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Adolescence.... ah, those were the days, the first rush of adrenaline when you are smiled at by the boy or girl you spend hours daydreaming about, the days when you get your first Saturday job and have a few quid in your pocket to buy all the really vital teenage stuff like lipstick and chewing gum, the days when you hang about street corners with your mates and try to look cool. The joy of customising your school books, going to the fair to ride on the Waltzer until you are sick, hiding the love-bite from your mum, living on chips and burgers, and losing the ability to keep your room tidy. Would you want to go back to those days? Not a chance! What a nightmare!! What about the embarrassment of going shoe shopping with your parents, dropping sanitary towels out of your school bag in the middle of double English, having your friends tell the boy of your dreams that you fancy him? No, I’ll quite happily stick with being middle aged thank you very much. So, now that my eldest daughter has turned 12, my deepest sympathies are with her. No love bites yet thankfully, boys have been banned at least until she leaves university! We have all the usual ‘tweenager’ problems, the room that looks like a tornado has gone through it, complete with plates under the bed and goo in the carpet, we have the grunts and “whatevers” that signal the start of a limited teenager vocabulary. Shopping is turning into a nightmare - no more cheapie shops and certainly no charity shops, already she is having her head turned by the likes of River Island and Tammy Girl - “Why can’t we get a charge card Mum, all my friends mums have got one.....”. She really is a darling most of the time but we can see lurking just under the surface the monster that is ..... a teenager!!! The poor kid goes to bed one night looking fresh faced and with a smooth complexion and the next morning, whilst scratching the sleep from her eyes and
yawning into the mirror.... horror of horrors! Spots! Where in the hell did they come from? Life is so unfair, just at the point in time when a youngster starts to become all self conscious and aware of themselves this has to happen. An explosion of red pimples spread across her face, or to be more exact, her ‘T - Zone’. Right across her forehead and down her nose, oh, and a nice one on her chin. Time to investigate the contents of the bathroom cupboard, Sudocrem, Germoline, Antiseptic Cream, E45..... which to choose? A good scrub with unscented soap and then a smearing of E45 should do the trick. Not a chance. Day after day the spots remain, and day after day she gets more depressed about how she looks, it’s no good telling her that she is still beautiful and she has a lovely smile and a great personality, all she can see is the spots. And all she thinks other people look at are the spots. Off to Asda to explore the spot-busting preparations. And there I espy a name from the past, not that I ever had to use it of course.... ahem.... Clearasil. There used to be a time when Clearasil was in a bottle and that was all you had to choose from. Now of course marketing has taken over and there is a whole range. The bottle of lotion still remains, remember the advert on the telly, the boy looking in the mirror having the mickey taken out of him by his brother before applying the goo to his face on cotton wool? Seemed like an easy choice, until I saw the ‘Clearasil Active Treatment Cream with Cover-Up’, a lipstick looking device which is applied to each individual spot and hides it as well as treating it. Then I saw the Clearasil Double Action Pads. Which to choose? The lotion involved having to buy cotton wool, the stick involved a lengthy process of dabbing and checking in the mirror, the pads seemed quick and easy to use so these were the ones we came away with. So what did I get for my money? A screw
lid tub of 65 large pads which should, in theory, be enough for a month, they recommend using one every morning to get the night time grime and grease and dribble off your skin, and another at night to get all the dirt and smudge off. The description of the product on the side of the tub is non-committal, ‘bacteria and oil build up everyday and CAN cause spots’, in other words there can be other causes as well which may not be cleared up with this product, ‘Clearasil Double Action Pads are a quick and easy way to HELP beat them’, in other words they may not be the answer, they may help but not solve the problem. Why am I always so sceptical? So the basic idea is that crap and gunk on your face such as bacteria and oily secretions can cause spots and these pads impregnated with Clearasil will fight the baddies and leave the user with porcelain skin. That is the theory. How do they work in practice? Time for a guinea pig...... spotty 12 year old daughter + one Double Action Pad + good wipe over the T-Zone = “aahh! It tickles Mum! It feels like hundreds of spiders crawling over my face!”. Better have a go myself - and she is right, as the lotion dries it feels most peculiar, all tickly and zingy, but not unpleasant. The lotion is left on the skin to dry which does not take too long. Just make sure it doesn’t go in your eyes as it will sting, believe me. And don’t get it on your lips either, foul taste. What spot busting ingredients are in this product? Aqua - an impressive name for water. Alcohol Denat. (I suspect this is to make it evaporate), Salicyclic Acid (also in a lot of my sons psoriasis creams) Aloe (also found in a lot of skin products), Parfum (maybe this isn’t such a good idea in a product for spotty skin....), and a whole load of other chemicals that I know not a jot about, Triethanolamine, Disodium, Imidazolidinyl, Methylparaben, Proplyparaben and Isoceteth-20........ most p
robably carcinogenic in large amounts.... So that is the Double Action Pad. If that doesn’t work and the spots spread I suppose there is always the Complete Cleansing Bodywash for desperate measures, for spotty backs and spotty bums as well maybe.... or the Purifying Wipes (or were they Putrifying Wipes....), or maybe the Overnight Defence Gel.... or an Oil Free Moisturiser to prevent the spots in the first place! So many spots.... so many choices!! Their website at www.clearasil.co.uk is a real eye-opener, it holds all those answers to zitty questions that you have always wanted to ask as well as a skin quiz (just what you‘ve always wanted to do, I don’t think...), skin tips, and mens stuff .... (think I will leave that one to the imagination....) ‘Is it bad to pop a spot?’ - depends who is watching....... and what comes out of it....... ‘What is a blackhead?’ - something that needs de-sloughing apparently... ‘How can I get rid of blackheads?’ - serve them with an eviction notice and head to the Clearasil aisle. ‘What if your spot will NOT go away?’ - put a paper bag over your head and head to the Clearasil aisle. One week on and how are the spots coming along after using this product religiously twice a day? Pretty good, the spots are less in number, the redness is abating, the pimples are going down, it seems to be doing the trick. I think I can see success on the horizon. Maybe one more week will see the return of her beautiful complexion, I hope so, then she will only have a few other things to worry about.......... boys, periods, chocolate, squabbling with siblings, missing Top of the Pops, homework, having the right trainers, what earrings to wear, ponytail or hairband, blushing, losing her dinner money, running out of mobile phone credit........ oh dear.
I was about 12 years old. Sitting on the stairs at my grannies on my birthday. Too many years ago to even think about.... 1980 something. Playing Space Invaders on a hand held console that would look positively archaic today. I remember feeling the raw excitement of seeing those little alien space ships come careering down the screen towards my missile launcher, coming slowly at first then speeding up until you are frantically pressing your buttons in an attempt to annihilate the enemy before you get destroyed. Those irritating sound effects.... da da de da da, da da de da da, dit dit ditdit dit splatcrashthrup! I remember the little joystick and the little black images on the screen, how different it all is today as I watch my daughter sitting on the stairs playing with her high tech, state of the art, super duper, all guns blazing Game Boy Advance. She cannot believe that I used to be entertained by a machine the size of a shoe box that had no colour and no sound track! And how boring to only have one game on the machine! But to me that game was an amazing and magical contraption. It cost my parents a fortune in batteries. So when I chanced to come upon a copy of Space Invaders in WHSmith recently for just £9.99 I had to look twice, why would such a game that should be collecting its pension be on sale now? Could the original format still hold me entranced? I referred to the back of the box to find out more, and I was quite impressed. Gone were the plain black and white spaceships, gone were the boring levels of the same spaceships going faster and faster, gone were the awful sound effects. It actually looked as though the game had undergone a real modernisation, there was colour, there was dramatic special effects, superb backdrop scenes, promises of 3D graphics and the promise that the game would ‘keep the pace pumping’. Could this old arcade game really have been brought bang up to date and still retain its original addictive
ness? Only one way to find out. I paid my money and took the chance. I checked the specs first but no problems there, plays on anything from a Pentium 166 upwards. Good grief - Pentium 166! With so many high tech and engaging games on the market today, a retro game is in real danger of struggling, yet this game really impressed me. It retains its original simplicity, the aims are much the same, shoot the bad guys, avoid getting squished and aim for the mother ship wherever possible. However the level of excitement is so much higher in this new version, I think the sound effects help heighten the tension, as does the amount of debris that is flung into the air when you get hit! The opening sequence when you first load the game is well worth sitting through, it gives you a movie style plot to explain why you are about to fight the faceless enemies in the sky, it is up to you to rid the planet of the alien threat. Time to roll up the sleeves and get to business. This short film really gives you a taste of some of the craft you will have to defeat as the game progresses. At the start of each level you are presented with a scenario - for example, the first level consists of an onslaught of 12 foot standard spaceships, with a nice shiny red paint job, these are the most common of the aliens, whilst they are relatively harmless on their own they can mount strong attacks through sheer numbers. And speed. You are sent on your way with all good wishes and good luck - apparently - “pilot, you are going to need it”. Now it is time to enter the atmosphere of Pluto....... gripping stuff eh?! The critters appear in formation across the screen and gradually work their way from side to side and downwards, when you have obliterated a large number of them they gain speed just to make the job a little bit harder. Watch out for their retaliation though, three hits and you are out. It’s good to aim for the mother s
hips which make their way across the top of the screen at intervals, blast one of them and grab your reward as it floats down to you, it may be a shield to protect you, could be a ‘time stop’ bonus which freezes the ships where they are momentarily so that you can cheat , or it could be a double shot - double the ammo. Before you know it the level is over, pretty easy, not too much of a challenge, barely got the adrenaline pumping. Time to move on to the next level.... bigger ships, purple this time, still easy peasy. Next level..... same size ships, different shape, resprayed to a revolting green. Blast them out of the sky and move to the next level..... yellow ones. This is getting a little predictable now. Level 5 provides a surprise - a mixture of all of the above in a different formation, all firing shots at you, starting to get a little more interesting now. And at least you have something to hide behind in this level (if you are a coward!) Complete five levels in each section and you will be rewarded with a bonus level, loads of mother ships, loads of bonuses, extra lives (you will need them later on, I promise!) Five more levels of the same, shooting, dodging, hiding, shields and power ups. Then just as you are being led into a false sense of security you get to meet the first of many Bosses. A giant slug with a real attitude problem appears and is determined to squish you, it is a case of getting your shots in when you can and keeping well out of the way at the edge of the screen when you see him heading your direction. Not so easy and can be a little frustrating until you get the hang of it. So that is 10 levels completed, only another 90 to go..... So, that is how the game goes, working from Pluto towards Earth, sampling the alien delights of each planet as you go. Obviously the level of skill needed to complete each stage increases as the game progresses, strange craft appear that do not behave as expected, on
es that dive bomb when you hit them, aiming to take you out with them, ones that explode ferociously with the same intent. Each set of levels present some new foe to keep you interested, 143 species in all. Another aim of the game is to destroy four craft of the same type in a row to get more freebies, such as a missile that will clear a whole row out at once, or a boomerang bomb, getting four in a row in the latter stages of the game is quite an achievement so these bonuses can be very satisfying. And those Bosses at the end of each stage can get really tricky too. So how does this game compare to the original? Really there is no contest in terms of the graphics, the gameplay and the atmosphere. Also you have the option of multiplayering - something you could never do on the old handheld antique. It certainly retains its addictiveness, once you start you really want to get to the end to see what happens, once you get the hang of it this will occur in just a day or two. So what does happen at the end? You are rewarded with the ultimate retro prize - a bonus version of the classic Space Invaders game, great for bringing back those memories but after playing the new, all singing, all dancing version, it stinks! Thank goodness for progress!!
Picture the scene if you will........ It’s Sunday afternoon, it’s raining, there’s nothing on the telly, the children are all bored and either contemplating their navels or filling their faces with pick ’n mix on the settee. Husband is busy in the cupboard under the stairs cataloguing his collection of Formula One tapes. Time to suggest a period of good, old fashioned, wholesome family entertainment. Time to suggest a board game! The response? Mediocre to say the least. ‘Aw, mum, do we have to?’ ‘But I always lose!’ ‘Daddy always cheats!’ ‘We’ve lost all the pieces / hoovered up all the pieces / cat ate all the pieces’ ‘We’ve lost the dice / spinner / counters’ etc, etc, etc. Back to navel contemplating, chewing fizzy coke bottle sweets and more head bumping under the stairs....... Well, does it matter? Do I have to sacrifice an enjoyable afternoon just because no one else has the motivation to get involved? Not anymore. Not since getting hold of a copy of Monopoly Tycoon! Monopoly Tycoon is an excellent alternative to the more traditional board game, it gives you the opportunity to play against other computer generated players, each who display different tactics and ways of proceeding through the game. It makes good sense to investigate the rules of the game through the tutorials that are provided on the main menu, a guide to effective ‘Monopolying’, in other words, how to buy, sell, create and trade well enough to win further levels in the game. As in most tutorials it gives you the knowledge you need to be able to play the game properly and make sense of all the panels and symbols. When you have grasped the basic concepts it is time to create your profile, time to decide whether you see yourself as a boot, iron or something a little more exotic. There is room for quite a
few players so the rest of the family can become characters too. After creating your profile you are presented with a main menu which allows you to choose your type of gameplay - tutorials, single player or multiplayer. Obviously with my uninspired lot I have to opt for single player mode. Multiplayer is available on-line if that is your sort of thing. Initially you are only given one scenario at a time, when completed you are given more. The scenario may involve such things as selling a set number of objects or services, making the most profit in a set period of time or making your portfolio of businesses as valuable as possible. There are some really good ones concerning the collecting of votes and being made mayor as well. You play against a number of computer generated characters and the level of difficulty can be altered to make the game more challenging when you have mastered the easier levels, the rewards are bronze, silver and gold cups. The awards and levels completed appear on your profile which is a real incentive to complete the whole game. Incidentally, I have had this game since Christmas 2001 and I still have some elusive cups to get at gold level. Basically the aim of the game is to build businesses and residential accommodation, sell a good range of products and services at competitive prices, balance your finances, accumulate wealth, encourage people to shop, take over other peoples businesses, buy building rights and generally beat the other competitors. All this takes place on a virtual board, not the traditional board you would find in a Monopoly box, but more like a three dimensional map of London with blocks of coloured land. You will find a lot of the familiar names such as Mayfair, Bond Street and Euston Road as well as a few new faces such as Victoria Dock and Green Pier. As with the board game it is possible to purchase the utility companies and train stations with their financial incentives. I must warn you now th
ough.... leasing a block of land or a utility is not as simple as in the board version. You must select your plot, enter it into an auction, then after a short period of time the auction will take place, you must bid for the booty against your virtual team members. Early on in the game they will be happy to let you possess it for a small sum but as the game continues and the stakes get higher you will have a bigger fight (and bigger bill) on your hands. You can build your businesses on any plot, regardless of whether you have the lease or not, however, if you are not the leaseholder you will be liable for rent which can leave a big dent in your Monopoly purse. Building a business is quite straightforward, you first select your business type, whether retail or residential. If you opt for retail you are presented with a list of possible shops to build, this range increases as the game develops, the game travels through the decades from the 1930s to the future and the range of shops reflects the change in era. You start with the basics, bakery, butchers, fishmongers, bookshop, toyshop, bar, ballroom...... then progress to include ice-cream parlours, travel agents, delicatessens, sport shops, fast food joints and music shops. There is eventually an extensive list to choose from. The residential option will allow you to build apartments and hotels. Building is simple, clicking and dragging to form a box, then watching as a virtual building site springs up and your three dimensional building is created, great fun to watch. If you have the leasehold of the block you can even build little parks and seating areas to keep your little people happy. There are plenty of little things to consider when playing to win, for example, keeping an eye on stock levels and how much of each item you are selling, there is usually a bit of price changing to be done on a regular basis to keep those customers interested. Also it helps to keep your day time business
es separate from night time entertainments and eateries, makes it easier to keep an eye on them. Keeping within a few blocks also helps you to keep an eye on your investments. As with the traditional game, there are opportunities to take advantage of Chance cards, they flash up occasionally on the screen and it is your choice whether to reveal them or not. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are real stinkers! Some see you paying maintenance fees on any buildings of low quality, some allow you to perform a hostile takeover, some automatically restock one of your shops, others may see you sharing your wealth with a competitor on his birthday. Other important points to remember when playing are that it is important to not be in debt two midnights in a row or else you will be made bankrupt, also the nights can go rather slowly so it is wise to fast forward the game to get to the morning when your shops will be restocked at 6am and ready for business at 9am. The game can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be, it allows you to get involved with leasing, refurbishing and consumer polls if you so wish, or just sit back and watch the pennies roll in with your block of 10 ice-cream shops! Because of this, it is a brilliant game for kids as well, they may not understand the cut and thrust of building a million dollar metropolis but they will love building their toy shop next to their music shop next to their souvenir shop and selling the contents for a penny each! They will also enjoy changing the camera angle so that they can go down to the pavement level and look in all the shop windows! As a reward for completing all the scenarios at the basic bronze cup level you are given the ultimate Monopoly world to play in, all the money you want, all the land you want, all the shops you want, the opportunity to go forth and build skyscrapers and shopping centres, no worry about planning permission or costs. Great fun to play as there are no
restrictions and no goals to fulfil. Overall, an absorbing game for all ages, lots of variety, lots of different scenarios, different levels of difficulty, excellent graphics, complicated graphs of productivity for those who want them, great music that changes with the decades and a easy to navigate screen. Just as good as the board game yet with no danger of losing the pieces down the side of the settee! Time for the boring bits.... Needs Windows 95/98/Me Pentium II 233 MHz or more 64 MB RAM memory 90 MB Free hard disk space 4X cd-rom drive ........ do I need to go on ......... no, I didn’t think so!
A week ago I settled down with the children on the sofa with a bag of pick and mix and high hopes. The credits rolled and we watched with eager anticipation for the first scenes of Ted Hughes ‘The Iron Man’. What followed could surely only be loosely termed as being based on the book, there were so many differences that it seemed a travesty . We watched a thoroughly entertaining film, great characters, excellent cartoon art, good dialogue and a happy ending but it was still galling to me that it was so far removed from the work of the fantastic Ted Hughes. In a nutshell the film concentrated on the friendship that grows up between a giant Iron Man and a small boy called Hogarth, the efforts of the military to find this mysterious monster and the help given to the unlikely pair by a scrap merchant who makes metal sculpture in his spare time. Basically, the Iron Man in the film is a weapon but is unaware of this fact until threatened by the military, he becomes a danger, is fired upon by a missile which will ultimately kill all the people in the vicinity. Iron Man acknowledges this and in a magnificent show of bravery he flies into the air, collides with the missile, causes a huge explosion and so averts a national disaster. Lots of tears and regrets are followed by a happy ending with all of the Iron Mans bits and pieces locating each other across the globe and reforming. A nice tale with goodies and baddies and a moral point at the end. But nothing like the book. Disappointed at the ‘adaptation’ I decided to introduce my children to the wonderful world of the Iron Man direct from the pages of Ted Hughes amazing book. It had sat on the bookcase for many years, unread and unappreciated by three children who were drawn to books with colourful pictures, lift-the-flaps and anything in a boxed set. They were not tempted to open the front cover and investigate the treasure in their hands, they failed to be impressed by
the stern front cover, the monochrome image of a metal man in a junkyard in the dead of night. No explanation on the back cover to offer them a taste of what was between those pages. Yet at my indignation following the film I encouraged them to dig it out and dust it off. It was time to show them the real Iron Man..... The Iron Man is described as a ‘Childrens Story in Five Nights’, the plan was to read a chapter every evening until the book was complete. No chance! The children were entranced from the first few pages and every time the book was closed there would be cries of ‘more! more!’ and so it was read over two evenings with barely a pause for breath each time! Ted Hughes style of writing is incredible, he really engages his readers and captures their imagination... “The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.’ And so the opening lines set the stage for an adventure, a journey that takes him tumbling over the edge of the cliff and possible destruction. The first chapter is a description of how the man rebuilds his shattered body, carefully reconstructing his separated pieces until he is whole again, a great chapter to use body actions with the children, creeping hands, blinking eyeballs and such like. Fantastic. In the second chapter we are introduced to Hogarth, who is not at all like the boy in the film, this child is afraid, very afraid, he does not befriend the giant whom he encounters whilst out fishing, he runs and runs and runs, home to the safety of his family who surprisingly enough believe his account. The whole affair is taken out of the hands of the child, even though in the movie he is one of the main two characters. The grown ups formulate a plan to capture the monster, digging a huge pit and laying a trap. This is all in vain though as the Iron Man beats a hasty
retreat and the men are left wondering whether they imagined the whole thing. Enter Hogarth once more who whilst trying to ensnare a fox in the hole manages to land himself a larger quarry, the Iron Man. Much rejoicing is followed by much filling in of the hole. Hogarth is consumed with guilt and much consuming of picnics occurs on the newly created grassy hillock above the giant. Until...... ‘one day, a father, a mother, a little boy and a little girl stopped their car and climbed the hill for a picnic. They had never heard of the Iron Man and they thought the hill had been there forever.’...... Before too long their plate of sandwiches, tomatoes and boiled eggs are rolling down the hill as the Iron Man decides that it is time to vacate and they scarper ...... ‘ they did not see the great iron head, square like a bedroom, with red glaring headlamp eyes, and with the tablecloth, still with the chicken and the cheese, draped across the top of it, rising out of the top of the hillock, as the Iron Man freed himself from the pit’. This bit had my kids literally squealing with delight - what an image! After a night of devouring barbed wire like candy floss we are well into the next chapter and the dilemma of what to do with this gigantic metal munching menace. Hogarth lures him into a scrap yard where he can chew greasy black stoves like toffee and eat brass knobs off double-decker bedsteads and where he can eat lengths of rusty chain like it was spaghetti! Now this could be the happy ending that the children were looking for, but there was more in store for the Iron Man yet. Ted Hughes introduces mystery and intrigue, a star increasing in size is spotted in the sky, getting closer and closer to the Earth, no-one knows what it is, or whether it will stop before it hits. Until one day. It stops. And from the heart of it appears a huge creature, a dragon, ‘terribly black, terribly scaly, terribly knobbl
y, terribly horned, terribly hairy, terribly clawed, terribly fanged, with vast indescribably terrible eyes.....’ Time for the kids eyes to get very, very wide indeed!! And so it lands..... and covers the whole of Australia. ‘That’s impossible!’ cry out the children, who have been there and know just how big it is. ‘Not for Ted Hughes’ dragon!’ I say. And so this terribly terrible dragon proceeds to suck in and devour all living creatures. How would the Earth rid itself of such a forbidding creature? Rockets don’t work. Missiles don’t work. Bombs and shells are merely shrugged off. The Iron Man has a solution, and a very clever one it is too. It involves an oversized barbeque and a challenge, oh, and the sun. Needless to say, the Iron Man is victorious and the dragon has to pay a forfeit, he has to revert to his original purpose in life, a singing star spirit, and he has to live inside the moon, coming out every evening to sing his beautiful songs. A happy ending is had by all, the Iron Man takes his retirement in his well stocked junkyard and the world is calmed into a peaceful state by the sublime singing of the dragon. ‘But Mummy.... that’s nothing like the film!’ ‘I know, now you see why I wanted to read it to you.’ ‘The book is far better than the film Mummy!’ And Mummy smiles a knowing smile to herself. Thank you Ted Hughes.
Once a week I can be found trawling the aisles of either Safeways or Asda looking for something to tempt my palate and not break my diet, something that has minimal calories, miniscule fat content but maximum taste. Usually I end up with a refrigerator full of ready meals that do not taste half as good as the container they came in. It seems that the majority of the time you have to compromise on taste to reduce the nasties in your diet. There are the odd exceptions of course, the Weight Watchers range is edible, but with their products you tend to miss out on quantity, the product tastes good but you need two of them to satisfy you. What makes dieting more difficult is sitting at the dinner table with your dinner-in-a-plastic-container whilst everyone else is enjoying the roast dinner that you spent ages preparing. Not good. So, fed up with eating mass produced mush, and yet still determined to reduce my fat and sugar intake, I decided to dig out my copy of Rosemary Conleys Low Fat Cookbook. Time to think about making healthy meals that the whole family could enjoy without breaking my strict dieting code! Rosemary Conley is turning into a real institution, slimming clubs, magazines, fitness videos (which I regularly huff and puff to) and now two low fat cook books, mine is the first of them. So what are her qualifications for writing this book? Well, she has lost a fair bit of weight herself and developed a whole new way of eating, her low fat diet plan led to the Hip and Thigh Diet back in the 80’s which sold truck loads of copies. I myself lost over 5 stone in the past by following her regime and this book, along with her videos, helped immensely. Her story, which is featured in the cookbook, is quite inspirational and well worth the read. So, with the old waistline expanding again it is time to turn to the book... It begins with a section revealing the secrets of successful slimming, explaining about calories, the dangers of
starvation diets, the effective burning of excess calories and how to calculate your daily needs. Extensive charts show your basal metabolic rate and your total energy requirement per day according to your weight, therefore the heavier you are, the more calories you need. There are various charts for men and women, and their activity levels. I liked the way she uses kilocalories, I just can’t get used to using kilojoules, all very confusing. We are given a brief guide to nutrients needed for a healthy diet and useful information about how to read nutrition labels of food products effectively. Designing your own diet plan is included, a very useful tool for those that need it. Next follows a section on how to cook the low fat way, it offers suggestions such as dry-frying meat, poultry and vegetables, alternatives to fat, how to enhance flavour without piling in the butter and cream, using herbs to add that something special, all good tips. Then we follow on with a interesting portion on meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and other main food items, lots of good calorie saving tips here, different cooking methods, ways of enhancing taste, alternatives and foodstuffs to avoid. Now comes the really dribbly, drooly bit, the recipes with lots and lots of tantalising pictures. I think it is quite cruel to have a cookbook directed at dieters with so many stomach growl inducing pictures! There are masses of excellent recipes throughout the different sections, I shall focus on just a few of my favourites that I have actually made so I can safely say they have been successful and are worth the effort! We begin with breakfasts..... we are given alternatives to the fried English Breakfast and the porridge made with cream and demerara sugar......... (my favourite!). She supplies a fantastic recipe for home-made muesli containing apple, oats, sultanas, bran and served with low-fat natural yoghurt, honey and banana. This was excellent but I also added
some sunflower seeds, high in fat - I know, I know! but delicious all the same! It doesn’t keep at all well though and so has to be made every day which is a bit time consuming. Starters..... I’m not really a starters person but there are some nice choices here, simple melon cocktail and Italian bean salad for example, or Thai rosti crab cakes with tomato and lime salsa for those with more exotic tastes! The only recipe I tried from this section was baked mushrooms, again with a little adaptation of my own. The recipe called for chestnut mushrooms, spring onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, parsley, soy sauce and oregano, I opted for large open mushrooms instead and turned it into a main meal, very satisfying and a big hit with the kids which was a surprise! Soups..... Slim-a-soup in a cup is usually all I can be bothered with, again I am not much of a soup person, seems a lot of effort for something that you can get out of a tin or sachet. The idea of having to get out the food processor or blender to make soup...... not for me I’m afraid. Not even at the thought of Carrot and Coriander, Cream of Mushroom and Lemon (of course, not a jot of real cream in sight!), Pumpkin and Ginger or Duck and White Bean Soup. My eyes alighted on Parsnip and Cognac briefly, and I was tempted, but still not enough to get the blender out! Sorry Rosemary, I’m sticking with my Slim-a-Soup! Beef.... I enjoy beef and tended to buy ready meals that contained it so this was a very useful section for me, there is a sublime Cottage Pie with Leek and Potato Topping, indistinguishable from its fatty version, wonderful, and only 327 calories a serving - less than some ready meals, and at least you know what has gone in it..... Another nice one is the Herby Meat Loaf with Onion Sauce, very moreish and spicy, yet still only 341 calories a go. It’s amazing how she keeps the calories so low! Lamb.... A few here to recommend -
Lamb Tagine, a sort of Moroccan stew, just perfect for cold winter evenings, especially if you mop up the sauce with a bit of crusty bread. And who would have thought it would have canned apricots in it? Wonderful! For me, being on a diet usually means missing out on my Indian takeaway, not any more - Balti Mince is an excellent substitute with only 243 calories for a largish portion, whack a bit of boiled rice on the side and you don’t feel at all deprived. Lots of other recipe ideas here I would love to try, Lamb with Rosemary and Horseradish Crumble.... Spiced Lamb with Couscous.... mmmmmmmmm. Moving on to my personal favourite - pork. Really low fat meat and very tasty. Her Sweet and Sour Pork is wonderful, again, very low calories, this time only 168!!! A lovely mixture of lean pork fillets, onion, carrot, green and red peppers, beansprouts, mushrooms and pineapple along with flavourings. Never tasted better. Honest! The kids love her Ranchero Pie, a cowboy style dish of pork and beans with a potato topping, they always whack a load of extra cheese on top of theirs though to make it more exciting. Excuse me whilst I just jot down the recipe for Gammon with Pineapple Rice.... definitely one to try next week..... Chicken and game.... another well thumbed section of the book, tried most of these, Chicken and Leek Casserole (286cals), Stuffed Chicken Breasts (224cals) and Chicken Korma (196cals) were particularly memorable. No good trying the duck recipes, the kids feed the ducks on the river and would be mortified to find one on the dinner table! Fishy dishes ..... a cod in parsley sauce is usually the extent of my cooking with fish, I never really know how to cook it, I grill the occasional mackerel but that is about it. Rosemarys recipes are quite tempting though and I may give some of them a whirl one day when I am not so paranoid about swallowing fish bones! Cod Steak with Herby Stuffing Crust sounds pretty good
, and it uses packet cod steaks which is a real bonus - no fish preparation! Baked Trout with Rosemary and Sea Salt and Pan Fried Tuna with Pepper Noodles sound yummy too, although I think I will avoid Trout and Spinach Paupiettes with Dill and Cucumber Sauce - far too fussy. For the vegetarian looking to lower their fat content there are some excellent choices - I can’t say I am really into chickpeas, polenta, tofu or quorn that much though so I usually flick through these pages, I tried quorn once and felt it was like eating papier mache, though I am sure Rosemary can whip up a storm with it! Rice... I tend to avoid rice as it has quite a high calorific value and you don’t get a very big portion, but this book does provide recipes that use rice but still reduce the fat content of the dish. Pasta... This is more like it, the kids love pasta so her Crunchy Bacon and Spaghetti is a winner in our house, the extra kick comes from the Branston Pickle in it. Creamy Leek an Tuna Pasta is great, again there is not a hint of real cream, not that you would notice, full of flavour and only 337 calories. We have tried the Golden Cauliflower Cheese too, made with half-fat mushroom soup, excellent. Salads... bleh, soggy lettuce, wrinkly tomatoes and droopy cucumber. That is what is in my fridge by the end of each week! Nothing like Rosemarys salads! Hers actually look edible - Prawn and Pasta Salad, Thai Noodle Salad and Homemade Coleslaw to mention just a few. Vegetables... I could live on vegetables, just love ‘em. She gives us a recipe for Brussel Sprouts and Chestnuts.... forget the chestnuts, just give me the sprouts! Spicy Mushrooms -she is not kidding - very spicy and moreish. Parsnip Gratin - heaven on a plate. Just don’t give me spinach.... Now we come to the really important bit..... PUDDINGS!!!! Goodbye fat free yoghurt, goodbye fruit salad - here comes Apricot Plum Softie (I
have to make double as the kids scoff enough to feed a family of 4 on their own!), Tarte Tatin (basically apple pie made with filo pastry), and wait for it.... Fresh Strawberry and Lime Pavlova - the picture itself looks good enough to eat, the real thing has only marginally more calories - only 211 per serving. No fresh cream of course, she uses Greek Yoghurt - must give this one a try sometime for a special occasion. Raspberry Roulade made with a fatless sponge.... Tiramisu (with only 76 calories a serve... just how does she do it?!?!). From Lemon Meringues to Low-Fat Pancakes (nearly Pancake Day!), from Pear and Ginger Upside Down Pudding to a Low Fat Christmas Pudding, there is definitely something here for everyone. Cakes and Loaves... I try to avoid baking as I would eat it all! A whole Carrot and Mango Cake would be too much of a temptation I think. Individual Caramel Meringue Pyramids may be a better idea at only 26 calories each. We finish with the boring sauces and dressings - this usually means bringing out the blender again so I avoid that. Only more to wash up afterwards. But for those who require a low fat white sauce or a fat-free mayonnaise this would be just the ticket. Rosemary Conley has succeeded in making low fat cooking look appetising and worth the effort, this really is an excellent book and her easy to understand instructions would make this book suitable for even the most novice of cooks. It is a real inspiration and encourages the reader to don that apron, roll up the sleeves and embark on a healthy eating regime. (So after all that, what am I having for my evening meal? Beans on Toast!) My copy is in hardback but I am pretty sure the first one at least is available in paperback. Time to go and buy the sequel I think.........
“Shed 14lbs in 6 weeks and STILL have it all!” “ What’s the secret? Four readers lost 19st 6lbs.... Find out how!” “No place like home for a total workout!” “Exclusive... I dropped four stone - GMTVs Andrea McLean shares her story!” So scream out the headlines on the latest copy of Slimmer. Enough to make me root around in the depths of my bag for £2.10 and shuffle up to the newsagents counter past all those size 8 women leafing through their Vogue and Glamour. The bathroom scales had not been particularly kind to me that morning, despite moving around on it to see if I could make the dial go down a bit and getting on and off it a couple of times to see if that made any difference. It was time to admit defeat, these excess pounds were not going to disappear on their own and a bit of encouragement was in order. ‘Slimmer’ shouted out to me from the shelf - be healthier, be fitter, have fun! Now I can be a bit of a cynic sometimes and looking at the headlines I was tempted to add my own interpretation.... “Shed 14lbs in 6 weeks and STILL have it all!...... still have it all.... mmmm..... burgers, chips, doughnuts, icecream, pizza, crisps, chocolate, apple pie, curry...... and still shed 14lbs? I doubt it! “What’s the secret? Four readers lost 19st 6lbs.... Find out how!...... which limbs did they lose?... “No place like home for a total workout!...... no place like home for sitting down with cocoa and choccie biscuits... “Exclusive... I dropped four stone - GMTVs Andrea McLean shares her story!..... Exclusive... I dropped four stone .... of potatoes on my toe... So, to the magazine. What’s in it that is going to make me that size 8? March is the month to..... gives you ideas on how to fill your month, rather than your stomach. Basically give up smoking (no problem there, non-smoker here
), buy yourself a bunch of flowers to take your mind off food (doubtful!), raise some money for Red Nose Day, don’t forget Mothers Day (they encourage you to buy smellies but this Mum would rather have chocolates!) and get walking. Next we meet our first successful slimmer (hate her already!), Deborah has lost loads of subcutaneous fat, gone from 11st 4lbs to 8st 7lbs, we get to read her list of food for the day, all the predictable healthy stuff, not a bag of Maltesers or a Mars bar in sight. Then we get to learn how GMTVs weather girl lost those four stones, having the baby could have a little to do with it perhaps..... it’s nice to read about a celebrity with a weight problem for a change though, good to know they are just like everyone else. After a liberal sprinkling of advertisements trying to sell us anti-ageing electrode face zapping equipment, diet plates, hypnotism and organic tampons (!!!) we have an excellent article on getting back into shape after childbirth, good advice and something that would have done me the world of good 8 years ago. Then the diet plan that will give you the 14lb loss in 6 weeks, a fully detailed meal planner, this was quite impressive as unusually there were foods there that I’d actually heard of and could buy in Safeways! Even I could cope with making beans on toast or a jacket potato with cottage cheese, all very sensible meal suggestions with a few little more exotic suggestions like pork with couscous. And a huge list of things you can browse on all day, although I don’t know how appealing a bowl of spring onions, sprouts, marrow, spinach and turnip would be..... Onto a page or two that only received a cursory glance, more celebrities and their lifestyle tips, not very helpful as they seem to be able to eat everything and not exercise yet still look great. Sickening. Then another successful slimmer, from 18st down to 11st 6lbs this time, and she eats crisps and
chocolate - this sounds more like it! Cadbury’s Lite Chocolate Mousse sprinkled with chopped up After Eight mints, this is a diet I could live with!! We continue with a selection of gym clothes... “Ditch those saggy jogging bottoms! Get your motivation surging!”. What if you have a saggy bottom to go with the jogging bottoms though? On to the beauty pages I think, you may be large but you can still have glamour in your life. Fast forward to the Shop Around section - what you can buy with minimal calories and where to find them, Barcardi Breezer Diet Lemon has just 110 calories apparently, now there’s a thought.... Time for some recipes to tickle your tastebuds and reduce that waistline, Hoi Sin Topped Pork, Spicy Noodles with Spring Veg and Peanut Sauce and Oriental Sardines to name a few (my idea of Oriental Sardines would be to open a tin of them in tomato sauce and eat them with chopsticks). Chilled Pineapple and Papaya with Coconut Zabaglione, Wild Alaska Salmon and Broccoli Frittata, Luscious Lamb Steaks with Garlic Mash, Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pots, Zespri Green Kiwifruit Daiquiri..... stop it - that’s enough! And yet at this point we are still only halfway through the 107 pages. Yet to come we have a look at cereals, a letters page, a competition, another success story, the mandatory ‘fun’ quiz and a giveaway page which looks impressive until you read just how many of each item are given away, not many. We continue with fitness news, your guide to working out in the home (just make sure everyone else is out and the curtains are pulled), a guide to gym equipment, yet another success story (more gloating faces...), and a questions and answers page. There is a guide to your ideal calorie intake in relation to your weight and then to finish there are pages and pages of advertisements. So, ‘Slimmer’, will it do the trick? Will it give me the motivation I was l
ooking for? Perhaps, the bathroom scales will reveal the level of success next Monday I suppose, and if I leave it on the kitchen counter all week it will serve as a constant reminder. As a publication it is very good, there is a great deal of variety and the quality of writing is generally very high. The pages contain a fair few adverts which on the whole are quite informative as they cover food or items of interest to a dieter. There is enough within it to keep the reader entertained for a few hours and the recipes could certainly provide an excellent source of meal ideas for future reference, although some may be a bit over the top and fussy, when you are starving hungry the last thing you want to do is faff about in the kitchen for hours making interesting meals. Another good point is that the magazine does not encourage the participation in any particular slimming club as many do, i.e Rosemary Conleys or Slimming World magazine, this makes it totally unbiased which is refreshing. Celery sticks here I come, cellulite be gone!
First love.... ah, there is nothing quite like it. The dream is created in the media and on the cinema screen, the two strangers destined to meet, their eyes meeting across a crowded, smoky room, the spark of electricity as the connection is made, the rush of adrenaline, the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, and then the crowds part and the strangers find themselves drawn together. A case of wishful thinking or fantasy? No, it really does happen. I remember it vividly! It was New Years Eve, about 10 o’clock in the evening, a country pub with a roaring log fire, velvet curtains and a wonderful atmosphere. I was just a young slip of a thing, just turned 13, the age where puberty is really kicking in and the hormones are running around creating havoc and this was my first proper New Years party, the only downside was the presence of a set of grandparents and an aunt and uncle. Never mind, a good excuse to get dressed up, put on a bit of lippy, sneak a few sips of Grannys cherry brandy when she was not looking and generally have a good boogie about on the dance floor. And then the door opened to the bar, a cold wind followed in after the most gorgeous man I had ever seen. The world stopped turning for a few moments as I stopped dancing to stare, he was everything that I had dreamed of, I was simply swept away. Our eyes met and that was it. Fate. He walked over...... and talked to my family - he was the son of an family friend! Apparently he was known by both my mothers family and my fathers family too yet I had never had the pleasure of making his aquaintance.... I hung on his every word and remained glued to his side in complete adoration all evening! We danced with disapprovingly glances, after all he was 19, not appropriate really when I look back on it! Soon my unmarried aunt was inserted into his arms in my place, a much better match apparently, yet his eyes continued to meet mine all the while...... The conga came, so off
we all conga’d with his hands around my waist, what a feeling!! And then midnight came and the polite kiss followed by another for good measure..... something was definitely connecting.... The pub emptied and we drifted away to our cars, disappearing into the darkness, we lost sight of each other, would I ever see him again? My aunt certainly did, she got there first and had a date with him the very next week! I hated her for that, but she has long since been forgiven! The years went by, I lived a distance away and our paths didn’t cross, I dreamed of him often, thought of him constantly, always living in the hope that we would one day meet again. Future boyfriends did not compare, they always seem to come a poor second best, never quite able to live up to the standard that had been set way back in 1983. I wanted to have that same feeling again but was unable to find it. And then, aged 15 I had a summer job in a cafe, days of pouring coffee and making milkshakes, all very mundane until...... I got out my pad and pen, looked up at the customers sitting at the table who were waiting to take my order, and it was him! With a girl.... Euphoria and elation followed very closely by misery! I served them iced coffee and beat a hasty retreat. Did he recognise me? Surely he must have - why did he not say anything?! Why on earth didn’t I?! Fast forward to 1987, and our paths were destined to cross again. After an evening out a friend and I went back to her boyfriends flat for coffee, a communal lounge for a group of bedsits. We sit, we talk, we drink coffee, we watch the first Comic Relief night..... and in he walks into my life again. And there he stayed. We spent the whole night sitting up watching the Comic Relief night, talking and getting to know each other. A month later we were engaged with the full blessing of both sides of the family. A year later we were married. A year after that followed baby number
one, then two, then three! We will have been married for 14 years this August. So for those that pooh-pooh the idea that falling in love at first sight is just whimsical nonsense, I beg to disagree. During that evening in 1987 my sweetheart confessed that he also felt the same in that instance, yet felt unable to declare his true feelings due to our ages at the time, he also thought about me in the years that followed and was upset to have kept his silence in the cafe. I just wish everyone was as fortunate as me and could find their true love in life, I especially hope our own children experience the same joy that first love can bring. (Thanks to MALU for bringing back some wonderful memories!)
MyVoice. Seemed like a good idea once. Answer interesting questionnaires on topical issues and earn yourself some points for your trouble. Stack up enough points and you could find a £20 voucher from one of a wide range of high street stores such as Tescos, BHS, Threshers or Woolworths winging its way to you. It would take a couple of years mind you, but if you are enjoying the questionnaires and you find the odd one or two thought provoking, all well and good. A very professional looking website, bright and colourful and also easy to navigate. A quick registration giving a few of your details and away you go. Easy enough. Then on to the polling station where you can work your way through the current questionnaires and give them your valuable opinion on such diverse topics as gambling online, your experiences of health clubs, whether you watched Footballers Wives and found it made you more interested in football (?!?!), how you feel about junk mail (need they ask?!), do we think burglars should go to jail, do you look forward to your works Christmas party, do you think Bristol should be the European Capital of Culture in 2008, what do you know about breast cancer / body hair / recycling / ice-cream / stem cells / golf / organ transplants? Lots of juicy stuff there to discuss at long dinner parties (although apparently female body hair is the new taboo subject ........ apparently men don’t like it and don’t want to admit it exists...) Or if none of those subjects get you thinking, how about other questionnaires they have carried out over the past year or so? Is walking a thing of the past? How insured are you? Saving and investing - is it a mugs game? Who will get the vote for Archbishop of Canterbury? (Who really cares??) Carnivore, omnivore or vegetarian? Chocolate - friend or foe? (Absolute necessity in our house!!) Footware - are you a Manolo Blahnik, a Birkenstock or an Adidas? (Eh?) Each questionnaire when compl
eted awards you a set number of points, ranging from 0 which seems appalling mean when you have gone to all the trouble of filling in a form, up to 10 for a run of the mill one. It appears that there are between 7 - 10 available to do every month which if you consider is only a maximum of 100 points per month and payout is only made once you reach 2000, that is a long time to wait. However, a glimmer of hope, there are opportunities to make additional points, when you register you are asked to complete short, but very nosey, profiles about yourself, your home life, work life and your internet uses, all needed to provide you with extra invitation surveys from their client list........... apparently these surveys sometimes reward as many as 500 points for a commercial research poll sponsored by a client. Since July 2002 I have not received one single invitation survey or even an express survey which pays out slightly less, between 20 and 100 points, so not much chance of piling on the points there then. Another way to accumulate is to introduce a friend, apparently for another 25 points. Introduced said friend, did not get said 25 points, even though she participated fully. Mmmmmm....... Anyway, another supposed bonus is the Prize Draw held every month to win £1000. I’m still waiting........ does anyone actually win these draws?? Apparently they do, but the odds of winning must be very slim indeed. And hardly much of an incentive. I used to enjoy going along to the site every week or so and logging on to find out what information they would like to glean from me and to see my points total edging up slowly but surely every time, up to around the 630 mark now, only a few more years to go.... It didn’t really worry me it was a slow process, it was just a bit of fun with a rather small pot of gold at the end. However, things have changed at MyVoice and not for the better, apparently, according to their newsletter ‘due to the gro
wing popularity of MyVoice, we need to make a change to how we award points for the polls on our website....’ (don’t like the sound of this...), ‘these polls were set up to entertain our members and to gather profiling information to help with high point earning client surveys (which never appear!) and we’ve generally always awarded points for them. However, (and here comes the rub..) because we are not paid by clients for these polls (whyever not?!) and the MyVoice community has grown so large, we simply can’t afford to continue awarding points to everyone who completes them. So, for all new polls from the first week of February, we will be rewarding just the first 1500 early birds (not much use if you only pop in once or twice a month and more than 7-8000 people reply to every questionnaire) and everyone else will receive entries into all current prize draws (waste of time). This change applies only to surveys on our website. Points awarded for invitation surveys (..... still waiting for one....) will be kept at least at their current rate and as our client list continues to grow, we expect you may be able to increase the rate at which you earn points overall. Not impressed. According to their website MyVoice are the most generous online research company. Maybe not anymore. Suddenly it doesn't seem worth all the effort, think I'll keep my opinions to myself from now on.
‘In one cataclysmic moment, millions around the globe disappear.....’ Who were they? Where did they go? Why did they go? Are they coming back? Why were prosthesis and wigs left on seats along with piles of crumpled clothes? Why were women on delivery tables suddenly empty? Where were all the children gone? An intriguing start to an absorbing tale of mystery, confusion and discovery where the pace is exhilarating and the characters are really brought to life. Although this is a novel based on the earth’s last days as prophesied in the Bible and the authors interpretation of scriptures, it would appeal to anyone regardless of whether they were held religious beliefs or not as the plot and action are full of adventure and suspense. Indeed, I picked it up and started reading it quite by accident and found myself hooked from the very first chapter, I read the first nine books of the series over the Christmas break! The basic theme of the book is the ‘rapture’, or the taking up of the faithful ones to heaven and what happens to those left behind. It details the emotions and practicalities of a small group of people who become very familiar to the reader as the series develops, they are all drawn together to solve the mystery and unravel the events that are to come. We are introduced to rugged Rayford Steele, the middle aged 747 captain who loses a proportion of his passengers during a flight, as well as his wife and son at home. We meet Cameron ‘Buck Williams’, the young and successful senior writer for a large newspaper, always eager to get the best story first. We have the company of Rayford Steeles daughter Chloe and also Hattie Durham, a flight attendant whose role develops as the series continues. We have the pastor Bruce who was strangely left behind yet would appear to have been a man of faith. And of course we have to have a baddie, and in this case it is Nicolae Carpathia, a man who seems to appea
r from nowhere to take the world by storm, he is charming and brilliant and hold people under his spell, he has world changing ideas which promise to bring a new Utopia. He rises quickly through the ranks as if by magic with people obeying his every command and the world loves him for his charisma and charismatic promises. Yet those who are unsure of his sincerity, including Rayford, Buck and Bruce amongst others, soon begin to realise that by manipulating world events he is fulfilling the prophecies that are laid out in front of them. As the series continues we live through the seven year tribulation period and chapters and chapters of real on-the-edge-of-your-seat-stuff, night time escapes, plane crashes, murder, disease, high speed chases, espionage, earthquakes, executions and plagues. Even through all that though there is time for love, romance, babies and friendships, what you wont find is explicit love scenes which is very refreshing for a change. I enjoyed this book in particular due to the dramatic and well written opening chapters, it sets the scene well for a huge adventure and leaves you wanting to know what happens next. The books have a huge following around the world and have topped many best seller lists selling millions of copies, there is even a website devoted to it at www.leftbehind.com, yet for all that I had not heard of them before. I recommend them for anyone who likes to read something just a little bit different and enjoys a fast moving plot with many twists and turns and is definitely thought provoking. What others have said: “I couldn’t stop reading Left Behind. I became so involved with the characters I forgot I wasn’t there with them” (A Denison, Fort Lauderdale) “Here is a book that demands to be read” (Dr John F Walvoord, Dallas) “Even those who are not connoisseurs of fiction will be gripped by this novel” (Dr Erwin W
Lutzer, Chicago) And I would agree with them all!
As my children grow up I realise that the childhood I help create for them now will create a lasting impression on them, in years to come they will look back and I wonder what memories they will recall. As a parent I feel a great responsibility, I want them to remember a happy childhood, fond recollections of holidays, trips, cosy evenings curled up altogether with a good story book, helping make buns in a chaotic kitchen, rolling around on the lawn with bunnies and guinea pigs, pillow fights, trips to the supermarket, all help to create, hopefully, good memories. So what of my own childhood? I thought I would share my past with you, slightly unconventional, very memorable and at times, totally confusing! I was born in 1970, the swinging ‘60s were just going out of the window yet my mother got married in a burgundy mini dress and my father wore his flares. We were not rich by any means but in the early years I never remember being unhappy. As an only child, which I was to remain, I was spoilt, not with material things but with time, especially from grandparents who apparently doted on me. When my grandmother babysat she was told to leave me sleeping in my pram yet as soon as mum and dad left the house she would pick me up and cuddle me, dad became wise to this and would sneak back in and catch her at it, and tell her off! I have a few distinct memories of our first home, a council house with a side entrance, the boy next door used to wait around the corner at the back of the house and would jump out and scare me on purpose. The maggot. About 14 years later we actually dated for a while but it didn’t last long... he was still a bit of a maggot. I remember my first bunny rabbit there, grey and white with sharp teeth and the habit of kicking up its hind legs and peeing in your face. It did that once and my mother would not let me in the house because I was dripping with rabbit pee and smelt, she swears blind that this didn’
t happen BUT I REMEMBER IT AS CLEAR AS DAY MOTHER!! Other memories of that house - a arty picture hanging in the hall of a naked lady, very fascinating to a five year old! A gran that lived two minutes up the road who always came loaded with sweets. A nan that lived two minutes down the road who was always baking and let me lick out the bowl afterwards (I still love doing that now!). Black and white t.v. Measles. A cardboard box full of toys, a rubber Noddy, plastic pots and pans. Bathing in the sink. Oh, happy days! Then we moved. A long, long way away. Big derelict house in the countryside. No inside toilet. No bath. Pigs. Geese. Chickens. I think mum and dad had been watching too much of the Good Life. It was great fun though and life certainly was an adventure. I remember the really cold mornings, waking up to find your face flannel frozen to the sink, the big spiders that lived in the outside toilet (and my parents couldn‘t understand why I was still wetting the bed at night! Would you want to go outdoors in the middle of the night and use a toilet infested with arachnids?!?!), the long, long walk to school. I would go off for hours into the countryside, playing in the river, climbing the trees, coming home filthy dirty and getting a smack around the ear! Mum and dad both worked so I was on my own a lot but I had my imagination as company and it was great. I would lie down in the grass outside a mousehole and wait for one to pop out, one day I caught two of them and looked after them for a couple of hours before releasing them. Often we would get mice in the house in the animal food sacks, so sweet - this is obviously where my love for rodents comes from! Sometimes in the holidays I would go to work with my dad, he was a long distance lorry driver at the time which meant I got to see a lot of the country, and a lot of transport cafes. Oh, and I joined Brownies and earned some badges, also met a friend there who is still a
very good friend to this day. After a few years we went from one extreme to the other, from a huge house with acreage away from it all, to a small boat even further away from it all. I think the Good Life had been replaced with Howards Way! Yes, we sold everything and bought a little yacht and moored up a small creek , what a lifestyle change that was! No electricity, no running water, no bathroom, no heat, no nothing. Very exciting when you are 10, doubt it was that exciting for my mother who had to cope with the lack of domestic facilities!! We used to get our water from a fresh stream at the end of the creek, sometimes it would taste of cows and you would know not to drink it, my father once had severe sickness and diarrhoea, after that we used sterilising tablets which made the water taste even worse! Electricity was provided by car battery to run the black and white tv, light was courtesy of a tilley lamp fuelled with meths, what a whiff! We used to come home in the dark and wait for someone to light it and pump it up for ages before anyone could see anything. Cooking was by gas stove and washing clothes was done by hand, very laborious. The fridge was gas too. The bathroom was very basic, a chemical portapotty, which my father would take out to sea in his dinghy and empty, not a nice job! Other memories of living on a boat - stormy nights when the boat would rock about, one of the legs that support the boat when the tide goes out came off one night and started to float away, very traumatic - we had to reattach it before the tide went out or the boat would have gone down on it’s side. A better memory was going out in the even smaller fishing boat we had, when the Tall Ships race was on we would go inbetween the huge boats and get a really good view, fantastic sight. We would also go on holiday in the fishing boat and find a secluded beach that had only access from the water, we would pitch a tent on the beach, light a fire and enjo
y being out in the wilds, even the cat would come with us! The walk to school however was horrendous - climb down the boat ladder, use the dinghy on a return rope to get to shore if the tide was in, up the cliff on another ladder, over a barbed wire fence, across two fields, a herd of cows in hot pursuit, up a country lane, down in the village. Quite a trek at age 11 or so. After a couple of years of suffering claustrophobia we moved into a house again, a big house, from one extreme to another. I played the cello, I got a paper round, I learnt how to make pancakes, we got our first telephone installed, we still didn’t have an indoor toilet! Then we moved into a very small house, and we got a teeny tiny car, a Fiat 126. At last I was in a house that had a bathroom with an indoor toilet!! Luxury!! And this was 1984!! All these years and finally I could have a long soak in the tub! Fond memories in this house, my first boyfriend, catching the bus to school with lots of new friends, a huge wood across the road to explore, some memories not so good though - a ruined Christmas after contracting food poisoning during a carol singing session and spending 3 days in bed (much to mothers annoyance as she had the biggest turkey you have ever seen in the bath waiting to be cooked!), puberty (aaarghhhh!), damp walls and mouldy wallpaper. So that was my childhood, a time of being alone a lot, learning to be independent and making my own entertainment a lot of the time. I gained an appreciation for the natural world and developed a great love for creatures of all shapes and sizes, a love that seems to be passed on to my own kids. A few other nostalgic thoughts from bygone days...... Cabana chocolate bars - remember those? Coconut and cherry in chocolate, really yummy. Pound notes. Cardboard library cards. The Today newspaper. Fish and chips in newspaper. The Silver Jubilee. Playaway on the TV. Th
e Goodies (waiting desperately for the BBC to release the videos again....) Hula hoops. Tupperware parties. Trump cards. Hand held Space Invader games. Leg warmers. See through plastic raincoats. Ponchos. Pippa dolls. and last but not least..... Sue Barton nurse story books..... the inspiration for my career choice!
There’s no getting away from it. It’s getting closer. The Christmas trees are up and twinkling in Debenhams, British Home Stores has its stack of festive catalogues ready and waiting for us, Woolworths is filling its shelves as we speak with chocolate selection boxes and crackers. One look at the calendar shocks us into the realisation that shopping days till Christmas are going down and down, especially if you are like me and have a vast number of relatives and friends to buy for. After many years of gift-buying though it can sometimes be difficult to find something novel and unusual. Although socks, hankies and talcum powder are all very useful, they are not very exciting to find when you excitedly rip off the wrapping paper. So where do you find that interesting gift, the present that will delight even the person who appears to have everything? May I suggest Past Times? Stepping into one of the Past Times stores is like entering an Aladdins cave, your eyes struggle to take in all the wonders and treasures within. Each shelf and display heaves with unusual objects, beautiful gift ideas and exclusively designed products. Christmas is a wonderful time to visit, luxurious accessories abound, crackers, wrapping paper, tree decorations, festive foods, all very sumptuous and rich. The Christmas collection harks back to the era of Charles I, gorgeous fruit garlands and wreaths, cherubs and pure opulence, lots of golds and reds. As the name of the shop suggests the contents cover all past times, different ages through British history particularly. The Elizabethan theme produces some lovely gifts, luxurious throws, Tudor jewellery and even a fabulous pewter Armada clock, a bargain at £18, definitely on my own personal Christmas wish list! Moving across to the Eastern Empire, we find the Byzantine collection, the central theme is gold and lots of it, gold plates, gold glassware, gold lamps, all very luxurious yet surprisingl
y reasonably priced. As a total contrast we then come across a Celtic collection - all silver and blue, cold colours that reflect midwinter with its snow and ice. Celtic knots and interlaced patterns decorate a lot of the items, I particularly love the Celtic nativity set, very unusual. Over to Bavaria now for an Alpine Christmas - gingham angels and garlands, exquisite table decorations and beautiful patchwork stockings. Then back to England for a taste of Victoriana, a real feast of traditional yuletide, think Dickens, think plum puddings, pure magic, the little Santa chocolates in the Victorian style will definitely find their way into my childrens stockings this year. The Victorian theme continues in the feminine Lily of the Valley selection, bright and fresh, delicate gifts such as drawer liners, perfume bottles and intricate jewellery. My favourite in this selection is the floral throw, posies of traditional flowers encircled with butterflies, a bit of an extravagance though at £75. More Victoriana is found in the Rose Boudoir, the rose was the favourite flower in this era and the gifts reflect this - everything has the rose theme from crisp cotton nightdresses to candlesticks. If roses are not your thing though, how about lavender instead - from notelets to laundry bags, there is a wide range of gifts. The Ladys Study section concentrates on the gentlewomans library, paperweights, cards and desk accessories. Or for the gentlemen we find the Reading Room, much more masculine in nature, burgundy colours and lots of green, Oscar Wilde and plenty of ideas for those awkward men who are difficult to buy for. The Victorian theme moves into the country kitchen, unusual mustard mixes, old cook books, incredible Christmas hampers, traditional farm animal are, teapots, even a chicken egg safe! Or for those who prefer to potter around in the potting shed - they are well catered for too with a wide selection of ‘gardenalia’ inclu
ding rustic ornaments. Cats, cats and more cats. Olde worlde cats appear on cushions, jigsaw puzzles and calendars, even a CD for cats and cat lovers ‘designed to reflect feline moods’, how much more unusual can you get?! Art Deco appears too, with items echoing the 1920s and 1930s, from plates to rugs, from radios which look incredibly authentic, to wrist watches. Ladies are considered too in this range with lovely pendants, scarves and perfume bottles. The Art Nouveau period is also represented by Tiffany, stunning glass and jewellery in particular, mostly exclusive to Past Times. Around the same time period we find representations of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of my favourites, geometric designs interlaced with roses, very special. Going back in time even further we come across the Mille-Fleurs collection, extravagant tapestry themed items including throws and draught excluders. Medieval, Gothic, Japonisme, Oriental, Imperial India and Russia, Toiles de Jouy, Rococo, Versailles..... surely there must be something for everyone here! For those who just like to veg out in front of the television, Past Times also stocks a wide variety of classic videos from film and television archives. Who remembers Poldark? Forsyte Saga? When the Boat Comes In? The Monkees? There is even 450 minutes of Fawlty Towers!! A new and exciting addition to the range this year is the James Bond collection - amazing pressies for the blokes, model cars, books, pictures, even a limited edition boxed set of Ian Fleming 007 novels for £70. More for the chaps - Motor Mania - fun on four wheels, classic car memorabilia from books to mugs to a limited edition Stirling bear. More gift ideas aimed at the gentleman can be found in the World War II, Classic British Sports and Lowry collections, the range of ideas is so diverse it can make choosing very difficult!! Now for my own personal favourite areas - the Toy Chest wit
h its old style pop-up books, snow globes and musical boxes, the Nursery with Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh and the Fairy and Flower Gardens selection - amazing things to be found here, garden ornaments, wind chimes, plates, lanterns, fairies to inhabit the end of your garden - just right for my mother in law who adores everything fairy orientated! The diversity in this shop is amazing to behold with surprises around every corner, expect the unexpected with Past Times. A quick comment about the stores themselves - staff are very knowledgeable and friendly, service is quick and efficient. Every item I have ever bought has been of excellent quality and has really impressed the recipient. Stores can be found nationwide, I have visited 3 altogether so far, Truro, Plymouth and Taunton, they are all equally wonderful, all have very high standards of presentation and customer care. They have a website at www.past-times.com and also offer a mail order service so you can salivate over their fine offerings in the comfort of your own home. Ordering in this way incurs a postage and packaging charge of between £2.99 and £3.99 but it also offers benefits - the current offer is a free Christmas Carol CD or Royal Horticultural Society 2003 diary along with 20% off the order if it is for more than £50. £50? Not a problem! It’s easy to spend money at Past Times, the difficultly comes with knowing when to stop buying things for yourself and concentrate on your Christmas shopping!!
I first visited Taunton last April and within a couple of hours I fell in love with the place. It is hard not to. I have lived here now for a couple of months and my love affair with Somerset’s county town continues to grow as I discover new side streets and secret places hidden away from the shopping centre and the general hustle and bustle of town life. Relatives have come a-visiting and have all gone away equally impressed with what Taunton has to offer, without a shadow of a doubt this town is something special. So what makes it so noteworthy? Let me take you by the hand and introduce you to the place.... First of all, where is it? Well, Taunton is in a fantastic location, remote enough to be considered rural yet being only minutes from the M5 serves as a convenient link to the world beyond. A countryside town with stunning scenery all around, it is still close enough to the coast for a day out at the seaside, indeed Minehead is only 20 minutes or so away with Butlins and all the joy that can provide (hint of sarcasm maybe, but for some this may be a dream holiday..), Bristol is a stones throw up the motorway with its airport to take you to foreign climes and the delights of Devon and Cornwall can be experienced by going the other direction. With the motorway being so close this enables Taunton to be easily reached by car and many National Express coaches stop in the town en-route from Penzance to London or up country, also there is the mainline train which opens up a whole realm of travel opportunities. Taunton itself is situated in a valley on the banks of the River Tone which creates a real focal point for the town and the Quantock and Blackdown hills are surrounding, lovely walking country (or driving if you are lazy like me!!). The town takes advantage of the natural beauty of the river and has miles of riverside walks and parkland dotted with mature trees, benches placed strategically to encourage you to rest awhile and enj
oy the view. Doubtlessly you will be joined by a happy gang of local ducks who in their droves swim up and down looking for people with bags of old bread, or perhaps the family of swans - mum, dad and their 5 cygnets, who grace the waters and please the crowds. Further downstream where it is quieter you will spot coot and herons, perhaps even the odd kingfisher and water vole, all within a short walk of the town centre. There is also the Bridgewater to Taunton Canal which provides another excuse to get your walking shoes on, binoculars around your neck and a packed lunch in your backpack. Taunton is a very historical place, first settled by King Ine of Wessex in 700AD, he thought it would be a nice place to build a fort so that is what he did, obviously before the days of planning permission! From the year 904 the town grew rapidly, a market was established and industry began, mainly wool bringing money into Taunton. The Monmouth rebellion occurred here with much hanging, drawing and quartering going on . There was also a battle here during the War of the Roses and a siege of the town during the Civil War, the place just oozes history! Fortunately many of the old buildings still remain in the town, a startling contrast to the new modern buildings, often you can walk around a street corner and be amazed by the history that you can find. Take for instance the old Gray’s Almshouses just off the town centre in East Street, they date back to 1635 yet survived that Civil War siege when the area all around was destroyed. Churches are a brilliant example of the wonderful architecture here, particularly St Mary Magdalene Church, this church can be seen from the town centre looking down Hammet Street and it forms a perfect picture, 163ft of reddish stone with extraordinary details and carvings, built in 1488 it is quite breathtaking. Even a real heathen could not fail to be impressed! Take a look inside and prepare to be captivated by the decoration,
a ceiling of stars, simply beautiful. Other church spires and towers can be seen across the town and most are extremely eye-catching, including St James. Another stunning piece of architecture is Castle Bow, an ancient gateway covered in greenery, the only remnant of the outer castle and town walls. Little lanes criss-cross the town, cobbled alleyways and walk throughs, quaint gift shops and coffee houses just waiting to be discovered. When you walk through some of these lanes you feel as though you are walking through part of history, for instance Whirlgig Lane by St Mary Magdalene Church, all very atmospheric and ancient. The town centre itself is a delight to shop in, it is an attractive town, usually entered into Britain in Bloom, hanging baskets everywhere and planters full of bright flowers. The centre is only partly pedestrianised but there are ample pedestrian crossings throughout, there are also undercover shopping arcades. What about the shops themselves? A good selection? Without doubt. There is virtually every shop that you could wish for, for entertainment and recreation you have Waterstones (a definite must-have when you are a student!), Virgin (another must!!), MVC, Game, Blockbusters and countless others, for clothes you have Debenhams, GAP, River Island, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and millions more, there really is nothing lacking in Taunton’s shop department. With regards to food you can go for a McDonalds, Wimpy, Burgerking, Kentucky, Pizza or how about visiting one of the many independent bistros or cafes. Or how about a cup of coffee at Starbucks or Costa. For big time food shopping you are really spoilt for choice - Asda, Tesco (both of these are 24 hour stores), Marks and Spencers, Sainsburys (2 to choose from!), Safeways, Lidls (2 of those as well!) or if that isn’t enough, how about a smashing little independent grocer in the town centre called Country Stores who sells things on the unusual side as
well as your expected tins of beans. Woolworths, B&Q, shoe shops, mobile phone shops, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers... you name it, you will find it in Taunton. What else has Taunton up it’s sleeve? Howzabout cricket? Taunton is home to the Somerset Cricket Club, close to the town centre, as well as being a place to sit and watch those men in white walking around for hours not appearing to do very much (not the worlds biggest cricket fan I’m afraid!) you can visit the museum there to see their collection of photos and memorabilia. The main Taunton Museum is in the remains of the 12th Century castle, somewhere I must get around to visiting, it is on my list of things to do! If theatre is more your thing pop along to the Brewhouse theatre where Sooty will be playing shortly! More famous faces and more adult productions are constantly being preformed as well though for the more discerning audience! One of my favourite places to go is Vivary Park, you enter through an impressive set of medieval gates and are immediately hit by the sense of tranquility and peace. Lots of wide open space, mature trees, no sign of litter, picnic benches, quacky ducks, aviary, bandstand, island, fountains, boating lake, childrens park, ice-cream van, miniature golf, this park has it all. A true haven, this is what life used to be like (so my mother told me!) The gardens are spectacular and very well maintained, vandalism is at a minimum and it is a perfect place to stretch out on the grass and just chill out. In early August the park hosts the ‘Chelsea of the West’, vast marquees of flowers and plants, and throughout the summer the ‘Concert in the Park’ nights are very popular. Any more things of note in Taunton? The Old Market Centre is worth a look, full of little shops, notably Thorntons! Also Bath Place, more quaint little ‘shoppes’ with unusual wares and crafts, also a very good boo
kshop, Brendan Books. Farmers Market, every last Thursday of the month, lots of sampling going on, lots of nice aromas too! Taunton is famous for its local wine, herbs and cheese, also of course its cider! Fishing - lots of fishermen and women and children take advantage of the proximity of the river and canal, they must catch something or they would give up and go home. Cycle paths - Taunton has a huge network of cycle paths keeping the cyclist as safe as possible on the roads, there are paths alongside the river and canal as well which link up different parts of the town, the number of people who cycle here is enormous. Swimming - Taunton has 2 main pools, one older one at St James which is nicely traditional and the new modern Taunton pool Tennis - there is an indoor tennis centre here as well as various outdoor courts throughout the town including Vivary Park Golf - as well as the miniature golf in Vivary Park there is also a large course alongside with clubhouse facilities, all just minutes from the town centre and with lovely scenery. Sports Centres - whatever takes your fancy you will find here, from squash to aerobics, from climbing to badminton, there are plenty of facilities including Castle Sports Centre. Nightlife - there is a thriving nightlife here, many nightclubs and pubs, notably the Coal Orchard and Toads (this information has been passed on to me - at 31 I am passed all that nonsense!!) Attractions - Taunton does not have ‘attractions’ such as theme parks or fun fairs but for children it does have activity centres and opportunities for soft play, just outside of Taunton near Yeovil there is a Motor Museum complete with F1 car which is good for a day out, also Tropiquaria at Watchet which appeals to the little ones and not too far away is Wookey Hole Caves and Butlins at Minehead. Other points to note - parking is relatively easy, lots of car parks includ
ing a multi-storey, there is a good tourist information office and the town is easy to navigate..... you can tell I’m impressed with the place can’t you! On the down side (yes, there has to be a down side to everything - Taunton, like most places, is not immune from drug and alcohol abuse, but you have to unfortunately expect that anywhere these days, par for the course it seems - this does little to detract from the appeal of Taunton though). A brief look at places to stay - these are ones I have seen from the outside and thought looked rather nice..... (I previously stayed at the Travelodge here - see previous opinion, and thought it was very nice - although quite a way out of the town). Expensive - The Castle at Taunton - pretty hotel in the middle of the town, lots of AA and RAC awards hence the price! Double room from £150.... might be nice for a honeymoon night but couldn’t afford a whole week! More Reasonable - Corner House Hotel - impressive looking red brick building just 5 minutes walk from town centre, lots of facilities and only £24.50 for a double room per night per person. More Reasonable Still - Brookfield House - Grade II listed building, all your usual facilities for £22.50 per person per night. Budget - Acorn Lodge, little guest house close to town centre, double room is £15 per person per night. Really cheap - tent in Vivary Park... only joking! Of course there are the usual pubs that do B&B for reasonable prices but they tend to be in the outlying villages. There is also a wealth of farm cottages for holiday let, self catering cottages and caravan sites, the tourist information centre would be an excellent source of information. So, for me, Taunton has a bit of everything, character, history, good facilities, a friendly atmosphere, good transport links and excellent educational facilities, it is to be my home for three years whilst I do my nurse training..
... the question is, will I ever be able to leave?! Accommodation details and other useful phone numbers...... the boring bits... Tourist Information Office 01823 336344 http://www.heartofsomeset.com Somerset County Cricket Ground 01823 272946 Brewhouse Theatre 01823 283244 Somerset County Museum 01823 320201 Haynes Motor Museum 01963 440804 Tropiquaria 01984 640688 Wookey Hole Caves 01749 672243 Castle at Taunton 01823 272671 Corner House Hotel 01823 284683 Brookfield House 01823 272786 Acorn Lodge 01823 337613 PS. Did I remember to tell you about the best ever pasties sold by Warrens in the Old Market - to die for!!!
What makes my blood boil? What makes me see red? Just what is it in life that makes my blood pressure rise and my vocabulary start to include expletives? To be quite honest I consider myself to be quite a calm and level headed person who refuses ordinarily to be ruffled by adversity so trying to compile a list of things to send to Room 101 was to be, I thought, a quite difficult task. I surprised myself. Hidden beneath this cool exterior it seems I am harbouring a whole mass of resentments which I list now for your perusal, and perhaps your agreement. Junk Mail You are lying in bed all warm and cosy when you hear the familiar sound of the letterbox slapping and a host of printed matter dropping onto the mat. Do you get up in eager anticipation expecting a letter from a loved one, a postcard from overseas, an important piece of correspondence? Prepare to be disappointed on the majority of occasions. What do you find on the doormat? A leaflet trying to sell you loose covers for your 3 piece suite in hideous colours. A circular telling you a company is in your area offering cheap cladding and driveways. A pamphlet urging you to change your gas supplier because their gas is practically free of charge compared to their rivals. A wodge of paper from a book club offering you 8 books for the price of a stamp, and a free calculator/desk tidy/mouse mat if you reply within 24 hours and agree to buy 30 full price books in the next year. A brochure telling you that you need life/pet/car/travel/funeral insurance, or that you need to sue someone because you were not looking where you were going 2 years ago and you fell over a paving slab and broke a nail. Maybe you might get lucky and find your junk mail contains a free voucher or money off coupon but don’t hold your breathe.... it’ll be for something you never buy or something that is absolutely disgusting (Sunny Delight if I remember correctly...) Or you may be lucky and get a circul
ar from your local government candidate, yawn. Even getting a bill is slightly more interesting than half of the garbage that comes through the letter box. Now, I know that you can write somewhere to have junk mail stopped but you never know..... someday something useful may come. Until then prepare to have half a rainforest delivered every day. Street Researchers There you are, walking down the street, minding your own business, wondering how long you have left on the car park ticket, when you are accosted and stopped in your tracks by one of a number of people. “Good morning, I’m in your area today to promote the home shopping catalogue “Clothes for People with no Taste”, tell me, do you like to shop from the comfort of your armchair madam?” “Good day madam, have you considered having your children professionally photographed in our state-of-the-art studio?” “Hello - I’m doing a survey today on hairspray/baked beans/shoe polish/worming tablets/bad breath... do you use any of these products that appear on my clipboard....” “Good day to you, have ever thought how much money you could save by switching your gas/electricity/phone/water/all of the above? Can I give you a quote?” “AA/RAC madam? Member already?” “Excuse me - we’re campaigning against vivisection/fox hunting/fur coats/children with snotty noses? Can we rely on your support (donation)? “Have you ever considered supporting a charity? Think of the poor children madam.... Cash or direct debit?” “Good afternoon, do you want everlasting life? We have a book you may like to look at.......” Just leave me alone!!! Let me get on with my shopping will you?!?! I used to find that adopting the head down pose and looking busy used to give them the message that I was not approachable. DoesnR
17;t work any more. Times are a-changing and they must have quotas to fill or something because these people are getting more persistent and see every “NO” as a direct challenge. Best to say that you are on the way to the local A&E department because you are bleeding to death.... then again they would say “but madam, this will only take a few minutes of your time....”. I learnt my lesson the hard way, taking pity on a researcher and allowing myself to be led off the street to a rented hall so that she could interrogate me for an hour on the subject of breakfast cereals, all I got at the end of it was a measly pen, not even a cereal voucher!! I will walk a long way now to avoid that person with a clipboard and ID badge! Cruelty to Animals There is simply no excuse for this. At all. I cannot abide animal abuse in any form, whether it is fox hunting, badger culling, pets kept in cages that are too small, dogs kept in cars in summer, animal experiments that cause suffering and pain, pets that are hugely obese, rabbits that never have their nails cut, guinea pigs that never see fresh veg, pigeons that get chased by delinquents in the park, bears that are made to perform, rat poisoning, poorly kept farm animals, battery hens, goldfish in stinky dirty garden ponds.... Animals are vulnerable, they rely on us to be treated right, they are our responsibility and should be given the respect they deserve. I hate going into pet shops and seeing parents buying their toddlers little fluffy creatures that are bound to be terrorised and squeezed to death for a few weeks before being neglected. I hate going to pet rescue centres and seeing lines of sad faces looking up at me, all longing to be loved. So sad. I love my animals and make sure they have the best of everything and are treated how they should be, I just wish every creature was as fortunate. School Parents Evenings Twice a year this has to be endured. T
hat dreaded letter arrives home asking you to attend your childs parents evening. Alright if you have one child but a whole different ball game if you have three. Three appointments to be made and the chances are the only times left will be ages apart. One at 3.10, the next at 5.20 and the last at 7.15. Endless hours spent pacing up and down school corridors. Bored kids, bored parents. And when you do finally get to see the teacher it is all a bit of an anticlimax. 10 minutes spent looking at your childs books which will all get brought home in a few weeks anyway. There’s usually nothing very exciting to say about your child, no problems, nothing to worry about on the teachers behalf - otherwise they would have contacted you earlier, right?! I’m sure the teachers would rather be sat at home eating a curry in front of the telly just like the parents would. Burglars Thieves make me very angry. What do they think gives them the right to break into someones home and take something that has been worked very hard for, saved up for, got into debt for? Why do they feel they deserve to take that new tv set, hi fi, cd collection that you’ve put together? Don’t they realise that taking things of sentimental value is like stabbing someone through the heart? Don’t they realise that there are some things that insurance companies just cannot replace? Don’t they comprehend that they can make victims feel unsafe in their house for the rest of their lives - that their home is no longer a safe haven? I think it is ridiculous that a person can be sent to prison for attacking a burglar in their own home. They shouldn’t be there, and if they are hit over the head with a rolling pin it is their own fault. Burglars can destroy peoples lives and the punishment should fit the crime, what use is community service or a suspended sentence? They should be made to suffer in return for the suffering they cause. Lateness I hate being made to wait. I am always on time for everything, usually early in fact. All it takes is a little organisation and forward planning, it’s not that difficult (unless you are relying on the railways of course!). When I say I am going to be somewhere at a certain time I will be there, it would take a huge catastrophe for me not to. I hate being sat at a table in a cafe or on the street corner waiting for someone, watching the clock hands going round, waiting to hear the good excuses for lateness. That especially goes for tradesmen and delivery men - when they say they will be there sometime between 8 and 1 and they don’t arrive till 2 that makes me cross - sort yourselves out!!! Holidays/Admissions This is perhaps my biggest complaint as it has cost me a lot of money in the past. I have what I consider a normal sized family, two of us adults and three children. Pretty commonplace family group, you see a lot of us around, we are nothing unusual by any means. Unless you are trying to book a holiday or get into a zoo/adventure park/aquarium etc. Why do places think a family is two adults and two children?!?!?! Hotels advertise family rooms. Great until you try and book one. Two adult and two children per room. So you have to book two rooms which means the adults have to sleep separately. Not much fun when you are on holiday. So after the expense of booking two rooms you decide to go out for the day to an attraction. Family ticket please. You’ve guessed it. Two adults and two children. You have to pay extra for the extra child. But she is still family!!! You could understand their reasoning if you turned up with granny, granddad, aunties and uncles, cousins and brothers and sisters and said “We are a family, we want a family ticket please!”. Why can’t they handle the fact that families can consist of more than two children? What else do I dislike inten
sely? Not much, only celery, mustard, queuing, party political broadcasts, inconsiderate neighbours, the smell of empty dustbins and fireworks going off two weeks before Bonfire Night. Oh, and I hate the cheap rubbish you win at fairgrounds, people who eat garlic and don’t brush their teeth, cheap toilet paper and the price of computer ink cartridges. I get angry when I see Christmas things for sale in September and books made out of cheap paper, people with more than 10 items using the supermarket express till and being put on hold for ages and ages on the phone listening to crappy music.... now this has really got me started.....
For the ultimate in frustration look no further than Sheep. I was lulled into a false sense of security with this game, cute cover, happy looking sheep on the front, bright colours, appeared to be a game that children could play as well as having enough going on to occupy an adult. Turning over the box the appeal grew - interesting graphics, an intriguing story line and a whole host of worlds and levels to explore. Time to read the spiel... "They've travelled millions of miles, across countless galaxies, finally arriving on the planet we call home. Their mission was simple, “Pose as stupid creatures and study the habitat”. The sheep soon forgot their mission and preferred instead to enjoy the sunshine and wallow in the lush green pastures. Now it’s time for them to return home”. Quite a novel idea and unlike any other computer game I had come across, the idea that sheep could be anything more than dumb creatures was quite an interesting concept! So what is the gamers task within this unique scenario? “Your task is to guide the sheep back to their celestial ancestors, saving them from the perils of electric fences, shark-infested ice cream and combine harvesters. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially when your sheep flock off in the other direction”. Sounds a lot of fun doesn’t it? Just how much fun can you expect for £14.99? A bit more than this game provides unfortunately. Playing the game turns into more of a blood-pressure rising fight to control these woolly individuals who just don’t want to cooperate. Funny and cute at first, their non-compliance soon turns into a frustrating chase around the screen which leaves you annoyed and frowning. Surely sheep herding in real life can’t be THIS difficult!! You are further flummoxed by the fact that there are four different types of sheep to rush around after, each type has its own character type with different way
s of behaving, very confusing as they all look pretty similar at first glance. The Pastoral sheep is a blue faced chap who is your normal, run of the mill scared sheep, timid and shy, difficult to herd. The Factoral sheep is a brown coated creature who cannot distinguish between danger and safety - not good when being approached by a combine harvester... Sheep type 3 is a Long Wool, this would is as thick as the others and a whole lot shaggier. Finally we have Neo Genetics, a cool looking sheep with glasses and a penchant for computers, still incredibly dumb though. Approaching your flock as a either Bo Peep - shepherdess by day, rock band singer by night, Adam Half Pint - ex bank manager turned private eye, Motley - sheepdog with an inferiority complex or Shep - the sheepdog with retirement in mind, with stealth and baited breath you have to coerce them around a course and avoid the hazards that are put in your way. The courses are lovely to look at, very well designed and presented although they can sometimes be a little confusing and difficult to navigate (especially when you are trying to control 18 critters who wont do as they are told). The first level starts in a traditional field, just where you would expect to find the little darlings, obstacles include bales and combine harvesters who are inclined to turn your little woolly friends into lamb chops if they decide to run in their path. Very unpleasant. And they don’t reincarnate, so if one dies you lose it for good and this can be crucial if you need to collect a certain amount of sheep to clear the level. Further levels include a medieval castle and outer space, not so traditional. Other levels have wonderful titles such as Jurassic Playground, Clubnation and Temple of Loom. Also included is a vital training level which teaches you your basic moves and herding skills before you are let loose on the real flocks. You have to be aware throughout the game that there is a tim
e limit on how long you can take to manhandle your sheep, on first inspection it would seem sensible to creep slowly around your course, taking time to round the sheep slowly, guiding them around the hazards a few at a time, getting them to the exit in small groups. You can even pick the blighters up in your arms one at a time and get them to safety individually, but with the clock ticking in the background this is not feasible and your time will run out before you manage to complete your mission. Therefore you have to use a mixture of creeping about and running full pelt when you have the creatures heading in the right direction in order for you to get them from A to B in the allotted time. Sometimes the issue is further complicated by switches that need to be activated in order to release other sheep that may be held for example, in holding pens or towers. To do this you have to pick up a reluctant sheep and plop it onto a switch, not easy if you can’t catch one!! Apart from the frustration of the sheeps inability to react to your herding skills, the most annoying thing about the game are the hazards which are scattered throughout each course and are designed to rob you of your sheepy friends and turn them into mince, beware the electric fences which frazzle them to death. Some nasty creatures are not meat eaters and do not eat the sheep, they just knock them over and leave them stranded on their backs - you have to go back and put them back on their feet otherwise they will perish eventually. It is very difficult to complete a level with a full head count, casualties are bound to happen along the way, you just have to make sure that you fulfil the criteria of the level, for example, rescue 10 sheep in 4 minutes... sounds easy enough doesn’t it? Believe me, it isn’t!! Especially when these sheep seem to be magnetically drawn to each and every hazard available! In addition to safely gathering your sheep you are also expected to
find the bonus gold sheep on every level in order to access a bonus game, phew - so much to do, so little time!! The sheep herder can be controlled in a number of ways according to your own personal preference, either by joypad or joystick, keyboard or mouse, I personally use the mouse as I feel it gives me a little more control, and you need all the control you can get in this game, even subtle movements can shift the sheep in a certain direction. All the usual features you would expect are present with this game, the high score screen, the ability to change the level of difficulty and save and loading features which enable up to four different games to be played on the one disc, useful if you have kids that want to play too. Talking about children.... my kids were as pleased as punch to get this game but soon got fed up with losing their sheep, the level of concentration and skill needed to complete a course is quite high and the novelty of the fluffy little baa-lambs soon wears off. We even bought the Playstation version for them as well to see if that format would be easier but it was the same, tantrum-inducing frustration. It is a shame that this game is just SO difficult for children as the characters are so appealing to them and the course layouts are very child orientated. All in all, Sheep is a game which could provide hours of entertainment for the whole family if it was just a little bit easier, the concept is good, the graphics are fantastic and the whole game is very original, I just wish the sheep were a little more compliant and the hazards were not quite so devastating . Boring bits that might be relevant - this game needs Windows 95 to run on a minimum Pentium 200 MHz (AMD K6 233 MHz/ Cyrix MII 300), 32 Mb free RAM, DirectX7 (you don’t need a 3D card), DirectX supported soundcard, 25mB Hard disc space, 8x speed CDROM. Anything higher than those specs will obviously be a bonus.... although it won’t make th
e game any easier to play!!!!
I went to bed that evening feeling normal, as normal as a woman could be who felt at least 12 months pregnant yet was in reality only 5 days overdue. Everyday since the beginning of the month I had been telling myself that ‘todays the day’ yet it looked as though I would be having to wait some more and the dreaded prospect of having to have an induced birth loomed larger. Only that day I had been to my midwife having a moan and the word ‘inducement’ had put a thousand more worries into my head. The myth that a hot curry speeded things up was no more than a myth, I had tried it. It failed. So tired and fed up as usual I fell into bed and into a deep slumber.... About an hour later my sleep was disturbed by a stumbling hubby, as usual making a lot of noise, putting on the bedside light to read. Thanks a lot. Never mind, I realised that I needed to use the toilet, not a night had gone by in the last six months when I didn’t have to go in the night, all that extra pressure on the bladder. By the time I got there I was surprised to see that I had leaked, didn’t think much of it, I returned to bed. Five minutes later there was a repeat... it was then that I realised that something was on the move, my waters had broken, well at least it hadn’t happened in the middle of the supermarket! I returned to the bathroom, then back to the bedroom, then the bathroom again, hubby finally noticed. He kept asking - is this it?? We started timing contractions but they were more like ill-defined aches and pains and difficult to monitor, all we knew was that they came every few minutes and lasted about 15-20 seconds. Plenty of time to have another snooze, a bath and then leisurely travel to the hospital right? No. Hubby phoned midwife, midwife phoned hospital, hubby put suitcase in car, hubby put wife in car, hubby drives like the wind to the hospital. 20 miles later and we arrived. The woman at the desk took my notes an
d we followed her to the lift, I was to go straight up, as I stood in the lift I had an awful thought - what if it were to break down and I had the baby in the lift?! For those few seconds of irrationality I wished I had taken the stairs! Every person I saw on the way to the labour room seemed to be a big pregnant woman shuffling around in a pink terry dressing gown and furry mule slippers - they were almost like clones! I felt quite a rebel in my bright green pjs! It also felt odd being out in my bedclothes - hardly normal! We were shown into the labour room that was to be home for the next gruelling hours, quite nice really, pretty curtains, en-suite bathroom, would have had a nice view except it was nearly midnight. Along comes midwife with hospital nightie, a relief to put on as the hospital is very hot. She introduced herself and a medical student that was hovering just behind her, a Columbian woman. I was confident that I was going to show this student how it was done - it was her first birth experience too! More fluid loss, monitors are attached, lots of foetal noises, swishing and beating, everything is OK. The pains were worse now, each contraction took a lot of concentration to get through and no amount of pacing up and down the room seemed to help. Antenatal classes went out of the window. Time to check the cervix.... dark in there..... being opened up by a metal device at the height of a contraction wasn’t a very pleasant experience, never mind - 5cm dilated - half way!! We were left on our own then, apart from the medical student who had a very poor grasp of English. More pacing, more trips to the loo, then a show of blood, what was that all about?! The pain continued to get worse, I tried every which way of relieving it from holding onto hubby to leaning over the wash basin, nothing seemed to help. Whose idea was it to have this baby anyway?!?! Hubby was a saint, supporting me, holding me, helping me to rock,
rubbing my back, supplying me with drinks. The medical student became quite tiresome as she seemed to be taking my pulse about every five minutes - just leave me alone woman! The contractions were seemingly continuous by now, I kept on telling baby to let me rest for a while but needless to say it didn’t. I was constantly reminded that pain relief was available but I had resolved not to have any help and would do this on my own. I was really into natural childbirth. Before, I had seen going through birth without pain relief as a major achievement and having to lean on chemical assistance to get me through would make me feel like a failure. Reluctantly I had gas and air, I was given the mask and took the first gulps at the next contraction, being able to concentrate on something different seemed to make those next few contractions more mild but as the novelty wore off I realised that the only thing that the gas and air was doing was making me feel violently sick so I had it removed. 2 am, 3 am, 4am, 5am, the night seemed endless. Back onto the monitor.... hang on a minute, there’s no signal..... time to have an internal monitor, so between contractions that were becoming almost too much to handle, the monitor was attached to babys head, this meant that I was now restricted to bed. Not being able to move around and crouch seemed to make the pains even more unbearable. Nearing dawn I lapsed into what seemed like semi-unconsciousness for a short while only for it all to come back with more ferocity. I had had enough. Just let me die! I asked to be given pethidine - I would put up with the hallucinations, just not more pain. I was devastated to be told that the baby was too close to being born to have this drug. The only thing they could offer me was an epidural - so that was that, an epidural it was to be. After a short wait the anaesthetist was called, this procedure can only be done by one of these as it is a fairly tricky procedure, lucki
ly one was on duty. The whole room became a whirlwind of activity, babys heartbeat was dropping to dangerously low levels, I was exhausted. A drip was put into my hand as I remembered with fear the terrifying pictures and diagrams I had seen in books of the needle entering the spine. I was rolled onto my side and my back was swabbed with an alcohol to prevent infection, the anaesthetist took a while judging where to insert the needle in the small of my back, an error could be catastrophic, he kept on imploring me to keep still, one false move and I could be in serious trouble, hubby had to almost sit on me! There was a slight discomfort as the needle went in then just a very cold sensation running up and down my spine, not at all unpleasant. It was so totally different from what I expected, wish I’d done it hours ago! I quickly became numb from the waist downwards, my legs felt like dead weights, there was no sensation at all, no feelings of contractions, nothing. It soon became obvious that I was not going to be able to push this baby out so now we were faced with an forceps delivery - metal instruments! This was turning out to be so different from the natural birth I had planned. Leaving the horrors of the labour room behind I was wheeled into the clinical looking delivery room, my lower half was covered with green material and we waited for the surgeon. I was happy to wait, in fact it has been said that I was laughing and joking - good stuff this epidural! The Columbian medical student commented later that she was shocked to see someone go from being in so much pain to being jolly and relaxed in the space of about 10 minutes! As the medical team discussed what they were doing, it seemed as though it was all happening to someone else as I could feel nothing at all. An episiotomy was carried out, a cut to increase the width of the birth canal, prevents tearing and also allows for the insertion of the forceps. I was told to push with the
next contraction, an impossibility as I felt nothing, I did try but in truth, I did not really know if I was pushing at all but it felt good to be doing something at long last! The last two or three efforts pushed even past the limits of the epidural, the pain of such a large object passing into the world was too much even for that - the red hot pain passed as suddenly as it came as my new babys head emerged. A girl! 7.14am. (Didn't feel my legs or have the ability to stand up for about 6 hours afterwards though!) That baby is now a strapping 11 year old and started secondary school this week - according to the doctors she is lucky to be here, she was in a very bad position in the birth canal and was well and truly jammed, also the cord was wrapped around her neck cutting her blood supply with each contraction. Before modern advances in medicine mothers and babies would have died due to this. I went on to have two more children, both much easier, both with no pain relief at all, I did get my natural births in the end, but I wholeheartedly recommend the epidural - it made such a difference to me and made such a difference. It is all too easy to see an assisted birth as a failure but at the end of the day if the baby is healthy and suffers less trauma and the mother is less fatigued and has an easier time of it, then this can only be seen as beneficial.