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Just outside the hustle and bustle of Colchester Town lies a little slice of tranquillity. Beth Chatto Gardens offered me a haven of carefully tended natural beauty when I spent 12 months studying in Colchester last year, and is somewhere I continue to visit now, even though I live far from that part of Essex.
** My first visit **
Dreaming up ways to escape from endless coursework and my tiny room in halls, became something of an obsession in my first term at the University of Essex. So with the excuse that a dose of fresh air in my lungs would sharpen my senses and turn me into a master-essay-writer I set off to the nearest and nicest sounding place on the map, Beth Chatto Gardens.
I have to confess I'm notoriously awful at finding my way anywhere without getting spectacularly lost (I once ended up at Kew Gardens instead of Imperial College, thus missing an entrance interview, infuriating my parents and potentially changing the course of my entire life, oops!). So it was with great surprise that I found myself at the gates to Beth Chatto Gardens without any unplanned detours. This was thanks largely to the nice brown tourist signs that point you there from the town centre.
Situated on a busy road (the A133) I was rather concerned the gardens wouldn't quite be as peaceful as the website suggested. Luckily my fears were abated when I travelled up the long drive and found the sounds of traffic were soon replaced with merry singing robins. I left my bicycle locked up in the decent sized car park (they now have a row of bike racks), and ventured off. Entry tickets need to be bought in the little nursery shop, and you receive a sticker as proof of purchase. Formed in 1960 it's hard to believe these five acres of beautiful gardens were once a boggy wasteland. Beth Chatto has used her expertise to lovingly craft three differently themed areas using plants that thrive in the poor soil and soggy conditions.
Greeted first by the gravel garden which as the name suggests is full of drought loving plants. Landscaped to resemble a dried up river bed, the paths lead you around immaculately tended wafting grasses and pastel flowering succulents. Admiring the view from one of the sunny benches and enjoying the herby scents I'm instantly transported away to Southern Spain. On a warm day this is my favourite area of the gardens, and I'm not alone in thinking that... the two gorgeous, purring and friendly resident cats will most likely have staked their claim on the best bench before you can take a seat.
Head through an old arch and you will find yourself in the vast expanse of the main garden. Winding through grassy paths there is plenty to see and the remaining two themes; woodland and water gardens, join forces. The landscape is formed around the features of four natural ponds. The first small pond is home to a half sunken tiny rowing boat and some beautiful waterlilys. Listen closely and you'll hear the 'ribbet ribbet' of the resident frogs. In the middle of the sweeping, abundant shrubs and flowerbeds you'll find the second pond. A statuesque fir reflects beautifully in the waters where golden fishes swim below. Finally the largest of the ponds is watched over by towering graceful weeping willows gently dipping their fronds into the still water. In the summer months I can sit here for hours watching the ducklings paddling in between the willows. Come autumn the grown up ducks furiously quack to one another sounding just like laughter, and sure to bring a smile to my face even on the dullest of days.
Never a weed in sight, the gardens are obviously tended to diligently, but the informal planting design gives a wonderfully relaxed feel to the surroundings. Towards the edges of the main garden, the neatly mown grassy paths trail off into mossy shady areas. Ferns line the walkways leading me to a bridge over a small stream - the spring which feeds the natural ponds. Beneath the dappled sunlight, bulbs sprout up amongst my steps, adding lively colour amongst the lush green.
** And back again... and again... and again... **
At £6 for an entry ticket, it's quite pricey for such a little place. But if you live near to the Gardens or plan on visiting any more than two times, I'd highly recommend signing up for the 'Friends of the Garden Scheme'. For a £15 single 'Friends' ticket you can go as many times as you like over the course of a year. If you fancy sharing your visit with someone else, and have a willing companion, then a double ticket can be bought for £25. Oh and if you are really popular and have 24 friends then you can all go as a group, for the bargain entry fee of £5.50 per person!
You can easily take in the whole of the gardens in a couple of hours, so you may think this is somewhere only worthy of a one-off trip. But actually no two visits of mine have ever been the same, and that's the reason I kept coming back month after month. The changing seasons result in a constantly evolving landscape, with new delights for the eye on an almost weekly basis. Additionally Beth seems to channel her creativity wholeheartedly into the place, varying planting schemes with great gusto. I was always overjoyed on my visits to see small paths once fenced off with a low lying tangle of twigs and a polite 'no entry' sign, suddenly open and offering up a new adventure of plant delights.
Furthermore, it's not just the plants that change from visit to visit. Since I discovered the gardens back in 2009, the tea rooms have undergone an extensive, but tasteful expansion and refurbishment.
** So it's time for a bite to eat... **
After all that wandering in the grounds, a cream tea is in order. Although the tea rooms have undergone their facelift in the couple of years I have been visiting, they still serve up the same delicious menu. Like all good garden eateries, the food is organic and locally sourced where possible. Hearty soups, home baked cakes and scones and generously stuffed jacket potatoes are always on offer. Prices are very reasonable considering the quality of ingredients. The contemporary surroundings are beautiful, with huge windows basking the area in light and each table adorned with a vase of wild flowers. The staff are all lovely and very adept at tailoring the specials menu to the occasion. Throughout October I particularly enjoyed their pumpkin soup and toffee apple pudding, yum yum!
If warmer weather beckons then picnic tables are situated in the car park. Perhaps not the most appetising sounding of locations, but the car par is all very natural and grassy, no tarmac in sight. In fact the only negatives I've found when eating my sandwiches here are the buzzing bees, but then these are uninvited guests to every picnic I suppose.
** Finally, I attempt to recreate the gardens for myself... **
The nursery is a sprawling affair, with huge greenhouses and numerous pots lining the outdoor area as far as the eye can see. It seems to me that if it grows in the garden it will be somewhere amongst the plants in the nursery. The plants here are probably a little higher in price than at my local garden centre, but then the quality is also probably a bit higher too. You can be sure of the care in cultivating the baby plants here, as they are also the ones used when planting around the gardens. Additionally the staff in the nursery shop have always been really helpful in pointing out the best method of planting whenever I bring my pots up to pay.
A really nice touch here in the nursery is the wheelbarrow full of clipboards, paper and pens. Instead of a care label poked into every plant pot (and wasting a lot of plastic and card) Beth Chatto Nurseries simply have a name and care placard in the vicinity of the pots and let the buyer make notes on these details should they need. This works very well and is something I would love to see implemented in the larger garden centres.
** Also on offer... **
Throughout the year the gardens are host to a variety of events. These mainly centre around improving skills, such as photography, painting and of course gardening. Small group workshops with lectures from often award winning teachers take place a couple of times a month. With the upcoming events advertised on posters throughout the facilities, I've often been tempted. Unfortunately at around £50 for a one day workshop including lunch and coffee it's always been just out of my price range. I've always thought it would make a lovely gift for someone though. For something a little cheaper you could try one of their hour long garden tours for £10. I've never tried one of these, preferring to take in the gardens at my own pace.
** Visiting advice **
Surprisingly perhaps, my favourite time to visit the Beth Chatto Gardens in in Autumn. With the backdrop of trees resplendent in their fiery red tones and raindrops bringing the ponds to life and forming glittering diamonds on the velvety leaves of succulents, there's no better place to be. As an added bonus the masses tend to stay away until spring and summer, so you'll often have the entire gardens to yourself.
Everything potential visitors need to know can be found on their comprehensive website; www.bethchatto.co.uk. So here's just a summary of the vital information I've left out earlier;
*Address: Elmstead Market, Colchester, Essex, CO7 7DB
*Tel: 01206 822007
*Opening times: Monday - Saturday 9am till 4pm and Sunday 10am till 4pm.
*Accompanied children under 14 go free.
*Gardens and facilities fully wheelchair accessible and guide dogs are welcome.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I hope to see you all there on my next visit :)
This review is posted on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000
As all girls know, the best thing about taking up any new sport is the brilliant excuse it gives us to buy some new clothes! So with the winter weather setting in and my current running outfit of shorts and a T-shirt putting me in danger of acquiring frostbite, it was off to the shops I go (any excuse eh). After checking out what was on offer in the winter running tops department I settled on the Asics Active Running Top in pink. I've been wearing this top on all my runs throughout the winter months and have been really pleased with its performance.
** How much is it and where can I find it? **
The top is available in either pink (a nice deep pink not a lurid neon pink!) or black (as shown in the picture here), and in women's UK sizes 10 - 16. I found the Asics Active Running Top whilst perusing the rails in Debenhams, but it is also available online from Sportsshoes.com, Directsportseshop and Amazon (amongst others). The RRP is £25, and that's how much you'll pay at Debenhams, but all the online shops I've seen currently have it on sale for around £20. Personally I think it's worth buying running clothes (at a possibly higher price) from an actual shop rather than online, as the sizing varies so much, and running tops especially are designed to be very fitted. I find there is nothing more disappointing than receiving clothing through the post that doesn't fit as well as hoped and then dealing with the hassle of returning it and starting all over again. Furthermore, Debenhams often have '10% off everything in store' days and so it's worth waiting for those. By taking full advantage of one of these, as well as the extra 10% discount received when signing up for a Debenhams card, I received £5 off my Asics Active Running Top, thus bringing it down to online prices.
** Does it fit well and will it make me look like a running goddess? **
I'm surprised that Asics have only made this top available in 4 sizes. I have the top in a small (size 10) and it fits perfectly, but many fellow runners I know are much slimmer than me and would be left swamped by the smallest size offered here. Additionally with the average UK women's size being a 14, there will be many ladies out here who need this top in a larger size than 16. It's not a particularly stretchy fabric and so you can't really get away with a smaller size than normal. I would like to have seen Asics could producing this top in one size larger and a size smaller than is currently available, as it's a super piece of clothing that should be available to everyone.
The length of this top is perfect for me but I am only 5'1", so taller ladies may find it to be a tad short. The back of the top has a rounded longer hem for improved fit. This means it doesn't ride up, and unlike my other tops I'm not constantly, self-consciously tugging it down to try to cover my bum! The sleeves are about an inch too long, but this is not a problem for shorter women like myself as they have a double cuff which stops them falling down over my hands. It does however mean that if you get warm you can't roll the sleeves up as they are too tight.
The tapered side panelling on the waist and reflective patterns on the back ensure a really flattering look. If like me you are not blessed with a teeny tiny waist then this top helps give the illusion that perhaps you are, always a bonus! There are also a few rows of diagonal stitching on the front that appear to serve no purpose other than for looks. Whatever their purpose they seem to do a good job of adding curves where us ladies want them whilst slim-lining those wobbly bits. I can't attest to this top transforming you into a running goddess but the nifty tailoring certainly makes me feel better about myself.
** Does it live up to its temperature regulating promises? **
In the winter I'm usually freezing for the first five minutes of running and then far too hot and sweaty for the rest of the time. My body is supremely awful at regulating itself at a sensible temperature and embarassingly I often end up looking like I've run a marathon after five minutes of leaving the house! So I've been really pleased to find that this top helps me out a lot in that respect. With, such a long list of technical materials and features, I'm not at all surprised.
The main fabric is made from 52% polyester and 48% coolmax. The polyester gives a nice silky feel to the top as well as a little bit of stretch. This top is not at all scratchy and doesn't rub. The high percentage of coolmax seems great at keeping me cool. Coolmax fabric pulls moisture away from the skin and spreads it throughout the material for increased evaporation. I'm pleased to report I don't return from my runs with any unsightly sweaty patches on my top, even when it feels slightly damp. The coolmax fibres also allow air in for extra coolness and breathability. I really noticed how effective this fabric can be at keeping me dry when I hung it out on the airer after washing it and it fully dried within 15 minutes! These properties are really important with any winter running clothing as wet fabrics will make you chilly.
The Asics Active Running Top has a funnel neck which is snug but not too tight that it feels restricting. Iti s double lined with a mesh panel on the inside for added dryness and warmth qualities. It also features a plastic half zip running down from the neck (which is about 4 inches long). Simply undoing this zip shortly into my runs, makes a real difference in helping me to stay cool. A nicely thought out detail is the addition of a small flap over the top if the zipper so it stays flat to the fabric and stands no chance of rubbing at the neck as you run.
When I picked the Asics Active Running Top of the rail I didn't believe that such a flimsy and lightweight fabric could possibly keep me warm in the winter. Amazingly I was proved completely wrong, and this top keeps me warm enough on frosty mornings not to have to worry about taking out a fleece or jacket. Conversely, on warmer days or longer runs this top has no trouble keeping me cool. A triangular mesh panel on the back as well as curved mesh panels running down the front, sides and the sleeves from the underarm, give me ventilation in the areas which need it the most. And don't worry ladies the mesh is very fine so you won't be inadvertently exposing your non-colour-coordinated underwear!
** Will it last the test of time? **
I wash this top two or three times a week and so it's had a fair amount of laundering in the past few months. However it still looks as good as the day I bought it. The colour has shown no sign of fading, the material is not looking worn or bobbled anywhere, and the reflective adhesive patterns have not come away anywhere. I've followed the guidelines given on the label which recommend washing at 30 degrees, and ironing on a cool setting (avoiding the reflective panels). In fact this top being made of the fabrics it is doesn't tend to crease so ironing is not really necessary. It is not suitable for tumble-drying but as I mentioned it dries so quickly this is not an issue. Fabric softener must not be used on clothing made from coolmax, but this top is already nice and soft so it doesn't need it anyway. As for the other details; the zip seems sturdy enough and it hasn't ever got stuck, and the top has not lost any of its shape over time. Overall I'd rate the durability of the Asics Active Running Top very highly indeed.
** What else? **
Possibly my favourite feature on this Asics top is the reflective pattern on the back down the spine. Instead of the plain reflective strips or piping seen on so much running apparel, Asics have incorporated a row of attractive flower-shaped silver details. They've definitely thought about the location of these reflective details not just in terms of high visibility but also to give what I feel is a streamlined and flattering look. The Asics logo and zip piping is also reflective so you'll have a bit of extra visibility at night from the front as well as the back. Additionally if you choose the pink version of the top instead of the black, it offers really good visibility at dawn and dusk.
** Overall **
This top does everything I want it to - it keeps me warm, dry and comfortable whilst looking good and therefore making me feel good. I think it is super value for money considering how well it is has lasted. I'd recommend this for all ladies out there. I don't think it is limited to running either, it would be great for any aerobic sporting activities.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope it proved useful.
This review appears on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000
I bought Vegetarian Supercook by Rose Elliot a couple of years ago, upon a recommendation by a veggie friend. Of the dozens of vegetarian cookbooks I own, this one has proved itself to be a firm favourite. Even the most hardened of my carnivorous friends and family enjoy devouring the recipes I make from here, and to me, that is proof of a good veggie cook book.
~~~ So who is this 'Rose Elliot' and can she cook? ~~~
I worked for a couple of joyous years in an independent bookshop owned by a vegetarian lady who loved to cook. As a result we had a rather extensive vegetarian cookery section and Rose Elliot's books graced an entire shelf themselves. However, they never stuck around nearly long enough to warrant the feather duster treatment, and I think that's proof enough that Rose knows what she's doing and has a fair old following. Over her decades of producing veggie specific cook books she's churned out nearly one hundred different tomes. She has also appeared on TV, radio and as a magazine columnist, earning her the accolade of Britain's number 1 vegetarian cookery writer, oh and the small matter of an MBE. As one her most recent offerings; Vegetarian Supercook was first published in 2004.
~~~ What's inside the book? ~~~
Rose includes a couple of pages of introduction to herself and her cookery style before she launches straight into the recipes. This is not a particularly thick cookery book, with 192 pages and just over 100 recipes, so I'm pleased she hasn't padded it out with unnecessary background and information. There is also no preaching about a vegetarian lifestyle which you unfortunately so often find in veggie cook books. Rose seems to know that her readers have made their decisions - be that veggie or meat-eater - and are simply looking to cook some tasty meals.
The book is split into seven sections, each with a selection of main dishes, followed by three or four deserts;
*Dinner party solutions*
All the recipes here are pretty impressive sounding and wouldn't look out of place on your 'Come Dine With Me' menu (Pea and mint timbales with baby vegetables and parmesan crisps). Don't let that put you off though. I have tried most of the recipes here and their complicated names often give rise to a surprisingly simple list of ingredients. The preparation times in this section are however the highest, ranging up to one hour. But, this is probably due to the larger serving size of six people.
*Classics with a twist*
This is the section I refer to the most. For those of us who are not so creatively minded it has some really inspiring ideas that can be adapted into other recipes too (Chilled rosewater rice pudding). The recipes all serve four, but I often find with these they serve almost double that amount of people. It is worth noting that Rose Elliot is consistently generous with her portion sizes. I'll eat anything (well, provided it doesn't have a face...) but this section is particularly great for people who are not too adventurous with their tastes and like to stick to good old British staples.
*No time to cook*
Leafing through this section I can see that none of them have a preparation time longer than 25 minutes or a cooking time longer than 30 minutes. The recipes here often involve short-cut cooking methods (Microwave-steamed maple syrup pudding). In this section Rose often suggests tinned pulses or vegetables instead of dried or fresh ones. The choice is always yours and actually in some recipes in other sections the same shortcuts can easily be applied. I would advise that although it may take Rose a mere 15 minutes to prepare something, I often spend nearly an hour washing, chopping and whisking for the recipe in question. I'm no Gordon Ramsay, but I don't think the timings stated in this book are accurate. Perhaps they are achievable if you have a handy kitchen elf on standby or all the ingredients ready and weighed in little glass dishes Blue Peter stylee. Failing that I'd advise allowing time and a half for each of the recipes in this book, and a little longer if it's your first time making them.
*Slim for life*
I love this section! It includes dishes specifically created so you don't feel like you're on a diet (Cappuccino meringues) or go hungry (Butter bean and herb mash with pak choi). I can vouch that these recipes keep me on track with that healthy eating for a lot longer than normal. Additionally most of them have a preparation time of around 15 minutes so if I'm starving they will be ready before my hand strays into that biscuit tin.
This is the section I am less familiar with. Many of the recipes have an ingredients list of nearly half a page long (Chickpea tagine with fruity couscous). Additionally many of the recipes require pastes and concoctions which are difficult to find in a supermarket, and require a visit to the health food shop or an Asian shop. However, if you're happy to begin stockpiling these ingredients and plan on cooking the recipes regularly enough to ensure these bits and bobs don't go out of date in the cupboard, then there are some very yummy sounding dishes in this section. My supermarket bill nearly gave me a heart attack after the initial shop for a couple of these recipes and their strange sauces and pastes. However, in the long run many of these dishes are cheap to produce and certainly less pricey than meals based around meat.
In here are a lot of buffet style recipes and dishes for sharing or picking at (Crispy nut balls coated in polenta). You don't need to be eating outdoors to enjoy these, nor do you need to share them with anyone! I like to cook some of these up in a batch and then pop servings in the freezer/fridge ready for light meals and snacks. A lot of these recipes require no cooking at all and have a preparation time of 10-15 minutes.
This section is really just a place where Rose appears to have put all the recipes she couldn't fit into her first two sections! They are not particularly celebratory (Red lentil and roasted pepper soup), but this isn't to say they are not delicious.
~~~ Will I end up burning the kitchen down and poisoning my guests? ~~~
No! These recipes are all extremely easy to follow, and on the most part involve simple prep and cooking methods. Unlike in some of her other books, Rose has not crammed more than one recipe per page. She allows plenty of space for an easy to refer to ingredients list, all in capital letters. The recipe is set out in small paragraphs of steps, each numbered. Many of her recipes also have printed in bold a short sentence of relevant advice (Some fresh, warm walnut or rye bread will make the perfect accompaniment for this summer salad). The preparation time, cooking time and serving size are all clearly listed at the start of the recipe. As I mentioned previously the cooking time is the only accurate one of these details.
If the recipe requires an unusual method of cooking then it is fully described. I've not produced any disasters from this book, and that's a rare thing for me! Although many of the ingredients were unfamiliar to me at first, they are fully explained throughout. The final section in the book is also two pages of 'Notes on ingredients'. I often refer to this as it lists the more unusual ingredients required in the recipes, what to look for and where to source them (Daikon - A large tapered white radish with a slightly hot flavour, available from supermarkets and Asian shops. Turnip can be substituted).
However, one small part here that really makes me laugh is the table of 'Suggested vegan alternatives'. Instead of a handy list of available branded products, Rose has simply listed the product and put the word vegan in front of it (vegan mayonnaise). Granted, for a couple she has prefixed them with 'soya' (soya milk, soya yoghurt), but for the most part this is a really unhelpful waste of space and lets the book down, as everything else in here is so concise and well written.
~~~ Will a quick flick through make my mouth water and tummy rumble? ~~~
I actually feel this is the most important aspect of any new cook book I purchase, and if I'm not tempted by an array of tasty looking pictures then I often won't be inspired to try out the recipe at all. Vegetarian Supercook is published in full colour from start to finish. I'd guess that around two thirds of the recipes have accompanying photos. Many of these pictures take up an entire page, alongside the recipe itself. The photos are expertly taken to make the finished dish look utterly mouth-watering (Dreamy raspberry and rose pavlova). I've also found this really valuable in getting an idea of final presentation and the level of browning off (Cheese and sun-blush tomato muffins). On some more complicated recipe procedures (Vietnamese spring rolls) Rose has included two or three black and white pictures at the top of the page showing her completing the steps. In between the savoury and desert recipes is a double page, close-up photo of one of the finished dishes.
The book as a whole is designed and printed in a really modern and stylish way. This is easily the nicest looking paperback on my cook book shelf. Furthermore, I have used this book loads and it has suffered many a spill and splosh, but it still looks in OK condition. The pages are made of pretty thick paper and it's easy to wipe clean. Although paperback, the outside cover is double folded and made of shiny, thick card so it doesn't get tatty very easily.
~~~ Can I easily adapt the recipes, for example to vegan? ~~~
Rose Elliot understands that some vegetarians are planning a transition into veganism, or may be hosting a dinner party with guests of mixed dietary preferences, and so she includes handy advice. All the recipes immediately suitable for vegans or those requiring a slight tweak, have a large 'V' on their respective page. Around thirty of the recipes are ultimately suitable for vegans. Additionally, she has included at the back of the book specific tips for making eight of the recipes suitable for vegans (Lentil shepherd's pie with smoky cheese mash - Use grated smoked tofu instead of smoked cheese). I've found a few of these tips crossover to other recipes in the book as well as these specific eight listed.
Adapting the recipes to suit just 'one person meals' is a little more tricky. When I lived alone I tended to cook the recipes as they were and simply freeze spare portions so I didn't eat the same thing for four meals on the trot. Most of the dishes in here can be frozen and thawed out successfully. This is definately preferable, as halving the recipe is often fiddly as you'll be left with half a tin of something that won't keep.
Adapting the recipes by ingredient is no problem in this book. I regularly start making something only to discover I'm missing a major ingredient. Nearly all the time this works out fine, and simply alters the flavour slightly. That's what I love about this cook book - unlike recpies I've tried from Delia Smith for example, it won't result in an inedible mess if you don't follow the recipe to a tee. In fact Rose Elliot encourages experimenting with different ingredient tweaks, and often mentions a few suggestions on the page.
~~~ Book details ~~~
* Price: Paperback RRP of £12.99. Hardback RRP of £22.99.
* Availability: New from Amazon (for £7.24 with free Super Saver Delivery). If you're not a fan of buying online, or want a peek through the pages before you commit, then the book is still in print and so should be available to browse or order from your local bookshop.
* ISBN: 9780600614210.
* Dimensions: 24.2 x 18.8 x 2.2 cm (192 pages).
* Publisher: Hamlyn, reprinted 2006.
~~~ To sum things up... ~~~
I'd highly recommend this book to vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. If you are new to Rose Elliot then this is the perfect place to start. It contains a huge variety of dishes and doesn't rely on the usual veggie staples of tofu and Quorn. I refer to this book almost exclusively for recipes these days, and I can't think of any occasions where the dishes I've made from here haven't been wholeheartedly enjoyed by all. They are generally fail-safe and always full of flavour. However, a fair amount of the recipes require specialist ingredients and plenty of preparation time, so if you're very tight for time or have a strict budget then you probably won't get quite so much out of this particular book.
Thanks for reading, I hope your tummy is dutifully rumbling now!
This review appears on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000.
P.S. Many thanks to Dawnymarie for suggesting a review of this book - I hope it has inspired you to buy and try :D
With my first half marathon coming up in March and a set of crunching, painful knees, at the end of last year I thought it best to upgrade my running shoes. I've been pounding the pavement in my Women's ASICS Gel 3020's for a few months now and although my knees have yet to fully recover I have plenty of positive things to say about these little gems...
~~ The road to running... ~~
I took up running at uni early last year after my trusty bicycle became plagued with endless broken bits and I ran out of patience (quite literally). Deciding that my own two feet wouldn't let me down I began to have gentle jogs every day to break up the monotony of research, cup of tea, research, cup of tea, research... well you get the picture. I was happily improving, satisfied enough jogging for an entire 2 minutes (never one to push myself!) before needing to walk for a bit. It didn't bother me that every now and then a dog walker would overtake me. Then summer happened... Heading off to sunny climes with the excuse of a thesis, I left behind my running shoes and looked forward to a daily diet of snorkelling and diving to keep me fit. However, I didn't plan on spending two months living in a hut with an international female rower from the US, who was utterly obsessed with keeping fit. Before long I started to feel guilty snoozing in my hammock whilst she undertook a daily hour of gruelling press-ups, sit-ups and various other sweat-inducing-ups. So before I knew it I was getting up at 5am every morning to run along the beach with her for an hour before brekkie. No more of this run-walk-run malarkey, she turned me into a proper runner, yay! But I digress...
~~ Time to find some decent footwear... ~~
Running along that beach in a pair of Converse Chucks (cue shocked gasps from all runners reading this) had not done my feet or my knees any favours. Upon returning back to Blighty I resumed running on the solid pavement in my old Nikes. But it turned out that now I had abandoned my running style akin to Phoebe from Friends, and started upping the mileage, my poor old knees couldn't take the strain. After some self-diagnosis on the interweb (come on we are all guilty of that) I decided I was an over-pronator (low foot arches mean the foot rolls inwards) and needed 'mobility control' trainers. ASICS seemed to be the brand of choice on the Runners World website so in my usual spirit I selected their most expensive and up-to-date offering in the 'mobility control' category... and then hunted high and low online to find them at a price I could actually afford. Anyway, that's quite enough about me, you're reading this because you're thinking of buying the ASICS Gel 3020's, so what do you need to know...
~~ Where can I buy them and how much do they cost? ~~
The RRP for the Women's ASICS Gel 3020's is £99.99. But as we all know, a bit of shopping around online will guarantee to save you a few bob. Right now they are in the sale at SportsDirect.com and Field & Trek for only £65.00. Before long no doubt they will only have the ridiculously small or large sizes left, so if you miss out you can get them online from Amazon, Wiggle, Sport Megastore and Totally Shoes from £70 - £90. If you prefer to try them on then these are the latest model, so I'm sure they will be available at sports shops on the high-street. Or if you are lucky enough to be close to a Runners Needs shop then you can have your gait analysed by video whilst you run on a treadmill and they'll recommend your ideal running shoes (of course it might not be these - and if it is then from what I have heard, they will most likely be available only at the RRP). I took a gamble and ordered mine on Ebay from a shop that sold 'sales samples'. These are pairs of shoes sent out pre-release to the stores and sports journalists so that they can have a test run. Luckily mine had never been worn - only handled, and they arrived in perfect condition and of course with identical specifications in all respects to the general release ASICS Gel 3020's. I would recommend this to everyone and would definitely buy 'sales samples' again if I could as the savings are immense - my Asics cost £35! The only hitch is that ladies, your feet must be a size 5, as that is the only sample size sent out by the manufacturers.
~~ How comfortably do they fit? ~~
The Women's ASICS Gel 3020's are true to size. They come in sizes 3 - 9 and include half sizes. They fit like a glove and mine were comfy from the moment I put them on, no need to break these in. I was lucky enough to find them fitting perfectly without trying them on first - but of course no two feet are the same, so I'd advise trying before you buy if possible. My feet are fairly wide but near the front of the shoe upper are flexible soft material panels. This means that the upper stretches perfectly there and allows my wide feet plenty of space so they don't get sore. The only drawback is that these panels are not waterproof or wipe-clean, so be prepared for soggy feet if it's wet out, and a bit of scrubbing to keep them looking nice.
The back of the foot is heavily cushioned and utilises thick memory foam, which works really well. The only problem here is that it is covered in a woven silky fabric which started to look really frayed and tatty after only a few weeks of wear. Inside the shoe is a removable 'ComforDry Sockliner', which is basically a thin innersole. It's designed to create a nicely cushioned platform so your feet don't get as sweaty. It seems to work for me and it's also handy to be able to remove it if my shoes are soaking wet or need a wash. So many times I have found the first thing to wear out on my shoes is the inner sole, so I imagine it will also be handy to be able to replace this easily when the time comes. The shoe also has a 'Bimorphic Fit' which means the upper moves with the foot as it bends, instead of bunching up or rubbing. Finally the 3020 has a gender specific 'Dynamic Cradle' which is a moulded midsole taking into account the fact that women have a narrower heel to midfoot than men. It certainly feels like a nice snug fit throughout the shoe so this feature seems to have worked nicely. All these features make for a super comfortable running shoe that I would wear all day if I could.
~~ How well does the mobility control system work? ~~
The first time I ran in these it felt great. Having worn down the same trainers for 5 years (albeit mostly around a gym) I was always going to notice the difference in support. But even better, I could feel the ASICS 3020's guiding my feet into a more sensible position. I had become very aware of how my feet were rolling inwards and my knees were too close together before. But now everything seemed to be much more as it should, and I wasn't even making a conscious effort to keep it that way. Admittedly whilst I was waiting for these to arrive in the post I had begun a regime of knee strengthening leg exercises which I have carried on doing daily, and are probably contributing a great deal to the decrease in knee problems. But I still believe the Asics are offering enhanced support to deal with these over-pronation issues. I'd expect nothing less than this from their abundance of features designed to offer mobility control.
Firstly the 'DuoMax System' means the midsole is made from several different materials of varying densities. A more solid material under the arch gives increased support for flat footed, over-pronators like me. I've found this to be supportive without feeling too solid. Secondly the 'I.G.S.' (Impact Guidance System) means all the components of the sole work together, and according to ASICS they complement rather than correct how the feet and legs move. I think this is preferable to a shoe which simply forces my foot into the correct position. I've read reports of runners being able to switch over to 'normal' trainers after wearing these 'mobility control' ones. And I'd like to think that I was helping my feet and legs to strengthen where they are lacking, so that the over-pronation issue is solved in the long term rather than just when I wear the shoes on a run.
I would love to promise that these shoes will cure all runners' knee problems, but I'm not so sure. In fact after very long runs I'm still getting knee niggles but nothing like I was before I started wearing the ASICS 3020's. I expect I need to get properly designed orthotics and switch up my muscle strengthening exercises, or perhaps just see a trained physiotherapist instead of attempting self-diagnosis and treatment!
~~ How much impact support do they offer the feet and legs? ~~
ASICS really know what they are doing when it comes to their research and development. When I did a little online research before buying the 3020's I found that ASICS were one of the first running shoe brands to realise that the structure of men's and women's shoes must be fundamentally different and not just sized smaller or larger. With the 3020's, ASICS have actually lessened the forefoot cushioning in the women's shoe to take into consideration that women are generally lighter than men. I've found this means the shoe feels as though it is adequately cushioning my impact on hard ground but not so much that it dissipates all my energy into the squishy sole instead of into my next step. Don't get me wrong the 3020's haven't made me run faster (I wish!) but I feel like I'm flying along with much less effort than before.
Additionally the 'Trusstic Device' and 'Space Trusstic System' are designed specifically for women. ASICS have taken into account that increased oestrogen levels in women throughout the month, lead to more relaxed soft tissues. Therefore these two features of the shoe allow for increased flexibility throughout the running motion. Technical stuff aside, I have definitely found that the ASICS bend with my feet and even just taking one of the shoes off and flexing it demonstrates how much more bendy these are than my old Nikes. Taking a closer look, there is a clear plastic bridge that crosses over the sole under the arch of the foot and this flexes in a really satisfying way whilst maintaining full support. Personally I think this is the one feature that has helped save my knees a little.
The really obvious impact support is the gel in the rearfoot. It's also in the forefoot, but it's hidden away there. ASICS have left the gel pockets exposed on the heel for no other reason I imagine than to demonstrate to owners how nice and cushioned they are. I can never resist having a satisfying little squish of the gel when I put these on and it gives me reassurance that no matter how hard the ground is, my delicate feet bones will not bear the brunt. Before I wore these I used to really notice the difference when I ran on pavement as opposed to the soft underfoot environment of the woods. My heel and the ball of my foot used to feel a bit bruised and sore to walk on after a long run on the hard concrete. In the 3020'2 I don't find this at all, so the gel is obviously doing its job well.
~~ Any other nuggets of useful information? ~~
* The 3020 is covered in patterns of reflective panels and strips which really increase my visibility at night. They are designed to fit right in with the colour scheme though, and I think these are a really attractive looking shoe.
* The majority of the shoe upper is coated in tough plastic panels which make it very easy to wipe clean. After a run in the woods I like to take out the innersole and give them a good wash in some soapy water. They do take a long time to dry out but they come up looking like new. I wouldn't recommend machine washing these however.
* When I first got these I worried that the vast amount of different panels and therefore stitching, on the upper, would mean greater opportunity for it to fall apart. However, so far my fears have been unfounded and the shoe is obviously made with durability in mind.
* The sole has brilliant traction, with a decent pattern of treads and has so far kept me upright even when there is a little bit of ice or frost around. I do get small stones stuck in the grooves sometimes but they are easily removed by hand post-run.
* Considering all the technical features these shoes are relatively light. They don't feel clumpy on my feet and I certainly don't feel like I'm dragging them during a run.
~~ Overall ~~
I'd highly recommend these to all ladies out there who are looking for a supportive 'mobility control' running shoe. Judging by my experience of these, I'd say to any men reading this that the Mens ASICS 3020's would be worth a look at too. With their abundance of well thought out features and the noticeable improvement in my running style, I would happily have paid a lot more than I did for the ASICS Gel 3020's. They are easily worth their premium price tag and I can't think of any reasons why they don't deserve the full five stars. In fact I'd give them six if I could!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review. I hope it has proved useful and left you inspired to don that lycra and feel the wind in your hair!
This review is posted on both Dooyoo and Ciao under my username sbeach000.
The Small Channel T is a ladies surf watch which was designed by Nixon in response to the demand for a smaller, feminine version of the popular Nixon Men's Channel T watch. It is a Swiss made, analogue watch which displays tide and moon phase information in addition to standard watch functions. I have owned my Small Channel T for eighteen months, and it is the third tidal watch I have purchased over the years.
** Where can I buy it and how much is it? **
The Nixon Small Channel T retails for around £140 - £160 and unfortunately it's not one of those watches that pops up in the sales much. The cheapest I've seen it is £120, and that's both looking around online now and 18 months ago when I bought it. Furthermore, right now the £120 offer is only on the blue colour option whilst the other choices are at least £140. Nixon has a great reputation and seems to be the brand of choice amongst many of the watersports enthusiasts I have met. This is about mid-range in terms of their watch prices, and I believe like a lot of designer watch brands their price has been bumped up by the name rather than the technology. However, I don't personally begrudge paying a lot for something that I plan to wear everyday for several years.
You'll be able to pick one of these watches up online from Streetfusion.co.uk Blackleaf.com, Extremepie.com and some Ebay shops. The ladies version of the watch is available in four colour options; pink strap with grey face, black strap with white face, yellow strap with yellow face or blue strap with blue face. I have the Nixon Small Channel T in the pink and grey version (as in the picture here).
** Does it look worth the price tag? **
Absolutely! I think for a casual watch this looks a little bit special, and I often get compliments on it even though it's not looking its best after 18 months of daily wear.
It's really hard to judge the size of a watch when buying online. And even though you'll find the measurements for the face of the Nixon Small Channel T online (3cm diameter) it's not easy to visualise how large it will look on your wrist. Men's watch faces particularly seem to be getting larger by the year, and I was a little concerned that this one would be too big. However I think it's just about perfect - large enough to stand out and draw in the compliments, but not too large.
It's hard to tell from the pictures online but the casing is solid stainless steel, with a brushed finish. The steel is extremely strong and I have only one small dent in it from knocking it into a lamp-post. This neat steel finish extends to the three buttons on the side - which Nixon could easily have made from plastic, but I'm thankful they haven't, as they would have shown signs of wear by now. The face of the watch is covered by hardened mineral crystal glass which has stood the test for me and only has a few barely perceptible scratches on it, and that's if you are looking really closely. Inside the face; the background, second hand, tide hand and tidal strip are colour coordinated with the watch strap. This is worth bearing in mind if you plan to replace the strap with another colour at any point. As an analogue watch, the multitude of functions are displayed all at once and this does make the face look a little cluttered. Nixon have tried to squeeze into this women's version all of the features present in the men's Channel T but obviously with a smaller area. This means they have had to print the words 'high tide', 'low tide' and the second increments in an extremely small font. If you have any trouble reading fine print then I don't think this is a good choice of watch and would recommend sticking to digital tide watches instead. However, Nixon may have crammed a lot of detail but I have been extremely impressed with how well they have executed this. Looking really closely, you can see the perfect detailed ridges around the seconds dial, and the metal edging around the date window. Such beautiful detailing makes this watch well worth the high price tag in my opinion.
** Function no. 1: Telling the time **
The pink version of this watch has silver numbers (all twelve are present) on a grey background. I do find the numbers difficult to distinguish and so if you are not a fan of analogue watches without obvious numbers then this is one to avoid. The delicate, silverery-metal minute and hour hands are nice and large however, with clear points to the end so it's easy to get an accurate reading. There are also 2-minute indentations in between the numbers, so there's not too much guesswork involved in that either. I've never had any issues with the watch slowing down or speeding up - it seems to keep time beautifully without needing any adjustments over time. Setting the time is done by a couple of clicks and turns of the central bezel, and is really simple.
** Function no. 2: Tidal information **
Before I bought my Nixon Small Channel T I had only owned digital tide watches. With an analogue tide watch you lose out on so many useful features, such as calculating future tide information, and working out the current tides to the exact minute. The pink tide hand swings around the face every 12.42 hours (approximately a complete tide). But because the watch face naturally has increments of one twelfth, this means there is no quick way of working out when the next high or low tide will be exactly. It all gets rather fiddly. This isn't massively important for the situations in which I use the tidal display on the watch, but I'd imagine for some professions and pastimes this could cause a problem. With only one tide hand there is also no way of programming the watch to tell you the tide at other beaches. Again, this has to be worked out in your head.
Programming the tide times is relatively simple, with the tide hand simply swinging round the face until the desired time is set. I find the best way is to find out when the next high or low tide is and then set the dial at that exact moment in time to get it really precise and on the nose. The tide setting button is clearly marked with an etched wave, and pressing and holding it will result in a beep which lets you know it's ready to be adjusted. This is the exact same method used for adjusting the moon phase (for which the button is etched with a crescent moon). This is particularly important information to pass on, as the instruction manual omits moon-phase programming and I had to look that one up on the internet.
** Function no. 3: Moon phase **
The Nixon Small Channel T will tell you whereabouts in the moon phase cycle you are on that day. This is all linked into the tidal information, as greater tidal ranges occur when the moon is full or new. Like the tidal dial, the small moon phase dial is difficult to get an accurate reading from. Although the phases are clearly marked with black, white or half-and-half circles, the dial is so tiny it's impossible to see exactly how many days there are until the full or new moons. So, not so great for planning those all important 'full moon parties' I'm afraid! When I was going on a recent night dive for which I needed the light of a full moon, I had to resort to my digital tide/moon-phase watch to tell me which date that would be. This watch really can only give a rough idea.
** Function no. 4: Counting the seconds **
The dial for counting seconds is the same size as the moon-phase dial - teeny tiny! I don't even bother using this feature to time anything in seconds as it involves sitting there watching the hand move around whilst counting the seconds in my head. It's really designed for surfers to countdown their times, and I suppose for that purpose it's adequate enough. It's easy enough to see when the tiny hand points to each ten second increment, just don't expect to be able to glance at this and get any more accuracy than that.
** Function no. 5: Date **
At the bottom of the watch face is a little window displaying the date. This is simple and easy to set using the main bezel on the watch. However I find I am constantly having to reset this from month to month. I understand that not all months are of equal length but unfortunately the Small Channel T does not. Every month is a 31 day month according to this watch, and I suppose this is an irritating feature everyone has to deal with when using analogue watch date displays. If the month is 30 days or less, then the date on this watch has to be wound on an extra day or two at the beginning of the month. Yet another reason why I've found digital watches to be superior to analogue.
** Finally tell me about the strap... **
As with most watersports watches the strap is made of PU (polyurethane). I've always chosen PU watches over any others as my skin has reacted badly to metal watch straps in the past, fabric straps fall to bits too quickly in saltwater and I don't wear leather accessories for ethical reasons. I really like the way this material feels and it's very comfortable to wear. The only issues I have with PU is the fact that it can become a bit sweaty on hot days, and also the material stains and discolours far too easily. My previous watch had a white strap which looked stunning straight out of the box, but very quickly turned a nasty shade of yellow. I looked everywhere to find advice on how to remove this staining but apparently it is impossible and the only cure is to replace the strap. I wasn't making that same mistake twice, so when I chose the Small Channel T I assumed deep pink would not stain like the white had. Unfortunately I discovered after wearing a brand new, navy blue, long-sleeved top in the rain that this was not the case. The dye leeched right into the strap and is still visible now after many hours of scrubbing. It's not noticeable to other people apparently but I'm very aware that parts of my watch now have a purple tie-dye appearance, and that's a real shame. With the exception to this, the strap has held up pretty well throughout its life in and out of the water. The locking looper (where you thread the end of strap through to keep it neat) has started to crack, but that's the only damage.
Nixon expect the Small Channel T to be worn whilst surfing and so they use a 'patented double locking looper' to ensure it stays put on your wrist during all that paddling. It's just a rather technical way of saying that the looper has a hole in it, through which a raised bump on the end of the watch strap sits, thus keeping it secure. It's worked really well for me. I also like the way the stainless steel buckle has two prongs and the strap is double punched all the way up. Additionally the strap is etched both on the upper (which makes it look pretty) and inner (which keeps it from slipping around on my wrist).
Of course all of these neat little details mean you won't want to replace the strap with a bog-standard plain one. I'm actually planning on replacing my strap with a new black one (partly because of the staining and partly because of the cracked looper). For this I have to go directly to Nixon, and they cost around £35 plus the cost of sending the watch away to them. When the watch face has lasted so well I don't think this is too much of a burden.
** What else should I know? **
* The Nixon Small channel T is water resistant to a depth of 100m. I've worn it on dives to 30m and had no problems with it. It's also been in and out of the water on hundreds of swims and snorkels and there has never been any leaking.
* The battery has lasted eighteen months so far without needing a change. When the time comes (Nixon recommend every two years) the battery will have to be replaced professionally, as removing the back needs to be done with specialist tools and not just a screwdriver.
* The minute and hour hand have differing sized glow in the dark strips built in to them. I find they stay visible for only about five minutes in the dark before they need charging with a light source again.
* The buttons are located on the 9 o' clock side, rather than the usual 3 o' clock side to prevent 'wrist bite' while paddling out. I think all watches should have this design as it's more comfortable for everyone not just paddling surfers.
** Overall **
I love the way this watch looks and how it is built to perfection. It may not have all the features I find in my digital tide watches but that's just the way analogue watches are and it's through no design fault from Nixon. I would have preferred not to be replacing the strap so soon but I know from all the other PU watch straps I have owned that this one has fared better than average. Overall it's a well deserved five star rating from me.
P.S. I suppose I should also own up that I'm no surfer, although that has been one of my new years resolutions for almost a decade now! But you don't need to be a surfer to appreciate this watch. Anyone like myself who enjoys other marine watersports or simply likes to stroll along the local seafront will find unexplainable satisfaction from knowing what the tide will be doing. Now I have discovered the delights of tide watches I wouldn't be without one.
Thanks for reading my review - I hope it was of use.
This review appears on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000
A few months ago I replaced my on-ear headphones with the in-ear CX6 from Sennheiser, believing them to be an upgrade to my old Sennheiser PX200's. Whilst they are undoubtedly top quality, unfortunately they have a couple of significant problems...
Price and availability
The CX6 Travel retail for £100, and can be found online at Play and Amazon amongst others. If you wish to try them before you buy (which I would highly recommend) then they are also available from PC World and Curry's. I purchased mine from Play.com and got them for £50. This was a few months ago and I have now seen they are back up to £80, so it appears I got a bargain. They come with an array of accessories (which I'll discuss later) and are packaged really nicely with an easy to read user manual (in about 20 different languages!).
Sennheiser have a great reputation for providing top quality, yet affordable, headphones. I had a really good peruse of their website before choosing the CX6 and came away convinced I had made the right choice for uncompromised sound in my price range. I don't think I was wrong.
I'm not hugely technically minded so a lot of the specifications go over my head. But for those of you who understand these things, Sennheiser state 'Dynamic drivers with powerful neodymium magnets ensure clear and detailed audio reproduction'. Eek is this another language to anyone else?! For all the other techy details see:
What I can tell you is that they sound fantastic to me. When I first tried them out I was astounded by how great my music suddenly sounded. There is plenty of bass, which apparently can be lacking in ear-canal headphones. The detail of all the individual sounds is also completely clear. Both music and spoken word sound brilliant through the CX6. I can certainly hear the difference now between listening to audio on my quality DVD's and not-so-quality TV downloads. Overall these earphones get top marks on sound quality from me.
The Sennheiser website has a nifty feature which allows you to 'test' the earphones in different ambient noise situations. I'm dubious as to how realistic this is but it's fun to try! They promise 'up to' (- got to love such sweeping statements!) 90% ambient noise attenuation in travel situations such as trains and planes. I've tested these headphones out in most travel situations, although have yet to try them out on an airplane. In a train they sufficiently block out the noise of the train moving as well as nattering passengers and that person next to me who always has their music loudly blasting out of their headphones. As a passenger in a coach or car they also block out enough of the ambient noises to allow me to enjoy my music. I'm not sure I'd go as far as saying they block out 90% of ambient noise - but certainly a good 70% in my experience.
A strange and rather unwanted effect of this sealed in aspect of the earphones, is that sounds coming from within the body - such as swallowing, breathing and coughing sounding much louder than they do normally. Apparently this phenomenon is called the 'occlusion effect'. It's really odd and I often find myself taking out these headphones thinking there is someone clattering around in the house, when in fact it is just me breathing! Another aspect of this sees noises being transferred directly up the cable into your ears. So that slight rustling of the wire can actually sound like a small building site has appeared outside the house. Odd and rather disconcerting, but you do get used to it. I reckon this would make exercising whist wearing these a bit traumatic. But then I wouldn't know because these earphones don't stay in my ear if I'm doing anything vaguely active...
Comfort and fit
Both of the above points are extremely important with in-ear headphones. Unfortunately I've been really disappointed with these aspects in the CX6. I found the earphones uncomfortable to wear initially, although this has improved over time. The fit has always been completely unsuitable for me however, with the earphones constantly falling out of my ears.
The CX6 come with six different silicone tips, to ensure optimum fit in the ear according to Sennheiser. You can choose from either small, medium or large in either lamellar fit (double silicone skirts to fit within the ear canal) or standard fit (single silicone skirt to sit at the opening to the ear canal). The tips stretch over the plastic speaker and I've found them to stay in place until I choose to take them off. Getting them off is really fiddly, however. The silicone is fairly thin and so I worry they will break if I apply too much force or stretching. As a result it took me several minutes just to remove one, and when there are six options to try on each ear this can be too time consuming for someone with limited patience, such as myself!
The CX6 are designed to be worn with the cable running over the top of the ear. They come with 2 bendy, plastic cable runners. These are meant to fit onto the upper cable and be bent into place around your ear so they secure in place. They are very easy to fit on the cable and alter their position. However I gave up on these after a couple of days as they just didn't fit around my ear properly and made the earpieces even more prone to falling out. I now simply wrap the wire around my ear, although I do worry this may cause the cable to weaken over time.
After much trial and error I have found the standard tips in a small size to be the best fit for my ears. Having said that they really are only the best choice of a bad bunch. I was hoping that with 6 options, I'd have no problem finding one that fits well. I'm sure this is the case with many users, and no doubt Sennheiser tested these out in a variety of ears before deciding on these. But for me they just don't stay put in my ear. I've experimented with wedging them in firmly (not very comfortable) and sitting them just at the entrance to the ear (comfortable until they drop out) and neither seem satisfactory. The slightest movement results in these earphones just falling out of my ear. To say it's frustrating is an understatement. Right now I am wearing these at my computer, and every few minutes I have to poke them back in place. No I'm not dancing around; I'm simply sipping a cup of tea. Chewing, drinking or any movement of the jaw dislodges these from my ears. I can only imagine how annoying this would be in the airplane situation which these are ultimately designed for. If you're anything like me then a good portion of any flight is spent munching and sipping on the constant flow of food and drink served, interspersed with a good deal of fidgeting.
This brings me onto the second negative point to consider. If I wear these whilst resting my head against a pillow for a snooze (something I spend inordinate amounts of time doing on any flight, especially after all that feasting and fidgeting!) then the sound disappears completely in that ear. The silicone ear tip must cover the speaker when pressure is applied to it, blocking out the noise. This has the benefit of blocking out surrounding noise, but it's not really ideal now is it? - foam earplugs do this for a fraction of the price! One of the main reasons I purchased these was because my on-ear headphones get really uncomfortable when I'm resting that side of my head against anything. I like to listen to relaxing music as I attempt to doze off and so I hoped these would enable me to do that without getting a sore ear. Whilst they are perfectly comfortable to wear in that situation, they are a little useless when the speaker ceases to function.
Something worth noting is that I find that the proximity of the speaker to my left eardrum (which was damaged through diving some time ago, and has now healed), causes discomfort over prolonged periods, even at low volume. I would recommend anyone with a history of barotrauma or certainly a perforated eardrum, tests in ear headphones before buying as they may experience too much discomfort.
Suitability for travel
A really nice addition to the accessories you get when purchasing the CX6 is the mono jack adaptor. A small two pin plug which attaches to the socket in the armrest of an airplane. Personally I can't stand using the headphones you get given on flights and so this adaptor is a welcome addition.
Upon removing the silicone earbuds you'll find a small ridge running down the side of the plastic. Sennheiser do not explain the significance of this, however a suggestion from someone else had to do with equalisation. Basically the ridge allows for air to enter the ear canal, rather than sealing it off completely. This sounds like a very plausible explanation for the ridges, and would indeed allow for equalisation of the ears during flight. In my experience, Sennheiser think of everything when designing their products and so I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case. However, if anyone reading this has another explanation I'd love to know, as it is a bit of a mystery!
Until these earphones fall out, they fit snugly in my ear with a good seal. This means I can have the volume much lower on my Ipod than I would with my previous on-ear headphones. About half the volume in fact. This is fantastic for travelling as it means I only need to charge my Ipod half as often as normal.
The CX6 come with a really top quality, soft case. It's square, zipped, plush lined and has a plastic inner winder for the wire. If I were being really picky I would say the case could do with being a bit smaller. The actual case is 3 inches by 3 inches square and 1 inch deep. Really all I need to carry around are the headphones, mono-jack, cable clip and cleaning pick. Although there is ample room for the six silicone earbuds, I can't imagine anyone needing to carry around these once they have found the one suitable size. For a headphone designed for travel I'd prefer a more compact case, but I'm getting really fussy now.
The CX6 look and feel expensive and well made. The brushed aluminium on the outside is a really nice touch and adds a top quality finish. Each of the silicone tips is perfectly formed, and although thin, they have not torn with all the tugging around I've inflicted on them. The cable seems secure in all its fittings and there has been no fraying over the time I have owned these. The accessories are all top notch, and Sennheiser recommend using the cleaning pick on the speakers frequently to prevent build up of dust and dirt. In my experience, Sennheiser build their products to last a long time - and the CX6 are no exception. I was pleased to find that they come with a 2 year warranty, just in case.
Whilst these headphones are undoubtedly top quality, I would not pay any more than £50 for them. I've been quite disappointed to find so may issues with these, when they are meant to be top of the range. The fit is not suitable for everyone, myself included, and the hassle that entails from persevering with different tips is really off putting. You can purchase online custom made silicone ear tips for these (at around £100!) or simple foam tips (for around £5) which expand in the ear canal for a better fit. I've decided to try the latter option as these earphones are too expensive not to use just because they don't fit. Ultimately, I wish there had been some detailed reviews available on the CX6 when I purchased them, as I may have chosen something different. Three stars from me.
Thank you for reading and I hope this review was of use to you.
This review appears on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000.
Several years ago I had a bit of a mad shopping spree and purchased pretty much the entire Lifeventure range from my local outdoors shop. Amongst my goodies was the Lifeventure All Purpose Travel Soap. Unfortunately not everything in the Lifeventure range really lives up to its promise (as anyone who has read my other reviews will know), however, this is the one product I buy time and time again. This all-purpose soap is by far the most effective I have tried.
** What is it? **
Lifeventure All-Purpose Soap is just what it says on the tin really. It's a bright blue, highly concentrated liquid soap that is designed for taking away with you to wash anything from yourself, to your clothes, to your fruit and veg.
** Where can I get it? **
This soap comes in three different bottle sizes (100ml, 200ml and they have just started producing a 350ml bottle). A 100ml bottle will set you back £3.99, 200ml costs £4.50 and the massive 350ml bottle is £4.99. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out therefore that if you buy a larger bottle it will work out much cheaper in the long run. Personally I like to save my pennies whenever and wherever I can, so I always buy the 350ml bottle. I bought a small 50ml reusable plastic bottle from Boots for 49p and whenever I'm going on a short break and don't want to lug my gigantic 350ml bottle with me I simply decant some into it... problem solved!
It is available to buy at most outdoors shops (including Field and Trek, Millets, Go Outdoors) as well as online (Amazon, Gear zone, Taunton Leisure and Cotswold Outdoors, amongst others) although surprisingly not from the Lifeventure website.
** When can I use it and does it work? **
This soap lives up to its all-purpose promise. The back of the bottle states it is suitable for washing bodies, hair, fruit and clothes. I've tried it in all these situations with mixed results.
First up - body and hair. I would NOT recommend you use this soap for washing your hair. Although I found it lathered up very well and left my hair clean. It also left my hair with a scent that resembled industrial cleaning fluids. Furthermore, once my hair had dried I looked like I had been dragged through a series of bushes backwards and then provided a nesting area for a flock of seagulls on top of my head. I may not be blessed with naturally sleek and stylish hair, but this was really rather ridiculous. My hair felt and looked like it had been stripped of all natural oils - which leads me to believe this soap is just too harsh for washing hair with. I also tried using this soap as a body-wash, with a slightly better outcome. A little went a really long way and I only needed a pea sized amount per shower. My skin felt a little dry afterwards and once again the smell was a bit off-putting. I had to use loads of extra moisturiser which began to defeat the object of using this as an answer to travelling light. I also have very sensitive skin on my neck and face area and found using this soap started to irritate it a little. I was happy to use this in really desperate situations but have since made sure I pack a proper shower gel. Once again I wouldn't really recommend this for washing bodies with, and would advise steering clear of it if you have very sensitive skin. Lifeventure claim this soap is pH balanced for sensitive skins, but it's not a promise I've found it to live up to.
Second up - washing clothes. This is where this soap really comes into its own. I've used lots of different concentrated, travel, liquid, laundry soap over the years but none of them are as effective as Lifeventures. If you have a large bucket/basin of water you only need to add half a capful of this liquid. A quick swish around produces masses of bubbles. For best results on really grubby clothes I tend to then leave my laundry in to soak for about half an hour. Amazingly, over this time the bubbles only diminish slightly. I then only have to scrub my clothes together with the minimum of effort and never need to use a scrubbing brush to get all the stains out. I find this soap rinses out pretty easily which is great when water is in scarce supply. Furthermore, not rinsing this out properly does not seem to have any effects on my clothes and only serves to make them smell nice. Lifeventures All Purpose Soap leaves my clothes smelling just as they should - fresh and clean.
On my last travels I only had seawater available to wash my clothes in. And found that just as promised on the bottle, this soap lathers perfectly in brackish as well as fresh water. Naturally there wasn't as much as many bubbles produced, and I would recommend adding another half capful into the same amount of salt water, to get good results. Unfortunately all my metal zips, press studs and buttons started to rust with this intensive regime of saltwater rinse and repeat. However, any rust patches that got onto the material parts of my clothes came out fine with a scrub of this soap. With tough stains like this I'd recommend pouring a tiny bit of the soap directly onto the mark and having a good old scrub of that. At the end of the trip I was very proud to be awarded 'Queen of Clean' by my colleagues, in light of my apparently sparkling daily outfits! - I owe this accolade entirely to my Lifeventure soap, of which I was the only owner on the island. I can't recommend this as a laundry soap enough.
Thirdly - using this all-purpose soap as a washing up liquid. After washing my clothes this is where I use most of the rest of this lovely liquid. Considering this soap doesn't contain any harsh detergents it does a remarkable job of cutting through grime. As always only a tiny squeeze is needed to fill a sink with bubbles. Glassware comes out smear free. Baked on food on pots and pans comes off fairly easily. And most importantly no nasty tasting residue gets left on any of my utensils.
Finally I washed my fruit and veg with Lifeventures All Purpose Soap. Generally I believe simple water is up to this task so I have never used it in this way, but for the purpose of trying out all aspects of this soap I felt obliged to do this. So I duly washed my grapes, strawberries and salad in this the other day at the kitchen sink. I only used a teeny squeeze (a pea sized amount shall we say) in the washing up bowl as I was rather concerned my lunch would be rendered inedible by the exercise. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fruit and veg smelled just as it should, and the soap left no perceptible taste on the items. I don't really know in what situation it would be necessary to wash your fruit and veg in soap as well as water, but should you come across particularly grubby or bacteria coated morsels to eat then I would heartily recommend using Lifeventures All Purpose Soap to wash them in.
I've also used this soap to wash my rucksack, diving gear and wetsuit from time to time and with great results. Everything was left clean and smelling delightful. I also find this stuff great for cleaning kitchen surfaces. A little bit squeezed onto a damp cloth has been known to get even the grubbiest of rustic kitchens sparkling.
** How long will it last? **
A 200ml bottle will last about a month if it is used to launder clothes, to do the washing up a couple of times a day and clean a few surfaces here and there. This stuff is extremely concentrated and a little really does go a long way. I think it offers unbeatable value for money, especially when compared to other travel laundry detergents.
** Is it gentle? **
As I mentioned previously this product irritates the sensitive skin on my face and neck, and wreaks havoc on my hair. Lifeventure also clearly state it must be kept away from the eyes - so how gentle can it really be? However it seems gentle enough on my hands when I'm doing my laundry and washing up. My clothes seem to fare well being washed in this, and the colours stay vivid and don't tend to run. Finally, my grapes and lettuce leaves didn't seem to complain when they got the all-purpose treatment.
However, if you actually look at what ingredients they put in this stuff (like I have just properly done for the first time) then it doesn't inspire too much confidence really:
Second to water is SLS (Sodium Laureth Sulfate) this is an extremely harsh foaming agent and explains why you get so many bubbles out of this. However I steer clear of SLS in all my skin care products as it has a strong link to skin problems such as dermatitis and excema. After reading the rest of the ingredients (Cocamide DEA, Cocomiopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Propylene Glycol, Triclosan, Benzophenone-4, Citric acid, Benzyl alcohol, Methylchlorothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Magnesium chloride, Magnesium nitrate and CI 42090) I have decided never again to use this stuff without wearing gloves!
** Is it environmentally friendly? **
According to Lifeventure this product is 100% biodegradable and won't harm the environment. With an ingredients list like the one listed above I'm not sure I'd be happy ever again to chuck my wastewater into the nearest bush though.
The plastic bottle is fully recyclable. Unfortunately it has been injection moulded with a tiny hole in the top so there is no way of re-using this bottle (unless you happen across the smallest funnel in the world perhaps...).
** Overall **
If you are travelling light and need a concentrated soap for washing your laundry and/or kitchen utensils in, then I would happily recommend Lifeventures All-Purpose Soap. I would not recommend so much washing yourself with this product, and if you have any shred of dignity keep this product well away from your head of hair!
I have to knock a star off for the disappointing performance of this product when used to wash hair and body. However, having tried a few other all-purpose liquid soaps this has to be the best performer by far.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review I hope you found it useful :)
This review is posted on both Ciao and Dooyoo under my username sbeach000
This is a large luxury holdall from the travel equipment brand Lifeventure. As well as the main zipped compartment it has five more zipped compartments, eight smaller elasticated mesh compartments, a mirror and tuck-away metal hanger.
~~ Availability ~~
You can also get this holdall in a smaller size. Both are available from outdoorsy and travel shops such as Outdoors Kit, Field and Trek and Sports Direct; both online and in stores. The larger holdall (which I am reviewing here) retails for between £14 - £19. It is available in either a blue/black colour combination or a light grey/pink option. I have the blue/black option, which stays looking clean even when it's not, unlike I'd imagine the lighter colour combinations.
~~ My experience ~~
I chose this wash holdall specifically because I trusted Lifeventures range and this was the largest holdall that they did. I'm ashamed to say that when I go away my essential dive equipment takes up half my rucksack, and the near entirety of the other half is occupied by my toiletries. For this reason I needed a wash bag that would be large enough for all my 'essentials'. This holdall is 260mm x 190mm x 125mm. Perfectly roomy for about five 200ml bottles, several smaller ones and various other bits and pieces.
~~ Pros... ~~
The outside of the holdall is made from toughened rip-stop fabric. This is really useful if you just chuck it in your rucksack without any thought to what dangers lie in there. Of course if you carefully pack your luggage in a proper suitcase, then this is actually a little overkill for a wash bag. The rest of the bag is made really well - with durability definitely in mind. The zipped pockets, mesh pouches and lining are all fully intact on mine after a lot of wear. I store sharp things like scissors and earrings in the pockets and they have never torn through the material.
The zips all have chunky rubber attachments which is really helpful when you are trying to get into this with wet hands. The zips are all plastic so they won't rust, and the metal hanger is coated in plastic too.
This holdall is really well designed. The pockets and pouches are placed so that you don't end up with unusable space elsewhere when they are packed full.
This holdall is fully washable, and I've chucked mine in the washing machine dozens of times and it always comes out looking like new.
~~ ...And cons ~~
Because of the supremely durable fabric this wash bag is comparatively heavy, even when it is empty (300g to be precise). When every gram of luggage counts this is a particular downside.
The plastic coated, metal hanger is not at all strong enough considering the large size of the holdall. When this is filled with full up bottles of toiletries, if I then attempt to hang this bag up the hanger simply bends and everything I have so carefully packed away ends up on the floor. I tend to use a karabiner which I attach to the nylon part of the hanger to hang this holdall up securely.
The mirror in this bag, although a very decent size, is not reinforced at all. Before I even had a chance to use the mirror, it had snapped in half on the journey.
~~ Overall ~~
This holdall loses a star because of the poor hanger and mirror design. However I'd recommend this to anyone who likes to keep their toiletries organised and easy to get to whilst away. And I'd especially recommend this to anyone who needs a long-lasting holdall which can withstand a lot of heavy use.
This review also appears on Ciao under my username sbeach000
I bought this lighter four years ago, and have found it to be one of my most useful gadgets. I use it almost daily (and no I'm not a smoker/pyromaniac!) and have found endless situations where it comes in handy.
What is it?
The Turboflame Turbo 2 is solid, metal, press button butane lighter. It is designed for outdoor enthusiasts, and as such is windproof. It achieves this with two laser jet burners which blast away with a blue flame at 1300 degrees centigrade (think Bunsen burner on the highest setting). It is about 5cm tall and due to the nature of its metal casing pretty heavy compared to the plastic lighters you find on the counter of your local tobacconist, (but this is no 20p lighter after all).
You can choose from four different metallic colour options - red, blue, silver or dark grey. I have the turbo lighter in red (see picture) to perfectly match all my other bits of camping kit (yes, I know it's a bit pathetic really). I've had a gander at all the other colour options though, and they are equally pretty.
How does it work?
Just like any other lighter it uses a spark which ignites the butane gas, producing the flame. The spark is not produced by a flint like the classic Zippos. Instead, a click of the button causes Piezo ignition from an electrode within (it's worth noting therefore that damp conditions may make this unsuitable for use). The good thing about Piezo ignition over flint sparks is that they will last a lifetime and not wear out... a bit like this lighter really.
And the brand?
Turboflame solely specialise in lighters. They have not branched out into gimmicky products and from a little look around on the web, I've found that they seem to be market leaders in lighter technology. Their range is constantly expanding and improving, but in my opinion the Turbo 2 is the best one they produce. They also do lighters specifically for home use, engineering use and military use. As well as accessories for their lighters such as a pod which allows hands free use. Their website is also packed with handy information for getting the best out of your product.
Where can I get it?
It's available from Amazon, outdoorsy shops like Outdoor GB, and Gear Zone and of course from the Turboflame website. In fact if you go to their website there is a long page of suppliers listed, which proves quite handy. The Turbo 2 retails between £6.50 and £9 online and I've seen in-store at Go Outdoors for £8.50. I think this is a veritable bargain considering how well made it is and how long mine has lasted me.
Is it effective?
Absolutely. The solid blue twin jets are no wafty orange flame, they mean business! It gets extremely hot - 1300 degrees to be precise (and for this reason it's important to remember that the heat extends at least 20cm above the actual flame).
In a particularly joyless stint on a rural island in the rainy season myself and my colleagues had to cook rice on a fire made from soggy coconut husks. After getting through several packets of matches attempting to get the fire going the first time, I pulled out my Turbo flame and once everyone had had a play around with it (it encourages this sort of thing from all ages, women and men alike, I'm afraid!) we got the fire burning in seconds. Soggy fire wood is no match for this lighter.
The twin jets are 'laser' (ooh exciting!) which means they are precisely directional. As a result all the heat gets concentrated into a fine point. This is really handy for DIY fix it jobs around the home and when travelling. I've used this lighter to fashion all sorts of useful diving accessories out of fishing wire and bits of plastic and metal. It has also come in handy for fixing rucksacks, quickly melting the nylon straps and plastic buckles on them.
The nice thing about this lighter (and in fact all Turboflame lighters) is that they burn cleanly. Basically this means instead of getting whatever you are lighting/melting all sooty and blackened, they will not leave these carbon deposits behind, because they 'clean-burn'.
When would I use it?
I've found myself using it in all kinds of situations. Obviously it's great for camping and cooking. But when I'm at home the rest of the time, I use it for lighting tea lights, incense and the barbecue and stove too. It can take a bit of a learned knack to light a candle with this as it's so powerful it tends to blow the flame out as it lights it - slightly impractical! But as long as you angle this slightly above the wick of a candle and only press the button for a short burst it does the job very well. It's great for lighting candles in jars or oil burners, which can often to be hard to reach with matches or normal lighters. Because this flame gets so hot, it will light the candle without even touching it.
The Turboflame website suggests this is ideal for craft workers and many kinds of outdoor building/engineering work. I've never actually used it for these purposes but if the comments on their website are anything to go by it seems fairly invaluable to anyone in this line of work. A quick look also confirmed this lighter is a favourite in the armed forces and with professional expedition guides, which doesn't surprise me at all.
Is it durable?
This is no flimsy, plastic lighter; it's built with the outdoors in mind. The casing is all solid metal and I've found it doesn't dent at all, although the paint has scratched off in a few places. The cap is hinged onto the side of the lighter well and I've no worries this will ever fall off or break. Furthermore the cap offers total protection to the fragile bits of the lighter. Being solid metal it will not get crushed or deformed and so it prevents dirt or foreign objects from entering the lighter perfectly. The only plastic bit is the press button. Mine has never melted or broken.
Is it easy to refill?
Very easy indeed. Like any other lighter all you have to do is turn it upside down and hold the gas canister nozzle onto it briefly to fill it up. The Turboflame website has detailed instructions on how to fill it up should you be a tad confused. The valve only allows gas to enter when it is depressed so you will have to ensure the nozzle size fits correctly - but I use the standard size that comes with the canister and don't need to place any attachments onto it. The tank is only small so it will take around 10 seconds to fill this up, and that can be done in one burst. I always do this in a ventilated area as sometimes the gas seeps out the sides if I get a bit carried away!
There is a glass window on either side of the lighter which clearly shows you how much gas is left. As mentioned, I use my lighter daily, and I find one tank of gas will only last about three or four weeks. The tank is not massive and being such a powerful lighter this little gadget will get through fuel at quite a rate. But it's very easy to refill and very cheap to buy fuel so I'm not too fussed about that.
It's absolutely vital to use quality pure butane with this lighter. It must state 'Near zero impurity' or 'Double/triple refined' on the canister to be suitable. I've heard accounts from enough friends to know that if you scrimp on fuel and only buy cheap lighter fluid then you'll end up with a stuttering, problematic Turboflame lighter. I've never used anything except for premium butane gas refills from my local hardware store. It's only around £3, and a can will last up to a year, so it's worth it in my opinion.
Is it adjustable?
Yes the flame height is easily adjusted. It's very easy to do and just requires a simple turn of the base of the lighter using a screwdriver or pen knife or something similar. There are clear engravings on the base which show you which way to turn for a larger or smaller flame. The range is perfectly adequate, going from about a 0.5cm tall flame, up to 4cm tall.
Adjusting the flame height is important if you want to take this lighter with you to very hot or cold conditions. If the ambient temperature is very cold then you'll need to turn up the flame height (and warm the lighter in your hands) as the butane will not form a gas as easily as it would at warmer temperatures. Conversely in very hot climates it's an idea to keep a lower flame height as the butane will form a gas more readily.
Such a glowing review... surely there must be some negatives?
Unfortunately yes there is one negative point - this lighter may fail if you do not follow the guidelines for refilling to a tee. Six months into the life of my lighter I began to notice it stuttering slightly when I pressed the button. Sometimes it would not even ignite at all. Fearing the lighter had come to the end of its useful life I looked up replacements on the Turboflame website. Here I found that this was actually a fairly common problem - so common in fact that Turboflame felt the need to put a link to it on the front page of the website. It appeared that the problems stemmed from not bleeding the tank before refilling. Nowhere in my instruction booklet was this mentioned (and I'm a stickler for reading every minute detail in these before even taking a product out the box!).
Apparently the butane gas and air need to be in a precise ratio to create a stutter free flame. As the gas is burnt it gets replaced by air - and thus problems begin if this is not rectified at the time. I promptly got a ballpoint pen and pressed the gas inlet on the base of the lighter (in a well-ventilated area of course) until whooshing noises ceased. I then refilled the tank, et voila my Turbo 2 was restored to its former fail-free glory. I've since made sure I bleed the tank when gas gets low and always before refilling. I've had no problems since then.
Oh and it's also worth noting that you should bleed the tank of air if you take this on an aeroplane, as otherwise the pressure may cause it to explode!
Anything else I should know?
* The instructions advise that the flame should not burn continuously for more than 60 seconds. This is because the tip of the lighter will become extremely hot. Being solid thick metal I don't think anything would melt in this situation but unless you want burnt fingers I would recommend following Turboflames' instructions. It also probably goes without saying that this lighter should be kept away from children, clothes, faces and anything else you don't want to fry to a crisp.
* You can buy specially made cases for your Turbo 2 lighter from Turboflame. I don't have one of these and think they're probably a bit unnecessary. The cap on the top stops dirt, sand and other particles from entering the important bits of the lighter. And the rest of the lighter is built very solidly so I can't imagine knocks and scrapes would do it much harm (mine has been trodden on by a camel and escaped unharmed - but that's another story altogether...)
* The Turbo 2 has a little lanyard attachment on the side, but does not actually come supplied with a lanyard.
I'd recommend this lighter for anyone who enjoys a bit of occasional camping, up to a full blown 'Into The Wild' existence.
I'm giving this lighter five stars. As long as you follow all the instructions from Turboflame I think you'll find it a superb product that will last many years.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I hope you found it useful :)
This will also be posted on Ciao under my username sbeach000
The Lifeventure Money Belt is a belt with a difference. Stitched onto the inside is a small zipped pocket, for storing valuables in.
** Availability **
The Lifeventure Money Belt is available from £8 - £10 online, at places like Gear Zone, Ready To Leave and Complete Outdoors (in-store here as well as online). It is available in two stripy colour options - Sand or Olive.
** My experience **
I have the belt in the Sand colour and it looks really attractive. It is quite wide, at nearly 4 cm, so I'd say it is more suited to men than women. However, it's not the sort of thing that gets teamed with a girly outfit, so I don't think it looks out of place on women.
The belt is really, really long, at 1200 mm. For me, and probably many other women, this means there is a lot of extra belt that gets wrapped twice all the way round to my back. I find that a bit annoying and it adds a fair bit of bulk around my waist as a result. Unfortunately Lifeventure only do this belt in one waist size, which I think is a real oversight as I certainly wouldn't recommend it for anyone with a smallish waist.
The pocket in this belt, is a great idea, and obviously its main selling point, but it's a little disappointing. The actual inside of the pocket is only 2.8cm by 12cm and so it's really not that useful for much. I can fit a handful of coins in there but then it looks really obvious and bulky. It's not quite wide enough for credit cards, or any documents. The only thing that really fits in here is note-form money. In that respect it's handy to store some emergency funds should anything happen to your bag or wallet. I always take a belt with me when I go travelling, and choose this one purely because it has that added bonus. However, I often forget I have money in here, and then put it in the washing machine or get it wet, and so I think if I was in an emergency situation I probably wouldn't remember I had money in there anyway! I think the pocket was a nice idea but has just ended up being a gimmick.
This belt is really well made, as with most Lifeventure products I've tried. The webbing is really tough, it has not got any snags on it (I've had this belt for 3 years and worn it a fair bit), the colour is quite sensible as it does not show marks easily. I've put this in the washing machine and it's come out looking fine. The stitching around the pocket is strong and showing no sign of coming undone. The zip on the pocket works well and does not get stuck. The buckle has not rusted at all even though I've worn this and washed it in seawater. The buckle also slides open and closes really easily, and stays put once it's done up. Over the years the slide buckle has not slackened or mis-shapened, which is more than I can say for most of the slide buckle belts I own.
** Overall **
I'd recommend this belt for men, who I think would have more situations to wear it in than women. I think it's an attractive, well-made belt, but I'm only giving this product 3 stars. I've knocked one star off for the lack of size options. The second star was lost due to tiny nature of the pocket and the limitations this product has in spite of its novel idea.
This review is also posted on Ciao under my userame sbeach000
** Glass Nail Files **
I first discovered glass nail files at an exhibition in London, where I was lured in with a free (very extensive) demonstration and then felt obliged to purchase the product. However, I soon realised what a beauty essential this product is, and how much better it performs than the traditional sand nail files.
** Price and Availability **
The Boots Glass Nail File retails at £8 and of course is only available at Boots(!), either in-store or online (of you don't mind paying the £2.90 delivery charge). It comes with a plastic pouch for storage. You'll find alternatives to the Boots branded glass file in pretty much any supermarket or chemist, for around the same price, but I've got the Boots one so that's the one I'm specifically reviewing.
** The good... **
These nail files are really durable. Unlike traditional nail files which are made of sand or another grainy substance glued onto card, there is nothing on the glass nail file that could wear away with use. As long as the file is rinsed under a tap occasionally to remove any build up in the crevices, I've found it remains as
effective as the day it was bought.
The overall effect of these files is the best I've ever experienced. My nails don't split or peel, and the file seems very gentle on them. The file is very finely grained so it doesn't 'tear' at my nails the way I find other files do. I was told that the more I used this file the healthier my nails would become. And yes, my nails definitely seem healthier since using this file and I wouldn't dream of using any other file on my nails since using one of these.
I find this file really quick to use. As an added bonus you can file in both directions across your nail tips so this speeds up the process considerably. I believe this is because the file has less coarse grains than the traditional sandy ones. Even being so finely grained it still sloughs away the nail tip very effectively.
This file is a convenient size for carrying around in my handbag - ready for any manicure emergencies! It's around 12 cm long, 3mm thick and really lightweight.
This Boots Glass Nail File has a pointed tip, which I've found really useful. It really helps to tidy up my cuticles, and I run the point under the nail tip after filing to remove any debris. Most other glass nail files I've seen have rounded tips, so this seems a well thought out touch from Boots.
** And the bad... **
This nail file has lasted me several years, but it is the third I have purchased. As I discovered the hard way, being made of glass, this will break if you accidentally step on it. If you are thereafter very careful not to leave this lying around on the floor, just be warned that if you leave it on a chair and then sit on it, it will also break!
The pointed tip of this nail file is probably the most vulnerable bit - so be careful to store it in the pouch between uses so that you don't accidentally break the tip.
** Recommendations **
Everyone! Carry one in your handbag/man-bag (yes this product is for guys too) and keep one at home. Just don't sit or stand on it!
This review also appears on Ciao under my username sbeach000
The SteriPEN is a hand held, battery operated water purification device, which uses UV technology to make water safe for drinking. I've had this useful little gadget for a couple of years, which has given me plenty of time to test its benefits and discover its flaws.
** SteriPEN and UV technology **
Around a decade ago SteriPEN started using the century old technology of UV water purification to design a range of handheld water purification gadgets for the general public. Using UV light to sterilise water is widely done on a larger scale by water authorities to make tap water safe for entire cities, by many large brands to purify their bottled water and I've seen it in use at my local Oyster Fishery.
So, now for the science bit... According to the instructions from SteriPEN, UV purification works as the energy emitted by the light is absorbed by the cells of microbes. This prevents the enzymes in the cell from reading their DNA, and without intact DNA, microbes can't reproduce. As a result this destroys more than 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts such as giardia and cryptosporidia.
SteriPEN have had their products tested by various universities as well as the Water Quality Association. Everyone has given them the seal of approval so I have total confidence that the technology does what it claims. I remember watching a video on the SteriPEN website when this gadget first came out; it showed a guy using his SteriPEN to sterilise murky, brown water he had just scooped out of a bog(!), he then proceeded to drink the final result - this was all the convincing that I needed!
** Availability **
The SteriPEN is available in a range of different product variations. You can get the simple pen in a small or standard size, with or without a solar charging case or along with a selection of pre-filters (to remove large particles from water before purification). I own the SteriPEN Adventurer that you can see in the picture here, which comes with a solar charging case. This is the product combination I will be focussing on for the purpose of this review.
The Adventurer retails at around £110. I've never seen it in any outdoor shops, but you can get it from a variety of online stores, including Amazon, Outdoors Magic and Nomad. It's one of the most expensive bits of kit I own, and I was lucky enough to receive it as a leaving gift from work colleagues. I had been checking out the gadget online (whilst at work, naughty me - which probably explains why I received such a wonderful, yet random, gift) but I never considered purchasing it for myself because of the high price. I'm afraid I haven't changed my mind after using this, as I don't think I use it enough to make it pay for itself (I hope my old workmates don't read this!). However, I do think that if you find yourself in many situations where this would be useful then it is worth the initial spend.
** The SteriPEN **
The SteriPEN itself is small enough to fit in a pocket, and weighs just over 100g. It comes with a soft material case, but I rarely use this as I store it in the solar charging case. The pen is very sturdy so I wouldn't be concerned with just chucking it in a bag without any sort of case. The delicate glass bulb is covered by a strong plastic cap which snaps shut very firmly. All in all it seems very solidly built.
The SteriPEN Adventurer will purify up to a litre of water at a time. It utilises two CR123 batteries to do this (two rechargeable ones are provided with the product). You simply place the entire bulb into the water and press a button. Two sensors on the side of the plastic body mean that the UV light will not turn on until it is fully immersed in water. This is a safety precaution as the UV light is especially damaging to eyes.
There is a light on the side which changes from green to red and fast flashing to slow flashing depending on the programme set and the power available. I found it all quite complicated at the beginning. I'd recommend carrying the instructions with you on the first outing with this. Basically 10 seconds after pressing the button, the SteriPEN is ready to use. Pressing the button once will purify up to 1 litre of water, whilst pressing it twice will purify up to half a litre. You simply hold the pen in the water, swirling it around slightly until the bulb goes off and the water is ready to drink - simple! It takes 60 seconds to do 1 litre of water, so it's not too much of a hassle.
I usually take Sigg bottles away with me but I had to buy a wide mouthed Nalgene bottle instead, as the pen won't work in narrow necked bottles. This can be a bit of a pain if you're not very good at drinking out of wide necked bottles, like me, and end up spilling the contents all down your front instead!
** The solar charging case **
The solar charging case was a real disappointment. The instructions state it will take five days to charge a set of batteries in normal light conditions. At first I thought that must be a printing error, but it does in fact take forever. So long in fact, that after a week of leaving this out in the sun I gave up altogether. There is a light on the side of the solar charging case that tells you when the rechargeable batteries inside are fully charged and ready to be put back into the pen. The light never went off so I had to resort to mains power to recharge the batteries.
** Using mains power **
The SteriPEN Adventurer is not supplied with a mains adapter, so you have to purchase one yourself. Furthermore the mains adapter needed is about five times heavier than, and as bulky as, the entire product - case and all. Once plugged in it takes around 3 hours to recharge the batteries fully. I always have two sets of batteries with me so I can use the pen even when the batteries are recharging.
** The batteries **
So onto the batteries... along with the solar charger I discovered these are not quite as good as promised. One charge should power the SteriPEN for 40 to 50 treatments, but in my experience it only lasts for 5 - 6 treatments. This is using both the batteries supplied and ones purchased separately. It's enough to get one or two people through a day of sterile water before an overnight charge is needed so it isn't too much of an issue as long as your accommodation has a reliable night time mains power source.
The only issue occurs when you have no access to mains power, which let's face it is a very likely scenario for most people using this device whilst camping or trekking, or living in remote conditions in developing countries. In this situation the only option is to bring along disposable batteries and use those instead. I've tried this myself and find a set of disposable batteries (non-alkaline) last at least a fortnight (so that's around 40-50 1 litre treatments).
** The overall effect **
When water is purified in this way it does not affect the taste, smell or pH of the water. This is a real plus as anyone who has had to drink water purified with chemical tablets will know, it is not a pleasant experience. Before I took my SteriPEN away with me I tested it on a glass of tap water at home. I actually found that it improved the taste - don't ask me how (and perhaps it was psychological) - but the water definitely tasted 'purer' somehow.
** Usefulness **
I think this is a fantastic idea but it's not going to be useful for everyone. I take this with me on most overseas trips, but have not once used it in the UK. I'll admit to being a total cheapskate, and if I have the opportunity to save even a couple of pounds I will do. That's why I like to take this away with me to places where I know the tap water isn't safe to drink, but bottled water comes at a price. Friends think I'm a bit strange at first, sitting there painstakingly purifying a row of bottles of tap water in my hotel room - but before long they're all asking me if they can use it too.
I can see how it would be great to have a SteriPEN in other situations such as if you're hiking somewhere for the day and need to fill up your bottles from a stream, or you're camping somewhere with dubious drinking water available. However, since I've had my SteriPEN I've not been in those situations very much and so I've had limited opportunity to use it. An access to a power supply or lots of back up batteries is a must with this, and that's not always available or practical in these situations either. What at first seems like a lightweight, space saving water purification system can quickly turn into a heavy, bulky problem when many spare batteries are needed. I have to admit my small bottle of Puri-tabs are always more favourable when I know I have to carry everything around on my back.
SteriPEN have lots of creative suggestions for using one of these, for example as part of an emergency kit in case of natural disaster. Personally I'm not sure how many people could afford, or would want to buy one of these just in case they need it one day. I'd only recommend this for a serious outdoors enthusiast.
** Other things worth noting **
* The battery compartment on the end of the pen is removable only with the aid of a coin (or something of a similar shape and strength) so you'll need to have one handy at all times.
* The battery compartment has a rubber seal - but is not guaranteed watertight, so don't submerge the whole pen.
* The SteriPEN will not purify any water trapped in the ridges around the mouth of the bottle, so wipe any droplets off prior to drinking.
* The lamp bulb will only last up to 3000 litres before it needs replacing (and replacement bulbs cost nearly half as much as the SteriPEN itself!)
** Recommendations **
Overall I think this is a wonderful idea for a product, and faster and tastier than using filters and sterilising tablets any day. I wholeheartedly recommend the SteriPEN but would advise steering clear of the solar charging case and mains power adaptor. With some decent brand disposable batteries and a lot of opportunities for use, I'd say it offers value for money and is a worthwhile investment.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review; I hope you found it useful :)
This review is also posted on Ciao under my username sbeach000
Yes, it may seem a wildly inappropriate time of year to be posting reviews on sun cream. But, this one's for any lucky Dooyooers who happen to be jetting off somewhere sunny and having a barbeque on the beach for their Christmas dinner!
** The product **
Green People produce a range of organic sun creams, suiting children to adults, faces to bodies, no-scent to lavender, and SPF 15 to SPF 25. This particular one is SPF 15, suitable for adults, and specifically for the body.
** Availability **
The cream comes in either a 200ml tube (retailing at £16) or a 10ml trial size tube. You'll find it in many online natural beauty stores (Naturismo, Look Fantastic - to name a couple) as well as in health shops and from Waitrose.
** Effectiveness **
So onto the most important aspect - does it actually work? I've found this to be the most effective sun cream I've ever used when it comes to preventing me burning. I'm fair skinned and burn easily (and quite spectacularly!), so I really test sun creams to their limits. Of all the ones I've tried (mostly big, expensive, well regarded brands), this has to be the most protective of them all. As long as I apply this a good 15 minutes before setting off into the sun I can guarantee I won't burn. I can sit out in the midday sun, on the equator, for a good couple of hours and not even turn remotely pink.
The main UVA and UVB (93%) protecting ingredients are titanium dioxide, natural cinnamon and edelweiss. It also has ingredients containing anti-oxidants, for anti-ageing and increased collagen benefits.
** Waterproofing **
Green People SPF 15 is water resistant by the lovely sounding virtue of 'berry wax'. I'm not sure what makes non-organic sun creams water resistant but I certainly have no qualms about coating myself in such a delightful sounding ingredient. And yes it is extremely effective. I apply this sun cream generally only once a day in the morning. Constantly going in and out of the sea does not seem to wear any of it off, which I find quite remarkable.
** Application **
This is the one downside I have found to Green Peoples sun creams. They are fairly thick in consistency. This means that when you apply it, instead of sinking into my skin it stays on the surface. It is not remotely greasy or shiny so it doesn't feel in any way bad. However it does mean I am left with a fairly obvious white tinge to my skin. It's quite obvious, especially on any areas that have any semblance of downy hair (my arms start to take on the appearance of an albino gorilla once I've slapped this on - needless to say that's not a good look!). I don't need to apply this thickly however, and being a bit haphazard in application doesn't leave me with burnt patches, which is pretty good going.
I find a 200ml tube does about 20 complete coverage applications. being natural, this sun cream definately doesn't have as long a shelf life as many others. If it is kept in a hot environment (and it's a bit hard not to do that really!) for more than a month or so, then I find it starts to thicken in consistency. This makes the white film even more noticable upon application.
** Added benefits **
This sun cream incorporates a tan accelerator. I'm not sure what the magic ingredient is for this promise, as I couldn't find out from their website, but I imagine it is natural like the rest of the ingredients. From my experience I definitely build up a tan faster when I'm using this. I'm not sure if it's just because I can tolerate more time in the sun without burning, or if it's something else. But, either way it does indeed seem to be the case.
** Other things worth mentioning: **
* 30p of each sale of a 200ml tube goes to the Penny Brohn Cancer Help Centre.
* The sun cream is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
* It is also free from parabens, lanolin, phthalates, artificial perfumes, petrochemicals and colourants
** Recommendations **
This sun cream is one of the most gentle I've come across. I'd recommend it specifically for anyone who has sensitive skin and burns easily.
I'm dropping a star because it does make me look a little ghostly, and that's not a good look. Apart from that I've been really impressed with this sun cream and it is always the first thing I pack in my rucksack when the promise of sunshine awaits.
Thank you for reading my review, I hope it proved useful.
This review also appears on Ciao under my username sbeach000
Tusa have a great reputation for producing quality dive and snorkel equipment, and this snorkel is no exception, (well, apart from one thing - more on that later!).
** Price and availability **
The Tusa Platina II Hyperdry is one of the slightly more expensive snorkels available these days. It's been around for four years but doesn't seem to be coming down in price much - which in my opinion is a sign of a product that is able to compete well with newer technology. I purchased mine from mikes Dive Store, but they are also available from Simply Scuba and the majority of other online dive or snorkel shops. I've seen them on the shelf of my tiny local dive shop so I'd say with confidence they'll be available in-store somewhere nearby too.
The snorkel retails for £25 -£30, but hunting around online I've seen it for as low as £20 (Mikes Dive Store), which is the price I paid 3 years ago.
** The look **
The Tusa Platina II Hyperdry comes in 10 different colour combinations. And ladies... some of them are 'sparkly'(!). How lovely. I chose the all black one as I was going for something of a James Bond-esque look back in those days (this was before I realised that actually having highly visible snorkel and scuba gear would do me many more favours!). I was somewhat disappointed to find that it came with a non-removable bright orange top, as oppose to the transparent one shown in the store picture. Apparently this is an EU regulation and all of these snorkels sold in the UK have to be fitted with the high visibility orange version. Something to bear in mind if you're a little picky about colour matching like me.
** Effectiveness **
The top end of this snorkel is curved at just the right angle so that it pokes straight up out of the water, when you are face down. I know this may sound like a pretty obvious design choice, but unfortunately having tried many other snorkels over the years I've found that it's not always the case. Even in large waves I've found that this snorkel doesn't let in water, and I think this must be down to the curved design. That horrible orange top and the slanted end to the tube also help avoid splashes finding their way into the snorkel. The only time I've found myself needing to purge this snorkel is when in my absentmindedness I dip my head too far forward.
On these occasions I've found the purge is impossible to use whilst underwater. This snorkel is designed to be able to purge underwater, as Tusa state 'the air bubbles will pass to the side of your face'. However no amount of huffing and puffing seems to clear this thing of water once it's in there. The only way of doing so is lifting my head out of the water - thereby pointing the snorkel horizontally (and subsequently losing sight of the fish I've been painstakingly following with my slate and stopwatch - very annoying!). Perhaps I have particularly feeble lungs, I can't be certain because I don't know of anyone else's experiences with this snorkel. If it wasn't for the fact that this snorkel only floods very occasionally, I think I would have upgraded to one with a better purge valve already.
** Comfort **
The snorkel has a crystal silicone flexible neck, which is positioned very closely to the mask attachment. This means that it moulds completely to the side of my face. This is great for reducing drag whilst snorkelling. There is no annoying tugging from the ocean with this snorkel. This also helps when you're wearing this diving. I don't even notice that it's there when it's attached to my mask but not in use.
Furthermore the mask is attached with an easily adjustable (and removable) clip. This has two settings depending on the size of your head (or to be more specific the distance from your mouth to where the mask strap attachment lies). This is a great feature that means you're guaranteed to find a fit that suits you. The clip is in two parts - one that attaches to the mask and the other to the snorkel. This means you can simply unclick the snorkel in one easy motion when necessary, rather than faff around undoing the straps on your mask.
Additionally the mouthpiece is very soft and a decent size. No water ever comes in through the mouthpiece seals on this. I have to say I'm always left with a terrible headache after using this snorkelling. That's entirely my fault though - as I tend to grip the mouthpiece too hard, resulting in jaw fatigue. I know this is no fault of Tusa, as when I remind myself to relax I find the snorkel mouthpiece still seals fine and doesn't let in water. Overall I find this snorkel very comfortable to use.
** Durability **
As with most of my other dive equipment I've used this snorkel on over 100 dives and many more snorkels. I don't rinse it and it is left in the sun to dry. However, it's still as black as ever and the plastic is showing no signs of wear and tear. The mouthpiece is all intact, which considering how much I unintentionally gnaw on it, is pretty good going.
** Recommendations **
This snorkel comes with a good four star recommendation from me. I've knocked one star off for the weak purge valve. It would have been more was it not for the fact that this snorkel has lived up to its 'Hyperdry' promise and doesn't let in water even in choppy seas, so a purge valve is fairly extraneous anyway.
This snorkel is lightweight and fully foldable so I'd specifically recommend it to anyone who dives and wants a snorkel to store in their pocket.
This review also appears on Ciao under my username sbeach000
The Tusa Imprex Dive Slippers are designed to be worn as short booties for use with adjustable fins. These great shoes offer so much more than just that though, I've found them ideal for many other watersports, and not just diving.
** Availability **
The retail for around £24, and are available in many online watersports shops, including Simply Scuba, Watersports Warehouse and Diveline. They come in 10 size options, ranging from size 36 up to size 49.
** My experience **
As a diver who uses full foot fins I ordered these dive slippers purely to use getting to and from a boat on urchin and cone-shell infested shores. I did a little research pre-purchase (of course!) and found that more often than not dive slippers fall to pieces after a few seasons use and the soles are often too thin to offer decent protection or durability. The Tusa Imprex Dive Slippers were specifically advertised to have one of the most durable soles available and be hard-wearing. I have found them to have lived up to both these promises.
Upon receiving my slippers I was very pleased with the overall look of them. They are nice and low so they finish just below the ankle cuffs of my wetsuit, avoiding the usual 'cankle' effect of full length booties. Of course this means that they are not as warm as traditional booties. They are perfectly fine for tropical waters but I think they'd be a bit chilly for anything colder. Their small size and low weight also makes them great for packing up and taking away on holidays.
The sizing seems spot on to me. I ordered the same as my shoe size and they fitted perfectly.
The sole is fantastically made. It is about a centimetre thick and made of a tough rubber material. When trudging over pebbly beaches I can barely feel the uneven ground beneath my feet. The grey and red sole is also injection moulded with a high grip tread. This makes these slippers suitable for many other watersports than diving. I've used them for windsurfing and find they grip to the board very well. They're also great for kayaking and just for generally moving around on boats, basically any situation where slipping over is not too desirable.
The tough rubber sole extends upwards at the rear of the foot. This is designed to offer protection against rubbing from adjustable fin straps. I don't wear these for many actual dives but I have worn them on occasion with a borrowed pair of adjustable fins. In this circumstance I've found them to be very comfortable indeed, with no pressure or rubbing. They also offer enough grip onto the fin strap, so you can be sure your fins won't slip around during the dive.
The neoprene upper is much thicker than I expected, it must be around 3mm. This means that after a year of use they haven't got any tears or holes in them, which is more than I can say for most dive shoes I see on other peoples feet! They take a little while longer to dry out than many other dive booties, because they are that bit thicker. But they keep my feet nice and warm because of the thickness (the exposed area between my slippers and wetsuit ankle cuffs does get very cold). They're also extremely comfortable - naturally being stretchy they accommodated wide feet such as my own with no problems. The stitching is all very good quality, and the glued soles are not coming away from the neoprene upper at all. All in all these dive shoes look as good as the day I bought them.
** My recommendations **
I'd specifically recommend the Tusa Imprex Dive Slippers for warm-water divers and snorkelers who plan on participating in other watersports as well, such as windsurfing or kayaking.
I don't hesitate in giving the Tusa Imprex Dive Slippers the full five stars. I've found the overall quality, value for money and performance to be superb.
This review is also posted on Ciao under my username sbeach000