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pmcds
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Member since: 31.01.2008

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    • More +
      06.12.2014 09:57
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      Effective shaving foam - useful for men and women alike!

      I'm never sure why some products specify they're for women rather than men, or vice versa. I'm sure it's relevant in some cases, but for a long time, I've used specific women's products, and my wife has used some of my men specific products. Liz Earle products fall into this category quite a lot in my household, but the most commonly 'shared' product is shaving foam.



      Some foams are lovely and wonderful, foaming up and opening the pores to make hair removal easy, while others barely do anything more than a bit of soap would. This particular product, Tesco Sensitive Shaving Gel (for women!) does wonders with my sensitive skin most of the time, and is pretty effective in part for some sort of after shaving moisturiser.



      Standard can with a lid that pops off and on pretty easily. Always shake it before using, otherwise the foam comes out as a dribbly non-mixed blue goo. Once shaken, the nozzle is pretty easy to use, and squirts out this blue gel into your hands. A small amount is enough really, depending on what you use it for, and bear in mind I'm talking about shaving my face here. Rub the gel between your hands gently and it lathers up into a whiter gloopy foam with a blue tint - I'm not sure what the active ingredient that causes this is, but it tends to be commonplace in these sorts of products now.



      Applying it to your face is easy enough - I always make sure to shave after showering as my pores will still be open and hair removal is easier and more effective. Once this foam has been applied, your razor then does the rest. I find this foam does a good job is preparing the hair for shaving, and after all that is what it is designed for, so I'm happy.



      In terms of aftercare, I do feel that this is ideal. My skin, so often sensitive and dry, is smooth for quite a while after shaving and smells quite refreshing as well. There isn't much of an aroma, which is fine, as my aftershave accounts for this. However, if I didn't use this then the pleasant and faint aroma would be enough. The moisturising element is a nice addition as you wouldn't necessarily expect this from such as product.



      This is a decent product and very affordable. It occasionally makes me question the more expensive brands, although on the rare occasions when I use these (round a friend's house, etc) there is often a slight difference but not enough to warrant us changing brand. Incidentally, my wife and I both use this product and she is equally as happy with it. It's more affordable than other products and lasts quite while. Recommended.

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    • Last Vegas (DVD) / DVD / 3 Readings / 3 Ratings
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      02.12.2014 17:18
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      • "Old skool comedy"

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      • "Nothing special"

      Entertaining geriatric version of The Hangover - worth a watch

      Take this as it is = a chance for 4 ageing actors to show that they still have it when it comes to delivering on screen. They pretty much pull it off too, with a healthy dose of comedy coupled with an ease of being on screen that can only come with experience.

      The film starts off gently, with an intro of 4 friends as kids, before fast forwarding 58 years to see 3 of them past life's best, coming together once more to celebrate the 4th bachelor party in Vegas before he gets married to a woman half his age, the butt of many jokes about how young she is compared to him. The four stalwarts of the screen (Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline) actually work very well together, sparking off each other on screen and playing Vegas to its full.

      Recently, they've been on screen less and less. I've seen a few things with De Niro, and the occasional Freeman cameo, but the other two not so much, and it was a reminder of how suave Douglas is and just how funny Kline is in a natural way. Many have slated this film, saying it's more about 4 desperate old actors needing a bit of kick start in the twilight of their careers, but as long as you look at this as a bit of fun then youre unlikely to be disappointed.

      Each character has something to offer. The basic premise is the bachelor party, with Douglas' successful businessman and De Niro's bathrobe wearing recluse not speaking, Morgan's stroke-endangered grandfather sneaking out to Vegas from the watchful eye of his son, and Kline's hip and knee replacement wise cracker with a weekend 'pass' from his wife, along with a card, condom and Viagra. A recipe for comedy, if not disaster. Extra bits such as them being mistaken for 4 heads of drugs cartels, a small cameo from 50 cent and the occasional reference to some of their older films are all welcome, and the plot ticks along nicely.

      There are no surprises, it's all a bit of fun, and the mild attempt at genuine romance is probably a bit out of place, but it's nice to see these four actors on screen. They were commonplace in my youth and I've enjoyed seeing them again. They clearly had fun filming this, the acting is decent even if they don't seem to be making much of an effort, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a sequel of some sort at some point. It's basically a geriatric and dumbed down version of The Hangover, and well worth a watch, even if it is nothing special.

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    • Olympus Has Fallen (DVD) / DVD / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
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      19.11.2014 18:46
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      • "Fast paced entertaining action"

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      • "Visual slip ups"

      Gerard Butler tries to save America - actually quite entertaining!

      The gruff tones of Gerard Butler come full force with terrorists in this full on action thriller. Butler plays a former Secret Service agent who has been sidelined to a Treasury desk job after a disastrous event, but when the White House comes under attack and the President is taken hostage, he kickstarts back into attack mode and tries to save the day.

      If you're looking for improbable Hollywood action cheese with explosive special effects that Michael Bay would be proud of, look no further. Right from the start, cast members such as Butler, Dylan McDermott (on fire at the moment in film and TV) and Aaron Eckhart flex their thespian muscles as director Antoine Fuqua leaves us in no doubt that he is not fussed about taking things slowly and developing the characters, while other recognisable such as Morgan Freeman and Angela Bassett only join in later on. It's all about the action.

      I suppose as long as you don't expect too much from this film, it's great. Writers Creighton Rothenberger (fantastic name) and Katrin Benedikt keep the pace moving with characterisation done through action and stilted conversation as we have a glimpse into yet another potential way in which the heart of the US can be attacked. It's actually quite clever, and well staged, with timings, double crosses, a bruised foreign ego and some harsh violence all combine to provide more than just an entertaining hour and 45 minutes of virtually non stop action.

      It's easy to compare this to White House Down, with an extremely similar plot and starring Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum (cheesy brawn yet again), but I felt this was the more superior of the two in terms of entertainment. Despite the unlikely bravado and improbably situations, there is a certain element of this film that takes itself incredibly seriously without overdoing it.

      One way in which this is achieved is by heightening the level of violence shown towards some of the hostages and the sheer scale of what would happen should the terrorists' plan succeed. At times, it seems a bit mindless and over the top, but the majority is well choreographed and entertaining.

      They slip up with some visuals though. The replica building used is clearly not the White House. The biggest give away is that the front lawn is not much bigger than my front room, or so it seems. There is also a scene where part of the building is completely destroyed yet in later shots it appears whole and intact. Shots are fired at angles and walls with the resulting deaths only possible through an incredibly unlikely angle of ricochets or bending bullets, neither of which are the case.

      Some sillier moments with the security forces don't help and are a bit of a shame, but as long as you expect entertainment and not Oscar worthiness, it does more than just pass the time. Enjoyed this one.

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    • More +
      15.11.2014 09:35
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      • "Easy to use"
      • "Pleasant and lingering"

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      • "Nothing really"

      Effective and quality affordable original spray from Beckham's fragrance range

      When David Beckham branched into fashion and fragrance, no one really batted a cynical eyelid. An astute businessman and fashion icon himself, it was only a matter of time really. I was given a Beckham set for Christmas last year, and have used some of his products as a result.

      The Instinct fragrance is Beckham's first, and doesn't disappoint. The packaging is rather simple, with a black box and some simple silver embossing. Less is more, I guess. The box opens much like any other fragrance box, so nothing special or surprising there. The bottle inside is a small and dumpy little bottle, which I quite like. The taller and thinner it is, the more chance I've got of knocking it over or breaking it in transit. It has a rather large lid on top of a slightly curved bottle, the lid housing an effective spray that is very easy to use and doesn't drip. This to me is a fundamental part of an effective spray, one that doesn't drip. Too many are poorly designed and after a period of use the spray fails on you a bit, getting worn away and becoming more of a nuisance than a simple morning spray.

      It's designed for daytime use rather than going out at night. It makes sense, really, as it has a rather gentle fragrance to it. Officially, it's grapefruit zest, bergamot and cardamom, although there are plenty more flavours in there to a lesser extent, such as sandalwood and star anise, of all things (I haven't noticed any aniseed flavouring which is just as well as I'm not a fan). The resultant effect is a rather pleasant and gentle fragrance that does actually last a lot longer than most. Throughout the day, particular movements might trigger the residual fragrances on my skin, and I'll catch a gentle whiff of the scent. I wouldn't say it's as recognisable as something like Joop Homme or Game, but they have much stronger, masculine out at night scents which are designed to be noticed and associated with particular age groups, for example. This Beckham fragrance can be used by all ages, and I would say is ideal for work, personally.

      They market it as a strong fragrance for the man looking to stand out, and the subtlety of the fragrance along with its durability is probably what does this. I found that even driving home at the end of the day, the scent was still there in its gentle guise, and this is what impressed me the most, I guess. So many fragrances rely on power at source in order to remain as a scent later in the day, which is where their secondary scents come through and potentially aren't quite the same quality. Beckham's original scent is ideal for durability with a mature approach. Retailing at £15 for a 30ml bottle, you can often get it for less, but it's still a price worth paying. Quality product.

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      14.11.2014 21:05
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      • "Scent is gorgeous"
      • "Oh so lovely when using it"

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      • "Makes my skin itch"

      Gorgeous smelling bath foam that sadly makes my skin itch

      I should really learn, I guess, from past experiences with Original Source products, that there's something in them that just doesn't agree with my skin. The thing is, they feel and smell lush and usually foam and lather quite nicely as well, whether we're talking about bath foam, shower gel or any of their other products.

      This particular one is one that we have had in the house for a while, and my wife usually uses it. It does have a bit of a feminine scent to it, and certainly suits her more than me when emerging from a steamy bathroom having used. However, if that's all there is, the floral nature is not that much of a deterrent to me. You don't need to use that much for it to foam up, and the fumes permeate nicely throughout the house if the door's open. I also found that they linger for quite a while afterwards, and they're not overpowering whether you're in the room or elsewhere in the house.

      Getting in, the feeling on my skin is usually nice to start with, and indeed throughout the bath I felt nothing but relaxation. After a bath or a shower, I usually need to use a moisturiser on my face and some sort of cream on my arms and legs to stop them itching, and after bathing in this, I did notice that my face was drying rather quickly and so I needed to apply a bit more moisturiser than usual.

      A couple of hours later though, I was itching quite a bit, and even though I applied more cream, I still had itchiness and it was annoying. This reaction happens to my skin every time I use Original Source products, and I should learn - the lure of the soothing nature on my skin when I use it, and the scents and general way their products are put together though is just too tempting and I regret it only later when itching like crazy!

      The packaging is pretty good. You could easily put a portion of their sales down to visual marketing and clever product packaging, with an easy to open and hold bottle coming as no surprise given that most of their products are equally as easy and convenient to use.

      My natural conclusion would be to say that I can't medically recommend this from a personal point of view due to how badly it makes me itch and how dry and flaky it makes my skin, but from a scent point of view throughout, and a soothing point of view whilst using the product, it's lovely. If you don't have the sort of skin I do, get this stuff. It's lovely.

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    • More +
      10.11.2014 21:54
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      • "Has durability"
      • "Smells pleasant"

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      • "96 hours not tested - I wash too regularly for that!"
      • "A bit pricey"

      Effective and pleasant lasting deodorant

      I've been on the hunt for a decent roll-on deodorant for a while, and so far I've only managed to find one or two that do the job I need them to. The best for me is by far Forever Living's roll-on, although I've been experimenting and comparing prices as well.

      L'Oreal has a quality label attached to it and has done for a while now. We have the occasional product from them, although it tends to be the wife's beauty products rather than my grooming stuff. This particular deodorant piqued my interest as it has this 96 hour protection tag coming with it. I wondered whether you'd have to lie still for 96 hours in order for the effects to last that long.

      It turns out that the 96 hours promise relates to the anti-odour properties that the product professes to have. When you first see the 'stick', it's easy to hold and easy to take the lid off. It also goes back on okay, which is vital in ensuring that the stick doesn't dry out when it's not being used. Rolling it on the first time, as the liquid contents make their way round the rollerball, a masculine and sublte fragrance comes off, something unlike any other product I've tried. I kind of liked it.

      Trying it on a work day is the best test for me - it's the typical example I need to test it with. By the end of the day I hadn't experienced any issues with sweat or odour, but this doesn't make it a unique product, as it's the 96 hour part of it that interests me. Waking up the next morning, I could still smell it to a certain extent, although i do sweat a bit in my sleep and this had taken a lot of the impact away. The problem I suppose is that I wash every day, and so my underarms get a clean slate every day as well, rendering the roll-on less effective.

      Strangely though, after a few days of using this, I found that the deodorant gets even more effective and the subtle smell tends to last longer through the night. It's a pleasant enough smell and I suppose it does make me feel a bit better knowing that it keeps odours away and so it's something that I wouldn't be averse to using again. Easy to use and has a long lasting impact. I can't give it the 96 hour seal of approval as I don't leave it that long to wash and therefore can't say whether or not it lasted that long...

      The price can be a little steep - I've seen it at £4 and over for the roll-on, although it is a decent quality product from a well know quality brand so this is no huge surprise. It doesn't top my list but it's certainly within a list of similar products I'd recommend.

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    • More +
      10.09.2014 19:25
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      • "The Gaiman magic of fantasy and memory"

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      • "Too short; I wanted more!"

      Fantastic Gaiman tells a tale of reminiscence and lost memories

      I've often wondered what's at the heart of Neil Gaiman's consciousness, and how he formulates his ideas to ensure a captivating piece of literature. I think that with 'Ocean at the End of the Lane' I get closer to that understanding, as the author takes us on an exploratory adventure; a fantasy rich tale that uses quaint and innocent surroundings and external characters that hide the sinister and deep reality that lies beneath. As ever, you'll be lured in and only realise it has happened when you surprise yourself in turning the last page, glancing up and realising it got dark.

      Our 40- or 50-something narrator comes away from a close family funeral near the place he once called home, and takes a long and slow walk down a path that stirs some distant memory; surroundings are described as the narrator struggles to remember, and then a chance encounter and some time to reflect brings everything back in floods. We read a tale of a 7 year old boy and his relationship with his parents; of his neighbour Lettie, who has been 11 years old for a very long time; of a duckpond that is apparently an ocean; and of villainous and haunting other-worldly characters who are clearly not real yet seem so possible.

      To say this has horror elements wouldn't be incorrect, and indeed the only shivering moments come with Gaiman's fantastic descriptive abilities. It's his first book for adults for a while, and to me it seems to have haunting elements that remind me of his non-literary project: the game 'Wayward Manor', with its quirky and sinister visuals and characters. Indeed, the characters in Ocean are largely innocent and normal, such as our nameless narrator's parents and sister, the lodger and the nurse. It's when Gaiman's subconscious fantasy-fan literary skills come to the fore that some of these characters take a more sinister and page-turning form that you really find it hard to put the book down; the images forming in your head become as scary as your own impression of fantasy and mild horror will allow you.

      Adults are the target here. Gaiman writes from an adult perspective and gives a tale of reminiscence and recapturing your memory, exploring some mythical tales and creatures in obscure and individual ways and ensuring that the quizzical questions we often ask ourselves about our own memories, both fading and firm, are at least attempted if not completely answered. I found myself experiencing satisfaction and thinking that some of his answers are indeed ones I'd be happy to adopt with some of my inexplicably disappearing memories. Can you remember most of what happened when you were 7? Don't answer that...

      Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of memory and of reminiscence. It allows you to enjoy it as a fantasy tale, and allows you to complete it quickly. At easily under 300 pages, it doesn't last though, and this is my only criticism: I wanted more...

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    • Forever Bee Pollen / Online Shop / 13 Readings / 13 Ratings
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      30.05.2014 15:28
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      • "Energy and nutrients; hayfever"

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      • None

      Effective, for me, for energy levels, nutrition and as a hayfever prevention

      I''ve been taking these bee Pollen tablets now for a couple of months, ever since doing a 9 day cleanse with Forever Living. The Bee Pollen comes as part of the plan, or you can buy it separately. For 12.56 GBP, you get a plastic bottle of 100 tablets, and they have multiple benefits.

      One of the major benefits I have found has been the energy levels I have had with these tablets. The Bee Pollen has more nutrients per gram than any other food supplement, and I have found that taking one in the morning and one in the afternoon has resulted in all the energy levels that I need. Don''t expect magnificent results after the first tablet; I found that giving it a couple of days was all I needed. I used to get peaks and troughs of energy: no longer. I now have a constant level of energy throughout the day.

      Another benefit is the nutritional element. With its concentration of nutrients, this stuff is really good for you. The Pollen is taken from high mountainous regions to ensure its potency is high, and then once you''ve introduced it to your system by trying a quarter of a tablet at first to check for reactions, then you''re away. Keeping the nutrients in your body topped up helps maintain all manner of balances, such as pH and internal functions.

      One of the biggest benefits I''ve seen is in its effectiveness, for me, as a preventative measure for my hayfever allergy. Usually by now my nose is streaming and I''m sneezing non stop, as the high pollen count season kicks in. However, the past few weeks since taking Bee Pollen tablets, I''ve found that my hayfever is virtually non existent. I''ve passed people who have been suffering immensely, and have spoken with a number of people who also have hayfever and wanted to know why I haven''t been suffering. In this sense it''s cost effective as well. Clarityn, for example, costs significantly more per tablet, and although this has worked on occasion, the last couple of years it hasn''t worked for me. I switched to Beconase but again, the results were intermittent and last Summer was particularly hard for my nose!

      The Bee Pollen from Forever Living has multiple benefits. I shall be continuing to take this all throughout the winter, not just the summer. Rarely does a supplement come along that I continue taking, but I can see myself in for the long haul with this one. Highly recommended.

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      • Oblivion (DVD) / DVD / 30 Readings / 30 Ratings
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        02.03.2014 10:42
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        Effective sci-fi thriller about a droid repairman on a war ravaged Earth in 2077

        In the year 2077, Earth has been left ravaged by war with an alien race known as Scavs, a war won only by resorting to nuclear weapons after the moon was destroyed and tsunamis and earthquakes struck our planet. Relocation to space station Tet and Titan, one of Jupiter's moons, only a few were left behind on Earth on elevated base stations to repair droids which monitor and destroy any remaining Scav activity. Tech 49 Jack Harper is teamed with Vika Olsen in their shift as a droid repair team; their time is coming to an end and soon, they will be able to leave for Titan. Then Jack stumbles across some Scavs and realises that all may not be as it seems.

        There is an element of mystery to this sci-fi thriller. Large parts of the film progress rather slowly, and although this serves to build up the tension, it's not as clear cut as that as you're let wanting something more to happen a lot sooner. This may well be because I had the impression it was going to be more of an action film than it is, but sci-fi thriller is probably a better way to describe it. Cleverly written and transferred to the screen, you can see that the vision of the original creator has manifested itself onto the big screen. It helps that Joseph Kosinski, the creator of the original graphic novel upon which this is based, is also the producer and director, as well as having adapted the screenplay.

        Things are bleak. Pale grey is the dominant colour, and morose acceptance the dominant mood, at least for the majority of the film. There are some surprising moments, and a few of the twists are very well delivered, but the overall feeling is one of moroseness. A lot of the basic plot is delivered through a voiceover from Harper at the beginning of the film, and the scientific nature of the film is probably a good vehicle for successful Hollywood star Tom Cruise to choose top billing. He gets a lot of flack, but I generally tend to like how he acts in films and usually like watching the films. He has been involved in some howlers, but generally gets it right. Oblivion suits him well, and his understated delivery matches the mood throughout the film. He is well supported by Andrea Riseborough as Vika, and as other characters start coming into play, they also have a generally positive impact on the film; in particular Morgan Freeman and Game of Thrones' Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

        Action does eventually come, and the fact that it arrives almost at the same time as a few revelations that flip the plot on its head mean that we virtually jump from a generic run of the mill sci-fi film to one of action and twists. It makes you sit up and watch, and although there are plenty of unbelievable moments, you do have to suspend belief when it comes to sci-fi anyway, and this is no exception and shouldn't be considered so. The film has respect for the viewer, and doesn't try to patronise by unnecessarily explaining everything; it does however ensure that enough information is given so that we're aware of the developments. We're given the chance to make our own inferences at times, which I do like as long as things are somewhat cleared up at the end, which they are.

        It's a shame that the depth wasn't a bit more involved. The first part of the film does take so long to get going that it gets a bit boring. There are easy spoilers to make, so I can't go into too much detail, but Harper's occasional dreamlike flashbacks are in contrast with the security-based memory removal protocol of droid repairmen, and these flashbacks early on confuse you more than anything else. I know they're designed to make you start thinking while the slow stuff is happening, but it just confuses. Of course, all becomes clear later on, but I have to admit that it took two or three attempts at watching this before I finally made it all the way through.

        It's worth a watch, and so easily could have been even more than just this. There's some sophistication at play here, and with a clear vision from the director, then you get the message loud and clear. The Hollywood ending is annoying, but I won't go into details to spoil it for you. Cruise is actually very good, and the support is well matched to his lead. I probably wouldn't watch it again by choice, but if it was on then I certainly wouldn't grumble about having to sit through it. Worth a watch.

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        • More +
          01.03.2014 19:37
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          Disappointing Tony Hill book from Val McDermid; still worth a read though

          It had been a while since I had read a Val McDermid book, and even longer that her recurring character of profiler Tony Hill had been in one. Having been made into a TV series with Robson Green playing Hill, the automatic mind's eye then reverts to type and gives you a preordained mental image of the character, such was the gap between my first Tony Hill book and this one.

          I must admit, most of McDermid's earlier work and in particular her stand alone novels, are excellent. Thrilling, twists and turns and with that knack of being really hard to put down, so Beneath the Bleeding had been sitting on my shelf for a long time threatening to be read next. I finally took the plunge, and the book flowed very freely indeed. However, it wasn't a free flow that was because it was gripping; rather that there wasn't much substance in the first chunk of the book, it was all setting the scene.

          One disadvantage of reading books out of sequence is that you'll often get passages which don't make sense as they refer to events in previous books. This is very much the case here, and while previous events are covered enough to understand the importance of them, certain things are brought up a number of times and it detracts from the reader's enjoyment if they're not privy to the previous books.

          What is clear is that McDermid needed a way to introduce something new to the approach, and this must be one of the hardest things to do for an author looking to add something different to a familiar mix. The clever element is that she renders the usually very involved Tony Hill immobile by involving him in an attack right at the start of the book that results in him being hospitalised for the majority of the impending case. The platonic relationship he has with DI Carol Jordan, often mistaken for romance by many, is tested by the inclusion of his domineering mother to the mix, although to what ends we're not certain for a while.

          So when a case actually presents itself, McDermid has already ensured that a different approach must be taken. A Premiership Bradford footballer is poisoned with poison usually associated with terrorism, ricin. and this sets alarm bells ringing. As Jordan and her team investigate, us readers are privy to a secondary plot thread running, that of a potential bomb to be set off at Bradford's stadium, and the poisoner is not done with his task either. Jordan faces not only an intensely public and politically sensitive case, but the arrival of the local terrorist task force, a collection of rude and obnoxious egotists in SWAT gear and sunglasses. With Hill only able to help from hospital, despite his stubborn attempts to get mobile too early, the pressure is on even more than usual, and McDermid gives us something with a slightly different front.

          Like I said, it had been a while since I'd read a Tony Hill book, but even so there was significant difference that I managed to notice just fine. The main one was that the clinical plot development was somewhat missing. There were moments where things developed quickly, but then they slowed down and there were a stack of pages developing something else, or providing information about Hill's mother's visits. You could tell there was something going on there, but it was never really all that clear. The characters were thrown out of their comfort zones, and in all honesty it was a bit too much. Throwing a modern form of crime into the mix and switching the narrative between Jordan, Hill and those involved from a nefarious perspective could have worked, but not while Hill was in hospital, the terrorist squad were treading on everyone's toes, previous books' events were being revisited to develop character and explain, and Jordan was sneaking around behind the SWAT lookalikes' backs. It was too much to be able to just relax and enjoy.

          Don't get me wrong: it's still good; it just doesn't pass muster when compared to McDermid's other work that I have read. I'm not certain that some of the character developments would even work in the long run, although some characters are very well utilised indeed. There are clear developments for subsequent titles in the series, and I should think that a lot of them work very well, but this seems almost like the aftermath of a detox from the author, and an attempt to revitalise the same people and places without them having to be replaced.

          There are some great moments, and the twists and some of the revelations are extremely well thought out. There is closure on a lot of parts of the book, and while I could see that a lot of things were earmarked for subsequent titles, it would have nice for it to finish with a bit more clarity that it did. I enjoyed reading it, as McDermid's writing style is very fluid and easy to digest, while maintaining enough detail to mean that it's clearly deeper than something like a James Patterson novel, for example. However, the combination of too much going on and too much change was a bit too awkward to take in all in one go, and so I wouldn't earmark this as one of her best. Worth a read, but nothing special.

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          • More +
            23.02.2014 11:13
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            Highly effective adaptation of John Le Carre's Cold War spy thriller

            The danger with accumulating a horde of praised quality actors together in one film is that the focus ends up being on them rather than the story. However, when the acting performances are stellar, and particularly when the cast recognise this danger and realise that it's not just about them but about the story, a particular gem is the result. Adapting John Le Carre's celebrated novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) is not a new thing - a 1980 adaptation free from today's technology had particular resonance, even if the cast wasn't as much a tour de force as this 2011 version promotes, despite the inclusion of greats such as Alec Guiness and Ian Richardson.

            Director Tomas Alfredson, acclaimed for his work in his native Sweden, is establishing a serious CV of films under his belt; Let The Right One In was a breakthrough for him and TTSS has proven to mark him firmly on the map despite nothing having emanated from him since other than a special mention from J A Bayona while directing The Impossible. Here in TTSS you can see the control he exerts over the timing as he twists the Cold War knife and makes you watch the screen while this is on.

            The plot is one that requires particular scrutiny from the start, particularly if you haven't read the book. The film develops using a series of flashbacks mixed with current events and revolves around subterfuge, spies and trust, or a complete lack thereof. The main character is George Smiley, brought out of retirement to investigate claims of a Russian mole high up in MI6's ranks. We learn through flashbacks that Smiley had previously left the Service following the death of an Agent during a meeting in Budapest; a death that resulted Control, the then head of MI6, leaving his role; an act which now sees the mole in a more powerful position according to sources. Smiley must find out whether the rumours are true and, if they are, uncover the mole.

            There's an unspoken air of disappointment from Smiley, throughout the film. Control's retirement is forced following the botched job, and he takes Smiley with him. Despite this, the two remain old friends, and Control is a central point in Smiley's flashbacks. To this end, the subterfuge begins. Someone in the upper echelons is a mole, if sources are to be believed. Smiley's poker face and his uncanny knack for unearthing the truth kick into action - I was riveted.

            It helped, having an interest in the Cold War. Although I was at school when Reagan and Gorbachev shook hands to end the horrible period of gathering intelligence and accumulating weaponry without actually engaging in physical war, the potential conflict must have been something of immense mental anguish for so long, ever since the end of the Second World War. Britain, a major player on the side of the US, engaged in plenty of international spying and tensions were high. I almost think this situation lends itself to more espionage tension within fiction than actual conflict such as the devastation of the Wars and of the recent and current situations with international conflict that has occurred since perestroika and glasnost. Robert Ludlum made full use of this in his lengthy works, and while I haven't read Le Carre, watching this and seeing the clever depths of plot and characterisation have made me want to seek out some of his work.

            As Smiley investigates the allegations, we meet a number of interesting characters, although it's not until later in the film that we realise the title's relevance; that the four main suspects for the mole are given the titular codenames for reference purposes. There are other major characters in the tale, and these are given equal importance by Alfredson, in particular the source of the information regarding the mole, the elusive Ricki Tarr; former information analyst Connie Sachs; and Irina, the wife of a Russian official with some relevance. This is perhaps the most engaging element, and it makes you consider all angles without dismissing any of them. When the final 'reveal' happens, it's perhaps not a surprise as such, but the plot is so well unfolded throughout the film that it brings with it a sense of satisfaction rather than a shock twist (which I do enjoy so much).

            Alfredson's control works up to a certain point, but the cast he has worked with exercise their substantial talents and flex their acting muscles in the most subtle of ways. Gary Oldman (now officially the highest grossing actor of all time) is particularly excellent as Smiley, and I think the way in which he hardly says anything for the first 20 minutes or so of the film, despite being on screen nearly all the time, speaks volumes about his realisation in what is needed for the role. Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr is equally brilliant - I've seen him in many roles now and I admire his ability to adapt his skills to any role (although his involvement in awkward 'comedy' This Means War is probably one to forget). I can't wait to see him as Leo in the adaptation of Tom Rob Smith excellent debut novel Child 44 (alongside Oldman); and as the titular character in the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road. Adding to my trio of favourite performances here is Mark Strong as the Budapest Agent sparking the whole thing off. Similar to Hardy, I have come to expect excellence from his performances, no matter the quality of the film, and he didn't let me down here. I was particularly impressed with how he dealt with the importance of his role during his performance.

            Aside from these who, for me, were the outstanding three performances in this film, the cast is littered with top billed names. Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Stephen Graham, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kathy Burke, Toby Jones, the late Roger Lloyd Pack and the evergreen and ever present John Hurt all add to the excellence here, and there is no weak performance. The danger with such a strong cast is that the focus is all on them and not on the plot, and I suppose there is no getting away from this. It happens quite often whenever a cast such as this is assembled; it happened in Marvel's Avengers Assemble, and in two George Clooney focused films, namely Ocean's Eleven and Monuments Men. There are moments in TTSS where the magnitude of the cast overshadows the plot, and other characters the actors have played are recognisable within some performances. The vast majority of the time though, this is clearly all about the film and not about its cast.

            There is of course the argument that this is all boring. It is possible that my interest in the Cold War and in spy novels and films and all things 'spy' cloud my judgement as to whether this is a good film or not. It may well be that the guessing game is not what interests you and you like things to be clear, or at least for events to be linear and chronological as opposed to every other sentence containing some hidden meaning that make you wonder what you missed and whether you should rewind and watch it again. If this is you, or if you agree with my surmising, then this may well not be the film for you; or even the genre for you. TTSS is firmly based on Cold War spy stuff, and this is where the detail lies. If you're after twists and turns without many revelations, and particularly like gathering the pieces of the puzzle and working things out for yourself, you may be frustrated but still enjoy this. If you're happy to just let things wash over you while you take it all in, you'll likely be highly entertained.

            I personally loved it. I thought the way the plot was developed showed skill, from behind and in front of the camera. The cinematography is all essential in a film such as this. People often think that sci-fi, CGI,action and animation are where the tech guys with their tools earn their bucks, but I firmly believe that the films where these elements cannot take centre stage are where the use of these tools are most important as they mustn't be noticed. Camera angles, flowing panning and lighting are explored with depth and the utmost importance throughout TTSS, and I'm more than happy to admit that there were times where I wasn't sure what was happening. I tried a couple of times to multitask and check an email or a facebook post, but lost the plot (pardon the pun!) and had to rewind. Don't begin to think you can do anything other than watch this, and although there are moments where the pace slows down, it all adds to the tension. Take a couple of hours out of your time, sit down with a cognac in your favourite armchair with a pensive look on your face, and imagine you're an international secret service agent. Lose yourself in this and keep watching RIGHT until the end. Great film - loved it!

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              19.02.2014 15:21
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              Effective protection against high pollen counts

              It won't be long now before hayfever starts becoming a big issue for many people, particularly in the more rural areas. Living by the coast, I sometimes find that a quick trip to the beach can dispell any of the allergens in the air that cause my hayfever, but this isn't always successful and on days when there is a high pollen count I find I need extra help.

              For years I have used Clarityn, and while this does help to a certain extent, I find that my nose gets really twitchy whenever the count is high. As a result, I've started to use a nasal spray instead. I've tried a few, but the most reliable seems to be Beconase, which can come in different comes but this spray has been the most effective for me. It should cost around £5 for a bottle which should last the majority of the pollen season.

              The packaging is simple; a box housing the upright cylinder of spray with a piece of paper with short operating instructions and wildly extensive disclaimers on it. The bottle has a pump at the top, with a bar stretching across at the neck that your fingers sit under to push the pump action and release the spray. The way to ingest this is to squeeze the pump a little bit first to make sure that it's working, insert it in your nostril (part of the way, no need for complete immersion!) and then pull the pump at the end of a breath in through your nose. This allows the solution to disperse inside your nose and your nasal cavity, going to work straight away on both. Do this once for each nostril.

              They do recommend not to overdo this, and it's important to realise that this may not be an instant cure; it can take a good few minutes before you start to see results, and it may well take a few days of constant use before you start seeing complete protection on high pollen count days.

              Beconase is supposed to be quite good against other airborne allergens as well, although I can only really comment on how it has been for me against hayfever as this is what I need it for. There's not really anything else I can offer in terms of how to use this and how good it is. I would suggest shaking the bottle slightly before using it, and I always make sure it's pumping okay before I try to use it. It seems to have a pretty long shelf life and works just fine even after a good few days of not using it. I find that products like this can often have a placebic effect, and I've spent a number of days certain that I'd sprayed and therefore didn't sneeze or feel much irritation before then finding out later on that there's no way I could have actually used it. I think the effects can last longer than the 24 hour period you should expect them to, and I suppose overuse carries with it a concern of preventing it from having the necessary effect you need it to. However, it hasn't let me down yet and I have my bottle alongside my packet of Clarityn tablets ready for action when the good weather and high pollen counts come back in.

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              17.02.2014 21:59
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              Fantastic debut comedy novel, puerile bunnies and foxes galore

              Let me just say that, while I do know the author of Karrote, this fact has not influenced my opinion of it as a literary work in any way, shape or form. What it did do though is influence my decision to read it. I've known for a while that he was writing it, and when it was published last year I, like many of his friends, dutifully went and bought it from amazon, keen to support him whatever the book may be like.

              To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement though. Having spoken to him at length since reading it, it's clear that this was no whim - he means business and from the first page, too. The book opens by introducing us to a wide expanse of beautiful countryside, and then takes us from a panning view down to a lonely rabbit, presumable preening itself before we are introduced to the grumpiest, foulest most dangerous bunny you'll ever meet...Monty Python style.

              Character strength is what this book is founded upon, and it's not this first character, or the last, that matters; it's the construction of the warren and their feuding with local and visiting foxes and the dynamics that evolve through the interaction that makes this a brilliant book. Meeting a number of further rabbits via a 'school' system where our lead is the class bumbling idiot, his only friend a hyperactive albino escapee from a science lab, and the love interest a drastically overweight nymphomanic with eyes only for our frigid hero.

              It could be any teenage angst book were it not for the fact that it's set in a rabbit warren, there is a predatory gathering of foxes nearby just waiting for the right moment to strike, and you just know that there's going to be bloodshed at any moment when they strike. Oh, and one more thing...that grumpy, foul, dangerous bunny I mentioned earlier? Well, he's hiding something quite special from the other rabbits. Something painfully awesome. And no, I won't tell you what it is. Just trust me, it's worth reading this and finding out for yourself.

              Duncan Watkinson's writing style is very casual. It slots in between writing that it simple enough to follow, and that which is detailed enough to not seem like a skimming read. The plot has depth, and just as you think you've understood exactly what is going on, another twist is thrown in. The plot switches between the rabbits going about their daily lives, and the foxes as they realise that the warren is not as impenetrable and defended as they first thought. There's clever contrast between the heads of each colony, which sophisticated names such as Kenneth heading the foxes and Pansy the leporine hero; but don't be too quick to glorify all of the rabbits nor paint the foxes all as villains; there's much more going on here than a simple divide, and it's not long before rabbit politics and foxly cowardice and selfishness start to show exactly why the status quo has been so calm for so long.

              I mentioned earlier that the characters are what drives this, and it's the comedy in the dialogue that helps develop the motley cast we get. Our hero is named Dickweed, his albino best mate Fizz, the love interest Bluebell, while Pansy the grumpy one defies anyone to tease him about his name. There are school bullies, a fighter, a run in with a paranoid truck driver who could have sworn he saw a ninja albino feral rabbit attacking him like it was playing chicken (that's EXACTLY what was happening...), and an incredibly long drop at one end of the warren called Aaaaaaahhhhsplat, for obvious reasons.

              The comedy is at times puerile. There are vulgarities, obscenities and improper use of language and descriptive passages. But none of it is out of place and unnecessary. There are a few moments where the focus seems to fade in and out, but the filler content during these parts is still relevant to the main plot and tale, and the writing style does not refuse the content, merely adopts it and allows for the continued development of the characters where the plot fades, or the plot where the characters plod on. There's a real clever way of communication given that foxes and rabbits can't use phones, and in fact a whole host of clever small things that will make you smirk in admiration for how they've been subtly put in.

              I'm hoping there's more creative juice in the author's tank. When I spoke to him, he certainly had ideas for development with the tale, and I guess a lot of it depends on the success of this and where things take him. I figure, therefore, that it's in my own interest to promote this as best I can. It was impossible to put down and it's been a ridiculously long time since I've read a debut novel and finished begging for a sequel or prequel or something, anything. If you're looking for something as a present for your dad for Christmas or birthday, or you're stuck for a gift for someone who loves a good laugh, then get stuck into amazon and order one of these - they'll thank you for it, and it's now available as a Kindle edition as well. Karrote has hit the ebooks. Recommended.

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                17.02.2014 14:10
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                Disappointing 'classic' about ballet

                Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger had a successful partnership of filmmaking, with Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp being the most well known of their films along with The Red Shoes. This last is a beautiful film in terms of visuals, featuring a story within a story as it focuses on ballet and the politics of the art. It makes a good effort of displaying the lengths people will go to in order to achieve perfection.

                The film portrays legendary ballet manager Boris Lermentov, needing to find some magic from somewhere new as his leading lady is now married and her priorities have changed. Plucking Victoria Page from obscurity is not enough though, and bringing ambitious young composer Julian Craster to write something high octane and high quality for Page to dance to is his task. Lermentov is arrogant, and this makes him blind to the fact that there is a blossoming romance between his two new young stars, a romance that if discovered by Lermentov could cause the entire performance and the careers of the two proteges to implode.

                The film has been hailed as glorious, and in many ways it is. Powell and Pressburger's films are designed to do something more than just present what you see on screen, and the clever thing here is that there are a number of deeper things going on. The film is presented not just as a story with a new ballet in it, but as two separate story, with the new ballet actually forming part of the tale. The first half of the film features the three main characters as they prepare for the upcoming ballet: the manager intent on his new star staying away from love for fear of it interfering with the ballet; the dancer falling for the dashing young new composer; and the composer with a chance of a lifetime not realising that starting something romantic could ruin it all. This element of the film flows very well and is interesting. It is clear and enjoyable. However, when the ballet performance starts, the film then launches a second tale, that of the story within the ballet. It's designed for the leading lady to portray someone dancing to her death, and although I tried to maintain my focus, it just wasn't as interesting or anywhere near as emotion inducing as it probably should have been. If you don't like ballet that much, then this bit is likely to bore you; it did me.

                Once the ballet has finished, everything is different. The clever thing is just how different the three main leads are having experienced the performance, as if a light has been turned on for each of them. The film certainly does a good job of showing how something so emotional for all involved can have such an impact in their real lives; but it just doesn't gather the flow it had before the ballet sequence. Part of this for me was my own interpretation of the film, how I was feeling towards it as it progressed. My interest had all but disappeared during the lengthy ballet sequence and I just couldn't get into it again. Had I been able to do so I may well have been able to enjoy it more, but even though I could see it was an impressive film for the right person, I wasn't that person and couldn't really enjoy it.

                Overall then, a disappointing film for me. I can see from an artistic point of view that it has laudable elements, and for someone who enjoys ballet it's probably a good film. However, I enjoyed Black Swan and the ballet moments were just more dramatic and fitting with the tale for me. Here, I just found the switch too much for me, and it lost my focus. By the time the film finished I felt nothing and was a bit disinterested. Not one I'd recommend.

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                15.02.2014 09:28
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                Solid and effective daily contact lenses that may correct your astigmatism

                I have recently started wearing contact lenses again, if only on an occasional basis. I used to wear them regularly, but find that this is impractical and it's a lot easier just to wear my glasses. Revisiting the range of contacts, I thought I'd go for a range I hadn't previously tried, and these seemed to be better suited for me.

                I have an astigmatism, which means my eyes aren't completely round. This means that wearing glasses can provide 100% correction, but putting contact lenses in usually doesn't. However, with these lenses, there is some sort of design method which means that the astigmatism is corrected along with the sight. Contact lenses are complicated creatures, but they are essentially glasses that sit right on your eyes as opposed to on the bridge of your nose; beyond that I don't really need to know much more.

                In all honesty though, there's not really anything different between these dailies and other brands I've tried before. The packaging is the same - thin box with strips of lenses in individual containers joined together in lines. You have to separate each one off, and then when you're ready to put them in you peel back the foil lined plastic seal to reveal the lens sitting in some contact lens solution. The solution is standard, and the lens is ready to put in. A pack lasts for a month.

                You get 30 individually packed lenses in a box, and two boxes (one for each eye). Depending on where you get them from, a month's supply is likely to cost you just shy of £30 or so - it's essentially roughly £1 per day to have these. Obviously, if like me you don't wear them every day, only once or twice a week, then a month's supply will last substantially longer - the expiry date on these is usually miles away.

                They feel pretty good when you put them in, and they do slot in very well to adjust the astigmatism. I wouldn't say they do it perfectly, and my optician has said that lenses rarely replicate the improvements a pair of glasses will do, but they do feel comfortable. It may well be that the astigmatism adjustment element is as a result of thinking it will happen; maybe it actually does happen. It's just not all the time.

                The packaging is okay, pretty standard. The one thing that isn't always done though is in marking which is for your left eye and which is for your right. Usually, your eyes will require different prescriptions, and the further these are apart then the more you will notice if you've put them in the wrong eye. My optician will check my prescription when I collect the lenses, and mark the boxes in front of me to make sure they've got them right and that I'm reassured of this; if you get these sent straight to you then this is obviously not possible and you'd need to make sure you know exactly what your prescription is for your eyes and mark the boxes yourself.

                They're daily disposables, so you're not supposed to use these for more than one day at a time. Obviously you could do, but they're thinner because they're dailies and this means that they're not stable for more than one day. I have worn dailies for two days before when I've found myself without a new pair but have needed to wear them, but this is not advised at all.

                So, these are decent lenses. There's nothing particularly special about them from my perspective, but they are solid and reliable and may correct your astigmatism. Affordable and running in at the same price, packaging etc as other brands, these are worth giving a go.

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