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A Beautiful Mind is the biography of John Nash, the mathematical genius whose work on game theory provided a new basis for modern mathematical economics. At the age of thirty-one he suffered a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. If you haven't yet seen the film then I would recommend you read the reviews here on dooyoo by sandrabarber and lookaroundcafe2, which eloquently summarise my own opinion on this movie. The book lifts the lid on the true story of the man, stripping away the romanticized Hollywood treatment, and the person described here could not be more different to the character played by Russell Crowe. Biographer Sylvia Nasar, a former economics correspondent for The New York Times, has recounted his life in chronological order. As a boy he was socially awkward, introverted, lacked friends and withdrew into his own world. His handwriting was atrocious and his teachers labeled him an underachiever. At nine years old his worst subjects were maths and music - but his best friends were books, of which there was a plentiful supply at both his parents' and grandparents' houses. His gift for maths began to manifest itself in his unorthodox approach - he threw out the rule books and always looked for different ways to do things. As a young adolescent he gained immense satisfaction from devising mathematical proofs which were elegant and brief, compared to the lengthy methods his teachers employed. Nash's teenage years were not easy due to non existent-social skills, and his peers found him weird. John's pastimes included torturing animals and rigging up sophisticated circuits to deliver electric shocks to unsuspecting children. At the age of 15, Nash and a couple of neighbouring boys started fooling around with homemade explosives. This all came to a tragic end when one of them, experimenting alone, had a pipe bomb explode in his lap, severing his intestinal artery and
causing him to bleed to death. Strangely, the author makes no more mention of this incident, and I was left wanting to know of the impact this had on the young John. Anyone who watched the excellent programme on Paul Gascoine recently will have learnt how a traumatic episode in adolescence can trigger mental illness. Although Nasar tries to provide other reasons later on in the book for his mental collapse, the glossing over of this incident is a major flaw. At College, Nash's originality in maths continued to shine, but fellow students sensed he had a mental problem. Only his size saved him from having the crap beaten out of him. The other guys, afraid of his strength, chose instead to ostracise him. John exposed himself (see below!) to further ridicule when he became attracted to other boys, and his popularity continued to plunge due to his displays of contempt for anyone he considered to be his intellectual inferior - which took care of everyone. But as his reputation for being a genius grew, he did attract a following of sorts, especially amongst those who came to him for help with homework. Photographs of Nash in the book certainly back up one student's description of him being 'handsome as a god', and I would have cast Brendan Fraser as him, if only he could act, since the resemblance is uncanny. But his personality was deeply unattractive. Frankly, he was an obnoxious, arrogant git who wanted to establish that he was smarter than anyone else, and who was always ready with an insensitive put-down. Oh, and a racist and anti-semite too. What cannot be disputed is the extraordinary way John acquired knowledge. Nobody remembers seeing him with a book during his graduate career, he rarely attended classes, his handwriting was now almost unreadable with misspellings as a result of dyslexia, and he had to have lined notepaper. But he learned through conversations and by attending visiting lecturers. And
he did spend an awfully long time just thinking, which is key to solving any maths problem. At the age of twenty, Nash began his studies at Princeton, where he rubbed shoulders with scientific legends Einstein and John von Neumann, the man considered by many to be the most brilliant mind of the twentieth century. Nasar provides an informative account on the history of maths and physics around this time, and it is easy to see how Princeton had become a hothouse for mathematics at the time of Nash's arrival. Nasar paints an illuminating picture of the surroundings and lecturers of Princeton, reminding me strangely enough of Hogwarts and its inhabitants. For example, Steenrod, whose lectures were 'exciting but 90 percent wrong', and the constant stream of board games such as chess, go and Kriegspiel, played with alarming competitiveness and aggression in the common room. John's interest in games led him to request an audience with Von Neumann, the father of Game Theory, and a clash of heads created the competitive edge which spurred the younger man on, at the age of twenty-one, to produce his thesis which became known as the 'Nash Equilibrium Theory'. Its significance on economic, social science and biological theory wasn't recognized at the time, even by Nash. Nash's growing reputation as a genius saw him recruited by the secretive RAND (research and development) Corporation in Santa Monica in 1950. Here he was privy to secrets at the height of the Cold War, the Korean War and the era of McCarthyism. Nasar skillfully evokes the fear of ordinary Americans during this period, and the atmosphere of paranoia could only have helped to unsettle John's already fragile mind. Whilst her attention to detail is impressive, she commits a glaring error by placing Bletchley Park, the place where Alan Turing and his team broke the Nazi code 'on England's southern coast'. As any fule kno, the old que
en was beavering away in Milton Keynes, hardly a seaside resort. John put elaborate plans into action to make sure he avoided the draft for the Korean War. It wasn't that he was a pacifist, but his personality found the notion of regimentation and close contact with strangers highly threatening. His efforts eventually reached delusional proportions when he carried on avoiding conscription long after the war, and the draft, had ended. Nash, however, partly blamed the onset of his illness on the stress of teaching. He started teaching, aged twenty-three, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where, by today's standards he would easily have failed any classroom observation. His teaching methods amounted to malpractice, and putting classic unsolved problems on exams was a favourite trick. Whilst not wishing to support this methodology, I do admire his explanation of "Maybe, if people didn't realize that the problem was 'hard', they could solve it". Undergraduates voted with their feet, however, and his class size dropped from thirty to five students. Nash continued to display his genius in research and produced some truly inspired work (on manifolds in topology, but I don't expect you to understand that dear reader!). At the age of twenty-four he finally found a girlfriend in Eleanor Stier, a nurse, but kept her a secret whilst simultaneously flaunting at least three affairs with other men. His treatment of Eleanor was unforgivable - when she gave birth to their son he offered no financial help. Eleanor lost her job and her home, and was forced to put their child into foster care. The separation from her son nearly drove the poor woman mad, and I think this illustrates what a low emotional IQ Nash had. He wouldn't entertain marriage as he didn't view her as intellectually worthy. His liaisons with men cost him dearly. In an incident mirroring another (musical) genius, George Mic
hael, he became the victim of a police entrapment operation in a public toilet and was charged with indecent exposure. Now considered a security risk, he was fired from RAND. Back working at MIT, a student became infatuated with John. She was bowled over by his good looks and began to study him to the point of hero worship. Having found out that he played chess and was a science fiction fan, Alicia learned chess and read up on science fiction. Rather than the paragon portayed in the film, Alicia admits that she saw John as a route to the academic ambition that her very mediocre talents could never achieve. Her full on courtship of John finally resulted in their marriage and she quickly became pregnant. It was at this time that Nash suffered his sudden and catastrophic breakdown. The many reasons given for it include the death of his father, a spurned homosexual affair, failure to win a maths prize, impending fatherhood and his attempts at resolving the contradictions in quantum theory, which he referred to as 'psychologically destabilizing'. Nasar gives a sympathetic account of his descent into madness, and I found his behaviour proved what a thin line there can be between tragedy and farce. For example, he told of receiving encrypted messages from aliens, and he also claimed he was on the cover of 'Life' magazine, only his picture had been disguised to make it look as if it were Pope John the Twenty-third (whom it was!). The strain on Alicia was immense, and eventually she had John committed. The details of the available treatments for schizophrenia are both fascinating and gruesome, yet John seems to have been treated humanely at all times -'One flew over the cuckoo's nest' it ain't. As a measure of the stress Alicia was under, their baby remained nameless for his first year of life. He was eventually and imaginatively called John (just as his first son was). The delusions continued and Nash be
came obsessed with world government and world citizenship, writing strange letters in green ink and seeking refugee status in Europe. Unable to cope with his mental illness any longer, Alicia divorced John, who was to spend the next thirty years of his life behaving strangely within the safe confines of the Princeton campus. As the years passed, many young researchers presumed he was dead, although his Equililbrium Theory was now widely taught and respected. Nash's remission from his illness was, in contrast to its onset, a very slow process. The author affords us plenty of insights into how and why it happened. My favourite is given by Nash himself, who compares keeping a check on his paranoid thoughts to dieting. Just as someone wishing to lose weight has to decide consciously to avoid certain foods, it was a matter for him of policing his thoughts and recognizing and rejecting the irrational ones. Friends who felt that John had never achieved the academic recognition he deserved brought his work to the attention of the Swedish Nobel Committee, who eventually awarded him a shared Nobel in economics in 1994. Rather than give away the ending, if you read the book you will discover if Nash behaved himself at the ceremony, if he ever reconciled with Alicia, and whether he lives a normal life now. THE VERDICT The book stands head and shoulders above the film; Nasar has generally done her research well (apart from the couple of errors I mentioned).There are fifty pages of notes in the back supporting the text, which for the most part source interviews, books and letters. My advice would be to completely ignore these and you will lose nothing in the reading, indeed you will gain from an uninterrupted flow of the narrative. There are times when Nassar loses sight of her audience, for instance, '... first transforming the nonlinear equations into linear equations and then attacking these by linear methods'
. Confused? Well you would have to possess some kind of advanced level knowledge of maths for that to mean anything to you. And that was quite a mild example! But please do n't let this put you off the book- if you simply skim these bits you will lose little of the story. The book is as much about mental illness as genius and although we gain some insights, I think Nasar could have gone further. Perhaps it's just me, but I sensed a nasty elitist intellectual undertone implying that Nash's breakdown was all the more tragic because he was a genius. I would have liked her to point out that the cerebrally challenged suffer from schizophrenia too, and the effects are just as devasting on them and their loved ones. She would also have benefited from being a little more circumspect. Having been immersed in this book for the best part of two weeks, it is easy to come away with the impression that all geniuses will eventually crack up, and that all mathematicians are weird. I did find it hard to like Nash, and was not surprised to learn that he was estranged for twenty years from his first son, and from his sister for 25 years. A friend described him as being a nicer person after his illness, but I don't fully agree with this. A reunion with his elder son saw him critisising him for being fat (which he wasn't) and on his choice of profession, nursing. Tragically, his younger son by Alicia has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia for over twenty years, supporting the gentic link theory. John Jr's welfare now takes up a large part of their life. The book received much critical acclaim and was a finalist in the Pulitzer Prize. I would give it four stars, although three and a half would be more accurate. Occasionally, Nasar's intention to remain objective can make for dull reading. She does border on being intellectually intimidating in her style of writing. It is not an easy read, but I would recomme
nd it to anyone with an interest in maths, science, modern history and mental illness. Browsing through the critics' reviews, my favourite has to be from the Wall Street Journal hack who describes it as ' ... a three handkerchief read'. I can honestly say there was nothing that moved me to tears in this book, and I am usually a big softie. Or maybe there is a different interpretation of this quote .... A Beautiful Mind is available from www.amazon.co.uk in paperback for £7.99 +p&p. Publisher: Faber and Faber; ISBN: 0571212921
From Caliban to the Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention You might not have guessed it from the title, but this is an opportunity to see Rob Newman on stage for an evening of thought-provoking political comedy. His 40 date national tour started off in the Soho Theatre and finishes at the end of July. I can't really say that I know much about his stand-up, but I was in the mood for an anti-Bush rant on the eve of Independence Day, and my boyfriend was paying, so what the hell. Who is Rob Newman? ****************** Newman's first big break in showbusiness came with 'The Mary Whitehouse Experience' in 1989 on Radio 1, a programme performed with David Baddiel, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis. Mary Whitehouse was an obnoxious, self-appointed guardian of our morals throughout the 70s and 80s. If she gave her seal of disapproval to anything it was a sure sign that the ratings would go up. The radio show was so successful that a transfer to BBC2 followed, achieving the distinction of being the first TV programme to be reported to the British Broadcasting Standards Council for using the word w*****. When the series ended, Rob teamed up with David to make 'Newman and Baddiel in Pieces' for BBC2. In 1993 they managed to be the first comedy act to ever fill a major Wembley venue (excluding Spurs, when Gary Mabbutt's own goal won the cup for Coventry in 1987). Rob made the split from Baddiel after this. I am not really sure why, but would like to think it was because he realized that David just isn't funny at all. Ever. In the intervening years he has written two novels, which met with critical acclaim, toured with more stand-up shows and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Rob is a fully paid up member of the 'right on' (or should that be 'left on'?) brigade, having encouraged boycotts of Nestle sponsored events such as the Perrier Awards and the Hay-on-Wye Litera
ture Festival. Further to this, he has taken part in many anti-war rallies and was twice arrested in Whitehall for obstruction. The Show ********* Whilst the audience of students, art students, middle-aged first time round fans and a man who had brought his elderly mother (at least I hope she was) waited for Newman to appear, we were treated to some wailing Eastern European music. I'm not sure whether this was meant to be an ironic comment or an atmospheric touch, but I could have done without it. The stage had no fancy set designs or props to dazzle; just a plain wooden table with a carafe of water, against a back drop of black curtains. Very spartan. Newman's entrance was unassuming, which pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show. He was wearing the standard grey suit that is de rigeur for left wing activists. Underneath this was a purple T shirt, but corporate logos such as Nike are not for the likes of Rob. Instead, his chest was emblazoned with THAT slogan 'George Bush and Son. Family Butchers since 1990.' On his feet were casual shoes which were clearly not made in a sweatshop. So, all his clothing passed the politically correct test, but how did his other material match up? The show started with an explanation of why he had put his tour together. Whilst traveling through Albuquerque two years ago, he heard a caller on a radio phone-in whinging about 'all them Vietnamese comin' over and livin' next door to me. How'd they feel if a whole bunch o' Americans moved into Vietnam?' We were then treated to a diatribe on American foreign policy that was intelligent and powerfully funny, delivered at a blistering pace. Littered with anti-globalisation messages, his lecture was an example of just how good history lessons could be if only teachers weren't constrained by Key Stage 3 tests. Did you know what was so special about the year 1892? If you want to
impr ess your friends then remember this fact - it is the only year from 1798 up to the present day that the USA were not involved in the invasion of another country. So what made the American army gay that year? Newman went on to speculate whether it might have been the introduction of the first basketball rules, or the Pennsylvania steel workers' strike -'No war but the class war'. My own explanation is Oliver Hardy was born that year, and I am guessing that the army took a break as a mark of respect since they knew they were in the presence of comedic greatness. Of course, all the facts were presented in a way as to deliver a good punchline, like any good comedian would ensure. And, like any lecture, there were times when you wanted to interrupt and disagree. But I found his manner very relaxed and easy on the ear. I don't want to give away too many of his jokes because that would spoil his show, but there were plenty of tasteless references to the Twin Towers destruction: 'I forget the date' and the Pentagon attack: '..now referred to as The Quad'. Sick references were also made to the Moscow theatre siege: 'How long did it take the audience to realize it wasn't part of the show?' Bob Dylan was another target of Rob's, when he performed a cutting impression of 'Mr Tambourine Man' on his ukulele. His lyrics savagely attacked Dylan for having lost his integrity and selling out to corporates. Newman included many impressions in his act - hardly surprising since that is how he started his career. Johnny Rotten, Tony Blair, Harold Steptoe and Richard Burton were all skillfully executed, whilst a drunk Anne Hathaway made a bitter attack on Shakespeare. As an A level English student, my boyfriend found this the funniest part of the act. Rob himself has an English degree and is not afraid to use it. Quotes from Joseph Conrad and George Orwell might have left a lesser audience feeli
ng intimid ated until, in a very self-effacing manner Rob admits that he doesn't have a clue what Orwell's statement 'Whoever controls the present controls the past.' is all about. I think my favourite part of the show had to be where he talked about going on protest marches. I could relate to the initial 'sense of camaraderie and common cause' that he spoke about, but then, also, to when half an hour later you have that sentiment of 'If you blow that f****** whistle in my ear once again..' He later took us unawares by admitting that the finest demo to have occurred in recent history is the Countryside march. It came as a relief to find that this was merely a device which allowed him to use the punchline 'Best night's poaching in my life!' I wasn't ever a fan of Rob, but I came away with a new found respect for him. He does come across as a very genuine guy, having travelled extensively through the South American countries whose oppression he talked about. This is not some airheaded celebrity trying to look chic by associating themselves with good causes. His humanitarian work has been going on for decades, and he reminded me of a radical Christian, the only sort that I have any time for. His love of literature shines through in his stand-up, and I found a lovely quote in The Guardian from him where, having been an adopted child, he admits 'Books have been like parental figures to me, though not always successful ones'. I would recommend this gig if you have had it up to here with US foreign policy. Although there were plenty of lines that made me chuckle out loud, it's not the sort of show that has you in fits of laughter, more nodding your head with a wry smile. The act lasts for just under two hours, including a half time interval. Time never seemed to drag, which is always a good sign. There were one or two places with over dramatic pauses, or perhaps he had fl
uffed his lines , or lost his train of thought. This didn't seem to matter, however, to the warm and supportive theatre audience. The two remaining shows of this tour are in Salford Quays 11 July and Darlington 19 July. Tickets cost £12 each, which seemed reasonable value. His Autumn tour starts again in September, where venues include Windsor, Nottingham, Northampton, Birmingham, Oxford and Cardiff. For more information see Rob's website at www.robnewman.com. If you are unable to see him live, you can buy the live recording of his Aberdeen gig of this tour on CD from the website for £10. The Fountain At The Centre of the World, his latest novel, is due for publication in September. It comes out in America in January and I have heard rumours that he may tour there to publicise it. I don't fancy his chances of coming back alive though!
Generally, if Channel 4 are showing a current affairs programme and it is hosted by Jon Snow, then it's a given that it will be loaded with integrity and worth a look in. Add to this the tantalizing prospect that, with recording delayed until the eve of transmission, there is the possibility of some previously unbroadcast revelation to be aired, and I knew I had to watch "Tony Blair on Trial" last Saturday. THE FORMAT *********** Jon Snow presided in a modern courtroom setting, with the PM accused of sending troops to Iraq under false pretences. It goes without saying that Tony was unavailable to stand in the dock, but nevertheless witnesses testified with arguments for and against. At the end of the show the studio audience, carefully vetted to represent a broad cross section of opinion, acted as a jury on whether the PM deliberately deceived the public about the threat posed by Saddam. THE PLAYERS ************ Against Blair Oonagh Blackman, deputy political editor of The Mirror, which ran a high profile campaign against the war. Peter Oborne, a journalist with The Spectator. For Blair William Shawcross, an historian and journalist on international affairs Eric Joyce, a former army officer and a Labour MP. The above cross-examined invited experts. THE ARGUMENTS *************** Andrew Wilkie, senior intelligence advisor to the Australian PM, who resigned this March in protest at Australia's support for the war, had access to much of the intelligence on WMD and confirmed that the notion they could be launched within 45 minutes was preposterous. He also asserted that there was no hard intelligence to prove any active cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The defense rubbished his claims by saying he was not in the loop, having no access to the truly relevant documents. Not the most elegant of arguments - when all else fails try character assassination. <br > Phil Shiner, a human rights lawyer who is taking the government to court over the war, did concede that Iraq had an appalling human rights record. But he also reminded us that cluster bombs were used in urban areas, contrary to our government's assurances. The Ph. D. Iraqi-American student, whose now infamous twelve year old thesis was plagiarized by the government, revealed that they had changed key words. In their dossier, 'Iraq's intelligence agencies aided opposition groups in hostile regimes' was altered to 'Iraq's intelligence agencies were supporting terrorist organisations in hostile regimes'. He also concluded that Saddam's WMD were a threat to only Iraq, and not the rest of the world. Andrew Garfield, as a former British intelligence officer and an adviser on terrorism to the US department of defense, had access to a significant amount of intelligence. He said that Downing Street had used poor judgement on the Ph. D. thesis and handled it very badly, citing that their apology to the Secret Intelligence Service was an admission of this. Gwyn Prins, a UN adviser 1996-1999, agreed that Blair had been ill served by Alastair Campbell and the spinners who had embellished the dossier. However, he pointed to the long trail of evidence on Saddam provided by three sets of UN inspectors. A revelation to me was that when the Israeli air force bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981, they found a laser isotope separating factory underneath. All of which pointed to Saddam having form. So why are we to believe he had changed? Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, agreed it was nonsense to believe that Iraq's WMD were an imminent threat to us. An American war long in the planning was his analysis, and he was backed up by the father of one of the British helicopter pilots killed in Iraq who said his son had told him it was a done deal in December, even whilst the option of t
he UN second resolution still existed. THE VERDICT ************ After a 45 second summing up from both sides, the audience voted on: 'The Prime Minister deliberately misled the public about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. As a result, the government fought an unjustified war with Iraq.' 67% found Tony Blair guilty 33% found him not guilty MY VERDICT *********** Many people may have felt no need to watch this programme, since their verdict of guilty had long been arrived at. I continue to have nagging doubts about the intelligence that existed on weapons of mass destruction. As time goes on and none has been discovered, it is looking more likely that the Americans were using falsified intelligence to serve their own means. Even now, Donald Rumsfeld has more or less implied that there may not be WMD. But how did Blair get dragged in to this web of deceit? I can believe that Bush's administration would go to any lengths to justify a war. You only have to look at the disgraceful way Gorgeous George Galloway has been fitted up with fake documents by the US newspaper The Christian Science Monitor to understand the crude methods of the American Way. Call me naïve, but I somehow thought that Blair would not allow himself to be duped by such crass tactics. I do think that he was let down by his advisers, and in particular Alastair Campbell. He should have sacked him as soon as it was discovered that the dossier had been 'sexed up'. An argument used by the defense in this programme was that since there could be no doubt of the cruelty and mass murder that Saddam had committed, that reason alone was surely good enough to justify a war. I would have felt more comfortable with this, since it could at least have given us a precedent to invade Zimbabwe where Mugabe continues with his corruption and cruelty. The point is, if you have a compelling case to commit
troops to c ombat then you should present a truthful, open account and not dress it up as poorly presented intelligence. I was surprised by the size of the guilty verdict. It would have been helpful if a vote was taken before the debate, making it possible to see if anyone had actually been swayed by the content. My guess is that 67% of them thought Blair was guilty before they even entered the studio! We weren't told how many were in the audience, but it could have been no more than 150 people, which is too small a sample size to be statistically significant, in case anyone is tempted to extrapolate this result. Overall, I felt let down by this programme. Being only an hour long meant that there was not enough time to develop the arguments. The little we did hear were intellectually feeble. Soundbites were all that we were getting from the main speakers, often interrupted by mass partisan applause reminiscent of the BBC's dreadful 'Question Time', which only served to detract from the gravitas of the proceedings. This was a missed opportunity to have an intelligent debate on how democratic governments justify the need to go to war.
Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights: Series 1 DVD Welcome to the Phoenix Club. Phoenix Nights, created by and starring Bolton comic Peter Kay (the one in the John Smith beer adverts) is surely one of the finest television comedy series of recent years. Often mentioned in the same breath as The Office, I think this is a far superior work which, if aired on the BBC instead of Channel 4, would have made Ricky Gervais look like an also-ran. I came to Phoenix Nights late, only watching series two on television last summer. After laughing so much that I couldn't breathe, I wanted to know more about the lovingly portrayed characters. I bought the DVD of the first series in October. THE PLOT 'Clubland Will Never Die' Brian Potter (Kay) is determined to make a success of his third northern nightclub, The Phoenix Club (the first flooded and the second had dodgy fairy lights). Throughout the six episodes of series one, we get to know more about him and his loyal staff as they compete for punters with arch rival, Den Perry, who runs The Banana Grove. THE CHARACTERS Brian Potter is the wheelchair-bound owner of The Phoenix Club. An entrepreneur who will try out any idea if it means his club will succeed, Potter's endeavours rarely end up as planned, whether it is Robot Wars in his precious Pennine Suite or an Alternative Comedy Night. Malapropisms abound 'Let's get this place sh*t-shaped ... Paddy and Max are the likeable but hapless bouncers who guard the doors for a living. Max is also played by Kay, although you would swear it was another actor because the character is so distinctly different. Max and Paddy are somewhat intellectually challenged. student at door: 'Do you take NUS?' Max:'I don't take none of that s**t love, and neither will you if you know what's good for you. My body's a temple!' Patrick McGuiness, who plays Paddy, is Kay's
best friend from school in real life, whose brooding good looks allow him a covert love interest in the daughter of one of the club barmaids . Jerry (The Saint) St Clair is the club compere and singer who has a repertoire of cheesy songs and the jackets to match. Dave Spikey gives a wonderfully sympathetic performance as this character who is a practising hypochondriac. Is his irritable bowel really something more serious? Brian Potter:'You're a bloody hyperdermic Jerry'. The actor lost out to that irritating elder son from My Family in a recent awards ceremony - go figure. Ray Von is the club DJ who has a background as an electrician (he used to work in a fairground). Always ready to turn his hand to emergency lighting, he uses anything he can find off the street, literally. Look out for traffic lights as part of his disco rig. Although these are the main characters, the rest of the staff at the club, including the backing band and the supporting players, create a truly ensemble piece of work. THE WRITING Phoenix nights is written by Peter Kay, Dave Spikey and Neil Fitzmaurice (Ray Von). A great strength of the writing is how beautifully observed the characters are. Kay's roots are in stand up comedy, where his routines tell of childhood visits to northern clubs with his parents. Parodying these characters seems second nature to him. There is a gentle side to the writing, that's not to say it falls in to the trap of safe, middle class sitcoms like the appalling Vicar of Dibley. Indeed, there are times when the writers are decidedly dangerous; 'Is it me, or do all pensioners stink of p*ss?' from a club comedian to an audience of pensioners, or 'How far away are they?'to a group of dwarves tipping out from a Bolton supporters coach. A racist folk group who sing 'Send the b*ggers back' rears its ugly head, and a rather vocal car alarm that warns
9;Get back you b*stard, I'll break your legs!' Whilst the humour is achingly funny in places, thankfully there is no laughter backing track. It would spoil your enjoyment of the storylines if I analysed each of the six episodes. My favourite, though, is episode three which includes a hopeless psychic turn, Clinton Baptiste: 'Is there a John in the audience?' Running through this episode is the threat of the club being closed down because of fire regulations. Keith Lard, the fire safety officer with an alleged unhealthy interest in dogs, is played by Kay, who again shows his amazing versatility in creating and playing different characters. One of the many good things about this DVD is that all six episodes can be watched back to back to get the full benefit of the subtlety of the writing. For example, the baldy bouncer jibe Max continually makes to Paddy, or Paddy's long running denial of his relationship with Mary. This linking of episodes is a very strong feature and continues with other great ideas, such as Armchair Super Store (ASS), a cringeworthy send up of those awful home shopping programmes, which we catch on the club TV most episodes. Max eventually sends off for a diver's watch he has seen advertised a few weeks back, and on duty one night exclaims 'S**t! I've run out of oxygen'. Every programme also ends with Potter and the staff auditioning some truly dire club acts: an escapologist who can't escape, a juggler who can't juggle, a geriatric dancing couple. This last act had the staff cracking up for real - that couldn't have been acting. USE OF MUSIC The use of great songs on the soundtrack is another masterful stroke of Kay's which I love. He juxtaposes upbeat, up tempo hits with tragic scenes to great ironic effect. For example, the first episode opens with Potter on his way to the club in his electric chair through a Bolton street with a menac
ing grey s ky above, to the tune of 'The Only Way Is Up' by Yaz. In the Robot Wars episode, which attracts only two entries and an audience of not much more, Paddy and Max enter the arena with their creation, to Frankie Goes to Hollywood's 'Two Tribes'. Keith Lard (fire safety officer) wonderfully misinterprets the lyrics of Disco Inferno. Burn baby burn, burn that mother down - "Another child orphan". At the start of the final episode, Jerry is seen bounding down the steps of the hospital to the big band swing number 'Opus One', having been given the 'all clear'. When he reaches the club we see that in fact the song is being played by a band rehearsing there. I wonder if this is Kay's homage to that great scene in Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles where Cleavon Little rides across the desert to a big band number only to stumble on the Count Basie Orchestra playing it. There are plenty of musical nuances that you are in danger of missing, such as Jerry having his rectal examination with 'The Whole of the Moon' playing on a background radio. I could go on, but please, do yourself a favour and buy this DVD! THE EXTRAS You are spoilt for choice with the extras, and whilst you are deciding which to click on, there is a blissfully mellow northern soul arrangement of the theme tune playing in the background. 1) Commentary The writers/actors provide a commentary to each episode which is both insightful and amusing. What comes across very strongly is the amount of care and pride they have taken with the detail in every scene. Here are just a selection of facts you can glean from the commentary: Punters in the club consist to a large degree of aunts, uncles, grandparents and various other relatives of the cast! Their reaction shots are for the most part genuine, never better used I think than when Ray Von puts on a
painfully loud hard garage mix for this geriatric audience. The look of disgust on their faces is a joy to see, and several of them get up and leave the room in protest. The theme tune is a simple melody played on a xylophone. This was very much a hastily composed afterthought, as they didn't have one the night before transmission. One scene, where Max the bouncer has a slapstick moment running in to a door that is closed, turns out to have been an honest mistake by Kay, and he cracked some ribs in the process! 2) Out-takes Episode by episode corpsing on view here. Plenty of foul mouths as well, but if you are easily offended there is a swearing on/off option. Be surprised at what a high pitched laugh Kay has, and the amount of times they had to shoot some scenes. 3) Deleted Scenes Stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. 4) 'One Man and his Horse' Documentary Learn how the Wild West theme night had a drunken horse on the premises. WEAKNESSES In order to write a balanced review, I had to rack my brains to think of the faults in this quality programme. I suppose if you are ultra fussy, you could argue that there are not enough strong female roles. But Potter's love interest features prominently in a complete episode. The women who work in the club also have a strong presence collectively. Just about the only other fault I could put my finger on is the way Potter's disability is handled. There were times when I was laughing at his wheelchair predicament, for example when he was playing paintball with his girlfriend and she was shooting at his chest. Of course, being in a wheelchair meant he was a sitting duck and took a complete pounding, which was so funny to watch. Some may feel a little uncomfortable about finding humour in this - for me it's part of the appeal of the writers' willingness to escape from the safe, formulaic stuff
and explore the non PC territories which too many other bland sitcoms avoid. THE VERDICT The DVD format is the perfect medium for this series because sometimes you need to re-run scenes several times just to make sure you catch all the jokes, both verbal and visual. Extras on the DVD enhance it beautifully and mean you are getting incredible value for your money. Cheapest online price at the time of writing is £12.99 with www.splashdvd.com In my reverse journey of discovery on Peter Kay, I have since seen 'That Peter Kay Thing' on television. This was made before Phoenix Nights and is a dress rehearsal for many of the characters. It is a little ragged and lacks polish, although it does include Kay 'dragging up' for one of his roles. This does not work for me at all and, mercifully, he resists the temptation to play a woman in both series of Phoenix Nights. I keep checking for a DVD release date on the second series, as I thought it was even funnier than the first. Jerry St Clair's haunting rendition in the supermarket of Black Bin Bags to the tune of 'Men in Black' is one of the many high points. Peter Kay is indeed a lucky b******. As he admits in the commentary, he gets to make a living by working ten minutes down the road from where he lives, with his friends from school and surrounded by his relatives as extras. I heartily recommend this DVD to anyone, as you may be able to tell from this review. It is one of those rare DVDs that you never tire of watching.
The first few paragraphs won't let me use capital letters for some reason. Sorry. ******************************************************************** Before reading this article, remember that gambling to excess can ruin lives. If you have an addictive personality then please do not read beyond this paragraph. It is very easy to run up a debt that gets out of hand, even more so on the internet. If you do need help, the website for this purpose is www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk. They also provide support for relatives of compulsive gamblers. Gambling on the internet is a huge online business, second only to pornography. Bookies websites continue to appear as the online industry expands. I have been betting on football matches for about 4 months now. I'm not quite sure how it started, but I do remember reading an article which said that there was more money to be made from gambling than from putting your money in stocks and shares. This obviously had embedded itself deep in my subconscious so that when the banner for the free bet appeared on my screen, I was receptive. And so it began. I chose football because despite being a Palace supporter I thought I knew a little about it! More free bets followed and I am now registered with 15 different bookies so that I can shop around for the best odds. If I was seriously sad, I could check all fifteen bookies and compare their odds every time I wanted to place a bet. However, there are several sites who will do this for you. My favourite is www.oddschecker.com, which compares the odds of 20 different sites. If you are not confident with fractions, then the website can convert the odds into decimals, although this should be unnecessary as the best odds are shown in bold. Two of these 20 sites, Betfair and Betdaq, are betting exchanges which operate in a slightly different way to an ordinary bookmakers and will take a commission of between 2 - 5 % on your winnings. The other &l
t; br>18 all allow you to register for free and to collect all your winnings tax free (the tax was abolished in 2001). Another good feature of www.oddschecker.com is the glossary. I didn't have much of a clue about the language used in betting, but now I am fully conversant with words such as steamer, accumulator, best book and lay. Registering with all bookies is easy and free, but as I am registered with such a large number I keep records of where my money is. I deposit funds with a credit card and withdraw them to my bank account. Mastercard have recently changed their rules so that refunds can no longer be given on credit cards. Opening a new account alone generates a fair amount of income, as each bookie generally has a special offer to entice you into joining. A good website to consult for locating the best introductory deals is www.mybetting.co.uk . Last weekend, for example, I placed a bet for ₤20 with totalbet on Monaco v Montpelier at 1 / 2 for Monaco to win. As this was one of the few bookies I didn't have an account with, I qualified for their new account holder's free ₤20 bet on top of this. Monaco won, so I made a profit of ₤10 plus ₤20 of free bets. I can't withdraw the ₤20 bonus as it can only be used for further betting. Some offers do amount to free cash though but, as with any money matters, it is always vital to read through the terms and conditions. The most useful site I have found for information on teams I want to back is www.football365.com. This is particularly helpful in providing statistics for clubs that I am unfamiliar with. Another reason I use football 365 is because they carry live results of foreign matches. I don't restrict my bets to just UK teams. So far I have bet on German, Spanish, French and Italian teams. An unexpected bonus is that it has improved my geography immensely! I am looking forward to betting on Scandinavi
an and Jap anese teams in the future when the right bet comes along. WHICH BOOKIE IS BEST? For betting on football there is not really that much to choose between them. www.oddschecker.com has a useful 'compare bookies' section which gives information on such things as the minimum deposit you can make, but the best site for me will always be determined by who offers the best odds for my particular bet. I do have my doubts about the ability of the Coral website to cope with large amounts of traffic. I placed a bet with them for Chelsea to win away at Sunderland. When a bet has been accepted a receipt number is issued on screen, which you should record. I used to be quite blasé about this, and not bother. When the Chelsea result came through I went to the site to check my winnings, but there was no record of the bet being placed. Coral asked me for my receipt number, and as I went back through my browser I found an 'error in communications' page originating from their website. My guess is that their system went into meltdown due to the huge amount of bets being placed thanks to the Grand National that day. Their customer service was unimpressive and I have given up emailing them due to their lack of response. If you want a site that allows the smallest bet, then William Hill will allow you to place 1p. However, this is a dangerous website and should only be used by women. Unlike all the other sites which make you press the confirmation button twice, at William Hill the bet is placed after hitting the return button once. Men are too eager to push buttons of any sort! My boyfriend accidentally placed an unintentionally complicated accumulator bet on this site, when he meant to place five single bets. To make matters worse, he had inadvertently backed one of the wrong teams in this selection too!! A phone call to William Hill was unsympathetically received - to paraphrase them, 'tough s**t'
;. <br >So it w as th at on April 26 I was rooting for Tranmere, Reading, Hartlepool, Wrexham and Leyton Orient ALL to win. Leyton Orient were at home to Rushden & Diamonds (Division 3 Champions) - this was the mistaken bet. It did make for a very thrilling afternoon though, as four of the teams were comfortably winning and Leyton Orient were gamefully holding R & D to a 0-0 draw. Then, a few minutes before full time, disaster struck when the Mansfield fans managed to get the game abandoned at Tranmere, who were ahead 2-0. And the Leyton Orient match was a draw. But I held out hope for the bet to be void. William Hill took their time over deciding. Usually most bookies get profits returned to your account within 2 hours. I went to bed that night with the bet still open. I didn't lose any sleep though because it was, mercifully, only a ₤10 stake. At 9.00am the next day I found I had ₤6.57 of my original stake returned. I still haven't a clue how the maths worked for that, but I do view it as a lucky escape. BETTING SYSTEMS I do have my own system which has, at present, yielded a modest monthly profit. I don't think it would be appropriate to discuss it here for two reasons: 1) I am not sure this is the correct forum for it. There are loads of betting chat rooms on the internet which are. 2) If it all goes pear-shaped, then I wouldn't want to be responsible for bringing anyone else down with me! CONCLUSION I love the rhythms and rituals associated with betting now. Studying which teams to pick earlier on in the week, searching for the best bets, and then seeing the bets unfold on a Saturday afternoon. Without wishing to gush too much, the feeling of winning is euphoric. I think I would continue even if I made a small loss each month, for the entertainment value. It's not my intention to convert anyone to betting, and this review is only meant to be a record of my e xperiences. G ambling on football has been an enjoyable introduction to betting for me. I do still consider myself a beginner though and would welcome any comments and advice from those with more experience.
UPDATE: TUESDAY .......At least I was right about Phil winning! If only I'd put money on him. **************************************************************************** UPDATE: MONDAY 9:30 AM...... What do I know?!! Sian got voted out and Daniella has walked out. *************************************************************************** I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here is currently gracing our tv screens for the second series. For the uninitiated, a group of C list celebrities are taken to the Australian rain forest where they have a crash course in the most basic of survival skills and then are left to fend for themselves, albeit in controlled conditions. During the first week viewers get the opportunity each day to vote for the celebrity they want to face an unpleasant task in order to earn food for the group. Throughout the second week votes are cast for the person who should be evicted each day, until the winner is left. Money raised through phone calls is donated to various charities. I did watch the first series, which rapidly gained viewers as word got round how good it was. Although I'm not going to pretend this is TV at its best, it is compulsive viewing. I found watching how the group dynamics evolved was fascinating (oh dear, that does sound a little pretentious). Anyway, I could see an analogy with office politics unfolding before me. Initially, everybody is on their best behaviour and desperately wants to be liked - the essential credentials of a celebrity ego. Gradually as the layers peel away and it's harder to keep the act up, you begin to realize that X is a careerist and Y is actually a complete bore, and that if it weren't for the fact you share the same office/jungle space with them you wouldn't even bother to cross the road to see them. What the first series proved to me was, sadly, what a complete fake Uri Gellar is (I so wanted to believe he had special powers) a
nd that Christine Hamilton is truly as obnoxious as she appears (or was that just clever editing?). I wasn't particularly keen on watching the second series as the novelty value ha d worn off for me, but the combination of looking for a bet to place and not much else being on TV at the time found me taking my seat for the first episode. As in the first series, Ant and Dec are the double act who host the show. Although reading from a script most of the time, their ad libs are fresh and witty. It helps that they gain pure delight from the celebrities' discomfort. The opening credits set the tone for the premise of this show. These are celebrities who are past their sell by date so we need a visual clue as to what they did. Hence, John Fashanu is seen catching a football to camera, Daniella Westbrook is seen flaunting her breasts, and so on. Here is my guide to the form of these ten celebrities: John Fashanu is the bookies' favourite to be evicted first. This is no great surprise as he has been chosen to do three trials already by the viewers. 'Is it 'cos I is black ?' No John, it's because you are a pretentious drama queen. Having already admitted to a phobia of heights and snakes, he gets the viewers' vote to do the two trials which involve ..er.. heights and snakes. Is it really that smart to admit to these things on camera? Even if the task ahead of him had been Grandmother's Footsteps, you get the feeling he would still have adopted that irritating martial arts stance he does, and muttered 'focus, focus' to himself. He is going down. Antony Worrell Thompson, the TV chef, has a good chance of staying the course because he cooks lovely grub. The only problem is that the rations are in such short supply as the rest of the team are so awful at their tasks, and as a consequence he has little to create with. He does seem to have had a truly awful childhood if
his tall tales are to be believed, so he could score highly on the sympathy vote. Despite his petulance I still expect him to get a top half placing. Daniella Westbrook is another celeb w ho has had a torrid time; for her it was dealing with twelve years of drug addiction. Luckily, she has a talented plastic surgeon who has rebuilt her face (and her breasts). She had a particularly gruesome trial involving lots of maggots and cockroaches which, to her credit, she faced head on. For this she earns my grudging respect and could well be in the top three. Toyah Wilcox, famous for some mediocre 70s hits and an even worse Derek Jarman film, appears to be a bossy hippy with an unhealthy dose of New Age about her. In spite of this she does come across as genuine, so will be placed in the top six. Sian Lloyd, who is famous for reading the weather with too much make up on, must be wondering why on earth her agent put her up for this now. She will be in the first half of the group to be ditched. Chris Bisson, the soap actor, has been blending in to the background too much to be a winner. Although by the same token he hasn't got up our noses so could do well and make the last four. Linda Barker, famous for room makeovers costing £500 but looking as if £5 has been spent on them, is also another strong contender. She too comes over as bossy, but in a Miss Whiplash sort of way which could score highly with the male vote. Definitely a top four placing. Wayne Sleep, the camp camper, will follow Fash within a maximum of two days. He has done his fair share of bitching, and staged a particularly embarrassing production of 'Cabaret' with the group. For that alone he deserves an early exit. Catalina Guirado, although showing extreme bravery in her task swimming with crocodiles (which were later revealed to be, like her, just a model ) has been too sulky and bitchy to endear herself to the pub
lic. She will be quick to follow Fash and Wayne. Finally, the bookies' and my favourite to win, Phil Tuffnell. At a cricket match a heckler once shouted 'Oi! Phil, lend us your brain. We're building an idiot!' But Phil would have laughed at this because he doesn't take himself too seriously. He did come dangerously close to being insightful when talking in the diary room to camera. 'It's not that I'm bored', he said, 'it's just that it's all too ..... pointless'.
I have been shopping with this company for nearly a year now. They sell underwear for men and women. In desperation at not being able to find any underwear for my 10 year old son that wasn't made in the sweatshops of the Far East ( Debenhams, BHS and finally M&S included ), I resorted to using a search engine which came up with Brass Monkeys. The website tells you that this is 'underwear with attitude'. Do not be put off by this! If you read on you will discover that you have found an 'ethical' company. This is one of those claims that many companies make but few live up to. Brass Monkeys is, I believe, one of those rare companies that does. What makes them ethical? Well, for a start they donate part of their profits to the Everyman charity which researches into prostate and testicular cancer. They also support environmentally friendly manufacturing and material sourcing. The company opposes any form of child labour or third world economic exploitation. Finally, they support UK industry - all of their products are designed and produced only in the UK. Now, that type of upfront statement had me reaching for my credit card in record time. I felt we could do business. But is the product any good? I have bought for both male and female members of the family and these are my observations: Women Three styles of tops are available:T shirt, Cami top and sleeveless tops. Although meant as underwear they would all easily pass as very stylish daywear, They are great for sport and holidaywear. The price is £9.99 each, but they have an incredible offer, which has been on for at least the last year, of 3 tops for the price of 2. This means they work out at a bargain £6.66 each. All are available in a choice of black, white or grey. Made from cotton with a hint of lycra, they are very comfortable and keep their shape well. They also sell knickers and bra sets. The two styles come with either boxer shorts and crop
top or bra and knickers. I have bought the boxer set, never having tried boxers before, and couldn't believe how comfortable they were to wear. They are so smart they would pass for sexy shorts in the summer a la Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, although they kept me as warm as toast under my jeans in the winter. Both styles of knickers have a branded jacquard waistband which is very comfortable and identical to the styles you get on designer knickers. Other items which I have not yet bought include nightwear, camouflage sets and his and hers slinky matching underwear sets in black, electric blue or red. Men There is a vast range of pants to choose from which includes pouches, thongs, boxers, classic pants and mesh boxers for clubbing. I played safe and bought classic pants in black and in white for my son and my other half. They both found them extremely comfortable to wear and thought the style easily competed with designer wear. The waistbands on these are also branded jacquard and look good peeping over the top of jeans. They cost £4.99 each and are also available in orange. My son fits the small size and I had to get a large for his dad. They do an extra large size as well. They have a good choice of vests and T shirts. I have bought a white and a blue one for £9.99 each. These look equally good as outerwear. Other items include socks, braces, swimwear, mesh T shirts for clubbing and nightwear. The web site has good quality pictures of all these items, so go and have a look if you want more detail. P & p costs from £2.99 -£4.99 in the UK and they will deliver to the rest of the world for £5.99. They aim to despatch all orders within 48 hours of receipt during weekday trading in the UK. For the rest of the world delivery can take up to 10 days. Other good things to note All new customers get a free pair of socks with their first purchase. They do several seasonal promotions, fo
r exa mple you could get a free red rose or red furry dice with every order over £15 for Valentine's Day orders. They have an hilarious competition for people to send in photos of themselves wearing their pants in unusual places (geographically not anatomically!) Suggestions for improvement I have found the sizing in the womenswear to be a little on the small side. At 5' 6" tall and nine and a half stone I was surprised to find I needed a large (14/16 ) in their tops. The medium (12/14) was too tight on my underarms and biceps so be careful when ordering. It would be good if they stocked even larger sizes as well. The boxer shorts medium (12/14) was the right size for me though. The last 3 for 2 offer I bought was not deducted from the total bill. I had to contact customer services about this. The lovely Penelope is ready to take your email and although she is very helpful, I had to email twice to get her attention. Any attempts to sort things on the phone are not very productive. They are always in a meeting! I hope this means the business is doing well. The women's pants and bra sets should be available separately i.e. you should be able to buy knickers separately. As an update on this I have just received an email from Pen that this can be arranged on request with her. The website order form can be a bit dodgy. If you try and order black pants in another colour from the drop down choice it will still appear as black in your shopping basket. Hold your nerve though because when you reach the final checkout the correct colour should appear on the list. Any problems then give Penelope an email. Conclusion All the items I have bought have now been washed several times and still look as good as new. I will be buying all underwear for the men in my family from here in the future. Forget all the boring stuff, this is the sort of present they would love to receive at Christmas. The w
ebsite address is www.brassmonkeys.co.uk. WARNING: This product contains nuts. ( I wish I could take the credit for this pun, but it is actually an example of the kind of humour this website uses.)
This is a really simple recipe which children will enjoy helping you make this Easter holiday. They would make great presents to give to friends/parents/grandparents. I have been making them with my children for 11 years now. INGREDIENTS butter golden syrup drinking chocolate powder shredded wheat mini eggs METHOD Put roughly equal amounts of butter and syrup into a saucepan. Stir over a low heat and add the drinking chocolate, adjusting the quantity according to how chocolatey you like your cakes. Remove from the heat when it has all blended together and allow to cool slightly. Crush some shredded wheat biscuits and add to the mixture until it has all been absorbed. Spoon out into cake cases and shape roughly into a nest. Set for a couple of hours in the fridge. Drop three mini eggs into each nest. You can use either speckled eggs ( Marks and Spencer sell some fine ones ) or foil covered chocolate ones ( available from all good sweet shops). Happy Easter
I have owned my T reg XJ8 4 litre automatic Jaguar for two and a half years. It had 12400 miles on the clock when I bought it from a Jaguar dealership for 26500 pounds (including warranty), who were registered as the previous owners. Needless to say, it had a full service history. It is a lovely looking car with loads of luxuries including leather seats, auto fold back mirrors, auto dip rear view mirror, climate control etc.... It rides like a dream and gets the looks. The 4 litre engine is magnificent and creamy. A sports button mode on the gearbox gives it a performance of 0 - 60mph in under 7 seconds. The fuel consumption for this 4 litre engine is 20mpg around town (curiously my XJ6 3.2 litre engine does only 15-17 mpg). At 70mph on a long run it can get as good as 30mpg. All this information can be obtained from the trip computer on the control panel. If you are over 35 years old, with a good claims record, then the insurance is pleasantly affordable ( make sure you shop around). This is a good car if you have children. Our three (and their friends!) all love riding in it. Now for the bad stuff. There are too many design faults which cause repairs, albeit under warranty, which simply should not have happened. For example, a fault developed in the steering system at low speeds which caused a clicking sound - repaired under warranty. The engine needed replacing after 50000 miles. Thank goodness this was again under a warranty (5 years although the handbook states 3 - is this Jaguar trying to cover up a design fault?) A new engine costs between 5 and 6 thousand pounds!!!! Not under warranty was the excessive wear on front wheel bearings at 50000 miles at a cost of 500 pounds to just get it through an MOT. You would not have expected that poor wear and tear on a Ford Fiesta, let alone a luxury car. Every time it goes in for a service it costs at least 500 pounds. Tyre wear can be expensive. That costs a
bout 600 pounds to replace every 20000 miles. The interior space is satisfactory, but the boot is far too small for a car of its size. If you are going for kudos and have got money to burn then this is the car for you. Just don't expect the bills to stop once you have bought it.
I first started using Infacare after the birth of my first child. I spent 3 days in hospital with her and was intrigued with the gentle liquid soap all the nurses used in the babies' baths. On arriving home and wanting the best for her I set about searching the shops for a similar soap. My search ended with Infacare. It is suitable for even the most delicate skins and foams up a treat for lots of bathtime fun. Its value for money is enhanced by the fact that it can be used to wash baby's hair as well. Another added bonus is that the empty bottles make great bathtime squirter toys. When your child is dry the lingering smell is gorgeous, and hair is truly fluffy. I have used it on all 3 of my children ( youngest is now 3 ) and there has never been a single stingy eye when it has trickled in accidentally. I have continued to use it in their baths all the way through infant and junior school. It doesn't dry the skin out like ordinary bubble baths which use harsh ingredients. I know mothers who recommend it for ezcema sufferers too. Not every store sells it but I have always bought mine from Boots who regularly have it on a 3 for the price of 2 offer. The current price is 2.29 but a 3 for 2 promotion would be equivalent to 1.93 a bottle. Use your Boots points card as well for even better value for money.
If, like me, you are the sort of person who pays off their credit card bill in full every month then this is definitely the card for you. If you want to know about APR then this isn't the review for you. I would strongly discourage borrowing money on any credit card. Excluding introductory offers, all credit cards charge extortionate rates. You are much better off arranging a personal loan with your bank, given that you can't obtain a remortage. The Accucard normal cash back rate of 0.8 per cent is doubled for the first six months from when you open an account to a massive 1.6 per cent. Use your card for all your groceries, shopping, petrol and anywhere else where they will take plastic and the cashback will soon mount up. If, unlike me, you are lucky enough to have an expense account for work then put all these purchases on it too. I amassed around 100 pounds in my first six months of use and am looking forward to receiving my cheque through the post. Money is sent to you on the first anniversary of opening your account. Online application is quick and easy and there is no annual fee. Payment is normally due 25 days after the date of each statement, giving a maximum interest-free period of up to 56 days, depending on when you make your purchases. To make the double cashback period last longer, you could apply for one and then six months later your partner could apply, each of you asking to be additional cardholders on the other account! If you are not sure how to compare the different cash back rates, for every 100 pounds you spend you will earn: 50p on a 0.5% rate, 80p on a 0.8% rate, 100p on a 1% rate, and 160p on a 1.6% rate. As you can see, this means you will earn over 3 times more with Accucard than your present card if it has a 0.5% cashback rate. Even after your six months is up the normal cash back rate of 0.8 per cent is still very competitive. The best normal rate is 1 per cent elsewhere.
Customer service is prompt and efficient. Other good features include electronic statements which you are reminded of by email, and you even get to choose the colour you want your card to be designed in. I chose a lovely girlie purple one!
Since the last review on Marbles appears to have been written nearly a year ago it is time for an up to date one. I applied for a Marbles credit card 5 weeks ago as I have recently been experiencing cashflow problems. The idea of an interest free loan for 6 months seemed too good to be true, but this is effectively what the latest Marbles promotion amounts to. All balance transfers and purchases made in the first 6 months will be charged at 0% as long as you make the minimum repayment each month. There is no annual fee. I came across this offer on The Lolly website ( an internet shopping cashback tool )which was offering 10 pounds for succesful applications. My existing credit card, Accucard, offers 1.6% cashback so I worked out the equivalent spend for the 10 pound reward with Marbles was 625 pounds. I duly filled in the online form, which was quick and easy, and a few days later received a phone call from Marbles confirming my details. I was immediately offered the opportunity to transfer any outstanding balances, which I declined. A few days later my card arrived in the post and was activated by a quick and easy phone call. I have subsequently used it to pay the large bill I was anticipating. I do not want to give details about the APR of this card because I strongly believe that borrowing on credit cards should be discouraged. Excluding introductory offers, all credit card rates are extortionate. You are much better off arranging a personal loan with your bank, given that you can't obtain a remortage. Even better, don't get into debt in the first place ( lecture over ). A lot of people labour under the misapprehension that it is difficult to change credit cards. Whilst this may be true of banks with the hassle of transferring salaries, standing orders etc., this does not apply to credit cards. You don't even have to close down your existing card, just stop using it - or cut it up if you don't trus
t yourself! Keeping a check on your Marbles account is easy. You can access it any time you want, either online where logging on is easy, or by phone. Another good feature of the card is their 'safe shopping promise' whereby you won't be liable for fraudulent use on the Internet. The one thing that did concern me was the hard sell a few days later over the phone when they were trying to sell me payment protection insurance and card protection insurance. Just say no. So, to sum up, this is an excellent opportunity to have an interest free loan. Hopefully, by the end of the 6 months you will have paid off any outstanding debts. If not, there is sure to be another credit card offering a similar deal to which you can transfer your balance again. Update : I have learned today that Marbles/PCWorld do an interest free offer lasting 9 months. Check out the Marbles website www.marbles.com. This might be ideal for couples who have had a new baby and are missing one wage for several months.