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    • More +
      15.04.2009 16:34
      Very helpful



      A wonderful book for small children

      I bought this book for my fifteen month old daughter, after a self help guide to getting your baby to sleep recommended it as a soothing bed time read.

      It cost me £4.99 from Amazon and when it arrived, I thought it was the worst children's book I had ever seen.

      A board book written in the 1940s, the book still has a distinctly pre war feel. The font and illustrations are basic and dated looking, and while many of the pages are just black and white, the pages that are coloured, only feature garish red, orange, green, white and black.

      The text starts ' In the great green room,
      There is a red balloon.
      And a picture of ...'

      The book then goes on to list the various items in the bedroom of a badly drawn baby rabbit, who eventually falls asleep.

      The sense that I had paid £4.99 for the world's worst children's book was affirmed when my book loving 1 year old refused to stick around for the second page. The offending book with its dated text and clumsy illustrations was cast aside.

      Weeks later, I picked it up again and read it as a bedtime story. In the quiet of a dimly lit bedroom, with the last light of the day at the window, the magic of this book became apparent.

      The text and pictures have a mesmeric quality, as you slip in and out of colour, listing and repeating the items in the room.

      'A comb and a brush, and a bowl full of mush, and a quiet old lady whispering hush...'

      The text is made to be read - or whispered - aloud into the ears of children quietening down to sleep. The writer had composed a poem in which the clever use of consonants 'shushes' your child to sleep.

      This is one of those magical books where you see more in the illustrations every time you look - far from being basic and clumsy, the illustrations are deliberately sparse and delicately detailed. The pictures of the bedroom that appeared to be the same on every page, actually show the changes in the bedroom during the half hour it takes for the little bunny to fall asleep - the clocks move on, the moon comes up, the kittens leave the room as does the old lady whispering hush.

      I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I am sure when you buy it, you will be as thrown at its first appearance as I was. But persist - an it will become a book to treasure. It is now the only book my daughter wants at bedtime.


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      • General / Discussion / 51 Readings / 46 Ratings
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        28.03.2009 16:38
        Very helpful



        Things are better now

        The 1970s are coming in for a bad press at the moment - particularly following the excellent Red Riding series on the television. I was a child who grew up in the 70s, and I have strong memories of my dad's car breaking down at least once a week, and the awful playgrounds with one swing and nothing but concrete, gravel and dog poo to break your fall.

        But there were good things about the 1970s - even though with hinsight, some of them seem a bit dubious. So here are some of my heroes who got me through those dark times.

        1. Stewart Hall - Its a Knock Out was what passed for tip top light entertainment in the 1970s- people dressed as giant milk maids carrying buckets of water across an obstacle course. Me and my family were such big fans, we travelled to Whitby one time to watch the show live. It was flipping freezing and me and my sister were wearing matching yellow shorts.
        Stewart Hall was the star of this show, and was famous for laughing hysterically throughout. I don't know why I liked him - I just did.

        2. Derrick Griffiths - the best children's programme as far as I was concerned was 'Playaway.' It was shown on a Saturday afternoon and was a mixture of singing and jokes. The presenters varied from week to week. If Derek Griffiths was on, you knew it was going to be a good one.
        He had a kind face and a long bendy body - he was a handsome precurser to Mr Bean. He's still around, doing voice overs for kids programmes.

        3. Roy Castle - Roy Castle was my absolute hero - he could play every musical instrument, he was a fantastic singer and dancer, and he looked like my dad. Everybody had a copy of the Guinness Book of Records - it was required reading during the 1970s, and it was every kids dream to be a world record holder. I always thought the McQuirter brothers, who were always on the programme for a question and answer spot, were a bit odd. But I adored Roy Castle.

        4. Johann Cruyff - the 1970s were the era of the Dutch 'Total Football' revolution. I don't know how I, as a chubby faced addidas tracksuit wearing 10 year old, got so obsessed by them. All the lads down our street were mad about Kevin Keagan - but I never rated him and still don't. Johann Cruyff could skin the opposition, whilst directing his teamates where to run and argue with the ref in six different languages - all at the same time! Such was my age that this hero worship did eventually take the form of a girly crush. But I've seen footage of him since, and I still think he's one of the greatest.

        5. Debbie Harry - surely still the greatest female rock star. Boys and girls - we all adored her - the way she looked, sang and dressed. The bitchy fashion magazines were always trying to tell us how old she was - I think she was already in her thirties when she shot to fame - but we were all too young to see it as relevant. She was just amazing - and the songs have stood the test of time.

        6. Daley Thompson - they should have made Daley Thompson a Lord, not that posh tory plonker Seb Coe. Daley Thompson won EVERYTHING - a multi olympic gold medal winning decathlete, who even won Superstars and Question of Sport (I remember - he got EVERY QUESTION right, even when he went 'away' in the Home and Away round.) He was funny too. He had a main rival who could never quite beat him, this huge German chap with a dodgy moustache. During warm up, Daley would wear T shirts with cheeky slogans on them - like 'Is The World's Second Greatest Athlete Gay?'

        7. Bernard Cribbins - there was a radio programme for children on a Saturday morning. I can't remember the name, but it was presented by Ed Stewart. They would play comedy songs for children - some of which were genuinely very funny. Bernard Cribbins did alot of these - Right Said Fred, and Diggin' an Ole. I loved the way he sang - his voice had a jazz lilt to it and the songs were great. I've seen him live since, and he is frankly, a bit grumpy.

        8. Liam Brady - the only british based footballer I had any time for. I didn't support Arsenel, but I thought he was great.

        9. Derek Randall - cricketer for England and Nottinghamshire. A brillliant batsman and a superb fielder. They used to show county cricket on a Sunday afternoon, and my dad would always watch. Boredom was a big factor in the 1970s - no computer games, only one TV channel per house and only three channels on that. But at least it taught me to appreciate county cricket.

        Heroes of the 1970s - I've run out now. That's it - there were only nine!


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        • Next Directory / Highstreet Shopping / 64 Readings / 62 Ratings
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          26.03.2009 15:59
          Very helpful



          It works for me

          All of a sudden my two eldest children are HUGE. Though only aged ten and eleven, they loll like huge giants around the house, draped over the sofa and towering over the fridge (and me!).

          A new baby and lack of sleep doesn't help, but such is their size, that I find it impossible to pick up clothes from the supermarket for them anymore. The sizes are so variable, and I can no longer just by judge by just looking at the item whether it is the right size anymore.

          Next Directory has been my saviour. The sizing is consistent - though on the generous size. Even for my two giants, I find that buying clothes for their correct ages still provides for growing room.

          The range of clothes and design is excellent, as is the quality. Marks and Spencers range looks like something off a market stall at times. In my view, Next is now the best middle range quality children's clothes retailer. Their stuff is well made, and lasts for ages.

          I have previously railed against Next Directory, because they have the cheek to charge me for the privilege of looking through their catalogues - £3.75 at the moment - and they keep sending me copies unsolicited through the post - and then send me a bill! The Directories are huge cumbersome things with hard backs. They weigh a ton.

          However since being encumbered with a baby, and also being too short of cash to go shopping round town, the Directory has been a life line. I have used it to order basics - jeans, trousers, sports wear etc - and everything has been of excellent quality.

          There is a delivery charge of £3.95 - so it makes sense to think ahead regarding what you will need and then order in bulk - only one delivery charge applies per order.

          You order over the phone or on line. I've never ordered on line, but the phone service is very easy. Its open 24 hours and the people manning the lines - who I think are based in India - are very polite and helpful.

          You do not pay when you order, but instead wait for your bill, which comes each month. Top tip - pay it off in full. The interest rate if you fail to do so is a whopping 26.9%. There is also a late payment fee if you fail to make the minimum payment. Again, payment can be made on line or by telephone - as well as by post.

          Maybe I've been lucky, but both times I've ordered, delivery has been made within 24 hours - the chap coming round about 8am.

          If you need to take stuff back, you can send it by post, or take it to one of the stores. I've not needed to do this yet.

          I'm not keen on Next adult clothes - but their children's range is excellent, as is the service provided by Next Directory.

          No trudging round town, no car park charges, no need to stop in Starbucks and spend a fortune on weak coffee and fattening cakes - its all good.


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          • Domestic Violence / Discussion / 70 Readings / 61 Ratings
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            25.03.2009 23:54
            Very helpful



            Eradicate domestic violence and society as a whole will benefit

            Having read the previous reviews on domestic violence, it occurs to me that that it would be helpful to put society's attitude to violence against women in its historical context.

            Reasonable chastisement of a woman was still a defence to assault until the 1940s - ie a man was 'entitled' to beat his wife, in order to enforce ensure her obedience.

            It only became an offence to rape your wife in approx 1994. Prior to that date, a woman was not permitted to refuse her husband intercourse.

            These two facts are shocking in themselves. But put them together and it becomes apparant that there are women, alive today, who lived through a period where violent rape by a husband was fully condoned by the legal system.

            The Married Women's Property Act which allowed women a stake in the matrimonial home was passed in the early 1970s. Prior to that a man could, and frequently did, throw a woman out on the streets making her homeless. Again, she would have no redress in law.

            The status of women in society has changed massively in less that 70 years. We have made massive leaps forward.

            Progress still continues. Within the last ten years, Judges have received guidance on what constitutes provocation for the purposes of a defence to murder. You may remember the cases of men being acquitted of murdering their wives and receiving instead short periods of custody for manslaughter, because they said they had snapped due to their wife's nagging. Thankfully, Judges will no longer accept such excuses - but this development has been within the last ten years or so.

            Our society continues to have a problem with violence in general - and in particular towards women. (Violence by women against men is equally abhorrent but far less common - do the body count. Two women a week are murdered in this country by their partners. The number of male victims is a fraction of this.)

            This violence affects the whole of society. The majority of youths coming through the Youth Justice System have come from violent homes - whether it being witnessing violence or suffering violence at the hands of their adult carers. Research has shown that particularly for male children, witnessing their mother being physically abused has an enormously traumatic effect, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low esteem and anger.

            Violence should play no part in relationships. But given that violence against women was for so long and so recently accepted by our society, it is no wonder that it is so prevalent.

            However our society has made great progress and must continue to do so.

            Home is where everyone - men, women and children - should feel safe. Violence within the home is not only an offence - but is also an abuse of trust and as such, should be treated more seriously than other forms of assault.

            Once these principles are accepted by everyone, all our lives will be safer.


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            • More +
              06.02.2009 13:25
              Very helpful



              Hard work, very painful, but so worth it.

              I am conscious as I write this that most people reading it, will have already given birth. For most of us, giving birth is THE most amazing thing we have ever done - amazing both in a bad and also a fantastically good way. That's why we go on about it all the time, and love to read of other people's experiences.

              For the few who are reading it before giving birth - I think it can be summarised in the following way. The enormity of child birth only hits you when you are right in the middle of it. But by then, you won't have time to think about it. You've just got to get on with it! And the majority of the well meaning advice you received before hand is likely to be forgotten.

              But there are a few things you can do, and are perhaps useful to know. Here are a few of top tips based on my own experience.

              1. The most important thing (in my view) is to get your birth partner geared up to be your support and your advocate during labour. Whether it be husband, partner, friend or mum, you will need someone there to be thinking and speaking on your behalf.

              There is a lot that goes on during labour and you will be very busy. What sort of pain relief do you want? Is the gas and air working? Do you need to shift position? For me, during my first labour, I got upset that they kept asking if students could give me internal examinations. It was my husband who spoke up and told them 'no more.'

              Preparing the birth plan with your birth partner will really help them get tuned into the issues and what you want. They will then be better prepared to help you and speak up, should you need it.

              You probably won't stick to your birth plan. But at least having discussed it beforehand, ensures you are on the same wavelengh if and when there is a change of plan and decisions have to be made.

              Things get pretty busy in hospital - but you deserve professionals best treatment and attention and to be treated with respect. Sometimes this can be overlooked. Its then that your birth partner needs to speak up on your behalf.

              2. Re the pain.

              Childbirth is one of the few times in our lives when pain is a good thing.
              The muscles involved in childbirth are huge and immensely powerful. When they kick into action, its gonna hurt.

              There are three sets of muscles, vertical ones, horizontal ones and diagonal ones. They'll work in turn, firstly dilating you and then pushing the baby forward and out of your body. This is amazing stuff. Your body is stronger than you could ever imagine. But it is going to hurt. Probably an awful lot.

              So - whilst the intensity of the pain of contractions may surprise you, remember they are necessary and taking you forward to the birth of your baby.

              During my first labour, I was completely panicked about how much it hurt and tried to beat the contractions. I remember having this bizarre mental image of being in the TV Gladiators show and battling up the travellator, during each contraction. I was pretty fit then, and I do think I managed to prolong labour, by working against my own body. It was only when they gave me some pethidine, that I suddenly relaxed, and then things seemed to happen much quicker.

              Secondly, don't panic. If you can't cope with the pain, there will always be another form of pain relief. Pethidine did it for me, even during my home birth (third pregnancy). Some manage with just with gas and air. My sister fell in love with the doctor who administered her epidural.

              Finally, whilst a caesarean is a major operation, which needs to taken very seriously, they are also a very safe way of delivering your baby.

              So you are going to get through this. One way or another, your baby will be delivered.

              3. The bit where you going bonkers.

              Just before you commence the second stage and get ready to push, your body is flooded with a special hormone that kick starts the diagonal muscles in your abdomen. These are the real bad boys - so strong they are going to push that little human being out of your body.

              It is nature's cruel trick that the effect of these hormones can also be send you temporarily bananas. During my last pregnancy, I took off all my clothes and had the overwhelming sensation of having turned into a cow.

              During a previous pregnancy, I grabbed hold of my husbands collar and tie in a grip I had learnt from ju jitsui classes many years previous. No amount of persuasion would make me let go, though the midwife managed to loosen my grip sufficiently to allow him to breathe.

              However, on each occasion I rolled over onto my left side, without knowing why. I have since read that this is a very good position in which to give birth. So maybe I wasn't completely mad after all.

              Giving birth - no matter how you do it - will test you to your limits, but you will be up to it, with the assistance of those around you. You and your body are amazing and you are about to find this out.

              And nothing beats the wonderful feelings of exhaustion, happiness, peace and hope as you hold your baby for the first time.

              Jolly good luck.


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              • historyofyork.org.uk / Internet Site / 90 Readings / 86 Ratings
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                05.02.2009 13:31
                Very helpful



                If you are planning to visit, or just love York, this website is just fabulous.

                The City of York is, as we all know, steeped in history and crammed full of architectural and archeological treasures. However for many of us, a trip to York consists of queuing up at Betty's tearooms, a wander around the walls and then trudging round the shops.

                The fact is that York's historical significance, both nationally and internationally, is so great, and so complex, it is extremely difficult to comprehend how all the different elements fit together.

                www.historyofyork.org is a terrific website, providing an accessible overview of York's history, from prehistoric to present day, whilst also serving as a reference point to those who wish to delve further.


                The Homepage

                When you first go to the website, you are presented with an attractive blue moving graphic, taking you through the different epochs in York's history. This gives you a very basic overview of York's history, whilst also giving you a first taste of the website's major theme and aim - to present a timeline of York's history.


                'What's New' and 'Pick of the Day.'

                The Homepage presents two main sections - 'What's New' and 'Pick of the Day.' These change daily, and pick out stories from York's vast history. The stories are usually told usually with reference to images of items from the City's art galleries and museums.

                One of today's 'Pick of the Day' is the story of the Viking Erik Bloodaxe, the Norweigan son of King Harald Fairhair. Beginning his murderous viking career at the tender age of 12, he had his four older brothers murdered in order to succeed his father's throne. After marrying a Norweigan witch called Grunhild, he was forced to flee to Britain and specifically York, after he himself was ousted from the throne by his younger brother.

                Whilst all this reads like something from the imagination of Monty Python's Terry Jones, but it all chronicled in Viking and Anglo Saxon sagas. An Viking axe is held in the Yorkshire Museum and a picture of it is displayed on the website. Could it be Erik's?

                One of the website's strengths is the way each day, it randomly picks out different stories from York's vast history. These might inspire you to research the subject further within the website, or perhaps not. But it serves to break down York's vast history into bite size chunks, without dumbing down.

                The Timeline

                The Homepage provides a link to the website's Timeline, which in my view is the HistoryofYork's most important section.

                The website breaks York's history into the following sections.

                Anglo Saxon
                20th Century

                In the top left hand corner you will see a blue graphic, next to a large image of a map of York. This enables you to scroll through the different periods of York's history and as you do so, the map image changes to depict a map from the appropriate time period.

                I find the changing map fascinating. You can see the two huge rivers of York converging on each other unchanged, whilst ancient maps show how York grew from a wooded settlement to what it is today.

                As you move through the timeline, the right hand side of the screen gives a pithy summary of the major events taking place within York, whilst at the bottom of your screen, a brief indication is given of key world events taking place at that time. For instance, when the first basic settlements were being established in York during the Neolithic period (between 4000 and 2500BC), the Great Sphinx of Giza was being created in Egypt.

                The timeline enables you to explore each period further, by clicking on the period of your choice.

                A chronology of York's key events is also available at the bottom of the screen.



                In addition to dividing York's history by reference to the different historical periods, the website provides a different approach through its 'Themes' section. Here the website picks out stories of interest from York's history and explores them in more depth.

                It also seems to pick out and focus on miscellaneous matters of interest, that wouldn't fit in any of the other sections. There is a feature on 'Things to Look Out for in York' and also a section on the work done by Joseph Rowntree - a man famous for his chocolates, but who was in fact a great Victorian social reformer.

                This section is good just to browse through. I was amazed to learn, for instance, that York was one of a number of cities selected to be bombed by Hitler for his so called Baedeker raids during World War II. So the story goes, Hitler browsed through the famous Baedeker Tourist Guides, in a bid to target cities of historical note and demoralise the nation.



                This is the website's final major section and perhaps the most innovative. Maps for different themed trails are provided, which can be printed off. But that's not all. For each trail, a pdf file can be downloaded, providing an audio guide for your chosen trail. All absolutely free! (Isn't this how Heritage should be. Tate Modern and all those other places that charge a fortune for this type of thing - Take Note!)

                Themed trails include:-

                Ghost Walk
                Guy Fawkes
                Medieval Churches
                Roman Trail
                The Minster Close
                York's Railway Heritage

                I think this section is great, but I must admit, having three children means that a peaceful guide stroll around the city with my headphones on is something of a pipedream at the moment. Perhaps thats why I spend so much time looking at the website instead!


                The HistoryofYork website is the product of a partnership led by the York Museums Trust. This is evident from the fact that the history is often told by reference to and with pictures of exhibits held within York's excellent museums and art galleries. I think this is another plus point of the website. Knowing the stories behind the exhibits brings them to life.

                As a child growing up in East Yorkshire, I spent practically every school trip trolling around the Yorkshire and Castle Museums, more interested in my packed lunch than the exhibits around me. Now if I'd known that gnarled piece of iron behind the glass might have been Erik Bloodaxe's very own axe, I might have taken more interest. If only to try and see if there still blood on it!


                I love this website. I love the clean and accessible way it presents York's history and puts it all into context. I like the funky graphics, but also nuggets of information it gives you in its daily 'Picks of the Day.'

                Best of all, I love the way it has put York's greatest asset - its History - back into the spotlight. It is so easy to miss this, as you are swept along in the tourist scrum past endless tearooms and shopfronts.

                The best day I ever spent in York was as a 16 year old - I skipped school and took the train to York the day after the Minster Spire was hit by lightening. (If you recall, an emminet Bishop had just days before publically questioned the veracity of the Virgin Birth and the lightening strike was seen as divine intervention.)

                I got there before the crowds had arrived for the day. I remember standing in front of the Minster, gazing on and breathing in the history of the place and the moment.

                The website gives me a similar feeling. It unearths and unlocks the secrets of York's vast history. Get to know the website and your next visit to one of Britain's finest cities will be something quite wonderful.


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                • More +
                  04.02.2009 21:43
                  Very helpful



                  They love it in Quatar.

                  The chief executive of the Vimto Soft Drinks was on Radio 4 yesterday, saying how popular Vimto was in the Middle East. It is not surprising this is a fertile market for soft drinks, given the alcohol restrictions.

                  What was surprising was his comment that it was easier to buy Vimto in the Middle East, than it was in the South of England. Presumably this means there are DooYooers out there who've never tasted this wonderful drink. So this is a review for you.

                  On the face of it, Vimto is a poor man's Ribena. They are usually found next to each other on the supermarket shelves. While Ribena stands elegant and serene, with its foil top and blackcurrant embossed labelling, Vimto is its garish purple and yellow cousin. In Coronation Street terms, if Ribena is Annie Walker, then Ribena is definately Vera Duckworth.

                  Vimto is usually at least half the price of Ribena . It doesn't claim to be as virtuous as Ribena, which is heavily marketed on its blackcurrant and vitamin C content. However, vimto does contain a similar amount of fruit juice - 10% in both cases. In Vimto's case, the fruit in question are rasberries, blackcurrants and grapes. However, for both Ribena and Vimto, the main ingredient is sugar.

                  Vimto is an acquired taste, particularly if you are used to Ribena. It has a synthetic, chewy sweet quality to it. The label attributes the unique 'vimto flavour' to a secret blend of herbs, barley malt and spices. To be honest, it tastes quite chemically. But that is part of its charm.

                  There is something very 1950s about Vimto. This was an era when the ad man reigned supreme as technology and science invaded our existances. Cigarettes were good for your health, whilst millions of new mums were persuaded that breastfeeding was outdated, and babies were much better off with cows milk with added chemicals.

                  If it was good for you, it was bound to taste a bit odd. That proved you were buying something devised and improved by scientists. The modern day label continues to exemplify this attitude. There are pictures of fruit on the front, but they are obscured by a splurge of colour proclaiming 'Vimto - with added vitamins.'

                  So I don't know if its nostalga, but I love Vimto. The best Vimto is served hot in plastic cups at the ground of Stalybridge Celtic Football Club, where they also serve black peas - another odd concoction from the past.

                  You can now buy cans of fizzy vimto and chewy sweet vimto. I am afraid both these products are a step too far for the likes of me. I have tried them, but they are both toothachingly sweet.

                  Cold or hot, Vimto is a refreshing if slightly odd drink, that is cheaper than Ribena. If you see it on the shelves, give it a go. (But only buy a small bottle, just in case.)


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                  • More +
                    04.02.2009 13:28
                    Very helpful



                    Mr Sainsbury and Mr Tesco are bad men who take your money.

                    Are Supermarkets the modern woman's Valium?

                    Some months ago, I was meandering through the chilled foods section of Sainsbury's when I bumped into someone I knew vaguely through work.

                    We did the usual thing of exchanging gushing hellos while furtively checking out each others trolleys. I felt ok about mine. I'd only been to the fruit and veg section at that stage. She had some prawns and a pair of Sainsbury's value brand jeans, which surprised me. I had her down as a Hobbs/Jigsaw type.

                    We said our goodbyes and continued with our shopping. There was then that awkward thing where we kept seeing each other down different aisles. Not a problem in itself, but for some reason, I felt ashamed.

                    I couldn't work out why. It was as though I had been caught doing something I shouldn't. Like squirting squirty cream straight from the can into my mouth (I don't do this but I have a friend who does). Or making a tray of biscuits for the kids and then eating all but two of them myself. And then having to eat them all and deny I'd ever made any. (I do do this.)

                    So why feel ashamed? My theory is that the success of the likes of Sainsburys is down to the fact that they have become everyone's guilty secret - the place where we tune in, turn on and drop out.

                    Troublesome baby's strapped in the trolley. Music's on low. No one's going to bother you now. Everything's going to be OK.

                    Head's aching after being up all night? No problem - you don't have to think where you're going - just wander along, and follow where the aisles take you.

                    Exhaustion and post natal low self esteem making you look like s**t. Don't worry - Sainsburys and Tescos don't have mirrors, not even in the clothing section. Just look at the pretty girls on the front of the magazines and packaging. That could be you - just buy this product.

                    Kitchen a tip? Bathroom covered in grime? Pick up a can of Mr Sheen Lavender polish and the jobs as good as done. (You can put them with all the other cans of polish at the back of the cupboard which you've forgotten about because you never get round to using them.)

                    And while you're at it, treat yourself to a scented candle to light when you've done all the housework and both you and your home are looking gorgeous. As long as you are in Sainsburys, you are shielded against the cruelties of the outside world. There within their walls, there's a solution to everything and life is going to be just wonderful.

                    Even money is not an issue. Because look at all the offers. You can even outfox them, by buying the value brands and two for ones. The fools! You are actually saving money by shopping there.

                    Even the till receipts try and make you feel good. Here's what you spent, but look at how much you saved!

                    The dream only lasts while you're within the confines of the store. By the time you get home, the baby will have woken up and you'll be too knackered to take the bags out the back of the car. And your bank balance has been decimated.

                    My dirty supermarket habit was at its worst in the six months after the baby being born. Sleep deprivation was at its most extreme, day time TV was driving me mad and everytime the baby cried, so did I. The bank statements revealed the awful truth that I had been supermarket shopping almost daily. Money was leaking out of our account and directly into Sainsbury's coffers.

                    Tescos and Asda are bad, but not as bad. They don't seem to tune into my middle class idealism as much as Sainsbury's. Morrisons is much safer terratory. Narrow crowded aisles and disorganised shelves make you want to get out as soon as possible.

                    I'm almost clean now. I'm shopping locally, with the occasional trip to Aldi for jams, cans etc. I don't care that Sainsbury's own brand nappies are much cheaper than the Pampers carrypacks. Once they've got me within those orange walls, I'll be in that bad bad place in my head once again and I'll end up giving them all my money.

                    But danger looms on the horizon. Tescos have bought land at the far side of the village. Its within walking distance. With a pram, I could easily carry two or three bags. The dealers are moving into my neighbourhood.

                    A prescription for Valium would be much much cheaper.


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                    • Innocent Smoothies / Soft Drink / 58 Readings / 57 Ratings
                      More +
                      03.02.2009 11:10
                      Very helpful



                      Give these a try - especially when you need a pick me up

                      Innocent pure fruit smoothies - for all their proclaimed worthiness - are, above all, masters of marketing. And so, in the thick of the winter and flu season, they have a new smoothie on sale - 'Lemon, honey and ginger - A smoothie for Winter.'

                      I am a big believer in the powers of honey, lemon and ginger to fight off infection, but usually mix them myself with hot water with a bit of whisky. I wasn't particularly keen on the idea of drinking them fridge cold.

                      However, the large 1 litre cartons are on offer at the moment in Tescos and Sainsburys - reduced from £3.29 to £2 (or buy two for £4 - depending on where you go.) So I decided to give them a go.

                      The ingredients are listed as:-

                      13 pressed apples
                      3 mashed bananas
                      2 squeezed lemons
                      1/2 squeezes orange
                      1% honey
                      0.2% fresh ginger

                      This smoothie is delicious, and believe it or not, made me feel better instantly! I am completely hooked.

                      It seemed to be slightly thinner than the usual smoothies and the coldness and the smooth texture together with the warmness of the ginger really soothed my sore throat. When you have a cold, any form of liquid is good, but the lemon and ginger tasted so refreshing, it absolutely hit the spot.
                      There is no acidity to the taste at all - it just tastes refreshing and soothing.

                      As with all the Innocent smoothies, they seem to get the balance of fruits just right, so you don't notice the apples and bananas at all, even though they are usually the main ingredients.

                      Each glass contains two portions of fruit towards your 5-a-day.

                      The side of the box says this smoothie is good warmed up gently. I haven't tried this - its too good served straight from the fridge.

                      And though I might have sounded cynical at the start of this review, describing Innocent as the masters of marketing, I do love the way the cartons are designed. The Lemon and Ginger smoothie has a winsomely doodled blue snowman on the front of the carton, and the back contains the usual list of 'innocent promises' - including a promise to give away 10% of all profits to charity.

                      I only buy these when they are on offer, but you usually can buy them around the £2 mark from one of the supermarkets. Lemon, honey and ginger is my new absolute favourite.


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                        03.02.2009 08:49
                        Very helpful



                        Top tips for making a superb stuffing

                        The Sunday roast is the best meal of the week in our house. Usually chicken, loads of roast spuds and at least 4 types of veg - cabbages with leeks, roast parsnips, carrots, and peas. Finished off with Husband's special gravy, which can contain anything he finds in the fridge - mustard, vermouth, redcurrant jelly, even yoghurt - and somehow (almost) always tastes fantastic. (The horseradish sauce was a step too far.)

                        When we have company for dinner, only two additions are made to the basic menu - sausages with bacon wrapped round them (the children go mad for them) and stuffing.

                        The point of the stuffing is, as it always has been since the roman times when it first came to culinary prominence, to make the meat go further. Breadcrumbs, onions, eggs and whatever cheap ingredients come to hand were combined and used to fill the cavity of whatever unfortunate creature was lying on the kitchen table. You really don't want to know what the Romans used to stuff.

                        I consider myself to be the queen of the customised stuffing, and should you too wish to raise you stuffing to a whole new level, here are some top tips.

                        1. USE PAXO. This is the brand you are likely to see on your local supermarket shelf, and is also likely to be the cheapest branded product on the shelves at the largest supermarket chain. It costs around 85pence a packet, but is often on offer for two for one etc. It keeps for ages and so it is worth buying a couple just to have it the cupboard.

                        The secret to good stuffing is to use a reliable base and then add the extras yourself. You can spend three times as much on a fancy brand that has added cranberries, garlic, nuts etc. However the extra ingredients will all be freeze dried and processed, and will not taste that differently to the rest of the stuffing.

                        I have tried own brand ranges and have been disappointed.

                        Paxo has a nice texture - not too smooth - and is flavoursome without being too salty. It contains no chemical fillers and if you look at the ingredients , they are pretty much what you would expect to see if you were making it yourself from scratch (heaven forbid.)

                        Paxo, like all stuffings, is high in salt - one portion contains 0.76grams which it an eighth of your daily maximum intake. It is, literally, a filler, and accordingly contains very little of any nutritional value. However, by adding your own ingredients as suggested below, you can reduce the salt levels and raise the nutritional values.

                        2. ADD ROASTED ONIONS. When you put your chicken or joint in the oven, put a couple of onions in with it and drizzle with olive oil. (Halve the onions if they are very big.) In an hour of so, they will be soft and starting to brown. Remove them from the roasting dish and allow the meat to continue to cook.

                        Make up the stuffing per the instructions with boiling water, and then stir in the onions. They should be soft enough to break up as you stir them in, but keep the pieces big.

                        The onions give a beautiful sweet juciness and texture to the stuffing.

                        The roasting the onions also gives a great flavour to the meat juices in the roasting tin.

                        3. COOK THE STUFFING SEPARATELY.

                        Unless you are Hugh Furry Whatsit, do not stuff the chicken, turkey whatever. It is high risk, because it changes the cooking times completely, and unnecessary.

                        The idea of cooking the stuffing with the meat is too allow the stuffing to become infused with the fats and flavours of the meat. You can do this anyway by stirring in some of the meat dripping and juices into the stuffing instead of the butter, which is recommended in the packet instructions.

                        4. ADD EXTRAS - BE CREATIVE. My favourites are grated apple or freezed dried chestnuts. Some people add sausage meat, but I never do. I cook the sausages separately, so that those who don't like sausages etc can still eat the stuffing. A good stuffing can suffice as the vegetarian option for someone who doesn't fancy the meat (though you may have to omit stirring in the meat juices as recommended above.)

                        5. BAKE FOR 25 mins. The packet says you can roll into balls and cook on a tray. I don't do this, as it may make it rather dry. Use an overproof dish, cook along side roast potatoes until brown top but moist under neath. The chunks of onions sticking up and caramalising looks fantastic.

                        And that's it - fantastic customised stuffing from a basic PAXO mix.


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                          02.02.2009 14:04
                          Very helpful



                          Still the classic baby cook book

                          I love to cook and so when my first child was born 11 years ago, I decided that feeding would be the one area of motherhood at which I was going to excell. At that time, there was only one main baby cookbook and this was it - The New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner by Annabel Karmel.

                          Annabel Karmel is a former professional harpist and cordon bleu trained cook who became interested in baby nutrition after the death of one of her children as a young baby. She became interested in the notion that she could improve the health of her children and increase their interest in food by preparing her own recipes for them as young babies, instead of relying on commercially produced processed foods.

                          She was one of the first to make this idea widely acceptable. Until then, most of us were buying jars and packets of processed foods for our babies, believing them to be balanced nutritionally and better for them. The shop shelves used to be filled with rows of food powders that you mixed with milk or water. I remember being given jars of baby food by my health visitor, something that does not happen now.

                          Now there is a realisation that processed foods do not provide children with the variety of tastes and textures that they need to get them used to a varied healthy diet. The point of weaning is to get them used to eating what you as a family are eating. And if your diet is not up to much, then it is time for your diet to improve as well.

                          This is very much the ethos set out in all Karmel's books. For the purposes of this review, I compared my old tattered 1998 edition with the new one, which I got from the library.

                          Suffice to say, it is not changed much. But then it didn't really need to. I think this is still the classic baby cookery book, as much for the advice it gives on the correct approach to weaning, as it is for the excellent recipes it contains.

                          The first chapter deals with an introduction to your child's nutritional requirements and the nutritional content of various foods. This is useful as it gives you an overview of where you are heading, and in the first few months when everything is new, I read and reread this chapter, as much for comfort and inspiration as anything else.

                          The remainder of the chapters are divided up into the different weaning stages - 4 - 6 months, which contains recipes for fruit and vegetable purees.
                          - 6 - 9 months, when meat is introduced
                          - 9 - 12 months - still more recipes and finger food
                          - toddlers - this includes a baking and party section.

                          Each chapter begins with a meal planner, which again is a comfort when you start. Eventually, you get to know your own baby's appetites, and I came to use this less and less.

                          The new edition makes allowances for the fact that it is now recommended not to feed your baby solid foods until they are six months, but still gives details of foods that are safe from 4 months. This is fair enough, as many mums, including myself, do not wait the full six months.

                          Each recipe is given with advice on whether they can be frozen, and many of the recipes contain advice on how to use the recipe to make a meal for the whole family. Even the early purees can be converted into soups. Again the advice is to get your baby used to eating what you are eating.

                          Many of the recipes are absolutely great, both for the baby and the family. One of the reasons why I have not used this book that often with the recent birth of my third child is because I have continued to cook the recipes as my older children have grown and they are ingrained into my memory.

                          My favourites include the Haddock in Orange Sauce, Courgette and Pea Souper, Chicken and Apple, and the Special Fried Rice with Sweet and Sour Chicken. The Muligatawny Chicken is a fantastic first chicken curry, and the baking section is absolutely excellent.

                          Annabel's recipes can be labour intensive, although she claims that they are not. As the years have gone by, I have devised recipe shortcuts. This is not only to save time, but also because it is so heartbreaking to spend hours on a recipe, only for your fat little 12 month old to spit it out as though it is something akin to the devil's own vomit.

                          I am surprised that the new edition has not reduced the preparation time on some of the recipes. This is one area in which the book could be definately improved. There are now other baby puree cook books on the market which are not quite so labour intensive.

                          I am also surprised that the book continues to suggest giving honey to babies under 12 months, and peanut butter to under 5s.

                          But these are the only drawbacks to this excellent book. Annabel Karmel's writing style is enthusiastic and reassuring and certainly for those months before you actually start weaning your baby and are still idealistic about the whole thing, this is a terrific read. It is still published in hard back, and with the lovely illustrations, this would be a lovely present for a new mum.

                          Once you get started, I am sure you like me will start making up your own shortcuts to some of the more labour intensive recipes. But by then, the book will have already done its job in educating you and reassuring you as to how the feed your baby.


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                            25.01.2009 21:56
                            Very helpful



                            A fantastic first book

                            Tickle Tickle is an 8 page board book by the writer and illustrator Helen Oxenbury.

                            It is currently distributed as part of the Book Start scheme, where children are given books at the age of 6 months by their health visitor. I have seen others in the series sold in supermarkets, and I note from the Walker Books website that they are planning to publish a new version of Tickle Tickle for £3.99.

                            Reading to babies is not only a way of familiarising them with books and words, but has been shown to comfort babies as their mother's voices become less stressed when they are reading simple books. Mother's voices? Stressed? What can they mean!

                            Tickle Tickle is my 13 month old's favourite book - and she is a very well read baby! Each page features large pictures of the faces and bodies of smiley babies, at different stages of their day.

                            This is the way we read it.

                            Page 1 and 2 - pictures of 3 babies playing in mud.

                            "Squelch, squelch, in the mud."

                            We bash on the page pretending to be babies tramping in the mud.

                            Page 2 and 3 - pictures of 3 babies in the bath, getting washed by their mum.

                            "Splish, splash, scrub a dub"

                            We wash the babies with our hands and then wash our faces

                            Pages 4 and 5 - picture of 4 babies brushing their hair.

                            'Gently, gently, brush your hair'

                            This is said gently whilst she brushes the babies' hair, then her own hair very softly.

                            Pages 6 and 7 - picture of baby being tickled by mum and other babies

                            'And tickle, tickle under there.'

                            She then gets tickled and cuddled by me and she tickles the baby on the page.

                            This book has become part of our family language. We say 'Gently Gently' when we brush her hair or whenever we want her to be gently to another child. And 'Splish splash, scrub an dub', when she's having a bath.

                            Many will know Helen Oxenbury from her amusing and whimsical illustrations of Michael Rosen's 'We're going on a Bear Hunt.' Tickle Tickle has a completely difference appearance - its bold bright colours and large faces are very appealing to babies.

                            Tickle Tickle is part of a set of 4, which also include Say Goodnight, Clap Hands and All Fall Down. All are good, but Tickle Tickle and Clap Hands are the best, in my view.

                            My elder children remember these books from when they were babies. I kept reading these books to them until they were about 4 years old. By that time, they knew Tickle Tickle off by heart, and they knew the tickle and the cuddle were coming at the end.

                            This book is delightful.


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                              25.01.2009 10:35
                              Very helpful



                              Over emphasis on service and financial sectors needs to be halted NOW.

                              My decision to take a career break coincided with the credit crunch, so while I am lucky that my husband still has a decent job, we have lost a substantial slice of our income each month and have had to cut back drastically.

                              I am doing all the usual stuff - no holiday this year, one car given up, no new clothes for the grown ups, subscriptions and standing orders cancellled.

                              We have always eschewed ready made meals, but now we are doing our own decorating and DIY as well. I can't imagine ever having a cleaner again, although when I was working, I couldn't imagine doing without one. We are even making our own pizzas! (They are delicious - as good as Pizza Express.)

                              Stuff that we never had the time or the will to do before, we are now having to tackle.

                              Its strikes me that the country is in a similar position. We have relied so heavily in the past on the service and financial sectors, that no one in Britain is making anything anymore.

                              We have been happy to import and have neglected our manufacturing industries and trades. The demand for these goods remains, and with the pound so weak, our exports should be attractive to other countries.

                              The problem is that we have very little left to export, and are reliant as a country on imports which are becoming increasingly expensive.

                              Gordon Brown expansionist approach might work, provided the money is invested effectively in supporting and promoting the manufacturing industries that will sustain us for the future.

                              A proper tax system where we are not so worried about upseting the fat cats of the City might help as well.

                              Here's hoping.


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                              • Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth / Wine / 20 Readings / 18 Ratings
                                More +
                                24.01.2009 23:57
                                Very helpful
                                1 Comment



                                Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth - the original and the best

                                I am amazed to be writing the first DooYoo review for vermouth.

                                This fantastically flavoured fortified wine is a key ingredient in a martini, and is also invaluable in the kitchen.

                                Vermouth is a blend of wine, fruit essences, herbs and spices. The name Vermouth comes from the german word 'wermut', meaning Wormwood the original herb used in Vermouth until it was found to be poisonous!

                                Sweet vermouth (which is red) was produced as early as 1786. However it was in 1813 that Joseph Noilly of France produced the first dry (white) vermouth. The Noilly Prat brand still survives, and while there are many alternative producers, it is to my mind the finest of the Vermouths.

                                It is still made in the South of France using traditional methods. White wine is blended with fruit essences (lemon and raspberry) and over 20 herbs and spices and then matured for 8 months. The wine is then transferred to smaller casks and then exposed to the elements for a further 12 months while the flavours develop.

                                The flavour is quite unlike either sherry or port. You first taste a richness, that then disappears to dryness, leaving an alcoholic herbiness around the sides of your mouth.

                                To make a decent gin martini, I would strongly recommend you buy the Noilly Prat brand. It is more expensive, costing up to £10 for a 75cl bottle. You can get a supermarket brand for a few pounds, but you need so little of it to make Martini, it is worth paying the extra because it lasts for ages.

                                Mix 4 parts gin with one part vermouth and then add an olive. Add a splash of the olive brine to the drink and you then have a dirty martini, but frankly, I've never seen the point.

                                Use the cheap stuff for cooking. I use it all the time in risottos and when I am cooking Puy lentils. It smells wonderful and adds a herby earthness to otherwise bland ingredients.

                                Kept in the fridge, Dry Vermouth will keep for 6 months after opening.


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                                  24.01.2009 11:25
                                  Very helpful



                                  There's an awful lot of Gordon in here

                                  I was bought this book as a present last year. Suffice to say I would not have bought it myself, as I don't like him as an individual, and also because the recipes I have seen of his previously, have all been very complex and 'cheffy'.

                                  So I was not particularly thrilled to receive a large hard backed book, the front bearing an up close picture of GR, looking menacing with a pair of knife sharpeners.

                                  However despite the photo, Sunday Lunches is Gordon's attempt to show his cuddlier side. Far from being attempts at culinary perfection with hundreds of obscure ingredients, the book contains recipes which will be accessible to cooks of most abilities.

                                  The book is a tie in to the TV series, and accordingly it is split into 25 menus, each featuring a starter, main course and pudding. A variety of cooking styles are covered from Asian, Italian to traditional English.

                                  An example of the type of recipes the book contains is the menu for the traditional Sunday lunch.

                                  This includes recipes for Pigeon Salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and red wine gravy with the usual trimmings, and finally Eve's Pudding. This menu is typical of the book in that it presents something for all types of cook. Eve's Pudding is something that could be tackled by the kitchen novice, whilst surely only a keen foodie would bother to put together a Pigeon Salad before a hearty Sunday Lunch.

                                  All the usual roasts are covered. Pork with crackling, Chicken and there is also a Christmas Dinner menu with herb buttered Turkey with citrus breadcrumbs.

                                  More unusual menus include Venison in Red Wine and Chocolate Sauce and Monkfish with curried mushrooms.

                                  The recipes are laid out clearly, with the use of garish graphics and unusual fonts, to make the methods involved abundantly clear. The photography is superb with each recipe (apart from side dishes) carrying an accompanying photo.

                                  I should really like this book, but for me it is too garish and enthusiastic. It's lay out is very different from other recipe books and there's an awful lot of Gordon in here. They've even included a DVD inside the front cover, featuring Gordon doing the business in his own kitchen.

                                  This is a good cook book and an ABSOLUTE MUST BUY for Gordon Fans. But for those of us who prefer a softer, more traditional approach, this may not be quite what we want from a cook book


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