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I wonder how this wonderful writer survives? I'd never heard of her before one of her books was read by a book club I belong to. I enjoyed the book (The Mesmerist) but never heard of her again until another book club I belong to read 'The Fraud'. No one else in the book group (apart from the person who suggested it) had heard of her either. When I came onto dooyoo to write a review, dooyoo hadn't heard of her either! And yet her books have cracking plots, contain meticulous research, are very well written and are basically great fun to read. Three of us in the book group confessed to having stayed up into the wee hours completely unable to put the book down without finding out what happens in the end.
So this is my little attempt to popularize this deserving writer of historical fiction.
The Fraud is set in the mid-Georgian period - towards the beginning George III ascends the throne. I do read quite a lot of historical fiction but I am by no means an expert on it. Still, it seems to me, this period is quite under-represented and it was refreshing to read a book set in this era. The story begins with almost a short story about the last days of an obscure branch of a slightly noble but impoverished family in Bristol. The father is a drunkard and a gambler, the wife is chronically dissatisfied with her life and also fond of her drink. The children run wild - even the oldest, Philip, receives only a modicum of education - and by the time youngest, Grace, comes along, neither of their parents are interested or able to take care of their children. Grace's natural charm leads Philip to teach her to read and write but her artistic talent is inborn though not recognized or encouraged by her parents. When the 'fever' comes, it carries off almost the entire family, leaving only Philip, Grace and another brother Tobias. Philip, who has artistic ambitions, goes off on a Grand Tour as the companion of a trader's son, Tobias goes off to become a sailor and Grace is apprenticed to a hat maker. Both brothers promise to make their fortune and return for Grace. Eventually Philip does return - but not as himself, but as the Italian portrait painter Filipo de Vecellias. He has reinvented himself completely and become a noted portrait painter in London. He has returned for Grace so that she can become his housekeeper. When she tells him she wishes to become a painter and shows him her drawings, he cannot tolerate the fact that his sister is far more talented than himself. He forbids her to draw and threatens to throw her out on the streets if she persists, knowing that she has no way of surviving if he does so. She is forced to accept his bidding and on the surface becomes his quiet sister and housekeeper. Secretly, however, she continues to paint and this novel is the story of how she struggles to become a painter despite being thwarted at every turn by her family and by society.
And what a novel it is! I am no big fan of art and know very little about it. Yet this novel conveys Grace's passion for painting, and describes her work and the work of others so vividly, that I was fascinated by it. What I was most amazed by was the compactness of the writing. It is an average sized book but it covers a so much ground that it is simply amazing to read and realize how much she has told you. The setting, the period, the art, the social structure and ambitions of the artistic world; everything is covered in such wonderful detail and it is so 'alive' - truly a hallmark, not only of great historical fiction, but great fiction in general. She creates a world so real, you can breathe the smells, and see the sights for yourself.
The narrative runs at breakneck speed and if I have a complaint to make, it is that I felt there are too many things that happen to Grace. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Because of this perhaps, the ending seems a bit convenient. But it was a far better and more restrained ending than I expected so kudos to Ms Ewing for that.
The characterization is wonderful - every character has shades of grey and makes dubious moral choices, but you still end up rooting for the 'good guys'! Even the side characters - Poppy, Angelica, Tobias, Mrs Fford, James Palmer and all the other artists that congregate around Filipo's table have their own distinct personalities and bring an important angle to the story. Filipo/ Phillip himself is very well drawn and though you cannot like him, I for one felt sorry for him by the end.
More than this I cannot say without revealing the end. This is a novel where the end - though not unguessable - is sufficiently unpredicatable to make it an all-nighter!
If you enjoy historical fiction, do read this book, and if you enjoy it - tell everyone about it. This author deserves to be better known (and no I don't know her personally!)
I went to university with Konkona Sen and have had the pleasure of watching her in college plays long before she became famous as a Bollywood actress. But her talent was apparent then and it has been honed and developed into something quite remarkable. Wake Up Sid may be about Ranbir Kapoor's sid but it is Konkona's Aisha that steals the show. Only just though because Ranbir Kapoor gives a performance here that is so realistic and charming that you forget who he is and start believing in the Sid he creates - a level of skill I didn't think he had.
But first things first - Wake Up Sid is about a spoilt, irresponsible young college student - the 'rich boy' of the class whose life revolves around parties, having fun and taking care of everything with his gold credit card (an add on to his father's of course). Here I must mention how his lifestyle seems so realistic - not at all like the clichéd portrayals of rich kids going to discos, driving flash cars and getting drunk. He may be rich but he's still charming, friendly, fun and a nice guy. The only problem with him is that he takes life and his lifestyle for granted.
Soon after his final college exams he meets a young woman who Is completely different - she has left her hometown and come to Mumbai to become a writer and to stand on her own feet without reliance on her parents. He can't understand her need for independence but applauds her bravery; she can't understand his irresponsibility but enjoys his fun, loving personality. They become friends and he helps her to find an apartment and celebrates with her when she lands her dream job.
Then something happens (in a moving and touching scene) that causes Sid to storm out of his home resolving never to go back. The trouble is he has nowhere to go, no money (the credit card has been blocked) and no skills. Aisha takes him in and slowly Sid begins to 'wake up' to reality.
I won't say anything more about the plot though there is nothing secret about it - it is after all a coming of age film. But debutant director Ayan Mukherji has created a coming of age film that is so real that it's hard to believe it's from the same industry that churns out potboilers every day. The performances, the dialogues, the situations - all seem so familiar and so real. Perhaps because it wasn't so long ago that I was a sensible girl falling unwillingly in love with a charming but childlike man (now my beloved husband!), this film really touched me. The love story is understated and again so realistic (except for the slightly cheesy end) that - as in real life - you truly don't know what will happen till the end of the film.
The soundtrack is great, especially the award winning Iktara, and the supporting performances are fantastic, especially that of Anupam Kher as Sid's father and those of his friends.
Please watch this - it is a simple little film but the passion and the freshness with which it has been made make it truly remarkable.
I read an interview with Lynn Barber about this film just before it was first released and I thought 'oh that sounds good - must see it'. But then I forgot all about it and probably would have skipped it altogether if it hadn't been nominated for an Oscar. I'm glad it was though as, having seen it last week, I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.
The story is very simple - bright lower middle class teenage girl from London suburbs meets older sophisticated man who introduces her to a glamorous lifestyle of nightclubs, restaurants and weekends in Paris. Her parents who have been grooming her for Oxford are overwhelmed and charmed by her suitor and let her do whatever she likes with him. He proposes, her school expels her...and I won't tell you what comes next, though the chances are you know already.
So what makes this film special? Well, to start with I'd like to say I didn't think it was as special as it has been made out to be. It's a very good film - but not one that I would have called great. It feels just a little too light and frivolous to be a 'seriously good film'. It doesn't tell you anything new or make you think very much - but the way it says what it says is refreshing and insightful. What I think lifts it from good film to Oscar nominee is the quality of the acting.
Carey Mulligan as the heroine Jenny is marvelous. She was 22 when this film was made and she looks 15. To begin with she's almost unlikeable as the snobby schoolgirl who yearns for more than her suburban home and her un-cultured parents and her stuffy private girl's school. She makes you want to give her a good slap as she outwits her father and drops French phrases into her conversations. But when David, her older man enters the scene, you suddenly see that the sophistication is all a mask, a schoolgirl pretending to be a woman based on books and records and dreams. You can almost hear the sigh of relief as David begins to court her - now finally she'll get to live! It's remarkable how Carey Mulligan can be both the eager schoolgirl soaking up experiences and the almost calculating girl encouraging a man she doesn't particularly care for simply to get access to the lifestyle he brings with him. She really shows you the growth of the character and her performance is flawless. The other actors too are wonderful. Dominic Cooper plays the rich, cultured rogue to perfection and someone please make a film with him and Carey Mulligan opposite each other. Their chemistry is electric (if you'll forgive me mixing the sciences!). Rosamund Pike as Dominic's beautiful but dim girlfriend is perfect - in fact I think her performance was almost better than Carey's though of course she had less of an arc to play. I will definitely keep an eye out for her. I can't remember the name of the actor who plays David - he has a marked resemblance to Kiefer Sutherland - he manages to play his part so deviously that you are never quite sure if he is who he says he is or not. By which I mean he manages to almost convince you why Jenny's parents are so happy to let her go off with him. Almost, but not quite.
And that brings me to what I felt was the weakness of the film - the script. Now don't get me wrong, it was a brilliant script - but somehow it seemed to skip from one incident to the other without quite showing convincingly why people were acting in the way they did. I felt this especially with Jenny's parents. Ok so they are poorly educated, hardworking suburban people dazzled by their brilliant daughter and her seemingly perfect suitor. And once he's established himself, I can understand in the context of the period why they would want her to give up Oxford for marriage. But the initial scenes, when David meets them for the first time and persuades them to let her go for a concert with him - I simply was not convinced by their sudden capitulation. I mean come on! She's 16 - he's 36 if he's a day and no one knows him from Adam!
There were other events of this sort which made me think 'hang on...' but they were less glaring I suppose and the film on the whole was convincing and memorable, especially as I said for the acting.
The period flavor seemed right - but what do I know? I wasn't born till 20 years later and on a different continent!
Overall, a very good film and definitely worth a watch.
Madhur Bhandarkar is known for his unusual (for Bollywood) films that look into the lives of people involved in a particular industry. It's the industry that is the star in his films though there is always a strong female character to carry the film. That is his reputation - I personally had seen none of his films until a neighbour lent us Fashion.
It stars Priyanka Chopra - former Miss World and one of the current leading actresses in Bollywood. Though she is undoubtedly beautiful, I have never enjoyed Priyanka's acting and, I thought she was just another model trying to be an actress. Watching 'Fashion' and 'Whats Your Rashee?' within a few days of each other has changed my mind about her.
Fashion is about the fashion industry in India. Priyanka plays Meghna, a small town girl who wants to be a model. Against her father's wishes she decamps to Mumbai, the fashion capital where her only industry contact is the assistant to a top designer - he has crowned her the beauty queen of her town and promises to help her. He does so by putting her in touch with a local model agent who sends her off to various auditions where she tries unsuccessfully to get a job. At a party, an industry insider refuses to look at her photographs and suggests she get a professional portfolio done by a leading photographer. She is forced to do a lingerie shoot in order to pay for the portfolio which results in her getting thrown out of her uncle's home as a bad influence. No problem - she moves in with a fellow struggling male model who stays in a palatial apartment - no wonder he can't afford it on his own! With no discernible income source between them, goodness knows how they're paying the rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world! A romance develops but before it can come to fruition, Meghna gets spotted and signed to a top agency. They introduce her to the man who rules the fashion industry - a middle aged, balding, married businessman whose magazine is the fashion bible. He takes a shine to Meghna, kicks out the reigning supermodel Shonali (Kangana Ranaut), and installs Meghna in her place - giving her a luxury apartment to boot. Naturally, all this doesn't come free and they become lovers. Meghna's friends from her struggling days are happy for her but she is full of her own success and alienates them with her arrogant behavior. What happens to her next? Well, I won't spoil the film by telling you but it's a classic tale of 'the higher you are the harder you fall'.
Since I know absolutely nothing about the fashion industry I cannot claim to know whether the film is an accurate portrayal or not. But the story is fairly interesting, if a bit clichéd and soppy in the second half. The film looks unflinchingly at drug and alcohol abuse and at the perils of an addiction to fame. It is in fact loosely based on the true story of an Indian model who was found homeless and mentally disturbed on the streets of Delhi a few years after she failed to make it in fashion.
The film rests almost totally on Priyanka's shoulders though the supporting actors are excellent - especially Mughda Godse as Meghna's long suffering friend Janet. And Priyanka does a pretty good job of portraying an ambitious, ruthless girl who knows exactly what she wants and doesn't mind what she does to get it. In fact the character is more complicated than I made it sound and though she isn't perfect, she gives it a good stab. Certainly, it doesn't suffer from the lack of a 'hero'. But the script lets the actors down at times - Meghna's rise seems too quick to believe and for a clever, calculating girl, she sure makes a lot of massive mistakes when it comes to preserving her position. Also, her friends must be the most forgiving bunch in the world. But small weaknesses aside, it is a reasonably good film and certainly 'different' from much else Bollywoood churns out.
I would have given it 3.5 stars if it was possible but since it's not I am being generous.
Having got a little bored of doing my brilliant Weightwatchers DVD everyday (ah those healthy pre-Christmas days!), I wanted to try out a different exercise DVD. I definitely didn't want anything too challenging as I was still a beginner though a little fitter than I had been. After reading a number of reviews and rejecting dozens of DVDs that looked too fast and furious for me, I settled on Rosemary Conley. Unsure of which one of her DVDs to buy, I ordered the Fitness triple pack, which contains 3 DVDs: Ultimate Body Workout, Five-Day Fat Burner and Fat Attack. It helped that I got it for less than £6 from play.com. I also put a bid on the Salsacise box set on ebay as I couldn't find a cheap source anywhere. I figured I'd break in the first three and be ready to salsa by the time those arrived.
The Fitness triple pack has a very simple package - just a cardboard box with the DVDs inside. I read the details of each DVD carefully and decided to start with the Ultimate Body Workout because it seemed to be the latest of the three and I assumed it would be the best. The DVD is split into a 35 minute cardio routine and a 20 minute strength workout. Since I had been struggling to do 30 minutes of the Weightwatchers DVD (which was 30 minutes of interval training plus 11 minutes of warm up and cool down), I decided to do the cardio on one day and the strength training the next day.
Before the routines begin, Rosemary gives a demonstration of the 'new' steps she has used in the DVD. Given that this was the first DVD of hers I'd used, I could have used a demo of all the steps - but as Brucie would say, never mind, never mind. Once the cardio routine began I began to realize I should have paid more attention to her demonstration because this was a full on aerobics routine to music so if you got left behind (as I frequently did as none of the steps were familiar), you got left very behind. Still, I struggled through it and though I sweated a lot more than when I use my Weightwatchers DVD, I didn't feel as tired - perhaps it was because the warm up and the cool down are quite prolonged in this DVD. So, still in the 'new DVD' excitement I thought I'd do the strength routine as well. By the end of them both I was very tired though properly cooled down.
There is also a chair workout for people with mobility problems and pregnant women. I thought this was a very good idea but didn't try it out myself.
The DVD ends with before and after pictures of the women in the DVD. Their weight loss is impressive and inspiring but sadly not inspiring enough to get me to use the DVD again.
Now I have to admit that I have two left feet and am very uncoordinated so a dancy aerobics type workout was probably never going to be for me. But I really didn't enjoy this workout for the following reasons:
1) Because it was to music and was a choreographed routine, there was no time to watch what she was doing and then copy her - because she'd already moved on to the next move.
2) I found some of the steps needlessly complicated including some of the stretches. It is possible to stretch the same muscles without contorting oneself and some of the stretches really hurt my knees.
3) Many of the steps took up too much room and the routine was too fast to position myself so that I had the room. I have an L shaped room so the diagonal travelling moves and some of the others were just not possible for me to do. And my room isn't even that small!
4) Though Rosemary did periodically mention mistakes to avoid and good forms to try for, the pace is just to hectic to pay much attention to that. For example, there are loads of lunges and squats with arm movements thrown in, not to mention you have to do them quickly to keep up to the music. The result is I couldn't focus on doing the moves properly and ended up with painful knees.
5) Not all the demonstrators were visible at all times so I couldn't always see what the beginner lady was doing.
6) The ladies in the video had lost lots of weight and are I'm sure very attractive but the exercise kit was very unflattering and they did not look very inspiring to me.
On the plus side, there are different levels at which you can do the DVD - you have to follow a different demonstrator depending on whether you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced. It is fairly low impact and not very difficult so quite good for beginners. The instruction is also clear and of course, she knows what she's talking about.
To be honest, the first time I did the DVD, I quite enjoyed it. But I tried it a few more times and disliked it more and more each time. The problems seemed to get worse and I just didn't enjoy doing it. So I have given it away without even trying to do the other two DVDs. If anyone can recommend a DVD that is not done to music (and is not yoga), I'd really appreciate it because though I love my Weightwatchers DVD, I can't do it endlessly - I need a change!
Good for people who like music based choreographed routines.
Though I am a mad bookworm since childhood, my husband of four years hasn't often seem me get so absorbed in a book that I read most of the night, read in the loo, read while he watches TV and read while I'm eating! He has been most concerned that I have been doing this with a set of four books, which has more or less put me out of circulation for a week. Fortunately for him, unfortunately for me I have devoured all four in the series and am temporarily back in the land of the living. And to think the only reason I got the first part (this one) from the library was because someone on Mastermind chose the Cazalet chronicles as their specialist subject!
On to the review - the Cazalet Chronicles are a set of four novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard and they describe the lives of various members of the Cazalet household as they go through World War II. Unlike other novels of this sort, it starts before the war breaks out and ends well after it is over, giving an insight into what life was like and how much the changed it forever. However, I am getting ahead of myself. The Light Years is the first in the series and covers a period of about two years ending with the announcement that appeasement has worked and war has been averted - at least for now. Because of this setting, politics plays a lesser role in the events and the novel is basically about the different Cazalets and their lives, problems and personalities. While that sounds very boring, it isn't boring in the least. Elizabeth Jane Howard's writing is transparent and before you know it, you're involved in the lives of the characters and absorbed by the historical detail. Another historical novel I read recently - A Suspicion of Murder - put in so much history that the story was submerged. Not so in this novel.
The characters and their stories are fascinating - the Cazalet's are a well off family in the timber business. The owner of the business, the Brig, has a wife (The Duchy), three married sons and an unmarried daughter. The oldest son Edward is a handsome, charming, arrogant, selfish man with an eye for ladies. His wife Villy gave up her career as a ballet dancer when she married and has not found her role as wife and mother fulfilling and is frustrated and unhappy as a result. Her daughter Louise wants to be an actress when she grows up and enjoys lording it over the younger cousins. Villy and Edward also have a son Teddy and another daughter Lydia. The second son Hugh has returned from WWI with a missing hand and recurring headaches. He is a sweet, sensitive man who adores his wife Sybil but struggles to communicate with her due to the polite behavior ingrained in both of them. Sybil loves being a wife and mother though she is partial towards her son Simon, leaving Hugh as the champion and protector of their sensitive daughter Polly. The youngest son is Rupert, whose wife Isabel has died leaving him with a two young children - Clary and Neville. His new wife Zoe is far younger than him, glamorous, selfish and spoilt and not in the least interested in being a stepmother - or a mother. Rupert, who is an artist struggles to care for his family and pamper his wife on an art teachers salary. There are other characters and each of them has a unique story, showcasing different aspects of society and social mores at the time. Oh and the unmarried daughter Rachel is a lesbian though so innocent that she doesn't realize it till the last book! Don't worry it's not a spoiler - it's clear as day to everyone else from Book 1!
Having been born in 1979 in a different country, my knowledge of the Second World War was limited to my history classes and reading Jack Higgins and the like. I never actually gave much thought to what it must have been like living in the England of the time and living through the war without knowing what was coming next. At the end of the novel, the children - some of them anyway - are delighted by the news that there will be no war and go back to life as they know it. The adults and the more sensitive children are not so sure but they are hopeful. As a reader I felt so desperately sorry for them not knowing what was coming. I know it sounds silly but when you study things as history, you don't tend to think of the fact the people living through it didn't know the result of what was happening. They didn't know if there would be a war, how long it would last, what it would involve, whether they would win. This series really brought home to me how it was for real people at the time. Of course, I'm assuming it is accurate social history but the detail and the seamlessness of the writing seems to indicate experience or considerable research. Elizabeth Jane Howard was born in 1923 so she would have been 14-16 during the period this book is set. In fact I think the characters of Louise, Polly and Clary (who end up as central to the series) are based on herself.
Apart from the enjoyment of the stories, I learnt some things that surprised me though perhaps I should have known.
1. There were no fridges in the 30's and 40's! Meat and fish had to be cooked quickly or it would go off. (Incidentally, we get some 'below stairs' stories as well - primarily that of the cook and the chauffeur.)
2. Childbirth had to be endured soundlessly!!!! It was considered 'low' to make a sound. Women had to keep all the 'unpleasant' stuff of childbirth secret from men and children. I was really horrified by this! And of course no one told the women anything so the pain of the first birth was not only a terrible shock, they had to endure the pain silently and pretend there was no pain at all afterwards. Dreadful!
I think I haven't made this novel sound half as interesting as it is but that is perhaps because I am constrained by not being able to talk about the later books in the series (dooyoo wouldn't let me have a 'Cazalet Chronicles' category because it isn't a single product). Suffice to say, I read all 600+ pages in 2 days and ordered the next in the series immediately. And being the Scrooge I am, I rarely buy books anymore, preferring to use the library. My library didn't have the whole series so I bought the last 3 books. Full price. I rest my case.
I bought this DVD over 2 years ago when I was trying to lose weight on the Weightwatchers plan. I didn't stick to it long enough to actually try the DVD out and it stayed in my pile of 'I know I will never use but feel too guilty to throw out' things. Last summer I made a relatively successful attempt to lose some weight using the Wii Fit and realize that I much prefer forms of exercise that I can do at home at my own convenience. This year I tried to restart doing the Wii Fit but found that I was fed up of the long gaps between exercises and having to stop and choose what exercise to do next. I simply didn't have the time to spend 45 minutes doing 30 minutes worth of fairly light exercise.
That's when I decided to dig this DVD out of the closet and give it a go. I've done it regularly for 2 months and I wanted to review it ages ago but I felt that without more knowledge of what exercise DVDs are like, I'd end up giving a pretty restricted opinion. So recently I got myself a box set of Rosemary Conley DVDs and tried out one of them. Armed with experience of at least 2 exercise DVDs, I feel better equipped to review them so here is the first one.
The Weightwatchers Perfect Fit DVD is made by - surprise surprise - Weightwatchers, with Claire Sweeney along for the celebrity angle. The DVD is divided into 2 sections - Food and Exercise. The Food section features Claire talking to a Weightwatchers representative about the Weightwatchers plans - namely the Points system and the No Count system. It covers their experiences with Weightwatchers and how it's such a wonderful system. I will not comment on how wonderful it is but it's a nice, informal way of telling you about the plans if you are interested in following one. There is also a section with Weightwatchers chef Daniel Green who shows Claire how to plan meals in either of the plans. Again, helpful enough but I think if you were following one of the plans you'd get a lot of this information from your local group or online.
The really exciting part of the DVD is the exercise section and the reason it's exciting is because it consists of one warm up session (6 minutes I think), one cool down session (5 minutes) and about twenty 5 minute segments of interval training. BUT it doesn't force you to follow them in any particular order like most exercise DVDs AND it doesn't force you to stop after each exercise and choose the next one (though you can if you want to). All you have to do is choose how long you want to exercise for (bearing in mind that the warm and cool down is extra) and the DVD will put together a randomized selection for you to do. For example, if you choose to do a 15 minute session, today you might do Warm Up, Box Fit, Trim and Tone, Yogacise and Cool Down and tomorrow you might be given Warm Up, Pump It, The Chair, The Burner and Cool Down. This way it doesn't get boring because you never know what's coming next (though once I'd done it a few times, I remembered enough to pray fervently that the next one wouldn't be Pump It!) For advanced users, you can also put your own routine together - just choose the length of the routine and choose which exercises you want to do as part of it.
I thought this interactive feature was absolutely brilliant and very well suited to beginners. I started out huffing and puffing through 10 minute routines for a week but now I am up to 30 minutes a day. The DVD recommends a plan i.e. Week 1: 18 * 5 mins; Week 2: 24*5 min; Week 3: 27*5; Week 4:30*5. It also shows how the backup exercisers have done on the plan and both of them plus Claire have lost inches as well as weight.
Each routine is performed by the trainer Caroline Sandry, Claire Sweeney and two women who have lost weight through Weightwatchers - these women do the exercises at different intensity levels so you can follow along with whoever is working at your ability level. I'd like to also say that all the women have nice figures - not too muscular or super skinny. They all look like normal people, which is very encouraging. Even Caroline doesn't have bulging muscles. Also, they are dressed in flattering workout gear unlike in the Rosemary Conley videos where some of the volunteers look far too muscular and wear very unflattering gear.
There is minimal music in the DVD which suited me very well because a) it didn't distract me from the exercises or the instructions and b) it didn't impose a pace that I had to keep up. In fact, apart from the interactivity my second favourite thing about this DVD was that the exercises were very simple but very effective and were done at a relatively slow pace. That might sound like it would do no good, but I found it's far better for me to do 10 squats focusing on my posture and on working the correct muscles rather than rushing through 20 squats trying to do arm movements at the same time and trying to keep up with the music. I always found that after doing the latter in the Rosemary Conley video, I would have knee pain - presumably because I was not focusing on making sure my knees didn't go in front of my toes while squatting. I believe Caroline Sandry bases many of her exercises on Pilates and certainly I felt my core muscles were used far more in the Weightwatchers DVD.
The one negative for some people may be the relative lack of cardio - there are some twisting jumps, jogging and other cardio moves to get the heart rate up but the Weightwatchers DVD is primarily interval training and intersperses the cardio bit with the muscle work. For me this was a good thing as I am hopeless at cardio and can't keep it up for more than 30 seconds which is excellent as just as I'm getting too puffed, Caroline Sandry says 'now back to a march...next we're going to do lunges'.
Another major advantage is that you can do this DVD in very little space. I have your average small drawing room and really struggle to do the Rosemary Conley DVD in it. The exercises in the Weightwatchers DVD however, not only require less space, they aren't at super speed so if you need to move to a different spot to have room for an exercise - you have a few seconds to do it.
I would strongly recommend this DVD to people who are new to exercise - it really helps to build you up and getting through even a 10 minute routine gives you a wonderful sense of accomplishment when you have never exercised before. Plus, despite looking like they aren't really very tough, you will REALLY feel it in your muscles the next day after doing these exercises. Claire Sweeney says in the DVD that she used to do 50 sit ups in the gym and nothing happened but 10 of Caroline's chair based situps for a week made her stomach rock hard. I can't claim a rock hard stomach myself but I am sure if I persevere with this DVD, I will get there sooner rather than later.
When we were planning a holiday to Scotland in the summer, I wanted to pre-identify a few places to eat because we were travelling with my parents and I wanted to make sure they didn't have to walk too much trying to find a decent place to eat. At the same time, I wanted to find out about a few cheap places to eat in Edinburgh as I'd heard it was an expensive city and didn't want to and up blowing everyone's budget.
I can't remember where I found out about it, but god bless whoever put a little review of Tempting Tatties on the internet because without it we would have missed out! Don't get me wrong - Tempting Tatties is not gourmet food. It's a little shop just off Market Street and though it has a few bar stools near the window, it is essentially a takeaway.
Tempting Tatties as you might have guessed serves up baked potatoes with a variety of fillings, including haggis, curried chicken and plenty of other options (including vegetarian). The options are written on the whiteboard and you choose and then order at the counter. Then prepared to be amazed. The quantity of food in a portion is really something. My mum and I ordered small portions and my husband ordered a large (greedy pig!) but even the small portions were huge! A large hot baked potato topped by LOTS of yummy toppings (we ate their three times during our stay and between us we tried most of the toppings - all lovely), nicely packed up in a takeaway box that kept it warm for ages. A normal person could possibly finish a small portion in one go if they were hungry but even my husband couldn't finish his large one. His portion would have fed my mum and me with some left over! And how much does all this cost? Well even if you picked the largest, most expensive options, I doubt it would be more than £5. How's that for a bargain?!
It may not be the healthiest but for cheap, filling, hearty food served up by the wonderfully funny and cheeky owner, it's hard to beat. Go visit it next time you're in Edinburgh - you won't regret it.
I've wanted a display cabinet to hold my bits and bobs for ages but there were two problems: one, I didn't want to spend too much money on it because we live in a rented house and may very well move to smaller house in the future, and two, I wanted something that looked at least a little stylish. I wanted something that was glass all around, had a light inside, and wasn't too big. Unfortunately, most of the cabinets in my budget did not meet those criteria and were hideous to boot.
I hadn't looked at the Argos website initially since I had bought a cupboard from them last year and it turned out to be hard to put together, cheap looking and fell to pieces at the first attempt to move it. So I wasn't interested in buying from them again. My mum was the one who brought this cabinet to my attention when she saw it in a Homebase catalogue. Argos and Homebase are the same company basically so we went online and had a look at it on the Argos website. It met all my criteria and all the reviews said it looked nicer than you'd expect, so we took the plunge and bought it.
It was delivered very quickly and it only took my mum and me one evening to put it together. The instructions are terrible but we figured them out eventually and I have to say it was fairly easy to put together. One plastic bit was a bit too big for the hole it was supposed to go into and needed to be scraped with a knife before it would fit but apart from that, everything fitted together beautifully. And I must say it looked very, very nice when it was all done. I chose the mahogany colour and I think this made a difference as it hides the fact that the material isn't the best. The light inside works well and the glass shelves allow the light to pass through and illuminate items on the lower shelves as well. It is reasonably steady even without being fixed to the wall and though the door sticks a bit, it's not too bad. All in all it's a very nice piece of furniture and outstanding value for what it cost. I'll be happy to use this for quite some time.
The only thing I would have liked is adjustable shelves as only the bottom shelf can accommodate slightly taller items. But apart from that it's great and I can recommend it to anyone trying to buy a glass cabinet on a budget.
Can't remember exactly how much it cost but it was under £100.
I read this book because I love all forms of historical fiction and most especially mysteries. I really looked forward to reading it because it was highly recommended by my boss who is also a historical fiction fan. A Metropolitan Murder is one of the early books by Lee Jackson, a well known expert on Victorian times. He has his own website on the topic and has won a major award in Crime Fiction for his first book. I was really looking forward to reading not just this book but all his books since he seemed to be the perfect person to write books to my taste. Sadly, it was not to be.
The book started out really well with the discovery of the body of a 'fallen woman' on the newly built Metropolitan underground line. There are no witnesses to the murder and the young man who discovered her has sprinted off into the London night before anyone can ask him any questions. He has left behind a notebook containing details of his wanderings in the seedy 'underworld' of London, the London of gin dens, fallen women, rogues and ruffians. Oliver Twist's world really. Is he an upper class stalker of poor women? Jack the Ripper part deux? A journalist seeking a story. The police determine to find him but the exceptionally boring, obtuse and caricatures Inspector Webb cannot fathom how to do it. But not to worry because Lee Jackson doesn't believe in the normal mystery technique of having one person slowly uncover clues until it all comes together. The police have a minimal role in the novel, which is mainly occupied by the lives of the White family - Agnes the battle worn lady of the night and her two daughters, Lizzie who is following in her footsteps even though she is married to the ruffian Tom Hunt and Clara who has been rescued by a charitable home for fallen women and given a job as a housemaid in the home of one of its directors. How is this family linked to the death in the first chapter? Well, if you read this book you will find out but I'm almost tempted to tell you so that you are not forced to do it.
The trouble with this book is that the writer is far more interested in telling you about life on the street in the Victorian age than in telling you a gripping story about a murder. What he does, he doesn't do badly but because it is so loose and unfocussed, I lost interest less than halfway through. None of the characters are well fleshed out and I didn't feel even a twinge of sadness when they died - as thankfully, many of them do, thus avoiding a tedious courtroom scene! The central character Clara White is the least sympathetic character I have ever read and behaves like a robot. The speech is stilted and the potentially interesting character of Henry Cotton is so caricatured and stiffly written that I lost all interest not only in him but in the concept he represents. The mystery itself, when the author spares some attention to it is not very challenging and explained in about three sentences at the end. For a historical murder fiction, the murder and the fiction elements are very poor, and the historical accuracy is not enough to compensate.
On a recent holiday to Scotland, we initially struggled with finding a good place for dinner. The main reason for this was that by the end of the day my parents were too tired to go out to eat and they really didn't want to eat pizza or burgers or fried chicken. Having fed them kebabs the first night, my husband and I set out on the second determined to find some 'proper' takeaway food at a price that didn't break the bank. Near our hotel we couldn't find anything other than pubs, Italian restaurants and pizza parlours. The further we walked, the fewer eating places there were. We were considering kebabs again when we realized we had walked almost to the railways station. And right next to the railway station was the sign for 'Jimmy Chung's' all you can eat Chinese buffet. It felt like a sign from heaven and we promptly went in and asked if they did takeaways. They did indeed and the waitress handed over four plastic boxes and said we could fill them up for £7.50 per box. The buffet was very attractive and had an extensive range of dishes - both vegetarian and non vegetarian. There was also a much better selection of desserts than at most Chinese buffets but I don't think they can be taken away.
When we opened up the boxes when we got back to the hotel, most of the food had been mashed together but surprisingly, the flavours were still very individual and very tasty. The food was also quite hot despite being carried for 15 minutes on a fairly cold evening. The food was surprisingly good and included loads of starters - their spring rolls were excellent. The flavor too was far superior to the Chinese buffets I've been to in London. The quantity of food that fit into the containers was also ample and well worth the price.
We ate at Jimmy Chung's another day in Edinburgh and once in Inverness as well. The Inverness branch wasn't as good but still a great place for a hot, well priced tasty meal. Also we ate in in the Inverness branch and I must say the location was both convenient and pretty (though the access was a bit grotty). The service was average but with a teeming restaurant I guess you can't really expect much more.
I have been a fan of Maeve Binchy for a long time - ever since I discovered a glut of her books in my favourite secondhand bookshop in India. Since then, I have slightly outgrown her but perhaps this is because I haven't enjoyed her later books as much as the classic ones. What I've always loved about her work is that all the characters are well and thoroughly fleshed out and their conflicts are conveyed in a realistic way. You feel like these are real people who could very well live next door and when bad things happen to them (as they inevitably do), you can empathise with their struggles and pain because they feel so real and their troubles could so very easily happen to you.
'Night of Rain and stars' is unfortunately not one of her best. Don't get me wrong - it's as warm and soothing as all her books but somehow the characters, their conflicts and their solutions don't ring as true as in, for example, Tara Road. The novel is about a group of strangers who meet at a little café in the fictional Greek tourist village on the day a local sightseeing boat catches fire and many lives are lost. The trauma of this binds them together and they become friends and spend time together over the next few days. Each of them is running away from something in their home country and their stories gradually emerge to each other and to Vonni, an Irish lady settled on the island for over 30 years. I think Vonni is meant to be a central and sympathetic character but to me she was just irritating - perhaps because she is a poor copy of Nora from some Maeve Binchy's other novels. To be honest though, none of the characters were particularly sympathetic and I think this is because there were too many of them for any of them to be truly fleshed out. They end up as caricatures and their stories are reduced to a few whiny moments, quickly wrapped up by the end of the relatively short novel. Also, I think, the fact that their problems are told as stories rather than experienced by them as we read dilutes their effects somewhat.
On the whole it is a pleasant enough read, not too taxing and easy to put down to do something else. But it isn't a patch on the emotional rollercoasters MaeveBinchy is capable of writing and that is a real shame.
EAT is a chain of London soup and sandwich shops and is very popular with office workers buying lunch. It is certainly one of my favourites primarily because of the great taste of their food, especially their soups.
In Central London, you are never too far from an EAT outlet so I'd have to give them full marks for location. Each outlet has a wall of freshly made sandwiches, salads, desserts, bottled drinks etc. Like any sandwich shop really, except that their sandwiches taste very fresh and some have strong, unusual flavours that I like. They also mark the ingredients of each sandwich on the wall and clearly indicate any possible allergens in them, which is very handy since I have a dairy allergy.
But I rarely eat sandwiches in EAT anymore because their soups knock the socks off all competition including their own sandwiches. They do two soups a day - one with simple flavours and one with bold. The bold soups are really unusual and exciting - some of my favourites are Chicken Pot Pie (with puff pastry on top!), Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Laksa. The simple soups are more ordinary but very well suited to people with less adventurous taste buds - I enjoy the Gujarati Red Lentils with Raita. The soups come in three sizes - Small, Large and Extra Large. A big bold soup is enough for me for lunch and really warms me up as the weather gets colder. The soups vary in price from £2.75 to I think £5 for an extra large bold soup but it's the same price for all simple/bold soups of a certain size so you don't need to check the price every day.
You can also buy a range of breads to go with the soup.
EAT opens for breakfast as well and sells pastries and freshly made coffee though I don't think it's very good value. But for lunch, you couldn't do better than an EAT soup.
Recently, we took my mum and dad on a weekend break to Hanbury Manor. My dad is a bit posh and likes staying at posh places so we thought it would be perfect for him and it was!
Hanbury Manor is a hotel and country club currently managed by Marriott. It is set in acres and acres of land, much of which is a golf course (and the golf here is very popular) but there are also large gardens, both formal and natural. The very first time we went there was when we were considerably more impoverished than we are now and we took the bus to the hotel. There is a bus stop just outside the gates but be warned - the gates are a very very long way from the hotel itself. The drive goes past enormous and beautiful trees, part of the golf course and a long stretch of gardens. We were very embarrassed hauling our suitcases down it as other guests whizzed past in their BMWs! This time, we took a taxi and rolled up to the reception in style and convenience. There is plenty of parking it is a very busy hotel and often spaces can be hard to find - not to mention the sheer size of grounds sometimes makes the different parking areas hard to find!
The hotel is set in an old country manor and it is very grand and imposing. The reception are is just next to the lounge and it is an extraordinary room. It has original tapestries all along one wall, traditional carpets, chandeliers, the works. The best thing is Marriott have made subtle changes to make it more comfortable but they have kept the old world charm and style of a country house. The staff is very courteous and helpful - we were given our rooms two hours early because we had arrived before check in.
The rooms are large, comfortable and beautifully maintained but inside them it does feel like any other quality hotel. It's the common area, the grounds and the exterior that are really impressive.
The other impressive thing is the food. The pastry chef has been poached from The Dorchester and what a prize she is. The afternoon tea is to die for and her scones were the most perfect I have ever seen. Afternoon tea is served either in the lounge or the library and it feels like stepping back in time what with the surroundings and the cut glass accents all around.
Unfortunately, the Rosette restaurant was closed when we went but the casual restaurant gave fine indication of the quality of food at the hotel. The sea bass with olives was the best fish dish I have ever eaten. My mouth is watering as I type. Definitely worth eating in if you visit.
Unfortunately I cannot provide much information on prices as we get employee discounts but the website is informative and has gorgeous photos too. If you have someone to impress, a wedding to plan, or just want to see how the other half live - go to Hanbury Manor. You will love it.
I pride myself on reading wide variety of books - from classical literature to pulp fiction and being able to enjoy them all. I also pride myself on never forgetting whether I have a read a book or not. I may not remember the plot very well but I will know if I've read it. That is until, I read September (again).
A long train journey en route to a holiday in Scotland meant that I had finished my book by the time I got there. I needed to pick something up for bedtime reading so I went into the first charity shop I saw to find something to keep me going. I didn't want anything to heavy so 'September' caught my eye - it was a good old fashioned family saga type novel and best of all, it was set in Scotland! I invested my £2.50 and opened it that night in my hotel looking forward to my book.
A few pages in my feeling in content was replaced by a strong sense of déjà vu. Had I read this book before? The events were so familiar but I didn't remember ANYTHING about it. I couldn't remember any of the plot twists in advance but they seemed familiar as soon as I read them. I have never had such a bizarre experience before with a book. However, I did finish it so I fee fully equipped to review it - even it is the second time round!
Well, as I said, September is a family saga based around the September of one year and the events that lead up to it, both in the immediate past and in the more distant history of the people involved. The well heeled populace of Croy are invited to a dance in September and invitations are sent out to everyone that anyone knows (literally - the hostess is a relative newcomer to the area and certainly doesn't know many of the main characters she invites for her party). But the story isn't really about the hostess or even the dance. It is about two families - the Airds and the Balmerinos. The heads of both families are in their late forties and were great friends as children and young men. Then something happened and there a cooling off of relations between Edmund Aird and Archie Balmerino. They are still friends but there is a coldness between them , the reason for which we discover later in the book. Archie is the impoverished, war wounded Laird of Croy, while Edmund is the rich investment banker (something like that anyway) with a heart of steel. Other characters include Edmund's American wife Virginia who is struggling to accept his domineering ways, his wise-old-woman mother, Violet, his gauche, innocent daughter, Alexa (which 21 year old living in London and running her own business is this naïve?) and his little boy, Henry, who is being sent off to boarding school for the first time. There are several other characters, notably Archie's sister, Pandora, around whom the whole story revolves. But telling you about the characters will reveal too much of the story.
The characters are interesting and fairly well rounded, the plot is not terribly exciting but it isn't meant to be, and the writing is smooth and welcoming. I felt it was a nice warm, cuddly, duvet day type of book. But I did think it was very divorced from reality. Not hat I know very much about how the Scottish upper classes live but surely they don't live like an Agatha Christie novel? Fires in every grate, wives not working any jobs, no shortage of money (or shortage that can be dealt with by taking paying guests over the summer in one's enormous country pile!), and conversations that sound like they are taking place in the 1940s (the novel is set in the 1980s at the earliest). For this reason I couldn't really identify or even empathise with any of the characters.
It's a nice book and light reading for a holiday but perhaps a bit too disconnected with my reality to be really enjoyable.