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Everyone reading this review must have seen and loved the film Amelie (2001), or at least have heard wonderful things about it. Following the success of this quirky French masterpiece many of you may also have seen the film Delicatessen (1991), another spectacular offering from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Having loved these movies we thought wed see what else this largely unknown French director could come up with and so we hired The City of Lost Children which Jeunet co-directed with Marc Caro and which was released in 1995.
The City of Lost Children is a bizarre, dark fantasy film, primarily set on an old oil rig off the French coast. The film starts with a clip of a young boy on Christmas morning who wakes up to find Santa sliding down the chimney. This typically jolly, friendly Santa shows the clearly thrilled and amazed lad an old fashioned toy. But then things start to go wrong. The boy watches in alarm as a second Santa drops in the fireplace, then a third, a forth a fifth and still they continue to come. The Santas turn nasty, they leer at the little boy and surround him. The boy grabs his teddy and runs ..
This scene abruptly ends and we flick to a gentleman with wires attached to his head who is passionately screaming. This is the mad scientist Krank (played by Daniel Emilfork) and he has been experiencing the little boys nightmare about Santa. Krank cannot dream himself and as a consequence he is prematurely old. Therefore he kidnaps children in order to steals their dreams. Unfortunately however, the experience of being kidnapped is so traumatic that the children have only nightmares .
Krank employs a sinister cult of men the Cyclops to perform the kidnappings from the nearest coastal town. This cult are given a mechanical third eye or Optacon which makes their hearing unnaturally sensitive. Krank also has a number of other eccentric assistants aiding him in his theft of dreams. There are 6 clones (all played by Dominique Pinon), all of whom have been led to believe that they are the original, a talking, thinking, seeing brain in a tank called Irvin (voiced by Jean-Louis Trintignant) and the midget Miss Bismuth (played by Mireille Mosse).
While one side of the film focuses on Krank and his cronies, the other focuses on the good guys. Denree (played by Joseph Lucien), the little brother of sideshow strongman named One (played by Ron Perlman), is kidnapped by Krank's Cyclops. One heads to the oil rig to find and rescue his brother. Along the way he meets and is aided by orphaned street urchin nine-year-old Miette (played by Judith Vittet) who is able to provide the brains of the operation to Ones brawl.
Perhaps the most interesting of this bizarre collection of characters are the evil Siamese twins octopus who run an orphanage and black market business and who force the children to steal for them. There are some exceptionally clever scenes of the twins, who are attached at the waist with just three legs, chopping vegetables and sorting money in perfect synch.
Jeunet's films are notable for their odd colour scheme dominated by sepia tones creating a dismal and dank atmosphere suited to the bizarre setting in this film. In addition, Jeunet commonly creates scenes in which the characters or places have been distorted, adding further to the quirky weirdness for which he is known. The City of Lost Children contains some fantastic special effects, with great music throughout, setting the tone and creating suspense or lightening the mood as required. I was surprised to film that, unlike Amelie and Delicatessen, the film is not subtitled but dubbed in English, unfortunately not very well. I would personally have preferred to have seen the film in French, I dont have any issues with subtitles and I think that the film would have retained more charm in its original language. If you want to watch this I recommend attempting to get the original version.
The City of Lost Children is certainly a bizarre film and one that demands concentration from any viewer who wishes to understand whats going on. I watched it twice and still the intricacies of the plot are somewhat confusing to me. Although the City of Lost Children isnt a patch on Amelie or Delicatessen fans of these films should give it a try. This film is imaginative, completely unique, random and intricate with a weird and wacky collection of memorable characters and overall I thoroughly recommend it.
Fans of Jeunet may be interested to know that Jeunet also directed A Very Long Engagement in 2004, a film adapted from Sebastien Japrisots World War I novel and he is also currently directing the adaptation of Yann Martel's wonderful novel Life of Pi for 20th Century Fox.
The City of Lost Children is 108 minutes long and is rated 15 which I feel is fair. The DVD can be purchased on Amazon from £5 secondhand.
In 1967, when she was 35 years old, American born Dian Fossey travelled to Rwanda to begin her study of mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountains. The Virungas which lie on the borders of what was Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Rwanda and Uganda are isolated and not easily accessible. Despite this Fossey stayed for 13 of the next 15 years only returning to the USA or UK on occasion. Fossey was funded by Louis Leaky, the same individual who funded Jane Goodalls similar work with chimpanzees and her initial time in Africa led to her award of a PhD from Cambridge University. Fosseys book Gorillas in the Mist, which was published in 1983, is an account of her experiences during the 15 years she spent trekking miles across rugged terrain to observe and attempt to protect these amazing creatures.
Gorillas in the Mist begins with a general introduction to mountain gorillas and to Fosseys background and overall aims. There are currently around 380 mountain gorillas in the Virungas, one of only two populations of mountain gorillas in Africa. This number has increased from around the 240 that existed during Fosseys work and is sure to be a direct consequence of her lengthy campaign for the protection of these amazing creatures. Sadly though, the two species of gorilla: mountain and lowland, are both listed as endangered species and are in risk of extinction due to poaching and habitat loss through deforestation. Gorillas are highly social animals that live in groups headed by one dominant male or silverback. They live on a diet composed primarily of shoots and leaves and are known to be generally gentle animals although they can be dangerous if threatened.
Fossey goes on to detail in depth many of the interactions she experienced with the gorillas over the years. All the gorillas in her study area were named and it is easy to follow familial relationships and group discord. The book is easy to read and isnt particularly scientific. It is a very touching and sentimental book, which devotes a lot of time to discussion about the gorillas inter-group relationships and their different personalities come across strongly. Fossey is clearly passionate about these amazing animals and after reading the book I doubt that anyone could fail to be touched by her words and feel for the plight of the mountain gorilla. At times the book is incredibly sad and at one point I was reduced to tears. Fossey rescued two orphan baby gorillas, Pucker and Coco, who were poached to be shipped to a zoo in Cologne. The babies had been kept for weeks in appalling conditions and during their capture from two different groups, the poachers killed 18 adult gorillas, who will not willingly allow the removal of one of their group. After months of recuperation Fossey was forced to send the babies to the zoo anyway as Government officials threatened to capture other infants which would involve the slaughter of many other gorillas, an incident which clearly broke her heart.
There are a number of pictures in the centre of the book which show Fossey in her interactions with the gorillas. I found these interesting and thought it was nice to be able to see some of the characters she discusses in depth. Fossey has also included graphic picture of Digit, who was known for his exceptional trust in humans. Sadly, this probably led to his demise. Digit was caught by poachers who removed his head, hands and feet to sell illegally as souvenirs.
The only negative thing I can think of is that the book doesnt always follow a logical time frame. At points Fossey will talk at length about something and then jump back to something that happened previously. This is perhaps a little strange but is only a very minor point and it doesnt deter from the overall wonder of the book.
Large parts of the book deal with the efforts of Fossey and her team to deter poachers and deactivate traps. Over the years many of the gorillas she studied succumbed to the fate of infected trap wounds, usually set for other animals or direct poaching and Fossey was a key figure in the arrest of many of those involved. It is sadly likely that her actions eventually led to her demise. Fossey was murdered in her research station in the Virungas on December 27th in 1985. The murderer used a traditional poaching weapon which she has confiscated previously and which was on her wall as a decoration. The case remains unsolved although her continued protests against poachers remains the most likely cause. Thankfully however, following her death, Fossey's Digit Fund was renamed the "Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International" the good work of which continues today.
Gorillas in the Mist was adapted for film in 1988, directed by Michael Apted, and has subsequently become more famous than the book. In it Fossey was played by Sigourney Weaver who was nominated for best actress following her role. I havent personally seen it but I have read some reviews which point out that some of the more eccentric events that occur are not actually true. For example, there are scenes in which Fossey is depicted acting out the hanging of one of the primary poachers. This certainly isnt something that is discussed in the book and I sincerely doubt such events ever occurred.
In conclusion, this is a wonderful book that should be read by anyone interested in primates or general conservation. It is suitable for everyone and hooked me in right from the start. I have no hesitation in recommending Gorillas in the Mist and I hope that this review will help to raise awareness of the continuous plight of these amazing creatures. If you are interested in supporting the mountain gorillas of Virunga or just want to know more then please see http://www.gorillafund.org/
Washington State, situated on the West coast of the USA, is the most Northerly American State. The State borders Idaho and Oregon, in addition to Canada (The province of British Columbia) making it an excellent base for exploring the wonders of the Rocky Mountains. Washington State was created in 1889 and named after George Washington, the first American President and is the only State named in such manner. The Capital is Olympia but the biggest and best known City is actually Seattle, a beautiful harbour side city, famous for Frasier and fabulous fish markets, which I highly recommend visiting. The purpose of this review though is not to describe Washingtons Cities, which ultimately are similar to any other, but to describe two of Washingtons States famous National Parks: Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens.
Mount Rainier National Park (also called The Cascades National Park), just 54 miles from Seattle, was established on March 2, 1899 and was the fifth National Park created within the USA. The park covers an area of 235,625 acres, up to 14,410 above sea level.
Mount Rainier, for which the park is named, is an active volcano, which last erupted 2,200 years ago. It is the highest peak of the Cascade Volcanic Arc and rises abruptly from the surrounding land, majestically topped with snow fall and glaciers.
I can tell you this because I have seen the pictures...... Yes I've been to the park I undertook the long drives, I even wore shorts that day, after all it was August in America. The day we visited it was very cold for this time of year and so foggy that we couldn't even see Mount Rainier. I have a picture of us all stood in front of it (apparently) me with my blue legs shivering and just wanting to get back in the car, gutted that we couldn't see it.
Enormous amounts of rain and snow fall on the park, particularly on the peak every year, all year round. Incremental weather is a common problem for the 1.3 million tourists who flood to Mount Rainier National Park with the intention of gaping at the remarkable views. Disappointment is common, regardless of the time of year and this is something that potential visitors should bear in mind. Id advise all tourists to check the weather reports before driving all that way and to put aside more then one potential day to visit.
Do bear in mind though that despite the disappointing fact that we couldnt see Rainer it was still a good day out. Mount Rainier is surrounded by valleys, 26 glaciers, forests, crystal clear streams and waterfalls, deep lakes and meadows of wild flowers. You might even be lucky enough to spot the wild dears, mountain goats or black bears. It is a truly beautiful park and we could still see the bits which were in the immediate vicinity.
I was also lucky enough to see the mountain indirectly!! On clear days, Rainier can be seen from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Victoria in British Columbia. I first saw Rainier from an internal flight I took back to Seattle from Idaho. The Mountain was clearly visible from the plane, towering above the low lying clouds and was truly a spectacular site (I have some amazing photos of it). On a clear day, like we had Mount Rainier can also be seen in the distance from Seattle which is an amazing sight and these experiences did make up for the initial disappointment somewhat.
The park contains all the usual features that come with National parks in general: camping and picnic-ing facilities, toilets and the odd restaurant/visitors centre. There are excellent opportunities for a whole host of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, mountain climbing, boating, cycling, fishing and swimming and it would be easy to spend a few days here. As far as I remember you have to pay a small fee to enter the parks which is per car taken in but once there all of this natural beauty is completely free!
****Mount St Helens****
Mount St Helens National Park, which is 96 miles from Seattle, now stands in stark and bleak contrast to the lush and fertile grounds that surround Mount Rainier, even though the mountain is also part of the Cascades Volcanic Arc. On May 18, 1980, the long-dormant Mount St. Helens erupted following an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale, making it the most destructive recorded in the USA. The north face of the mountain collapsed and within moments, this enormous slab of rock and ice slammed into Spirit Lake, crossed a ridge 1,300 feet high, and roared 14 miles down the Toutle River. The eruption lasted nine hours during which nearly 230 square miles of forest was blown over or left dead, 57 people were killed and 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed.
The park is completely free to enter and was relatively quiet when we visited although it was peak season. The journey to the volcanos site, along narrow, winding mountain roads allows the visitor to take in the scale of the devastation. This destruction caused by the eruption is immense and recovery is going to take decades. The whole site is desolate and barren but it truly is amazing and fascinating and Ill never forget it. Hardly anything grows there anymore, there are no living trees even though this was once forest land. All that remains are stripped bare trunks of those which somehow managed to survive the blast and the aftermath, all bending over away from St Helens itself, demonstrating the pure force of the explosion.
There is a small information point opposite the volcano showing photos of the area before the blast for comparison. The mountain is now a totally different shape due to the collapse of one entire side and it is now much smaller height wise than it was originally and much less magnificent.
St Helens is a spectacular and shocking site, one of the most amazing I have ever been lucky enough to come across. Although there isn't much left of St Helens, the site is well worth a day trip. St Helens sums up the extreme power of nature more than anything else I've seen and lets just hope that this still active volcano does not decide to blow again for some time.
Washington State is a beautiful state, with lots to do and I highly recommend a visit to this part of the world. The National Park of Rainier is simply stunning although the unreliable weather experienced here can be an issue. Although destroyed by the eruption of 1980 Mount St Helens is also an interesting and unforgettable day trip. Whats more in addition to these sites Washington State is home to many others areas of outstanding beauty including The Olympic National Park, part of which is coastal. Sadly we didn't have time to visit here, but theres always next time.
Australian author Peter Carey wrote Oscar and Lucinda in 1988 and it went on to win the Booker Prize for that year. The book is described on the back as a love story but after reading it I can confirm that it is much more than boy meets girl. Set in the late 1800's this is a book which explores a period of time when emigration between the UK and Australia first became popular. The book deals with the cultural issues which surround the aborigines and more strongly with the issue of religion.
The book starts long before Oscar and Lucinda actually meet, when they are both children living on different continents. We start with Oscar who is spending his childhood in Devon, isolated and alone, with his overprotective, religious and fanatical father. Oscar's two older siblings and mother died when he very young. Oscar father a strict conservative minister denies any and every form of pleasure and in desperation Oscar eventually flees both his father's home and religion. Instead he moves in with an Anglican minister and his wife who live in the same village. Here he studies religion and eventually they convince him to attend University. Described as the 'odd bod' by his fellow students at Oxford, Oscar looks after his collection of buttons, secure in the knowledge that he has absolutely no life experience. That's until he meets Wadley-Fish, the man who will be Oscar's only friend.
Lucinda also grew up isolated on a farm in Australia and following the death of first her father and then her mother at 17 and the further personal tragedy which follows, she inherits a large sum of money. Lucinda buys the first thing she comes across when she leaves the country and sails down the river into Sydney; a glass works called Prince Rupert's. It was too much of a coincidence not to. As a child Lucinda had a passion for glass and it was all because of the day her Father brought home the Prince Rupert's Drop. These tadpole shaped drops are produced by dropping molten glass into cold water. You can put these drops in a vice they won't shatter, you can't break them unless you touch the tail. If the tails are even slightly damaged they will shatter, explosively, into tiny shards. Fascinating and also completely true, the beauty and pleasure that can be obtained from glass play a big part in this book and this is definitely one of my favourite things about Oscar and Lucinda.
Interestingly Oscars family were originally Australian and Lucinda's English. Furthermore the couple finally first meet on a ship on the way to Australia. Oscar, who is terrified by water and won't leave his cabin, is emigrating with the plan to work as a minister. Lucinda is returning home from a trip to see her mother's old friends, she is friendless and alone. The ship though only results in their acquaintance it is during a chance meeting later on that they become friends.
Gambling plays a part in the lives of both characters. Oscar with his penance for the horses, used strictly a means of survival, any excess he gives to charity. Lucinda's penance is for cards and it is this that first unites them. Gambling leads to Oscar's disgrace and then to the bet and the glass church .
Of course you'll need to read the books if you want to know what happens next. I'd recommend it, Carey writes with a certain ease and fluidity combining oddity and fact. It isn't what I'd call an easy reading book, the language is relatively formal, complex and detailed. But it definitely worth the time to get to know these splendid characters and their bizarre little ways of dealing with the hand God gave them. Oscar in particular is a fascinating creation, a truly original character. What I also liked about this book is the unpredictable ending. I anticipated a simple ending in which Oscar and Lucinda marry and live happily ever after. Instead the ending has an unexpected and poignant twist.
Oscar and Lucinda is a lengthy 500 pages particularly given the small text in my copy. You can buy it at all good retailers for £6.99. I haven't read any other books by Carey but given the standard of writing in Oscar and Lucinda I would be interested in doing. Carey also won the Booker prize for 'The True History of the Kelly Gang' in 2001, a book loosely based on real life. This makes him the only author to win the Booker twice, to date. His book 'Illywacker' was also nominated for the prize in 1985. Additionally, he book has also been made into a film, released in 1998, directed by and also starring Ralph Fiennes as Oscar and Cate Blanchett as Lucinda.
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The Road an admittedly boringly titled book, written by Cormac McCarthy was published in 2006 and won the prestigious Columbia University Pulitzer prize this year.
Cormac McCarthy, an American writer, born 1933, has written many other books including his first novel The Orchard Keeper, which was published by Random House in 1965, All the Pretty Horses (1992) and No Country for Old Men (2005). The Road is the first of his books I have read and I read it in conjunction with my recently joined book club. The book generated some interesting discussions and it was in fact only later that we realised it had won the Pulitzer Prize.
The Road is set in a post-apocalyptic era in which the sun has been obscured by ash and the ground covered in its dirty residue. Most of worlds population has been wiped out. Murder and canabalism is rife because they is no longer any food supplies. The world is a dangerous place to be in. Being a central route The Road is particularly dangerous. The book deals bluntly and detachedly with tortour, canabalism, death and constant fear. This is a tale of survival in a world that has become a barren and desolute land where no-one can be trusted.
The narrative comes primarily from the perspective of the father the main character along side his son, who is referred to simply as the boy and who must be around ten. These two distinctly different characters are undertaking a journey along the road, across the mountains and to the coast. They dont know what they will find there but they know they must keep moving. Winter is coming and they must find shelter and food. They have a gun with two bullets and a little tinned food, but their supplies are dwindling
Although the cause of the calamity is never specifically stated, at many points the mans thoughts dip into the past. He remembers a time before, when there was ample food and coca-cola, where the sea was blue and the sun shone brightly. He recalls the times when things were just beginning to get bad. Days when people fought in the supermarkets for the last of the food and queued for days for petrol. During these forays into the past we also learn about the boys mother. Although never stated her absence appears to be the result of her decision to commit suicide. Its an option that the man has not ruled out for themselves.
The narrative throughout is detached and blunt told using an incredibly simple language. I illustrate this with a short quote which also demonstrates well the generally bleak tone of this novel.
They squatted in the road and ate cold rice and cold bean that theyd cooked days ago. Already beginning to ferment. No place to make a fire that would not be seen. They slept huddled together in the rank quilt in the dark and the cold. He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart he said. My heart.
Although the language is simplistic the nature of this book means that it isnt an easy reads and at times I found it shocking and horrifying.
One of the members of our book group was interested in the idea that perhaps the events portrayed in The Road arent actually as far from home as one might think. In a world where the West is generating increasing tension from less fortunate countries is it possible that we might enter another world war with more disasterous consequences than the previous two? A unsettling point but one that makes for an interesting discusion. In many respects this is certainly an excellent read for anyone looking for book group material.
Of the six other members of my book group I personally gave the most negative opinions of The Road. I disliked the simplistic language and I thought that on the occasion McCarthy used longer sentences these were often badly structured and I would have to re-read to make sense of them. I also disliked the impersonal nature in which the child was simply referred to as the boy throughout. That said I read The Road with fervour and found it compelling although somewhat traumatising. It is easily the bleakest book I have ever read and I cant imagine Ill find another book to beat this somewhat dubious honour in many years.
So, certainly not a happy read, not one for anyone feeling a bit blue. But I definitely recommend this book. Despite my criticisms The Road is an addictive and interesting read. I have never read anything with which I can begin to compare it which can only be the mark of a worthwhile read.
The Road was only available in hard back when I purchased mine and consequently I paid around 10 for my copy from Amazon including postage. The paper back version of the book was released in June 2007 and thus the price shoudl have dropped considerably.
I have been a fan of Scottish author Irvine Welsh since being sucked in by the hype created by Trainspotting and over the years I have subsequently devoured most of his books. I must have first read The Acid House which Welsh originally published in 1994 in my late teens and I first watched the dramatised adaptation a couple of years ago after it was recommended by a friend.
Welshs The Acid House is a collection of 22 short stories and the film, which was produced in 1998 and directed by Paul McGuigan, dramatises three of the best of these. The three stories are all set in Edinburgh and the more seedy neighboring Leith and are filled with random and controversial tales of sex, drugs violence and disorder.
The first story 'The Granton Star Cause' is easily my favourite of the three and was also my favourite from the book. The main character is Boab, played by Stephen McCole, who isnt having the best of days. Boab is sacked by his boss, dumped by his girlfriend, kicked out of the local football team, arrested and beaten up all in the space of a few hours. In the pub later on he meets God who reprimands him for wasting his life and as punishment turns him into a fly! Boab uses his time as a fly to seek his revenge .
The second story entitled 'A Soft Touch' and is far less memorable than the first, in additional to being really quite depressing. It is my least favourite of this collection. In this story we meet Johnny, played by Kevin McKidd, whose missus (Michelle Gomez) has moved upstairs with the neighbour-from-hell (Gary McCormack) and the two of them are doing their best to make poor Johnnys life a misery ..
In the third and final tale The Acid House, Colin or Coco Bryce, played by Ewan Bremner, miraculously swaps personalities with a well-to-do families new born baby after tripping out on too much acid. The infant is transformed into a bad mouthed Hibs fan while Coco drools alone on the sofa .
Shockingly funny in parts, depressing in others, random throughout The Acid House is definitely regarding as something of a cult film and it certainly isnt for the faint hearted or easily offended. As is typical of Welshs style these stories are bluntly dirty with excessive amounts of bad language, violence, sex and drugs. They are truly imaginative, original and downright clever tales and this is a great DVD for watching again and again.
One of my favourite things about this collection is the sporadic appearance of God, played by Maurice Roëves, throughout. This theme begins in the Granton Star Cause when God makes a direct appearance to berate Boab and to turn him into the shit eating pest he deserves to be. God, portrayed fairly typically with a beard and tunic appears in both of the other stories, for example leaving the pub and as an inebriated wedding guest. It seems that God too has a taste for alcohol shall we say!
Negative points are few and far between. The stories do perhaps lack structure although this is not necessarily a bad thing. The heavy and slang fuelled Scottish dialect throughout The Acid House can also be a little hard to follow but believe me it is no-where near as difficult as Welshs books. The Acid House contains some subtitles, particularly at the start, which Welsh himself has stated are meant to help the audience adapt to the strong dialect and they are definitely useful in this respect. The subtitles which appear later on are amusing to watch out for as they dont translate exactly what the characters say and are generally much more insulting.
The Acid House is currently available for purchase on Amazon for new from £10 and second hand from just £1.40. The DVD is 111 minutes long and is justifiably rated 18. There are NO special features.
The Granton Star Cause was screened separately at the Edinburgh Film Festival, the completed film was shown at Cannes in 1998. The collection has won a number of prizes including best actor for Kevin Mckidd in The International Fantasy Film Award and The AMC Audience Award.
Just 8 miles East of Newcastle City Center, situated next to the mouth of the river Tyne, is the aptly named and seaside town of Tynemouth. When we first moved to Newcastle four years ago we couldnt believe how lovely it was and we visit frequently.
Tynemouth is a lovely town and a highly desirable place to live causing high property prices. Its only small but its picturesque, middle-upper class and most importantly close to the beach. There isnt a great deal to do in the Town itself which is really just small high street. There are five or six pubs/bars, a couple of excellent cafés and several restaurants, in addition to a number of small shops. Bear in mind that the only cash point is just outside Lloyds on the at the top end of the high street and theres often queues. Specialist shops, include Gaf which is a great places to get interesting gifts and knick knacks and there is also an excellent albeit tiny deli tucked away on one of the side streets. The converted church-cum-shopping center The Land Of Green Ginger is also a great place for interesting odds and ends and is definitely worth a look.
For lunches many of the pubs serve traditional fare and theres also a cafés and a bakery, both of whom do eat in or takeaway sandwiches. Being the seaside Tynemouth is also an ideal place for fish and chips. Theres a take away joint on the high street but if you can get down to the nearby North Shields Fish Quays (just a few minutes drive) the best fish and chips are to be had from here.
There are also a number of up market places for dinner. Sidneys selection of interesting modern cuisine isnt cheap, but it has an excellent reputation. Ive never been I have been to the sister restaurant Blackfriars, in Newcastle City Center, which was fabulous. A swanky looking Spanish Tapas restaurant has also opened recently, theres a pricey but fabulous sounding seafood restaurant, also on the high street. Sambucas down on the Fish Quays, just 5 minutes away, is also a great little Italian place, with a fabulous atmosphere and great value food, that I would highly recommend.
Tynemouths main beach, just a ten minute walk from the town center, is Long Sands. Its a fantastic and lengthy white sand beach, backed by dunes and consequently it gets packed in the Summer. The beach is huge when the tide is out but it comes in a long way and as this is the North Sea the water isnt warm. Despite this there are surfers in the water year round and in October theres an annual surf competition (which used to be held in Cornwalls Newquay). Surf gear can be hired or bought from the little shop atop the sand dunes about half way along the beach. Theres also the opportunity to hire boats from Tynemouth sailing club which is based just inside the river entrance, minutes away from the priory. For more information see http://www.tynemouthsc.co.uk/
If you dont fancy brazing the water the beach is a great place for a stroll along the surf and it takes about 20-30 minutes to walk from end to end. Many people venture down to take their dogs for a walk, although in the Summer months they are banned due to the influx of people. Theres also fabulous café Crusoes (sadly they recently changed the name from simply Sea, which I much preferred) which stands literally on the sands, next to the South ramps, and serves good value drinks, snacks and lunches until 5pm. The café gets very busy at the weekends but theres plenty of tables and the place is very children friendly.
Just around the headland theres also the tiny but more secluded King Edwards bay, situated next to the priory at the bottom of high cliffs.
On the cliff tops, overlooking the mouth of the Tyne and the North sea stands the partly ruined Old Priory, which was founded back in 1090 on the former site of a 7th-century Anglian monastery. The priory is maintained by English Heritage and entrance is £3.50 for adults, £1.80 for children and £2.60 for concessions. Opening hours are from 9-5 in the Summer but in the Winter opening hours and times very (check the website for more information).
The Blue Reef Aquarium
As my partner worked here for two years the Blue Reef is a place which I am both familiar with and fond of. The aquarium is only tiny but it features a wide selection of local and more exotic sea creatures and was recently extended to create an outside seal enclosure. Highlights also include the underwater safari, a tunnel through a huge tank, which houses sharks and rays, the otters and the nursery (baby sea horses and box fish are very cute) although the variety of creatures here does depend on the time of year. The Blue Beef is open from 9-5 in the Summer and 9-4 in the Winter. Entry is £6.95 for adults, £4.95 for children and £5.95 for students and pensioners. There are free talks and feeding sessions scheduled throughout the day, which are interesting and educational and this is a great place to spend a couple of hours.
The mouth of the Tyne Festival is held annually in July and features live local and international music in a carnival style atmosphere. The Fish Quay festival which incorporates North Shields is a similar affair and is held the last bank holiday weekend in May.
Additionally, every Saturday and Sunday from 9am till 4pm there is an excellent market held in the beautiful glass roofed Tynemouth metro station. The market combines a good mix of second hand goods in addition to local crafts and its worth a look if youre in the area at the weekend. Theres also a Farmers market held at the station on the third Saturday of every month.
Within view of the priory, stands a 7m statue of Lord Collingwood, perched atop a podium and majestically overlooking the mouth of the river. Collingwood was born in Newcastle and is famous as he was the first British commander to open fire at Trafalgar before breaking the French line. Just nearby it is also possible to walk the length of the piers jutting out either side of the mouth of the river and offering windswept views of the coast.
The Fish Quays just upriver on the edge of North Shields and just a five minute drive from Tynemouth is also an interesting place. Its fairly run down but is gradually being renovated. Its possible to watch the catch come in if youre early enough but even if youre not its nice to have a wander around and admire the boats and to see the seals if youre lucky. As I mentioned previously Sambucas is a great place to eat here and there are some fantastic fish and chips to be had. Fresh fish is also on sale in a number of shops including a main market in the mornings only.
Just around the headland from the North of Long Sands is Cullercoats Bay, a calm and quaint natural harbour great for swimming and there are often people to be seen jumping from the pier in the Summer. Continuing North one finds the distinctly tacky Whitley Bay which is in dire need of renovation, the removal of the luminous flashing plastic palm trees and the pole dancers who start at lunchtime. The beach here is not as nice as Tynemouth and neither is the area.
The light house at St Marys, just a five minute drive further up the coast, is worth a visit though. The lighthouse can only be reached by a causeway which is only accessible at low tide and be warned the tide comes in fast. This is a great spot for rock pooling, especially in the warmer months when the tide is just receding. Its also possible to go in the lighthouse but opening hours are inconsistent. Ive been in once and I think it was only a couple of pounds each but its often shut. Its possible to climb to the top to admire the view and theres also a numbers of displays with information about the history of the lighthouse and this stretch of the coast generally.
There is ample parking in the center of Tynemouth village and its very reasonably priced. Theres also parking on North and South ramps leading down to Long Sands. Its free on the North ramp but expect to pay elsewhere. Its not expensive here either and whats more tickets are transferable to Tynemouth village and to the majority of the other carparks along this stretch of the coast.
There is also a metro station with regular trains from Newcastle and across the region. A return journey coats around £3 and takes about 25 minutes. Similarly, theres a regular bus service from Newcastle and from other places in the region and more information can be found here http://www.simplygo.com/timetables/timetables.htm
As its only eight miles to Tynemouth from Newcastle we head that way regularly and I highly recommend a trip to Tynemouth to anyone in the region. Tynemouth is a truly lovely place to while away a few hours, be it for a walk along the beautiful beach, for dinner, lunch or just a drink in one of the many cafes, pubs and restaurants on offer, or for a spot of surfing or rock pooling further up the coast.
Halloumi is a Turkish cheese, which originates from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus and which is registered as a protected Cypriot product within the US (but not the EU). The cheese has been around for 100s of years and remains a popular ingredient in these parts but has only recently started to gain popularity in the UK. Halloumi is special because it is meant to be cooked and it has a unique flavour and texture with a tendency to squeak somewhat upon chewing!
Halloumi is traditionally made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk, although nowadays the cheese tends to contain cows milk in addition. Halloumi is made by submerging fresh curds into hot whey in order to soften and stretch before ageing in baskets. The cheese is a milky white colour, with a firm texture ideal to be sliced and chopped and it is generally bought sitting in a very small amount of salty brine. The taste is salty and distinct, not dissimilar to feta but with a firmer slightly stringy texture that does not crumble.
The most common brand seen in Britain is the Discover brand produced by Arla and the average price for a standard 240g block is around £1.50 from most big supermarkets, which will easily serve two.
Halloumi is a very high calorie cheese. Arlas Discover halloumi has 311 calories per 100g. 20g protein, 1g carbohydrate and 25g fat. Recently I also tried the Discovery low fat halloumi which contains 1/3 less fat (227 calories per 100g, 20g protein, 0.8g carbohydrates and 16g fat). However, it definitely wasn't as nice. The low fat version lacks some of the strong salty taste I love and was a slightly firmer texture which I found didnt melt as well under the grill. As for me halloumi is an occasional treat I think I'll be sticking to the full fat in the future.
In my opinion halloumi is best grilled lightly for around five-ten minutes from pre-heated. The cheese will crisp slightly and colour on the outside whilst becoming softer in the center. Halloumi can also easily be fried or baked.
For a simple yet tasty and nutritious meal I enjoy halloumi served with mixed leaves, red onion, black olives, baby tomatoes and pitta bread spread with a little mayonnaise. Alternatively halloumi is great with roasted vegetables and cous cous and is also fantastic cooked on kebab sticks over a BBQ or just under the grill.
Ive also included two of my own more interesting recipes featuring halloumi below.
Roast Vegetable and Halloumi Stacks
Serves 2, ideal as a starter
One 240g block of Discovery Halloumi
One small aubergine
One red pepper
Pesto (can be made from fresh or easily bought from the supermarket)
Slice the aubergine diagonally to create larger thick slice. Slice the pepper into four large pieces. Brush the vegetables with oil and sprinkle on a little seasoning if desired. Place into a pre heated oven and bake for about 15 minutes after which point add the halloumi, sliced into around eight pieces and cook all for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and arrange the halloumi, peppers and aubergine in a stack with a thin spread of pesto at points according to taste.
Warm Halloumi, Asparagus and Green Bean Salad
200g mixed leaves
One 240g block of Discovery halloumi
Bunch of asparagus spears
Bunch of fine green runner beans
Handful of fresh mint leaves
Squeeze of lemon
Handful of Pine nuts
Steam the asparagus and green beans until cooked according to taste. Alongside this slice the halloumi into eight pieces and grill for around ten minutes until the cheese has started to brown slightly. Finely chop the spring onions and scatter over a bed of mixed leaves. Lightly toast the pine nuts by frying for two minutes in a little oil and scatter these over the mixed leaves also. Finely chop the mint leaves and mix with a dash of oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a dressing. Top the bed of leaves with the warm hallloumi, asparagus and beans and drizzle the dressing over to taste.
In summary, if you haven't tried this wonderful cheese than you most definitely should. It is a versatile and interesting ingredient which is easy and quick to cook. Whats more halloumi also has an incredibly long shelf life and can be stored it in the fridge for around a year and also frozen indefinitely. Halloumi is definitely one of my all time favourites and I cant recommend it enough so if youre looking to try something different for tea then give halloumi a try!
Seductive Poison was written by Debora Layton following her experiences as a member of the Peoples Temple. Led by Jim Jones, this Californian based cult, gradually relocated to Guyana, where in 1978, the mass suicide-murder of more than 900 people, shocked the world. Luckily Debbie defected only months before this tragedy. Published in 1998, on the 20th anniversary of the deaths, Seductive Poison was my personal choice to read with my book group and it certainly generated some interesting discussions.
The book starts with a lengthy but necessary prologue written by Charles Krause. This is an excellent start as the information provides numerous facts to familiarise readers with the circumstances surrounding Jonestown and the details of what actually happened on the day. Krause, a journalist, visited Jonestown of the day of the mass murder suicides, an event which sparked the disaster to follow, and he was lucky to escape with his life.
Debbie starts the book by describing her increasing horror at being unable to answer questions posed by her five year old daughter. Why cant we visit grandmas grave? Why is uncle Larry in Prison? Debbie decided to confront her past both for herself and to help her daughter to understand their past in future years.
Debbie goes on to present an account of her childhood in a privileged affluent family, in Berkeley, California, as the youngest child of four. The substantial age gap between her and her other siblings meant she was the center of the families attention. But this all changed when her older siblings gradually left for college and Debbie became rebellious. Her grades dropped, her relationship with her parents deteriorated and she started experimenting with drugs. I found Debbies account of these years very self-centered, she was clearly a spoilt child and I didnt feel that her childhood was any more messed up than millions of other peoples.
It was during these troubled adolescent years that Debbie was first introduced to Jones by her brother, Larry and around a year later she joined as a full time member herself. In her 37-point affidavit written following her release Debbie stated that she wanted to join the Peoples Temple to help others and in the process to bring structure and self-discipline to her life.
The Peoples Temple was formed in Indianapolis in the mid-1950s by Reverent Jim Jones. They were a socialist group masquerading as a religious organisation based around Christianity. Debbie gives a detailed account of her life as a Temple member in California. Jones claimed that he had been Jesus and Lenin in previous lives. He claimed that he had divine powers and that he could heal the sick. Temple members worked long hours for Jones and most held down full time jobs as well. Members were required to give up all their possessions and savings, including their homes and their salaries went directly to the Temple. Debbies main role during her seven years was of Financial Secretary, a trusted position, and her dedication to the cause ensured her gradual rise into the inner circle.
In 1974, Jones leased over 3,800 acres of jungle land from the Guyanese government and in the following years he began shipping people out in increasing numbers. The site was immersed within the jungle, miles from anywhere. Jonestown was meant to have been a paradise land but when Debbie and her mother arrived in 1977 things were very different. It was immediately apparent that Jonestown was not the Paradise that had been described to them. The majority of their possessions were confiscated and the camp was patrolled by armed guards. Members were expected to work long 12 hour days in the fields and to sit up half the night in meetings. Jones used manipulative mind-control tactics, staged suicide drills and enforced punishments such as wrapping a boa constrictor around the neck of an old man, hanging children upside-down in a well or enforcing days within a tiny box sized cell.
Increasingly unhappy and aware of the danger that Temple members faced Debbie began to plot her escape. She succeeded and with the help of the US embassy left Guyana in June 1978. The scenes in which she describes her escape and the Temples attempts to coax her back are wrenching and must have been hard to write. Following her escape Debbie wrote a 37-point affidavit and encouraged the Government to investigate Jonestown on the basis that their lives were in danger.
Debbie was very lucky, within months of her defection on November 18th 1978, more than 900 people drank Jones's cyanide punch and committed the revolutionary suicide required of them. These events were sparked by Congressman Leo Ryan visit to Jonestown with reporters following Debbies horrifying affidavit. They left with a number of defectors who couldnt believe that Jones would let them go so easily. They were right. Before boarding the plane at the nearby airstrip, a tractor approached the runway and shots were fired from within. Ryan was killed alongside four others. These events sparked panic at Jonestown and resulted in Joness order that all commit suicide .
Jones himself did not drink the poison but instead died of a single gun wound. It remains unclear whether he shot himself or was shot by his nurse, the only other person to die from a gun wound. Only a handful of people present at Jonestown on that fateful day survived. Temple members who were temporarily off site were also ordered to commit suicides but with one exception this advise was ignored. High ranking member, Sharon then in Guyanas capital, obeyed and slit the throats of her three children followed by her own ..
Debbies mother died of cancer in Jonestown shortly before the mass suicides. Her brother, Larry, one of the few to survive Jonestown was jailed for the conspiracy to kill Congressman Leo Ryan. He was the only person held responsible for any of the events at Jonestown. Larry was finally paroled in 2002.
Jim Jones is not portrayed as a madman, although the psychological power he exerts over his people is clear. He's clearly a sadistic bully, who knows how to manipulate individuals and to make the most of their personal weaknesses. Debbie's account of the charming and chariasmatic Jim Jones of California and how he gradually spiralled out of control becoming increasingly paranoid were some of the most interesting parts of seductive Poison for me. Debbie herself doesnt come across particularly well and seemed un self-aware and selfish. She appeared to pass much of the blame on to others, even though she was a high ranking member herself and she doesnt seem to have accepted the events of her past or to have moved on. I also felt that Debbie probably portrayed herself, either consciously or subconsciously, in a more positive light than things were at the time. Despite this, her account provides a valuable insight into the inner workings of the Peoples Temple which is important in helping the world at large to understand cults and hopefully help prevent anything like this happening again.
I definitely recommend this book and award it four stars. Seductive Poison isnt a particularly well written book and but the subject matter is fascinating and ultimately this is an incredibly valuable account of life within the People's Temple and within cults in general. The events that occured at Jonestown were chilling and unbelievable and the information held within this book will stay with me for many years
Ive read a lot about Jonestown online since reading Seductive Poison, the web is awash with information and unsurprisingly there are also other published accounts of life within the Peoples Temple from defectors. If you are interested some of the best sites for further information are attached below:
Produced by Kraft Foods Switzerland, the Toblerone is a taste sensation created using an original recipe comprising the finest cocoa beans, milk, sugar, honey and almonds. This delicious combination, which first hit the shelves back in 1908, is now easily one of the worlds most popular and well known chocolate bars.
The history of Toblerone begins with Jean Tobler who first opened a confectionary store in Bern, Switzerland in 1867. His store was a huge success and so Jean opened a factory with his sons called Fabrique de Chocolat Berne, Tobler & Cie. Toblerone was first created in this factory in 1908 by Theodor Tobler, Jeans son, and Emil Baumann, the production manager. The product's name was devised by combing the Tobler name with the Italian word torrone (a variety of nougat).
Tobler + Terrone = Toblerone!
Theodor Tobler applied for a patent for the Toblerone manufacturing process in Bern in 1906. The Toblerone brand and shape was also trademarked in 1909, at the Federal Institute for Intellectual Property in Bern. This means that no-one else can produce triangular chocolates and on their website Toblerone state that they actively pursue imitators.
Today Toblerones are manufactured exclusively at the Bern production center in Switzerland. From here 90% of the bars produced are exported to 110 other countries across the Globe.
Appearance and Taste
The original packaging is distinctive which has contributed considerably to the Toblerones worldwide success. The triangular, long thin box tightly encases the chocolate which is also enveloped in a thin layer of gold foil to keep it fresh. The box is a yellowy-gold colour with bold capital red letters spelling out Toblerone with the iconic Matterhorn mountain printed alongside.
The bar slides easily out of the packaging and once the foil is pealed away the individual triangular chunks are revealed. These chunks are meant to represent the Matterhorn in the Swiss alps and a single chunk may be referred to as an Alp in some parts of the world. Each chunk has a letter imprinted along the side and can easily be broken off to eat one by one without expanding too much effort.
The milk chocolate Toblerones dominant smell is of coco, but with a distinct nutty tang in the background. Given the rich, high fat ingredients the Toblerone is a fairly sickly chocolate in large quantities. But its taste is completely original. Its creamy and the combination of almonds and honey works exceptionally well.
However, as I like to suck the pieces, as I would with any chocolate, I come across the only downside of Toblerone. The little pieces of nutty nougat are somewhat rough on the roof of the month which can be uncomfortable and the sensation is liable to remain for some time.
Toblerone have come up with some excellent advertising campaigns over the years which have tended to focus exclusively around the shape of the chunks. My personal favourite is series of adverts featuring people with a triangular chuck jutting out of one of their cheeks. Other adverts have included disguising the chocolate chunks as sections of a bridge or as the pryamids.
The original milk chocolate Toblerone was first expanded in 1969 to include the dark chocolate Toblerone (packaged in black), which was then joined by the white chocolate Toblerone (packaged in white) in 1973. I have tried both of these variations and due to my personal preferences in my eyes the original milk chocolate is superior. I am not a fan of dark chocolate and felt that the white bar was somewhat too sweet.
In 1996 the company also expanded the range to include filled Toblerone bars (packaged in blue). These bars are composed of a chocolate shell filled with a milk, honey and nougat center, only available in 75g bars and somewhat harder to come across. I have never tried the filled Toblerone and have to admit that they dont particularly appeal to be personally. Extending this idea, boxes of Toblerone pralines, based on the filled Toblerone were also introduced in 1997.
A One by One range of individually wrapped Toblerone chunks is also available in tins or boxes and most commonly found in Duty Free stores. The One By One range is composed of all the varieties described above and consequently is a great way to try the different types of Toblerone.
According to Snackspot.org.uk a Toblerone fruit and nut (almonds naturally) bar has also recently been released but I have not yet seen these for sale.
The most popular 100g milk chocolate Toblerone bar costs around a pound and is widely available in supermarkets, department stores, newsagents and confectioners. The whopping 4.5kg bar is also available from Woolworths.co.uk priced at £39.99.
According to Kraft, Toblerone boasts a 98% brand awareness with 25% of people stating that they regularly enjoy the product.
In 2002 the hidden icon of a bear in the Matterhorn mountain was introduced on the Toblerone, symbolizing Bern, the town of its origin.
The number of Toblerone's produced daily would stretch over a distance of 283 km when laid end to end.
Duty free stores are the largest purchasers of Toblerone and excluding tobacco and alcohol is the most sold duty free product.
The number of peaks per Toblerone increases according to the size. For example, the minis have just three peaks, the 35g bars nine peaks and the 100g 12 peaks.
Ingredients and Dietary Composition
At a time when nut allergies are dramatically increasing in prevalence it is necessary to point out the obvious this product contains nuts.
The ingredients found in a traditional milk chocolate Toblerone are as follows: Sugar, Cocoa butter (28%min), Whole milk powder (14%min), Cocoa mass, Lactose, Honey (3%), Milk fat, Almonds (1.6%), Emulsifier, Glucose syrup, Egg white, Vanilla Flavouring.
100g of the original milk chocolate Toblerone contains 530 kcal, 5.3g protein, 59.5g carbohydrate and 30g fat.
The symbol K may appear on the packaging for Toblerones shipped to some countries. This stands for kosher and means that the product adheres to Jewish dietary laws regarding ingredients and manufacture.
Toblerone can be used in many recipes and makes an interesting alternative to ordinary chocolate. Potential uses include chocolate mousse, ice-cream, chocolate cakes and biscuits and really any other chocolate based pudding or sweet treat. A quick and simple recipe for Toblerone cookies is included below.
75g butter or margarine
75g granulated sugar
75g light muscavado sugar
175g self-raising flour
100g milk chocolate Toblerone
Pre-heat oven for ten minutes at around 180ºC. Then combine the butter and sugars until the consistency is light and fluffy. Then thoroughly beat in the egg. Finally fold in the flour and crumbled Toblerone pieces. Place large teaspoons of the mixture on to a lightly greased baking tray, allowing room for them to spread during cooking. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes until golden and then enjoy hot or cooled.
Toblerones huge international success is the result of originality in shape and taste and the foresight to patent and thus protect both of these ideas. Most people like Toblerone which make the chocolate great for gifts and sales are known to increase at Christmas, Easter, Mother and Fathers Day and Valentines day etc. I personally highly recommend this product as an occasional sweet treat. I believe that Toblerone is a high quality brand, thats relatively well priced in comparison to market competitors and which is sure to be around for many years to come. However, as they can be somewhat sickly and have a tendency to irritate the roof my my mouth, I give the product four stars.
Further Information and Contact Details
Kraft Foods Schweiz AG
This review is aimed specifically for individuals who, like myself, suffer from the development of minor keloid or hypertrophic scar tissue and who may be thinking about trying Bio Oil in an attempt to reduce the appearance of such scars.
Keloid and hypertrophic scarring affects around 10% of people and can form following any surgical procedure or even after injections, spots and piercings in extreme cases. Bright red areas of scarring form which may become raised and extend away from the initially affected area. They are ugly but are notoriously difficult to treat effectively .
Ive known about my propensity towards such scarring since I was around 14. Following my BCG injection at the top of my arm the area became intensely inflamed and painful. I couldnt sleep on that side of my body for months. Once healed the scar remained bright red and was significantly raised. I was somewhat paranoid about it and so when I was 17 I undertook a course of steroid injections over many months and thankfully now the scar is flat and skin coloured.
Unfortunately though, I recently developed another flat bright red keloid scar around the size of a penny following the removal of a dodgy mole on my elbow back in April. I knew the development of keloid scarring was a risk but honestly really think it would happen The scar healed quickly and healthily but then quickly went red following the removal of my three stitches. It doesnt hurt but is sensitive and unattractive.
A number of friends recommended Bio Oil and I also read literally dozens of online reviews which extol the virtues of this product, many of which clearly view it as some kind of miracle substance. Indeed the product claims to improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks, uneven skin, aging skin and dehydrated skin through the active ingredient PurCellin.
I decided to see if Bio Oul would work for me and went to Boots to purchase a small 60ml bottle of the pinky, orange coloured oil which cost me £9. I used the oil as required three times daily (twice daily at a minimum) and have continued this for around the last 2 months.
Bio Oil non oily and is absorbed into the skin very quickly so it doesnt ruin clothes or get everywhere. It can also be used in the bath to improve overall skin tone and appearance. Either way only a few drops is required and therefore itll last absolutely ages. Ive personally used hardly used any of my 60ml bottle these last two months.
Sadly though Im sorry to say that Bio Oil has done nothing to improve the appearance of the keloid scarring on my elbow and I cannot recommend this products to other in my situation.
I genuinely believe that this product is useful for normal scarring as established by the dozens of other online opinions, but as I bought Bio Oil specifically for use on my keloid scarring and am reviewing it for others in my situation I am giving the product a sorry one star rating.
I myself have been referred to a skin and scarring specialist at one of the Newcastle hospitals and Im hoping to be able to undergo another course of steroid injections to improve the appearance of this scarring. I recommend that other unfortunate people suffering from keloid or hypertrophic scarring seek professional medical advise.
Panner is the only cheese indigenous to Indian and it is increasingly found on menus in Indian restaurants either as a starter or a vegetarian main dish. Paneer, which is the Persian word for cheese, may also be called Indian cottage cheese or Chhana in South Asia. The cheese is most commonly cooked with spinach in a dish known as either saag paneer or palak paneer (saag paneer may be made using mustard leaves) but may also be found cooked with other vegetables such as mushrooms, tomatoes or peas or wrapped in dough and fried. Surprisingly, many Indian sweets/desserts are also made with paneer.
Paneer is very similar to tofu in taste, texture and colour. It is a fairly bland cheese made from cows milk and is an excellent source of protein, particularly for vegetarian Buddhists. Paneer is meant to be cooked with spices and other strong foods in order to absorb their flavours, it certainly wouldnt be a good cheese to nibble on alone. Paneer is fantastic for cooking as it does not melt and maintains its firm texture and shape. The cheese is most commonly fried in cubes, but it can also be baked or grilled and will gradually turn a golden brown colour.
Paneer cheese isnt widely available in the supermarkets and if you want to try it your best bet is to visit Indian supermarkets where the cheese is most commonly sold at little cost. Alternatively the cheese is also very easy to make. To prepare paneer, lemon juice or vinegar is added to hot milk to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are then drained in a muslin or cheesecloth and excess water is pressed out. The cheese is then dipped in chilled water for 2-3 hours to improve texture and appearance but should not be aged.
As Saag paneer is my favorite way to eat paneer I have provided a recipe below.
Serves 2 as a main meal with rice.
400g fresh spinach
Dash of olive oil.
Butter for frying.
450g Paneer cheese
1 large white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated
1/2 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon cumin
50g plain yogurt or cream
Salt to taste
Trim any excess stems from the spinach and wilt in a large pan with just a little oil.
In a separate pan heat the butter and then fry the cubed paneer for two minutes until golden brown on all sides. Remove the cheese and set aside.
In the same pan fry the onion, garlic, and fresh ginger root; cook for 5 minutes. Add the chilli and cumin powder and stir in thoroughly.
Next fold in the cooked spinach and then switch of the heat before adding the yogurt or cream..
Finally gently fold in the fried paneer cubes, season to taste, and serve with steamed basmati rice and/or naan.
If you want to try paneer I definitely recommend visiting an Indian restaurant and ordering the saag paneer there first. Not everybody likes the dish but I find it an interesting and delicious change to the usual selection of curries on offer and I recommend you try it!
Big Mussel, an independent restaurant in Newcastle, is my all time favourite place to eat in the Toon and I have visited countless times. The restaurant promotes a laid back, casual atmosphere but serve outstanding food, particularly seafood of which I am a massive fan.
As the name suggests the house speciality is the mussels, which are locally sourced, and believe you me they are fabulous. I love mussels and these are definitely some of the best Ive ever had. The mussels are consistently juicy, plump and flavoursome and come served with one of a selection of outstanding sauces, in addition to chunky home cooked chips with mayo and a crusty white roll. The sauces change occasionally although the classic (garlic, cream and white wine) thankfully remains a staple. Some of the other sauces currently on offer are: Spanish (garlic, saffron, chorizo and cream), Belgium (beer, bacon and cabbage), Thai (green curry, spring onion and coconut milk). I have tried many different sauces and all have been great although the classic is definitely my firm favourite. A kilo of mussels costs £13.95 and there is also a half kilo option for £6.95.
There is also the Big Mussel platter, a selection of huge green lipped mussels served piping hot straight from the oven on an open platter and topped with sauces such as the Florence (bacon, mushrooms and mozzarella) or the Provencale (Tomato, basil, prawns, garlic and Mozarella). The platters are priced at £12.95 and are also served with chunky chips, mayo and a white roll. Ive had the platter once and really enjoyed it but on the whole I prefer the kilo of mussels as you seem to get a lot more and the platter has a tendency to go cold quickly.
Mussels of course are not the only thing on the menu. Starters at The Big Mussel include crab cakes (£6.50), sautéed squid (£6.25), prawn cocktail (£5.95) and a selection of dishes for the non-fish lover such as Mediterranean Salad (£6.25) and potato skins (£3.95).
Mains include traditional basics such as scampi or fish and chips (both £8.95). There are also fillets of fish such as the seabass, served with parmesan risotto with a warm red pepper & olive dressing (£12.95) and the salmon, served with spring vegetables with a beetroot pesto (11.25). Additionally there are a good selection of pastas (priced at around £8), meat dishes, including exceptional but expensive steaks (priced up to£15.95) and several interesting sounding vegetarian options (priced at around £8).
Accompaniments include seasonal vegetables (£1.95), onion rings (£1.95), olives (£1.95) and mixed salad (£1.95), amongst many others.
Additionally, there are always specials advertised on blackboards in the restaurant, which change regularly.
Deserts are all priced at £4.95 and include options such as chocolate torte and crème brulee. Theres also an excellent cheese board composed of locally sourced Northumberland cheese priced at £4.95 for one or £7.50 for two.
There is also a Sunday lunch menu, with options that change regularly and which is, as you might expect, primarily fish based. The Sunday lunch menu is available between 12-3pm. One course is priced at £6.95, two courses at £9.95 and three at £12.95.
The food has always been of exceptional quality, with good portion sizes and we have never had to wait too long.
The Big Mussel speciality on the drinks front are the many varieties of Belgium beer all priced at £3.95 and definitely worth a try, especially as an accompaniment to the kilo of mussels. Big Mussel also serve your usual selection of wines by the glass or bottle, spirits, soft drinks and teas and coffees.
As you have probably noted from above the Big Mussel isnt cheap but the fabulous thing is that they have many offers available.
The best Big Mussel offer is the clock-saver deal which is available Monday-Friday between 5.30 and 7pm. At these times Big Mussel offer a limited menu at heavily reduced prices. The menu includes pastas (£6.50), fish and chips/scampi and fish cake salad (£6.95), the kilo of mussels (£9.95) and mussel platters (£8.95). This is still a good discount although sadly the offer is no where near as good as it was two years ago when this was a proper clock-saver deal. Hence you could order at 5.45pm and get a kilo of mussels for £5.45 which was a serious bargain.
Big Mussel also offer the 6 squid lunch which also features a limited menu with similar options to the above (although the mussels are ½ kilo in this case) and also includes a selection of hot paninis.
Loyalty cards are provided with the bill and can be stamped after each visit. Once you have four stamps Big Mussel will allow you one free 6 squid lunch on them!
There is also a £13 two course menu at Leazes Park on Newcastle United home match day.
Finally, theres also 15% off for students who present their NUS card.
Other Bits and Bobs
The service in The Big Mussel has always been exceptional. The waiters and waitresses are attentive without being pushy which suits the relaxed and casual air in these restaurants.
The Big Mussel restaurants have been non-smoking for over a year which I think is exceptional. In fact, The Big Mussel was the first restaurant in the North East to receive the Gold National Clean air Award.
The atmosphere is laid back and casual and Id feel just as comfortable in my jeans as in something a little dressier. The décor isnt anything special and the restaurant is simply furnished with a lower level and an upper level and balcony. In all honesty perhaps the place could do with a refurbishment but this isnt something that bothers me and I like the homely style.
The toilets are tiny and the ladies are a little too near the kitchens, but they are clean and theres usually fresh flowers, plenty of good quality hand wash and functional hand-dryers.
The clientele are varied although I dont feel that the restaurant is particularly family friendly. There is no kids menu and I cant recall ever seeing children in the restaurants at any point, although I am sure they are welcome.
The Big Mussel sells a range of merchandise in their restaurants and online. The best of this merchandise is the mussel pots branded with the Big Mussel logo. Priced at £16.50 these make lovely gifts for fans of mussels. Other Big Mussel merchandise includes: T-Shirts (£7.99), gents boxer shorts (£6.75), caps (£6.50), chefs Hats (£6.50), ladies briefs (£6.75), mugs (£2.99), pens (£0.99) and key rings (£0.99).
Location, Contact Details and Opening Hours.
There are currently two Big Mussel restaurants in Newcastle.
The largest and most popular of the two is located on the Newcastles fabulous Quayside just around the corner from some of the best bars and nightlife available. The nearest metro station is Monument, from which head straight down Grays Street to the river and you will pass the restaurant on your right.
15 The Side
Newcastle Upon Tyne
0191 232 1057
The other newer restaurant is found just near St James Park and is nearer to the City Center. The nearest metro station is St James but the restaurant is also only a few minutes walk from both Monument and Haymarket.
36 Leazes Park Road
Newcastle Upon Tyne
0191 261 8927
Both of the Big Mussel restaurants open for lunch between 12noon and 2pm Monday-Friday and re-open for dinner from 5.30 until 10.15. Both are open all day from 12noon until 10.15 on Saturdays. The Quayside restaurant is open from 12noon -3pm on Sundays while the Leazes park restaurant is shut unless there is a match at St James.
The Big Mussel is widely regarded as one of the best seafood restaurants in Newcastle and given that they sell a wide range of non-fish dishes this is a super place for everyone. The mussels are seriously some of the best Ive ever had and I highly recommend them in particular. All in all the Big Mussel serves fabulous food in a casual setting and although it is pricey there are many offers and discounts to be taken advantage of. Five stars for the Big Mussel then it is my most regularly visited and favourite restaurant in Newcastle.
Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things was published in 1996. It quickly became a best seller and won the Booker prize in 1997. I first read the book in 2000 after it was recommended by a friend who was studying it as part of her English Literature Degree. The same friend went on to conduct her Literature MA into this book. I read the book again recently and it was just as wonderful as I first recall.
The God of Small Things is written from the perspective of 'two egg' boy and girl twins, Esthappen Yako (known as Estha) and Rahel, who recount the story of their childhood in India.
The book opens with Rahel's return to their childhood home of Ayemenem in Kerela, for the first time in 23 years, after her emigration to America. She goes to meet her brother, Estha, who no longer speaks as a result of a traumatic event which occurred during their childhood and led to their separation and her eventual emigration.
The book tells the events that led to that fateful day in 1969.
The twins grow up with their mother, Ammu and Baby Kochamma, their grandfather's sister. They are raised in their grandparent's house, following their mother's divorce from their father, with whom they have no contact. They are generally a well off family and the family business is the production of jam in a local factory. The God of Small Things tells of their daily life and the trials and tribulations faced in a discriminating society, highly governed by traditional customs and boundaries.
Ultimately The God of Small Things is a book which deals with the cultural dilemmas of post-colonial India. The novel is rich with Indian family and social customs and politics, particularly the disruption of the Indian caste system and the prejudices faced by those defined as the 'untouchables' and the shame brought upon Ammu's family when her husband abruptly left them.
Arundhati Roy writes using a wonderfully poetic and descriptive language and the book is a joy to read. I savored every page and it is a book I will never part with. The God of Small Things is full of suspense, mystery and drama using a narrative which weaves between the past to the present, always hinting at the disaster which marks the books climax. Bizarrely there are a plethora of ordinary words starting with capital letters and a number of Indian terms (for example the use of 'mol' for girl and 'mon' for boy) used throughout. This style takes a little while to get used to but overall it just adds to the magic and the intrigue invoked in this book.
The God of Small Things has created a name for itself as a classic novel and it is sure to be loved and re-read for decades to come. I imagine you would appreciate this book if you have enjoyed the works of authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez. I can also liken the book to those such as Memoirs of a Geisha and The Poisonwood Bible.
Arundhati Roy was born in 1961 in Shillong. She left home at 16 and initially lived in a squatters' camp selling empty beer bottles. She then studied architecture in Delhi. Roy became interested in the arts under the influence of her second second husband, filmmaker Pradeep Kishen. Roy began writing The God of Small Things in 1992 and finished it in 1996. The book has been sold in 21 countries and is semi-autobiographical, partly based on her childhood in Kerala, the only place in the world where Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam collide. Roy has since involved herself in non-fiction and politics, publishing collections of essays and working for social causes, sadly she has not written any other novels to match The God of Small Things.
In summary this is a wondeful, magical book, one of only a handful that I have read twice and one that I will never part with. I throughougly recommend this book and in my mind it receives an easy five out of five. I hope you enjoy it too.
The God of small things is 336 pages long in paperback and is broken into 21 chapters. It is published by Harper Perennial and the ISBN is 0060977493. The retail price is £6.99 but like all books this can easily be purchased online for much cheaper.