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Ever solved a problem you didn't know you had? On a recent trip to the Lego shop we spotted a small funny looking piece of plastic. We couldn't work out quite what it was but the bag told us it was a Lego separator. A Lego what I hear you ask? Precisely...
But, once we knew the separator existed we knew we could probably make use of one. The separator itself is a funny looking thing (ours is orange unlike the picture on here, and has a bit standing up over the circle in the picture). It kind of resembles a tiny door wedge with the Lego symbol at the bottom, a series of raised lines and then the top sloping bit has a bit of the cross shaped axle type shape sticking out of it, and two Lego dots above that. We paid around £2 for the separator, and it was packaged in a typical Lego cellophane bag.
The packaging itself just provides very basic information - more or less the part number (603) and that it is a Lego separator. Apart from that you're on your own! The Lego website is (only just) slightly more helpful as it states "This tool makes it a snap to pull those small plates apart."
As most experienced Lego builders know, most of the pieces come apart relatively easily, but there are always the stubborn ones (which are pretty much always the thin pieces). Prior to buying a separator, I used to have to risk life and limb (well, finger nail really) to prize them apart and occasionally one would just not budge. But this does make it a lot easier and more painless - you basically have to push the thin end of the wedge underneath the corner of the troublesome pieces and keep pushing until the parts separate. This only really works on the thin pieces or the board pieces, it's no use for chunky pieces. I'm presuming it can do more otherwise why bother with all the little markings and other nobbly bits, but sadly I've not managed to figure that out yet - presumable the axle shaped piece can be put to work on stubborn wheels, but I haven't had the right bits to try it out yet.
Overall this is one those purchases that if I had paid more money I would have been very disappointed, but as long as you remember it only costs £2 it's not a bad addition to our Lego kit and it does solve a few problems that would have been painful to tackle otherwise.
So, after building, demolishing, then rebuilding this kit - and finally seeing the real thing in action in the awesome Lego movie - I thought it was time to write a review. This is a set made by the Danish company Lego that uses the interlocking brick system - small plastic blocks with bobbly bits on the top. Last month they released the Lego movie, and of course, their range of accompanying sets. We bought ours from the local Lego store, but they are available in shops such as Argos and online at the usual suspects. We looked at the shelf, were quite impressed at the reasonable £25 price tag for a 2 in 1 set, and couldn't resist the cool colours and the idea of having an ice cream van that could drive down our Lego street that I dream of owning. The Lego movie itself did nothing to put me off this goal - so I will probably spend the next thirty years splitting my income between the bricks and mortar I live in, and the plastic bricks I can build with. Shame I can't just build a Lego house and kill two birds with one stone!
Anyway, back to the kit. It comes in the standard brightly printed cardboard box with a variety of different pictures of the two ice cream machines made to resemble the film (or maybe they are film stills, it would be hard to tell). It comes in 6 (I think) cellophane bags all just in the box loose, and three instruction booklets. One is for the ice cream van, another for the flying, gun toting version of an ice cream van, and one is for the micro manager. Micro managers are small black flying drone/robot things that shoot what look like lasers and are all round bad guys. Altogether there are 344 pieces in the kit, but each of the items uses a different number, with the micro manager being a small extra.
The instructions are clear and concise. The two ice cream machines have 58 and 68 pages of instructions respectively. It is age rated 8-14, but I can confirm that it still works if you're 32! Unlike the 16+ set I completed recently, each step is incredibly straight forward and broken down. This is good as you can get a thorough job done, but for the more mature Lego aficionado it can be frustrating in a few of the stages as you seem to spend ages rummaging through the bags for the pieces for each stage only to be back rummaging a few seconds later as the step was so quick. But, it's not aimed at adults so I can forgive them making it easier for younger people to do by themselves. One thing parents may want to be aware of is the micro manager. It is quite cleverly designed so you can try and recreate the movie scene by firing three missiles out of its stomach. They can be quite tricky to launch and can get stuck. But, they don't fire too far and if your child is old enough to be playing with the small bits of Lego in the first place, these small missiles are no different. The set also comes with stickers for your ice cream van. Ours are still in the box, neither of us can bring ourselves to take the plunge - but to be honest I quite like the au naturel look. And, if I end up spending our mortgage money on Lego it may fetch us more on ebay! The set comes with three mini figures - none of the main characters from the film, but two really cool ice cream machine workers in bright blue uniforms with pink aprons, and a jogger complete with Mp3 player dressed in black and bright pink.
As this was a small set demolishing it was fairly easy. I've recently invested in a separator, and as it is a smaller set there were no specific bags things needed to go in. Each version probably took us, at a leisurely pace, 3 or 4 evenings where we'd sit for an hour or so in front of the telly, but I'm sure it can be done a lot quicker if you get the pieces organised. In fact, I'm hoping to buy a different two in one set so we can race.
Overall I would recommend this set. For Lego it is reasonably priced, good fun, and looks good. It doesn't take up too much space, and provides extra entertainment and longevity by its 2 in 1 nature.
As a child I was always a big fan of Lego. Whether it was building a set with instructions or just creating whatever the imagination thought of, I spent many happy hours building. For the uninitiated (although I find it hard to believe there are many people who have not seen a Lego brick), Lego is a brand of construction toys that typical feature small plastic bricks with bobbles on the top for secure building.
At uni, I had a very brief dabble with some Harry Potter Lego I had won in a competition, but didn't think much about it for the next decade. Then, last autumn, they opened a new shopping centre in Leeds including shiny Lego store. To start with we were able to treat it like a museum, somewhere to go and look but not touch. Then, one day our friend bought something. It soon became clear this was an actual shop were money could change hands and bricks could be bought, so after admiring the expert range of shops and buildings for several months we took the plunge with the Lego Pet Shop.
Having not bought any Lego for some time, I was really impressed to see how much it seems to have evolved. The expert range in particular focuses on architectural detail and the little things, and there are a series of wonderfully intricate sets that clip together to make a full street. These include a town hall, fire station, cinema and the pet shop. I think these sets are going to disappear in the not too distant future (the fire station already has), but recently they have released a new French bistro in the same range, so hopefully they will continue with more.
The age rating for this particular set is 16+, which in itself shows you the set has been made for a more mature audience. It is 2032 pieces, and builds into two fully separate buildings (the pet shop and a house) which clip together once you have finished building. It comes on a large cardboard box, and I must say I was a little disappointed at how the contents were packaged. On opening it was literally a big empty box with a few cellophane bags of Lego dropped in. The instructions were protected in a cellophane wrapper and had a piece of cardboard to keep them flat.
The bags are all numbered 1-4, with around 5 bags per number. Each of these numbers corresponds to a section of one of the buildings - either top or bottom, house or pet shop. There are two instruction books, one for each building and the beginning of each section tells you which number bags to use. There is little in the way of organisation where the bags are concerned, so for the first few steps it is very difficult not to spill the Lego everywhere whilst rummaging for a particular piece. Each set has bags ranging from large to small, and a couple of tiny bags inside other bags. You'd think by now someone would have thought resealable bags were a good idea for this, but alas - once you have opened them it it's only a matter of time until it rips down the front. This could be problematic as not only do you risk losing pieces, you need to make sure that if you re-pack the Lego the replacement bags are also numbered, otherwise you could have a bit of a jumble on your hands.
Building the set was a lot of fun. We spent an hour or two each evening doing this over the course of a full week (a bit longer over the weekend) and ended up with two fantastic buildings that look just like the pictures on the box. The instructions are in a very simple format moving step by step with full illustrations and extra instructions for more complicated parts. Each step shows you all the pieces you will need for that step, and then how to assemble them. The only slight problem with this was colour - the dark grey, light grey and black blocks could sometimes be hard to distinguish, so there were a few frustrating moments were things were unbuilt and rebuilt in the right colour. The brown was also very difficult to read on the page making it hard to work out the order of rows of bricks in some steps. This aside, everything was reasonably straight forward. There were a few bits that required patience and a delicate hand, but achievable in the end.
What made this set so special for me was the attention to detail. For example, we built the house first. The first few stages were actually creating what seemed like basement foundations, but once the building is complete the only evidence of this are the doors over the coal chute at ground level. There is also a small toilet on the ground floor, with a full Lego toilet inside which is really impressive. Again, though, no one would ever know as there are no windows into the room, a door in front of it, and it's round the corner from where you can peer into the house. There are winding staircases and stained glass windows. The pet shop itself is also equally impressive. The bottom floors are pet shop, with cats, a dog, parrots and a see through fish tank all putting in an appearance. The top of the house is a flat, including bedroom with bed. The set also includes four mini figures and a bike. I also really like that hat stand by one of the front doors, complete with hat.
I wouldn't recommend this set for children as there are so many pieces, and they may not find the subject matter stimulating enough, but for older teens and adults who just enjoy the thrill of building something out of Lego, it is a fantastic purchase. It also requires a certain amount of organisation to prevent you from losing any of the bits. As with most Lego it isn't cheap - £119.99 currently through Lego, but you will spend hours building it for that. You can also join the Lego VIP club, which we did. Just by signing up in the store we'd earnt £5 to spend on a future purchases as for every £100 you spend through the VIP club you earn £5. We also were given a small set from the Lego Movie which was a nice bonus - although I can't guarantee this will still be on offer now.
As this is my 30th review I thought I'd do something a bit more personal. At school, I always enjoyed learning languages. I began learning very simple German at home aged around 7 when my dad spent some time working in Germany. I was always fascinated by the language and what it meant to be able to communicate. But, as I grew older and wasn't really exposed to it I didn't get too far.
Once I started secondary school I had to learn French. Some people had studied it at primary school, but for me it was a whole new adventure. It seemed to come relatively easy and by the end of the first term I'd over taken most of those with previous experience. A year later I started German too, and again it came quite easily. Perhaps my very early exposure had given me a boost. I studied both up to GCSE level and almost did an extra A-S Level in German, but I was sadly not superwoman and couldn't have been in two places at once.
Once I stopped formally learning I had little use for my languages, and rarely visited countries where they were spoken. About 14 years later and I'd begun to develop a real love of all things Flemish. It began when visiting the Amsterdam area for a few days with my parents around the time I was first learning German. As an adult I visited Amsterdam several times then began to venture out into other cities such as The Hague and Haarlem.
In Amsterdam it is perfectly possible to speak nothing but English and have no one bat an eyelid. For my 30th birthday we spent a few days in Bruges. I always love to poke around museums and take in the local sites. One of the main museums in Bruges helpfully provided us with an English guide - one or two laminated sheets of A4 for the admittedly small museum. There was obviously more information there in Dutch, and it really made me think seriously about finding a class. This, coupled with a desire to someday spend a few months working in a Dutch museum, spurred me on so I started looking. I searched the local colleges and managed to find one course that ran at Leeds Metropolitan University. Sadly this was on a Tuesday evening, and at the time I worked until 8pm. The only other one I found in Yorkshire was one that may or may not run in York.
After another year I left my job to move elsewhere, and suddenly had Tuesday nights free two weeks before the new academic year began. I enrolled on a beginner's course in Dutch Language and Culture, which after two years would give me a University Certificate. The course is roughly 30 weeks a year for two hours a week. They offer a wide variety of other languages such as Spanish, Chinese and French and run courses on most nights of the week, usually somewhere between 6 and 9. For the beginner's level you don't need any previous language experience, and courses were £250 for the academic year in September 2013.
I am currently two thirds of the way through my second year, and am really enjoying it. However, it is so much harder than I imagined it would be. I think this is for a variety of reasons, both to do with the language itself and my older brain. I've heard many people talk about how children are much better at learning new languages, but was never convinced it could be that much harder as an adult. However, now I think it is partly down to the inhibitions that adulthood brings. I don't have the confidence in my abilities to always put myself out there, and I'm more fearful of failing and getting things wrong than I was a teenager with little experience of the wider lessons of life. When you're attempting to converse with someone but can't bring yourself to say anything because you can't decide on the right way to say it there's no wonder things are tough.
The Dutch language itself is almost mystical. For every rule, there is usually a set of common exceptions to the rule, and if you're really lucky, exceptions that don't fit into any of the other categories that you just have to learn individually. This seems to apply to just about everything, particularly in grammar, sentence structure, and verb conjugation. When you add that to the fact some of it is sort of like German, but not quite enough to help your Dutch - more make you sound like a German trying to speak Dutch; it has influences of French which throws you off with pronunciation when they just import words; and some words sound distinctly English but that doesn't necessarily mean they are spelt the same if you are writing them, or even mean the same in the odd case (for example 'of' (pronounced 'off') in Dutch means 'or' in English...).
Perhaps the most difficult part has been the pronunciation. G sounds more like gggggggghhhhhhh (or the sound you make when trying to produce phlegm), and such sounds make their own problems. That said, I've always been better with the written than spoken word and enjoy the challenge of unpicking paragraphs - although I'm not so good at short sentences, I'm better at getting the gist rather than a literal translation. I've found a great radio app online - www.nederland.fm - which links to several Dutch radio stations streams, so I've spent a good few hours week listening to Dutch music and File reports (traffic - they seem to have an obsession with the length of queues).
Having spent 18 months learning, I've found having lessons has been really helpful. It gives you the opportunity to practice conversational skills with someone who can help and correct you, whilst you can support each other in the class as everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It also gives a focus with weekly homework and tasks. That said, the classes are not enough alone. Visiting the country helps as you get a chance to actually think on your feet in a setting where you can just get stuck in. Online websites can provide useful hints and tips, google translate can be helpful but not relied on. Listening to the radio has been helpful, as has listening to Dutch bands such as Doe Maar and watching films.
If you're looking for something to do, maybe a way to meet new people, and developing a new skill I would definitely recommend taking up a new language. It opens up a new culture and allows you to witness things in places that tourists usually miss out on. Although, if you don't like to visit The Netherlands or Belgium I would probably suggest a slightly easier language!
We've had our Hetty for around 6 months now, so I thought I'd used her enough to do a review. She was a house warming present for our first house this summer. Previously we'd always stuck by a £30 special from shops like poundstretcher or argos - but we lived in a 2 bed second floor flat so it didn't really need to be special. Our house has stairs and different floor surfaces so we wanted something robust. After looking at reviews and comparing our friends' experiences we decided it was going to be a Hetty. I work in a building where we can get thousands of visitors in a week, and they always use vacuums from the Henry family. And who doesn't want a face on their household appliances? Henry would have been fine, but the pink is so much nicer!
Tracking down a Hetty was no problem, she can be find in shops ranging from Asda to Homebase to Currys to specialist vacuum cleaner stores. You can also find her online (prices currently range from £85-120). She comes in a large cardboard box along with various bits of tube and vacuum head and attachments.
Setting up was very simple - from what I remember it was just a case of attaching the hose to Hetty's nose and attaching a plastic tube and head. The bag was attached already, but after changing it once in 6 months after pretty heavy use I can say it is very easy and attaches simply. Just be aware it can take a minute to spot the clips to get the black lid off for the first time. New bags are easy to locate, the Henry Hoover website sells them in packs of 10 for £6.
It is not an upright cleaner, so the hose is long and flexible, and the unit that pulls along the floor is substantial but not too heavy so reasonably easy to move. However, be aware that she does sometimes fall down going round corners. There is the standard vacuum head, with an optional brush that you can pull up or lower with a plastic switch on the head. It also comes with a few other attachments, including a small brush and a plastic nozzle. You can also use it with just a section of tubing and no attachments. I find this really handy for quickly getting into fiddly areas - it was very useful under the Christmas tree for example. When feeling lazy, I also use this to clear the window sills and bannisters of dust which it does really well.
There are two power modes so you can choose to use less energy if you are just doing a quick dash around the room. The full power mode is very strong - not suitable if you have loose fitting carpets as you will forever be pulling them up. The cord is reasonably long so when doing the stairs she usually sits at the bottom until I'm 2/3 of the way up, then I simply plug her in on the landing to finish the rest. She also manages our stone floors in the bathroom and kitchen (although it can be a little noisy).
Overall I've been really pleased with Hetty so far. When we first moved in, the whole house had been newly plastered and large amounts of the plaster dust had been repeatedly walked into the brand new carpet in the hall way. It looked pale grey when it was actually black with dark grey. She got out the majority of the dust on the first attempt, and with a bit of elbow grease and the brush head I managed to leave it looking almost new. I am really glad we chose this hoover, and find it much more maneuverable than an upright would have been, and feel there is no job too big.
I'm not always a chocolate fan, I can go through periods of several months where I don't seek it out. That said, I live in Yorkshire so in the bleak mid-winter there is an almost primeval urge to stock up on calories to see you through to warmer and hopefully drier times. Christmas chocolate is good, but it's a bit much like normal chocolate to be anything special. There are the stalwarts such as maltesers teasers, cadburys caramel etc., but it's only once Christmas is done with that chocolate comes into its own. Thanks to the marketing gods the build up to Easter seems to begin on Boxing Day. Of course they have to fit Valentine's Day into the schedule - but the under 12s are not really going to bring in the big bucks, so out come the disposable Easter treats. The sort of thing that you can convince an unwitting parent (or unsupervised adult) picking up in the offer section conveniently near the till, just as a little treat. These aren't for putting away until the Easter bunny comes, or for hiding in the garden - they are purely there for pleasure. This category of treats includes the creme and caramel eggs, and of course mini eggs.
More recently, malteser have been making a play for the 'disposable treat' market in the last couple of years have introduced the humble MaltEaster bunny. They weigh in at 29g each, and consist of what tastes like the filling of maltesers turned into a semi-solid paste through some vigorous mushing. I'm not doing it justice, it is rather creamy and tastes delicious. This is coated in a layer of milk chocolate to give it the real malteser effect. And it's shaped like a bunny! It's much less of a melt in your mouth experience than a regular malteser, but that's partly because you're not getting the usual amount of air, just pure malteser. One down side (for anyone who fancies sharing, although why would you?) is that if you want to split the bunny in half it inevitably splits around the ears or neck area, leaving one person much happier than the other.
They are not exactly a health food, you can find full ingredient lists elsewhere, but they are suitable for vegetarians. They are also not that cheap, selling individually for around 60-70p. Thankfully they are regularly on offer in a variety of supermarkets such as Sainsburys who are currently selling 2 for £1 or Tesco, who were recently offering 3 for £1.20.
Overall I would highly recommend these to any malteser fan out there. Grab them while you can as you only get them for around 3-4 months of the year - can you think of a better excuse to stock up?
I know, I know - most people love a good bottle of washing up liquid with germ killing chemicals and lots of lovely bubbles. For me things are a little different. I have memories of my mum working as a cook for many years and at some stages coming home with hands that were red raw, with cracked and broken skin. Eventually the doctor could only suggest the prolonged exposure to washing up chemicals was the problem. Since then, I have always been keen to try and keep it as natural as possible, and not having many chemicals on my cooking utensils is a bonus. Further to this, as we are more at risk from climate change, sometimes keeping it simple with the products we use (particularly ones that then get released into the water system) certainly can't do any harm.
I have been using Ecover washing up liquid for several years now. If you are looking for a big steaming bowl of bubbles, this isn't for you. There are some bubbles, but not in any great quantity and they certainly aren't what you'd describe as foamy. It isn't actually the bubbles that make things clean, so to me it's not really a problem, but it does seem strange at first if you are usually surrounded by suds. The smell is quite basic, clean and fresh - but again as this is a relatively natural product, it would make no sense for it to be heavily perfumed. It performs the task of washing up pretty well, breaks down grease and leaves plates, glasses and cutlery nicely cleaned. As with most washing up liquids, one squeeze should be plenty for an average bowl of washing up, and the bottle does last pretty well. It is dermatologically tested and suitable for sensitive skin. You can find the ingredients online if you are interested. Rather nicely, it is also designed in such a way that once it is washed away, all the ingredients are eventually absorbed back into the environment - not filling rivers and reservoirs with processed chemicals.
There are several recipes with camomile and marigold being the most common, but there is also lemon and aloe vera, and even pomegranate. It's not the cheapest washing up liquid, but to me it is a price worth paying. It is usually around £1.50 for 500ml, but at the moment (and relatively regularly) there are offers, for example they are currently £1 at Sainsburys. You can also buy 1L bottles of the camomile and marigold which usually sell for around £2.25 or £1.50 on offer which are better value.
Whilst I'm cutting back and using cheaper products in some areas of life, washing up liquid isn't one of those I'm willing to sacrifice as I want to protect my hands. I've used this for quite a while now, and will continue to do so in the future. I've always been pleased with the performance and whilst it doesn't promise to leave my hands manicured and moisturised, it doesn't seem to dry them out like other liquids I've used.
A few weeks ago, my dad finally sold up my childhood home and set off for a retirement in Spain. As a result came that dreaded phonecall - 'come sort your stuff out...' This was, in some ways, made worse by the fact that my partner and I had only just received the keys to our lovely new - and more importantly - empty house. It was not to remain that way for long once everyone realised I was happier taking things with me to sort out in an orderly fashion than rashly binning everything we came across.
I acquired my fair share of rubbish, some of which has now gone to charity/weigh shops, but I also was reunited with a wide range of family photographs and childhood treasures. Perhaps my most prized reclaimed possessions are my children's books. I grew up in a house where reading was actively encouraged: Mum was a member of work book clubs and I always had a library card. One particular box in the loft featured some of the reading material that kept me company through my later childhood and early teens - Nancy Drew, Secret Seven, a fair few Point Horrors, and a selection of the Richmal Crompton 'William' books. Many of these books can be picked up in the usual places such as Amazon second hand, and a new paperback of Just William will only set you back £5 on Waterstones.co.uk.
With the new house I have tried to resume my bed time reading which I had lazily given up on, so started reading my way through some of these classics. This review is mainly about Just William, the first in the series of books about an eleven year old boy named William written by Richmal Crompton, although due to the nature of the books a lot of the general points will apply to them all. She wrote around 40 William books throughout her career, and had her first William story published in Home Magazine in 1919, and her first collection (Just William) was published in 1922. The last one was published posthumously in 1970. I have only really read earlier William books (pre 1945) so couldn't comment on the later ones too well, as the language and style of Crompton's writing in these earlier books is very of its time.
Whilst 'Just William' is a children's book, it does not mean there is nothing for adults. My version is over 200 pages long, and has a great many lengthy words within the text - written in a bygone era before the invention of text speak! The stories are all based around the adventures of William, who lives with his respectable parents, older brother and older sister. His siblings are almost fully grown, so you can't help but wonder if even from the outset the writer is winking in our direction at a time when it was much more common for older parents who had had all their children to be blessed with another 'surprise' a few years down the line. William is certainly no angelic child, and when he stretches his father's patience to the absolute limit you do wonder if this is what he had been hoping for. His mother tries her best to control him, whilst realising the more important job is actually mitigating the impact of William's behaviour through bribing siblings or appeasing the cook.
The book is a series of short stories, each dealing with a different adventure, or mistreatment, through the eyes of William. For all he has a wicked side, he can also be quite wide eyed and innocent in the big wide world. His adventures usually involve a local sweetshop, a meeting of his gang 'The Outlaws', or the confiscation of some long coveted toy or trinket into the locked cupboard. By toy, I usually mean bow and arrows and the like... A personal favourite of mine, called 'New Year's Day' describes the absolute carnage when William pops into his local sweetshop to find the owner desperately waiting for his nephew so he can rush for a train and propose to his long-time girlfriend. He leaves William in charge just for a few minutes until his nephew arrives, but we subsequently learn the nephew is ill and won't be coming. In the name of charity William takes it upon himself to keep the shop open until the owner returns. He tries to extort adult customers who enter the shop to try and make up for the shortfall in profits from the sweets he has sampled. And then in comes the pretty young girl who he tries his best to impress by sending her out with as much as she can carry for a penny. His 'Outlaw' friends also stop by for freebies, and get rather carried away. By the time the owner returns the shop is in ruins...
Perhaps one of the most interesting themes throughout the stories is the relationship William has with his family, and with those outside his family. Everyone in the family goes out of their way to try and make sure William either doesn't know about social gatherings, is kept outside the house wherever possible when company arrives, or that he is sat as quietly as possible away from guests. Several of these guests, however, fall for the charm of an innocent schoolboy running round the garden and he enjoys monopolising the time of these adults. This doesn't always do the love-lives of his siblings much good at all... He also has very little respect for their personal boundaries, and even ruined his brother Robert's brand new bicycle on his birthday.
These books also make an interesting read from a historical point of view. They talk about an era that will soon pass from living memory (particularly the very early 1920's stories) where life was undoubtedly very different from a child today. It explains what children used to get up to in the days before the internet, ipads and mobile phones. It talks of a more innocent time where children were allowed to play out all day, explore the local countryside around them, and when you could buy a whole bag full of sweets for a penny. Most importantly the stories all harness the power of childhood imagination - something that can still be gained through the page much easier than the Xbox. The class and social structures of the time also come through very clearly in the text - as demonstrated by the staff employed by the Brown family, and how they view local ruffians. The language is quite old fashioned, with some brilliant turns of phrase - but it is still highly readable even for 21st century children (although they may need to google a few of the older vocab words).
It may be a children's book, but I thoroughly enjoy reading the William stories. I can't wait to make my way through more of my collection.
I've always been a bit non-plussed when it came to donuts. I remember the halcyon days of when MacDonald's used to offer a rather nice cappuccino/coffee flavoured donut. And who could ever forget the excitement of when supermarkets such as Morrisons started putting all sorts of flavoured jams into their store fresh goodies. These were great as a treat if someone brought them home, or in the case of Macdonald's you really didn't have many other pudding options, but I always knew they were never my preferred treat. However, a few months ago that started to change...
As in many other areas of the UK, Leeds has only relatively recently secured its own branch of Krispy Kreme, and on the first visit I really wasn't expecting much. Even approaching the shop, you can smell a distinct sugary smell - very sweet and inviting. I'm guessing it's the same with most branches, but when you walk in the shop has an American diner feel to it, and people can either go in to pick up donuts to take away, or sit and indulge themselves along with a drink. Ours even has a drive through. The back wall of the main shop area is see-through so as you queue you can see the machine producing the donuts, and hundreds slowly float past you up the conveyor belt.
They serve a wide range of donut flavours and types with something to suit most tastes. Some are ring donuts with a glaze or icing of some sort, whilst others are filled donuts - and all are made to look appetising. I have a few favourites at the moment. One is the caramel iced, a ring donut with a gorgeous caramel flavour icing on top. The donuts themselves are light and fluffy, unlike a lot of others which can be quite stodgy or sickly, and the icing on top just makes them taste wonderful. I also love a strawberry gloss - a ring donut with bright pink sticky strawberry topping that resembles lip gloss - and an apple pie which is a donut filled with apple, and dusted with a lattice of cinnamon on top. I must admit I can't really recommend the sticky toffee cake. After being tempted today, I was very surprised that the lovely donut was actually replaced with a donut shaped cake affair, which was actually quite dry. The topping was a toffee buttercream with a swirl of toffee source and toffee pieces, but it was too sickly and heavy - not what I've come to expect from a Krispy Kreme so not for me!
They do seem to keep some flavours as permanent fixtures, whilst others are temporary or seasonal. At the moment they are serving Krispy Screams - one is the pumpkin which has a chocolate filling and is iced with a bright orange flavour and colour icing to look like a pumpkin. They are also serving the Spiderweb, filled with Kreme and covered in chocolate and with a white spiderweb iced on.
This is by no means a cheap place to visit - and in full support of the obesity crisis, it is much better value to buy your donuts by the dozen (or so we learned this afternoon). You can buy them individually or in any quantity that you like. Individually the donuts are around £1.40- £1.80 each depending on the type that you buy. You appear to get a small reduction if you buy three, we were today told it would be around £8.50 if we bought six, depending on type, or you can buy a full dozen of your own choosing for £10.95. You can also buy cheaper dozens if you take their selection which will probably include a fair few plain ones. You can also buy hot and cold drinks, and even Krispy Kreme souvenirs.
Overall, these are the only donuts that invoke a yearning in me, which must mean I like them very much. I could only ever see myself ordering half of the flavours they offer, but the half I do want are enough to keep me going back!
I'm not a regular user of body sprays, but every now and again it's nice to be able to freshen up when you're out and about. I also find them handy for work - on the one hand I spend some time in controlled temperatures so wear lots of layers that are pretty redundant as soon as you leave the room, whilst also spending a fair amount of time stuck in overheated office. I'm not particularly loyal to particular fragrances, although I do tend to stick to Impulse as they have such a good range.
One of my favourite Impulse sprays is Temptation. It's described on the can as Vanilla and Peach. It's a 75ml can, but as I don't use it in large amounts or often, this will last me a few months. That's not bad value for a product that costs less than £2. It's currently selling at boots.com for £1.99 or Sainsburys for an even better £1.85. As with most body sprays and deodorant cans, the packaging is mainly metal and has a plastic top to press down for dispensing the spray. The design they are now selling is silver and orange, not like the picture above. The one thing that can let this product down is that plastic top, I have lost nearly full cans of spray when the button became disconnected, but due to the design on the top I haven't managed to get the top back on at all!
Well on to the important bit... As I said above, the scent is vanilla and peach. I usually enjoy these flavours as they are quite light and sweet, but not too sickly. I can't say the Impulse scent jumps out and screams 'I'm vanilla and peach!' Sadly, it's more of a slightly unknown fruity scent, with almost a hint of almond - but nonetheless I do enjoy the smell. It lasts a good couple of hours, and is not too overpowering, but after it has been on for a while the scent does get a little heavier.
Overall a handy little product that fits in many a modest sized handbag, ideal for freshening up a little, with a nice fruity scent.
I don't often let myself get exposed to large amounts of sun without suncream (and not just because I live in Yorkshire), but sadly in life it is possible to miss a vital spot even when you're being vigilant! On one such occasion with the back of my neck I was looking in the supermarket for something gentle and soothing and spotted a bright green bottle on the shelves.
I had seen the Banana Boat Aloe Vera gel on the shelves many times before, but had never really thought about picking up a bottle. However, I knew at the time normal after sun was not going to be enough. It's currently selling in Sainsbury's at £3 for a 230g bottle and I've seen it in other places too. It is described as a pure aloe vera gel plus stabilisers and preservatives, so relatively natural for a long life product. The instructions were very simple: "Apply freely on body and face. Reapply as desired." This is one of the things that actually appealed to me about the product. Take moisturiser - they try to sell you separate products for face, hands and body. Oh, and don't forget the instructions that suggest you might like to use each of these products more than once a day. This product leaves it to your own common sense, and doesn't encourage you to overuse as a marketing ploy.
I took it home and squeezed out a small amount of the clear green-tinted gel that was in the bottle. It was slightly wet at first, but the liquid evaporates very quickly. I guess it is this evaporation that makes it feel so cooling so quickly. At first it felt rather sticky, and for a few seconds after the evaporation it does feel a little like you want to wash your skin, but within a couple of minutes this subsides and leaves the skin feeling cool and soothed. The smell is quite pleasant, and mildly floral. After a small while the smell does fade a little, it reminds me of salad almost, but in no way unpleasant. I was right to only squeeze a small amount. Obviously, if you want to cover your whole body you will need a lot, but a small blob was more than enough for the back of my neck that had been caught. As it is aloe vera, it also doesn't leave much of a chemical feeling behind on your skin, which I always appreciate.
Overall this is a great little product. It does what it says, and if the effect wears off you can use as much as you feel you need. And at around £3 a bottle it's not going to break the bank to keep yourself soothed.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not a drinker of 'adult' drinks. Tea is foul, and coffee is mainly acceptable in cake or ice cream form. Occasionally I can manage a good quality iced coffee if filled with enough milk and sugar, and preferably cream and caramel syrup - I can even manage those hot in the depths of winter. Hot chocolate has to be good quality, and only in winter. As a consequence I spend most of my day at work drinking water from the cooler which, whilst being very good for you, is not particularly inspiring. I like a fizzy drink, but only on occasion and rarely drink more than one or two a week. As a result at home I tend to get through lots of juice and squash.
Growing up, I was never a squash snob as such, but it was always Ribena at my grandma's house, orange barley water when I was poorly, and whatever looked good on the supermarket shelf at the time. As an adult with full command of the shopping trolley I noticed a good offer on Ribena about 4 years ago, so came home with four bottles for the price of two. My cupboards have been hoarding it ever since.
As most people already know, Ribena in its traditional form is a blackcurrant concentrate with no added nasties like artificial sugar. The product was first manufactured in 1936 and has been popular ever since. Unlike a lot of squash and concentrates it has a very thick and syrupy texture. As I mentioned above, I used to enjoy it as a treat at my grandma's house, but I could never have imagined drinking if often. I've now realised it's because she uses large amounts of the Ribena to a lesser amount of water, whereas I like to keep it slightly more diluted. This means you can get quite a few glasses from your bottle as you only need about half as much as you do with some cheap brands. It's also really refreshing with ice on a hot day like today. The flavour is quite sweet but has a little sharpness from the blackcurrants. Unlike a lot of other options, it also tastes very natural and has very obviously been in contact with real fruit at some point. The vitamin C the fruit leaves behind has also got to be seen as a bonus. I find others can be a lot more synthetic, particularly those that use aspartame and other sugar free goodies.
It comes in various sized bottles between 500 ml up to 2 litres. It is not a cheap squash, but I never buy any on full price. My current estimate is that about 50% of the year Ribena is on some form of offer - whether it's buy one get one free, half price, or a reduced price - which means if you shop smartly you can stock up every week it's on offer. I always buy a bottle whether I need it or not, safe in the knowledge that when the price goes back up I don't have to pay it. Currently full price is £2.90 for one litre or £5 for a two litre bottle at Sainsburys. The bottle is distinctive, with the purple label standing out on the shelves. The bottle itself is sold, so no risk of damaging it if it gets bashed about on the way home, and as it's clear you can keep track of how much you have left.
Overall, a very good quality drink that can be found for good value.
I know I have written a lot of chocolate and biscuit reviews of late, but deep down, I have always been more of a savoury girl. I go through phases with the bad food, but as the temperature warms up I return to form. My biggest food pleasure has got to be cheese. Whether it's a cooking ingredient, cooked as the main event, or simply sneaked out of the fridge, cheese never fails to satisfy my hunger. We have been known to visit a friend over the New Year period, and subsequently live for two days on leftover cheese board. This does, however, lead to a phenomenon we refer to as 'the cheese sweats' - where you have just absorbed so much cheese you physically start to sweat (a similar thing can happen with meat).
One of my favourite 'eating cheeses' - i.e. one I don't melt down into sticky goodness in a sauce or meal - has got to be Wensleydale. There is no greater pleasure on an evening than reaching for the fridge and grabbing the cheese. I'm not sure if it's because it is simply one of the best eating cheeses around, there are so many varieties, or it may be I'm biased as it is truly the great cheese of Yorkshire. Its origins go back to the Cistercian Monks who lived around the area as early as the 12th century. The original version was a blue one, due to the sheep's milk that was used. Eventually the cheese making was taken up by the locals and gradually switched to cow's milk, and the more characteristic white variety we are familiar with today.
Farmer's wives were the predominant cheese makers until the process began to move into creameries in 1897. Business boomed until World War 2, when things struggled to recover and the last creamery in the dale was eventually closed by owners - with production moving to Lancashire and many locals being left unemployed. After a successful buyout, the factory was reopened and has thrived from the late twentieth century - no doubt in part to the cult influence of Wallace and Gromit. All the milk used in the cheese making is also local. The Wensleydale Creamery is worth a visit - not only do they have an amazing cafe/restaurant that does an amazing Sunday roast with cauliflower cheese, but for £2.50 (less for concessions) you can go in and see the cheese being made. Most importantly, the cheese shop has samples of every cheese on sale out. You may not think this sounds like a lot, but you are probably looking at around 15-20 different types of cheese.
Anyway, back to the cheese itself. It is most often a white cheese, with a very crumbly texture. It is slightly salty but with a mild taste that lends itself to mixing with other flavours. It is a little like Lancashire cheese, only not as sharp or dry. If you are not initially impressed with the white variety, please persevere - they really do make a Wensleydale for every cheese fan, just keep tasting. In fact, they are also vegetarian friendly as they don't use animal rennet (although sorry vegans, not it's not for you). You can get mature versions, historic versions (such as Jervaulx Blue, in reference to the Cistercians who came up with it), smoked versions, goat versions, and flavoured versions. In Yorkshire at least, you can often find a cheese stall at Farmers Markets if you can't get up to Hawes. Most have small cubes of the various varieties that you can sample if you are a little worried or unsure which to select. The price can vary depending on what type, how mature and where you buy it from - we usually pick up three 200g pieces for £5 at the local farmers market. You can buy it from the wedge, or encased in wax. They make wax truckles in a variety of sizes, and are a great idea for Christmas presents and gifts as they can sit in the fridge for a little while but remain in great condition.
Flavoured versions I hear you ask, but not flavoured in the sense of a Macdonald's milkshake. The flavour comes from the addition of a variety of herbs, spices and fruits that are carefully blended with the cheese. More often than not, the flavour will be solid lumps encased in standard white cheese, but this does depend on how solid the ingredient is. There are often seasonal varieties available, which often reflect local produce or tastes. In fact, three of my favourites have been seasonal. Winter Warmer is a fantastic variation on the traditional Wensleydale with Cranberry. Just think Wensleydale + cranberry + mulled wine. It works really well. For northerners out there, you will hopefully be familiar with the custom of eating Wensleydale with a plain fruit Christmas cake - none of this marzipan nonsense. This cheese is brilliant for it. To the rest of you - try a good Wensleydale instead of losing hours to icing! My current beau is strawberries and cream, and I love the rhubarb and vanilla that was around earlier this year. Other standards include Wensleydale and ginger, Wensleydale with pineapple, and Wensleydale with apricots.
Not all Wensleydale is in fact Wensleydale - so buyer beware. The name of the cheese is synonymous with the area of Yorkshire in which it has been cultivated for centuries and the skilled craftsmen and local cows that help make it. Sadly, some unscrupulous business folk make Wensleydale in places including Lancashire and Shropshire. It is not the same - well, it may be quite similar, but in some sense it is like calling Lambrini champagne. Well they are white, fizzy and alcoholic! Make sure you look out for a Made in Yorkshire guarantee. The Wensleydale Creamery website mentions that they have applied for European protection so that the only Yorkshire Wensleydale on sale will be from the area. They have reached the final stage of the process, so fingers cross for the dedicated dales folk who've made the cheese what it is.
I have an occasional day off during the week and often find myself doing jobs around the house with the telly in the background. One of my favourite channels for this is Challenge. There are many reasons for this, but mainly as it represents TV as it used to be. It is currently available on Sky, Virgin, and most importantly for me channel 46 on Freeview.
Challenge has a broad appeal as TV goes. Their website states:
"Challenge remains the home of 'contest entertainment' bringing you all your favourite cult shows, world famous quiz formats, innovative new game shows and superb TNA IMPACT WRESTLING action. From original UK commissioned content to iconic classic shows from the past, there's something on Challenge for everyone."
Although I would admit at this stage, if you are constantly on the lookout for the latest new trends, Challenge probably isn't for you. I, on the other hand, make my living thinking about the past. As a result I enjoy watching TV from the last few decades for entertainment, nostalgia, and to look at how things have changed even over the last couple of decades. For example, I spent part of my morning enjoying classic Dale Winton episode's of Supermarket Sweep. The prices of the products are unbelievably cheap, and it's amazing that people think it is ok to reintroduce some of those hairstyles into the twenty-first century. One particularly cringeworthy moment was when Dale introduced a contest who 'liked rich men'. He followed up by asking her why she liked money to which she essentially responded 'I like to buy things'. That was the end of our insight into that particular contestant, pretty much for the whole show. Evidence of a symptom of the early nineties consumerism taking a firm hold on every day society right before our eyes? And don't get me started on the perm and glasses combos!
Other classic offerings include Catchphrase, Family Fortunes and Bullseye. I love a good episode of Les Dennis trying not to look in despair at the really bad contestants who think a leek is a popular fruit or other such ridiculous answer. And who doesn't love Mr Chips? Well, me actually, when it's the series presented by Nick Weir who I can only describe as a cross between Michael Barrymore and Shane Richie - and not in a good way. But, if it's a classic Roy Walker moment, harmony with the universe is restored. They also have more recent shows such as the brilliant Pointless, all new Blockbusters presented by Simon Mayo, and Deal or no Deal.
In the vein of classics, I feel I should take time to highlight the latest arrivals to Challenge. As some of you may be aware, CITV celebrated its 30th birthday earlier this year, and filled the airwaves with a weekend full of glorious television from the childhoods of many. Two of these programmes appear to have been noticed by the powers that be at Challenge, and now, on Friday nights (well currently anyway) if, like me, you are sad enough to be home, then you too can watch Fun House followed by Knightmare! For some of you, you're probably wishing you hadn't read on, but to me that is pretty exciting. There's nothing like watching a classic mullet era Pat Sharp, with two blond bouncy twins jumping down at everything he says whilst kids run round in front of him getting dunked in goo, driving go-karts, and collecting prizes. And as for Knightmare - well, firstly the graphics are worth a watch just to see how far modern technology has come in just a couple of decades. It is basically a CGI gameshow where one contest was in a computer-generated castle. He wore a helmet and had limited vision, and had to be guided through a series of quests, challenges and enemies by the rest of the team who sit watching the whole thing on TV screens with the Dungeonmaster. They then shout instructions to the sole dungeoneer who generally has to move, pick things up or solve riddles. It's amazing to believe it used to be slightly sinister and magical when you now watch back. Some of the contestants are absolutely rubbish. The last one we watched was clearly the end of a series so the contestants were basically allowed to slowly limp right the way to the end - only to find they had left behind their horn so couldn't blow down the walls of Jericho... Schoolboy error on their part, literally.
As well as the gameshows, Challenge also host a variety of crazy sports and sporting activities. My personal favourite is UK's Strongest Man. This disappeared from TV for a while, well on freeview anyway, as Channel 5 chose to focus more on the Giants Live qualifying tournaments for the World's Strongest Man. I got to watch them film one in Headingley Stadium last year - it was incredible! Challenge have now picked up the rights for the most recent couple of years of the UK competition, so you get to watch familiar faces like Ed Hall strut their stuff. They also have the Krypton Factor, TNA Impact wrestling, and the awesome Ninja Warrior.
There are a lot of other shows on the channel, not all to my taste, but I couldn't possibly fit all of them into the one review so I will stop trying. Overall, I really like having Challenge as an option on my Freeview box - it provides light hearted entertainment and a great opportunity for nostalgia. If you only give it a try for one hour, make it 10 pm on a Friday - Fun House and Knightmare, who could resist?
I'm not often one to buy a bar of milk chocolate, but recently I helped a colleague move and she was kind enough to gift me chocolate in return. One of the items was a packet of Cadbury caramel nibbles, which always go down well. The other was a bar of Green & Black's organic milk chocolate.
As I'm not always a big milk fan, I was a little apprehensive - much preferring a nice dark chocolate or something with caramel or honeycomb. The packet is actually pale blue, and now proudly bearing a Fairtrade logo, with a strip of brown at the top (not like the picture with the review). I had a 100g bar which is apparently 34% cocoa. They retail for around £1.50 at the moment in supermarkets. The wrapper also carries the soil association's organic certification logo. It at least ticked some ethical boxes before we'd even reached the taste test, which thankfully more companies are embracing these days.
As with most Green & Black's bars, the chocolate itself is wrapped in gold coloured foil underneath the outer paper wrapping. Upon opening it, the chocolate looked tasty but the pieces were a very odd size, quite thin and wide rather than the more familiar square shape in brands such as Cadbury. The chocolate snapped off the bar easily, but not necessarily in the amounts you expect. It was quite firm but began to melt quickly, so by the time you had snapped a piece off and put it into your mouth it had begun to melt a little. However, minor inconveniences aside, the chocolate itself was very rich and creamy. It had a strong flavour of cocoa, as you would expect from a dark chocolate, but the creaminess of the milk chocolate left it sweet rather than bitter. As it was so rich, it was easy to ration myself to a few pieces a night over a few evenings, but still feel as though I had enjoyed a little indulgence.
Overall I would recommend this chocolate. It was tasty and not too expensive. It's readily available in supermarkets and other shops - and it doesn't cost the earth too much for an indulgence either.