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Arthur Smith is one of Britain's best-loved comedians and was there at the beginning of "alternative comedy". He's well known for his work on TV panel shows, as well as many Radio 4 comedies and adverts, and is now equally well known for his famous show opener:
My name is Arthur Smith, unless there's anybody here from Streatham Tax Office, in which case I'm Daphne Fairfax."
Comic's autobiographies are always well worth a read and this one is no exception. Starting four times (all four chapter ones are interesting starting points, so all worth leaving in), all chart the halcyon days of his childhood in the 50s and 60s, and contains an affectionate look at his life, his parents and his career.
Despite appearing on "Grumpy Old Men", Arthur is actually neither grumpy nor old and is a likeable chap whose life has been fascinating and eventful.
The son of a policeman, he leaves London as a youngster and heads for the University of East Anglia which was a fairly young institution in his day. He studied creative writing under the tutelage of the late, great Malcolm Bradbury and lead a typically insane student life, with great descriptions of his antics, parties and what his hair looked like at the time.
The book then charts his multiple careers in teaching English in PAris, street cleaning, a turn as a rock musician, a performer, actor, playwright and comedian all with his trademark modesty.
As well as being a talented writer, Smith is also something of a poet and his book contains a lovely poem about love and PAris. In fact, the whole book reflects life's journey from love to friendship to family and the sad death of Smith's father, as well as his own brush with death.
It seems to be almost every day that you hear of a new book that claims to be revolutionary and when someone recommended this book to me, telling me that it would change my life, I think I probably rolled my eyes.
However, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who thinks there's more to life than commuting to work, the daily grind and working for someone else.
The main premise of the book is that it can teach you to "live anywhere and join the new rich". Note that it's not a get-rich-scheme. Modern wealth, argues Tim Ferriss, is not having millions in the bank, but having the time and spare cash to do what you want. This is an idea that my friends and I had been toying with for a while. What is the point of working and working and working if you don't have time to do the things you want to do?
And boy is Tim Ferriss an inspiration in these things. He's the same age as me, but when I read the book, I assumed he was a lot older as he has managed to achieve the following in his life:
-No holds barred cage fighter
-first American in history to hold a Guinness World record in Tango.
-National Chinese kickboxing champion
Amongst others, and he can now add "best-selling author" to the list!
While his book might not work for everyone, it certainly will work for most employees, thanks to the technological world we live in. Tim Ferriss tells you how you can make IT work for you and cover your tracks so that if you decide to work from Buenos Aires for a month, you can. Even if you work in a job where you can't work from home, it's still a hugely inspirational book and well worth a read. For example, one of the first things I put into practice, was his timesaving notion that we spend a lot of time (particularly me as I am a newsjunkie) reading papers and ensuring that we're full to the brim with information. He suggests an information diet - I immediately deleted all my google alerts which were a huge time sap and sending me down rabbit warrens of finding out more and more and checking out irrelevant blogs!
This book is permanently by my bedside table - I regularly dip into it to remind myself that life is not all about working yourself to the bone to make someone else rich. I thoroughly recommend Tim Ferriss' book and I note that he has applied the same theories to "The four hour body"...I'll get back to you on that one!!
When it comes to Oh's birthday, I always try my hardest, but have managed to ruin every one of his birthdays that we've celebrated together.
This year, I triumphed. I took him to Portmeirion, the fabulous holiday resort in north Wales which is perhaps best known for being the setting for "The Village" in the Prisoner.
There's a hotel on the site (which I believe doubled as the old people's home in the series), as well as self catering cottages but a fantastic castle on the website caught my eye. As OH's birthday was midweek, I was able to secure a deal on a hotel called Castell Deudraeth. This is an imposing building set at the top of the hill by the entrance to Portmeirion and overlooking the estuary. It's just how you'd imagine a castle, with dark stonework, turrets and towers.
Inside, it is a lot more welcoming. It's recently undergone a refurbishment which means the inside is modern, bright and clean. I had to wait for the receptionist to deal with another customer (there was only one on duty), but then we got checked in and carried our bags up to the room on the second floor. The room - or should I say, suite, was huge. The door opened onto a room that was about five times bigger than we were expecting and bigger than our own house! It opened onto a living room area, with a separate bedroom, and even a cupboard with kitchen equipment cleverly stowed inside!
Then a smallish door took us into the bathroom - which was in the tower!! An amazing bathroom (although not entirely accessible for everyone, as the doorway was quite narrow- I'll take it as a compliment that they allocated us this room!). So from the bathroom, you have those narrow windows which were originally used for shooting arrows from (as they're too narrow for arrows to get through fired by intruders on the other side!), and a view over Portmeirion.
The room was simple, yet elegant and the furniture was a lovely mix of old and modern.
Internet is included, as was the Welsh breakfast and a £25 per person credit for the evening meal in the offer we chose (please check with the hotel, as these differ throughout the year, and subject to availability).
As well as tea and coffee, there's also sherry to welcome guests, so after downing the lot, we headed to Portmeirion, entrance is only £9 per adult, but is included in the price of the hotel room.
I won't rave here about Portmeirion village which is a five minute walk away from the entrance of the castle, suffice to say that it completely lived up to expectation, and there are shops catering from everything to essential Prisoner merchandise to Welsh ice cream and Portmeirion pottery.
Back to the hotel, we waited by the fire and next to a suit of armour for dinner. We were shown to our table in a beautiful conservatory with the most incredible view of the mountains and Mount Snowden to the side. The service wasn't exceptional, and was a bit faltering. Though the three-course menu was beautifully presented, it wasn't quite as tasty and flavoursome as it looked. It was still a wonderful experience and worthy of a celebration, simply for the setting alone. Though I'm not criticising the dining experience, I simply felt it could have been done better. Simple things such as staff not chatting in view of the guests, more attention, not starting by telling us what had sold out from the menu, but recommending something in season, and not spraying the next table with a potent-smelling kitchen cleaner while we were eating less than an arm's length away!
The room was extremely comfortable, with a big bed. Bizarrely, for a castle which appears to be quite solid, you could hear all sorts of noises throughout the night, from people walking along corridors, to doors slamming and other guests laughing, but this was only a minor quibble and only woke us up a couple of times rather than keeping us awake all night.
A wonderful Welsh breakfast awaited in the morning, although there was no vegetarian option, disappointingly. The food was better than the meal the previous evening, but again, the service was not as good as demanded by the surroundings. After breakfast, we checked out, served by the same receptionist who checked us in. He was the best member of staff we encountered, with a lovely smile and a genuine interest in how we enjoyed our stay.
Overall, I would recommend the hotel and plan to return! I just feel that there's room for improvement (isn't there always!), and I would like to see the place rise to the occasion and gain the recognition it deserves as it has the potential to be one of the best hotels in the country.
I haven't been on dooyoo for a while, and last time I was here, I recall that I was entranced by American comedy 30 Rock. This is a great show and I didn't think it could be bettered! It's testament to the strength of US comedy writing that I'm able to rave about another American hit show, Modern Family!
Set in California, the show features a simple format and follows three very different families, who are of course, all part of the same family. The most recognisable face from the show might be Ed O'Neill who stars as Jay Pritchett - he was well known years ago for his role as the patriarch of "Married with children". Here, he's the grandfather, married to young hot wife Gloria, played by Sofia Vergara. Gloria is drop dead gorgeous, from Colombia and brings Latina glamour and passion to the show, while her ten-year-old son Manny calls himself the "lover of women" and is an adorable youngster with the mannerisms of an adult.
Jay's recent marriage to Gloria enables him to use the mistakes he made the first time round to learn and grow in relation to his own grown up children.
His daughter, Claire Dunphy, is played by the totally gorgeous Julie Bowen, married to the hilarious real estate agent Phil (played by Ty Burrell), with their three children; Blackberry-obsessed and band member dating Haley, brainbox Alex and the adorably idiotic Luke.
Then his son Mitchell, who along with outlandish partner Cameron have recently adopted baby Lily.
Put together, this motley crew are observed by a camera crew to give a 'documentary' feel. This doesn't always work, but the format allows for on camera interviews and the occasional look at the camera which make you feel like you're part of the action. The acting is also of such a high quality that when the documentary feel doesn't quite work (would Phil and Claire wish a camera crew to film their hilarious Valentine's Day liaison at a hotel?), it still feels natural.
Each episode is based around a different theme, ranging from "Fear" to whether people can change and these themes apply to each character in the show but aren't done to death. Without exception, each episode is hilariously funny and well acted. I bought the first series on DVD and found that I was absolutely addicted and watched the whole lot in one go. Each episode is quite short at 22 minutes and is so watchable that you'll have to ration your viewing!
Although it's a simple format, it's the unique characters that make the show work. Best of all of these are Cameron or possibly Phil. Cameron, as the flamboyant gay man has been done hundreds of times, but Eric Stonestreet really steals the show with his versatile acting, whether he's threatening a man at the petrol station while dressed as a clown, taking his daughter Lily who is dressed as Donna Summer to the doctor, or doing impressions of Billy Elliott. Equally, Ty Burrell is outstanding playing a man who thinks he is the ultimate in cool dads. He can do stunts that will warrant hundreds of rewinds, to stealing bikes or teaching his wife to use the thermostat in a way I have never seen on TV before.
As well as the regular cast members, there's Haley's boyfriend Dylan, a sensitive singer song writer and also Hollywood royalty such as Ed Norton and Minnie Driver. Despite this, the show pitches its characters in everyday situations such as buying iPads, school sports tournaments and trips to Costco, and of course family get togethers. What marks it out, apart from its hilarity is the total love and heart in the show. Though the family is different, they all love each other and it's a show that you can watch with almost all of YOUR family!
I was given a boxset of Ealing comedies a couple of Christmases ago containing all the greats like the Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and the Ladykillers.
It was only after watching these classics repeatedly that I delved further into the set and one night sat down on my own to watch Dead of Night.
Made in 1945, it was directed by Cavalcanti and stars Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave and the magnificently named Googie Withers. It differs to the other films made by the Ealing Studios and rather than being a comedy, it's a bit of a spooky psychological thriller.
It tells of an architect who turns up at a country house to do some work where he wanders round with chronic déjà vu pre-empting where he is due to sleep and recognising all of the other guests.
The guests are fascinated by his claim and tell of their own experiences of the occult, with each story providing an important pillar to the story.
The first tells of an injured racing driver's experience with a horse-drawn funereal carriage - an experience which saves his life. The next is a ghost sighting at a children's Christmas party. The next is about a man who is haunted by his mirror which reflects a totally different room from the one in which he is standing. He becomes obsessed with his reflection which starts to send him to insanity.
The next tale is a strange golf story which is a bit too whimsical and also nonsensical - it doesn't follow the same thrilled style of the other stories and reminds me of Randall and Hopkirk deceased.
The last story was the one where I wished I hadn't been alone. It's a scary story about a ventriloquist's dummy who starts to take on a personality of its own.
After the horror of the dummy, it's a relief to return to the gathering of the guests and there is a great, but obvious ending which is executed brilliantly.
I thoroughly recommend this black and white film which owes its success to its great acting, the great storytelling and atmosphere. I just hope Hollywood doesn't have an eye on remaking it.
I recently reviewed the first series of The Thick of It, so thought I should now write about the excellent film that came from it, In the Loop.
In my opinion, The Thick of It is one of the greatest comedies to grace the television screen, and likewise, In the Loop is one of the best British films to make it to the silver screen in some time.
It features most of the same actors as in the series, giving it a nice familiarity, even though most of the actors have taken on new roles. All, of course, with the exception of the brilliant Malcolm Tucker who could never be substituted. As ever, he is portrayed by the exceptional Peter Capaldi who somehow manages to play this monstrous press director in a way that makes the audience feel some sort of empathy for him. His equally horrible and more violent sidekick Jamie McDonald also remains the same character while Olly becomes Toby and the loveable Glenn Cullen becomes an MP.
The plot revolves around the useless Minister for International Development Simon Foster who is played - again superbly - by Tom Hollander. The action kicks off after he says in an interview with Eddie Mair on Radio 4, that "war is unforeseeable" - a quote that gets picked up on and used as ammunition for the beginnings of a war while Malcolm Tucker calls journalists and tells them that although they may have heard it, it never happened.
Things happen far too quickly for the minister to cope with, moving from London to Washington and onto the international staf, with Simon Foster and his hopeless aide Toby, played by Chris Addison, getting in deeper and deeper in a battle of words that will culminate in war.
I was delighted to see that this film stars Hollywood heavyweight James Gandolfini (the scene between him and Malcolm Tucker is immense) and David Rasche who played Sledge Hammer in a 1980s US cop show which was one of the most underrated shows ever on TV!
Just like the series, the film is full of great one-liners, most of them which elevate swearing to an art form. There are some brilliant touches, such as the scene where the minister watches a documentary on sharks in his hotel room, fearful that it will make headlines if he's caught watching porn (and this is before the scandal breaking on MPs' expenses). There are also great turns from all sorts of huge names from Steve Coogan to Gina McKee.
This film stands up to several watches and indeed, I would recommend watching it several times to capture every small nuance (making a cup of tea the first time made me miss Olly's glorious and accidental leak about the future planning committee to the press) and for each one of Malcolm Tucker's quotable quotes which cannot be repeated here on this family website..
The Thick of It was first broadcast on BBC in 2005, and this DVD of the first series was launched a couple of years later. I bought this to revisit it after watching the spin-off film In the Loop, and just cannot stop watching it, such is its brilliance.
Like a modern day Yes Minister, this is a comedy set in the heart of government. This series follows the day-to-day struggles of the minister for social affairs Hugh Abbott, played brilliantly and sympathetically by Chris Langham.
He is not so ably assisted by Ollie Reader (Chris Addison), Glenn Cullen (James Smith) and Terri Coverley (Joanna Scanlan), as well as Robynunder the watchful eye of the government's director of PR Malcolm Tucker (played by the magnificent Peter Capaldi who rightly won a BAFTA for his performance here).
The series is written and directed by Armando Iannucci, but the show's tremendous energy is drawn from the way in which it's filmed. It has the documentary feel of the Office to it as it's filmed with handheld cameras, and two versions of each scene are shot; a tightly scripted version which is immediately followed by an improvisation of the same scene. Both are edited together, making it feel vibrant and realistic.
Having the series on DVD means you can appreciate just how amazing and ground-breaking it is. It is one of the funniest things I have ever seen - I would say it's up there with the best of the best; Fawlty Towers and of course, Yes Minister itself. It has won a clutch of BAFTAs and awards. The acting is breathtaking. Sometimes when Malcolm Tucker unleashes one of his genius, expletive-ridden, hairdryer-like torrents of abuse, I have to remind myself it's not real.
The swearing is just incredible. Not just swearing, but brilliant, captivating swearing poetry. Some of it can be quite brutal, so not one for everyone, but it's not swearing for swearing's sake. Almost every line uttered by Malcolm Tucker is a quotable quote in itself and his rants are elevated to an art form.
Malcolm Tucker is often claimed by various people to have been based on Alistair Campbell, but is most likely an amalgam of various government 'enforcers'. His character is one of the nastiest, yet realistic, ever to be portrayed on TV, and will go down in history as one of comedy's best ever.
Not only is this series a comedy gold, it has a truth about it. There's a scene where the minister talks about going to the toilet as a treat - you can totally empathise with him and perhaps realise that MPs aren't all bad. Perhaps they do enter Parliament for the right reasons, but just get swept along by their parties and don't get to do the things they wanted to.
There's another scene from the first series where the minister is ambushed by a member of the public who demands help with her elderly mother which is eerily reminiscent of Gordon Brown's 'bigot' moment five years later...
The DVD has the six episodes of the first series, alongside with a cast and crew audio commentary, bonus scenes, script to screen guide with Armando Iannucci and photo galleries.
Highly, highly recommended..
There's a Holland and Barrett in just about every town I've ever been to, selling every type of health food, from vitamins to nuts, health supplements and even body building. They've always been able to supply any type of vitamin that I've been looking for, and staff tend to be well trained and knowledgeable (I believe it's a franchise, so this would explain the well-trained staff), so I always have confidence in their recommendations. I was particularly impressed recently that they have decided to get rid of their plastic bags, a brave decision that will hopefully be very popular with its customers.
So when my mum said she needed some bits and bobs, rather than cycle in to town and carry it all back, I thought I would help her out and check out their website.
Due to the sheer number of products, the website by its nature has to include everything, but I find it little overwhelming - it's quite brightly coloured and quite "busy". I found it difficult to find specific items in a short period of time, although I did think if I had more time, it would be interesting to browse! You can search by category and also alphabetically.
The site does, however, have a wealth of stock and just about every herb and vitamin that you could ever think of. Not only that, but it gives you the opportunity to look at each product's label as a pdf so you can check out what it contains, and how much to take.
There are also tabs at the top to guide you through their range which is divided into "joint care", "multi vitamins", "diet", "body building", "toiletries" and "current offers".
There are also tabs on "product of the month" and "new products" - currently an intriguing- looking acupressure blanket!
Holland and Barrett's items are well-priced and they often have a "better than half price sale" which is a great offer, (if dubious grammar!). Delivery is a standard £1.99 not matter how heavy your shopping, and is free if you spend more than £50. You can also order by phone - not everyone has the internet after all!
Payment isn't too cumbersome either, and my delivery was with me within two days.
Like their stores, I find them courteous, no-nonsense and efficient.
Although the company has been about for 80 years, they've successfully ridden the recent interest in natural food supplements and ensured that these products are good quality and affordable. Long may it continue!
I do a lot of driving for work and find that it's very difficult to eat on the move, and nigh on impossible to eat healthily. So it was a heavy heart that I picked up yet another packet of crisps at the garage while refuelling my car.
The ones that were closest to hand were these Walkers crisps. The company's World Cup campaign is to launch a "Walkers Flavour Cup" with 15 new flavours - each representative of a World Cup country to go "bag-to-bag".
Customers are invited to text in to vote for their favourite. "Superfans" can upload a photo of themselves enjoying their favourite flavour with a chance of winning £10,000.
So the packet I picked up happened to be "American Cheeseburger'" flavour. The packet is appropriately decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the crisps really do seem to taste of cheeseburgers, although I have to say that I gave up eating meat some time ago! However, these crisps are suitable for vegetarians!
These flavours are a great idea and definitely a change from the usual range of standard flavours, however, I found the flavour to be a bit too ripe and tangy for me, and also a little 'manufactured'. However, I'm sure these crisps will have lots of fans and I wouldn't be surprised if they end up being voted "the world's best crisp flavour".
One standard packet of these, incidentally, provides 16% of your recommended daily fat allowance.
I'm glad I tried them, but probably won't opt for these again. My favourite of the range so far has been the Dutch Edam.
It goes against all of my money saving principles but I have developed a bit of an addiction to Waitrose.
I used to shop in Aldi and Lidl long before tight times and the recession made it fashionable to do so.
Both stores are competitive and my weekly shop was always substantially cheaper than average.
But one day after being quite literally elbowed by another customer, and after countless times of being barked at by the staff, I decided that perhaps it was worth paying a bit extra to go home in a good mood.
So I did the unthinkable and went into my local Waitrose.
As you know, Waitrose is the food division of the John Lewis Partnership and is at the luxury end of the supermarket chains on offer.
This was very shortly after the launch of their Essentials range, which is their equivalent of Sainsbury's Basics and Tesco's Value range, but without the garish colour that underlines this fact to anyone who glances into your trolley.
My weekly shop is a little bit more, but it's definitely worth it as our dinners are better and I have yet to be shouted at by a customer or staff member; the atmosphere is much nicer than other supermarkets with well-stocked shelves, and I really appreciate their bright and clean aisles and well-informed staff.
Waitrose is keen to show its support for the local community and I like the idea where Waitrose has three charities and customers vote for the most deserving by placing a token into a box.
Stray too far from own brand products or the Essentials range and it does get a bit expensive, and it's a shame that they are so free and easy with their plastic bags and packaging, but otherwise this is a recommended experience.
Robert Harris' latest novel has hit the headlines recently as the book has been released as a film starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan and Kim Cattrall.
This sort of political thriller is the sort of book I normally leave on the shelf, but what with the recent Icelandic volcano disrupting my travel plans I was absolutely ravenous for something to read in English and decided on this.
A day later, and I'd finished it. This is a fast-paced romp about an ex-British Prime Minister who has hit the big time in America, making huge amounts of cash from lecture tours, accompanied by his successful, but unpopular wife and loathed by his home country where he once was something of a craze. Fiction, of course.....
It tells the story of an unnamed ghost writer who is brought in to write the former Prime Minister's memoirs after the first one mysteriously dies. Undeterred by this, and apparently not being at all suspicious, our ghost writer steps in to take up the big novel where the last ghost left off. He tells us the story himself, and what happens next is a roller-coaster ride to find out if and why the previous ghost writer died in suspicious circumstances and just why his book is written in the style it was.
I found the novel to unravel pleasingly, as I read it in less than 24 hours and without having to use my brain.
Thanks to its simple plot-line and sense of real tension, it's quite fast-paced, but I thought, this was to the detriment of any characterisation apart from Adam Lang, the prime minister and his wife Ruth. But then, they are all ready fully formed, aren't they?
I was quite pleased that twice, I thought the book had been resolved and was about to end, only to find another couple of climaxes with the finale making me smile.
It's a very atmospheric read, which works well as an attack on Tony Blair and also as an enjoyable political thriller.
I'd heard a lot about this book when it first came out and decided, in true frugal style, to get it from the library. It tells the story, in diary form, of Kath Kelly, who gives up consumer spending for a year to save money for a really great wedding present for her brother.
What follows is a diary of Kath's year where she spends no more than a pound a day (excluding rent and bills). This is no mean feat, although she is helped by the fact she is a teacher of foreign students and lives in a culturally-rich active city which is easy enough to cycle around.
However, I found the book was more like a blog or a diary as it's a bit simplistic. What it lacks in style though, it more than makes up for with charm, as well as practical advice and you can see the author grow emotionally as she frees herself of the constraints of modern life. Her descriptions of being unmoved when being targeted by companies with big marketing budgets really appealed to me and as time goes on, Kath finds that she is more true to herself. I liked her more and more as the year went on.
I consider myself fairly sensible and frugal with money, yet there were things to do that she found to do that I found innovative. I was absolutely stunned at her ability to go on holiday in France for less than a pound a day and I cheered for her when she points out all the food that gets thrown away in supermarkets simply because it's gone past its nominal best-before date. She has some interesting insights and experiences with hitch-hiking, organises a clothes swap (I really must get around to doing this - have been virtually organising one in my head for more than a year!)
The range of Gü puddings can always be relied upon for a treat and having tried most of the other products, I decided to give these a go.
These are the hot chocolate soufflés which retail for about £3 in most supermarkets. My box was £3.29 in Waitrose where I had nipped in for a quick pick-me-up after feeling ill all day. And boy did they work!
Drawn by the seductive packaging, I got them home and simply popped them in the oven for a few minutes in their little ramekins, having removed the foil lid which keeps these lovelies fresh. Just minutes later, the smell that emanated from the oven was fantastic and both my partner and I struggled to wait for the requisite time before getting the two puds out! Brandishing our spoons at the ready, we began to tuck in holding teatowels around the very hot ramekins.
We were not disappointed. The desserts had risen slightly and looked fantastic. Although the price tag means they work out at more than £1.50 each which is a bit expensive, the soufflé is light and the smooth chocolate fondant filling is divine and rich. I derived quite a thrill from plunging my spoon into the dessert, giving me that satisfaction you get from delving into a crème brulee. After breaking the delicate crust and plunging your spoon into the "velvety sea of hot chocolate", you'll get the best of both worlds and will relish the melt in the mouth moment.
As it says on the packaging, "the rich chocolate is so big that it may well be all ü remember of the night. Still at least, ü'll be smiling". I certainly was and I cannot wait for another opportunity to try these. Although my thighs won't thank me for it - they have 23.5g of fat per pot!
You can just imagine the look on the commissioning editors' faces when the producers pitched this idea: we'll get two ladies to go to dirty houses and clean them!
Yet How Clean is your house is strangely watchable. Repeats are currently on More4 and follow the "nation's dream clean team" Kim Woodburn and Aggie McKenzie as they visit some disgusting houses, (with the help of a specialist cleaning team, who should be acknowledged for their wonderful work!).
Kim is a professional cleaner and Aggie is a household journalist, who has a column in the Saturday Times magazine where people can write in and ask for her help with cleaning questions. Together the pair of them turn up in their bright red van (Nice Clean Van written on the back!) at people's houses to assess just how dirty they are. And the answer is "very". I think the reason I watch this is that it makes me feel better about my own house! They give the owners a telling off, try to find out why they're so dirty and then set about cleaning up, usually using natural substances such as lemon juice, toothpaste and vinegar where possible.
While the house is being cleaned, Aggie takes bacteria samples from strategic places within the house and gets them checked out by a lab so she can shock the householders with the results.
At the end of the programme, the subjects of the programmes are reintroduced to their houses after a thorough clean, which sees some truly astonishing transformations. Sometimes Kim and Aggie will return to the "grime scene" two weeks later to see if the house is returning to its former state or if the owner has changed their ways!
Sometimes Kim and Aggie arrive at the local shopping centre to take questions from people in the town, and this, as well as the rest of the programme throws up some brilliant tips. And there's nothing like seeing the contents of the average mattress to inspire cleaning! Since I've started watching this, I've been hoovering my mattress and cleaning my fridge once a week!
Midsomer Murders previously starred the wonderful John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby, based on the novels by Caroline Graham. It's on ITV1 and tends to be scheduled for Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
It's set in the beautiful English countryside, and is filmed primarily in the Chilterns and features guest appearances from acting royalty such Honor Blackman, Orlando Bloom and in the last episode I saw, Rik Mayall!
Now, Tom Barnaby has been replaced by his cousin John Barnaby played by Neil Dudgeon.
It's basically a two hour long whodunnit set in the English countryside. So far, so boring. But what lifts this show out of the ordinary and makes it a brilliant must-see is the standard of the acting and the implausibility of the murders. Not many people get poisoned or stabbed in Midsomer! Some of the most incredible plots have included; a wine lover being killed by the murderer placing his favourite bottles of wine in a trebuchet and firing them at him while he's pinned to the grass by croquet hoops; a bow and arrow; a pitchfork through the heart (that was Orlando Bloom by the way); "spontaneous combustion" and electrocution.
Barnaby is unlike other TV detectives; he's not an alcoholic, he's not divorced and he's not a quirky loner. In fact, a lot of his likeability comes from his stable family life and many of the murder mysteries are helped along with a little help from his wife Joyce who has an incredible local knowledge and is usually quite handily involved in the relevant community group for the episode, be it a painting class, a play or an exhibition!
He always has the assistance of his sidekick, of which he has had three. All excellent actors; firstly, DC Gavin Troy, DC Dan Scott, and currently DC Ben Jones (played by the lovely Jason Hughes who was Warren in This Life).
I thoroughly recommend this show - it showcases the beauty of the English countryside, the eccentricity of village life, and is witty and well-written. Though some of the murders are somewhat gruesome, it's always unpleasant people that cop it in Midsomer!
Even the theme tune is unique!
I actually used to live in the area that plays the part of MIdsomer, and I would say that truth is stranger than fiction....