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Three weeks ago my regular Saturday afternoon football was postponed until Sunday because of that odd shaped ball game! My wife wanted me to finish the decorating, but my son was over for the weekend and insisted on dragging me off to the Cinema to feed his penchant for horror movies. The last time he persuaded me to go and watch a horror film it was ‘Dog Soldiers’ which I thought was more funny than frightening. This was definitely of the scary variety, though not as frightening as the newspaper reviews had led me to believe. Having said that, it did have its tense moments and was definitely worth seeing. The terror begins when the television is disrupted by a loud burst of static and a 'no-signal' snowstorm together with the sort of white noise you hear when you disconnect the aerial. Believe me, after watching this film that moment will tunnel deep into your sub conscious and next time it happens in the comfort of your own home, it will prickle the hairs on the back of your head. The film is director Gore Verbinski’s remake of the incredibly popular Japanese film that was supposedly the scariest movie in the world. I’ve not seen the original, which I understand is available on video but I’ve read that this stays fairly true to the plot with a slightly different emphasis to suit the US market. I’ve also read that as in Japan, it is intended to make this into a trilogy. Star of the film is the beautiful Naomi Watts who plays reporter Rachel Keller who gets involved in the action after she discovers that her niece and her friends died under gruesome and inexplicable circumstances. They died as a consequence of watching a cursed video tape which shows a sequence of black and white shadowy and surreal images, including – a man looking through a window, a wooden chair, a ladder, a women brushing her long hair whilst gazing into a mirror, and a vivid circle of light which I presume i s the ring after which the film title gets its name. The curse of the video tape is like a 21st century version of the Gorgon out of Greek mythology. Moments after the video is finished a mysterious phone call informs the viewers that they have exactly 7 days to live. Death occurs one week later, after a second phone call, the TV springs into life, the ring appears and that’s it – curtains. The premonition turns out to be true. Rachel of course goes looking for the video, and rather foolishly in my opinion views it (as one does!). At first she dismisses it as an elaborate hoax, but as she begins to experience hallucinations and weird phenomena, e.g. her face becomes distorted in photographs, her belief in the video’s curse grows. The clock steadfastly ticks away, and the end of the seven days fast approaches. In that time Rachel must discover the dark secret of the curse or suffer the same fate as her niece's. Her race against the clock in an attempt to unravel the mystery intensifies when first her ex husband, then her young son also view the tape. I won’t tell you any more about the plot, other than there’s a tremendous twist at the end (which had to be explained to me!)and a pretty horrific revelation. Any more and it would definitely spoil the film for you, but I will tell you why I think it is such a good film well worth going to see. Firstly, it is visually pleasing and very well directed with excellent cinematography, which put me in mind of ‘Deliverance’. Many of the outdoor shots are in the rain for some reason, yet this adds to the gloomy suspense. There is one scene involving a horse running amok on a ferry, which is particularly good. Secondly, the acting performances - Naomi Watts who was in Mulholland Drive is excellent and her growing fear as the movie progresses is very well paced, one of the best female performances I’ve seen for a while. She ’s clearly an actress we’re going to see a lot more of in the future. Films such as this are often let down by the young actor playing the precocious child role, but not in this movie David Dorfman, who looks like a bit like the Culkin lad, performs really well as Rachel's son Aidan who perceives odd things in ‘Sixth Sense’ fashion. For someone so young, he is incredibly believable, his lack of expression in some scenes speaks volumes. The other supporting actors are also impressive. Martin Henderson as Noah, plays the archetypical ex-husband role well, and Brian Cox and Daveigh Chase excel in their relatively small cameo roles. My son tells me that Daveigh Chase is the voice of Lilo (out of Disney's Lilo and Stitch). This role couldn’t be further from that – frighteningly menacing. The only criticism I would have is the ease with which they carry out the investigation, without any hitches at all, but there again, if it were true to real life it would be pretty boring and their enquiries would be clogged up with administrative red tape. Suspending belief goes with the territory in a movie such as this. The movie is more than just a horror movie. It is a good old-fashioned thriller, a twisted tragic tale, moody and tense, very pacy and full of suspenseful and frightening moments, a cross between ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘The Others’. It is creepy, atmospheric, and disturbing with a shocking and unnerving ending. Not to my mind as frightening as ‘The Shining’, which for some reason scared the death out of me, but pretty chilling nevertheless. Definitely worth going to see and a must for the Video/DVD collection when it is eventually released. Incidently, I went to see the match on the following Sunday, Wrexham 0 – Darlington 0 and that was something of a horror show too!
Home Alone IV – The Adult Version I’ll start with my summary Superbly acted, fabulously directed, dimly and darkly photographed using panning and tilting cameras to incredible effect, moody and appropriate score, bursting with suspense and very, very tense. Shame about the plot though – more holes in it than a colander. I once read that by the year 2005 every possible combination of musical notes would have been used, meaning that there would no longer be any original songs or tunes left to record. Listening to today’s charts and the predominance of cover versions, rap music and songs that sound vaguely familiar I think that the time has already arrived. I suppose that is also true about story lines and nowadays the emphasis in books and on TV and movies is no longer about original plots but the way in which the story is told. This is certainly the case with David Fincher’s ‘Panic Room’ - a very good film, yet based on a plot somewhere between a traditional Alfred Hitchcock thriller and ‘Home Alone’. The movie starts with recently divorced and unhappy Meg Altman played by the wonderful Jodie Foster, inspecting a typical New York town house along with her restless young daughter Sarah played by Kristen Stewart (definitely a future star). Meg has recently been divorced and is looking to spend her generous divorce settlement to buy a spacious home. Why a single mother and her teenage daughter would want to buy such a dark and rambling old house that big is the first mystery. However without the house there would be no plot because the house is the home of a former wealthy eccentric and contains an unusual extra feature, a supposedly impenetrable "panic room" equipped with separate air and water supplies, surveillance monitors, phone line, and a variety of other survival aids, where residents can hide in case of emergency. As luck wou ld have it, on the first night in their new home their house is broken into by three burglars who reminded me for all the world of a seedier version of the motley crew in ‘Home Alone’. The three men, Burnham (Forest Whitaker), Junior (Jared Leto), and Raoul (country music star, Dwight Yoakam) aren’t just bungling burglars though; they know the house, know of a secret in the panic room, and desperately want it. Meg and Sarah escape to the Panic Room and from here on in, we see a battle of wits between them and the burglars as the bungling trio try to enter the room, while our heroes try to keep them out. It was at this stage I presented a number of fairly obvious solutions to their predicament to my ever-patient wife who was watching the video with me. Even without specialist training I could have brokered a deal to make everyone happy. I won’t go into that here, because I’m sure if you watch the video you’ll have roughly the same thoughts, but don’t let me put you off, once you’ve suspended your disbelief at the actions of Meg and the burglars you will really enjoy this movie. The confined setting is typical of the Hitchcock thrillers and the suspense is released at regular intervals to keep you on your toes. Jodie Foster, who replaced Nicole Kidman after she injured herself on the set of Moulin Rouge gives a performance as good as her Clarence Starling part in The silence of the Lambs. One of the script’s strengths is the animosity existing between the burglars, whose differing motives and personalities become apparent over the course of the film. Forest Whitaker is an employee of the security company that built the panic room. He's nervous and doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt. Jared Leto has some sort of connection (couldn’t quite follow what) with the man who died in the house only weeks before. The most frightening among them is country singer Dwight Yoakam as a violent, trigger happy, psychopath brought in on the job at the last minute by Leto. Unlike his partners in crime, he's prepared to kill to get his share. The movie has a lot going for it. It has suspense by the bucketful, accentuated by enhanced tracking shots - the camera repeatedly snakes down numerous flights of stairs through banisters, floors and keyholes. It is very atmospheric and claustrophobic making you feel as if you are the house itself. Excellent value too - the VHS is generally available at only £4.99! My only complaints are in the probably unavoidable comparison with the Home Alone plot and the predictable ending, but as I’ve said the world seems to be running out of original stories.
I have to admit that even though I am half Welsh and love Wales and the Welsh people I am not a whole-hearted supporter of the Welsh language. I do appreciate the language, which I consider to be incredibly beautiful and lyrical and believe me singing the national anthem in a full Millennium stadium is a fantastic experience. Its just that sometimes people can try too hard to preserve something. The present Assembly policy is way over the top – Welsh is compulsory at school up to 16, signs have to be in English and Welsh to the extent that towns which have always had English names have had Welsh translations, official letters and publications are all in both languages, and anyone phoning the police, a local authority, a hospital, college or government department is met with a long drawn out greeting in English and in Welsh. I believe the language is strong enough to survive without the positive discrimination, which can actually have the opposite effect. The cost of implementing this policy must be horrendous and can only deter rather than encourage investment. Having said that, one of my favourite places to visit in Wales is the beautiful Isle of Anglesey which happens to be one of the main strongholds of the Welsh language. Known to the Welsh as Ynys Môn it is Britain’s largest offshore island Situated off the north-west coast of Wales near the beautiful Snowdonia mountain range, it is separated from the mainland by the treacherous Menai Straits, which is spanned by two marvels of engineering, Thomas Telford’s elegant suspension bridge and George Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge. During the middle ages Anglesey was known as Mam Cymru ('Mother of Wales') because its fertile fields were the granary for the much of North Wales. Even today the remains of many windmills are evident as you travel across the island and there is still one working example. Its attraction to me is in the fact that it is totally diff erent from the rest of North Wales. Heathland, marshlands and pasture range gently westward, interrupted by copses shaped by the wind and villages made up of small pebble dashed cottages battered by the winter winds which sweep up through the island. By way of contrast, Snowdonia acts as a wonderful backdrop to this lovely island, a beautiful panorama spread out along the length of its east coast. Anglesey has a rich tapestry of history and has its fair share of historical sites ranging from Neolithic times through to the industrial revolution. The first evidence of humans dates back to about 7000 BC and there are numerous stone burial chambers, standing stones, and hill forts, many of which survived the ages in good condition and can be still be seen today. It also has a fascinating association with smuggling evidence of which can be seen in the idyllic fishing villages dotted around the coast. The island has a multitude of areas where interesting birds, plants and other wildlife can be seen and enjoyed. With over 100 miles of coastline there are loads of different habitats, such as sand dunes, cliffs and beaches, salt marshes and mud flats. These provide homes for a wide variety of animals and also a varied flora. Inland much of the island is low lying agricultural land, dotted with the remains of windmills which drove the rural economy in the 1800’s and parts of Anglesey are flooded and marshy, providing for another alternative set of plants and animals. Much of Anglesey’s shoreline has Heritage Coast or ANOB status, an exciting succession of dunes and estuaries, coves and cliffs haunted by sea birds and a geologist’s paradise of complex rock formations. Around every corner there are glorious sandy bays reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ novels. Particular favourites of mine are: Plas Newydd - a magnificent early 19th century gothic mansion set in sloping parkland with f antastic views over the Menai Straits and the Snowdonia Mountains. Beaumaris – surely one of Wales’ most attractive towns with Victorian terraces, half timbered houses and a technically perfect mediaeval moated castle. Cemaes Bay – picturesque stone quay, beautiful sandy beaches and lovely cliff walks, even the nearby power station has a certain charm about it. It looks like a 20th century castle! South Stack - Towering over the lighthouse, the cliffs at South Stack annually provide thousands of seabirds nooks and crannies on which to raise their young. The greatest number of the birds are guillemots, with razorbills and kittiwakes also being numerous. A small colony of puffins also nest in their burrows above the cliffs. The vegetation on the wind-swept cliff top is mainly heather, but a beautiful display of maritime wildflowers colour the area in the summer. Newborough Warren – this is a lovely nature reserve covering 1500 acres of open dunes packed with herring gulls, oystercatchers, lapwings, curlew, skylarks and meadow pipits and home to an abundance of toads and lizards. Rhosneigr - On the West coast of the island, this location is a great place for surfers and watersports interrupted during the week by the roar of fighters from the nearby RAF Valley, an experience in itself. Lovely spot to visit at weekends in the early summer before it gets busy, beautiful bays, beaches and sand dunes to ramble over. On the downside.... Apologies to anyone reading from Holyhead, but this really is the one place to avoid. The island's biggest and busiest town, it is a thriving port and just an hour and a half by ferry from Ireland. Three or four years ago an economic survey rated Holyhead as "the most depressed town in Britain". I understand significant efforts are being made to change its image, but this will take time and a great deal of investment. Llanfairpwl lgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – The village with the UK’s longest place name. When translated into English, it means "The church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St.Tysilio's church by the red cave". The name was actually coined in the nineteenth century to attract tourists to the Island – an advertising campaign todays promos would have been proud of! It is abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair P.G. by the locals. To be honest the sign is about all there is to it, but its still one of the naff things you have to do when you visit Anglesey – have your photo taken (wide angle lens of course) alongside the railway station sign. Two opinions for the price of one, a thumbs up for Anglesey but a thumbs down for the Welsh Assembly’s costly attempts to preserve the Welsh language.
Firstly let me confess - I’m a working father, but I think working mothers may find this interesting. I’m actually getting excited about work. My employers have decided to embrace ‘Work Life Balance’. Gone are the days when you started work at 9.00 am, finished at 5.30 pm, had an hour off for lunch and asked permission to take your jacket off, companies and organizations have finally woken up to the fact that to get the best out of your workforce you have to be flexible. They’re doing it because stress levels in the western world are on an ever upward trend and people are working longer hours than ever. There is an increasing proportion of families with both partners out at work and a growing number of single parents who want to work yet have to work all hours to make ends meet. Since the seventies, people have been waiting for the ‘age of leisure’, where computers do all the work, allowing the workers to live leisurely, rewarding and balanced lives. It hasn’t quite worked out that way and instead, those of us lucky enough to have jobs are in the main working harder and longer, whilst many people who want to work are excluded because of family and parental commitments and a lack of flexibility in the workplace. Employers are beginning to realise that it doesn’t have to be like that and that organizing our working lives better can benefit both the employer and the employee. Employees can reduce stress, and become more productive and motivated, and happier, as they achieve a better work-life balance. Companies can increase staff morale, recruit and retain staff more easily and at the same time introduce more efficient and effective practices. Socially excluded members of society who of necessity have to prioritise home life (e.g. because of caring responsibilities) may gain access to employment opportunities with companies, who are prepared to offer a better work life balance. < br> The main changes in working practices being considered by my own employers include: Flexible Hours I have been working flexi time for about ten years now and I have really appreciated it. The only problem being restrictions on start and finish times and core hours. They are now piloting a scheme where, providing there is cover to deal with clients and customers, the core our hours are being eliminated and the start and finish times significantly extended. Arrangements for flexible hours working can be of particular benefits for parents with younger children, who need taking to/from school, or people with other caring requirements. Simply not having to be at the office at 9.00am in the morning can relieve much of the stress of domestic management and travelling outside of rush hour can reduce stress considerably. At present I can take up to a day’s flexi leave a month, which in the summer I tend to use for playing golf or going off for the day with my wife. I am also a governor at a couple of schools so the time comes in handy for meetings and visits. My employer is going to extend this to two days a month which means that providing I put in the hours I can have an additional twelve days a year off – I can already envisage my golf handicap tumbling (I wish!). Working from home I work in the financial sector of a large public authority, in a relatively small office, crammed full of people. Much of my work revolves around writing reports and analyzing accounts, which is difficult at the best of times. Even more difficult when you’re surrounded by another 17 people answering telephones and the like. My employer has decided to invest in laptops and allow us to work from home when appropriate – I have visions of sitting in the bar of my local pub and e-mailing my reports into work in between pints! Seriously though, working from home has many advantages for people with either children or dom estic responsibilities. In the majority of instances, this is not full-time, but appropriate tasks can be undertaken from home, usually with productivity benefits. Other schemes which are either being considered by my employer or are actually in operation are: Home-Based Working I received a couple of phone calls last week offering me cheap holidays, both were from India where an increasing number of call centers for UK companies seem to be based. There is a need to retain jobs here in the UK and Home based working may provide one answer. Combined with appropriate communication technology and time-based flexibility it can ensure that an employee is always equipped to get on with some work and can significantly reduce a company’s costs. It is very difficult to work effectively and care for children at the same time, though many people do, but home based working from can make the organisation and management of childcare much easier and less stressful. It also enables contact with children at crucial times of their day, rather than dashing out of the house as they do, and not being there when they return. A worker free of parental guilt, no matter how unwarranted, may be a happier and more motivated worker. Parental Leave Brought to the fore by Leo, Cherie and Tony, and now enshrined in legislation, parental leave can be advantageous at times other than the birth of a new baby. For a family, paternal leave can be important less for the new born child than for the care of older siblings. Parental leave by its nature is intended to cope with times of particular stress or change in the family. Part Time Working For many people, there are times when working full time causes excessive conflict with other life commitments. Part-time work is particularly beneficial for people with substantial caring commitments, or who are returning to work after looking after young children. Job Sharing Job sharing is a particular type of collective part-time arrangement, where an individual can be assured that the job is being carried out properly by someone else when they are not working. Organisations are looking to part-time work and job sharing as a means of retaining skilled staff whose skills might otherwise be lost. Of course Work Life balance is a two way thing and not just about people with families. My employers aren’t just doing it to turn Merv’s job into one long holiday; they want some payback. They have to have arrangements in place to ensure the continuity of work, adequate monitoring and supervision, good communications with staff operating flexibly , equitable arrangements for all staff (i.e. not implementing flexible arrangements only for those with families) and the protection of existing rights and benefits. In return the employers will expect to see a more balanced, motivated and appreciative staff, and significant business benefits which must result in a more efficient and productive organization. Suddenly, for me, there is another option to the national lottery and early retirement!
I popped into my Doctor’s surgery last week to pick up a prescription and while I was waiting I browsed through the masses of literature they had on display. You know the sort of thing ‘How to give up smoking’, ‘How to reduce your blood pressure’, ‘How to stop worrying about all the ailments you’ll never get.’ Pretty morbid stuff really, I came out of there quite depressed, feeling I should have made an appointment to see the Doctor on the off-chance that I had some plague or other. In amongst the leaflets I’d picked up for more detailed scrutiny in the comfort of my own home, I came across a business card advertising the NHS Direct web site. Seeing as I was already in hypochondriac mode I decided to have a look and this is what I found. This site is the online version of NHS Direct, a twenty-four hour telephone helpline led by NHS nurses, which offers information and advice to patients and the public at large. The online service which is also an information resource does not offer consultations as such, but sifts through over 100,000 health related web sites and recommends those that offer good quality information. It is based on an initiative, which has worked well in the USA where its equivalent healthfinder.gov has proved to be very successful. The aim of the site is to put a variety of reliable health information resources at your fingertips, helping you to make informed choices about your health and lifestyles. Easily accessible, the Homepage is simple to navigate with a menu strip down the side of the screen and an explanation of the contents in each section. The site is very simple to use, easy to understand and provides information which you can trust, unlike some of the health sites I’ve visited which seem to be very keen on selling you something. It has a number of special features: An Online Encyclopaedia This is a very comprehensive guide to over four hundred common medical conditions, containing information on illnesses, conditions, tests and treatments along with explanatory diagrams and images. It is intended to complement the NHS Direct Self Help Guide, which focuses on common symptoms. I have suffered in the past from Menieres Disease, a distressing and debilitating condition which is similar to vertigo. Thankfully I only used to get infrequent attacks, which didn’t last long, unlike some poor sufferers who have to live with this recurring nightmare. I looked it up in the encyclopaedia and a found a comprehensive and detailed description of the ailment along with some very useful links. A Self Help Guide This section provides advice on ‘what to do next’ for a range of common symptoms, plus background information on minor ailments and guidance on what you should have in your medicine cabinet. Its aim is to be the first step to help you decide the best course of action when a common health problem arises. It offers a ‘body key’ as a means of assessing what symptoms you or the sufferer may have and then asks a series of questions in order to establish what advice and action you need to follow, which may be either self care, calling NHS Direct or dialing 999. Where the guide suggests self care, it tells you what to do, what you can buy from a chemist that may help and organizations to contact for further advice You may have read my previous favourable review on NHS Walk in Centres when I explained how my son had been taken ill with kidney stones, which had been successfully diagnosed by the Walk in Centre’s nurse. I thought I’d input his symptoms and see what the self-help guide came up with. Sure enough it said it could be either kidney stones or a kidney infection. I was impressed, particularly as his doctor hadn’t come up with the possibility, when first he noticed the pain. Healthy living This section provides tips on achieving lifestyle changes to help you live longer, feel and look better and reduce your chances of falling ill plus a separate section on reducing the risk of a long list of major conditions including various cancers, depression, heart disease, HIV and AIDS, Osteoporosis, sexually transmitted diseases and accidents. It covers the usual suspects – diet, nutrition, exercise, smoking, alcohol, stress, as well as raising other less attributed factors such as poverty and social exclusion and has a series of healthy living quizzes to help indicate where you may be at risk. The advice here is concise, very good and well cross referenced where appropriate to other tips from the NHS. Local National Health Services The website has full details of GPs, walk-in centres, pharmacies (chemists) and dentists, plus contact details for all Health Authorities and NHS Trusts in England. I checked on my local practice for my own GP who has very recently retired to find it was up to date – his replacement was listed with the correct telephone number. I think this is important and says a lot about a website. Health Information Enquiry There is also a facility for sending a health information enquiry by completing a simple form. It will be researched by a health professional and you will be given an individual response within 5 working days from receipt. Health Information Gateway The health information gateway is a directory of links to selected websites and other health information resources. There is also access to an NHS magazine, regularly updated news articles about health trawled from sources such as the BBC, GMTV and The Guardian, and a huge News Archive. This was right up to date when I checked, the main topic being the need for more GP’s. Audio Clips Constantly updated with new information, this section offers more than 200 audio clips ranging from 3 to 10 minutes on a very wide range of health topics. Real audio is required to hear them, which if you haven’t got it can be downloaded from the link provided. Some pieces are available in Asian languages including Urdu and Bengali. Contact a family directory This is the on line version of the definitive directory of self-help and support groups for unusual and rare conditions. FAQ This offers a variety of answers to what are apparently very common questions about health conditions and lifestyle choices and in a separate section the NHS. It also suggests articles and links for further information. The links are to literally 1000’s of sources of help, advice and articles from as far afield as the National Library for Health to commercial sites such as the Lonely Planet which you can use for tips on travel health. This is without doubt one of the most informative UK websites I’ve seen, ranking along the BBC site for comprehensiveness and ease of use. Used sensibly this could be an incredibly useful resource and a superb example of how the internet can be a factor for good. In this respect a neighbour of mine who is a consultant at the local hospital told me that the internet had revolutionized his speciality because it had made easy the cross-pollination of ideas. My only concern is that in the wrong hands this site could be dangerous. There is the chance that people would not go to see their GP when they had something potentially serious because of false confidence attributed to their own diagnosis. Alternatively a little knowledge could be a dangerous thing with people assuming the worst because of the wide range of ailments on offer, a sort of supermarket for hypochondriacs. On balance though I think it is an excellent resource, which could ease the pressure on the diminishing number of GP’s we’ve recently been hearing about.
Three or four weeks ago I was singing the praises of my Gillette Mach 3 razor, which I claimed was the ultimate shave, the only drawback being the price. Well I have some news. The saturday before last I visited my local Aldi and was nearly trampled to death by a crowd of blokes larger than that which usually watches Wrexham’s home matches. Recovering my composure I decided to join in the melee, believing that they probably had one of their brilliant computer deals on. You know what I mean laptops, pc’s, printers, digital cameras, Digital TV’s, etc. at unbelievable prices – the only drawback being by the time I get there they’ve all gone! I pushed myself to the front of the crowd only to find that rather than some high-tec equipment, they were all drooling over a delivery of razors. ‘Best shave I’ve ever had – bar none’ said one enthusiastic punter. ‘I look in every Saturday, just on the off-chance’ said another. I decided I must have one. Just the one, mind you, though everyone else seemed to be buying them by the barrel load. I got to the checkout and asked the girl on the till about it. She said it was currently one of their most popular items and the word seemed to be spreading. I’m not surprised either the Carlton Edge3 three blade shaving system looks, feels and shaves like the Gillette Mach 3, but it is an incredible £1.95 for a razor and two blades and £1.45 for a four cartridge refill pack. Unbelievable value, less than half the price of the Gillette! And that of course is what Aldi is all about. It is a truly international supermarket offering a wide choice of products, usually unfamiliar brands many of which match the quality of leading brands, while being significantly cheaper. It has over 5000 stores across the world and its size means that it has tremendous buying power; they buy at better rates, and reduce costs by cutting out the gimmicks. The resultant savings are substantial and are passed on as discounted prices. All products in the Aldi range, whether baked beans or fresh cut flowers, biscuits or daily delivered fresh fruit and vegetables, are sourced from reputable suppliers. Their selection process enables them to offer their customers own brand products whose quality usually, but not always, matches that of leading brands. And it’s not just groceries. As well as everyday items there is an extensive range of products such as freshly prepared ready meals, continental cheeses, toiletries, gardening equipment, electrical and computer goods. Every Thursday, they have an exciting new selection of weekly specials. These can include anything from computers and accessories to TVs and DVD players and toys, clothing and kitchenware. Each week there is an exclusive selection and they are very popular because they are so reasonably priced, but with limited quantities, they soon run out. By selling only their own brands, they keep the quality high and the prices incredibly low. Other cost saving things they do include: Charging for carrier bags – bear in mind there’s no such thing as a free carrier bag, Tesco and the like add this cost into the prices of their products and so you pay for them indirectly. At least with Aldi you can decide whether you want to pay for one or not. And of course it’s a very environmentally friendly policy. Basic advertising – a weekly leaflet delivered with the local newspaper, and that’s it. No Jamie Oliver, but no contribution towards his fat salary either. Trolleys only – easier to use, less likely to go missing and I suspect can save them a lot on labour costs whilst encouraging shoppers to buy more. Difficult to contact – I tried phoning them a couple of years ago to ask if they had any of their special offer printers left, onl y to find they aren’t listed in the telephone book. It seems that the managers deal with all queries and complaints, but only on a ‘face to face’ basis. If you want to moan about something you have to do it in person! Having said that, their no quibble 100% cash refund guarantee is just the ticket. Small number of staff – I remember when Aldi’s first started in this country, they would only accept cash and their checkout staff had to learn the prices of each of the commodities on sale. I was told that they paid a lot more than the other supermarkets but the assistants had to work harder and could be moved to meet staff shortages or absences at another store at very short notice. Nowadays they have price scanners and accept credit, debit cards and cheques. I find the staff friendly and efficient but it is slow getting served sometimes if you go at peak times. The best advice I can give for potential Aldi customers is to experiment. A few of the products may not be to your liking or up to your usual standards, but others may prove to be better and certainly a lot cheaper than Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. My own favourites as well as the razors are their beers and wines, their fresh cut flowers, High juice squashes, pre-packed cold meats and toiletries, all of which are a very high standard and much cheaper than you’ll find anywhere else. Give it a try – especially the razors, if there are any left!
I’m one of those greedy capitalists who in the Thatcher era ploughed what little spare cash he had into buying shares in privatized industries. I used to spend many an evening updating my spreadsheet with the latest share increases, rubbing my hands like Shylock as my net worth (in monetary terms!) rose significantly, allowing me to dream of early retirement, a yacht in the Med and a house in the country. Well the bubble burst and I now realise that shares can go down as well as up. I’ve lost interest in my spreadsheet and I’m now a humbler and wiser person, albeit with significantly less capital. Nevertheless, I’ve still retained my shares as well as an interest in the financial markets but now I treat it as hobby akin to watching horse racing rather than a nest egg for when I retire. So much so, that my wife gave me a couple of good books for Christmas, one, which explains how to read the financial papers and another, which is a guide to online investing. They’ve both extended my knowledge and explained a lot about the markets and the way they work, but my favourite resource is undoubtedly the Motley Fool, a web site which is easy to use, UK orientated and can be used by anyone interested in finance from absolute beginners to experienced investors. The site is very well laid out and indexed and easy to navigate. Everything is explained simply and clearly and there is a wealth of information about all financial issues. Its very easy to register and usually results in a free gift, which changes from time to time but usually involves a book offering financial advice on a particular subject usually pitched at beginner level. Once you’ve registered you can set up a customized ‘My Fool’ page where you can access your on-line portfolio, web links and favourite discussion boards. Probably the first port of call for people registering with the site is the Fool School which eases you into the site with a list of suggestions such as finding and opening on-line bank accounts, researching the best mortgage deals and credit card rates, as well as providing a financial health check. There are calculators and tables for all sorts of eventualities allowing you to compare products and what they call ‘60 second’ guides to such things as Index Trackers, Annuities, Stakeholders and Getting Out of Debt which provide practical advice written in plain English informatively yet in an informal style. The Discussion Boards form a major part of the website. These are immensely popular with boards for each share listed on the London Stock Exchange plus many others for topics of interest ranging from jokes to sports to arts and leisure. Winner of the Evening Standard's People's Choice award, some of the unusual board titles include ‘The Dead Punk Panther Society’, ‘Billy’s Midnight Bunker’ and the ‘Comfort Café’. The discussions are usually lively and very humorous as well as providing some interesting theories and lots of information from some incredibly well-informed people. I’m sure if you had the time and inclination with the information available from these discussions you really could make a profit on the Stock Market, but there again isn’t that what most gamblers say? The site also gives you the ability to create your own portfolios, not just for your real stock holdings, but for you to experiment with - a good way to test your skill without spending any of your hard-earned or non existent cash. It has an instantly updated news section, a number of online tutorials explaining such things as how the stock market works and how to build a portfolio, and a Fool Shop which has all sorts of financial offers and a comprehensive stock of financial books very reasonable prices. I’ve also opted for the on-line e mail newsletter which keeps me up to date on what is hap pening on The Fool. Definitely the best site for financial nerds and dabblers – well set out, informative and full of useful information. Top tip from Merv, BT to make a startling recovery based on the lack of competition and inflated prices its charging for broadband. Invest now and get some of your money back!
To book a room at a Holiday Inn Express hotel you can dial their central reservations number on 0800 731 8710, which is actually a call centre based on the continent. You use the same number if you want to cancel a booking, something you can do at very short notice without any financial penalty. The last time we used the hotel chain was when we visited my son at Exeter University. The hotel is ideally suited for this as it is just off the M5, close to the city and handy for the university campus. The day before we were due to start our two-night stay, circumstances dictated that we had to curtail our weekend away to just the first night. I rang the appropriate number and was answered by a polite and efficient sounding operator. I explained my predicament, which she understood, but said it was not possible to amend a booking, I would have to cancel and rebook the first night. I told her the reference number, which they give you when make the booking in case you have to cancel and she successfully completed the first part of the transaction. That’s when all the fun and games started which would have made a wonderful scenario for Fawlty Towers. Attempting to rebook the first night, she regretfully informed me that there were no vacancies. I said there must be, as she had that very minute created a vacancy by cancelling my original booking. But she was unyielding, if the computer said there were no vacancies, there were no vacancies – would I like to stay a different night? Try as I would to convince her, she wouldn’t have it, even though the system would allow her to cancel my cancellation! Eventually I gave up, contacted the hotel direct and after a similar sort of experience initially I managed to get through to them eventually and booked the original room on the night we wanted. Apart from that bemusing incident I can’t speak too highly of the Holiday Inn Express Chain, particularly the on e at Exeter which we must have stayed at, at least ten times now. So what is so good about it: Well, for a start there are over sixty five Express by Holiday Inn hotels in the UK on major motorways, in town and city centres and at major airports. They all have family rooms sleeping up to 2 adults and 2 children (up to 19 years old) in a double bed and sofa bed at the standard room rate - including breakfast. The 5 airport hotels they have offer ideal stopover accommodation - and many provide discounted parking too. It is incredibly easy to book, using the central reservation system. The staff are efficient and helpful and providing that you have your dates and credit card ready the whole process can be completed in a couple of minutes. Every time I’ve rung them I’ve got through straight away and they answer the phone very quickly. You can also book over the internet – I’ve done this once and had no problem though my preferred option is the telephone as I always ask them if there are any offers on, a facility that doesn’t seem to be readily available via the net. It is also (normally!) very easy to cancel a reservation. Just tell them either before 4.00pm or in some instances 6.00pm on the day of the stay and you incur no charges. This is a really good facility and by no means universal amongst hotel chains. The rooms are incredibly good value. The standard rate is about £63 for a family room for four including breakfast. However, I’ve found that there’s nearly always an offer on. I’ve often had the same accommodation for £43 and on occasions £39 with their Weekender Plus deals. I’ve also joined their Priority Club, which gives you loyalty points redeemable against future stays. Once a member they e-mail you with offers, e.g. the latest is £10 off their lowest rate for Valentines Day weekend. Continental breakfast is included in the price, for all the family, and a ver y nice breakfast it is too. As much as you want on a self serve basis including tea, coffee, hot chocolate, all sorts of fruit juices, a range of cereals, croissants, pastries and other bakery items, a selection of preserves, yoghurts and a range of reduced-fat breakfast products. My own favourite is the make your own toast machine. It is fascinating to watch the people who haven’t stayed before trying to work out how to use it. A piece of advice to the manager here – turn up the heat, everyone who likes their toast to look at least a little bit brown has to put it through twice! As you would expect, the rooms are exceptionally well appointed with very comfortable beds, en-suite bathroom with power shower, direct-dial phones, modem points, workspace with task lighting, remote control Sky TV/pay movies, comfortable duvets and tea/coffee making facilities I’ve always found the staff very polite and helpful and each hotel has a reception area / lounge, where you can relax. These feature a spacious lounge area, with a fully licensed bar, comfortable seats, Sky TV and tea, coffee and refreshment facilities. This area is probably my only gripe about the hotel. It is completely lacking in atmosphere, tends to be full of some of the most boring businessmen in the world, is dominated by the TV and tends to be cold. Best to go for a drink to the pub usually sited very close to the hotel. In Exeter’s case it is the Barn Owl, a 100 yard walk to a cosy pub with a nice atmosphere and pleasant food at reasonable prices. Anything else? A free newspaper, bowls of complementary fruit and a very quick check out. All in all, it is an excellent place for a short stay. Not the sort of place I’d like to spend a week, but ideal if you are on business, en route somewhere or like us just visiting a city for a couple of days.
I get the impression that virtually everyone who works in an office watches the Ricky Gervais sitcom and recognizes many of its characters and scenarios. I know I certainly do, silently nodding in agreement at many of the embarrassing moments. It took some of the people I work with about three episodes to realize that it was a comedy and not really a fly on the wall documentary! The episode that I found particularly funny and poignant was the one about Red Nose Day when David, the Brentmeister General together with Tim, Gareth, Dawn and their colleagues came up with some toe-curling ways of raising money for charity. It reminded me of some of our own efforts at raising funds, well intentioned if not well thought out or executed. Not quite as hilarious as the duck outfit or Gareth’s hopping but not too far behind in the crass bad taste stakes. We did have some success last Christmas though, as in common with many workplaces we decided not to send to send Christmas cards but to donate the money to a worthy cause. It was well worth a tenner to get out of buying and writing cards for everyone and the added bonus was that this year it was going to a really worthy cause, our local children’s hospice - Hope House. Situated in Morda just outside Oswestry in North Shropshire, it serves North and Mid Wales, as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. Like all hospices this essential service relies to a great extent on donations and fund raising. One of the misunderstandings many people have with regard to the funding of children's hospices is the idea that the hospices receive significant help from "Central Government" or the NHS. Perhaps because children's hospices need to employ many highly qualified and experienced nurses, people jump to the conclusion that the salary costs of these vital staff are met from the same source as the local hospital nurses. This is not the case. Despite frequent assurances from various Ministe rs of Health that children with palliative care needs should receive the same support as adults, children's hospices continue to be neglected by Health Authorities The campaign to build this particular hospice began in 1990, initiated by the mother of Hope Peachy a severely disabled child who unfortunately died in Acorns hospice Birmingham before reaching her first birthday. At that time parents with a life-limited child living in this largely rural area had to travel to Oxford to secure periods of respite care for their children. Hope’s mother decided that a hospice was needed to serve Shropshire and surrounding areas, including Wales. Research at that time indicated the total population of the area needing the service was over 2 million and that up to 250 families in the area could be expected to have a child with a life-limiting condition. After three years the initial Appeal, which was incredibly well supported by a wide variety of people living in the catchment area had generated enough funds to build the hospice. The village of Morda, near Oswestry was selected as it is on the crossroads between England and Wales and geographically near the centre of the catchment area. Construction began in October 1993 and was completed in May 1995. Commissioning the interior of the building and installing specialist equipment took five months, then Nurses and other Care support staff were recruited and trained. Hope House opened for the care of children on October 23rd 1995. Since opening, over 300 families have been cared for by the hospice. The needs of each family alters as their terminally ill child enters different phases of their condition and in response to the obvious need of some families for support in the home, the service was expanded in 1998 to include home care, where appropriate. In September 2001 the Hope House Organisation announced its intention to build a new children's hospice specifically to se rve children living in North Wales. This new facility, to be called "Ty Gobaith yng Nghymru" (Hope House in Wales) is scheduled to open in Summer 2004. It is the most deserving of causes and one as an office we felt very proud to support and one which I personally will do my best to promote.
I must start by telling you that I don’t own Martin Dawes, I do not have shares in Martin Dawes and none of my family have any connection with Martin Dawes, which you may find difficult to believe after all the advertising I’ve been doing for them recently. Having said that they’re a really good television rental company with a treasure trove of bargains. You may have read my recent review on the free DVD player they gave me when I called into their Shrewsbury branch, a handsome addition to my £32 a month Panasonic TV and video rental package. This week’s visit ended up with me leaving with a mobile phone deal at an incredible price. The deal was that I subscribed to T-Mobile’s ‘750’ package (750 free off-peak minutes and 100 text messages a month) for £13.99 a month and they knock £10 a month off my TV rental, meaning that I get a ‘pay monthly’ rental with an up to date, state of the art mobile phone and more free minutes and texts than I need for £3.99 a month + vat or less than £57 per year. At the end of the contract I can either renew the deal or keep the phone to do with what I want. Sounds pretty good to me! The only catch is the high cost of peak calls and calls to other networks but as I’m a pretty low user anyway this is not likely to have much effect. But what I really want to tell you about is the phone they give you; a Nokia 3410, which makes my cumbersome Phillips Savvy look like something out of the Flintstones. It really is very good and definitely not a run of the mill entry-level phone. It has features, which make my daughter jealous, the same daughter who used to cringe with embarrassment when I used my ancient old mobile in public. Here are some specifications to give you an idea what I’m talking about: ·Weight: 114g (lighter than your average mobile) ·Size: 115mm x 49mm x 22.5mm, 100cc volume ·Talktime: betwee n 2 hours 20 minutes and 4 hours 10 minutes ·Standby: between 55 and 260 hours ·Java support for new applications and games – ·Included Games: Space Impact, Bantumi, Snake II, Bumper, Link5 ·Ability to download all sorts of new things for your phone to personalize it, e.g. new levels for the built in games from Club Nokia, ringtones, new graphics, animated screen savers ·There is a tune composer and a picture editor, and there are also options for downloading the tunes and pictures directly from the appropriate settings menu (you must be registered at Club Nokia first, though). You can still get new tones and logos via normal SMS or WAP pages, too. ·WAP ·Predictive text messaging ·Picture messaging and picture editor ·Mobile chat ·35 ringtones plus 7 customisable ringtones ·High resolution 4-line display ·Speed dialling ·Downloadable Java games and applications ·Animated 3D screen savers ·Phonebook (200 names) ·Changeable front and back covers ·Calendar, stopwatch, alarm clock, currency converter The 3410 is a very cool aqua-marine in colour, and features an updated front panel design; it is the same size as the older Nokias, but much lighter. The buttons on the Nokia are painted-rubber which feel very nice to the touch. The 3410 allows you to change the look of your phone by purchasing new Nokia Xpress-on accessory covers. Some of the currently available covers are based on themes like Nokia's Snake and Space Impact games. The 3410 can store tunes, images and loads of phone numbers - up to 200 names and phone numbers in its internal memory and as many again on the sim card, more people than I will ever probably want to contact. It can however only store one phone number per name. This means you have to enter things like "Dave- mobile" and "Dave - work" when you have multiple numbers for a person, which is often the case. You can store a voice tag to make finding them easier. After you have recorded the voice tag for a contact you can dial them just by holding down the right menu softkey and saying the name after the tone. I’ve experimented with this and it seems to work OK. New pictures for the SMS messages can be downloaded from Club Nokia and the phone also has predefined "smileys", i.e. character combinations meant to look like a face. You can edit or add your own and easily enter them into the message editor when you are creating a SMS message. There are 5 predefined, and 3 empty slots. The 3410 supports SMS profiles, too, allowing you to configure a profile with a specific SMS service provider. The profiles also let you define which of the animated screen savers to use, or to not use one at all if like me you use your phone to tell the time. The Nokia 3410 also has a number of simple productivity tools. These include a timer, an alarm, a stopwatch, a calculator, and a reminder. The reminder is like the alarm except that you can enter both a date and time for it and you can also enter a text description that will show up when the reminder triggers. Up to 10 reminder notes can be entered at a time. You can adjust the ringtone for both calls and SMS, set volume, the vibration alert, keypad beeps, etc. One original feature is the ability to have the button and screen backlights blink in time with the ringtones. For some ringtones the flashing is random, but with others it can be really effective. Apparently the most impressive function of the phone is the ability to download java games. The phone comes with some well-known Nokia games and has had one Java game downloaded. Munkiki is a 3D game where you guide a monkey around a 3 dimensional castle while trying to collect musical notes. It is an entertaining game that shows off some of the 3410’s gaming features. As well as Java games, you can also download application s like personal assistants, travel and information tools. It's too early to know exactly what applications will become available, but this would seem to be a real growth industry and I would imagine there are Java developers all over the place frantically creating applications for the new Nokia phones. The Nokia 3410 has 150kB for storing Java applications, enough to store several in the phone at any time. WAP allows you to subscribe to information services like news, sport and entertainment - you will then receive text messages, which contain a link to a WAP page, so you can browse in more detail if you wish. I’ve not yet personally tried downloading anything and I’m still experimenting with WAP, I’ll have to update my review when I’ve mastered it. Overall, I am very impressed, unfortunately so is my daughter who is teaching me how to use the 3410 and is responsible for explaining to me most of the technical parts of my review. I have a feeling that in a couple of months, she will have sole use of the 3410 and I will be back using my trusty ‘Savvy’.
The village I grew up in boasted an old-fashioned corner shop, a newsagents, a pub, a railway station, a cobbler’s shop and a barbers. Not a hairdressers - a barbers, one which proudly exhibited a traditional red and white pole. Barbers have a celebrated and very impressive history and in primitive times, they were the leading religious men of their tribes because people believed that good and bad spirits entered the body through your hair and that the bad spirits could only be driven out by someone cutting your hair. The barber was the main player who arranged all the marriages and baptized the children. In the Middle Ages, barbers were actually surgeons who practiced ‘bloodletting’ to cure disease. In fact, the predecessor of the barber’s pole was two spiral ribbons painted around the pole to represent two long bandages, one twisted around the arm before bleeding and the other used to bind it afterward. The barber in our village had a job description, which no longer included bloodletting but he was still a prominent member of our society and he did a roaring trade in shaves. I can clearly recall the queues on Saturday Mornings for a short back and sides and a shave with a cobalt steel ‘cut throat’ razor which he sharpened on a stone called a hone and stroked up and down against linen on a leather strop. He had a machine, which dispensed warm shaving cream and there were plenty of steaming hot towels, which he used to swathe his customer’s faces in after he’d finished the shave. I was too young to shave in those days but the whole process fascinated me. I don’t suppose anybody goes to the barbers for a shave anymore, but I think I’ve found the modern day equivalent, the Gillette Mach3, the first triple-blade razor, which was first introduced in 1998 and which has become the world's leading razor. It is an incredible piece of technology. The handle is er gonomically designed and feels relatively heavy and good to hold with rubberized ‘boomerangs’ on the top and bottom for a good firm grip, which prevents slipping. The cartridges are attached by forward pivot for a much closer shave, but the main progress is in the design of the cartridge, which consists of three independently thinner edge suspended blades with individual spring loaded pivots. Each of the blades has patented hard coated steel comfort edges to give you the cleanest and smoothest shave you have ever experienced. The whole razor has been designed to ensure you have a much closer, quicker and more comfortable shave in fewer strokes with less skin irritation particularly in the sensitive neck area, and it certainly achieves its aim. The ‘open cartridge architecture’ makes it easy to rinse and keep clean and there is a coloured strip on the top blade to indicate when the blade needs replacing. Use this fantastic razor in conjunction with shaving oil and a good quality shaving gel and all you are missing is the steaming hot towels. The only down side is the price – the razors are currently on free offer from the Tesco web site (only one blade provided) but the cartridges are about £6.95 for eight, or not far short of £1 each! Each cartridge lasts me about five days the equivalent of 20p a shave, expensive when you compare it with other shaving systems or disposables but cheap when you think what people used to pay for a shave at the barbers. I would definitely recommend it despite the price – one piece of modern design technology that can match the traditional.
I travel down to Devon quite regularly and pass that now familiar landmark just outside Taunton on the M5 near Bridgewater – a huge 40ft tall willow figure, an incredible creation by Serena de la Hey. Not quite as impressive as the ‘Angel of the North’ but nevertheless a wonderful celebration of contemporary art. For some reason it always reminds me of one of my favourite films of the seventies, Robin Hardy’s, ‘The Wicker Man’, which came out in 1973 and starred Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt. This really was one of the most unusual horror stories since Hammer ruled supreme in the field of horror movies in the mid fifties. Its a real classic, which seems to have improved with age. The good news is, that a special edition DVD of this remarkable film is now available at an incredible bargain price at Amazon of £9.45 including postage and packing instead of the normal price of £24.99. Not originally considered mainstream enough for the distributors the film was first sent out as a second feature to ‘Don’t Look Now’ (the supernatural Donald Sutherland/Julie Christie film), which meant that it was hardly noticed and indeed missed by many. Although The Wicker Man was marketed under the 'horror' genre, its more of a dark thriller. and without doubt one of the most original and unusual movies I’ve seen. It’s not so much that its gory or particularly scary, most of the action takes place during the day, and it doesn't really have any physically frightening scenes, with virtually no blood and definitely no dismembered body parts to be seen. Its strength is the steadily climbing sense of dread as it builds towards climax – like the first half of ‘Jaws’ before you saw the stuffed fish. The story is set on a remote Scottish island, 'Summerisle'. Sgt. Howie who is played by Edward Woodward before he found fame and fortune in the dreadful ‘Equalizer’ TV series, is a middle-aged policeman who is a devout Christian and also a virgin. He arrives on the island by seaplane to investigate an anonymous report of a missing girl named Rowan Morrison. He is given a cold reception by the islanders, who deny all knowledge of the girl, and from here on in, we are, bit by bit, drawn into the unsettling lives and practices of the island’s inhabitants. Sticking diligently to the task, he visits a family who share the name of the girl and is surprised when the mother claims to not recognize a picture of Rowan. Her daughter tells him that the picture is of her sister, who now ‘runs through the fields as a hare’ -enough evidence for Howie to decide to stay the night. Our policemen soon realises something very strange is going on. At the local pub, the Green Man, drinkers openly sing bawdy songs about the innkeeper's daughter Willow (the lovely Britt Ekland) while she is present. This offends Howie’s morals and Christianity and he is even more shocked to see people having sex out in the open I think I’d better stop at this point, I’m getting a bit carried away and in danger of telling you the whole story. I’m sure you’ve got the gist by now, add to it the island’s patriarch Lord Summerisle (played by who else but Christopher Lee), distinctly ordinary village folk indulging in sexual paganism, an incredibly stunning scene where Willow (the gorgeous Britt Ekland) attempts to seduce Howie using song and erotic dance, loads of beautiful Scottish countryside and an unexpected twist at the end and that just about sums it up. The whole film is incredibly intriguing and creates a terrific atmosphere as the storyline gradually unfolds with subtle twists. Christopher Lee is brilliant as Lord Summerisle, and delivers a strong script with both wit and sarcasm. But it is Edward Woodward who carries the film with strong character acting that I’ve never seen from him since. He really gets across his frustration and inability to grasp the orgiastic lifestyle of decadence and lack of concern that he is facing the moment he sets foot on the remote island. In true rational policeman fashion tries to solve the case in an attempt to hammer home common sense thinking into people’s minds to find out the truth about the disappearance. He portrays a character who is stiff and unyielding and utterly believable. Why on earth did he choose to move on from this to The Equalizer? Must have been the money. The director (Robin Hardy) and writer (Anthony Shaffer) strike a perfect balance between paganism and Christianity neither painting paganism as evil, crazy or supernatural for that matter, nor vilifying Howie's unshakeable Christianity. Lord Summerisle doesn’t come across as evil and although Howie is straitlaced and pompous, he's portrayed as sincere and never loses his convictions. The pagan details are very well researched and are apparently entirely authentic, although drawn from different societies at varying times. Paul Giovanni’s music score of ‘original’ folk songs are bawdy and catchy, particularly Britt Ekland's song of seduction, and a humorous 'circle of life' song sung to a lone fiddle while dancing around the May pole. The singing of the townspeople, and the dancing and garish costumes of the May Day celebration are frighteningly creepy and make the hairs on the back of your head stand up – far more eerie than an over the top make up artist can achieve. This really is an excellent piece of storytelling, an intelligent thriller which creates a strong sense of uneasiness and refuses to reveal its secrets until the dramatic conclusion. The Wicker Man works on so many different levels – det ective, horror, supernatural, humour as well as a genuine exploration of the meaning of faith, but most of all it shows that you do not need multi-million dollar Hollywood special effects to make a movie which is enjoyable, thought provoking and addictive! The DVD at full price, never mind the incredible Amazon deal is tremendous value. It is a two disc set which is one of my best DVD purchases and an absolute must for anyone’s collection. Disc One contains: The original Theatrical Version of The Wicker Man (84 mins) with Dolby 5.1 soundtrack "The Wicker Man Enigma" Documentary (35 mins) - very interesting An interview with Christopher Lee (25 mins) Theatrical Trailer TV Spot Radio Spots (x3) Talent Biographies DVD-ROM downloadable pages from original theatrical press brochure Disc Two contains The Wicker Man - The Director's Cut (99 mins) - abit grainy in places but interesting to see what was left out. Feature length commentary with Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Director Robin Hardy Easter Egg - footage of commentary team meeting and preparing Buy the DVD, watch the film and think of it and shudder when next you go past the M5’s Willow Man.
I used to work with someone who was a bit of an anorak about beer. A member of CAMRA, he was the fount of all knowledge as far as the amber nectar was concerned. There didn’t appear to be anything he didn’t know about the subject. Most of what he said went in through one ear and out of the other, as my only interest in beer is drinking it, but one thing did stick in my mind. He said that beer should never be bottled in green bottles because the green glass attracts sunlight and causes ‘skunking’. I never asked him what skunking was, what it did to the beer or whether it affected the taste, but as often happens to gullible people like me, when presented with half-truth and rumour, I proceeded to avoid beer in green bottles like the plague. Until last week that is, when I realised I had been duped and had been missing out on a rather pleasant and a very good value lager. It happened because we were off to a New Year’s Eve party and I needed some beer and wine to take. It was 5.30 pm on New Year’s Eve and the only place I could drive to by closing time was the local Kwiksave. Everybody seemed to have the same idea - but half an hour earlier, which meant that by the time I got there the shelves were practically empty. I picked up a couple of bottles of wine and then turned my attention to the beer. Plenty of cheap label cans left but I really did want to take bottles so I was left with no choice but the last ten-pack of Grolsch in the shop. Throwing caution to the wind I made my purchase deciding that ten green bottles was better than no bottles at all. And what a pleasant surprise I had, though by the time I’d taken off my coat at the party the ten green bottles had already started to disappear despite there being plenty of Stella and Budweiser available. Grolsch is a Dutch beer brewed since 1615, which means its been around even longer than the awful 80’s boy band, Bros, who you may remember, wore jeans and Dr Marten boots held together with Grolsch swingtop bottle tops. It is a typical Pilsner style lager, golden in colour, with a moderate ABV of 5.0. The manufacturers claim that it is brewed using only the highest quality of ingredients to allow them to export it to Germany where the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ ensures that beer can only be brewed with water, malted barley, hops and yeast. The critical factor however and the one that forms the centrepiece of Grolsch’s advertising campaign is time - "we only let you drink it when it's ready". The bottles that I bought were brewed under licence at Burton on Trent. Someone at the party said they preferred the imported beer, which has a ‘swingtop’ - a trademark of the company. This is supposedly better than the Grolsch commonly sold in all our supermarkets, but nevertheless I found the UK variety distinctive and pleasant, a bit fizzier than some of its rivals with a nice, clean, slightly bitter taste and a definite smell of hops. It is a very clear lager a quality achieved by a cold, triple filtering process and unlike many cheap lagers it has a lingering taste. It’s not as smooth as San Miguel – my favourite lager at the moment (originally bought because of its brown bottle!) but it does have a creamier texture than many similar lagers. It sounds as if I’m contradicting myself here, one moment I’m describing it as sharp and clean and the next I’m saying its creamy, but in my opinion that’s how it tastes – a sort of combination of the two. I’m sure if you give it a try you’ll see what I mean. It comes in a variety of bottles and cans. The ten 27.5cl bottles I bought cost me £5.00 which, at 50p a can is extremely good value. I saw a similar half price offer in Tesco recently 24 x 27.5cl bottles for £11.99 and 24 x 44cl cans at Somerfield were a ridiculously cheap £8 .99. Has beer in supermarkets ever been as cheap as it was this Christmas? – I stocked up for the summer and there’s now no room in the garage for the car! Check out Grolsch’s entertaining web site at www.grolsch.co.uk - it has some amusing games to play. So, no longer will I shy away from beer in green bottles. Anybody know what ‘skunking’ is?
11.00am Sunday 29 December 2002. The all-ticket eagerly awaited local derby between Wrexham and Shrewsbury scheduled for a twelve-noon start is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Pity all the poor Shrewsbury supporters who have just arrived at Wrexham station and face a two-hour wait in the pouring rain before the train takes them home. Pity me even more because my wife has decided this will be the ideal opportunity to visit the sales. First port of call on what must be the wettest, dampest, most miserable Sunday in living memory is Tesco where I manage to purchase enough half price socks, ties and underwear to last me until I retire. Then the day brightens up considerably. Thank heavens for Staples. I’ve always liked stationery, in fact I think I’d fit very well into Ricky Gervaise’s Wernham-Hogg set up, for more reasons than one. And you won’t find a better stationery shop than Staples. It’s a pleasure to walk around and has an incredible variety of goods at very competitive prices and loads of bargains and special offers in this season’s sales. I always though that Staples was originally a small British retailer, because I can remember in my youth a small stationery shop of the same name, but it is in fact a multi billion dollar retailer of office supplies, furniture and technology originating in Boston, Massachusetts and now a major retailer in the US, UK, Germany, Canada, Netherlands and Portugal. It opened its first store in April 1993 in Swansea, since that time it has gone from strength to strength and now has a total of 78 stores operating across the whole of England and Wales. It is a very specialist store, providing "the Staples"- from paper, pads and pens to the latest PCs, printers and software - those essential components that everyone needs from small to medium sized businesses, people who work from home, families and school s. The stores are always bright, roomy and cheerful; the staff I’ve always found helpful and informative and their prices generally cheaper than direct competitors such as Partners and much cheaper than W H Smiths. They are open seven days a week in convenient locations with lots of free parking. Where they do score higher than other retailers is in the extent and variety of their stock. For example the range of laptop computers and printers I saw today was much better than that you would see in places like Curry’s and Dixons. I saw a very reasonable spec lap top for under £700 the cheapest I’ve seen in a high street shop, and a Samsung laser printer for an incredible £79. I was looking for a new printer and the sales assistant I was talking to offered me good advice and was able to tell me about the strengths and weaknesses of particular brands and models as well as the cost of replacement cartridges. Their price pledge is second to none. Show them a lower price and they'll match it 100% and give you 50% of the difference (up to £25 inc. vat) as a refund up to 14 days after your purchase from Staples. I came away without the printer but I did stock up on loads of pens for the family from the bargain bin. Typical was the 10 Staedtler gel roller pens I purchased normally £4.98 but reduced to £1.49 and the 3 V-2000, pilot rollerballs for 99p instead of £3.89. My wife works as a Learning Support Assistant at the local school and stocked up with decent pens and pencils for the pupils she supports who are always leaving their equipment at home – You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff we came away with for about £15! I was there for about an hour and a half, ironically the same time I would have been at the match and dare I say it, the £15 I spent was much better value (particularly if ‘the mighty reds’ had lost) and I’m still home in time to see the Arsenal/ Liverpool match on Sky. Happy New Year to you all. Merv
....... my name is Merv and I am folically challenged. There I’ve said it. I’m out of the closet. Wasn’t too bad was it? I’ve owned up. Someone would have let the cat out of the bag sooner or later, so I decided to come clean. Baldness - the last vestige of political incorrectness. The politicians are successfully tackling inequality with regard to race, disability, gender and sexual orientation. Even people who eat too much have rights, but still us ‘slapheads’ are there to bear the brunt of every amateur comedian’s sense of humour. I went to a football match yesterday and the linesman had the crowd on his back for 90 minutes, not because he was slow in spotting the occasional offside, but because he was bald. The usual songs, chants and comments, but to be fair to him he was totally unphased by it all – probably used to it. No wonder poor old Elton’s taken to wearing what looks like a dead animal on his head. I started to go bald in my twenties, first at the front and then on top – I still have plenty of hair on the back of my head, which, before you ask, I have never combed forward a la Sir Bobby Charlton. I’ve grown bald gracefully, accepting the fact and telling myself it could be worse – at least I have my own teeth! Nevertheless I wouldn’t say no to a full and luxuriant head of hair, so when I spotted this shampoo in the Supermarket I decided to give it a try. I bought it originally when it was on a ‘two for the price of one offer’ at Tesco. It is normally about £3.99 for 200ml or £5.95 for 300ml, which is quite expensive compared to the shampoo that I, and probably most men, would buy. It is far thicker and more gooey than most shampoos and conditioners but after using it regularly for the last six months I believe it does make a difference. No – I don’t suddenly have hair like my son which I can spike up with gel like Gareth Gates but it does make my remaining hair look thicker and more voluminous and definitely easier to hold in place. I used to wear my hair quite short because any length would look untidy as my hair was quite thin and would blow all over the place and in all directions, but nowadays I find my visits to the hairdresser are a little less often and even she has commented how much fuller my hair looks. It smells nice enough, its not over-scented and quite subdued, a hint of apricots or peaches. On the downside it contains twenty five chemicals – I didn’t notice any natural products – some of which, such as tetrasodium sound quite dangerous. Still I suppose most shampoos are mainly chemically based. There seems to be free samples available all over the internet but for some reason only to men, I don’t know whether or not that means its harmful to the fairer sex or just some marketing ploy. I went back to Tesco and stocked up on it while it was on special offer because I was so impressed. Its not going to grow hair where there is none, but I do believe that it adds volume to thinning hair which is a big plus in my view. In addition to Circ shampoo the range also includes a spray-on fullness conditioner, to help retain fullness, a scalp moisturiser to reduce dryness; a hair fullness booster, to lift hair at the roots and promote fullness; a styling and cooling gel, for use on damp or dry hair; a hair refresher wash, to remove the residue of other products which can weigh the hair down; and a hair strengthener which helps reduce breakage. I haven’t tried any of these yet but I might well do if I see them on special offer. If I do I’ll let you know and if in the meantime I sprout hair like Bon Jovi I’ll post a picture on my profile page.