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I've never been much of a drinker. For a start, I don't really like the taste of alcohol and secondly, I'm one of those poor unfortunates who gets drunk very easily. (One sniff of the barman's apron and you're likely to find me dancing naked on the nearest table!) However, I do like alcohol when it's served in hot drinks, especially at Christmas, and the following are my favourite winter warmers: Mulled Wine. This makes an ideal welcome drink at a winter party. To serve ten people you need: 1 bottle of red wine, preferably claret. Half a bottle of port - the cheaper the better Brown sugar to taste (which gives you the ideal opportunity to keep taking a regular swig as you're making it!) About 1 teaspoonful of freshly grated nutmeg - or a pinch of dried nutmeg if you really must 2 cinnamon sticks. 1 pint (600 ml) of boiling water. Very thinly sliced orange for decoration Heat the port, wine and spices over a very low heat until hot, but do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat. Add the sugar and boiling water and stir well until all the sugar has completely dissolved. Strain through a sieve into a punchbowl and float a few orange slices on top. Tip: Allow to cool slightly before serving, otherwise you may find that your wineglasses crack. Alternatively, slightly warm the glasses first. The next drink has always been known as "Motch" in our house - I suspect a corruption of Mocha, a sort of chocolaty coffee. Again, it's a nice welcoming drink, although best served in individual mugs rather than from a punch bowl. For each person you need: 1 teaspoon of cocoa (not drinking chocolate) 1 teaspoon of instant coffee - if you happen to have chocolate flavoured coffee to hand, that's even better! 1 shot of Brandy or Tia Maria or a half shot of each. 2 teaspoons of sugar (adjust to taste) Skimmed milk Boi ling water Mix all the ingredients (with the exception of the boiling water) in a mug making sure that the cocoa is mixed to a smooth paste; otherwise you get horrible lumps at the bottom. (You should add about as much skimmed milk as you would to an ordinary cup of tea and, yes, it does have to be skimmed otherwise you get globules of fat floating about on the top of your drink which looks revolting!). Fill the mug with boiling water and stir extra well before serving. This also makes a nice summer drink. Make it in a cocktail shaker - or even a pancake maker - and refrigerate until ice cold. Shake energetically immediately before serving then pour into a tall glass, adding a scoop of coffee or vanilla ice cream if you like. (For some reason, it just doesn't work with chocolate ice cream, more's the pity!) Finally, at any party, there are likely to be children, teetotallers or designated drivers. The following is a non-alcoholic fruit punch that serves about ten people. At parties, I always make sure that it is clearly labelled "Non-Alcoholic". To serve 10 people you need: 1 pint (600 ml) orange juice 1 pint (600 ml) apple juice A quarter of a pint (150ml) of water Half a teaspoon of ground ginger Half a teaspoon of mixed spice Brown sugar to taste Heat all the ingredients to a gentle boil, stirring well and simmering slowly for five minutes. Strain into a punchbowl and serve immediately. If you really can't do without the alcohol, you can add a bottle of white wine and a slug of white rum at about four and a half minutes (remember not to label it "Non-Alcoholic"!). And, if you prefer to serve this drink cold, mix all the ingredients, with the exception of the water, heat as before, allow to cool, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve in tall glasses over crushed ice - and, if you want to go really mad, add half a bottle of sparkli ng lemonade and stir gently immediately before serving. Enjoy - but be sure to drink safely at Christmas.
I enter a lot of online competitions but it's only in the past four months since I've been running my own website that I've realised just how dense the British Public can be. Hello...(taps monitor screen for attention)...yes, I'm talking about you, Mr or Mrs Competition entrant! My website, Phoenix Book Reviews, runs three or more competitions every month. Why? Well obviously because I'm an altruistic, kind-hearted and exceedingly generous sort of person - NOT! I run competitions to attract visitors to my site. They're genuine competitions with real prizes on offer - yet, month after month, I'm perpetually surprised by the total inability of some of the entrants to follow the simplest of instructions. So, here are some of the most frequent cock-ups on the competition front, which I'm writing to help competition organisers the world over. If just one person takes notice it will make our job a lot simpler. 1.Read the terms and conditions first: Simple, isn't it? Yet, each month around 10% of my competition entrants get automatically disqualified because they haven't read the terms and conditions. If you live in the U.K., for example, it's no good entering a competition open only to residents of Canada and the United States. 2.Answer the bloody question! If a competition asks a question then make sure you actually answer it. Every month I get entries that just give a name and address and have made no attempt to answer the qualifying question. I know why this is - it's because people have read only the headline to my competitions page and haven't bothered themselves to actually scroll down and read the full page. If they had done so, they might have realised that in order to enter, they had to answer a simple question. (They might also have picked up on the fact that there is more than one prize on offer!) It's not rocket science and there is even a clue, but failure to answer the questio n accounts for the disqualification of another 5% of entrants. 3. Make sure you comply with the competition instructions. If you are asked to put something in the subject box of your e-mail (e.g. October Competition) then jolly well do so! My website is only a small one, yet it can still attract several hundred competition entrants each month. As I am running more than one competition, I ask entrants to write "Competition X" or "Competition Y" in the subject box. Each e-mail received is then stored in a folder headed X or Y until the end of the month when a winner is picked at random. I have neither the time nor the patience to sort through reams of e-mails placing them in the correct folders to be entered into the draw. Failure to correctly fill in the subject box accounts for the disqualification of around 20% of entrants every month. 4. Don't use fancy fonts or backgrounds on your competition entries to try and make them stand out. This increases the size of your e-mail and, on my site (and many others), automatically redirects it to a bulk mail folder designed to prevent spam, the contents of which are automatically deleted after 7 days. Unless I am prepared to read through my bulk mail folder and rescue your entry then it won't even make the draw. Life's too short, I'm afraid. Besides, most competition entries are not even read - they're stored in folders and one lucky entrant is selected at random each month. Don't waste my time and your effort. Fancy fonts account for a further 5% of disqualifications 5. By the same token, don't include correspondence / questions in a competition entry. Chances are they won't even be read and you'll be left thinking that the webmaster is an ignorant so-and-so who can't even be bothered to reply. 6. Do, do, do include your full name and postal address. Again, I have neither the time nor the inclination to send you e-mails before I send you the prize and if I don't know where to send it, you don't get it. 7. And now one from the "unbelievable but true" file. Check your e-mails regularly. A friend who also runs a website that has a competition told me a story about a winning entrant. An e-mail headed "CONGRATULATIONS" was sent, asking the recipient to confirm their postal address so that the prize could be despatched. No reply. A second e-mail was sent a week later. Still no reply. Finally, with the patience of a saint, the webmaster sent a third e-mail, this time headed "PLEASE RESPOND URGENTLY". He received a very sheepish e-mail back apologising. The entrant had set up a separate e-mail account for competitions and had forgotten to check it. When she had checked it, she had deleted the two "CONGRATULATIONS" e-mails without reading them. Her explanation for this was that she was always getting letters at home saying; "Congratulations - you have won £25,000! (please read the small print so we can tell you that you haven't actually won anything, but, boy we had you going for a minute there, didn't we?)" Hence she deleted anything arriving in her Inbox that looked similar without even checking! Was this woman an isolated idiot? No. Exactly the same thing happened to me when I ran my first online competition. Anyone that has been doing the maths while reading this opinion will have noted that so far about 40% of entrants to my competition haven't even made the draw for the prize on offer, having been disqualified for failure to comply with the rules. A further 5% don't make the cut because they get the answer wrong. My competitions are simplicity itself. I run a book review site and, in order to answer the question correctly, entrants must have read my review of the book concerned. I make it even easier - I link the competition to the review with the word "Clue". Click on the word and you're taken directly to the review, wherein lies the correct answer. So, how can you get it so wrong? My most recent competition asked the question; "Who is known for his distinctive body odour?" Answers received included "Age 23", "Onions", "Deodorant" and "Breath freshener"! So, we've lost 45% of all entries and the remaining 55% will go into the draw for the prize. If you win, it's a matter of courtesy to acknowledge receipt of the prize when you get it (and, yes, even say "thank you".) Imagine if it got lost in the post. I, as webmaster, have confidently sent it off - you, as the lucky winner, have not received it. How does that reflect on my website? Prior to running my own website, I had entered a lot of competitions with very limited success. (In fact my total wins amounted to a bottle of shower gel.) Since running online competitions of my own, I have won far more. A weekend break in a luxury hotel, books, vouchers, chocolates and CD's are just a few of the goodies I've got for free and I'm convinced it's because I'm now playing strictly by the rules. In fact I know it is. My all expenses paid luxury weekend was won in a competition on a small personal website run by the hotel owner. Chatting in the bar, he told me that, after discounting all the disqualified entries, he was left with just three names to go into the prize draw. That's THREE. Not three thousand, or even three hundred, but three. Online competitions are supposed to be fun. However surely they are even more fun if you actually win something and, to even stand a chance of doing that, you have to be entered into the draw. Five minutes checking the rules and regulations can make the difference between disappointment and delight - after all, you've gotta be in it to win it! Good luck! <br >
Ahhhh, what a summer we had. After a damp and dismal start, the weather suddenly came good and, here in Cornwall, mr and mrs nikkisly took to the beach. Sun, sea and surfing throughout most of September and October - what could be more perfect? Well, perhaps if our hair hadn't paid the price for our beach-bumishness of late. Mine looks like a straw bale, while mr nikkisly's curls resemble an explosion in a mattress factory. John Frieda to the rescue! I'm a big fan of most John Frieda products simply because they seem to work on my hair. 'Miracle Masque', from his 'Ready to Wear' range was one that I hadn't tried until recently yet, looking at the sad and sorry state of my dry, salt and sun-bleached hair, a "miracle" seemed to be what was required. Miracle Masque is billed as a "fortifying hair treatment" and, to quote the usual irritating John Frieda B.S. from the packaging, "intense conditioning goes deep to replenish moisture, renew elasticity + rev up high voltage shine". It can be used in one of two ways - as a standard conditioner (leave on for 1-3 minutes after shampooing then rinse) or as a deep conditioner (leave for up to 20 minutes). It comes in a 125 ml shatterproof plastic pot in the familiar royal blue and white John Frieda colours and is not part of the specialist "Blonde" range, meaning it is suitable for all hair colours. The first thing you notice on unscrewing the top is the perfume. Many of John Frieda's products unfortunately smell very strongly of coconut oil. Miracle Masque, however, is highly scented, the smell being reminiscent of a good quality face cream. The consistency also resembles a thick face cream - think Nivea crème crossed with hair wax - in other words, thick enough not to drip all over the place. The product is applied on wet hair. You simply remove excess moisture then massage the conditioner through the hair, leave f or the required time and rinse off with warm water. I have been using Miracle Masque regularly now for six weeks. Truth be told, I find it too heavy for use as an everyday conditioner but as a once-weekly conditioning treatment it has been unsurpassable. · It leaves my hair pleasantly fragranced and the smell lasts and lasts. · My post Miracle Masque hair is very soft, manageable and extremely shiny. · It seems to leave my hair needing to be washed less frequently. · My hair is easier to style after using it and suffers less breakage from brushing. As an added bonus, it really does rinse off with warm water, unlike some intensive conditioners that leave so much residue that you have to shampoo after using. However, the ultimate test for any hair product is mr nikkisly's unruly mop and, after a few protests about the scent and the consequences of appearing on a building site smelling like a tarts boudoir, he was eventually persuaded to try it. To our amazement, it left his curls sleek, shiny and bouncy. He could actually run his fingers through them - and he'll probably kill me if he ever reads this! After eight uses, I still have around two thirds of the conditioner left, so estimate that one pot will deep condition my shortish hair around twenty-four times. This works out at about 18p per treatment and for that I'm receiving compliments on my hair. Worth every penny, don't you think?
I knew before visiting The Tate in St Ives that the modern art I would see displayed there was not likely to be to my personal taste. My taste in art is more Turner and Blake, yet in spite of this I desperately wanted to go. One of the few drawbacks of living in Cornwall is that you can experience 'culture deprivation'. Cornwall has theatres, museums and art galleries of course, but they are smaller, more provincial and I looked forward to what I believed would be a taste of city sophistication. My first sight of The Tate, opened in 1993 and built on the site of the old gasworks in St Ives, was both a delight and a disappointment. The delight was at the fantastic setting and splendid architecture. The disappointment was that it was so much smaller than I had imagined it to be. Having stayed overnight in St Ives, (Bed and Breakfast £23.00 per person per night, out of season) we walked down to The Tate in the evening to find out the opening times and check on parking. We were amazed to find that there didn't seem to be a car park specifically for The Tate. There were two small pay and display council car parks within easy walking distance and at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning, out of season, we parked easily enough. When we left the car park at midday there were no available places left and tempers were beginning to fray. The Tate's opening hours vary according to season. Between March and October, it is open every day from 10.00 am to 5.30 pm and between November and February from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.00am to 4.30 pm. However, there are short periods during the year when the gallery closes to receive and arrange new exhibits so if you're planning your holiday or short break around a visit it would be worth making a preliminary 'phone call (01736 796226) or visiting the website first. (Having said that, we found that the opening times seemed to differ according to which website you visit!) The adm ission prices also vary. We didn't realise at first that, in addition to the main gallery, there is also a separate Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden located in the centre of St Ives. Admission to the Tate only costs £4.25 (concessions £2.50) while admission to the Hepworth Museum costs £3.95 (concessions £2.25). You can buy a joint admission for £6.95 (£3.90), which obviously represents quite a saving if you want to visit both sites. However at peak times the Hepworth Museum is sometimes closed to prevent overcrowding and we were given very vague answers as to what would happen to our admission fee in that event. Having paid, we were given lapel stickers and printed tickets. "Could we leave to check on our dogs and re-enter?" we asked. "Oh, yes. Just keep your ticket and you can come and go as often as you like" we were told. (So, what's to stop us visiting The Tate, stepping outside and passing our tickets/stickers onto someone else? Apparently nothing, apart from the fact that we're honest!) Anyway, having paid, we set off to explore. The gallery is on four levels with ramps and a lift for disabled access, although in my opinion the lift seemed quite small. On the fourth floor there is a café serving drinks, snacks and light meals at which the prices seemed very reasonable and the staff lackadaisical to the point of being comatose. Other facilities include a rather dark and cramped (although well-stocked) gift shop; exceptionally clean toilets with a separate parent and baby room and baby changing facilities. One small grumble was that we didn't feel that things were particularly well signed. Despite looking, we found only one toilet in the whole building, which, I can imagine, would lead to some very crossed legs during the height of the summer season. (I'm not saying that there was only toilet - just that the signs were very poor.) I'm not going to comment on the art itse lf - it's not fair. I knew it wouldn't really be to my personal taste so telling you that, to me, the Heron stained-glass window looked like a depiction of a full English breakfast or that one of the ceramics displays looked like several hundred massed belly buttons would be below the belt (I know belly buttons are usually above the belt - it's just a figure of speech, O.K.?). However, I do feel it's fair to comment on the way that art was displayed. We didn't feel that there was enough of it. This is a gallery with vast expanses of plain white walls and very little actual art. (This was a comment repeated over and over again in various forms in the visitors suggestion book - "Where?s the Art?", "How about some Art?" and "Wot? No Art?"). The exhibitors do change so perhaps we were unlucky in our timing. And there are lots of special events such as opportunities to meet the exhibiting artists, seminars for art teachers etc, the details of which can be obtained from reception. To be negative, we found The Tate too small and too 'minimalist', the point of an art gallery surely being to actually have some art. What items were there were often without explanatory labels and we also noted several explanatory labels without art. At the height of the summer season, I can imagine The Tate becoming unpleasantly crowded. We felt that toilets and other facilities could have been better signposted and that parking nearby would prove a nightmare at anything but the quietest times. There is a dropping-off zone immediately outside the gallery but the car driver at least should bank on parking and walking back quite some way. To be positive, all the facilities were spotlessly clean. The building itself was an architectural masterpiece, with the best features being the huge glass picture windows overlooking the beach directly opposite. The views from these windows were quite the most spec tacular 'art' on display. The admission price was reasonable; the guides were visible and very knowledgeable and helpful. On leaving The Tate, we were given a street map showing us how to get to the Hepworth Museum and promptly got hopelessly lost since it was lacking in detail and showed very few of the minor back streets of St Ives. However, in wandering aimlessly around trying to locate the Hepworth, we did at least get to visit some of the shops, many of which sell surfing related goods. A word of warning though - we found the prices extortionate! The new wetsuit that I bought in Bude in the week prior to my visit for £49.99 was on sale for £89.99 in several of the shops, so anyone in search of bargains might do better out of town. When we finally found the Hepworth Museum, it was packed and we were asked to wait outside until a few visitors had left. After 15 minutes we were allowed in and were fascinated by the sculptures in the gardens although the museum itself was somewhat overcrowded. My tip would be to visit that as early as possible in the day, perhaps before visiting The Tate itself. Overall, we left with a feeling of "Been there, done that, what was all the fuss about?" and went across the road to the beach to do some surfing which was altogether a far more pleasurable experience than visiting The Tate. One of the most fun things about our weekend trip was sampling the more unusual flavours of farm-made ice creams including 'Trifle' and 'Christmas Pudding' that proliferate in the town. All the amenities of St Ives are within walking distance of The Tate, including the harbour from where you can take boat trips. And the surfing at Porthmeor beach, directly opposite the gallery was terrific. Visiting the Tate Modern at St Ives, you cannot help but admire the stunning and innovative architecture. It would have been nice to have some stunning and innovative art to admire too .
When I was a child, I lived for Saturdays. Saturday, you see, was horse riding day and, like many other little girls, I was pony mad. Every Saturday, I'd spend the whole day at my local Riding School, mucking out stables, grooming horses and cleaning tack in the hope of being 'paid' with a free ride. One Summer, it occurred to the owner of the Riding School that she could get some free publicity by organising a musical ride to be performed at fetes and shows There were eight of us 'regulars' and we were put through our paces for hours, wheeling, turning and circling, walking, trotting and cantering, all to the theme of Monty Python's Flying Circus - in the days before Monty Python was even thought of, of course. Came the big day of our first public performance. Our horses were groomed to perfection and we were all kitted out in new sweaters, four scarlet and four royal blue. Nervously, we filed into the show ring and the band struck up the familiar tune, at which point, eight horses scattered to all corners of the showground leaving eight little girls in heaps on the floor. We had always practised with a tape recorder, you see, and a real band played at about ten times the volume, much to the chagrin of our poor ponies. Sundays were torture. If Saturdays were horse riding, then Sundays were Sanitary Towels. My father used to own a pharmacy and opened his shop on Sunday mornings. From the age of about six, I was expected to work for my pocket money and, until I graduated to wearing a smart blue nylon overall and actually serving behind the counter when I was about ten years old, my job was to wrap the Sanitary Towels. In those days, these shameful feminine objects were always sold discretely wrapped in brown paper. Some poor fool had to spend hours each week wrapping them in neat little parcels - and I was that poor fool! After Sanitary Towels came Sunday lunch in a restaurant followed by something edifying and educational such as a trip round a stately home or the dreaded Antiques Fair. ("Don't touch ANYTHING, Nicola!"). One such trip involved being taken to see the first ever Motorway. Still, Sundays were all worthwhile when I got my pocket money. Ten shillings - or 50p as it is nowadays - bought me four books from the 'Dragon' series. (Red, Blue or Green Dragon, depending on the age of the reader.) Our local bookshop was an old-fashioned, proper bookshop and I was taken there every Friday after school to spend my pocket money. I could never get enough books and I have vivid memories of midnight sorties on the high cupboard in the spare bedroom where my Christmas presents were always kept. I would subject all the presents to a thorough poking and any books would be carefully slipped out of their wrapping paper and devoured beneath the bedclothes, to be stealthily rewrapped the following night under cover of darkness. I became very good at feigning surprise and delight on Christmas morning. Yet that skill let me down one particular Christmas. I had been begging my parents for a pony all year and, come Christmas morning, I was told that my present was too big to come into the house so had been left in the garage by Santa. I could hardly contain my excitement as I rushed outside, still in my pyjamas, to find - a bloody bicycle! Summer holidays when the sun shone every day for six weeks and I could lie in the garden and read, read, read. Christmases when it always snowed. 'Show-jumping' on Spacehoppers, the fairies that I just knew lived in the mouse hole underneath the holly tree. Fishing with my father, begging to be allowed to hold the rod for "...just a moment, pleeeeeease, Dad!". And, when he finally did relinquish his hold on the rod to answer a call of nature, I hooked our only catch of the day - a massive pike. Manchester Tart - a pastry base, spread thick with jam and topped w ith cold custard. Fish and chips wrapped in real newspaper. Pork tomato sausages. School dinners. Being woken up in the middle of the night to watch men walking on the moon. Being chosen as the best French speaker at school to give a guided tour to a party of visiting dignitaries - and proudly announcing in French "This is the urinal!" when we got to the swimming pool. My first ever sight of colour television - Whacky Races and Blue Peter. How many people made that advent candle? And just who did shoot J.R? National Health glasses with sticking plaster covering one eye. Mumps, measles and chicken pox. My father panicking and alerting the police when I wasn't waiting at the school gates one afternoon, completely forgetting that he had left me at home that morning covered in spots. Foot and Mouth the first time round. Spangles, Love Hearts, Tiffin and Sherbet Dabs. The first ever packet of flavoured crisps (Salt and Vinegar - "Ooooh, they taste just like chips, don't they, Mum?"). Flower Power and mini skirts. Hippies and Swinging Sixties and living just up the road from Scott Mackenzie of "If you're going to San Francisco" fame. My first boyfriend and the blue plastic engagement ring he gave me in the playground, promising to love me forever - David R. where are you now? Granny and Grandad T. ("Hello, my little treasure"). Granny H who turned yellow and died when I was very young and Grandad H who played 78's on his wind up gramophone for me to dance to and grew hyacinth bulbs in jam jars on the windowsill. Avon 'Pretty Peach' perfume, the bottle topped with a realistic plastic peach - just the thing for a little girl trying to be a grown-up. And my favourite outfit - cow-dung coloured corduroy trousers with a matching jacket worn with a fetching blue mini-jumper and enormous rocker platform shoes. Yet my happiest memory involved a pony called Chocolate. Cantering along on a bright summer's day with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I remember being struck by the thought that I was never, ever going to be this happy again - and so far, I haven't. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to polish my zimmer frame...
As a child, my parents owned a holiday cottage near Bude in North Cornwall and, for them, no holiday was complete without a trip to Boscastle. Oh, how I hated the place! Two or three times a year, we would follow exactly the same routine. Park in the car park, a leisurely stroll down the riverside to the harbour, not forgetting the obligatory visit to the dank and extremely smelly public toilets half way there. If I had been especially well behaved that day, I might get a knickerbocker glory at the café before we crossed the little bridge and walked up the other side of the river back to the car. Times change. People change. Boscastle, it seems, hasn't really changed significantly since I was a child but my perception of it obviously has, since it is now one of my favourite places. It's so much more than a boring walk, enlivened only by the prospect of a "Knickerblocker Gory". Much of Boscatle and the surrounding area has been designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Once a working harbour, built by Sir Richard Grenville in 1584, the coming of the railways to Cornwall made it almost redundant. The National Trust stepped in to preserve it and now owns and maintains the harbour and most of the surrounding coastline. A pay and display car park - with new (and much more fragrant) public toilets - has been built at one end of the village. Located in the car park is a bright, modern visitors centre, featuring displays of local wildlife and selling small gifts, maps and books about the area, many printed by the local Bossiney Press. The staff there can offer advice on anything and everything from accommodation to attractions, including recent sightings of various species of birds and sea life. Here you can also find details of guided walks in the area, including evening 'bat walks' and early morning walks to listen to the dawn chorus. You can still walk down the side of the river as I used to do as a ch ild, admire the harbour, cross the little bridge and return to the car park along the other side. But, as I have discovered over the years, there is more to Boscastle than meets the eye. The casual visitor may well drive straight past the village without stopping. From the road, there is little to see except for a quick flash of the harbour, a horrendous hairpin bend and a stretch of road that might look vaguely familiar due to a car commercial having been filmed there last year. Yet anyone choosing to stop for a while has a wide choice of interesting things to see and do. Leaving the car park and walking towards the harbour there is a cluster of small shops. Here you will find a gallery of holograms, a teddy bear shop, a shop specialising in leather goods including handbags, handmade shoes and belts and a couple of shops selling items for alternative lifestyles such as crystals, tarot cards, books and essential oils. Many of these shops have been built in a now disused water mill and the mill wheel is still located outside. Continuing on, you'll see Clovelly Clothing, one of a small local chain of shops that sell outdoor clothes, hiking boots, shoes, fleeces etc at bargain prices. There are a couple of antique shops, potteries where you can actually watch the potters at work, a gallery of local artists, a tiny clothes shop, a greengrocers and The Rock Shop which, in addition to selling Cornish sweets, fudge and biscuits also has a range of locally made ice cream to die for. (I defy anyone to sample the 'White Chocolate and Raspberry' without wanting a second helping on their way back to the car.) 'Pretty Things', a little further along the river, sells just what you would expect from it's name - jewellery, ornaments, glassware and knick-knacks galore, including some made from locally mined tin. Before we get to the harbour, there is The Museum of Witchcraft to visit. Opened in the 1960's, this is a som ewhat spooky collection of artefacts connected with witchcraft, beautifully displayed and indexed and is an absolute must for anyone with even a passing interest in Wicca, witchcraft or folklore. Allow at least a couple of hours to see everything and bear in mind that, as a child, some of the exhibits I saw there prompted a desire to sleep with the lights on for several weeks after each visit. Small children may find it boring, even frightening - older children should find it intriguing. So, we've ignored the numerous café's and pubs for the time being and strolled on, past the National Trust shop, Youth Hostel and a couple more gift shops, right down to the harbour where we can see - and hear when the tide is right - a natural blowhole. We could turn either left or right along the cliffs on the Cornish Coast Path to see the whitewashed lookout tower and the remains of medieval strip farming. We could take a boat trip from the harbour to do some mackerel fishing or just watch the native bird life. We'd probably see razorbills and guillemots and even puffins with their brightly coloured beaks. Chances are we'd also see seals, basking sharks or even dolphins. Yet, so far, we've only explored the tourist's idea of Boscatle. Suppose we'd followed the river through the car park in the opposite direction, away from the harbour and the promise of a "Knickerblocker"? Well, we'd have walked along the picturesque Valency Valley, following the river through woodland and meadows rich with wildflowers, butterflies and birds. We could have sat for a while, watching the trout darting in and out of the shallower waters and perhaps caught a glimpse of deer in the woods on our way. Had we been feeling particularly adventurous, we could have crossed the river on the ancient stepping stones and walked across farmland to Minster Church, the remains of an ancient monastery. The Valency valley was a favoured haunt of wr iter Thomas Hardy and his wife Emma and much of his novel "A Pair of Blue Eyes" was based here. Or perhaps we could have ignored the road down to the harbour and walked up through the back streets of the village towards Bottreaux, passing dozens of quaint, traditional cottages on our way. Alternatively, if our ultimate goal was the harbour, we could have taken the footpath that runs high above Boscastle, affording a bird's eye view of the cottages and gardens. If we are in need of refreshment, there are many places to choose from. I've already mentioned the farm made ice cream, but perhaps you would prefer a traditional pasty or a Cornish cream tea? You can still buy a knickerbocker glory, but over the years I've come to prefer the fresh crab sandwiches and salads. And there are pubs, restaurants and café's galore, with menus to suit every taste. The Wellington, affectionately known as "The Welly", serves a range of delicious food, including the 'surfers special' - chips with cheese. (Don't knock it until you've tried it!). Like many buildings in Boscastle, "The Welly" is reputed to be haunted, having at least three ghosts, including an elderly woman who allegedly occupies room 10. Until fairly recently, "The Cobweb" sported original cobwebs dating back many hundred years, although sadly these have now disappeared, probably due to some EEC hygiene regulations. "The Napoleon" serves excellent bar food and also has "Boney's Bistro" (booking advised) where you can enjoy a proper sit down meal. All three pubs serve a range of traditional beers and frequently offer live music and all are traditional authentic olde-worlde pubs with slate floors and exposed beams. Boscastle is located on the B3263, signposted off the main A39 Atlantic Highway which runs through North Cornwall. Nearby are Tintagel with its historic connections to King Arthur and a myriad of picturesque coves including Bossiney. Also well worth visiting while in the area are the Rocky Valley, a steep walk down a river valley to the sea, featuring Bronze Age rock carvings and, directly opposite Rocky Valley, St. Nectan's Glen, a privately owned attraction described as one of the ten most important spiritual sites of the country. The walk down to the 60 ft. waterfall is arduous at times, but well worth it, particularly as the owners offer light refreshments at the end in St Nectans Keeve or Kieve. Information about opening times can be found at www.currantbun.stnectan. It is fair to say that Boscastle does get extremely busy during the main tourist season, particularly in the school holidays. I'm lucky enough to live a mere ten miles away and can visit at any time - might I suggest that those of you who are less fortunate plan your visit as early as possible in the morning before the crowds build up. Let me know when you're coming - I do an excellent guided tour for the modest fee of one white chocolate and raspberry ice-cream cone. (You should see what I do for a double cone!) [Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know. If you'd like to join in, whether you've only just joined dooyoo, or you've been here ages, you're more than welcome. Just write about one of YOUR favourite things, make your title "A Favourite Thing: [your choice]" and include this paragraph at the foot of your opinion. And post before Friday, 9th August.] Here's to a cancer free life!
Why would anyone in their right mind want to reveal their most embarrassing moments on Dooyoo? Can't understand it myself. However, sitting in a pub with a crowd of fellow Dooyoo'ers recently, I was somehow persuaded that the world was more than ready to hear mine. It's taken me a few days because once I started writing I found to my horror that I'd had so many that what I'd actually written was a short novel rather than an opinion. Picture this. I live in the country, miles from anywhere, with no near neighbours. One day there is an unexpected knock on the door. It's the dreaded 'aerial photographs' man. "No, thank you" I say, already pushing the door shut and failing to notice the wicked grin on his face. "Just have a look" he persisted "It's a very clear picture". I looked. It was. A very clear picture of our house and garden taken from the air and perhaps the clearest thing in the picture was me sunbathing in the garden - flat on my back and stark naked! You see, that sort of thing tends to happen to me. There was the time when I was asked to serve coffee at a board meeting. Balancing a heavy tray of coffee, milk, sugar, cups, saucers and plates of biscuits, I tapped respectfully on the office door and was rewarded with "Come in". I managed somehow to open the door and, seeing as my hands were full, I pushed it closed after myself with my backside, not realising that the tie on my wraparound skirt had caught on the door handle. As the door slowly closed behind me, my skirt fell off, leaving me, tray in hand, facing the directors in my underwear. Then, in my present job, I went out to visit a farm very early in the morning. Now, on farms, I dress practically - a pair of jogging bottoms that can be thrown into the washing machine on my return. I?d got home from the same farm the previous evening, stripped off my clothes and fallen exhausted into bed. At 4.00am, I couldn't have been completely awake, since when I arrived on the farm and walked into the milking parlour, the farmer, his son and the herdsman promptly collapsed in fits of laughter. Between guffaws, the farmer pointed helplessly, finally managing to stop laughing long enough to ask me "What have you come as? Superman?" Uncomprehendingly, I looked down at myself to find that I had inadvertently pulled on my jogging bottoms inside out and was thus wearing my knickers on the outside - a particularly bright red, lacy and very racy pair to boot. But however embarrassing those incidents may have been, they pale into insignificance when compared to my imaginary house fire. It is the middle of winter. I have come home from work with a particularly severe cold and feel so ill that I dose myself with the full contents of the medicine cabinet, turn up the central heating to blast furnace level and fall into bed at five o'clock in the afternoon. An hour or so later, I half wake, realise I am too hot and, rather than go downstairs and adjust the heating thermostat, I fling open a few windows and take off my pyjamas before falling asleep again. I wake up hours later coughing. It is very dark as, opening my eyes, I realise that my bedroom is full of smoke. Now, before reading any further, please remind yourself that I am not well and am under the influence of every cold relief drug known to man... I walk downstairs. As I do, I can hear crackling and see flickering orange lights so I draw the obvious conclusion that my house is on fire. It is an old terraced house on the high street of a small town. Downstairs are two reception room, one leading directly onto the street, the other, with the door firmly closed, containing my telephone. I can see that the fire isn't in my front room therefore it must be in the back room, right? But how to reach the telephone to summon assistance, if doin g so means facing an inferno? My fevered brain comes up with the answer. It is, after all, the early hours of the morning and the streets outside are likely to be deserted. I can slip out of the front door and down the adjacent passageway between my house and the one next door unnoticed and peep through the back window to see if it is safe to get to the 'phone. I open the front door and step outside. As the door slams shut behind me, I simultaneously realise several things... Firstly, I am now locked out of my house. Secondly, I am stark naked. Thirdly, it is not the middle of the night as I had assumed but about 9.00 pm and my house fire is, in fact, a burning van on the street outside - a burning van that has attracted a crowd of spectators who now have something far more interesting to look at. Ever been pushed stark naked through a casement window by an RAC man in hysterics? No? Well, I have... I'm flushed with embarrassment now and I haven't even told you about the time I got my finger stuck in the plastic handle of a lawnmower and had to be rescued by the fire brigade. I haven't mentioned setting fire to my chest on Christmas Day, carrying a flaming pudding into the dining room. I daren't even think about the conversation I once had with my GP at complete cross-purposes at a dinner party, when he was talking about Pooh Bear and I, having misheard,thought we were discussing Pubic Hair. However, just to prove that I'm not the only klutz in existence, I'm going to close by relating a second-hand embarrassing moment that happened to a friend of mine. I know it actually happened - I was there. My friend is notoriously absent minded. One evening, he, his family and friends went to eat a celebration meal at a very exclusive (and expensive) country house hotel. My friend, who professed to be somewhat overawed by the salubriousness of his surroundings, excused himself before dinner to vis it the little boys room. In his usual miles away state, he was urinating and was in mid stream when the door suddenly opened and a crowd of elderly women walked in. Only then did he realise that he was, in fact, in the little girls room, urinating in the wash hand basin. Strange...we've never been back to that particular restaurant. And the moral of the tale? Never, ever make promises at Dooyoo meetings!
Introduction: I've been lucky enough to receive Crowns for some of my book reviews here on Dooyoo and was so inspired by this that I went on to start my own book review website with fellow Dooyoo'er Trevor15. (It was one of The Independent newspapers "websites of the week" last month!) This alone probably doesn't qualify me to try and instruct people on how to write a good book review. However, I also read a lot of books - usually around three a day.(Yes, you did read that correctly!) This means that I am always desperately looking for recommendations for books on which to spend my hard-earned money. Therefore, I am in a perfect position to tell you what a reader wants to see in a Dooyoo book review - ladies and gentlemen, I am that reader. Chapter 1. For me, the biggest sin that any book reviewer can commit is to reveal too much of the plot. Thus, what I want to read in a book review, is nothing more than is revealed on the book's jacket. Now this doesn't mean that I just want a straightforward rehash of the publishers' blurb - there's more to it than that. What it means is that I want to be able to read the book eventually without having first read a condensed version in a Dooyoo review. I want to be tempted to rush off to amazon as soon as I've rated VU and nominated your review for a Crown, rather than to feel that, having read the review, there's little point in buying the book. Chapter 2. I want to know for whom a particular book is best suited. Is it fact or fiction? I'd like to know if it contains four-letter words or graphic sex scenes, preferably before I buy it for my Aunt for Christmas. Is it controversial? Does it contain descriptions of, say, animal cruelty or drug abuse or bloody murders that might upset more sensitive readers? For children's books, I'd also like to know for what age group the book is recommended. Is there any point in me buying a b ook for my fourteen-year old niece because I read a good review of it on Dooyoo and think it sounds interesting, only to find when it arrives that it's actually written for the under ten's? Chapter 3. I'd like to be told just a little bit about the author. Not reams of information about where he/she was born, whether or not he/she is married and what he/she had for breakfast but things that are relevant to their writing. Have they won literary prizes, are they an experienced journalist, is this the first or fifty-first book they've written. A sentence or two should suffice. Sometimes, I'd even like to know about the book's cover. One of the best books I've ever read ("Make Believe" by Joanna Scott - do read it!) has a cover that, if I saw it in a shop, would inspire me only to put it back on the shelf and move to something more interesting. If there's anything special about the cover, tell me - if not, then I don't want (or need) to know. Chapter 4. What the critics say about a book on the jacket can sometimes speak volumes about it's content. I recently reviewed a book in which three of the critics included the word "complex" in their comments - my version would have been "bloody impossible to understand"! A book "recommended" by Stephen King is likely to be very different to one "recommended" by Bill Bryson - tell me about it, but briefly, please and don't forget to use quotation marks to let me know exactly who said what. Chapter 5. Tell me just a little about the style of writing, but, please, don't over analyse it. I don't want to read a school essay or a university assignment. In fact, I'd really rather not read too much about your interpretation. So if you feel deep in your heart that the book parodies "Mein Kampf" or that the main character is subliminally based on Toad of Toad Hall, keep it to yourself and allow me to make up my own mind. (I'd like to be able to read the book myself without feeling intellectually inferior if I don't see the connection.) However, I have no objection to being told that a book is written in the style of Stephen King or Catherine Cookson - that really would help me to decide whether or not I wanted to buy it. Personally, I'd also like you to include just a couple of short quotes from the book to give me a flavour and whet my appetite, but I'd really rather they were sentences than whole paragraphs. Chapter 6. I'd love to know why you personally enjoyed or didn't enjoy the book and why you bought it (but not what the shop assistant who sold it to you was wearing at the time.) Are you a big fan of the author's work or is it a new discovery? For example, I'm a big fan of Stephen King, so much so that I'd probably read his shopping list if he ever published it. Because of this, it might be that my reviews of his books are not objective. I'm going to love the book anyway,but that doesn't mean that anyone else automatically will.If you're a fan of a particular author, tell me about it. Say "I have read every single one of his books and love his writing and this book is his best / worst / about the same as all the others." Chapter 7 Presentation of a review is important. Break it up into paragraphs so that it is easy on the eye and be sure to read it through before you post it. Always use quotation marks when necessary and, if possible, run your review through a spell checker before submitting it. Further reading. To me, there can be no better recommendation of a Dooyoo book reviewer than to say that they have cost me money. To say that I have read their reviews of a particular book and whizzed off to amazon as soon as I read the last word in order to buy the book they have reviewed. I am therefore extremely ung rateful to the following Dooyoo writers who have driven me to near bankruptcy with their skill as reviewers. In alphabetical order -IainWear, jillmurphy, JOHNDMR, KingHerrod, Trevor15. If you really want to write a good book review, then reading some of their reviews for inspiration might be as good a place as any to start.
I'm forty-four years old tomorrow and, according to my friends, have already begun the rapid process of transformation from a normal, rational, relatively good-natured person to a miserable old git. The fact that I'm even writing this opinion is evidence of my metamorphosis. There I was taking a bit of a Dooyoo break, logged on briefly to do something "consumery", saw Room 101 as a new category and, before I could help myself, my brain went into overdrive at all the things I wanted to permanently delete from my life. So, in no particular order... "I'd like to teach the world to sing". Remember the old song by the New Seekers? Its release coincided with a particularly unhappy time in my life and, for months of personal misery, every radio and jukebox in the country was playing it. To add insult to injury, it was even selected to advertise a soft drink on the television, further prolonging its shelf life. If I had my way, every copy ever made would be consigned to the very bowels of Room 101, never to be aired in public again. Cricket. Sorry, boys and girls, but "willow on leather" has to go. Now, ask anyone - I'm not your typical girl. I enjoy watching most sports and can even explain the offside rule in football. Give me a Rugby match or Speedway, a golf tournament or even horse racing on the television and I'm as captivated as the next man (or woman). But cricket - what's that all about? No matter how many times my husband tries to explain the rules of the game, I still get my googlies confused with my silly-mid-ons and my yorkers with my square legs. However hard I try, I can never see further than a load of flabby men running up and down a field shouting "Owizeeeee?" at every opportunity. Even worse, I have a husband who is a fanatic and, at my advanced age, I just can't compete for his attentions. (Only last night, I was parading around the living room trying to show off some sexy underwear I'd just treated myself too and he was actually leaning round me to watch the televised antics of Hussein and Co.) Oh damn! I've just remembered something. If I banish cricket to Room 101, I'd also be banishing "Johnners" and Ian Botham's "legover", the funniest out take from sports commentary ever. I'll give cricket a temporary reprieve and some more thought and go on to... Nouvelle Cuisine. If I pay good money to go out for a meal I want more than a couple of mange touts and a fragment of carrot on my plate, no matter how artfully they've been arranged. Whoever introduced the fashion of paying a fortune for a few scant mouthfuls of food deserves to be sent to Room 101. Straight to Room 101, without passing "Go". Fashion Shows. Don't start me off on this one. Why, oh why, would anyone in their right mind want to look at a load of stick insects strutting their stuff on a catwalk, wearing the most outrageous costumes? Does anyone in the 'real world' ever wear any of the extremes from the fashion houses of Paris and Milan? Would Ms. Average from Wigan or Wolverhampton ever be seen dead in them? (Understand I'm not talking about 'haute couture' here, but some of the more ridiculous outfits that appear in the name of fashion such as the hats with the six-foot diameter brims and the trousers without bums.) What's the point? What am I missing? Any industry that can introduce so-called "heroin chic" to the teenagers of the world, where models are forced to exist on half a lettuce leaf a day in order to be employable deserves to be obliterated for their irresponsibility. To allow them to keep making vast amounts of money from doing so is absolutely ludicrous. Off to Room 101 with them, I say! Now I promised myself before writing this opinion that I'd spare you all and limit myself to five items for Room 101. So, now comes the difficult bit - selecting my final consignee. Hmmmmm...caravans? DEFRA? Slugs? Beetroot? Those television advertisements for loans and credit? Rap Music? Litter Louts? No...it has to be... Underwired Bras. I would like to bet money on the fact that whoever invented this particular brand of torture was male. Oh, it's all very well for you guys - you may like to see the effects of the 'sheep dog' bra (rounds them up and points them in the right direction) but do you actually wear the things? (And would you admit it if you did?) Would you want a certain sensitive part of your anatomy supported by a brutal length of stiff wire, one that escapes its confines at every opportunity and is quite capable of piercing through several layers of skin when it does so, not to mention ruining washing machines? Would you? Well, would you? I rest my case... Now, who's going to be Paul Merton in comments and decide whether or not I get my way?
I've never actually written an opinion in the film category before, for two main reasons. The first is that I have always felt sure that any attempt I made to write in this category would pale into insignificance when placed alongside the opinions of the most (or even the least!) respected film buffs. The second is that I very rarely go to the cinema. Since we live so far away from civilisation, a film has to be pretty spectacular for me to want to drive fifty miles to see it. And, by the time it arrives at our tiny local cinema - assuming it ever does - it's usually very old news indeed. So why am I breaking the habit of a lifetime and attempting to review this particular film, especially when there are already so many good reviews of it on Dooyoo? Simply because few of the reviews I've read so far have fully answered the one question that I, as a potential viewer, needed answering before booking my seat. My husband and I received the news that The Lord of the Rings was to be made into a film with mixed feelings. We are both great Tolkien fans and have read his books many times. We even have an audio book of Lord of the Rings that we have listened to over and over again. As a result, we have, over the years, developed our own mental picture of the characters and settings of Tolkien's epic fantasy. We were apprehensive about seeing them portrayed visually rather than in our minds' eye - would the film manage to ruin the illusion? Or could it possibly enhance it? For anyone who hasn't read the books (or seen the film), it is the story of Middle Earth, a place inhabited by all sorts of creatures, both good and bad. 'Goodest' of the good are Hobbits - peace loving homebodies with a general dislike of adventure in any form. Yet one Hobbit,Bilbo Baggins,once had an adventure, one that Tolkien described in his book "The Hobbit". During that adventure, he chanced upon a ring - not an ordinary ring, but a very s pecial one indeed. The film begins as Baggins' 111th birthday party is being arranged, after which his nephew, Frodo, is charged with destroying the ring. It's a thoroughly nasty piece of jewellery, with the power to infect all that possess it with evil and is sought by the Dark Lord Sauron so that he might rule the world. Hobbits, however, seem largely immune to the rings evil influence. Thus, this film covers the first part of Frodos epic journey to the only place where the ring can finally be destroyed,the fires in which it was forged. (The remainder of the journey will be covered in two sequels that have already been made but are not yet on general release.) On seeing trailers of "The Fellowship of the Ring", the first of director Peter Jacksons' three films, it appeared as though our worst fears were to be realised. Elijah Wood (Frodo), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Sean Astin (Sam Gamgee) just weren't Hobbits as we had always imagined them. (Our illusions were not helped by the fact that Astin bears an uncanny resemblance to a close friend of ours!) As for Bilbo Baggins, played by Ian Holm - no, we weren't impressed at all. He looked too much like an ageing and overweight David Essex to be anyone's idea of a Hobbit. We dithered for several weeks, trying to decide whether or not we wanted to see the film, then finally decided that, yes, we did. Did we rue the day? Well, Hobbits apart, we were very impressed. Ian McKellen was the perfect Gandalf and Christopher Lee a suitably scary Saruman. In fact,we were impressed by the entire cast (listed below), even more so when we read that they had all had to undergo rigorous fitness training to endure 274 strenuous days of filming. Not only that, but some had even had to learn a new language (Elvish), created especially for the film and based on Celtic. They certainly worked hard for their money. The scenery in the film wa s awesome, both the real life locations in New Zealand and the computer generated ones. Nobody could fail to be impressed by that. Attention to detail was meticulous, hardly surprising since, as we later discovered, a team of 120 people were employed just on special effects alone. The town where the Hobbits lived (Hobbiton) was actually planted with 5000 cubic metres of plants a year before filming began and was truly impressive, even if parts of it did bear a strange resemblance to Teletubby land. The film is three hours long, (178 minutes to be precise) and, luckily for our bladders, our cinema showed it with an intermission after one hour, although some cinemas do not. By the intermission, neither my husband nor I were enjoying the film. The biggest sticking point for us were those damned Hobbits. Elijah Wood as Frodo gave a terrific performance from start to finish, as did Astin as Sam Gamgee (not for nothing was Wood voted Young Star of the Year in 1994). Yet they didn't look anything like we had imagined Hobbits to look and we both felt that Pippin and Merry were portrayed very differently indeed from the way their characters were intended by Tolkien. In the film, their antics seemed to be aimed at providing light relief, far more so than in the books where they were much more staid and straitlaced. However, by the second part of the film, something suddenly clicked. We stopped watching it quite so critically and simply allowed ourselves to be immersed in the fantasy - and we loved it! We had complaints, although most were very minor. The biggest was that the film was rated PG. We took my seventy-eight year old father with us and he was utterly terrified, almost from start to finish. In fact, he has had nightmares ever since, even though he actually covered his eyes during some scenes. (If there had been a sofa handy, he would have been watching from behind it!) Thus, I would recommend that a large amount of Parental Guidance be exercised, both for impressionable children and Senior Citizens. Not only that, but we all felt that some of the action scenes were performed too quickly, with lots of dizzying brief flashes and ever-changing camera angles that made them almost impossible to follow. The special effects were excellent, with particular praise going to the Hobbits (or Halflings) who, in comparison to the other members of the cast, were only half their size. The mines of Mordor and the home of the Elves were both spectacular. It was therefore surprising to learn that many of the special effects had been constructed from polystyrene sprayed with polyurethane, since they managed to look both centuries old and rock solid into the bargain. In our party of six, we all struggled to understand some of the lines spoken by Gandalf but, other than that, the sound quality was superb. My biggest criticism of the BBC audiobooks has been its extremes in volume - one moment you're straining to hear a whispered conversation, the next you're flattened to your seat by the unbearable decibel level of a pitched battle. Thankfully, this was not a problem with the film. So, as certified (or certifiable!) Tolkien addicts, we were extremely impressed and will be first in the queue for the sequels when they are released, although probably without father. Another member of our party had never read any Tolkien and pronounced the film "the biggest load of tosh " she had ever seen. Two others had read The Hobbit only - and loved the film. Our experience has been that some foreknowledge of Tolkien's writing enhances the films' appeal greatly and, contrary to our fears, definitely doesn't spoil the magic of Middle Earth. Thus, our advice for other Tolkien fans would be to leave your expectations at the door and to watch the film for what it is. Treat it as a separate entity, a great fantasy and a good all-round action movie. For the most part, the f ilm stays very true to the book and I'm willing to bet that there are others for whom the Hobbits were "perfect", yet who found that other characters didn't match up to their mental images. It's a film that prejudice almost prevented us from seeing - if it had, we would have missed a real treat. Cast: Frodo: Elijah Wood Pippin: Billy Boyd Merry: Dominic Monaghan Sam Gamgee: Sean Astin Gandalf: Ian McKellen Saruman: Christopher Lee Bilbo Baggins: Ian Holm Boromir: Sean Bean Elrond: Hugo Weaving Arwen: Liv Tyler Legolas: Orlando Bloom Gimli: John Rhys-Davies Aragorn: Viggo Mortensen Galadriel: Kate Blanchett Direstor: Peter Jackson Producers: Peter Jackson and Barrie M Osborne.
It's a long way from Cornwall to Cardiff. I know this because that was Mr nikkisly's excuse when I wanted to attend the inaugural British Speedway Grand Prix at the new Millennium Stadium last year. Oh, he eventually relented, after a lot of...well, let's say gentle persuasion. But by that time, the tickets had completely sold out. So, this year, I started the gentle persuasion in plenty of time for the event in June 2002. To be more precise, I started in 2001, on the very day that the tickets were released for sale. It was therefore with his (grudging) blessing that I arrived at Ticketmaster.co.uk., credit card in hand. The site itself is quite plain, mainly black, white and grey with just a few splashes of colour. (It is also oversized for my small screen and navigation therefore involves a lot of sideways scrolling.) Across the top is a list of headings: Music, Theatre, Sport, Attractions and Performing Arts. I briefly considered clicking on Sports, but then decided that it would probably be a lot simpler and quicker to run a search for the specific event, rather than risk having to wade through loads of Rugby matches (metaphorically speaking, of course.) The search offers a choice of event or venue. I ran a search for British Speedway Grand Prix and up it popped almost immediately, showing event, location, date/time and, most importantly a little green "On Sale Now" button. I clicked...and ground to an immediate halt. The tickets were listed in descending order, starting with the highest priced seats. With each price was a location within the stadium. Except I have never actually been to this stadium and I certainly don't know my West Stand from my Hyder Stand or my BT Stand from my Gate 2. All I knew was that I wanted to sit somewhere between the third and fourth bend of the speedway track. The site offered information about the venue and this was my next port of call. However this consisted mainly of directions to the stadium, some scanty notes about disabled access and a list of things such as flares and photographic equipment that I would not be permitted to take in with me. The site has a "Help" and a "Contact Us" facility. "Help" dealt more with site navigation queries, so I braced myself and rang the telephone number given under contacts. I spoke to a person who knew absolutely nothing about the event, venue, or tickets and had probably never heard of the term customer service. Was there anyone I could speak to who would be able to help? "Dunno." Was there a manager I could speak to? "He's out of the office" When will he be back? "Dunno". After several fruitless minutes of "Dunno-ing", I left my telephone number and was promised that I would be called back immediately the manager returned. (Hopefully, he has now been registered with The Missing Persons Helpline and I sincerely hope that his family managed to have a good Christmas without him.) After five days, I rang the helpline number again and spoke to someone else who knew nothing about the event, venue or tickets, but was at least prepared to try his damnedest to be helpful. I explained what I wanted and he managed (eventually) to find a site plan that told us everything - except where the third and fourth bend of the specially laid speedway track was likely to be on the night (presumably in the exact same place it was last year). The very nice man suggested that I check the internet for some clues. Fine, although I had already done that and not managed to find the answer and, besides which, I expected a firm selling tickets to have some idea of what they were selling me. Eventually I took a gamble and asked for two cheap seats in the stand I thought was most likely to be approximately where I wanted to sit. "Sold Out!" I was told. I took a deep breath, ignored Mr nikkis ly's somewhat panic-stricken throat cutting gestures, and booked two seats at £49 each. Then came problem number two. I wanted aisle or gangway seats and my telephone friend didn't know which seats were located on an aisle or gangway. I gambled again and opted for seats numbered 1 and 2, but I still don't know exactly where I will be sitting or even how much of the event I will be able to see. For £98, plus a handling charge of almost £5, this is frankly just not good enough. (It is especially poor considering the fact that we will be travelling a long way to the event, spending a lot of money on petrol and also on accommodation.) My tickets were promised for the beginning of December. They eventually arrived at the beginning of January, but at least I've finally got them. The navigation, layout and speed of this site are excellent. The site security seems excellent. Unfortunately, their product knowledge and customer service in this case let them down very badly. What is the point of having an internet ticket booking service in the first place if it takes endless telephone calls to actually get your tickets? And there is a postscript... I happened to mention to a friend over Christmas that we were intending to go to Cardiff and he immediately asked where I had got my tickets, since he too had tried to go last year only to find the event fully booked. Some days later, he rang to say that he had purchased his tickets - the "cheap" seats that I had tried to buy three months earlier which had allegedly "sold out". Assuming he must have picked up a couple of returned tickets I asked him to check to see whether cheaper seats were still readily available. They were. Having used only one aspect of their services, I will give this company the benefit of the doubt and award them a generous 3* rating for the ease of use of the site. Yet, however slick and fast the site may be, it's efficiency is ir relevant if you can't actually use it as it is intended and are unable to get the information you need in order to make an informed purchasing decision. I tried to book tickets on the very first day that they came on sale, so suppose that could possibly be a reason why their staff knew so little (note the use of the word "reason" rather than "excuse"!) Yet, having said that, my friend who booked three months later had exactly the same problems. He had at least attended a Rugby match at the stadium so had a slightly better idea of the layout although, like me, he found it difficult to guess where the speedway track would be in relation to the various seats. I will be updating this opinion after the first week in June...watch this space.
My mother had exactly the same problem. Our skin chemistry reacts to one particular ingredient in some perfumes and, within hours, even the most expensive ends up smelling like cats wee! Hence, while I always wear perfume of some sort (well you do when you work in milking parlours, surrounded by the not so sweet smell of cows), I have, in the past, found myself limited to certain brands. My favourites to date have been Anais Anais by Cacharel, Jicky by Guerlain and CK1 by Calvin Klein. I don't like anything too overpowering and I adore the smell of lemons, so anything with a citrus tang is likely to become a favourite. Back in September of last year, I was shopping for a birthday present for a friend when the assistant in the chemists' shop sprayed my wrist with a healthy squirt of "Truth" by Calvin Klein. As I usually do, I went off for an hour or so to allow the perfume to settle before deciding I liked it a lot and going back to buy some. (Sadly, when I was told the price, I decided that she was not that good a friend after all and slipped next door to the hand-made chocolate shop.) Fast forward three months to Christmas shopping. At the beginning of December, I wore for the first time since, the same jacket that I had been wearing for the birthday shopping expedition three months earlier. In the car, my husband commented favourably on my "new" perfume - I wasn't wearing any. After a little random sniffing, we traced the gorgeous smell to the cuff of the jacket where I had been liberally dosed with "Truth" precisely three months earlier. By the end of the day, my wrist smelled as though I had just applied the perfume and I was so impressed, I treated myself there and then. The packaging of the "Truth" range is, as is usual for Klein, very innovative and very different from that of his other fragrances. CK1, for example, comes in a plain, frosted glass bottle while Ckbe c omes in a similarly shaped black bottle. According to the Cosmetic and Personal Care Packaging website, Calvin Kleins success in fragrance production comes from his "ability to read the buying habits of consumers". The intended theme behind "Truth" is modern simplicity and sensuality in everyday life. (Goodness! My cows won't know what's hit them!) Thus the packaging is simplicity itself. A tall, very thin bottle of highly polished glass that has one flat and one curved side and stands slightly tilted. A silver cap, identical in shape, completes the elegant, sophisticated and very expensive look. The outer packaging is equally smart - a slightly pearlised creamy- beige box that would look good on any dressing table. This fragrance looks expensive. It actually looks as though someone might have spent an awful lot of money on buying it for you. Men, take note - it is impressive! Never mind the packaging, how does it smell? (How on earth can anyone describe a smell over the internet anyway? I'll try my best...) It's a woody smell, fresh and quite light with overtones of flowers and undertones of citrus. Exactly which flowers it has overtones of provoked quite a heated argument between some friends and I last weekend. One friend thought lily of the valley, another violets, while I plumped for lilac. As it turns out, I was probably the closest, since the floral ingredients are listed as white clover, accacia, white peony and lilac. I managed to discover that on searching the internet, since our weekend discussion eventually grew so heated that we began placing bets. However, all bets have since been declared null and void, since the ingredients of "Truth" seem to vary considerably according to which website is consulted. Possible ingredients include bamboo, sapling, white amber, silk tree flower, citrus, vanilla, musk - and vetiver, whatever that might be. (Also in the ingredients list is something called "wet woods" which conjures up images of mushrooms, leaf mould and damp dogs for me, although I'm sure that wasn't what Calvin Klein intended.) "Truth" is said to react to individual skin chemistry, producing a slightly different and thus unique fragrance for every wearer. I eventually did relent and buy my friend some for Christmas, and the perfume really does smell very different on her than it does on me. The one thing we have both noticed about it is its longevity. If I use it at night, the fragrance is still strong in the morning and needs no repeated application. If I put on a sweater or jacket that I have worn, but not washed, the smell has lingered - for up to three months - and, even after washing my clothes, a hint of scent still remains above the washing powder / fabric conditioner smells. My advice would be to test it before buyng and leave it for at least a couple of hours to settle since, if you don't like it, or if it reacts adversely to your skin, you're going to be stuck with it for an awful long time. However, even though it is quite expensive, I have found that I use a great deal less than I would do of a comparable fragrance such as CK 1 so it is actually very economical. A little goes a long, long way. "Truth" is available in a variety of products listed below. You should be aware that the prices given are approximate - for example, I paid £34.00 for the 50ml spray from Boots although it is available from other firms for £32.50. 30 ml spray - £19.50 50 ml spray - £34.00 100ml spray - £45.00 Oil Essence Kit - £21.50 Body Lotion - £22.00 Body Oil Spray - £18.00 Shower Gel - £17.50 Unlike CK1 and Ckbe, this is definitely not a unisex fragrance but one for the ladies. (That's not to say that men can't buy it - in fact I'm currently trying to persuade my husband that he could quite easily buy it if he happen ed to know of anyone special with a birthday coming up in March!) Oh, and the only other thing to note about this particular fragrance is that in the past five weeks I have received more compliments than I ever have before - and not just from the cows. I've even had complete strangers stop me in the street and ask what perfume I'm wearing. It is refreshing, sensuous and ideal both as a daytime and an evening fragrance. Mr Nikkisly take note - I LOVE it! (And you're going to hear that an awful lot between now and the end of March.) This year, it really does have to be "Truth" - or face the consequences!
Neither my husband nor I are big consumers of soup. Like most people, we keep a few cans of it in the larder for emergencies, but I would be willing to bet that, if I were to go and check now, most of the tins on the top shelf would almost qualify for a guest appearance on The Antiques Roadshow. It's not that I don't like soup, but unfortunately it seems to have a strange effect on my digestive system. Two or three spoonfuls and I get instantaneous hiccups. Not delicate little "hics!" that can easily be concealed, but huge, crockery rattling brays, guaranteed to stop the conversation at any restaurant. (I've lost count of the times that Mr nikkisly has glared at me in embarrassment across a table and hissed "For heavens sake, go to the toilet and hold your breath...for half an hour!") For some unknown reason, my own, home-made vegetable soup rarely causes the same problems and, even if it does, I'm consuming it in the privacy of my own home without an audience to appreciate the resulting sound effects. It's ideal as a quick warmer when you've been outside in the cold, but just as nice eaten outdoors on a summer evening. In fact, it's substantial enough to make a full meal which is, as the title suggests, as cheap as chips but far healthier. It also takes very little time to prepare and needs only basic cooking skills. As my Gran would have said, it will put hairs on your chest and lead in your pencil! The ingredients listed below are very rough quantities - you'll see why as you read the recipe. Years of trial and error have resulted in what we feel is the perfect balance of textures and flavour, but you're welcome to experiment. 1 large leek 3 medium carrots Half a mug of "no need to soak" Pearl Barley Half a mug of red split lentils 2 or 3 vegetable Oxo cubes. 1 large onion 3 sticks celery Handful of sun-dried tomatoes 4 medium siz ed mushrooms 3 medium potatoes 1 mug of frozen peas Large dollop of tomato puree Half a mug of mini dried pasta (sometimes called soup pasta.) Large tin of red beans About 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh chives and parsley - or about a teaspoon each of dried. Cornflour Salt and Pepper to taste. (O.K, I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but I promise you, it really is simplicity itself to prepare and cook - even our esteemed category manager could manage this one! Trust me - I have a cooks blow torch and I know how to use it!) Take your largest saucepan - a really massive one - and fill it three-quarters full with cold water from the tap. Toss in your pearl barley and lentils and place on a low heat. Meanwhile, peel and chop the carrots into small dice and thoroughly wash and chop the leek. Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes - they must be the dried ones in packets, by the way. (If you use the ones in oil, you end up with an environmental disaster floating on top of the soup.) Chop the celery and mushrooms and throw the whole lot into your now gently boiling water, along with the herbs, two crumbled vegetable Oxo cubes and tomato puree. Stir well, then stick a lid on the saucepan and go off and do something more interesting for about an hour. By which time both the pearl barley and carrots should be cooked. (If not, leave to boil gently on a low heat until they are.) Assuming they are, throw the frozen peas into the mixture which will stop it boiling. No matter - by the time you have finely chopped your onion, peeled and cut your potatoes into small dice, and added them to the pot along with the pasta it should be back to a gentle boil again. Continue to cook for about 20 minutes until the potatoes have softened. By this time, what you have in the saucepan will bear little resemblance to soup. In fact, it will look more like an enormous serving of mixed vegetables in just a little reddish coloured liquid. Don't panic, this is all part of the masterplan. Drain and rinse the tin of red kidney beans and tip them in too. Stir well. Now comes the most technical bit. Taste the soup, add salt and pepper, and decide whether or not you need to add a third vegetable stock cube. (The soup should, at this stage, have quite a strong flavour.) Blend some cornflour to a smooth paste with water and add to the soup, stirring well. I can't tell you exactly how much to use, since it depends on the size of your saucepan, but you are aiming for soup that is very, very thick. (In fact, one that is almost solid - thick enough to trot a mouse on, to quote Gran yet again!) Keep adding cornflour and water mix and boiling until this is achieved then turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool. Once it has properly cooled, you can start thinking about both eating it and freezing it. To freeze, place one mug full of the 'soup' in a freezer bag, expel the air, and tie. Each bag contains one portion of soup - that is, it will serve one person. But you haven't made all that effort just to freeze it, have you? Oh no - you want some now, don't you? So, take a mug full, place it in a separate saucepan and add water, stirring well, until the soup has reached your desired consistency. (We like it thick, but you can have it as thick or as thin as you like - just add more or less water.) I serve it with granary bread rolls and a spoonful of freshly grated strong cheddar cheese, popped in just before serving so that it melts into the soup and goes delightfully gooey and squidgey. You might try a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan, croutons, toast soldiers or garlic bread. And, with the addition of some curry paste and just a little water, this soup makes a mean curry served with plain boiled rice. In it's thickened state, it also makes a very satisfying vegetable stew which I serve with herb dum plings. 4 ozs self raising flour 2 ozs vegetable suet Small pinch of salt Large pinch of dried, mixed herbs Mix all the above with water to form a stiff dough, form into four balls slightly larger than golf balls and drop into the soup. Cover and boil gently until the dumplings are firm. (with thanks to Sue Magee for reminding me in comments - I meant to include this, honestly!) If you want to vary the soup, you can add other ingredients. In the past, we've experimented with diced parsnips, peppers, turnips and swedes, finely chopped cabbage, garlic, Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce. We've also used split peas and commercial "soup mixture", although usually these need to be pre-soaked overnight which is just too much hassle for us. We much prefer the basic recipe above, but it's down to personal taste. Try it. Enjoy. And don't get hiccups.
Auctions are a way of life here in the West Country. Sometimes they are held in purpose built salesrooms, sometimes in village halls, sometimes in barns, sometimes even in fields. Sometimes they are house clearances - or the combined contents of several houses. Sometimes they are the actual sales of houses themselves. Some are sales of specialist items such as stamps, cars, livestock or fine art; others are more general sales. All are great fun. Yet there are still people who are afraid of attending. They are frightened of bidding accidentally and buying something they don't want, afraid of being cheated, too self-conscious to dare to raise their hand and bid for an item - in short, they are missing the chance of some great bargains, not to mention an entertaining day out. Hopefully, this opinion will demystify the whole process and encourage you to pluck up the courage to give it a go. Be careful though - it's a very addictive hobby. Where do I find an auction? Auctions are usually advertised in local papers. If you have a salesroom near to you, look up the telephone number in Yellow Pages and telephone to ask when they hold their regular sales. Be very wary of 'one-off' sales, held by companies who are not local to the area. These are all too often the fly-by-nights who sell rubbishy goods - items that seem almost too good to be true, such as video cameras for £5. They are frequently illegal, at very least a total rip off and the purchaser has no come back since, in the excitement, they rarely note the details of the company concerned, even assuming that those details were legitimate in the first place. How do I find out what's for sale? Smaller general auctions usually list their most important lots in the newspaper advertisements. If you are interested in particular items - let's say antique teddy bears - you can register your interest with local auctioneers who will then inform you of any for sale in your area. (This does tend to be somewhat of a hit-and-miss process though, so you would be safer keeping your finger on the pulse by regularly reading your local paper.) More specialised sales will have a catalogue, often with photographs included, that you can send for from the auctioneer. You will most probably have to pay for this but, since I'm writing more about general sales here, we'll gloss over that point and go onto... Viewing: You will be able to view the items on offer before the sale at a pre-agreed time. Most auctioneers allow viewing for an hour or so immediately before the commencement of the sale, but most also have an additional viewing period a day or two earlier. It's vital to take a very good look at anything you're considering buying. All goods are offered "as seen", although any electrical goods have to be tested prior to the sale. (Beware of things like old sofas that may not meet todays rigourous fire safety standards.) Take a notebook and pen with you to the viewing and write down any lot numbers that interest you. Remember to also write down a brief description of the lot and your upper price limit for bids, but be discreet. Dealers excel at reading over your shoulder in order to find out how much you're prepared to pay for an item. They also love to hear people talking about things - do you really want to attract the attention of everyone in the room to your 'find'? Take a careful look at items under the tables - usually cardboard boxes of odds and sods known locally here in the West Country as "Boxes of Contents". Many a treasure has been discovered amongst the trash. Often auctioneers set "guide prices". Thus, our antique teddy may be expected to fetch £20-£30 on the day. My advice would be to simply ignore these guide prices, since the end result is totally dependent on who is actually bidding. I once didn't go to an auction, di scouraged because the guide price stated far exceeded my maximum bid. The item in question - a roll top desk - was expected to fetch £400-£600, but was knocked down at a bargain price of £125, well below my limit of £200. If there's something you see at the viewing that you can't resist, but you are unable to attend the sale, you have two options. The first is to arrange a telephone bidding facility, although this is usually only available at larger auction houses. The auctioneers' assistant will telephone you a few lots prior to 'your' lot and you will be able to bid as if you were there in person. A good tip for telephone bidding is to tell the assistant not to let you bid over your maximum price. It's all too easy to get carried away by the excitement of the occasion, as I once did bidding for a classic sports car on behalf of my husband, who was at work at the time. I suddenly realised that I was still bidding, even though the price had exceeded my upper limit by £2,000! Visions of bankruptcy and divorce sent an icy chill through my veins and never before or since was I so relieved when I was eventually outbid. The other option is to leave what's known as a "Commission Bid" with the auctioneer. Suppose you really must have that old teddy bear but can't get to the auction in person. You leave your maximum bid of, say, £40, along with your name, address and telephone number and the auctioneer will place your bid "on the books". This has two distinct disadvantages: Firstly, on the day, you may be the only person interested in Teddy, in which case, had you been there in person, you might have bought him for £5. It is the auctioneers' job to get the best possible price for the vendors, so your commission bid of £40 is a veritable godsend when prices are low. Secondly, you are unable to watch the bidding and gauge the interest of your opposing bidders. At £40, Teddy may be rocketing up in p rice in £10 leaps. On the other hand, he might be struggling along in 50p increments and £40.50 might have been a high enough bid for him to come home with you. Talking of setting limits - a little tip. Never set your limit at a round figure. Psychologically, most people prefer nice round numbers like £10, £20 or £100. Setting your limit at £11, £21 or £101 may give you that added edge. What happens at the actual auction? On arrival, you may find that you have to register to bid. Some auctioneers insist on all bidders having a proper number or paddle to bid with, while others are more informal and will accept a nod of the head or a wave of the hand. Make sure that you allow sufficient time to make the required bidding arrangements, bearing in mind that traffic is likely to be heavy and parking difficult within close range of the venue. It is imperative that you are either there for the very start of the auction or that you ask an official before bidding about the terms of sale. Some auctions add VAT and many will add a buyers premium. (That bargain is not quite so good once you've added a 15% buyers premium and 17.5% VAT to your bid, is it?) You should also be aware that it is an offence to bid for items if you don't have the wherewithal to pay for your goods. And bear in mind that many auction houses will not accept plastic, so you should either take a chequebook and guarantee card or 'pound notes'. (Beware of pickpockets in the crowds though.) Oh, and dress for the occasion. It may be freezing but, in a hall packed with people, temperatures tend to rise quicker than the prices. Most auction rooms will have toilet facilities and coffee/tea bars, or maybe a burger van outside. How do I bid? Make sure you are in a position where the auctioneer can see you a couple of lots before yours. (You've already written down the lot numbers at the viewing, remember?). The auctione er will announce the lot number, at which point his assistant will either hold up the item or point to it if it's something large and immovable. Don't jump in too soon. Usually, the auctioneer will fish for bids, asking "Who'll start me at £40?" then look expectantly around the room. If there are no takers, he will say "£30, then?" and gradually drop the price until he receives an opening bid. The exceptions to this rule are Commission Bids, when he will announce a bid of £40 "on the books" or "with me", or items on which the vendor has placed a minimum selling price or reserve. Bid clearly and decisively and don't be afraid to call out or whistle if the auctioneer hasn't spotted you. Once he has registered your bid, he will keep looking over to you for further bids until you give him some indication that you are no longer interested. You should gesture to let him know when you're definitely out of the running - a firm shake of the head or a "No" will suffice. It's not auction etiquette to bid against your friends - and it's also a very stupid idea to bid against your partner, so if you go together, make sure you agree in advance which of you is doing the actual bidding. (This may sound obvious, but, in a crowded room, it's all too easy to become separated and not to be able to see who you are bidding against - ask my husband!) If you are successful, the item is your responsibility as soon as the hammer falls. Thus, if you are buying anything expensive or valuable, it is a good idea to pre-arrange insurance just in case you are lucky. (My insurance broker will hold a cheque awaiting instructions by telephone.) You will be asked for your number or name, which the clerk will then write onto the progress sheets. As each sheet is filled, it is taken to the office area where you can pay for your goods. If you have bought small items, it is a good idea to colle ct them as soon as you have paid for them otherwise they can be inclined to disappear. If you have bought larger items, make sure you find out when they have to be removed from the salesroom. (You will find "white van man" lurking at most auctions.) You can expect to have your receipt checked against the goods you are carrying in your hot, sweaty hands as you leave the premises. If you were outbid, then it's always worth noting who the purchaser was and approaching them outside the auction rooms. I once bid for a black plastic bin liner that contained an assortment of blankets and cushions, simply because it also contained a pair of brand new, blue gingham curtains that I wanted for my kitchen. The successful bidder wanted the blankets for her arthritic dog - the curtains changed hands in the car park afterwards for 25p! And that's all there is to it. There's nothing remotely scary or intimidating about auctions and there is a real chance to pick up a bargain. My past purchases have included a stuffed badger, an Indian embroidery, curtains (two pairs, lined, with tie-backs for 50p), satin walnut chests of drawers and wardrobes, a box of 50 true crime books (30p), a dog basket, bunk beds, and, my piece de resistance - a pine Welsh dresser which I stripped, wax polished and sold for a £300 profit through the small ads in my local paper a week later. Did I mention it's also great fun?
I've mentioned before that my family has an uncanny talent for mangling the English language. My father's speciality is Spoonerisms - to him, damp days are caused by a combination of "mog and fist" and an attempt at bird watching was once disturbed by a very noisy "scoop of trouts". He has asked for a pint of "semi-skilled mink" in a supermarket, and once enthused for ages about an agricultural show at which he had seen a splendid performance by the "Royal Arse Hortillery". My husband, on the other hand, favours mixed metaphors as a means of communication. All too often we find ourselves "Up a gum tree without a paddle" or "Hoist by our own petangs", or even "Close - but no banana!" We also have another relative, (who shall remain anonymous for fear of reprisals), who is a proper Mr Malaprop! To him, any suggestion that meets with his approval is a "Good ideal!" while any that don't are termed a "Catastropoff!" If I have an annoying habit with the Queen's English, it's the all too frequent use of daft sayings. For example, I've been known to utter the immortal words "I'm so hungry, I could eat a scabby dog between two bread vans!" or, as an exclamation of extreme surprise, "Well, b****r me backwards and call me Norah!" I have no idea where these phrases originated - sadly, neither, it seems, does Nigel Rees. Rees is an author and broadcaster, perhaps best known for his BBC radio show "Quote...Unquote" and for his frequent guest appearances on Channel 4's Countdown. A regular feature of the long running "Quote...Unquote" is the inclusion of domestic catchphrases, the kind of idiosyncratic and personally significant utterances that continue to be used within families for generations. These form the basis of his book "As We Say In Our House". Described on the cover as & quot;...shamelessly nostalgic and warmly humourous..." this is a collection of "popular expressions... personal mottoes, nonsensical riddles, peculiar proverbs and 'nannyisms'" I bought this book (and, indeed, it's companion volume "Oops, Pardon, Mrs Arden") in an effort to finally settle a long-standing family argument. I originally come from the Midlands where, according to my father, there is a particular expression that was - and still is - in common everyday use. (I would be prepared to believe him, were it not for the fact that he is the only person I have ever heard use it!). It refers to things that are neither one thing, nor another - neither fish nor fowl, you might say. According to Dad, such things are "Neither A***hole nor Watercress!" As you might guess, this is another saying that doesn't feature in Mr Rees' book, although there are plenty that do. Some of the sayings appear to be true family originals. Contributor George Goldsmith-Carter recalls being told by his grandmother as a child "You are like the man on the beach with a worsted nose who has never seen the sea." If young George were to be observed doing something stupid, his uncle would remark to his grandmother "You are making a real Margaret Makon of that boy." Who, George wonders, was Margaret Makon? Was she indeed a real person and, if so, what did she do? Another family always used the term "Doing a Gore" for having to perform any onerous task that they didn't particularly relish. The identity of "Gore" remains a mystery to this day. One phrase seems to have come into being when a harassed mother, frustrated at her children's greedy thefts from the fruit bowl, indignantly proclaimed "Apples don't grow on trees!" Other sayings have more recognisable roots. The observation that each of us "has to eat a peck of dirt before we die" was firs t recorded in 1639, although with slightly different wording ("ashes" rather than "dirt".) As you might expect, others have been bastardised from Shakespeare, Dickens or other historic writers. Some expressions seem to be regional. The likening of a person to " a bit of egg on a shovel" (said as a compliment) is said to originate from the Midlands, while "all over the place like a madwoman's knitting / custard / lunch box / s**t / underclothes" are variations of a saying that appears to stem from Australia. Sometimes there are arguments as to the origin of phrases. "It's a bit black over Bill's Mothers!" is one that I remember well from my Leicestershire childhood. It describes dark clouds in the distant sky and is an expression that I still use to this day. Rees includes claims from various people about this particular piece of nonsense. A Leicester man believes he was present at its conception in the 1920's, although radio programmes have attributed its origins to both Kent and Sussex. A Mr Day, now living in New York, recalls its frequent use by his mother who was from Derbyshire, whereas a Reverend P.W.Gallup from Winchester reckons to have traced it's use in 11 different counties and, according to him, that usage precludes its alleged first known appearance in Leicester. Rees has compiled a wealth of sayings, many of which will be familiar to his readers no matter what part of the country they call home, and their origins are intriguing. The book is well laid out, with each phrase printed in bold type followed by an explanation of its usage and possible origin. (These explanations often contain further gems, obviously not thought to be sufficiently entertaining or popular to merit their own bold type headline.) Dotted throughout are caricature illustrations, although I've been unable to discover the name of the illustrator since he/she does not appear to have been credited anywhere in the book. However, to paraphrase my Dad, I felt that the book was "Neither A***hole nor Watercress!" It appeared to be loosely divided into two types of saying - those that are in common, everyday usage ("Somebody got out of the wrong side of the bed today") and those that are more idiosyncratic, special only to a very small number of people ("Botty with no drawers on!"). The sayings from the former group were mostly explained beautifully, although, on occasions, I would have liked a little more detail than "this was in existence by the 18th century" which told me very little about the phrase in question. The sayings in the latter group were almost without exception less amusing than they might have been - I would hazard a guess that this was because they were taken out of context. Maybe they were just too personal, but many, I felt, were over-explained to try and ensure that the reader managed to get the joke. As a serious investigation of the folklore of the English language, this book falls very short. True, it's aims are far more frivolous and light-hearted, but even so, I'm afraid I just didn't really find it that amusing. It was certainly interesting and would be an ideal diversion for a wet afternoon, but, having finished it, I was left with the feeling that this book was rather a wasted opportunity. I wanted answers to questions like "Who were Billy-O and Gordon Bennett?" and "Why is the children's chasing game called Tig in Leicestershire and Tag in other parts of the country?" The subject matter had the potential for being both very informative and very funny - sadly, it "As We Say In Our House" never quite fulfilled that potential. I'll tell you what! Why not share some of your family's favourite sayings with us in comments. I could check to see if they are mentioned in "AWSIOH" and, if not, we 39;ll write our own book. And, if there are any Leicestershire ex-pats out there, do let me know if you've heard the "Watercress" one. Rees briefly mentions "A***s and Elbows", but I can find no mentions of "Watercress". (By the way, there's a fiver riding on your replies.) "As We Say In Our House" - Nigel Rees - Robson Books - ISBN 1 86105 464 5