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Although mainly known for their contribution to the eminently forgettable Britpop style, Pulp's 1998 album This Is Hardcore takes the band away from the commercialised albums of the mid 90's and into a more dark and alternative genre, characteristic of their 80's material. Despite this, or maybe because of it, This Is Hardcore is a truly brilliant piece of work, showing off Jarvis Cocker's vocals to their true potential, with a classic mixture of sleaze and suggestion.
It would be fair to say that this album is slightly seedy by nature, however if this does not put you off, the sublime vocals of Jarvis combined with his thought provoking and insightful lyrics make a perfect mix of sentiments, from the sexual This Is Hardcore, to the more sensitive A Little Soul, and everything in between. Due to the slightly more alternative styles on show here, this album was not as commercially successful sales wise as their previous couple; however, for me this is easily the best album of their long musical career.
A list of tracks follows now, with ratings out of 10.
The Fear: - An upbeat track, with a slightly dirty and subversive undertone. However, a highly catchy chorus makes this one of the best on the album (9)
Dishes: - A slow song, with witty lyrics. "I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials, I am the man who stays home and does the dishes" sings Jarvis - Nuff said really! I must admit that this isn't my favourite. (6)
Party Hard: - An interesting track, with a more dancy beat than we are use to from Pulp, with Jarvis' vocals providing a good balance to the beats. (7)
Help The Aged: - This was the first single from the album and probably the most successful. This is a return to the britpop style that they became famous for. This track provides an insight to the ups and downs of growing old. (9)
This Is Hardcore: - The title track to the album has Jarvis on top form. With its 90-second dirty bass intro, this song is very provocative, and along with the video to this track charts the making of an adult film. Truly brilliant (10)
TV Movie: - Another dark track, charting the story of someone's love life. A little bit too dark even for my liking this one. (5)
A Little Soul: - Another classic track here, with Jarvis showing his more sensitive side. See we knew he had it in him really! (9)
I'm A Man: - Another decent track with Jarvis analysing what it means to be a man. Nothing amazing and so not really very memorable. (7)
Seductive Barry: - Another very dark track here, again a bit too dark for my taste, both controversial and seedy and frankly one to go into the album filler category. (4)
Sylvia: - A better effort here, being more pop orientated than many of the other tracks, charting the story of a girl he once knew. Another one that would have not been out of place on their previous albums. (8)
Glory Days: - Another darkish track, charting the better days of his life, a nice reflective song. (7)
The Day After The Revolution: - Another trip back to the Britpop days of the band on this final offering, again subversive but with a good solid message. (8)
Overall, this album has something for most people. Enough Britpop style tracks to satisfy the fans they won in the mid 90's, and also enough variety to win many new fans. However a word of caution, although containing no bad language of note, this album is slightly suggestive at times, and if you are easily offended then this probably isn't for you. The lyrics themselves are very cleverly written and the suggestive humour is very intelligent rather than slapstck Carry On style. It's a classic 90's album from one of the UK's most influential bands of the last few decades and definitely one to check out.
I must admit that I am not a big fan of cola drinks as a rule. I would drink Coca-Cola on occasions but I found the price a bit too steep to purchase on a regular basis. However, when I tried Sainsbury's Classic Cola and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised.
Coming in a similarly styled can as Coca-Cola, in fact they were forced to change the original design of the can as it was ruled too similar to the Coca-Cola brand, the taste of this product is actually quite nice. Unlike many of the other brands of cola such as Pepsi, Marks and Spencer cola and others, Classic Cola doesn't try and imitate. It has a distinctive unique taste whilst keeping the traditions of fizzyness and despite using caffeine I find that this effect is much less than that of other brands. It is also not as sweet as others in the market, and Classic Cola has carved out a good niche, and has been remarkably successful since its introduction a fair few years ago carving out a fairly large market share compared to many other brand colas. In fact, it was originally designed when first released in the mid nineties as a genuine rival to the bigger brands and not as a budget own brand drink, although it never really made the breakthrough to this level.
This product, like others, is available in single 330ml cans (around 40p), various multipacks (12 for £2.99 the last time I checked!) and also in 2 litre bottles (95p). In fact the bottle version is as nice as the canned variety, which I find unusual in fizzy drinks. I have to say that the prices of this drink have risen steadily over the last few years, and so far from being a decent quality alternative at a good price is now on a par with other drinks available and so can be marked down for this.
As I've said, the taste of this drink is quite different to other branded cola's out there; it's definitely less gassy than Pepsi and has a very strong caramel flavour. It's sort of a throwback to the original style cola recipe rather than the modern mass produced one and as an alternative works pretty well as such. There are 43 calories per 100ml of the which compares favourably with other fizzy drinks, and 10g of sugar in the said 100ml. Again this is no worse than many other fizzy drinks and so whilst I'm loathed to say its good for you, its certainly no worse than its rivals.
The main downside to this product is the obvious, i.e. that it can only be purchased in Simsbury's stores, however if you do shop there, this can also be an advantage as not only is it nicer and slightly cheaper than Coca-Cola, you can also earn the Simsbury's Nectar reward points on it, and in addition being an own brand, it is subject to regular special offers to increase sales.
Overall this is a surprisingly pleasant drink for an own brand and in my opinion rates right up there along side its more famous competitors, and in terms of value for money it is really good value especially in the multi-pack format and when bought on one of the many special offers. I would recommend this drink for all those who enjoy cola drinks, those who find Coca Cola and especially Pepsi as slightly too gassy and all those who just want to try a new soft drink.
As a keen fishkeeper I am always looking to try different things to improve the quality of my tank and the fish that inhabit it, and so after having several different Juwel aquariums over the years, have come to use Juwels Cirax Biological Filter Medium on many different occasions.
The Cirax pellets come in pre-packed little baskets, of which three different sizes are available, depending on the size of your Juwel filter, compact, standard or jumbo and costs range from around £10 for the smallest one up to around £20 for the biggest from all good aquatic stockists, although you may be able to pick them up cheaper if buying online. They are suitable for use in all types of aquaria, from coldwater, through tropical and even with marine setups.
When you get your little basket, it basically just looks like a selection of white stones, however the Cirax material is much more than that. It is designed with highly porous pellets, which gives a maximum surface area for friendly bacteria to colonise when placed into your filter. These bacteria are essential for a healthy fish tank as they have the effect of breaking down waste such as uneaten foods, fish waste products, other floating detritus such as decomposing plant pieces etc. If the filter isn't up to the task of removing this, then harmful chemicals such as ammonia and nitrite can build up in the tank water, both of which are highly toxic to fish.
Juwel advise placing the Cirax pellets in the top most section of the lower section of the filter that comes with all Juwel aquariums. I have to say that I have experimented with placing it at various different points in my filter system and I think that this probably is the best location for it. Certainly don't place it before the first coarse filter pad, as although small pieces of waste will be broken down in the Cirax pellets, it will slow the overall flow of water through your filter and thus impair the overall effectiveness of it.
The pre-packed pellet box is certainly well designed, and I've never had any issues with it opening or splitting open and making a big mess. In addition, it is really well packed to the rim, so you don't feel like you are being cheated out of any filter material. It is very easy to just slot into the filter, being perfectly designed to fit snugly into the Juwel filter system as long as you purchase the correct sized box. The individual aquariums that each size is designed to fit is mentioned on the rear of the packaging and so getting the correct size is also straightforward. As the Cirax pellets are placed after the coarse filter sponges I have found that I don't need to replace them very often. A quick rinse in used tank water from time to time as part of a regular filter maintenance schedule is more than enough to keep the pellets reasonably clean and thus keep the water flow up. I would probably recommend changing the Cirax pellets on a yearly basis as a rule of thumb, but each fishkeeper will soon be able to tell when different mediums require replacing depending on the stocking levels and waste volumes of their own tanks.
I know that Juwel filters have both their positives and negatives and some people really dislike the design. I have to say they aren't my favourite and these days I would plump for an external filter whenever possible, but as internal filters go they aren't the worst and I think it is a very good thing that the Cirax pellets are now being provided as standard with a lot of their new aquariua.
So to sum this one up, I would definitely recommend to anyone using a Juwel aquarium or filter to consider using the Cirax Biological Pellets in their filter systems. I've never had a serious breakout of illness in my tanks whilst using this product and for me that is the biggest positive I can think of. The well being of the fish and plants in my tank are always of the utmost importance and if they are happy with the performance of the filter then so am I. Of course any amount of fancy filter material isn't an excuse or alternative to a rigorous and regular maintenance schedule and this is no exception. What I will say is that it is a well-designed and highly spacious medium for all of those helpful bacteria to colonise and I have found that this does help to keep my nitrate levels lower than when I haven't been using it and it is very easy to slide into and out of the filter housing.
Ever since having a cat in the house, I have found the need for a carpet cleaner to have increased exponentially from a task I virtually never carried out, to one which is required at frequent intervals due to hair, sick and general stuffage walked in from outside. As a result I have taken ownership of my parents old carpet cleaner, that being the VAX 6131.
Now I know that this particular model is now quite old but just because something is old, doesn't make it rubbish, and in testament to this, it is still available online on websites such as Amazon, costing around £80 new. Vax themselves have a good reputation in the carpet cleaning and vacuuming industry, and that was the main reason my parents decided to buy this many years ago, and why I chose to half-inch it rather than buy a more modern one.
So the Vax 6131 is a multipurpose device, being a 3 in 1 machine, which can act as a standard vacuum cleaner, a carpet cleaner, or a machine to suck up spills and floods. It is advertised as being incredibly easy to operate and very efficient. Now I will say here that I can't really evaluate its sucking abilities, as I'm lucky I've never had a flood or spill worthy of whipping this out to clean. Most spills are simply spilt milk etc, for which the humble paper towel is more than suitable for sorting!
The machine itself comes in a big cardboard box jammed full of various appendages and bits. It also has an instruction booklet and still to this day comes with a free bottle of Vax carpet shampoo. The design is cylindrical in nature and is very hard wearing being made of a rigid plastic. It is quite a large lump too, so may not be overly suitable for smaller flats. It should also be noted that the rigid plastic could cause damage to any delicate furniture etc when moving around, so some care is required when using it. There are then two choices to fit as your inner section within the machine, these being the filter and dust bag for use as a simple vacuum cleaner, and the clean water bowl, which is used for carpet cleaning.
Fitting the dust bag and filter is very easy, it simply slots onto the base unit and then you attach the separate flexible hose in the same way as most vacuum cleaners. It has to be said that with its 1300W motor, the amount of suction is rather impressive and the bag capacity is also quite large, with the bag being very durable, being made of a thick cardboard like material. The hose is also very manoeuvrable, with the wheels making it very easy to do the vacuuming. There is also the usual vacuum array of tools to replace the standard end for more intricate vacuuming, which again all work really well. It's not all positives for the Vax 6131 though. It definitely needs to be noted that being a big solid lump, it is still quite difficult to move it around. If you are within the reach of the hose everything is fine but moving the whole unit, especially if it starts to get full becomes a backbreaking task despite the castors on it. Forget doing things like stairs with this vacuum unless you've taken a fair few trips to the gym lately too. I have to say I can't recommend the Vax 6131 for use as a vacuum cleaner due to its bulkiness and limited manoeuvrability, and have only used it myself when my main hoover vacuum cleaner decided it had vacuumed its last and went to the big electronics store in the sky!
However washing carpets is the main reason I have this machine and is probably the main reason that anyone would have for considering purchasing. Setting up the machine for carpet cleaning looks pretty tricky first time and there may well be some random holding of parts and head scratching the first couple of times you use it, but you soon get the gist of which piece goes where. It must be said the instruction booklet with its little diagrams is somewhat akin to a chocolate fireguard, but you will be able to figure it out with a little patience. The empty water bowl fits into the motor section, where the filter went in vacuum mode, and the only difference then is the water pipe, which attaches with a little clip to the main hose. It plugs into the sucky bit of the vacuum (don't know the official term for it!) at one end and into a little slot on the main body at the other end. The end also has a little slider which set one way allows the water/shampoo onto the carpet and the other way it stops the flow of water and allows the dirty water to be sucked back up. I have to say that the design of this water tube isn't the greatest and it can become a little annoying as it can start flapping about in use if you don't have the clips securing it at the correct intervals. Again, one that you get better with the more you use the machine. The water bowl is where you put your shampoo and clean water, with the bottom part being where the dirty water collects. There is an ingenious little ping-pong ball system that prevents the two waters from meeting and will shut the suction off if the unit is getting too full. It just looks a bit weird having a little chamber with a ping-pong ball in it, but to be fair it does seem to work.
So how easy is it to actually clean the carpet? Well I have to say that once you have mastered setting up the machine it is very easy to actually clean. The water is dispensed in an even manner, meaning the whole carpet gets the same dose of water/shampoo. Flicking the switch over allows you to suck up the excess water, which is also a good feature and takes hours off the drying time of the carpet. There are a few issues to be aware of however; firstly as I said with the vacuuming section, the machine is rather heavy and bulky and so when full of water becomes even more so. Doing upstairs can be a chore lugging up the full machine up the stairs and even downstairs can be rather backbreaking. This can be alleviated slightly by only putting small amounts of water in it, but this obviously causes more refills to be required. I've already mentioned the flapping water tube that can get in the way. Also it is imperative that you follow the instructions regarding shampoo. If you add too much you are in a world of pain as it will all froth up and stop the machine from working. Either the water tube will get foamed up and it will stop dispensing the water or the bottom unit will froth up when sucking up the excess, which will lose the suction. Either way, you will need to empty it all out, rinse it through and start again, which will lose you plenty of time and patience. (Trust me I've done this a few times!!!) You do also need to ensure you have vacuumed before you use this, as any larger particles of dirt or hair will risk clogging up the pipes again resulting in you needing to stop everything and clean them out. One thing that did surprise me the first few times that I used this machine is the amount of dirt that comes off the carpets. I like to think that I have quite a clean house, but the water coming off even the cleanest looking carpets is rather disgusting and so cleaning the machine after use is an essential!
So would I recommend the Vax 6131 to people? Well the answer to this is yes, but as a carpet cleaner only. It's really not worth it as a vacuum cleaner. It's far to bulky and unwieldy to use on a regular basis for this reason and should be considered an alternative or emergency cleaner at best. However the results from our carpet shampooing have always been very impressive. Despite its difficulties in weight and manoeuvrability, its cleaning ability has shone through for me. It has shifted some pretty tough stains from my living room carpet, and revitalised some older ones in my house. It's also pretty easy to clean, simply flush through with some clean water and leave the pipes and tubing to dry off. As I said the cleaning ability is really good and as my parents firstly and then me in the last few years have owned this machine for a good 10 years or so now, shows that the Vax 6131 is both hard wearing and reliable as I've never had an issue with it, and for a combination of these reasons would happily recommend it for anyone wanting a good, durable carpet cleaner who isn't afraid to spend a few minutes setting it up initially.
This review also appears on Ciao under my same username.
It still amazes me that one of my favourite liqueurs is still not that well known in the UK, however I have noticed over the last few years that it is steadily getting stocked in more and more restaurants and supermarkets, so perhaps the tide is starting to turn. The drink I am referring to is of course Chambord!
So Chambord is a French liqueur, with its inspiration being rumoured to have been introduced to the French King Louis XIV during a visit to the Chateau de Chambord in the Loive Valley and has allegedly been produced there since the late 17th century. The drink itself is a black raspberry liqueur, made with a secret blend of black raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, and Madagascan vanilla with cognac as its base spirit. It is 16.5% alcohol by volume.
The drink is available in several sized bottles, with the standard 700ml one costing around £20 from several online retailers. Sadly on the High Street and in supermarkets, those who do stock it tend to only stock the smaller 200ml bottle, which costs around the £6 mark. One thing I would say is that although this is a very small bottle, the nature of the drink means that you don't really need a massive amount each time so even this should last you a while. The prices put Chambord on a par with most other spirit or liqueur drinks and so isn't overly expensive in general comparison.
The bottle of Chambord is one of the most distinctive things about this drink. Firstly it comes in a stiff cardboard box, with two see through sides so you can see the bottle itself. The box has the legend in both English and French on it, and the fact that it comes in a little box gives it that look of something a little bit special. The bottle itself is uniquely spherical, with the dark liquid visible through it. Older bottles had a gold ribbon with the Chambord name and logo tied around it, but this seems to have been ditched in favour of a slightly less exciting strip glued onto the bottle. The lid is also quite ornately designed with a gold and red pattern on it, which just adds to the look of sophistication. Around the top you get a little recipe booklet for cocktail ideas for the drink, which I think is a nice little added touch.
So as you can probably tell I am quite keen on the design of the packaging and the little neat touches, but I am not one to fall for style over substance, and I know that this drink should and will live or die based upon the taste. On opening the bottle and inhaling, you are met with a wonderfully subtle yet satisfying aroma of sweet raspberries. There isn't much of an indication of alcohol from the scent, or anything else for that matter, just the raspberries, which has the effect of setting your taste buds going. When you take your first sip, again the only noticeable taste is that of a subtle yet immensely flavoursome raspberry drink. It doesn't taste very alcoholic, there is no aftertaste of spirit or warming of your throat, it just tastes like a high quality raspberry drink. It is incredibly sweet, so those of you that do not like things too sweet may not be too keen on this on its own, but for everyone else it really is tasty, and to my eyes a perfect drink on its own or over ice for a late summer / early autumn evening.
Now as I said earlier, the bottle comes with a little recipe card, which probably gave it away that this drink is perfect to be used in cocktails, and indeed that is correct, with my favourite by far being to mix a small amount of Chambord in a champagne flute and mix with either a sparkling wine or Prosecco. You don't need much of the liqueur or you will overpower the wine, but it tastes a treat and adds a nice fruity note to a cheaper bottle of sparkling wine. However this is the drink that most people who have heard of Chambord would have tried. Other uses for Chambord are plenty, and it is so versatile I will list just a few of them. Firstly put it in with some lemonade for a low alcohol lemon and raspberry drink. Secondly, use in deserts such as over ice cream instead of raspberry sauce, or use a little in with a raspberry trifle. So in short be creative and this really is a liqueur with many more uses than a simple drink or mixer.
So to sum this one up, I would say that Chambord is an underrated liqueur that deserves bigger exposure in the UK. It is very versatile and can be used in numerous cocktails, deserts or anything else you can think of! It is deliciously sweet and captures the taste of raspberries perfectly and with the style and elegance of the bottle, looks like you are adding a little style and sophistication to any drinks cabinet or collection. I would recommend this to anyone (Well anyone over 18 anyways!) and urge you if you haven't already to go out and try a little Chambord.
Thanks for reading this and it also appears on Ciao under my same username.
Having grown up listening to the Pet Shop Boys as my dad was a big fan, I have always respected their particular and distinctive style of electro pop music. Known for their heavy use of synth, having been massive in the 80's and 90's with a dance-electro pop style, their more recent offerings have been more conceptual, focusing sometimes on pure electro and other times on more unusual mixed styles. I have still bought and enjoyed all of these albums, but have missed some of the extra pizzazz from their earlier stuff. Just when I had given up hope of ever hearing a sound like that again, back come the Pet Shop Boys with their album Fundamental.
For this album, the PSB's have teamed up again with producer Trevor Horn, whom they last worked with in 1988. They have also worked with Ann Dudley from the Art of Noise and between them have come up with a little gem of an album. The sad thing her is that it didn't really get the publicity or the success that it deserved. It reached a peak of number 5 in the UK album chart but quickly disappeared from the chart altogether after a couple of weeks, and the singles, with the exception of I'm With Stupid failed to trouble the higher reaches of the UK singles chart.
This album it must be said is far more overtly political than any of their previous offerings, and their left leaning tendencies are evident throughout, although this doesn't take anything away from the quality and the diversity of the music on show here. I'm not left leaning in any way, but it is nice to see a band who are not afraid of having an opinion and letting everyone know what it is. For me although I disagree with their views on many things, but I find this a refreshing change from the manufactured rock and pop stars that the X-factor generation has been treated to in recent years. The PSB's way of getting this message across clearly was never going to be an angst ridden rant or punkish shouting, instead they have chosen to subtly conceal their meanings in some absolute classic electro-pop tracks that wouldn't have been out of place in their pomp in the early 90's.
Released in 2006, this album, either as a single CD, or with a 2nd bonus remix CD, as given away by the title takes a pop at Fundamentalism in any form and focuses mainly on the USA with their over the top response to the War on Terror. It is available online for around £6 now from the usual suspects, and you can also pick it up from the high street but expect to pay a little more here.
Track Listing: -
1 - Psychological - Ok so we start off with a slow paced offering with a soft bass line with a small amount of lyrical work from Neil Tennant. It is clearly a rather barbed and not very subtle attack on the over the top fears in the USA and the misconceptions associated with the War on Terror at the time. Not a classic track by any means, but an opening that sets the tone for the whole album 6/10.
2 - The Sodom And Gomorrah Show - A complete Pet Shop Boys classic, what more can I say! We are treated here to an upbeat pure electro-pop song up there with some of their very best. A song about not giving in to fears or discrimination, but to live life to its fullest. Upbeat, hedonistic and gloriously over the top, exactly what you expect from the PSB's and is along the lines of Go West and New York City Boy on the camp-o-meter, which makes it a complete winner for me. 10/10.
3 - I Made My Excuses And Left - This is a much slower affair, with a long string intro. When the singing finally gets going, Neil Tennant perfectly sets the scene of catching someone in the act of cheating. It's done very well and it does have the effect of making the listener slightly awkward when listening to it. It did take me a few listens before I really got into this song, but it's a pretty good if minimalistic song. 7/10.
4 - Minimal - We are back into the quicker paced stuff now and its synth back to the fore. It's a very pure electro-pop song with plenty of use of auto tune style robotic sounds in the chorus. The subject matter being as the title suggests of minimalism. It is a classic Trevor Horn style of song and is another grower. 8/10.
5 - Numb - Back to the theme of the war on terror with this one, and another Trevor Horn classic with plenty of orchestral sounds. This one was also used on Match of the Day during the 2006 world cup, rather inappropriately to be honest. Neil Tennant not really known for his deeply emotional singing style manages to give the impression of someone deeply affected by all that is going on in the world and just wants to close themselves away from everything. It's by far the most emotional song on the album, and possibly that I have ever heard from the PSB's, which in itself makes it notable. It's very slow, heartfelt and so gets 8/10.
6 - God Willing - This is a short, just over a minute long instrumental which has the feel of an intro to an older PSB song. It's a nice enough listen, but doesn't really add anything to the album for me, it's too short to really get into, and so gets 5/10.
7 - Luna Park - Another gentle paced song here, with the title referring to the global brand of theme parks. The song has a deeply dark undertone, painting the picture of a coming global disaster. It's another song with strong links to the bands anti war on terror stance and the potential global consequences of it. Again subtly delivered in a class Neil Tennant style. 9/10.
8 - I'm With Stupid - The first and most successful single from the album by some considerable margin. The song is a deeply satirical take on the special relationship between the USA and the UK, with particular emphasis on Tony Blair and George W. Bush's personal relationship during the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocity. Taking a very serious point, political or otherwise, and delivering it an over the top way, pure pop way is one of the strengths and signatures of the PSB and this is another total classic. Up there with some of the best songs around, 10/10.
9 - Casanova In Hell - A bit of a strange one this, it's slow, with a minimal style-backing track and doesn't really fit into the themes of the album as a whole. The theme being, unsurprisingly from the title about Casanova and his many alleged conquests with women over the years. There are some attempts at humour in the track but it's not one of my favourites I'm afraid. 5/10.
10 - Twentieth Century - Back onto theme here and back to the war on terror. This is a pure synth led electro song, which makes it a hit in my view. The theme here being the potentially harmful way in which the West could be perceived to be pushing so called problem countries. The line repeated time and time again is "The solution is worse than the problem". Something to think about whether you agree with their views on this topic or not. 8/10
11 - Indefinite Leave To Remain - Another slowish synth heavy song here and this time the subject is that of the Immigration system in the UK, with the song title being a title of a class of residency in the immigration system in Britain. The song is written from the perspective of someone going through the system and trying
12 - Integral - Another classic PSB dig at the establishment delivered in an over the top synth and orchestral heavy track. This song takes aim at the Tony Blair backed National ID card scheme muted throughout the to live in Britain. It's an emotive subject but the song doesn't really live up to the standards of the rest of the album. 5/10.
middle of that decade. The issue famously led to Neil Tennant withdrawing his support of the Labour party, and you can tell in the vocals of the usually dispassionate Tennant the anger behind the lyrics. On the other hand this done in that classic PSB way, and wouldn't have been out of place on some of their earlier albums. 9/10.
The second bonus CD version of this album comes with a 12-track remix album featuring Alter Ego and Richard X remixes amongst others. As with most of the PSB remix stuff, I'm never as keen on other people's version and mixes and prefer to stick with the original versions of the tracks. The mixes are not bad in any way, and the two remixes of Minimal (by Lobe and Tiga) the latter, which was released, and popular in Japan are two standouts. I would give the bonus CD a 6/10 as an enjoyable listen, but one that shouldn't take away from the original tracks, which are generally far superior.
In summary I would say that this is the best PSB album for quite a few years and I can understand why it was so critically acclaimed. Leaving behind some of the more conceptual ideas of previous offerings, this album is pure power electro-pop done in a way that very few could live with. Equally as good as some of their eighties and nineties classics, this album is a must for any electro fans or any PSB fans who were not aware of this one. You don't have to agree with their views to appreciate very good pop music, and as I said at the start it's nice to see a band with an actual opinion rather than the manufactured rubbish that saturates the charts these days. I would whole-heartedly recommend this album to anyone and urge you to check some of the tracks out on iTunes or an equivalent site, or simply log onto the Internet and purchase the album.
This review also appears on Ciao under my same username.
Continuing my recent look at some silly little games on my iPad, I decided to review one of my older games on it, namely Catapult King.
This game is available on the iPad and iPhone through the Apple App Store, and is also available on Android devices. It costs 69p to purchase, although there is a Catapult King Lite version, which is free, which allows you to trial before shelling out for the full version. The game is quite a small file at 49.7MB, which meant it was pretty speedy to download and install onto my iPad. It is compatible with iPhone and iPad as well as iPod touch, although I would really advise playing on a tablet as the screen is quite detailed and it would be a big strain on the eyes on a very small screen. The game is released through the company Chillingo and is rated by the App Store as 9+ due to the cartoony style violence depicted in the game, although I would say that this violence is in no way realistic and no worse than other games out there at the moment.
I think the fairest way of describing the game is to say that it "borrows heavily" the themes and ideas made a global phenomenon by the Angry Birds series. By this I mean it is one of those physics style puzzle games that have swamped the App Store over the last few years. This does seem to be a common theme in a lot of my game reviews, but it is impossible to overstate just what effect that series of games has had on tablet gaming, and to be fair it is a genre that suits the modern tablets well. The game is pretty much summed up in the title to be honest; you have a catapult and have to destroy things with it - End Of!
Well not quite, the game is a lot more visually appealing than Angry Birds. It is wholly 3D, and in the first person perspective, so you see the catapult ahead of you, and you can move the screen around to see all the targets and terrain. The goal of each level of the game is to kill all of the enemy soldiers on that level in a certain number of shots. The sneaky enemies do not however have the common decency to stand out in the open, and have constructed any number of different obstacles to protect themselves. The firing mechanism is quite easy; simply aim the catapult in your desired direction, pull back to determine the power of the shot and release. This will send your projectile on its merry way, but don't forget that pesky gravity, always pulling the ball downwards! This is the part of the game with the closest association with Angry Birds, and that is the fact that there are several different kinds of catapult projectile available in predetermined selections for each level. The catapult balls that you will have are as follows: -
Standard Projectile - A bog standard, no frills ball which is perfect for flimsy wooden structures, but rubbish on anything reinforced or built of stone.
Metal Projectile - These balls plough through stone, wood or people. One of the best weapons on the game as a versatile all rounder.
Explosive Projectile - Rather predictably these will explode on a second touch of the screen, so wait for them to lodge into a well defended structure and boom!
Three Way Split - This handy little projectile will split into 3 smaller ones offering a wider pattern of destruction, but at the cost of reduced damage from each one. Again handy getting inside of a well defended area.
Special Weapons - There are several special weapons such as Earthquake and Meteor Strike balls, which do huge amounts of damage but are only available after several levels when you have collected magic points (See next paragraph).
There are also crates of explosives and other items dotted around the map, which you can aim at to try and help you in your quest. Be observant for a random large rock perched high on a hill overlooking the combat zone or other strange features that look out of place. Quite often there is a cunning one shot option to complete a level that is on the face of it a bit left field, but it adds a certain strategy to the game which is definitely a welcome addition in my book.
Catapult King also borrows the idea of 3 levels of success when determining whether you have completed the level. I find these a little complicated in a lot of this genre, and this game is no exception. The levels are gold, silver and bronze, and depend on how many of a series of "goals" you have completed. The problem being these are not always obvious, and you are also awarded a certain number of magic points which can be used to call on special weapons on harder levels, but this number seems a little random at times. However I think the scoring system is slightly irrelevant in this game as the main goal is to kill all the enemies - anything else is a bonus if you can figure out exactly what it is you have done!
The graphics on this game are one of the major selling points and are amongst some of the best I have seen on the iPad. Whilst retaining a silly cartoony feel, the 3D world just looks better than the 2D ones present on many other games of the genre. The explosions and showers of debris flying after a particularly successful shot just look better in 3D, and the fact that the camera follows your shot gives you superb close ups, and the looks on the enemy soldiers faces when they are hit is quite amusing, as is the stuck out tongue they pull at you if the level is failed! As I said earlier, the scoring screen is a little complicated and really unclear as to how successful you have been, but this is a minor gripe really.
Sound quality is actually not too bad to be fair. I am not a fan of the repeating tunes on any of these iPad games and this is no different. It is not bad par say, just irritating after a while, although the sound effects of the shots flying around and destroying things is quite good. You have the option of turning off the music and just having the sound effects, which is my preferred option.
So how would I sum up Catapult King? Well I would have to say it is one of the very best games inspired by the Angry Birds phenomenon, and arguably more enjoyable than that. I think it is fair to describe Catapult King as an adult's version of Angry Birds. The sheer quality of the 3D scenery, and the complexity of some of the levels is a major plus point for me, as some are particularly challenging, and this adds to the longevity of the game. It is definitely one of those you can pick up for just a minute or two if you have a little time to kill, but also one which will leave you frustrated and slaving away at one level for ages, with the "just one more go" feel to it. I would say it is very good value for money at 69p and well worth a look for anyone who likes these physics style puzzle games.
Review may also appear on Ciao under the same username.
I've always been a fan of more intelligent games be they board games or the computer variety, so when I came across people in work playing words with friends on their iPads or smart phones I just had to download it and see what all the fuss was about.
Words wi friends in a game develop by Zynga mobile and is basically scrabble by another name. There's a free version available which exults in an advert popping up after every move, or a advert free version costing £1.49. Now it has to be said the adverts can be tolerated by many people, however I hate them on any game or website so I definitely recommend paying the small price to get the advert free version. The game is available on iPad, iPhone or on android, but I play on the ipadversion as the screen is large enough for my poor eyes to see it properly!
As I said the game is basically scrabble and it works by logging in through Facebook and playing against your friends on there. Once you are logged in, you won't have to log in again, and you can invite your friends through it or choose to play against a random opponent if you so desire. You can also chat using the game which can be interesting if you are playing a random opponent. You can also choose to accept or decline game invites as they come in, and there is also a pass and play option to play against your friends in the same room by simply passing the iPad around.
The game plays exactly like scrabble, with th first word being played straight through the Star in the centre of the board, and subsequent words are then played through or from the letters currently on the board. There are a plethora of DL TL TW and DW tiles across the board and they are double and triple letter scores, and double and triple word scores, just like on a regular scrabble board. These are especially important to increase your total, and tactics quickly come into play as quit often playing the longest or most fancy word you can doesn't translate to the highest possible score. Some useful tips to bear in mind are that if you add an 's' to the end of a word you get the points for that whole word, so a smallish word with an s at the end of another doesn't half rack up the points on occasion, and secondly if all else fails, QI is a word, and playing the Q on a double or triple scoring tile will get you a bucket load if you are stuck for only playing one letter! My highest score with one play is currently 104 which I was particularly happy with - no bragging if you have scored more please :) you also get a 35 point bonus if you can play a word using all 7 of your tiles, so this is worth bearing in mind particularly at the start of a game when the whole board is free for you.
The game itself ends when all of the tiles have been used up. The player who plays their last tile first gets a bonus score of the remaining tiles in the opponents hand added and the winner is unsurprisingly the player who has the highest score at the end. One of my major bug bears of this game has to be that there is no facility to give you or your friends a win loss record, so it's hard to decide whether to accept random requests as you are unsure of the quality of the opposition. In addition I am quite competitive and generally win more than I lose, so I would like this record kept. There are other nice little touches to the game such as if you shake your iPad the tiles shuffle around which sometimes helps to highlight a word if you are really struggling to find one. In addition you can skip your go, or choose to swap some of your tiles if they are really bad, but you lose your go if you do this.
The graphics on this game are functional if not superb. The board is very clear and the tiles very scrabble like so in that case it does it's job we'll. Setting up the games from the menu button is. Wry straightforward too so no real complaints on that score. Sound effects are slightly poor, with a sort of fan fair noise when a word is played. The game will also pop up and remind you when it is your turn, and this is also highlighted with the same da dah sort of noise which can be a tad annoying at times!
So to sum this one up, I would say that words with friends is a great game for those who enjoy scrabble and want to get one over on all their mates, especially ones who use unnecessarily long words! It's well worth getting the paid version to avoid the annoying adverts and is more addictive than it seems. The problem of not showing your win loss record is a relatively minor one, and all in all this game is well worth taking a look at.
This review may also appear on ciao under my same username.
I'd always been a fan of Doctor Who, ever since watching reruns of John Pertwee and Tom Baker on a Sunday morning on UK Gold years ago as a kid with my dad. Therefore when the BBC brought it back I was very excited. I wasn't disappointed when watching it and so when I found the first series in a local shop for 1 pound per DVD I just couldn't resist.
Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor
Billie Piper as Rose Tyler
Noel Clarke as Mickie Smith
Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler
This first series back of Doctor Who is the only one in which Christopher Eccleston plays the role of the Time Lord and is a decent affair. The storylines are a lot better than they were when the show was first axed, however they aren't as good as they get with David Tennant in the lead role. The show returned in 2005 and shows no signs of slowing down today, and Christopher Eccleston can take a fair bit of credit for laying the groundwork in this first series. The episodes are effectively stand alone ones which can be viewed as such but they do all tie together to lead the viewer towards the big finale at the end of the series. In addition unlike the old days the stories are approximately 45 minutes long as opposed to a couple of hours so they are much faster paced than they used to be which hopefully won't annoy too many of the older generation of fans.
EPISODE 1 :- Rose
The first episode isnt the greatest and the storyline is a little bit lightweight if I a being honest, however it does do a good job of introducing the next generation of Doctor Who fans to the main characters of the series and as a first episode that is really all we could ask. We initially meet Rose who is a typical teenager, not really knowing what they want to do in life and stumbling from home to work with no real direction. Her boyfriend Mickie is very similar and so they both appear to be stuck in the rat race. This simple life is soon to be shattered forever when the Doctor blows up the shop in which she works! Intrigued by the Doctor and the his mysterious ways, the two begin to work increasingly closely fighting the Nestene Conciousness who wants to take over the planet by bringing plastic mannequins to life. Overall this episode isn't the best one in the series, but I never expected it to be. It's main goal is to introduce us to the main characters and in this way this episode suceeds and as such I would give it a six out of ten.
EPISODE 2 :- The End Of The World
I. This episode the doctor takes Rose to the year 5 billion. Here on a space station in orbit, the wealthy members of the universe have come to witness an historic event. The sub has expanded and so the Earth is scheduled to be destroyed. Slightly overwhelmed by the sights she is seeing, Rose feels uncomfortable, but she doesn't have time to dwell on her discomfort when strange things start to happen, from unusual turbulence, little metallic creatures running around and heat shields being sabotaged it is clear that something is not as it seems and that everyone's life is potentially in danger. Can the doctor along with some of the more cooperative guests on board the station save the day and discover the source of the trouble? This is a pretty decent episode to be honest. We continue to develop the relationship between the Doctor and Rose whilst running a gripping storyline which will have you guessing to the end. I would give this one an eight out of ten.
EPISODE 3 :The Unquiet Dead
The Doctor aims to take Rose back in time to Naples in the year 1860, but due to his infamous navigational skills with the TARDIS he miscalculated and ends up in Cardiff in 1869. Things seem normal until they run into the local undertaker Mr. Sneed and his assistant at a performance for Charles Dickens. Creatures of gas appear to be inhabiting corpses, but it is unclear as to what their intentions are. It is then up to the Doctor and Rose to discover what the Gelph really want and whether they can help them. This episode is also pretty strong, with the addition of Charles Dickens being particularly inspired. This is something which Doctor Who does well and historical figures will be a recurring theme through all of the following series. I will give this one a seven out of ten.
There are a couple of negative things about this DVD however, firstly there are no special features present with just episode and scene selection and subtitles being your only options. This didn't bother me too much however as I only paid a pound so I can't really complain too much. Secondly and this is something which Doctor Who has suffered from through the new series is that the background music used to increase tension and moos is vey loud and it is tricky on occasion to pick up the dialogue. This is one of my pet hates in television or film so is rathe annoying in my book.
So to sum this one up I would say that the first three episodes back for Doctor Who set the stage pretty well for what will follow. Christopher Eccleston puts in a top quality performance as the time lord, with just the right amount of humour mixed in with the seriousness at times. Billie Piper is the big surprise for me though. Remembering her as e slightly annoying singer and for marrying Chris Evans I wasn't expecting much from her, but she actually uses her innocence in a good way and she actually comes across as really sweet and you can see why the Doctor would pick her as his assistant. I would definitely recommend this DVD to anyone who hasn't seen the new Doctor Who's as a good starting point. The episodes aren't too complicated yet and once you start watching you will be hooked!
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
Whilst looking for a destination for a recent holiday, I came across the small Derbyshire village of Eyam. It is located approximately 7 miles from the tourist hotspot of Bakewell in the popular Peak District and although it can get quite busy, it's generally a quieter location in the area.
On our visit we rented a small cottage that we found on the Internet and made our way to the village. It's very easy to find Eyam, as it is only a minute or two off the main Buzton to Chesterfield road up a steep hill. The village itself is very small and so parking in the heart it is ana premium with only a few sides of road available. A few minutes walk away towards the evidential part of the village is a pay and display car park which is a better option if you are on a day trip and don't mind a short walk to the heart of the village. There are local buses from Buston and Bakewell which both serve the village although not on too regular an occasion. There is no train station in the village, with the nearest ones being in either Buxton or Bakewell, and again using the bus to getty Eyam.
The village centre itself has a local convenience store which had a good supply of everyday items. There is also a well stocked butchers which is a good way of supporting the local farming community. There are also two tea rooms in the village, literally across the road from each other. We sampled both of them, and found that the one next to the butcher was very expensive and of dubious quality, whereas the one across the road which I think was called simply Eyam Tea Rooms was really nice and friendly with very good quality food. There was also a village pub called the Miners Arms which although never really busy seemed to have a nice atmosphere and wasn't too expensive.
There are also a couple of tourist attractions in the village which aren't well promoted in the Peak District but are worth pointing out. Firstly there is a museum which documents the history of the village and is worth checking out. There is also a very small craft centre which although has a couple of nice local trades represented is actually a little bit boring and has too many bigger companies selling windows etc. I was very disappointed by this and wouldn't recommend going here if you have a choice! There is also Eyam Hall which we didn't visit at the time but seemed to be pretty popular locally. It is located next to the craft centre so hopefully that isn't a marker of the quality of the place! One of my favourite things in the village, although slightly silly are the village stocks. With a witty little story about how misbehaving tourists or kids can still be locked into them, they are a cute little addition to the village, retaining a slice of its history, and I couldn't resist the temptation to put my foot into them!
The main attraction of Eyam however lies in its rich and quite frankly tragic history. The village is best known as one of the places outside of London which suffered badly from the bubonic plague in the middle ages. The story goes that the local tailor took possession of a package of supplies from London which was infected with the black death and then became very unwell shortly thereafter. Unbeknownst to the rest of the village they had unwittingly exposed themselves to the biggest killer in the whole of Europe and drastic action was needed to prevent the further spread of the bacteria. As a result the villagers decided to go into self inflicted quarantine which would have been unheard of at the time. When they required supplies, they were provided at a pre arranged location and any payments were thoroughly scrubbed before being accepted. The village itself and the villagers in particular paid a heavy price for their courage. Many of them died and again trying to contain the illness many of them were buried in the grounds of their own houses. These graves are still here today for you to see, and there are many little plaques on houses and in fields explaining what happened at various locations which as a history fan I found particularly appealing. It's nice to see a village proud of its past and not exploiting it for mass tourism, yet still explaining it in a clear and interesting way. The story is very sad and heart wrenching at times, but I found it to be a heartwarming story of courage over adversity particularly at a time in history which you generally don't associate with positive human stories.
There are a number of cottages to rent in Eyam, as well as a youth hostel on the outskirts of the village, although there is no hotel. There are many walks that start or end in the village and so it is not unusual to see large groups of backpackers or ramblers strolling through the village streets. A five minute car journey or fifteen minute walk down the hill is a small Indian restaurant called Little India which is built into the mountain side in the wonderfully named nearby village of Stoney Middleton (no relation to Pippa or Kate before you ask!). We dined here once and found the quality of the food as well as the service to be of a high standard and is well worth a visit if you are staying in the area.
So to sum this one up I would definitely say that if you are looking for a quaint Peak District village to stay in for a few days then Eyam is definitely a place to consider. The location is ideal for trips to nearby attractions such as Buxton, Bakewell as well as Chatsworth House. If you don't fancy staying in the village it is well worth taking a trip here to learn more about the history of the place and in particular take the plague walk through the village. It's both fascinating and educational and I thoroughly enjoyed the way in which the information is presented. All in all it's definitely worth a visit in some capacity and I would recommend it to anyone in the area.
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
I've never been a massive fan of cider, however a nice cold glass from time to time on a nice warm summers day can be just the ticket. Bearing this in mind, and given the fact that Asda are currently running a 3 for £5 offer I decided to try the elderflower and lime flavoured cider from Kopparberg.
Kopparberg are a Swedish company who specialise in mass produced cider products which I would generally not be a fan of, as I prefer to support smaller independent British, however I liked the sound of the elderflower and lime flavour over their better known flavours of strawberry and lime, mixed fruits or pear ciders.
A 500ml bottle of this cider costs in and around the £1.60 to £2 mark depending on where you buy from, and is generally quite widely available in supermarkets and off licenses. I would agree with those of you who think it is on the expensive side for a bottle of cider, however it is of a pretty good quality and as an ocacasional treat is well worth the extra money. The bottle itself is a brown glass one, with the Kopparberg logo on the front along with the name of the product along with the 4% alcohol content and a picture of an elderflower and a lime. The reverse of the product has a small amount of information relating to how the cider is made.
On opening the bottle, the first scent that hits you is that of elderflower. It's not overpowering in any way but it does stand out. There is a faint smell of apple in the background but it doesn't really smell like a regular cider. It should also be noted that the odour is incredibly sweet in nature and that pretty much sums up the way that the cider tastes when you take the first mouthful. The cider itself is clear in colour and has the appearance of a fizzy flavoured water drink.
The cider itself is very very sweet when you first take a sip. You firstly get a big hit of elderflower, which is reminiscent of an elderflower cordial. The elderflower stays on the palette for a long time, which just adds to the sweetness, however it does abate slightly with a lighter hit of apple and lime coming through at the end. You still don't really know that you are drinking a cider and there is no real hint of alcohol in there. As a result you do have to be slightly careful not to drink too much of this as it is pretty easy drinking material. The taste doesn't linger too long and become offensive or sickly in any way making it a perfect choice for a hot day as long as it is served ice cold. In addition at just 4% it is a pretty standard strength of cider which equates to just under 2 units of alcohol per bottle.
So to sum this drink up, I would say that it is a very good option for those who like a fruitier drink and are a big fan of very sweet things. If not you may want to avoid this particular flavour. It is a very flavoursome drink but again, if elderflower really isn't your thing then there is no say that you will enjoy this drink. For anyone else it is a really good choice for the end of a hot summers day and one which is well worth trying air you haven't already.
Thanks for reading this review and it Amy also appear on ciao under my same username.
Due to the unique way in which the kitchen in our house has been designed, we are very limited as to what we can buy with regards to a fridge or freezer. The inbuilt kitchen has only enough room for an integrated fridge/freezer unit, and further to that, the only one that I have come across thus far that will fit is the ZT 46/30SS from Zanussi.
Now I am not too disappointed by this as Zanussi are a trusted brand with a pretty good reputation, and I have now had this fridge/freezer unit for 6 years with no issues. It is still stocked by some electrical stores and I've also noticed several Internet sites also still advertising it, costing in the region of £200, which isn't too bad for an older model. It is also very easy to buy spare parts quite cheaply such as new shelves online too, which is an extra bonus.
As I said, the dimensions of this unit are a little strange, being 89.5cm wide by 85cm high by 60cm deep. The unit is split roughly equally into the fridge on the right and the freezer on the left, making each part a reasonable size for a smaller household. For the techies amongst you, the capacity of the fridge is given as 128 litres, and that of the freezer 52 litres. It was initially designed before the energy efficiency ratings became commonplace on such appliances, but would now fit into category C, making it reasonably efficient but poor compared to some of the others out there on the market today.
The design of the unit is pretty plain to be honest, being just standard white all over, with a groove on top of each section to open the door. The fridge part then has several shelves, which you can position as you fancy, as well as a salad/vegetable storage area at the bottom, and a bottle holding fixing attached to the door itself. The freezer has three equally sized shelves, which although not massive, do store a fair bit of food, and they are easy to open and close.
The fridge has the traditional dial inside for setting the temperature, and although this will vary depending on where you position the unit, I have found that setting 3 will keep things suitably cold without risking any frosting up going on at the back of it. There is also a small light in the fridge, which provides a good amount of light without emitting too much heat, so you don't have to be too careful with what you store next to it. (Obvious you might think, but I've had a fridge in the past where everything stored next to the light went bad very quickly!)
The same thermostat dial as the fridge also controls the freezer unit, meaning that one setting will do both parts of the appliance. Again I have found that setting 3 ensures everything is thoroughly frozen, but doesn't result in excess ice forming, and so defrosting is only required periodically, about once a year along with a good deep clean, just to tidy it up really and take stock of what has accumulated over the months! I will point out that unlike more upmarket or modern fridge/freezer units, there is no quick freeze button on the unit, however I have found that the unit quickly returns to temperature after being off on its own, without changing from setting 3 on the dial, so I've not found that the lack of this feature has been too much of an annoyance to be honest.
One thing I am very impressed with is the noise level of this unit. It isn't something that makes an obvious hum or buzzing noise, and even when very close to the unit I still don't really hear anything. Occasionally you catch a sound wave or two from the compressor when it fires up, but these are few and far between and do not cause any annoyance. From this point of view, this fridge/freezer is up there amongst the best that I have come across.
The instruction booklet provided with the fridge/freezer is also a very decent document and being just in English means it isn't like reading through a copy of "War and Peace". The installation instructions are very straightforward in a step-by-step form, as well as several handy hints and tips for getting the best out of the appliance. Everything is explained in clear English, with the usage of bullet points and also diagrams where appropriate. Again this is one of the clearest laid out instruction booklets I have ever seen with a kitchen appliance which is a nice little extra touch by Zanussi.
Along with the unit itself, you are provided with a couple of handy extras along with your purchase. These include a small ice cube tray, a frost scraping device and a device which inserts into the back of the fridge/freezer to drain the water discharge tray easily and without too much faffing around. Not much on their own I grant you, but in a package with the appliance itself is another nice touch really.
So to sum up the ZT 46/30SS from Zanussi I would say that it is a decent little fridge/freezer appliance, especially suited to a smaller household. It obviously doesn't have the same storage capacity as having a separate unit, so for larger families I wouldn't recommend it on those grounds. It is also a very strange shape for a unit, which will also rule it out for a good many homes. However once these issues have been discounted, I would go on to say that it is a good appliance which has given us no reliability issues over the years, apart from the bottle holder on the door falling off, although that is more than likely down to abuse from its owner rather than any issue with the door itself! It goes about its business quietly, and relatively frost free, and I've never had an issue with temperature fluctuations or food going off in mysterious circumstances. All in all it is a good if not fantastic fridge/freezer and if the dimensions do suit your household I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it to anyone.
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
Well one of my least favourite tasks in the whole world is wrapping presents, be they birthday gifts, or the thousands that seem to need doing at Christmas time. I inevitably leave the task until the last possible minute, (I am a male after all!) and then just get really annoyed as pieces of selotape start sticking to my hand, to the table, to themselves and any other darn thing except the place in which I want them to. Just when you think it can't get much worse, you lose the end of the tape and end up scratching away for ages to retrieve it. However a chance discovery in a high street stationary shop just over a year ago was about to change my life - I just didn't know it yet! That item was the Pop-up Tape Dispenser from Scotch.
No we all know Scotch as the producer of various adhesive tape products, and many a good minute has been spent cursing the day I ever bought one of them. However when I saw this product on the shelf I must say that I was intrigued, after all I love a good gimmicky gadget and that is what I thought this was. My wife was also interested, and we decided to purchase it for around £3, which we thought wouldn't be a big loss if it turned out to be rubbish. It came filled with 75 tape strips, but extra refills can also be bought from most high street stationary shops and also from most supermarkets now too, and these cost about the same £3ish for 3 packets of 75 strips. It's a little steep in price for the refills but at the end of the day you are paying for the simplicity and convenience. It is also available in several different colours, including pink, blue and black.
So how does this little device work then I hear you ask. Well simply put it is designed as a little bracelet type thing. The main body of it is of rigid plastic and is approximately 2cm wide and about the width of your hand long. The top slides off for you to place the packet of tape strips into, and a 1cm wide piece of elastic is attached to the underside of it, which does have a fair bit of give in it. To don the apparatus you simply place the elastic strap around your wrist and hey presto you are ready to wrap. I should point out that I've found that the elastic does work itself loose from time to time resulting in the thing falling off your wrist, however it doesn't happen often, its simple to reattach the elastic, and it's a far easier problem to overcome compared to the alternative of sticky tape all over the place or the dreaded lost end! Now to wrap presents you have both hands free to wrap it properly, and then you simply hold the paper in one hand, collect one of the sticky strips with the other and place it onto your paper providing a simple way to stick the wrapping paper together.
I personally cannot speak highly enough of this little device, and I have now found after using it for two Christmases that it has cut the time taken for me to wrap presents by at least three quarters. There are no more audible obscenities heard echoing around the house, no more ducking for cover as the selotape roll is launched across the room and no more picking tape off my teeth for the next few hours. Forgetting the nightmare of using selotape for a minute, just the sheer ease of wrapping presents having two hands free also makes a big difference, and neither my wife nor I can believe just how impressed we have become with our silly little gimmicky impulse buy!
So to sum up this little hands free tape dispenser, I would say that it has revolutionised present wrapping in my household. It is very comfortable to wear, you know you have it on, but its got no real protruding edges, just a couple of ridges on the back where the elastic attaches, and it isn't heavy at all. Each packet of strips contains approximately 75 pieces, and depending on how economical you are with tape when wrapping presents will ultimately determine how much this product will cost you in the long run. I've found that as I now have both of my hands free to wrap that I am ultra neat and only use 3 or 4 pieces per present, so each packet lasts around 20 or so presents, which for us is really good value. I wouldn't now dream of attempting to tackle a wrapping task without first arming myself with the Scotch Pop-up Tape Dispenser and would recommend it to everyone out there.
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
Continuing my tradition of looking for slightly quirky game titles, I came across a new game whilst browsing through the Apple app store on the iPad called Brutal Frogs, and as it sounded quite interesting I decided to download it.
Brutal Frogs is available to download for both the iPhone and the iPad, and costs 69p to download from the app store. I downloaded it for my iPad and it only took a minute or two to fully download and install, with it being around 13MB in size. The game is developed by Gadnell & Associates and was only released on the 3rd March 2012, so for once I could count myself as being up with new releases which I was quite proud of to be honest!
The storyline for this one is simple, after suffering at the hands of birds for years due to being eaten; the frogs have decided to extract revenge. Your goal, with the aid of the brutal frog trap, is to fire your different types of kamikaze frogs at the birds' nests and explode next to them to destroy them. Does this sound in any way familiar to you, it did to me and after playing for about 10 seconds it was obvious why; basically this game is a reworking of Angry Birds. There are currently 45 levels on the game, and you are awarded 1, 2 or 3 stars on completion of the level depending on the score that you achieve. At this point I wasn't too concerned with the visual and gameplay similarities to Angry Birds, after all it's one of the most iconic games to be released over the last couple of years. Different materials such as boxes, wood and stone protect the birds, and you have to work out how you are going to get your frog near to the birds in order to kill them.
The gameplay itself is very easy to describe, simply put, you use the touch screen interface to vary the direction of the firing contraption, (which is basically a fancy electrified catapult) until you are happy with the trajectory. You then let go and let your flying frog do its business and try and kill the birds. There are also several different types of frogs available to you, each with a different skill to help you reach those pesky birds, and these are as follows: -
The Angry Frog - This is basically your bog standard frog. A simple aim and fire will do for him, and touching the screen after firing will result in him exploding. Time this right and you can do some damage, muck it up and he explodes harmlessly nowhere near the birds. He is by far the easiest frog to use and control.
The Parachute Frog - This guy has a parachute, so after firing, touching the screen once will deploy his chute, resulting in him floating downwards, tap the screen again and the parachute will disappear, and a third tap will make him explode. I find this frog a nightmare to control, as the parachute doesn't seem to descend in any logical fashion, so guiding him into a target is nigh on impossible!
The Tongue Frog - This guy uses his long tongue to grab onto a nearby object and swing into difficult to reach areas, preferably close to one of the birds, and is operated by simply touching where you want him to grab onto. A second touch of the screen will make him explode. Again this is very difficult to control in my opinion.
The Lady Frog - This girl will fire multiple bombs over a target to decimate the birds below. They don't appear too often but are by far the most effective when they do, and also the most amusing.
The graphics on this game are on the whole pretty good, however the birds themselves do look slightly like rag dolls when they are falling and keeling over objects. The backgrounds are quite impressive however, and the looks on the frogs' faces are quite amusing.
Sound quality is also pretty decent with a sort of tropical jungle type ditty playing in the background, with the sound effects from the birds and the frogs when they are bouncing off things being particularly good.
So a game which seems to have taken a great deal of inspiration from Angry Birds, it must be an absolute classic right? Well sadly the answer to this is NO. Don't get me wrong; it's not a bad game, it just doesn't really play as well as it could do. Angry Birds grabbed so many people's imagination by being very straightforward to play, with cutesy graphics, and a clear idea of what you needed to do. This is everything that is lacking with this offering. The graphics are good, but lack that cutesy element that brings the fun factor. It is not straightforward to control some of the frogs, and it is not really clear as to what you need to do. It seems like the only way to kill the birds is to explode a frog right next to them. As a result, the birds can be falling all over the place; falling from massive heights and have several pieces of debris fall on them, but don't seem to die. This is really annoying, and not particularly realistic. Whereas on Angry Birds, the pigs change colour when damaged, so you know how you are doing, there is no such visual aid here, so you've no idea how close you are to killing one of them. For me this just doesn't work, and leads to the game becoming very frustrating, very quickly, and not in a "This is fun but tricky" sort of way. My honest opinion is that the game could really have done with a bit more tweaking prior to release, to make the killing of birds, and thus the concept of the game a bit more obvious and straightforward.
So to sum up Brutal Frogs, I would say that this is a game that borrows heavily (and I'm being polite there!) from Angry Birds, and as such sets expectations pretty high. However far from building on the success of that game, it merely tries to imitate it, and gets things slightly wrong in the process. As I said it isn't a down right bad game, and there are a lot worse out there, so for the outlay of only 69p it may be worth a look for a few minutes of entertainment, but if I am being honest I would advise people to give this one a miss unfortunately.
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.
Games with slightly strange titles or subject matter have always attracted my attention, possibly for all the wrong reasons, but after browsing through the Apple app store, I came across a superbly titled game by the name of Sticky Sheep, which I just couldn't resist, so I bought it and it turned out to be a bit of a hidden gem.
Sticky Sheep is an app for both the iPad and the iPhone, and costs 69p to download from the app store, and it will only take a minute or two to fully download as it is around 18MB in size, and will install onto your iPad in no time, obviously depending on the Internet connection that you have at the time. The game is developed by Chillingo Ltd, (yep never heard of them either!) and was only released on the 23rd February 2012.
As I said this one is rather strange, and the storyline goes that the sheep are being a tad naughty and refusing to be rounded up by Baxter the sheepdog. As a result he decides that drastic action is needed and dons his helmet and prepares to ram the sheep back home. It is then your task to progress through level after level trying to get the sheep into the target area in the number of shots required. There are also a number of gold coins on each level to collect, which will boost your score, and to achieve a star, the level needs to be completed with all coins collected with at least one more shot remaining. Quite easy on some levels, decidedly difficult on others!
Now the game itself is quite hard to describe, and I would say it is somewhat of a cross between crazy golf, pool and one man and his dog! The dog is fired across the screen by using the touch screen interface and using a scrolling motion, pulling him back and releasing. Extra power is achieved by scrolling back further, and touching the screen in the relevant place controls direction. The trick then is to get all of your angles right to bounce off the sheep, and either collects the coins, push the sheep into the coins, and then push the sheep into the collection zone. There are several obstacles that you may face along the way, such as super charged electrical fences which will kill the dog or the sheep, gates which need to be opened or boulders in the way to name a few. Switches are present on some levels, which will do a variety of things such as open a gate, or control the power to an electric fence. Other switches are pressure controlled, and will require a precision shot to get the sheep to stop directly on top of them. It all sounds pretty easy, and it is very straightforward to get into playing, but does get very difficult, and as a result very addictive, as you just can't put the thing down until you have beaten that one extra level!
There is a second type of game mode, called Arcade, on which your task is to try and collect as many sheep as possible within a 60 second time limit. This is unlocked after you progress a certain way into the campaign, but I have to admit I don't find it as entertaining as working through the levels, but will certainly fill a spare few minutes.
Different types of sheep are also introduced as the game progresses. Ewe (see what I did there!!!) start off with the traditional white fluffy variety, but after a while you start to get black sheep. Now these cannot be allowed to die via the electric fences, but you must not push these into the collection zone, as you will forfeit the level if these get in. They do also slightly sinister in my opinion, which is quite amusing. Rams also make an appearance every now and again, and these can be collected, and will need to be to complete a level. They also have the addition of strength and can be used to smash through boulders simply by pushing them toward and then through them. Finally there are radioactive sheep (obviously from the Snowdonia region after Chernobyl!), but I won't spoil the surprise on this one, as they need to be seen to be believed.
The graphics on this game are pretty simple looking, however there lies the beauty of this little game. It's nice and simple and the clear and honest looking graphics add to that feeling. The details on the objects and sheep are quite clear on the large iPad screen and make gameplay very easy indeed.
Sound wise this game is also quite good, with the background music being upbeat and fun, which doesn't get too annoying. The sound effects are also quite good, with pinball style "boings" when you bounce into things, and the effect of an electrocution always brings a smile to my face.
I have to say that in my opinion this game is one of the better ones out there. I wasn't initially expecting to like the game much; I was merely intrigued by the slightly strange concept and thought it would provide a few minutes entertainment of an evening. However I have been pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the levels and the different quirky designs. It isn't boring in any way and it took me over 45 minutes to complete a single level the other day, which just goes to show how complex they are. (Or how rubbish I am!)
So to sum up this game, I would say that for anyone who likes simple looking and easy to play puzzle games would love this particular offering. It's everything I have come to expect from the games available for the iPad, with its cutesy graphics, simple touch screen interface and gameplay, yet more difficult than it first looks, and more addictive than you would first think. The game does have a nice learning curve, with new objects, features or sheep introduced with a very simple level first up to get you used to them, which just adds to the positive gameplay experience. I really like this game, and as I have said with a couple of other iPad games, for the sake of 69p, you really can't go wrong.
Thanks for reading this review and it may also appear on Ciao under my same username.