips. The problem with Chapstick and a few other stick varieties is that, when you have shredded lips (skin peeling across the lips), the less moisture varieties catch and you end up with flakes and white bits of the substance emphasising the extent to which your lips are damaged.
I think this is distracting to the wearer as it begins my nibbling of the hanging bits because they're so obvious. The massive difference with the Vaseline is the level of moisture; a film of gloss drenches your lips and the dry appearance disappears. The lips are softened and help me to feel more attractive; I feel less self-conscious and and I can smile without the concern of my lips splitting and bleeding so readily as with drier brands. There isn't a distinctive smell and there is a gloss-like appearance which makes them seem more succulent.
One of the added benefits of these Vaseline tins which has developed in recent years is the range of colours, flavours and added extras i.e. Cocoa butters, Aloe Vera so check out the others!
My only real criticism would be that the tins are liable to get dented; I have lost a few tins to denting in such a way that meant I couldn't take the lid off any longer! Otherwise a fabulous product to grace every handbag or pocket!
Having previously had a Love Film membership (before streaming began) I thought I had had my fill of additional programming and films. I found that the delivery of films and TV was far too reliant on my remembering to re-post DVD's in order to receive the next thing on my order list and I rarely got what I wanted as I wanted to latest thing! Before I truly launch into my review, I would like to say that I live my life vegetating on the sofa in front of the TV all day; I'm a busy teacher most of the time so on my down time I like to crash and relax in front of the TV and indulge in some non-taxing, most-fanciful, loaded with eye-candy American trash TV! Hmmmm!
When Netflix was first advertised, and admittedly when I first started using it, I didn't think much of it. Admittedly, there were a lot of nostalgic programmes and films from my childhood suddenly accessible to me but at first I didn't think much of Netflix, although I enjoyed the ability to stream directly onto my laptop and SMART TV. No more strolling to the post box; far too much movement for me!
Now, however, since it has become increasingly popular, Netflix has had an influx of fairly decent programming and I have become massively more impressed by the service.
If you are new to Netflix, then keep an eye out for 1 month free offers directly on their website. During the sign up process you will have to type in your card info but if you cancel at the correct time then you aren't tied into anything. Even if you decide to pay for a while, there is no fixed-term membership; just quit when you want...if you want!
Once in, you can access your account from any computer, stream it via your SMART TV, Apple TV and even through your Nintendo Wii which is a fairly recent development. You can also add additional users onto the account which allows 2-3 people to stream on your account at the same time, and under their usernames, quick access to their favourite programmes and recommendations tailored from considering the viewing choices you have made i.e. If you've watched a Horror film, then other popular Horror recommendations will be made.
What I have come to love about Netflix, is that it's so easy to access. I am a Media and Film studies teacher and the ease with which I can access films and TV programmes for demonstration purposes has really moved my teaching forward. I can quickly and instantly begin viewing something with very few occasions that I can recall that I haven't been able to get it working.
My partner and I are media junkies; we consume different TV series' at a rapid, alarming and most probably unhealthy rate. Every night we watch Netflix; we are not committed to the regular TV schedule. instead we've watched back-to-back episodes of Dexter (now completed I'd like to add!), currently inhaling episodes of 'Once Upon A Time' and patiently await the next series of 'Vampire Diaries'.
What I would say, as a criticism is, evidently my partner and I are mostly interested in American programming. I don't think UK customers get the full package that the company have to offer, evident from the fact that there is a wide array of more current material if you are a USA based customer. This has evidently been an issue for many people, hence there are ways of 'tricking' your account in to believing you are in the US when you log in, as logging in is country specific. If you are on a US internet connection, when you are on holiday for example, your Netflix gives you access to the USA's content which is more extensive and, in my opinion, so much better!
Overall though, my Netflix account has enriched my television viewing and I look forward to its development. Fingers crossed that there will be a merger or agreement with HBO as this will release the likes of Game of Thrones and True Blood, giving me ever the more reason to crash in front of the SMART TV from Monday through to Sunday every night!
Zumba is a latin-inspired dance programme which has really gained momentum in recent years and can be accessed in lots of ways - most popularly through classes but you can also purchase DVD's and the Wii game which is how I decided to break in to the world of Zumba.
I was bought this game for £29.99; this price includes the game and a hip belt which holds your wii remote. So far I have moved up to intermediate - the other day I did a 45 minute class and I was sweating and knackered by the end of it!
***The Game Functions***
The game includes nine different dance styles and 30 different dance routines. As I don't attend classes I don't know how relative these are to dance classes - I can only assume that moves and potentially whole dances are replicated here.
At the moment I only have the nightclub background where the instructor is centre stage and you have to gyrate a long with her.
There are different options - Zumba Class, Zumba Party and Zumba Attack - the latter two really aimed at group activities. I have only taken part in the Zumba class (no one will dance with me :()
You can also check out tutorials and amend your experience level, choosing beginner, intermediate or advanced so I assume if you're a Zumba pro you'll feel sufficiently challenged by the steps in the advanced level.
Well I can't pretend to have followed all the rules. As some one who is devoted to the Wii for exercise purposes, I like to get on it pretty quickly. When I first logged into the Zumba programme it was a simple, straightforward start and I did try the tutorials. My issue with the tutorials is that it doesn't necessarily pick up the moves correctly. So sensitive is the wii remote that the slightest jiggle of the hip will receive a positive comment from the tutorial lady and suddenly she is wizzing to the end of the dance routine which you're trying to learn - she assumes that you've got it right but it is more probable that you've wiggled your bum excessively and the screen has lit up like a Christmas tree.
So I plunged in. The different levels are also split in to time periods of 20 minutes (at all levels) and 45 minutes (intermediate and above). Starting with the beginner level and being hopeless, I found this strenuous enough tying to pick up the dance routines and steps correctly. I found that prompting is quite limited; sometimes she will indicate with her hands or an arrow will appear on the floor to imply that you'll be moving that way shortly but you won't know what you're doing until you get there! However disheartening this can be at first, it builds your confidence when after a few go's you have begun to learn the routine, even if you can't do it without the instructor!
SO I have progressed - I got through the beginners ones and moved up to intermediate. The 45 minute one was killer but to be honest, I've begun to get a little bored and don't really understand the progression. I suppose the limiting factor of having 30 workouts is that they'll be repeated and for me, unless I've really missed something, the intermediate dances are the shifting around of dances found in the beginner levels but in different orders. There is also the continual use of the same warm down dance which, again, is reassuring because you can do it and you've done it so many times before, but gets repetitive - I've done this every time before - when do they intend to mix it up a bit?
For me I think Zumba for the Wii is a wonderful idea. I am sweating after each one and I feel it later with muscles feeling achy and used. I enjoy knowing the routines and get satisfaction from completing them. However, I do find there is a certain detachment between the user and the game. Being a fitness game freak I want to have my efforts recorded and be able to tap in more data about my physical fitness and how it changes with the use of the game. There is NO dialogue of this kind between user and the game. For me I've now found an online community where 'Wii Zumba' is an option when recording exercise but I want that 'in-game' like I do with my other games. There is a suggested calender which prompts you as to which exercise you should begin with and how frequently but there is nothing invested to prompting you to return to the game.
Other negatives would be that I have to remove the sleeve from the remote to put it in the hip belt. This is minor but annoying to me as those sleeves are a pain in the rump to remove. Secondly the game is less about being accurate and more about wiggling your hips. You can be following the routine fine but you'll know a sudden spark of positive green if you shake your bum a little bit more. This applies when you're not doing the routine as well which to me, takes out the fun a bit. I like to do things right or not at all.
On the back of these negatives there are positives - I'm dancing and all exercise is good for you though I have no measure of how I've physically altered, getting the heart rate up is what's important.
Anyway, I hope this helps you to decide. A work colleague who loves to dance thinks this game is the best thing since sliced bread so it's also a personal preference. I'm not a dancer - I enjoy working with weights and 'exercising' in a more traditional way so this may call those of you who hate the things I love!
I received this book as a Christmas gift; I've taken a passing interest in Jodi Picoult (well I've read a few synopsis's of her books and figured they might turn out to be quite interesting!) but this is the first book I've read of hers. It's pretty hefty at 603 pages (maybe not the best one to 'break me in' with!) and tells the story through each of its main characters which gives you a rounded view of the situation as it is perceived by Jacob Hunt - the main character of this book whose interest in forensic science and turning up at crime scenes leads him to a potential murder conviction of his own, as well as his younger brother Theo, his mother Emma and others such as the police officer who brings him in (Rich) and Oliver a rookie lawyer who takes on the case despite being completely out of his depth.
---The Plot (without spoilers - the back of the book says all of this!)---
Jacob Hunt is an 18 year old; he has been diagnosed with Asperger's and though incredibly intelligent, lacks the capacity to relate to others and socially interact. As a result, his mother has centred her world around helping her child to access the world, helping him with a private social skills teacher and by working the world around him to function in a way he can cope with i.e. food is colour coded according to the day of the week, strict routines and a tailored diet and dealing with his meltdowns. His brother Theo feels the crunch of coming second to this and acts out in his own way.
His obsession with forensic science (he sets up crime scenes in his own home!) and the disappearance of his social skills teacher at the time when he was meant to be seeing her starts off a catalogue of events which points the finger at Jacob. Aside from this, lacking social skills and acting in a way which indicates guilt - lack of emotion, eye contact and inappropriate behaviour which can be attributed to his Aspergers, he appears guilty and with a whole world of people who don't understand him, the odds are against him.
I found this book a bit of a slog to get through. I don't have a lot of time to dedicate to reading so it was great that the chapters were small, taken from each characters perspective so I could keep up with what was happening as often, the next characters thoughts and actions will relate to the previous one (which I may have read a night or two ago).
I found this an interesting, informative read. The 'case studies' of murders I found interesting - obviously intended as a branch of Jacob's psyche, but all the same they helped to stir my thoughts on what actually happened and who was guilty. I found it interesting hearing things from different perspectives and thought that this was done well. Most chapters were left on a cliffhanger which another character responded to and especially towards the end of the book, I really wanted to read on.
I had previously read 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' by Mark Haddon which is written solely from the perspective of a boy with autism and how he perceives the world - I found it a real eye opener; to see the world from a different perspective and I enjoyed this single perspective MORE than I did the fragmented one although in order to build tension and suspense, it needed to be broken up between characters. There were so many incidences where the 'truth' nearly came out that I did get a bit frustrated - if I'm in his mind then why doesn't he just say what he saw?! For someone who takes the world literally, I would prefer to know a bit more instead of being taken around the houses but again, that would have destroyed the whole build up of tension and I'm glad in some ways that it was strung out like it was!
The cons for me were the incessant readdressing of Asperger's - the analogies from both Jacob and Emma which occurred frequently. I get it - you cannot break the social barriers. Whilst it was useful at the start to really build a context and understand how dehabillitating Asperger's can be, I felt like everything that was said throughout the novel was done so repeatedly and was then regurgitated through the court proceedings and therefore I had to hear it all again. I found it more interesting having those issues that Jacob is faced with listed then having them drip fed and every character who hasn't met Jacob to then react in a surprised manner. It was just repetitive.
I also found the characters a little...draining. I liked Jacob and I liked Theo. Emma I didn't like - she's meant to write an advice column for a local newspaper as a means of income but the examples of her work that suddenly keep cropping up at the start of her chapters towards the end of the novel (not a pattern that ran through the novel or was welcomed when it did appear) were poor and made her less believable. They were meant to add a touch of humour but I felt that they were trying too hard - and any one who wrote so little and such rubbish would definitely not be employed to contribute to a regular column and get paid for it. There was also a very cheesy line that stuck out to me at the start of the novel - either from Rich or Oliver about how they imagined the woman who wrote the advice column for their local paper to be - fantasying and saying they were attracted to her and the things she said...this was left to die and also seemed very far fetched for a woman who obviously contributes utter tripe to have a profound impact on any one. Then coincidently crops up in their lives almost instantaneously. Too obvious that Picoult was trying to draw tentative links between the characters but this appeared pretty unlikely. I don't think any profound thoughts about Dear Deidre - "Wow. I bet she's a intelligent, stunning woman in real life.". No folks.
Despite my dislike of Emma, I would say overall this is a good book but needs some pace injected. I felt like the storyline progressed at a snails pace because one episode in Jacobs life would then need to be relived through the thoughts of at least 2 others and really the most exciting bit was the last 150 pages and then I was gripped and didn't want to leave the story.
The ending, not so much an anti-climax and seemed a reasonable way to end but something in my heart of hearts saw it coming and I swear it was hinted at by someone involved in the situation but never directly addressed. I felt like it closed in probably the only way it could although having been invested in 150 pages worth of court proceedings, I felt like they robbed me on the end - I wanted to know what would happen in that situation and how it would be dealt with. I wanted to know the expressions of those in the trial and how it came to a close.
I also felt that as a mother, or brother of someone on trial for murder KNOWING that my brother does not have the capacity to lie and can only tell the truth (a fact reiterated a billion times) I would have turned and said "Tell me exactly what happened." I know this would have dramatically shortened the book but considering as a parent you would NEED to know for your own peace of mind, and the weight placed on Jacob's inability to lie, I felt the scenario was really diluted and dragged out when in reality no mother would have ever let this carry on for this long without knowing. Also making a point of saying he answers everything literally led to questions being asked which required rephrasing in order to get more information, which the character avoided doing to leave you with more questions that answer. The character has an inner monologue about what this could mean instead of asking Jacob for details.
Worth a read but needs your full attention - and good humour - to fully appreciate.
I was fortunate enough to receive this fitness game as a Christmas gift this year. I was naughty and sold my other personal trainer game because I found it didn't push me enough, and didn't take fitness as seriously as I do; the pauses and activities didn't make me feel like I was doing enough. I became hooked on the Wii Active game instead, especially liking the boxing element which is where my interest in this game spiked; reading another review on dooyoo, I discovered a game that centred on boxing whilst pushing you enough to feel a work out.
Deserving of its own title, the price is definitely one massive plus with this game; at £9.99 is it essentially a bargain in the Wii game pricing stakes, and for what you get, I would expect to pay a lot more. It's good to see that lower prices do not constitute lower standards in game play.
The game uses a 3D animation style interface where you can design and dress your own avatar. At first you also have three trainers to select; two females and one male. I have chosen Alex, for his passing resemblance to Taylor Lautner and the fact that some of the exercise incentives take the form of 'winning' outfits for your trainers. He is currently topless in some 'flame-designed' shorts. I can pretend if I want so shh!
The interface is simple to use. If you have two remotes, you can hold one in each hand which is what I prefer as punching wands. When you start up, you get to choose your environment, choice of music (I always listen to 'Determination' but you may prefer one of the other, suitably empowering song choices on offer) and then you are ready to go. A grid appears on your screen, much like when you play dancing games. The type of hit you are doing and the side you have to hit from appears as a square icon which drifts up the screen in time with music. You then hit out in the correct style of hit when it comes in line with a box halfway up the screen. You then receive an 'excellent' 'very good', 'good' or 'miss' depending on your timing and accuracy.
One element I enjoyed was the initial setup of the game. I chose and customised my character, entered weight and height and had access to a learning-the-basics-style-programme. I was taught the moves, received a 'punch stamp' on my calendar to acknowledge my efforts and since then I have been allowed to choose between creating a custom workout of my choice or choosing a regular or hardcore work out. I've been hard coring at the moment as part of my own healthy eating and exercise regime which includes 30 minutes on my cross trainer and 30 minutes kicking ass on the wii every day. I find this allows me to feel like everything below my waist gets as much of a thrashing as the top half.
95% of the time, I love this game. I get so much satisfaction from receiving 'excellent' and being able to cope with long sequences of moves. I've learnt the symbols and can alter myself to change to the different types of moves.
The first time I played I really went all out. The next morning everything ached; shoulders, arms and stomach muscles. I couldn't play for a couple days because I literally couldn't raise my arms without tenderness. However since then I have managed to build on this and now after around 8 session I feel muscle fatigue, but the turnaround in terms of being able to work out again the next day means that obviously my body is developing, becoming stronger and am becoming able to be challenged further.
The only real issues I've encountered concern the sensitivity of the remotes when it comes to certain moves, and smaller issues like the ideas behind certain activities outside of the main game. With each workout you finish with an activity like skipping rope or punch bag. Skipping rope is the bane of my life. I HAVE to complete it as part of my compulsive personality, but I get so frustrated that the principles and movements do not reflect a skipping rope. The only way I can succeed is to keep my hands still with remotes facing outwards and jump on the spot. Any effort to actually imitate a skip rope causes your character to trip and start again. The longest 3 minutes EVER.
Sensitivity is my only other issue. I want to have 100 % hit rate. I find it unsatisfying 'missing' a move but more often than not, I have completed the move and it hasn't been picked up. It is so frustrating when you really push for something!
Finally my other issue which has made me want to tear my hair out, is the exit option during the workout. If you press 1 and 2 together (not an unlikely occurrence considering you are punching with these wands). You are not given a back out option if you pressed it by mistake. You can be 99% on the way to finishing, press this by accident and it terminates your hard work. Of course, if you don't 'finish' the workout, you don't get your punch stamp. Frustrating!!
This is a great game. I can't fault it in many ways - I am getting a genuine workout, I feel stronger and I am enjoying. Now I'm looking for longer term results; the trimming and toning of muscle. I think that this is a reasonable goal and that principally when you are playing this game you have to put in the effort. Yes a sharp twist of the wrist might score you an excellent on some of the moves, but then what is the point? If you really throw your weight behind the punch, you will begin to feel the results. I would definitely recommend this game to fitness buffs out there - this is a way in to home fitness and worth a tenner if not more!
My relationship with popcorn is rather intimate and complicated. I find I need it more than it needs me and at times, we have to go 'on a break' to prevent me from ballooning into a heffer. I was a butterkist microwave popcorn hussy on the fast lane to heart disease and finding myself scoffing every scorching kernel until I went to a guidance counsellor, John Lewis, and he recommended a friend to me; they call her the 'Princess Popcorn Maker'.
***What is the Princess Popcorn Maker?***
Bought from John Lewis for £29.99, the Princess is about a foot in height and is basically a longer silver tube with a light brown transparent plastic chute. Plugging it in, it works by producing hot air amongst the kernels which are seated inside the silver body (accessible by lifting the plastic brown part of the chute). A measuring cup is provided (which I have misplaced...obviously subconsciously not wanting myself to be limited by the cups meagre portion).
After a short period of time, if you haven't placed a bowl under the chute, you will have lots of fluffy white popped corns spitting out and all over the floor.
This product was easy to set up and use. It basically comes 'as is' and within a minute or two the popcorns are popping and ready to chomp. One of the main benefits is the ease of use and quite time.
Another benefit would be the use of circulated hot air in order to encourage the popping process. Without the adding of oil associated with saucepan poppage, your popcorn is healthier, lighter and likely to last longer. You also don't get any soggy ones as they are not sat in oil or any other substance.
The result is a light, fluffy and full popped corn although I do find the taste quite dry. They are of course, healthy and can be sealed for later eating, but immediate consumption is great because they are nice and hot!
Personally I like my popcorn salted which is a massive no-no unless you want a very sick Princess. Salt will not agree with the mechanism and doesn't really 'grip' following the popping so I haven't achieved any flavouring of my popcorn. I find this makes the machine redundant for my needs as I don't find plain popcorn overally satisfying. A nifty (but obviously biased to the sweet toothed ones among us) is that the top has a tray which can hold butter. The butter is warmed and melted using the heat generated to pop the corns so you can pour the lovely substance over your popped corn once you're done. However, obviously this does not give me salty satisfaction.
For me, I give this product four stars because I no longer use it; I cannot create salted popcorn and therefore it is fairly redundant. As such I have mastered the saucepan technique and created the most scrumptious popcorn. If I was health conscious or had a buttery disposition, this would be a dream machine. As it doesn't univerally suit popcorn lovers of all types, I give it four stars. A fab machine and definitely recommended purchase!!
Ah the DS Lite. I have a wonderful handheld red version of this little delight and I have to say I love it!
***What is the DS Lite***
The DS Lite is a handheld games console with dual screens, the lower of which in the main body of the DS is touch screen. It was created by Nintendo as, what I assume to be, a rival to the playstation PSP. Games are played via a cartride inserted into the back of the console, although without a game you can wirelessly picto-chat with other DS gamers, drawing images or typing messages to one another. A pen is provided to make it easier to highlight, accurately draw and select as well as the controls either side of the screen built in to the console. On the left you have the direction functions and on the right the typical XYAB buttons and start and select.
There are speakers whose volume can be adjusted on the side of the console and the whole thing folds up to make it a wonderful pocket sized console to fish out when needed.
Why do I love it? I was first given a PSP as a gift and yeah there were some great games and funky graphics, but never the clarity and ease I find with the DS. The dual screen is utilised well in so many games and the touch screen capacity adds to enjoyment of the game and your sense of taking part. My favourite games are the Professor Layton series which rely on your ability to draw shapes, move things around and answer puzzles. The brain training programmes further utilise this drawing element in their games but there are also a number of other games such as Mario which bring you back to the ol' SNES controls with the use of the joypad.
I bought two DS Lite's whilst in America - only blessed by the ability to charge via the USB into a computer because they cannot be charged via plug sockets in this country (even with an adapter). At that time, about 2 years ago, the monetary conversion made buying 2 in the USA cheaper than buying 1 in the UK and I purchased one for my mother who also found issue with the PSP's subscription to 'boy' games and genres, which to be fair, is where the PSP's strength lies. With the DS the unexpected addictive qualities of the likes of Cooking Mama and Animal Crossing are more prevalant, a tad more low key than the likes Grand Theft Auto and such on the PSP.
I really like the choice of colours; my mothers being girly pink whilst I opted for the red. They are very sleek and simple and the screen quality is sharp and clear.
The DS has also been able to, before the likes of the Kindle emerged, produce books onto cartridge and uses the dual screen to read whilst out and about. I find it remarkable with the abundance of new mobile readers out there, that DS had already done this and still have multiple other functions such as chat and playing games. I feel if they continued to release popular collections of titles, they could overtake the electronic book market and do away with having to buy a handheld device just for this purpose.
Looking at prices on Amazon the console new is going for between £100 - £150 (this is not the DS Litei addition) and used starting at less than £50 which I think is a bargain now.
I bought an additional pouch for mine to hold cartridges for my games, an extra pen and find this a really convenient console to take on long journeys - especially with Professor Layton style games to attempt to solve burning away the time.
Games, used, can start from as little as £5 heading up to nearer £30 with the newest, most popular releases. There are also ways and means (ebay) of getting just the cartridges to play on making them cheaper to purchase although my partner bought one with case and found a completed, saved game on there for something that was purchased 'as new' so be aware of what you might be buying.
With the introduction of the DS i addition with extra added bits like a camera, I'm sure this little console will fade out in popularity but I am still extremely happy with it and love using it even a few years on.
We've only had this a few weeks, but to be honest the results are fairly instant so I thought I would give it a review (and a slap on the back for behaving so well).
***What is it***
This is the Argos Value 10 litre dehumidifier. Via a process that I believe involves magic, this baby removes moisture from the air which collects in a canister inside of it. This is then removeable and requires tipping out the water and apparently according to instructions, a hoover around the inside now and again to keep it clear.
The design has changed since the image features above. It still has the useful handle on the top but with a larger rectangular grill on the top half with an off/on turning switch and 2 lights indicating when it is running (green on the left) and when it is full (blue on the right)
***Why is it necessary?***
If you are too dry you can suffer from dry skin, sore throats etc...and if you're too humid you can develop colds more frequently, your paint can peel, damp stops appear and your wallpaper can flop off the walls.
***Has it worked?***
Our house is single glazed, rented (so no long term solutions possible unless we want to lose money investing in the property), it smells damp and the windows, especially upstairs, drip with condensation.
We've only used it downstairs so far and at first, we purchased a £6.99 little gadget called a Digital Thermo Hygro because we didn't want to buy a dehumidifier if our problem was actually quite insignificant and wouldn't impact on the property. Your property should have roughly 45% humidity...ours runs at roughly 65% humidity so there is quite a bit of moisture in the air! Looking at it now it's at 62% and the temperature in the kitchen in 16 degrees. It's nippy.
So the humidifier the first day was in the lounge. Turned it on and (sadly) the noisy motor kicks up. After just over an hour humidity dropped by 10% and shock horror - the temperature rose! Apparently the 'exothermal' reaction and the whole process of pulling the moisture out of the air and converting it to liquid has (in our case) the added benefit of generating a little heat! The temperature rose a few degrees and it felt a lot less groggy. The smell has lessened also and in general, I have noticed a marked difference in the general atmosphere.
***Good points, bad points***
It is noisy. Not ridiculously noisy but it does groan kind of like listening to a noisy washing machine behind a door. This isn't too bad but I do notice myself turning up the volume on the tele and finding the drone playing on my nerves.
It is about 1.5 feet high and with motor it weighs a bit if after your purchase you carry it home. Not a problem if you're nearby and obviously once its home its there but I found it hefty to carry and my partner, not realising its size, went to collect it on his bike and I had to go and help him because he couldn't wheel the bike and carry it!
Last 2 bad points - it uses electricity and it costs £69.99. I mean that isn't a bad price for a good product and I did have the choice of getting a rechargeable one but these only seemed to be in places such as Wilko's and parting with a tenner for one of those when our problems are quite big seemed silly - it wouldn't be strong enough and I need a guarantee behind it if it doesn't work.
Good points - it does its job and in turn, in the long run it's keeping us that bit warmer and helping to make our lives a bit happier with slightly warmer rooms (it makes such a difference) and the absence of that awful musty smell when you walk through the door.
It has reduced in price as previous reviewers have said they paid around £90, and I think it's reasonable for what it does. I think it's a good solution for us too, as we are renting and because we have such a cold property we have learnt a lot about what we will be doing to our property to ensure we don't live like this again. The humidifier has helped to make the situation a bit more bearable; finally a solution that works.
I would recommend it but then again there are cheaper models out there and deals to be had so I would definitely browse a little more in future although I am content with a product that works!
I chose this cleaner based on reviews via the Argos website - 280 reviews and 4.5 stars. I wanted a Dyson...but we had just moved house and I was only choosing a Dyson on reputation and previous experience at my parents so really, I was being awfully prejudice by not giving the other vacuums another look. I conceded once I looked at the price and wondered if I would ever find a decent vacuum for my fairly measly budget (measly when looking at the cost of a Dyson).
So at £59.99 at the time I reserved it and picked it up. I have JUST checked the price now and it is back up to £119.99 - I truly picked a bargain!!!! It may seem a funny choice to someone who only owns a bird (feathered of course) and lives with just my partner (does that constitute a 'family'?) but the Family and Pets Bagless Cleaner (bagless meaning I can pretend it's a Dyson) indicated a product designed to tackle the toughest - and I have some pretty nasty looking critters in the corners of my house, and if I looked closely maybe some children clinging on to my carpets - I needed to know they wouldn't escape the suction.
- 1800 watts.
- 205 air watts.
- Side suction for edge to edge cleaning.
- Length of hose 3m.
- Variable power via a dial adaptable depending on the surface
- Capacity of dustbin 3 litres.
- Washable filter.
- Manual cord rewind.
- Foot operated on/off control.
- Adjustable floorhead.
- 6.5m power cord.
- Weight 6.9kg.
Well, it is a GORGEOUS red colour with a clear cylinder belly which allows you to watch the rising level of dirt, dust, hair, empty seed cases and feathers. It is upright with 2 pedals either side of the suction head allowing you to turn it on with your right foot and release it to tilt via the left. There is a dial at the centre which allows you to choose the type of floor you are on. I won't lie - the one time I moved it off the default laminate/wood floor setting it made a bit more noise than I liked so I put it back. This function has proved perfectly sufficient for the different surfaces in my home. The noise was obviously increased suction (for those with really hairy dogs, or children - hairy ones). It's not unbearable but unnecessary in my house where actually the default function sufficed perfectly on all surfaces.
The hose has an easy grip handle; is a reasonable 3 metres and is released using a red button that sits alongside the hose when it is in the upright position. The red hose can then be guided around and your add-ons added on.
The power cord is 6.5 metres which is ample for your typical room but I like my cords long so room to room is done with fairly minimal changes of socket. I would definitely want a longer cord with this in future but I am being choosy. My home is circular so I would love something that allowed moving around the rooms (no doors) with no changes!
I thought in my specs list I would keep the wording given about the product for some of them- manual rewind is hilarious. Basically you wind the cable by hand...! This is fairly typical although I miss my old car vacuum where you would press a button and the cord would whip back in to the vacuum (and you probably sustained an ankle injury from the frantic flapping of the plug on its way back!)
It is fairly lightweight but not an overall practical one for the stairs. I can manage it but I know my mother who's a tad frailer than me would find it an effort to hold and the hose, although ample for most things, doesn't have the most awesome reach at 3 metres.
***My Opinions and Experience***
Well I do like this vacuum a whole lot and would actually go as far to say that it is a lot better and more reliable than all previously owned Dyson's, at a fraction of the cost. It's a good boy vacuum too - comes in red ya know but sadly, no go faster stripes. It has strong, consistent suction and doesn't lose power. It can get a tad noisy but hey - it's doing its job.
A con - cannot do small rugs. It's just too strong, it sucks them up! My vacuum is very busy in my house. It picks up every ounce of dirt and then it has the wonderful job of being stood upright whilst I get the hose and chase down the lanky sodding spiders lurking everywhere. They are awful...but they are learning to keep away. SO I'm in the bathroom and its tiled floor - but I happen to leave the vacuum with a corner on the edge of the bath mat. I'm distracted reading a gruesome, hairy fiend his last rites and suddenly wisps of fluff are appearing. I panic - OH MY GOD THE SPIDERS AND THEIR WEBS ARE SHOOTING BACK OUT OF THE VACUUM CLEANER TO GET ME and prance about frantically because since moving to this spider ridden house I have developed an irrational fear of the little sods, and then I realise it's MUNCHING MY RUG! Hey take your mind out the gutter - seriously the corner of my bath mat is now fluff free and thread bare - and that is when the vacuum is stood and suction is redirected for the most part to the hose.
A huge plus is this special pet tool. Apart from the typical longer plastic bit which is good in corners, you can attach a mini vacuum head onto your hose! Seriously it's a mini imitation of the bigger head at the base of your vacuum and it has its only little roller and everything. My sofas are immaculate. I love it. For those of you finding yourself always brushing dog hair of the sofa after the dogs decided it's his for an hour's kip, it is perfect. Maintains the strong suction, it takes off all the rubbish - hair, crumbs, annoying bits of white something that appear on your dark brown sofa. No - it doesn't rip your sofa to shreds either - it is a genius little add-on which satisfies my OTT cleaning habits. Bliss. Your sofa cleans up via your mini vacuum head - it is just perfect.
So, how much can one woman love her vacuum? Well I have to say it has a little piece of my heart for keeping the crumpled bodies of the lanky ones in its bagless grave yard ; it looks good, it has amazing suction and its keep my home clean. It really is a workhorse for those with pets and pesky, smelly and dirty children. You could probably use the little suction head, just line your kids up and vacuum them standing! Yes I would like a bigger hose (sorry guys, bigger IS better) and I would like a longer lead (how demanding!) but these things are minor and are really a matter of personal choice. People will always complain about lead length - what's fine for a little flat won't work for a mansion but this length is ample for each of my rooms. I wasn't happy about the rug, I was just thankful it came from Primark...oh and I could just turn it over...but apart from what I only see as its eagerness to please - this vacuum is an excellent, well made product and shockingly...many, many times better than a Dyson.
Dell 1745 Studio
I've had my Dell since I started my PGCE in September 2009. My older laptop was unreliable - the power cable always falling out the back and generally being a pain so I decided to shop around and went for a Dell. I think what drew me to Dell was the customisable features...despite not choosing any I felt that the process via the website was simple and straightforward allowing me to add or remove options and it felt more 'custom' than other laptops.
Manufacturer : Dell
Model: Studio 1745
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU T6600 @ 2.20GHz
Installed memory (RAM): 4.00 GB
System Type: 64-bit Operating System
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premimum
Harddrive: 283 GB
As the name suggests, this is a 17 inch screen laptop. I chose the basic look laptop which is a sleek black lid with the Dell symbol in silver centrally located on the lid. It is made of the same plastic/acrylic you find on ipods. You can smear your name into the top - that lovely shiny surface picks up every smear and bit of dust it can, and obviously shows every scratch or scrape it manages to acquire. Mine is unscratched but does look pretty grubby. Netherless, I like the black finish and when cleaned, comes up really nice!! Lift the lid and you have a full size keyboard (hallelujah!) with keypad to the right. Above the keyboard there is a touch-pad bar where you can rewind, play/pause, fastforward and eject any CD or DVD you have running - great if you're watching a movie and need to nip to the loo. You don't have to disturb the screen at all. You can also adjuct the volume or mute it via the touch pad. There is also a button resembling 2 cogs which opens the Windows Mobility Centre to adjuust the different settings such as the wireless switch, the lighting on the screen etc... This touch panel is lit behind with a clean, white light.
Below the keyboard sits the touchpad mouse. This area is grey with a kind of goggles design on it. There are 2 1 inch speakers in the the bottom corners and the screen maintains the sleek black look, bordered in the same finish with 'studio' written in the corner and the Dell logo centred below the screen. The main body of the laptop is less that an inch thick but being a studio laptop, it is pretty long and heavy although extremely quiet when running, even after long periods of time.
The power plugs in to the top right hand corner and isn't like most laptops whose 'bit you plug in' (techie term, you might not all get it) is normally a right-angled piece of plastic. This plugs in straight and has a little blue ring around the top to show you when it's plugged in and ready to go.
There is a built in webcam which has software to enable you to take snap shots, video or add comical frames and images over yours.
I do love my Dell and it shows signs of my affections. It is dirty and never seems to look clean. The keyboard looks grubby and a pitfall of losing anything between the keys is that they sit so close together you can't clean effectively under them. My G key hands upwards because a seed got stuck underneath and I had to remove the key to get to it, and despite following instructions on how to do this I still failed miserably!
What I wasn't happy with when it arrived (eventually but that's more about Dell's abysmal lack of organisation and customer service as appose to the product itself) the touch bar had pockets of air and appear 'scratched' in the way it had been fitted. At the time I overlooked this because it took so long to get here but now the pockets take away from the pleasing aesthetic.
The laptop is no fuss really - it is quiet, doesn't get too hot and has an awesome screen for movies and for working on. With Windows 7 it is perfect for my concident work and play related uses, running such bigger games as Spore and Sims 3 with addons without any issues. The battery life is a huge plus - at the start it could last about 2.5-3 hours, now it's down to about 2 but still, gives you enough time to get some decent disconnected time with your laptop.
I've found it hard to write this review because I really like this laptop but I'm not a nerdy type - it is great. My mother can understand how to use it and does so with ease which is some sort of testiment as she isn't completely clued up. A simple, functional, easy to use laptop.
I have been involved with researching my family history for around 5 years now. My mother spearheads the whole thing and when I'm home we go to record offices, BMD registrars and of course, rooting around the grave yards to confirm and instil the memories of family members past and present. We have 5 main names - 4 from my mother's side and our surname given from my father. Despite not wanting to delve as much into his history (as we have no sources to speak with due to family disputes) my mother figured we wouldn't get far. His side is hugely extensive as they are a huge number of people piecing together that tree and publishing their findings online. So is borne the art of family tree finding!
In order to document these findings, cite the correct sources so you're talking about the right person and to consolidate information in an easy to view and searchable format, a large selection of books becomes available - their problem? They are not designed for the avid researcher wanting to go beyond their grandparents. You need some proper kit - and this is where the Family Tree Maker 2009 comes in. How else are you going to document the 1353 members of one side of our family (not including my father's ancestors!)
***Family Tree Maker 2009***
This software is specifically designed to collate data gathered about your family tree. This is done through a number of ways. If you are just starting out you can begin from the scratch with an entirely new tree, where you are the centralised person and everyone added is recorded in relation to you. However far back you manage to get, the programme will indentify the links for you.
My mother owned one of the predecessors to this version, 2005, and the advances in terms of simplifying the interface and making it more user friendly is a huge advantage to those just starting out with the programme and their research.
When you select 'New Tree' you can either load an existing tree from a gedcom or family tree file, or else you can begin with yourself. Once you put in the basics you simply create a new tree, labelled appropriately and your tree begins.
- The simple interface allows you to see all the information relating to your person, and by selecting 'add mother', 'add father' , 'add spouse' etc...you simply begin to develop your tree. Haven't got the info? You click the 'Web Search' tab, family tree maker hooks up to Ancestry.com and you can begin raiding the online resources to find all the evidence you need.
- Basic search engine. Under the people tab, you can search your whole family tree for individuals. This is done by alphabetically listing surnames. I found the ability to sort and add different and additional columns of information very useful especially when finding potential WW1 causalities/participants (a morbid fascination and curiosity of mine). I could list all males and look at birthdates so I can assume people of a certain age would of been called up. With the use of ancestry I can then look up births, marriages, deaths as well as medal rolls and attempt to discover what happened - what medals they were entitled to, which regiment were they with and what position and rank they reached.
- Adding media - you can also bring together all the images you have for your family. My granddad for example, is very interesting because we have photo's scanned in from his childhood, his time in the war through to being 88 years old riding the motorbikes he loved all his life. It's a way of documenting someone's life and paying tribute to the moments that defined them.
There are a large number of ways to research your family tree, but none of them are free if you want to get anywhere. Ancestry.com is the link with this programme and has a humungous library of information - census records up to 1901 (findmypast.com holds the 1911 and charges you per record), medal rolls, immigration records, ships records etc.. all of which can be purchased via an annual fee and only includes UK related records. If your family moves to the USA and sets at home, you will need to alter your subscription to access increased types of records.
As well as Ancestry.com you have findmypast.com which holds the 1911 census and some military records. They are currently holding RMLI records (royal marine light infantry) which means they hold information on a soldier that I really want but don't want to keep throwing money at it.
Otherwise there is genesreunited.com. Everyone uploads their trees but you have to allow access to your tree. People email with enquiries about apparent matches between trees and you can either allow them access or reply with the information they are after. My mother has such an extensive tree that she is very protective over the data - understandable with amount of time (a number of years) and money (yearly subscription costs), you may not want to hand out your data willy nilly. However I found my mother's long lost cousin who disappeared on the death of her uncle when he was 25. The cousin was about 5 years old and my nan searched for him until her death. Not all reunions turn out great - we filled in the gaps in the last 50 years and then he wanted the original photo's (not copies) of him, the same photo's my nan held on to all those years - then he never replied. He received copies though, not the originals!
Lastly the National Archives are an excellent resource (also pay per record/subscription) but also they are really interesting if you want to find out more generalised information. My mother's cousin spent time in a convalescent home which has since closed; the website offers information on the nature of activities in such institutions - hospitals, schools etc...helping you to more informed on how people lived 'back in them days'
The programme is an excellent piece of software. It is simple and straightforward to use with a pleasant looking interface and clear tabs to allow you to scroll through your data. It is simpler to use than previous versions and allows you to search and organise your information clearly, which as you progressively add more and more people, becomes increasingly important.
It ties in your sources (from online places such as ancestry) and adds links to your information to confirm when you have made a connection i.e. finding the birth record or death record of someone. It quickly links with the online resources of ancestry allowing you to search within the software's browser or conduct your search on the website. Your tree can be started online and downloaded to the software or vice versa allowing you to keep up to date as you progress both online and offline.
The downfall is that this is a pricey bit of kit and although you usually get offers (3 months free subscription to ancestry.com for example) this is not an inexpensive hobby. If you're happy to use your local records office with their microfiche machines and records, that is fine. But if your family stray from home, without extensive travelling, going online may be your only way of knowing what happened to them. The records are sometimes spoiled or badly scanned making them hard to read. Often the records are incorrect leading you to believe you've got the wrong person (before certain dates ages were rounded up or down). Sometimes the scanner who has re-typed the names to make them searchable has mistaken the spelling and it's a completely different name. At other times you will chase back as far as you can go and you start to wonder how far out you should go (especially when females marry and adopt an array of surnames) or doubt whether the family line you have is the right one because a number of families with the same surname live in the same area. If you're paying - pay-per-view, getting the wrong record is costly. If you don't get how the system works, you'll be using your free 2 weeks/months subscription getting to grips with the records.
Family tree research can become a costly affair but to me it is hugely rewarding. From this venture I have found a forgotten great uncle killed in WW1 and never mentioned again for whatever reason, a long lost cousin for my mother...the realisation that we were all agricultural labourers and that's what you get for living in the country. It's fascinating and being able to reflect on those discoveries, finally gets it down in one place and not flung far and wide in old records, with ease is what makes parting with that money worth it. A versatile, easy to use and functional programme which I highly recommend.
The funniest thing is - after years of research my mother's found out her maiden name comes from a child born out of wedlock and fobbed off to the rest of the family whilst she remarried and took a new surname. Spawned from him retaining his mother's maiden name, if his mother had wed the man to which he was conceived we would have a different name althogether...it's amazing what you find...and you wouldn't know it unless you dug in and got started!
Jersey Boys...oh dear. Sorry folks - I couldn't be left out of the search for a 'Franki Valli and the Four Seasons' song related title. They have a ridiculous amount of songs which lend themselves to topping off a Dooyoo review and mine will be no exception. I think my title also has more resonance due to my dribbly fascination with Ryan Molloy (the guy playing Franki Valli in London).
I wouldn't have chosen to see it myself because I didn't realise I knew quite so many Franki Valli songs and I was worried it would be some sort of tribute act where I'm usually squat between my aunt happy clapping and blaring out to every track and my mother using my knee to clap on. But I said to my mother dearest she could choose any show for her birthday and come to stay in London with me and this is the one she wanted. I was obviously in an exceptional mood because low and behold I went one better and said she could sit anywhere. SO that's how I parted with £104.00 + admin charges for 2 seats just 2 rows from the front stage. Ouch you say? I would part with it again in a second. Well...maybe not RIGHT now but ya know what I mean.
***The Theatre - Where is it showing?***
From its debut on Broadway, Jersey Boys has shimmied over to the UK and can be seen at the Prince Edward Theatre (part of the Delfont Mackintosh theatre group) which is conveniently near a few tubes - Tottenham Court Road probably proving to be the most accessible. It's fairly easy to find and is surrounded by tons of places to eat pre-show and drink afterwards. The theatre itself is decorated in accordance with the 1960's decor - predominantly red from what I can recall although I'm happy to be corrected.
We were led down to the stalls, and for some reason they were not using the front row so, being second row we were actually the first row there. There are cheaper or matched seats in the Dress Circle and Grand Circle above. Although I can see the benefit of sitting up and being able to look down on the set, there were very few instances where I felt like I was disadvantaged by being so close. I would only opt in future to be a few rows back as I quite liked the intimacy (and Ryan Molloy was obviously singing to me once he saw my beaming grin and puppy dog eyes staring adoringly up at him...he mouthed 'I love you' and the spot light focused on us both...oh wait - sorry!)
***The Jersey Boys***
So for those also under the illusion it might be some poor imitation group just milking the Four Seasons and Franki's success...you're wrong. I was wrong - we are so wrong. It is actually the telling of the story of their rise to fame from their roots in New Jersey. If you get the programme you are progressively told the story through quotations which are directly lifted from the performance. I love this because I then click at different points and tune in because I glimpsed the programme and wanted to know more.
The story is told through the eyes of all five main characters and their impact and inclusion into the trials and tribulations of the group. You also gain insight into the relationships that develop and some of the really exceptional circumstances that this group found themselves in and the amount of debt which Franki fairly independently lifted the group out of. I really don't want to give too much away concerning the plot because that's not the point of the review, but I want to give you an overarching view! Each character takes on different points of the narrative, essentially when they each had to come into their own throughout the group's development.
There was never a dull moment, never a moment where I thought "God this is dragging" - I just loved it. The set was fairly straightforward but so versatile and used really well. The gorgeous girls done up in 1960's dress with gorgeous hair styles and outfits as well as the men in their dapper suits and slacks with those slicked back hair styles. Yum. I was born 40 years too late!!
The actors were awesome, all carrying accents well although towards the end the accent of one of the characters did wane a tad...he sounded sort of Arnold Schwartanegger at times...just me? Ok! There are two original cast members who have stayed with the show since it started in London; Ryan Molloy playing an exceptional Franki Valli with that high pitch tone, just incredible, and also Stephen Ashfield playing Bob Gaudio. Despite being some swapping and changing of the other two characters, there was a natural chemistry between the whole cast. Tommy DeVito was played by Jon Boydon and Nick Massi (the one whose accent wasn't totally consistent but in no way hindered the performance!) played by Eugene McCoy. None of the cast are 'well known' but they were moulding their names in the bright lights by being just that - they were exceptional, all British born with authentic New Jersey accents.
For those committed fans, you will want to know a handful of the tracks that you will definitely want to hear. My favourite currently being 'My Eyes Adored You', you will also hear 'Sherrie', 'Fallen Angel', 'Walk Like A Man', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Who Loves You'. I was pleasantly surprised by 'Beggin' being there as obviously the association with this track is with the modern track by Madcon. The songs were seamlessly included, moving in with the action - never being dubbed in at the last minute or seemingly unfitting. One of the funnier tracks being 'December 1963 (Oh What A Night)' relating to the awakening of Bob Gaudio from his prior innocence...!
I LOVED JERSEY BOYS. There was the perfect mix of humour; the songs were well placed and sung perfectly. Just today my mother and I ran December 1963 the original and the cast version after each other and the impression was so authentic it would take an avid fan to really tell the difference. The wonderful, colourful story, the quick set changes utilising the different cast members to create different diners and performance areas, the massive signs suspending from the ceiling and suddenly illuminating as they played different shows. The use of a metal staircase and walkway which represented a number of things; frequent visits to jail, the meeting of prominent figures and the heartbreaking deaths which knocked Franki for six, as well as the death of relationships; lovers and friends. The one that really got me was Nick Massi's exit. A stunningly well made musical - I couldn't rate it more highly. I grinned from ear to ear - and not just because Ryan Malloy had me enchanted. My eyes adored it.
***Check out the website too!! Well worth a peek! Also Ryan Malloy has released an album 'Ryan sings Franki'! I definitely prefer the original cast recording but still - check it out!!***
22" LCD Model L22T11W-C Wharfedale
I have had this television for about 3 years now and use it mainly in my bedroom for evening viewing. It used to be my main television but weekly probably gets about 8-12 hours usage, watching DVD's and terrestrial television.
***What is it***
This television is designed by Wharfedale and has a 22 inch screen and uses LCD technology. It has built in DVB and can be tuned to pick up freeview channels. It comes with a long, dull white coloured remote and can be automatically or manually tuned to pick up channels within the local area. It is straightforward and simple to set up.
The TV was ready for the digital switch over and receiving freeview before it was available to everyone through their tele sets. At the time this was such an advantage with the array of channels on offer and receiving them in such clear definition on a quality screen, built-in to the TV.
22 inches has proved ample for the bedroom (wow...sounds dodgy!) making it easy to move around if I changed my mind or moved any furniture and you don't necessarily need a huge screen for night time viewing or I suspect you would be up all night because of the glare! The screen itself is crisp, vivid and clear and you can easily change the settings via the remote or the functions on the set itself to get the correct screen size or adjust the settings. However this used to be our main television set before adopting my monster 37 inch widescreen and was rigged up with the Wii - completely rubbish for trying to play Mario Kart with a split screen with every one sat around squinting for the details!
The TV has moved about quite a bit from living with my parents, coming with me to University in my third year (in Exeter which wasn't receiving the extra channels and therefore made me very annoyed!) and has since moved to London with me. It is really light weight and can be easily moved around. I always associate TVs with so many wires hanging off of them when in actuality there's just the power cable lead. I think it's lightweight is a beneficial feature and would be great for kids - can be moved around and adjusted simply.
I particularly like the sleek looks of this TV. It has a silver base and neck with the TV screen itself perched on top. The neck can be moved with about an inch leeway allowing you to adjust the angle depending on how high up it's placed. There is a black shiny plastic frame to the screen and it is fairly slender, being about 1.5 inches thick. Lightweight and none of the bulky bottoms that TVs used to have! I like its looks - it is modern, blends easily with all the other bits and pieces that get attached to it and functional - all the relevant menu buttons, volume, standby and channel adjustments are on the top of the screen and the on/off button is on the right hand side, on the side panel. All the plug in bits for scart leads, aerial etc...are located at the back to the right hand side leaving the screen completely clean and uncluttered. No hidden panels in the front - just a simple television to use with everything clearly visible but still hidden from main view.
I've always really liked this television and it has served its purpose well, however it isn't as automated as my newer bigger screen and it's starting to show its age.
Despite attempting to set it up to automatically adjust to widescreen mode, it always changes the size of the screen around for the Wii and DVD player. I don't really use many of the menu functions but I find that to adjust the size it's ordinarily in the third (last) menu along and is the last bar one function from the bottom. I would expect this function to be better placed with the largely used functions in a priority place.
The remote control isn't overly user friendly in my opinion. It is dull white with all light grey buttons and tiny print making it difficult to make out and I often get the wrong buttons despite being fairly familiar with this remote. The buttons (of which there are a lot) are all pretty much the same style although there is a wheel of buttons in the centre to control volume and channels. I feel the interface could be changed in colour and distribution to make, what is a long, slim remote into something more user friendly. It resembles what I would consider to be a remote for a DVD player or stereo system. That may sound odd but I associate the light colours to the remotes I've had for those items!
My latest problem has shown itself in the last year and I'm not sure where to place the cause of it. The volume has started to falter. Sometimes it will dip down very low and is barely audible. It has to be at the top of end of the volume bars to be reasonably heard and will sometimes cut out altogether. I have previously attached my computer speakers to the audio jack in order to get an appropriate volume because it became such a nuisance. That is a fine solution because of its small size, it can accommodate things around it on a TV stand, but I shouldn't have to make such allowances for a 3 year old tele.
My one other issue is with the screen in that, being LCD, if you can't tilt it at the right angle, the colours become awash in shadow. When tilted at the right angle it's perfect but unless it's level or just a bit above the level you're viewing it at, you will begin to see the problem. I remember being in a Premier Inn with a set attached to the wall with a static bracket - un-adjustable! Unless you stood on the bed you couldn't see anything on the screen!
On saying the above, overall I think it's a great little television set for using in the bedroom other than as your focal point set. It would be good for kids to use with consoles but as soon as split screen and multi player gaming is attempted, everything will become a lot smaller and less enjoyable. It has lasted 3 years of movement and has sufficed as a great little set for my fairly frequent usage. The volume issue is unfortunate but there has been no issue with the screen itself - outstanding quality at the right angle! It's straightforward and fairly automated in terms of tuning, and usually holds a great picture. Not the best, but far from the worst!