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perfectly-p
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      19.12.2008 14:40
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      A great way for young children to learn through play

      I bought this in the October half term as a little something to keep my daughter occupied while it tipped down with rain outside. She is very keen on rocks and fossils and we spend a lot of time collecting them. My first disappointment was when I realised it wasn't quite what I thought I had bought. I bought it on the spur of the moment in The Range for about £5 thinking it was a crystal growing set (which it is) like I remember doing as a child ie growing pretty crystal trees in a small tank. Nevertheless she was keen to get experimenting so this is what we did.

      On opening up the box there is a wonderful collection of items including:
      A crystal base station ie a grey shaped plastic tray
      2 wooden sticks with cut out v-shaped grooves
      A sign post (what's the point in that, asked my daughter)
      Thread
      Spider shape made of some sort of cardy-polystyrene
      Aluminium Potassium Phosphate in a small plastic bottle
      A Geode
      2 Limestone rock crystals, approx 2" across
      Red food colouring in a small plastic bottle
      Magnifying glass (hmm)
      2 plastic water tubes
      Fact cards and instructions

      The instructions were easy to follow and had lots of illustrations but, I think, adult supervision is needed.


      Experiment 1.
      You need a clean jam jar, not provided, filled with about 70ml of warm water. Into this the aluminium potassium sulphate needs to be slowly added and stirred until completely dissolved. The two limestone rocks are placed in the larger of the two 'pools' in the tray and the mixture poured over (keep what's left over for the next experiment). Add the red food colouring and stir with a spoon. Leave for a few days and observe. The diagram on instruction leaflet suggests huge crystals will form on the rocks. They don't. The limestones absorbed some of the mixture turning the rocks red and a couple of small white rectangular blobs did appear at the base of the rocks. If you use a better quality magnifying glass than the one supplied then it is possible to see the crystalline structure. They were rectangular and definitely not the huge star-like structures in the diagram.


      Experiment 2
      Making a crystal covered spider! Take the spider shape and bend its legs so that it will fit standing up in the smaller 'pool'. Fill the pool with the leftover solution. This is absorbed by the spider shape and again you need to leave it somewhere it will not be disturbed for a few days. As the liquid evaporates you are left with a crystalline spider. This I would say was slightly more successful than the previous experiment as the spider did become crystalline although not sparkly as my daughter was hoping.


      Experiment 3
      Grow stalagmites and stalactites. First you need to prepare the solution of 4 teaspoons of table salt in a half cup of warm water. Push the two wooden sticks into the base and place the water tube containers into the circular recess either side of the sticks. Soak the string in water and locate it across the grooves in the sticks with equal lengths hanging either side into the water tube container. Carefully pull the rope that is suspended between the sticks downwards so that a v shape forms. Fill the containers with the salt solution and leave for a few days. The salt solution is drawn up the thread and will drip down the v-shaped string onto the base. According to the instructions this is where the stalagmite and stalactite will form. It doesn't. Well at least ours didn't. We had a salt encrusted rope and a pool of salty water under the rope that evaporated back into a pile of salt. Hmm

      Final task
      Open an ancient Geode. This was rather nice but unfortunately my daughter has collected many of these for herself and was somewhat unimpressed by the one supplied - it was slightly smaller than a golf ball. Briefly geodes were formed several millions of years ago when air bubbles were trapped in volcanic lave. They look like a round stone but when you break them open the centre is partially hollow and there are lots sparkly crystals. The instructions come with plenty of sensible warnings that safety glasses should be worn and the geode should first be placed in an old sock before being hit with a hammer to split it open. This is probably not something a small child should be doing without close supervision. The geode supplied had pale grey coloured crystals inside. Personally, even though I have done this many times before, I think this was the best bit of the kit. The excitement I feel of being the first person to see something that is several millions of years old never lessens, maybe I'm just a big kid.


      The instructions also come with the usual plethora of health and safety warnings of not eating the contents, food colouring may stain clothing and suchlike which is all common sense but I recommend the experiments are all done with adult supervision to prevent any mishaps.


      My daughter certainly enjoyed using this kit even though the results were a little disappointing and it did while away a few hours of the half term holiday. The box says it is suitable for children aged 10+. My daughter is ten and it was not too fiddly for her to use and the supplied fact sheets were about the right amount of information regarding crystal structures, what geodes are and how stalagmites and stalactites form in nature. This all fits in with the science syllabus of the national curriculum for key stage 2 (7-11 year olds). At this stage children will investigate the different types of rocks; chalk is soft, flint is hard, limestone is permeable, marble is impermeable etc. They will be learning about soluble and insoluble materials and mixing solids with water to investigate which changes are reversible through evaporation or condensation. In my opinion one of the best ways for young children to learn is through play and this certainly fits the bill.

      This kit is manufactured by John Adams who produce a huge range of art and craft activities for children which can be seen at www.johnadams.co.uk. John Adams toys are available at all the usual toy retailers and online.



      All in all I think this is a fun and educational kit.



      ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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      • Living Salad / Spices & Seasoning / 119 Readings / 114 Ratings
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        16.12.2008 17:40
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        Fresh growing salad leaves at any time of the year.

        I discovered this delicious salad tray for the first time while on holiday. I don't usually buy much green salad in the summer as I mange to grow all I need in my garden. Even in the winter months I try to avoid salad in plastic bags and this would seem to be the perfect solution. It is also ideal for those who don't have the space, time or inclination to grow veggies but still appreciate very fresh salad.


        It is quite simply a black plastic tray, about 7" by 5", containing a mix of green salad leaves growing in soil. The compost the plants are growing in is 50% coconut husk which is far better than 100% soil as the husks help to retain moisture and it is a renewable material making it much more environmentally friendly than, for example, peat.

        The tray is enclosed in a plastic bag with a stick-on label giving details of the contents. To get to the plants you need to cut off the top half of the bag just above the level of the tray, making a tray for the tray, if you see what I mean.


        The stuck on label stated that the tray contained a mixture of tatsoi, pak choi, chard and mustard leaves. The plants are about 4 weeks old and all they need is to be placed on a windowsill and watered occasionally. I would not recommend placing them on a windowsill that gets too much direct sunlight or is too hot otherwise they will dry out very quickly. The label says they will last for 10 days but I used them all up in less than one week so I can't really comment on this although I see no reason why they wouldn't easily last this long.

        This mix of leaves can be eaten straight from the punnet as a salad or can be stir-fried if you prefer. The leaves were beautifully crisp and the overall flavour was of a mild peppery salad. This pack gave me about four fairly generous side salads so it was about the right size for one week on holiday, although it would be nice if you could have the option of buying a larger pack.


        The label also gave the allergy advice that it contained mustard. I hadn't heard of this allergy before but when I checked it out would seem that although mustard allergy is quite rare it can cause anaphylaxis in those who are sensitive to it. So, since November 2005, food labelling rules have required pre-packed food to show a warning on the label if it contains mustard.

        This mix is not the most common selection of leaves so, for those who are unsure what they are like, I will try to describe them. Tatsoi is dark green with spoon shaped leaves and white stems. It has a mild mustardy flavour and crunchy texture. Pak choi has slightly broader dark green leaves which sometimes have white ribs and a white stalk and also has a mild, slightly sweet mustardy flavour. Chard has crinkly green leaves and a white stem and has a mild peppery flavour. Mustard leaves are thinnish in shape and not surprisingly have a hot and spicy flavour.

        The pack did not contain any nutritional details but, generally speaking, green salad leaves are a good source of natural vitamins and minerals. The label did say the plants were pesticide free which is good to know when you are eating raw food!


        The full price for the pack was £1.49 but the one I bought had a third off, so it was 99p which, although is a lot more expensive than my home grown salad, I consider to be reasonable value for very fresh food. The leaves themselves were delicious and I have bought them again recently in my local Co-op now I don't have fresh salad leaves growing in my garden.

        The pack is made by a company called Living Salads based at a nursery in Hull. Their details can be found at www.livingsalads.co.uk.


        Thank you for reading.


        © perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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        • Bio Oil 200ml / Skin Care / 115 Readings / 110 Ratings
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          17.11.2008 15:54
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          A light oil to improve the appearance of your skin.

          My favourite facial moisturiser was half price at Tesco's and having bagged myself a bargain I was perusing the shelves and I noticed the Bio-Oil. I have read several positive reviews on the product and thought I would give it a try. My reason for buying is because I have a several brown blemishes on my face called melasma.

          What is melasma? Well, the short explanation is that it is a skin condition producing irregular brown patches. It has been linked to hormonal causes such as taking the contraceptive pill, pregnancy or HRT (but obviously not all at the same time!) and exposure to UV light. This increase in skin pigmentation does fade naturally over a period of many months but unfortunately it is also likely to reoccur. What can be done? My melasma is caused by sun exposure, not excessive as I always wear a high factor sun screen, but my face is extra sensitive to the UV rays. Some experts suggest chemical peels or bleaching to make these marks less noticeable but that seems far too radical for me. This brings me to trying Bio-Oil.


          What is Bio-Oil?

          Bio-Oil is produced in South Africa by Union-Swiss. The company was established in 1954 producing personal care products but since 2004 has concentrated solely on the production, marketing and distribution of Bio-Oil.

          Their claim is that Bio-Oil will help improve the appearance of scars, stretch marks and uneven skin tone and its special ingredient "PurCellin Oil" makes it highly effective for many other skin concerns including aging and dehydrated skin.

          The list of ingredients, which can be found at www.bio-oil.info, is vast but the active components would seem to be:

          Vitamin A which helps improves the skin's elasticity, texture and tone. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.

          Vitamin E is an antioxidant and frequently used in skin creams as it is said to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Both vitamin A and E have a well established pedigree for maintaining a healthy skin.

          Calendula oil, which is derived from marigolds and is noted for its soothing and calming effects on the skin.

          Ditto the lavender oil, chamomile oil and rosemary oil but obviously they don't come from marigolds!

          PurCellin Oil is a trade mark which the company says "acts as a delivery system for the other ingredients while at the same time dramatically improving its application and spreadability therefore allowing for targeted absorption into the skin". I would say it is pleasant light, not too greasy and easily absorbed oil.

          While talking about the ingredients it is also worth mentioning there are no preservatives and it is not tested on animals.



          Other things to note

          This peachy coloured oil comes in a clear plastic bottle with white screw lid and is packaged in a white cardboard box with orange writing. There is also an information leaflet that covers most things you will want to know. It is recommended to store in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight. I cannot see a 'best before' date so can only assume it is fine to use for many months after first opening.

          The blurb states this oil is safe to use during pregnancy. Even though excessive vitamin A is not good for the foetus the concentration in this oil, when applied to the skin, is minimal and so completely safe for the babe.

          If you are interested in clinical trial results there are some published on the web site. Although I did not read this data in depth, I was struck by the fact that each trial only had 20-30 participants and was commissioned by Union-Swiss (the parent company). Hardly large studies nor, perhaps, impartial?




          My experience.

          When you first take the lid off you will see a small plastic stopper with an even smaller hole. This means if you turn the bottle upside down the oil comes out in small drops. In fact I don't even use whole drops but put my finger over the stopper and inverted. As I have only been treating a small area, not much larger than a 10p piece, this provides sufficient oil for my needs.

          Unsurprisingly, considering the ingredients, the aroma is very floral. Personally I like it but some may not. I have only been using a small amount at a time so the fragrance on my skin is negligible but if you are treating a larger area it will obviously be more noticeable.

          Test one - the reason for buying the oil in the first place. I chose the largest single mark on my lower cheek and jaw so I could compare any fading, or not, with the untreated areas. I rubbed in a small amount of oil on the blemish each morning and night. In the interests of maintaining facial symmetry, I also applied to the cheek and jaw line on the other side of my face. It obviously has an oily feel but seems to sink into the skin quite quickly and doesn't have the lingering slimy feel that something like baby oil does. My skin immediately felt softer which is rather nice.

          Does it affect your make up, particularly applying foundation? This is hard for me to judge as I tend to be a low maintenance sort of girl but I would think a liquid foundation would be no problem although something powder based may go on slightly unevenly if applied immediately after the oil. Having said that, I found this to be a light oil which certainly didn't clog my pores or cause an outbreak of spots or blackheads.

          After about a month I was wondering whether or not to continue but perseverance is obviously the key. After about 6 weeks I realized my brown mark was slightly paler and after two months it had seemed to have broken into several smaller pale patches more akin to uneven skin tone. Another month on and I would say it would only be noticed by someone actually having a good look and I am certainly feeling good about the results. In my, albeit unscientific test, I would say my melasma had faded in three months to the stage it would have done, if left untreated, after about 8-9 months. Four months on and, although still there, I no longer feel conscious of it and at the end of the day I guess that is what really matters. It is not what others think but how you feel about yourself.

          Test two. Having been pleased with the results at two months I decided to try the Bio-Oil on a scar on my knee. At school I fell over playing tennis and broke my arm. The hospital was more concerned about the arm and just stuck a plaster on my profusely bleeding knee. I now have a raised pink circular scar on my right knee. I used the Bio-Oil twice a day on my knee for four months before giving up with no noticeable changes. It is probably unfair to expect an old scar (it's impolite to ask a girl her age but lets say I was at school some 30 years ago) to fade; it has probably long since healed all nature intends. It is worth mentioning here that the oil is absorbed quickly enough not to have any hesitation about applying it soon before wearing tights or trousers.


          My test conclusions.

          I would suggest that perhaps on a fresh scar or blemish, which is still being healed by the body, the Bio-Oil accelerates the process. On something more established I personally could find no benefit.


          Value for money

          I bought a 60ml bottle costing just over £6.00 in Tesco's. I have also seen it in other supermarkets and high street chemists. In about four months I have used about a third which seems to me to be very good value for money. A little certainly goes a long way. If you are using it on a larger body area, for example to prevent stretch marks on the stomach or thighs during pregnancy, I would suggest buying a larger bottle as this is more economical. It is also available in 125ml and 200ml sizes.



          Do I recommend?

          I would without hesitation recommend this for any fairly recent scar or blemish; although I should point out it should not be applied to broken skin. I would also, were I young enough, happily use it during pregnancy to prevent stretch marks as it certainly makes the skin feel softer and more supple.



          More information can be found at www.bio-oil.info, or if you prefer you can write to:
          Bio Oil,
          Keylines Brands Ltd
          PO Box 323
          Middlesex, UB2 4TA
          U.K.



          ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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            10.10.2008 15:06
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            This is an amusing and atmospheric murder mystery set in 1970's Laos.

            This book was huge fun to read and certainly quite different from the usual detective tales. The story opens with Dr Buagaew collecting a letter from the post office in Vientiane, the Laos capital. Nothing too strange about this scenario, one might think, until he inadvertently steps in front of a runaway truck. In a city where two cars passing at the same time would be called a traffic jam why did he not see or hear it?

            It falls to our wonderful protagonist, Dr Siri Paiboun, a coroner - in fact the only coroner in Laos - to investigate. We soon learn the deceased was a retired blind dentist and his death was initially assumed, by all who witnessed it, to be due to some deep karmic debt; after all what are the odds of stepping in front of a driverless truck in a city with virtually no road traffic? But Dr Siri begins to question why a blind man should be collecting letters from the Bureau de Poste and when he discovers the letter is in fact a secret code written in invisible ink his suspicions are aroused. He believes he has stumbled upon a possible military coup and is joined by his old friends, Civilai a government official, Dtui his nurse assistant and Phosy a local police officer to investigate. We follow this eclectic cast of characters as they track clues through rural villages, across the Mekong River into a refugee camp in Thailand and back to the capital with one mystery leading to another.


            Set in the late 1970's, Dr Siri is a slightly eccentric septuagenarian and as such is something of an unlikely hero. Educated in Paris, which explains his frequent sleuthing references to Maigret, he returned to Laos in the late 1930's as part of the Laos resistance against French rule. But he is no more content now with the government he fought to install, regularly complaining of the bureaucratic idiosyncrasies of the new socialist government observing wryly that "the government was starting to look like a depressingly unloved relative who had come to visit for the weekend and stayed for two years." I rather suspect though he is happiest when grumbling!


            We learn early on that Dr Siri is host to the spirit of a thousand year old shaman and is also pursued by a demon, a Phibob, who is hell bent on destroying him. Combined with this he makes occasional visits to Aunt Bpoo, a transvestite fortune-teller whose cryptic declarations are pronounced from a banana-leaf mat on the street outside the Aeroflot office. We therefore have a blend of the old and new; an educated man of science who is also in touch with ancient beliefs and all things spiritual.


            The use of language is delightfully witty and sardonic. Colin Cotterill's engaging plot and droll narrative blends beautifully a first-rate modern (well almost modern) mystery with the old ways of the spirit world and shamanism. Set against the backdrop of a country ruined by long term political upheavals with many inhabitants living in extreme poverty, Cotterill treats their individual stories sympathetically and with an understanding that comes from having lived and worked himself in South East Asia.

            This is an amusing and unusual series of books. Anarchy and Old Dogs is in fact the fourth book in this series and I would love to read the first three but the way the characters are subtly developed means a veteran of the series would not be bored by going over old ground. Although this book doesn't have you sitting on the edge of your seat with excitement it is a great page turner with several investigational twists to keep the reader on their toes and some wonderfully humorous cameos that made me laugh out loud.

            I read the A5 size hardback edition published by Quercus in October 2008, with a cover price of £12.99 and 258 pages of reading. It is currently available on Amazon for £6.49.

            ISBN 9781847245762

            I thank thebookbag for sending me this book to review and there you can see an adaptation of this review.


            ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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              04.09.2008 15:46
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              A solar water pump, ideal for small water features.

              After building a fish pond we had some pond liner left over and not liking anything to go to waste, particularly when liner is so expensive, we decided to build a nature pond on some ground near my veggie patch. This is of course the royal 'we'. I decided and my partner was sent outside to do the building. It is not very big, about 6' by 3' and about 12" at the deepest parts. The idea of this pond was to leave it and see what comes to live in it. Apart from a few plants on the sides and some oxygenating weed from the other pond the idea is for nature to take over. My only real concern was that the water may become stagnant if it was just standing. So after some research I decided on a small solar powered fountain just to circulate and aerate the water.

              What you get.

              I ordered my Sunjet 150 solar powered fountain by Smart Solar from an online garden centre, who I had used before, and it arrived within 5days. The kit comprises of a solar panel measuring 5 ½" x 5", the pump with 3m of cable, two extension tubes with a choice of three fountain heads and a mounting kit for the panel. There is also a helpful instruction booklet.

              Installing

              Putting together is easy - just insert the pump, which is cylindrical and about 4" tall, onto the base which is a flat circular ring with a plastic sponge like filter. Depending on the depth of your water you will need one or two extension tubes which are each about 3" long and then decide which fountain head you want. The choices are between a simple stream of water, a narrow spray or a wider spray. The height of the water jet will depend on the strength of the sun. Very bright sun will produce a jet of up to 10" and this becomes less as the sun intensity decreases. Now place the pump in position under water, standing on a brick if necessary, depending on the depth of your water.

              It is important to remember not to run the pump out of water as it will quickly overheat. Extend the wire from the pump to where you have decided to position the solar panel and connect the two. You need to make sure the connection is water tight by pushing and then twisting the two connectors. They have a kind of rubber skirting to make it water resistant. Although this part does not go under the water it is out in all weathers. The solar panel should be placed, obviously, in a sunny position. I have mine mounted on a small spike (which is supplied) on the ground, but it also comes with a fixing kit to mount the solar panel onto a wall or fence. When the sun shines the fountain will leap into action.

              Maintenance

              When being used for the first time it will take a few minutes for the air to be pumped out of the system and for the water to come through so don't be alarmed.

              After a period of time the pump may start to loose power or even stop. This would most likely be due to a build up of sediment or dirt in the filter. The system is very easy to clean. Do remember to disconnect from the solar panel before you remove the pump from the water, alternatively if you prefer, do your maintenance at night! Remove the pump cover at the base and take out the impeller. This looks like small aeroplane rotor blades. Clean out any gunk that has accumulated and replace the impeller and cover. Put back in the water and reconnect to the solar panel. I have done this three or four times now and it is very quick and easy.

              I find the only other parts to become blocked are the tiny holes in the fountain spray head. All you need to do is pull this off, knock on the ground a couple of times or poke with a small length of wire to dislodge the bits and put back.

              The only maintenance the solar panel needs is occasional cleaning with a soft cloth and a propriety glass cleaner.

              Technical stuff.

              The technical details are as follows; the solar panel has a voltage of 4.8V, current of 149mA and power of 0.7W. The pump has a voltage of 4.8V, current of 100mAh and produces a flow rate of 150 litres per hour which is about 33 gallons per hour.

              I must point out that this pump is really intended for ornamental water features such as a bowl on the patio or a bird bath but I have been very pleased with it in my nature pond. It seems to produce just enough circulation to the water for it not to become stagnant and as a bonus looks very pleasing. Probably, although I can't be certain, if it is in a bowl of clean water (like the recommended ornamental bird bath) it will not suffer from the blockages that I have experienced.

              This pump would not be powerful enough to aerate a fish pond but larger and more powerful (although also more expensive) versions are available, as are some that store the energy in a battery so they will operate when there is no sun.

              Where to buy and how much.

              This pump is manufactured by Smart Solar who have been trading since 2003. Based near Oxford they make solar products for the house and garden. They only sell to the trade so you need to find a store that stocks their products but if you are interested in renewable energy products then you will find their web site interesting viewing at www. smartsolar.com.

              I bought my solar water pump and fountain about 3 years ago but I have just checked and it is still available from Amazon for about £30. There are also several garden centres on line which sell it for £30-£35 but one was charging a massive £75, so look carefully before you decide where to buy.

              Would I buy it again?

              Yes I would. It is not expensive to buy, it comes with a two year guarantee, is easy to set up, there are no operating costs and it is environmentally friendly. It is completely safe to use as there is no need for power cables. My nature pond is now teaming with all sorts of mini beasties and provides a lot of fun and interest for my children. A big plus is that the sound of running water is very relaxing, unless of course it sends you rushing for the loo.

              The only real down side to this system that it does need full sun to operate. Even on a bright but overcast day it struggles. There is not much I can do about a lack of sunshine.

              I hope you enjoyed reading and are inspired, if not to build a nature pond, maybe to install a small water feature on the patio.

              ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                26.07.2008 15:29
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                This is an engaging read set during the Cold War which jogs along at a good pace.

                I love reading a book that makes me want to find out more about a time and a place - and this is such a book. It is a story of a city divided in two by the building of a wall that physically separates families and friends, of the suffering and despair of East Berliners under strict communist occupation and the desperate choices one woman has to make.

                Set initially in the early 1960's we are introduced to Trudy and Rolf Hulst. Following the building of the Berlin Wall young Rolf becomes a political dissident running an underground organisation helping people to escape to the west. Eventually his organisation is identified and he too has to flee. Trudy is left living with her aging mother-in-law to bring up a small baby, Stefan, not knowing whether Rolf made it safely to the west.

                Life is grey and harsh in Communist East Berlin and Marcia Preston effectively draws the reader into the drudgery of Trudy's daily routines. Soon Trudy learns through an old friend, Wolfgang Kruger, that, as the wife of a defector, she is in danger of being brought in for questioning by the Stasi. Faced with possible imprisonment, torture or worse Trudy reluctantly takes up an offer of help to escape to the west. Tragically she is unable to take Stefan with her - a heart-wrenching decision for any mother.

                Having survived the terrifying ordeal of her escape, Trudy learns the fate of her husband and sets about trying to find a way of being reunited with both Stefan and her mother in law.

                The reader is then presented with a sequence of events which somewhat tests the bounds of credibility but nevertheless still provides an enjoyable read. President J F Kennedy visits to deliver his now famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Believing Kennedy is committed to helping Berliners Trudy more or less throws herself at his cavalcade and is helped up off the road by a presidential aid. After hearing her story he arranges for Trudy to travel to America to publicise her plight. Of course all this is not without a price and he is exploiting Trudy for his own political ambitions and so she returns to West Berlin with her hopes shattered. It is interesting to see through Trudy's eyes the relative affluence and material wealth of America in the 1960's compared to the conditions at that time in both East and West Berlin.

                Back in West Berlin and again Wolfgang Kruger comes to her aid. Well, you will have to read the rest for yourself...

                Having become immersed in the harshness of daily living in East Berlin in the 1960's it was interesting to see the contrast of West Berlin, although the latter was by no means an affluent society. I found the chain of events leading to Trudy's move to America, and indeed while in America, somewhat unbelievable and in some ways incongruous with the rest of the story. The only thing that kept this part of the story going for me was Trudy's feeling of being an outsider, her loneliness and steely determination to undertake anything that might reunite her family.

                I must say I also found the ending slightly unsatisfactory. There were several loose ends which I would have liked to have seen tied up although this does not prevent me from saying I would highly recommend the book.

                This is certainly a book with some strong and vivid characters. There's a stark contrast between childhood friends Wolfgang Kruger and Rolf Hulst. Despite their political and ideological differences their friendship survived. Wolfgang remains to the end a dedicated friend to Rolf's family, even at the cost of his own career. His character develops well as he becomes more compassionate and considerate as he becomes increasingly disenchanted with the communist establishment. Rolf on the other hand, appears to have put his political ideals before the wellbeing and safety of his family. I got the feeling his actions were motivated by his politics rather than concern for his family and I was left thinking that he didn't love Trudy in the way she loved him.

                Trudy is a wonderfully strong heroine and it was easy to sympathise with her plight when she was faced with the choice of almost certain imprisonment or fleeing to the west, particularly as this meant leaving behind her son in the care of his increasingly frail grandmother. She shows courage and determination in spades, undiminished by the passing of time and it is a steely resolve that drives her to consider any actions if it will reunite her family.

                With a writing style which is both eloquent and passionate, Marcia Preston brings to life the bleakness and cheerlessness that marked the lives of ordinary people living in East Berlin at that time. It is at times a heart-wrenching story that had me rooting for Trudy right from the start and left me wanting to know more about the politics of the cold war period of which the Berlin Wall was so symbolic.

                At the back of the book are a few extra pages with suggestions for reading group discussion points, a paragraph by Marcia Preston on how she came to write the book and a few questions and answers about the author. Some of the questions are a bit banal, for example do you prefer tea or coffee? Some may enjoy reading this though. This section concludes with an excerpt from the authors' début novel The Butterfly House.

                I read the paperback version which has 361 pages of reading and is published by Mira in June 2008 with a cover price of £6.99. It is currently available on Amazon for £4.24.

                ISBN: 0778302040

                ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                  14.07.2008 12:49
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                  A first hand diary account from a war torn city - can/is this still happening somewhere today??

                  A friend passed this book on to me saying it was something I really should read. She knows how impassioned I can become about the morality of war, just or unjust. While this book makes no claim to being a historical chronicle it is, by its very nature, a testament to the innocent casualties of warfare and the moral ambiguities during times of conflict. I would like to share my thoughts on this read.


                  The Author

                  The book was (and still is) published anonymously although it has been suggested by literary historians that the author was in fact Marta Hiller who died in June 2001, aged 90. There is little in the text to identify her, but the author was, by her own admission, a journalist who had travelled to Russia before the war and spoke some of the language. Marta Hiller's literary executor refuses to comment but in academic circles it is widely believed the author is Marta.


                  Some background to the publication.

                  This book was first published in England and America, in translation, during 1954. The German publication a few years later caused much outrage and was accused of 'besmirching the honour of German woman'. The author was so distressed she refused to allow the book to be reprinted. This was of course a time when rape and sexual collaboration were unmentionable topics, particularly in post war Germany still coming to terms with the realisation of Nazi atrocities.

                  However a shift in German consciousness meant that when it was republished in Germany in 2003 it was received with much critical acclaim; in fact it became a bestseller and in 2005 the film rights were sold for an undisclosed sum. The book was translated again into English and re-published in the UK by Virago Press in 2005. This time there were questions as to its authenticity - maybe as a result of the fake Hitler diaries only a few years before or possibly the detail of the writing; but it was precisely this great detail which has led academics to vouch for its authenticity.


                  The book.

                  This is a remarkably frank and unselfconscious diary account by a 34 year old woman, translated from the original German by Philip Boehm. The book covers the short period of 20th April to 16th June 1945 when the Russian Red Army took Berlin.

                  There is an introduction by Anthony Beevor (a well published historian and author) and a short after word by the editor Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Whilst this is called a diary I feel the writer was not looking to chronicle events for posterity but rather using it as a vehicle to release some of her emotions.

                  During the early part of the diary the author describes how she is surviving in Berlin in an apartment block and then later in cellars to avoiding the allied bombing. Berlin is more or less cut off from the outside world and time is spent queuing for scarce food, picking nettles for soup, scrounging for coal or queuing to use the water pump. On one occasion, while queuing outside a butchers shop for meat, a Russian mortar explodes killing three people. The author describes how the queue reforms and sleeves are used to wipe the blood off the meat coupons. Times are hard but they are about to become unimaginably worse.

                  The arrival of the Red Army in Berlin heralds an orgy of rape. The author's first experience of this was when she was pulled from her cellar and gang raped while her neighbours barricaded the door. The betrayal by her friends seems to be almost as brutal as the attack itself. The second occasion and she begs for it to be only one soldier. After the third rape the author makes the decision that, as an act of self preservation, she must find a senior office who would, in her words, keep the pack away. She makes the heart-rending observation that in desperate times civilised habits are rapidly abandoned. She decides that to prostitute herself to one 'wolf' is preferable to becoming prey to all. This decision, while not entirely successful, provides her with basic necessities for survival; although she wryly observes that unlike the German army the Russian army does not appear to have an educated office class.

                  With babies dying through lack of milk, children playing in the street with corpses and no transport system nor electricity she observes that they are returning to the habits of cavemen. Rape is talked of with dark humour; it is a shared experience amongst the women which is discussed in terms that would have been unthinkable before the war. Mayhem appears to be all around yet the author still manages to record in detail the trials of her daily existence.

                  The diary ends with the arrival of the allied troops. Her fiancé returns from the front but they are unable to resolve the differences that have grown between them. Trying to reach out to him with the hope that he would understand some of the things she has experienced she gives him the diary to read. Traumatised by what he had experienced during the war he was unable to deal with her revelations and accuses her of being a 'shameless bitch'; she did not consider herself a whore but rather saw prostitution as the only way to protect herself from worse and to acquire the essentials of candles or basic food rations. Survival had to be the highest principle. No doubt the anger he felt was fuelled by the feeling of being powerless to protect his women; after all he had experienced at the front he now felt emasculated.


                  Comment

                  In the introduction Beevor states that, while precise statistics will probably never be known, hospital statistics of the time suggest that in Berlin alone there were between 95,000 and 130,000 rape victims (that is about 1 in 3 of the adult female population). Also, a shocking 10,000 women killed themselves rather than 'concede' to the occupying Soviets. Whilst this book gives some insight into the experience behind those numbers it would seem the bravery and stoicism displayed by the author in the face of such adversity was perhaps not typical of all women at that time.

                  This is a graphic and unflinching account written without a hint of self pity which makes me feel angry and saddened. In my opinion this is a gripping and detailed record of a short period of time (just a couple of months) that is often overlooked by conventional history books and, as such, should be regarded as an important social document.

                  Moral desolation caused by war is of course not unique to that period of history and we only need to pick up a newspaper today to see many atrocities still happening in war torn territories across the world. The author's intimate, calm and dispassionate account of fighting for survival amidst the horror and inhumanity of war does not make for easy or comfortable bedtime reading - but I would fully recommend this book.

                  My book was published by Virago, with 311 pages and has a cover price of £7.99. While I advocate the use of small independent book stores it is also available from Amazon for prices from £3.00.

                  ISBN 1844081125

                  Thank you very much for taking the time to read this.

                  ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                    04.07.2008 23:38
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                    A well written novel exploring the relationship between two sisters separated for nearly 50 years.

                    This is the intriguing story of two elderly sisters reunited after nearly fifty years apart. Ginny the elder sister is the narrator of the tale and still lives in the house where she and Vivi, the younger sister, both grew up. Whilst the story only covers a few days, through Ginny's memories and the sisters' conversations we start to piece together some of the past half century. We soon begin to realise that, as is often the way in life, appearances can be deceptive.

                    Ginny has inherited her father's fascination for moths and was in the past a highly respected lepidopterist. Later in life she has become somewhat eccentric living in social isolation in a crumbling gothic-style mansion, rarely venturing into the world outside. Her life is methodical and routined to the point of obsession but this is blown apart by the arrival of Vivi who announces, without explanation, that she will be moving in so the sisters could live out their old age together. This brings both memories and bitterness exploding into Ginny's ordered world as, one by one, deep and dark secrets are unearthed.

                    Over the years Ginny has been selling off the family furniture and closing down rooms in the house until she lives in only a few rooms, with only the attic left untouched. It is the attic that contains the extensive collection of pinned and preserved moths. Ginny becomes suspicious of Vivi's motives for returning and as the story progressed the reader begins to share these suspicions.

                    We soon realise the sisters see their pasts in distinctly different ways and these differences become crucial as we gradually realise that Ginny, as the story teller, cannot necessarily be trusted to provide an accurate version of events.

                    We gradually learn about the sisters childhood; Vivi's move at a young age to London and a baby. Memories come flooding back of their mother Maud's decline into alcoholism with violent outbursts and Ginny's naive attempts to hide this from the rest of the family. Following their mothers sudden death their father, Clive, abruptly ends his lifelong lepidoptery partnership with Ginny as he books himself into a nursing home with early signs of dementia. Vivi remembers things rather differently and this brings the story to a climatic ending when Ginny realises how wrong her memories of past events have been. Her scientific mind turns to a practical solution.

                    This is a mystery tale of sibling rivalries and loyalties, of trust that turns into betrayal and a family which ultimately destroys itself. There is a sinister undertone which throughout keeps the reader guessing. But for me there was a sense of frustration at some questions being left unanswered. For example why do their sisters refer to their parents as "Maud and Clive" rather than simply "Mum and Dad"? Nevertheless the authors guessing game is fun, just as you think you have worked something out there is a subtle change to the plot and you have to think again.

                    This is a good début novel from Poppy Adams and it will probably come as no surprise to learn she is a documentary filmmaker with a degree in Natural Sciences. I did at times feel a bit bogged down by the depth of scientific information about the capture, study and preserving of moths. But gradually we are lead to draw analogies between the behaviour of moths and that of the sisters, for example free will and self-awareness. At times the sisters seem to instinctively know what each other are thinking but at other times their relationship is awkward and distant. How much is nature and how much is nurture? There were moments I could have been tempted to skim over some of the technicalities of lepidoptery but I'm glad I resisted that urge as this is a great tale, with some surprising twists, that leaves you thinking about the characters long after you have finished the book.

                    The hardback book has a cover price of £12.99 but is currently available from Amazon for £12.34.

                    First published by Virago Press in May 2008, there are 308 pages of reading.
                    ISBN 978-1844084869.


                    ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)
                    This review has also been posted at thebookbag.

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                    • Desserts / Recipe / 133 Readings / 130 Ratings
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                      14.06.2008 16:05
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                      Two quick and easy recipes that go well together.

                      I suppose I could have written two separate reviews but I usually use these two recipes together for a scrumptious desert, I guess you could say it is a BOGOF.

                      First the chocolate mousse. I don't want to put you off this recipe but I must point out that the recipe uses raw egg so it will not be suitable for pregnant ladies or small children. This is because of the risk of salmonella bacteria infection. With this in mind, no matter how young or old you are, it is important to make sure you are using very fresh eggs and choose those (in the U.K.) that have the red lion mark stamped on them. This shows they have been sourced from vaccinated flocks and produced to high food standards.

                      While talking about choice of ingredients, a quick word about the chocolate. Try to choose one with as high a cocoa content as possible. Of course the cost goes up but the higher the cocoa content, the less sugar it contains and the more chocolaty tasting it is. It also melts at a lower temperature.

                      On with the cooking. Ingredients:

                      ½ oz butter
                      6 oz plain chocolate
                      3 large eggs
                      1 teaspoon rum
                      1 teaspoon coffee essence

                      What you need to do:

                      1. Gently melt to chocolate and butter. This is probably best done in a bowl placed in a pan of just boiled water. Alternatively you can do it in the microwave, just please don't over heat it.
                      2. Separate the eggs. You can get a special gizmo that's like a small colander to do this or you can just crack your egg and pour the white into a separate bowl while juggling the yolk between the two shell halves.
                      3. Add the yolks, rum and coffee essence to the melted chocolate and butter and mix with a fork.
                      4. Beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, this is probably best done with an electric whisk and then fold carefully into the chocolate mixture.
                      5. Either pour into one serving bowl or into individual bowls or ramekins. This will make about 6-8 portions depending on your generosity. Place in the fridge until ready to serve.


                      This is really quick and easy to make and is really quite rich so you should keep the portion sizes down.


                      To go with the chocolate mousse my family just love these crunchy honey biscuits.

                      Ingredients:
                      2oz butter
                      1 tablespoon honey
                      2 oz self raising flour
                      3oz rolled oats
                      2oz golden granulated sugar

                      Nb you can use plain flour + ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda instead of SR flour.

                      Method
                      1. Chop the butter into cubes and place in a saucepan with the honey and warm gently until the butter is melted.
                      2. In a bowl stir together the flour (sodium bicarb if using), oats and sugar.
                      3. Add the warm butter/honey mixture to the other bowl and mix into a stiff ball.
                      4. Put blobs of the mixture onto a greased baking tray and flatten with a pallet knife or the back of a large spoon.
                      5. Bake for about 15 minutes at 180°C/350°F/gas4 until a lovely golden colour. Leave to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.

                      Ok, these are rather sweet and probably not particularly healthy but they do make a lovely treat. They are crisp and crumbly and dipped into the chocolate mousse they are even more decadent. They just seem made for each other. They somehow remind me of being at school where we had red jelly and shortbread - long before Jamie Oliver was born!

                      I'm not going to begin to guess at the calorie content. If you are on a diet then these recipes will not help. I have gradually over the years collected loads of recipes that have been tweaked and modified to become family favourites. For this reason I can't supply definitive nutritional information, we all just have to use our common sense.

                      Enjoy!

                      ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                      • Soups / Recipe / 87 Readings / 86 Ratings
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                        13.06.2008 13:31
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                        This is quick and easy to prepare, it can be eaten hot or cold and is healthy but yummy.

                        This is a lovely refreshing soup to serve as a starter or to have as part of a light meal. It can be served either hot or cold, either way it is something you can prepare some hours before it will be needed. It has the feel good factor of being healthy and nutritious while at the same time tasting yum.

                        What you need is:

                        1 large onion, chopped finely
                        1 clove of garlic, crushed of finely chopped
                        500g cucumber (ie 2 small ones or one large one), peeled and chopped into cubes
                        400g peas (fresh or frozen)
                        1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into small cubes
                        1 tablespoon of lime juice (or you can use lemon)
                        500ml vegetable stock
                        ½ pint milk
                        Some thick natural yoghurt and some fresh chopped mint for serving


                        What you need to do:

                        1. Fry the onion and garlic in some oil until soft but try not to colour them too much.
                        2. Stir in half the peas, half the cucumber and all the potato. Cover the pan and cook gently for a couple of minutes.
                        3. Pour in the stock and lime juice. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the potato is soft.
                        4. Add the remaining peas and cucumber and set aside for about 30minutes to cool slightly.
                        5. Blend the mixture with either a hand blender or in batches in a conventional blender.

                        When you are ready to serve hot:
                        6. Put back into a saucepan, add the milk and gently re-heat but don't allow to boil. At this stage you can add some salt and pepper if you like, personally I don't.
                        7. Serve into individual bowls with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkle of fresh mint.

                        If you are serving this as a chilled soup then after blending simply mix in the cold milk with a spoon and refrigerate for a couple of hours or so.

                        This will make four generous portions.


                        Some tips.

                        If you prefer to make things simpler you can add all the peas and cucumber at stage 2 but I find leaving some for later makes their flavour more intense (if cucumber can be intense!). Because you are adding them to the stock that is already boiling they will cook slightly even though you are taking the pan off the heat.

                        The choice of potato is up to you but a floury variety such a King Edward or Maris Piper is best as they soften very quickly and are easy to smooth. The starch from the potato thickens the soup so there is no need to add any flour.

                        The blob of yoghurt doesn't work so well with the chilled soup as it just sits there and doesn't melt into the soup, but you can still use it if you like.



                        Nutrition

                        Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin B6.
                        Peas are good for Vitamin A and C, folate and the antioxidants Zinc and Selenium.
                        Cucumber is mainly water but it does also contain small amounts of vitamin C and A, some calcium, phosphorous and potassium.
                        Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and riboflavin, zinc, magnesium. If you use whole milk, rather than skimmed, then you will also be getting vitamins A and D.

                        How many calories? Well I'm not really sure as this doesn't come from a book; it's just something I make from time to time. I would guess at about 200 calories per serving depending on the type of milk you use and portion size.


                        What does it taste like?

                        Some people say they don't like cold soup but if you don't think of it as soup and just call it a starter then this is delicious.

                        You don't taste the potato and to honest it is more like a creamy pea soup but the cucumber seems to just lighten it slightly. Peas are naturally sweet and this is very refreshing, perfect for the summer. My children enjoy this even though they, like many kids, treat green food with suspicion.

                        I also like this served cold in small glasses (without the blob of yoghurt but with a small sprig of mint) with a bbq as it counteracts all that burnt meat! When hot, this soup goes nicely with a slice or two of herby bread.

                        Now I'm waiting for summer to arrive.


                        ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                          14.05.2008 18:21
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                          Pond water treatment to treat and prevent parasitic and fungal infections in fish.

                          I keep goldfish in a pond in my garden and get a lot of pleasure from watching them, but I hadn't realised how much I really cared about them until they became ill. So this spring I have been out on the defensive, so to speak.

                          My fish were poorly.

                          To start at the beginning, Spring last year I bought two new fish from a local pet shop to replace two that had disappeared over winter, probably taken by a neighbour's cat. I have since put a wire cover over part of the pond so the cat can't reach any more. Anyway, a few days later I went to feed the fish and was shocked to see they were covered in white dots, one of the two new fish particularly so. A quick search on Google and I had diagnosed White Spot or Ich. This is caused by the Ichthyophthirius multifiliis parasite which produces small white spots, hence the name. These spots look like grains of salt and appear firstly on the fins and gills and then the skin.


                          First unsuccessful treatment.

                          I first treated with Interpet Anti White spot but after a week they all looked worse and in fact one of the small new fish had died. Not only did they all still have White Spot but they were also showing signs of some sort of fungal infection which is apparently quite common. The wounds to the skin and fins following a parasitic infection, like White Spot, are particularly susceptible to secondary infections.


                          Second treatment

                          I went to a different pet shop who recommended Medizin P by Waterlife. I wish I had used this first of all because, except for my albino gold fish who was extremely badly affected by the fungal infection, they all showed improvement within a few days and by 4 weeks later, they were all back to their old selves.


                          What is Medizin P

                          Medizin P is a protozoacide/fungicide designed to treat White Spot, Fungus, Velvet, Costia, Trichodina and Cryptobia in garden ponds. The active ingredients are benzalkonium chloride and copper sulphate. This is a product particularly suited for treating outside ponds; there are other more suitable products available if you keep your fish in tanks. It is safe to use with all cold water fish.


                          Packaging

                          It comes in a white plastic container about 5" tall, with a picture of goldfish on one side and instructions for use and general warnings on the other. It has a child safety cap, always a good thing, which you need to push down hard and twist to remove. The top of the bottle is sealed with a foil cap which is a little tricky to remove so I speared it with a pair of garden secateurs that were to hand and then it was easy to peel off. It also comes with a small measuring cup that clicks over the cap for storage so you don't mislay it between treatments.

                          One small criticism would be that the use by date was printed on the side of the lid but this has now worn off so I can't read it. I should have read and memorised it, but I didn't, so I can't say how long the shelf life is. Nowhere in the instructions does it say to use within x weeks and then discard so I guess it must last for quite a while.


                          How to use

                          Before use it is recommended to temporarily switch off any u.v. filters for 72 hours, although I don't have such technology in my pond. Next you need to calculate your pond capacity if you don't already know it. This is important so you treat with the correct dosage. Pond volume can be worked out quite simply by multiplying the average length in feet by the average width in feet by the average depth in feet and multiply all this by 6.25. This will calculate the number of gallons. (To work in new money you multiply the L x W x D in metres and then multiply by 1000 instead of 6.25 to give litres.)

                          To treat your fish shake the bottle well then measure the required liquid dose of Medizin P, using the supplied measuring cup. You need to use 5ml per 80 gallons or 360litres of pond water. I calculated my pond to be about 350 gallons so I used a splash over 20ml of Medizin P. You need to add this to a clean watering can, which has been filled with pond water, and then the mixture can be sprinkled over the surface of the pond.

                          This treatment can be repeated every 3 days for filtered ponds or every 4 days for aerated ponds. As I have said, I saw an improvement after only a few days so I only re- treated the pond once after 4 days.

                          My bottle cost just over £5 for 125ml, so there was about two thirds left after the two treatments. This I consider to be a very cheap cure for my lovely goldfish.


                          A word of warning.

                          Medizin P looks like blue ink and stains anything it comes into contact with. I would strongly recommend wearing disposable gloves when opening and measuring unless you have a very steady hand. It also turns the pond water blue which looks rather strange but this gradually fades after a few days.


                          General precautions

                          Medizin P is safe for all pond fish and plants but they do recommend that you do not use any other water treatment for 10 days after using this product. It comes with the usual sensible warnings of washing hands after use, keep away from food and drink, do not dump surplus into natural water courses, in case of contact with eyes rinse immediately and seek medical advice and of course please do not swallow it.


                          Other uses

                          It can also be used as a preventative treatment, especially during spring and autumn when parasites are prevalent. During the spring the fish's immune system dips when they are spawning and this makes them more vulnerable to disease. So this brings me to today. I have treated my pond to a single dose as a precaution against a recurrence of White Spot. A useful side effect of this treatment is that it also helps to control excessive blanket weed growth in the water which can be a problem in summer. I can't comment on the blanket weed control as, fortunately, my pond doesn't have any.


                          The manufacturer

                          Medizin P is produced by a company called Waterlife Research Ind. Ltd who have been established since 1968 and can be found at Bath Road, Longford, Middlesex, UB7 0ED. They describe themselves as manufacturers of aquarium disease treatments, tap water conditioners, pH buffers, plant foods,
                          test kits, sea salt, reef additives, filtration media, pond medications, algaecides, fish food etc. They have a website www.waterlife.co.uk which, apart from product details, also contains lots of helpful hints on fish health. You can order products direct from them over the phone (01753 685696), fax or by downloading an order form to post; it would seem they don't yet have online ordering.


                          My conclusions

                          I still don't know where the infection came from; I suspect it came with the two new fish I bought although I have no proof. My opinion of Medizin P is that it is excellent and I would certainly recommend its use; it is cheap, easy to use and most importantly it cured my fish of both White Spot (Ich) and the resulting fungal infection. I have just used it again this spring by way of a preventative treatment as this episode has made me realise that, despite the water appearing to be clean, there are in fact all sorts of microscopic nasties lurking. This is also perhaps a warning to those with young children highlighting the importance of hand washing after touching pond water.


                          Thank you for reading, at least there is a happy ending to this fishy tale!

                          ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                            06.05.2008 15:35
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                            A faithful reproduction of the play with study aides for GCSE students.

                            I read this book because my daughter is studying Journey's End for her GCSE English Literature exam this summer. I had never read it before, nor seen the play, so I thought it would be good idea to read it for myself so I could then discuss some of it with her. I should point out that Journey's End is actually a play and not a novel and it is the play that is being studied at GCSE, not this book in particular. Also, when reading Journey's End you need to keep in mind that it is written for actors with the intention of it being performed to an audience and so comes complete with stage directions.

                            I am reviewing the Heinemann book edition that is produced with the GCSE student in mind. Heinemann produce books, software and online resources specifically for schools, colleges and their students. Details of their learning resources can be found at www.heinemann.co.uk. This book is directed at the GCSE student, those studying for higher levels will probably find the 'extras' too basic. It comes in a handy A5 size with a plastic coated hard cover which should make it reasonably resilient to being taken in and out of most school bags.

                            As well as reproducing the play this book comes with many extras which I will deal with first.

                            At the beginning of the book is a seven page introduction. This firstly covers, although rather briefly, some details about the author R C Sherriff. I think it is important to keep in mind, when reading and trying to understand this play, that the author was an officer during WW1 and was wounded in the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. This play is therefore based upon real life experiences that he lived and fought through. It was written in 1928, after the initial post 1918 optimism had turned into disillusionment and people were (slightly) more ready to face some of the harsher truths about war.

                            Next we move onto some background detail of the First World War which I guess is useful to students who have not studied this period of time in history. I rather naively thought this should come under the heading of general knowledge but apparently not... at least so far as the national curriculum is concerned. Facts aside, when Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 there was a general mood of optimism. Most assumed the war would be over by Christmas as millions of young men responded to the call to arms and enlisted. Instead, by March 1918, when this play is set, many thousands of young men were dug into trenches in France either side of no mans land in an effort to make the all important breakthrough. As we now know the consequences were nothing less than tragic with thousands of young men, on both sides, dying with very little territory gained by either side.

                            The Heinemann book now moves onto details of other WW1 literature written at a similar time and facts about the play's first performance. To pick one example from the list of contemporary literature I will remind you of Enrich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. A classic in its own right. The first stage performance of Journey's End was in December1928 by the Incorporated Stage Society with a 21 year old Laurence Olivier playing Stanhope, one of the main characters. It had been previously been rejected by most theatre managers on the grounds that the public did not want to see a play about war. The play has since been translated into every European language and performed all over the world.

                            In this book, we proceed to a reproduction of the play (more about this in a moment) and this is followed by a series of explorative questions to make the reader think in detail about the play they have just read. These questions highlight the more significant events which take place within each act. These questions encourage the student to develop and reinforce their thoughts about the characters and the themes of the pay, such as heroism, comradeship and of course the horror of war. There are examples of quotes from the text that a student could use to illustrate certain points and questions to test knowledge of the text - although it does not supply any model answers to these questions.

                            There is a page of suggestions for further reading. Here we have lists of both novels set during WW1 and background non fiction reading. To be honest I don't think many 16 year olds would follow up on any of these suggestions but they would probably be of interest to the more mature reader.

                            Finally, there is a glossary of terms used in the book. This is quite helpful as some of the language is rather old fashioned compared to the reading of most youngsters today and I have to admit there were a couple of things I didn't know. Whilst I did already know that 'bully beef' was army rations of tinned meat and that 'trench fever' was an illness caused by living in damp and insanitary conditions; I didn't know that Minnies were a German gun more properly called a Minenwerfer or that 'Very Lights' were illuminating flares fired into no mans land.

                            This brings us onto the play itself. The cast of this play is quite small, there is the Company Commander Stanhope, four officers - Osborne, Trotter, Hibbert and Raleigh, the officers cook called Mason, the Company Sergeant Major, the Colonel and a couple of minor characters. As you can see the cast is, not surprisingly, all male.

                            The play is divided into three acts. Each act and scene is prefaced with some stage direction as to lighting, background sounds or props. These stage directions also pop up occasionally during the dialogue. I will try to outline the main story lines although there is much much more; to truly understand and enjoy (if that is the right word) the ethos of the play you do have to read every word for yourself. I am going to see this play with my daughter in a couple of weeks time (also as part of GCSE revision) so I shall be interested to see if it portrays the time and place how I imagine it in my minds eye. As this play was written some 80 years ago now I hope my summary below will not be considered as spoiling it to anyone who has not seen the play, the film of the play or read the book.

                            Act 1 covers the evening of Monday 18th March 1918. The play opens in a dugout in the British trenches in France not too far from Ypres which is referred to by way of English translation as Wipers. Stanhope's company is taking over from another one and although they are only due to be on duty for six days it appears a major German attack is imminent. Discussion of this attack and preparations for this event form the back drop to the play.

                            We are introduced to the main characters. We learn that Stanhope has been at the front for three years and is a great inspiration to his men but he deals with the stresses of war the help of a tot or two of whisky. He is exhausted and has been promoted beyond his experience and years; probably due to the high mortality rate at the front. Osborne who has also been at the front for over a year is the 'uncle' figure. Rayleigh is young and inexperienced and has been posted straight from leaving school. He was at school with Stanhope, although a few years his junior, and hero-worshipped him while there. Hibbert is first seen entering the dugout complaining of neuralgia, hoping this may be his ticket back home. Trotter is the only officer who has obviously not been to public school. He is middle aged which makes him older then others more senior to him. He has an interest in gardening and is something of a father figure. Mason is the officers cook and the source of most of the humour. He is also a fighting soldier. He is obviously hard working and serves as a reminder that normal activities have to continue despite the war.


                            Act two is divided into two scenes of Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon. This act opens with breakfast in the dugout. Concern is voiced about Stanhope's drinking and we learn more about what the men did before the war. Stanhope is concerned that Raleigh will write home with details of his drinking and is determined, as senior officer, to censor the letter. There is a discussion and struggle and the letter is relinquished. Stanhope is ashamed later to discover it only contains praise.

                            The colonel arrives and instructs Stanhope to organise a raiding party for the following day. Hibbert is still complaining of neuralgia and Stanhope refuses to send him for a medical help. Stanhope knows that he is pretending to be ill because of fear and threatens to shoot him 'by accident' if he should try to leave. Desertion is not mentioned by name but it is obviously on the minds of both men. Osborne and Trotter with their experience of the front are concerned at the timing of the raid although Raleigh is excited at the prospect.

                            Act three is divided into three scenes - Wednesday afternoon, Wednesday night and Thursday, towards dawn. The act opens with the colonel giving last minute instructions and words of encouragement for the raiding party. Noise and gunfire are heard off stage and then Stanhope and the colonel re-appear with a captured German soldier. Osborne and six men have been killed.

                            At the evening meal it becomes obvious that each character deals with the death of their friend in different ways.

                            Early the following morning the German attack begins and the men all have to go to the front line. Raleigh is badly hurt although it is clear he does not understand the severity of his injuries. He is brought back to the dugout and Stanhope comforts him and gives him water but he soon dies. The play ends with stage directions for the sounds of heavy shelling and the candle being extinguished followed by the dull rattle of machine guns and splatter of rifle fire. Here the play ends. I felt we are to assume the whole company have met with their deaths.

                            This is, in my opinion, a classic anti-war play. Although it is only just over 100 pages of reading, it succinctly and graphically illustrates the horrific conditions of the trenches, eating and sleeping in rat infested mud with the constant fear of death all around. It highlights the futility of war and the senseless sacrifice of many. There may be only a handful of characters but nevertheless Sherriff manages to include some humour, albeit often black humour, the classic flawed hero (i.e. Stanhope), a sense of futility, of loss, of bravery and of comradeship. The issues of cowardice and desertion are alluded to, although not fully developed. We are introduced to the idea of class differences between the officer class and the other ranks. This, I think, is quite a difficult concept to understand by children today as it is quite plain in the text of the play that the officers thought of themselves as quite different to 'the men'.

                            The language is slightly old fashioned and the overall pace may be thought by some to be slow when compared to our modern day fare of action-packed movies with the need to show all the gory detail and of course the essential female love interest; but this is no criticism of the play, the tension I thought was at times absolutely palpable which is credit to the quality of writing.


                            So to conclude. The book reproduces the play accurately as written by Sherriff eighty years ago. It includes many study aids suitable for the GCSE student although not for those studying at a higher level. The play itself is timeless and presents a realistic picture of life in the trenches and a graphic portrayal of the horrors and futility of war. The art of warfare may have changed in the last 80 years, but the human consequences remain the same.

                            ISBN 0435232908
                            Heinemann, 126 pages in A5 format, rrp £7.25

                            If you have got to the end of this review, then thank you for reading.

                            ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                              28.04.2008 16:27
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                              Naughty but nice chocolate chip cookies with quite a lot of chips for your money.

                              Whilst at the back of a long queue at the checkouts in the Range (a store a bit like Woolworths or Wilkinson predominately in the South/Midlands) my eye was drawn to a display of chocolate chip cookies. I hadn't planned on buying them but feeling peckish I popped a packet in my basket.

                              These cookies, I thought from the packaging, were made by the Bentley Mill Biscuit Company who I have never heard of before. More about that later. They come in a clear plastic tray wrapped in a yellow and blue foil bag. Once the tray had been removed from the bag it was almost impossible to get it back in as the foil began to rip. I therefore had to transfer the contents to a proper biscuit tin to keep them fresh. The plastic tray did not have any compartments or divisions, so when I opened the packet the biscuits were all hickeldy-pickeldy, to say the least.

                              There were about 35 biscuits in the packet and about 5 broken ones. Each biscuit is more or lass round in shape, about 5cm across and a very agreeable pale brown colour. The best bits, in my opinion, are the chocolate chips. The packaging says there are 18% chocolate chips and I can well believe that. There are far more chocolate chips than you get with many other similar biscuits. It would seem each biscuit has a dozen or so chips in it.

                              The biscuit itself has a crunchy crumbly texture which makes a mess on the kitchen floor when you are quickly trying to sneak one into you mouth without anyone seeing, but once in your mouth the biscuit gradually softens and the chocolate flavour quickly bursts through making these biscuits rather moreish. It doesn't say anywhere but I would guess it is dark chocolate that has been used to make the chips. The overall taste is quite sweet and very chocolaty, but the slight bitterness of the chocolate prevents the biscuit from being too sickly sweet.

                              On the back of the packaging is, in very small print, the ingredients list repeated in nine different languages. I am not going to list them all here but they will not be suitable for those who are intolerant to wheat, cows milk, egg, gluten, Soya or nuts. There is no mention of whether of not they are suitable for vegetarians or vegans, indeed there is no nutritional information listed at all - but it is probably fair to say if you are on a calorie controlled diet then you should try to avoid these biscuits.

                              Then came the explanation for the breakages, again in very small print - apparently these biscuits are 'tumble packed' and breakages will occur during packing and transportation. I certainly didn't realise when I bought them that some would almost certainly be broken. While it didn't detract from my enjoyment of these biscuits it is nice to be forewarned... but ... as I always say to my children, you have to break them to eat them... so what's the difference? Apparently the biscuits are packed in the U.K. by the Bentley Mill Biscuit Company in Walsall in the West Midlands but where they are actually baked, and by whom, is anyone's guess. If you like to know the source of what you eat this may be a bit disconcerting.

                              I looked up the Bentley Mill Biscuit Company on the internet and there is very little information other than it is part of a larger company called Freemans specialising in, amongst other things, the repackaging of broken biscuits. This is probably why Dooyoo call them 'Freemans chocolate chip cookies' but I have to point out the picture used by Dooyoo is not the same as the packet I bought.


                              These biscuits are excellent for dunking. They are just the right size to fit in a mug and they hold their shape and form while absorbing the tea (or coffee if you prefer). There is nothing worse than half your biscuit breaking off and sinking to the bottom of your cuppa. My youngest liked dunking them in a glass of milk.

                              The use by date on my packet is 6 months ahead but in my household of teenagers still on their Easter break they did not last that long. Although a bit sweet I also liked these biscuits

                              These biscuits cost me 99p for a 500g packet in The Range (www.therange.co.uk). I have never seen them on sale anywhere else so I don't know how widely available they are.

                              Thank you for reading.

                              ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                                18.04.2008 13:07
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                                Set in Sri Lanka and England, Bone China follows four generations of the de Silva family.

                                The author, Roma Tearne, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Britain when ten years old. Before becoming a writer she trained as a painter and her work has been widely exhibited. Bone China is her second book and is a very enjoyable and moving story, following four generations of the de Silva family, from the 1930's onwards.

                                The de Silva's are a Tamil family living in Ceylon, or Sri Lanka as it was. Grace is the family matriarch to a somewhat dysfunctional family and is the link that bonds all the characters of the book. Grace was born into a rich land owning family but she marries Aloysius for love and watches with great dignity as, over the years, he drinks and gambles away her family's fortune. Always trying to maintain the traditions and customs of her time, in a country every increasingly torn apart by political and civil unrest, she brings up five children, each of whom have very different qualities and ambitions.

                                Alicia is doted upon as a child and is a gifted concert pianist until her husband, a young up and coming politician, is killed one evening. To her, the lid of his coffin and the piano lid close simultaneously as she withdraws into herself until many years later when she moves to England and meets her young niece who has inherited her musical gift. The second de Silva daughter is the much plainer Frieda who, although very astute to all around her, seems to have no ambition other than to remain with her parents in Ceylon.

                                Jacob, the eldest son, decides at a young age he must emigrate to England for any chance of a better life having never forgiven his parents for removing him from school after his father had gambled away the school fees. Thornton is a poet and idealist and without doubt his mothers favourite. Christopher, the youngest boy, is something of a political idealist until he witness at first hand the brutality of the ethnic riots.

                                One by one the brothers emigrate to London, finally being joined by Alicia. The story shifts back and forth between the two countries as the cultural clashes between east and west become more apparent. The stresses and strains of the three men trying to understand a different way of life and of their experiences as migrants are contrasted by the continued political unrest and violence in their beautiful and exotic homeland. It might help if the reader has a basic understanding of the political background of Sri Lanka as much is mentioned in passing which left me wanting to know more.

                                Without Graces guiding hand the family starts to disintegrate as old values are gradually lost while the brothers are striving for integration. They struggle with a sense of alienation and what they see as a loss of dignity as family traditions are eroded by the younger generations. Each of the brothers, at times, wishes to return to their homeland - but realise it is a place that no longer exists as they remember it. Life in England is certainly not the idyll they had expected.


                                The story is propelled forward by Anna-Meeka, Thornton's daughter. She fights against her family customs and conventions, determined to become as English as possible. Although probably no different to any other teenager she does not see the pain and confusion she causes her parents as she becomes the first character to properly integrate into western culture. The story evolves over a further twenty years, but you will have to read it for yourselves to find out what happens.

                                The book at times seems to gallop through the years, sometimes leaving you wanting to know more about a particular time or place only to realise that another decade has passed. This is probably unavoidable if the story is to cover 70 years or so without becoming a family saga of epic proportions.

                                I enjoyed the female characters in this book as they are often stronger and more spirited than the men; there are aunts, cousins and wives who have lovers, consult tarot cards and much more. I have not discussed them all here as they are best enjoyed in situ.

                                So where does the title for this book come from? Well, Grace is the custodian of the family fine china which she passes to Thornton's wife as guardian, when they leave for England, until it can be handed down to their daughter Anna-Meeka. Maybe this bone china, which carries with it many memories, can be seen as some form of metaphor for the de Silva family... it is fragile, delicate and breakable, yet resilient and enduring.

                                This is a book that deals with a whole roller coaster of emotions - political conflict, love and loss, emigration/immigration, cultural identity and the anxieties of parenthood. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Bone China and will definitely look out for her first novel Mosquito.

                                I read Bone China in hard back, published in April 2008 by Harper Collins
                                ISBN 9780007240739.

                                The book has 400 pages and a cover price of £16.99 although it is available at the moment on Amazon for £11.89.

                                I thank thebookbag for sending me this book to review and you will see on their website an adaptation of this review.

                                ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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                                • Sage / Plant / 112 Readings / 103 Ratings
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                                  25.02.2008 13:57
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                                  An easy and pretty plant to grow, with lovely aromatic leaves that can be used in the kitchen.

                                  My Tricolor sage plant was looking way past its best; it was about 4 or so years old, rather woody and about 3 feet high. I had bought it as a small plant from a garden centre for a couple of pounds. I had certainly had my moneys worth from this plant so I took some cuttings in the autumn which is supposed to be very easy to do. Unfortunately the strong winds of a couple of weeks ago blew down a garden fence panel and many of the pots and young plants that were nearby were either squashed or were blown all across the garden. To cut a long story short I shall now have to restock my sage from a garden centre.

                                  The herb sage originates from the Mediterranean areas and the proper name of the regular sage is Salvia officinalis. The word Salvia comes from the Latin salvere which means to heal or save. The use of sage can be traced back to the ancient Greek times when it was used for medicinal purposes. It is still commonly used in medicines and cosmetics today for its antiseptic and cleansing properties. Some even say that gargling with a sage infusion (i.e. a tea like mixture) will ease a sore throat but I must confess I have never tried this. In the kitchen this is the classic herb to go with pork or to combine with onion to make a stuffing.


                                  Sage is a hardy, ever green shrub which can be grown in a pot or as an ornamental plant in the flower garden. There are many different varieties of sage including the very pretty Tricolor which, as the name suggests, has variegated leaves which are green in the middle with white edges and the young leaves are also splashed with pink. This variety is slightly less hardy than the others and so may need protecting during the winter months. Other favourites of mine are the purple sage with purple/grey leaves and golden sage with golden/green leaves. Which ever variety you decide to grow, they all like a sunny position with well drained soil.


                                  Sage can be grown from seed but as I only want a couple of plants, and probably of two different varieties, I think I will buy them as small plants. The seeds are easy to grow and can be sown directly into the soil in late spring when all danger of frost has past. They do grow rather slowly at first and you probably won't have plants big enough to regularly harvest until the second year when their growth really takes off. As they eventually grow quite big, once the seedlings are a few inches tall they should be thinned out to about a foot apart if you intend to keep them in situ. Take care not to over water as the roots do not like getting too wet and are prone to rotting if the soil is waterlogged for a prolonged period. This is of course the same if you have the plant in a pot. If growing your sage in a pot try putting a good layer of stones in the bottom of the pot before the compost and this will help with the drainage. Sage produces lovely purpley flowers on a spike in early summer which seems to attract the bees. Unfortunately white fly also seem to like my sage but, as I don't spray, I just have to live with them. The flower stalks can be cut back after flowering. In early autumn the plant can be cut down to about half its size and this will help to keep a bush like shape.

                                  The leaves are easy to pinch off the stem when you want to use some in the kitchen. It is also easy to freeze sage leaves if you wish. All you need to do is pick and wash some leaves. Dry them well on some paper towel and place in a plastic freezer bag. I would suggest placing a few leaves in lots of small bags, if you see what I mean, that way you only need to defrost what you need to use in one go. It is also possible to dry the leaves, although I have never personally done this. All you need do is pick how ever many leaves you require on a dry day, spread them out on a tray and store in a warm dry place, an airing cupboard would be ideal. When they are dry and crisp store them in an air tight container. I am not sure how long this would take but I would guess a couple of weeks.

                                  Why do I grow sage? Well, it would be the same answer for all the fruit and veg that I grow. I love to go outside my back door and pick a handful of fresh herbs to add to my cooking; there is something rather satisfying about picking something and immediately cooking and eating it. I also know for sure that they have no pesticides or any other nasties added to them.

                                  I will very briefly share a couple of ideas of how I use sage.

                                  The first thing that comes to mind is, of course, sage and onion stuffing. As always my quantities are very approximate as in practise I rarely weigh anything. You will need 3 onions, about 10 sage leaves, 4oz breadcrumbs (about 3 slices of bread whizzed in the blender), a small slice of butter (about 1-2oz), 1 egg yolk and some salt and pepper.

                                  Peel and chop the onions, simmer in a pan of water for about 5 minutes to soften. Add the chopped sage leaves for the last minute. Strain and add to the breadcrumbs and salt & pepper. Mix in the egg yolk and the melted butter with a spoon. You can use this mixture to either stuff a joint or to make small balls which can be baked on a tray in the oven to serve separately.

                                  Sage can also be used to make herb bread. I use a bread maker so follow your own dough recipe throwing in some finely chopped sage leaves (about 6 depending on size). You don't need many leaves as they do have quite a strong flavour. This makes a delicious herby bread to go with vegetable soup.

                                  So there we have it, an easy and pretty plant to grow, with lovely aromatic leaves that can be used in the kitchen. Give it a try!

                                  ©perfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)

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