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shewhosmiles

shewhosmiles
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      27.12.2003 06:14
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      I read Tell No One by Harlan Coben several months ago and remembered liking his writing style when I saw No Second Chance on the library shelves. Harlan is a very good writer who knows how to draw you in and keep you interested with twists and turns in the plot, but the ending of Tell No One lacked the punch that I expected and hoped for as I approached the final chapters. As I began reading No Second Chance I felt a strong sense of familiarity and wondered if indeed it had been this novel that I'd read earlier. It wasn't but in both stories the hero is not long married and their wives are murdered in mysterious circumstances. I couldn't help thinking that Harlan maybe hates women or wives enough to make them victims but I pushed that thought from my mind as I read on. Dr Marc Seidman is a plastic surgeon, one of the good guys who treats the needy and travels to the third world or war torn countries. His wife Monica is the daughter of a rich man. One morning Marc and Monica are shot in their home and only Marc is left alive, but is severely injured and initially expected to die. Twelve days later Marc wakes up in hospital with no memory of what has happened and finds that their 6 month old baby daughter Tara has been missing since that morning. There are no clues at the crime scene and no apparent reason for the crime. Kidnapping Tara for ransom is the only logical explanation but no demands are made until the day Marc leaves hospital and is taken to visit his father in law. There he finds that a box with a clipping of Tara's hair and a demand for $2,000,000 has been delivered. The hair has been DNA tested and found to be Tara's and Marc is ordered to deliver the ransom by himself and without informing the police. Marc takes the money given by his father in law and waits at his own home until the kidnappers call with a meeting point. Unfortunately the police learn about the demand and get in on the act. The mon
      ey is taken but Tara isn’t returned to Marc, all he gets is a message telling him ‘no second chance’. Desperately disappointed, Marc gradually returns as much as possible to a normal life but doesn’t give up hope that his daughter is alive and well. 18 months later his father in law receives another ransom demand for $2,000,000 along with another lock of hair and a message asking if he wants a second chance. After DNA testing it’s found that the hair is from a 2 year old child and a match of Tara’s. At least Marc knows that is daughter is still alive but can he swap a further $2,000,000 for his daughter without the police and FBI finding out and messing things up again? At this point the pace of the novel became strong. Marc enlists the help of an ex girlfriend Rachael who just happens to be ex FBI. The question is can he trust her? She retired under dubious circumstances and Marc discovers that she had hung around his practice not long before the death of his wife and kidnapping of his daughter. Could she have had something to do with what has happened to Marc, could it be Marc himself as the police begin to think, or could it be somebody else entirely? With the police closely on his tail, the kidnappers always seem to be one step ahead of Marc as he follows clues in the hunt for his daughter and the killer. He begins to suspect that somebody close to him is leaking information but who can’t he trust? I won’t divulge any more of the storyline, but there are lots of twists and turns to add enough suspense to make me want to keep on reading. Although I guessed whodunit early on, I didn’t guess the reasons behind the crime and it’s aftermath and I changed my mind several times throughout. The lead up to the end was excellent enough to keep me on edge and although the ending was a bit lukewarm it was better than the final chapters of Tell No One. To me No Second Chance was altogethe
      r a better read than Tell No One and I felt that this award winning author has improved from good to better than good in the 2 years since Tell No One was published and look forward to reading his future work. One teeny disappointment was that I would have liked to see two of the characters enlarged upon a bit more. Lydia and Heshy are a gruesome twosome described well enough to make my skin crawl. The thought of that pair in the background added more suspense to the story, whether they had anything to do with the crime or not! Marc was a likeable and believable character. His grief at the loss of his daughter and wife was portrayed well and made me want to find out if he gets Tara back. He is quite an ordinary guy really, but his search brings out a toughness and tenacity in him that you can only admire. I was interested to read that Harlan Coben doesn’t start with an outline to a novel. He just plans a beginning and an end, with the core happening as he goes along. I suspected that during reading because you get quite far into the book before you see that it is heading in any particular direction. With some writers the result can be messy with too many loose ends, in No Second chance the loose ends are tied up despite there being so many twists. No Second Chance is only available in hardback at the moment but the paperback due to be released on New Years Eve can be pre-ordered on Amazon for £5.59. Highly recommended if you like an intelligent thriller with enough twists to keep you guessing right through the book. ISBN: 0752842803

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      • Beach Life (PC) / PC Game / 2 Readings / 30 Ratings
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        27.11.2003 07:28
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        I’d just completed Zoo Tycoon and found it very clever but a bit monotonous, leaving me in the mood for a fun game so I chose Beach Life from Eidos Interactive. Similar to all of the management games you start with an allotted amount of money and build, but with this game you develop a series of holiday islands and try to keep the regularly incoming guests happy so that the money flows and they don’t leave grumbling. It says on some sites that there are 14 levels, but there are 12 levels that have been built up to varying degrees and you have to complete them. With all you have a hotel, a power generator and a complaints hut. With your money you can add buildings like restaurants, cafes, speedboats, Jacuzzis, fun pools, toilets, bars, fishing trips, pedalo hire, beach furniture, theme clubs, windsurfing hire, party boats, beach barbeques and bars and extra accommodation blocks. You choose which you want to build but that is often dictated by the moans of visitors and how much cash you have coming in. To do well in the game and stop visitors complaining you have to build the essentials like lifeguard towers, cleaning shacks, mechanics huts, representative’s chalet and guards hut, all can be staffed by up to 5 people. Most of the additions earn you money to enable you to build more, but except for the guards who fine those who misbehave the essential buildings cost money with staff hire and pay offs if you decide to sack somebody. Click on the buildings and you can put prices down or up, but unless you have some rich happy guests the complaints will start and your visitors will leave. You can increase or decrease wages and dictate the shifts that your staff work, increases usually improve performance. You can also check to see what condition your buildings are in and call out mechanics to do repairs, or cleaners to sort out the toilets. You can alter the strength of beer sold and on most of the levels choose which type f
        rom Smileys, Cape Horn, Grimley’s, Thumper’s and Smashers. Figure out the effects from the names! You can add paths, plants, grass and lights to improve the scenery for your guests and your ratings, plus practical things like rubbish bins, post boxes and benches. They and the buildings can be removed too and you receive part of the cost back for the buildings once your builders have demolished them. I found that useful because for instance on one level I wanted to place a party boat but the only possible way for it to fit on the coastline was to remove the already placed pedalo hire out of the way. Some of the scenarios allow between 5 and 10 days for the set challenges and you can see what day it is and what time of day on the bottom of your screen. There are 3 changeable speeds and in real time a day on the resorts is less than 10 minutes depending upon the speed setting you use. I usually fluctuate between the fastest when I need to amass money and the slowest when I am building and making repairs. The longest scenario takes just over an hour to fail at or finish and some of the scenarios are quite easy to complete while others took me several goes. One of the challenges is to earn $30,000 dollars in one day; another is to increase the resort rating from 1 to 5 stars. One of the hardest involves getting 50 couples to bonk on the beach – all boozy quickies! You can zoom in to see what your visitors are up to but as the view becomes slightly distorted you might be disappointed. When everything is going well your visitors display a white thumbs up, when they are cheesed off you see a pink thumbs down icon. If you click on the guests you can see their last thoughts and discover what is bothering them, or what is pleasing them – sometimes the thoughts are quite funny. You can also find out the thoughts of the last 3 visitors by clicking on a building. If they think that the toilets are disgusting, smelly or dangerous
        you call for a cleaner or mechanic quick. If they think that your prices are too high they won’t spend so you need to decrease prices. Problems arise if the power generators aren’t working properly. A lightening icon appears above your buildings and they are closed down and losing income until the generators are fixed. Mechanics check all of the buildings every 8 hours but you can alter it so that they check more often. Even so the darned things still get in bad repair and a spanner icon appears. The sun comes out and you open your beaches, your visitors are happily sunning themselves or having fun in the water. It snows and they all get fed up, or the sharks come and eat your visitors if you don’t close the beaches in time. Not much of a holiday but it all adds to the challenge. I’ve really enjoyed playing this game and loved watching my guests having fun. The highlights I think are watching them strutting their stuff on the dance floors and the beach stage. I didn’t bother with that at first but it turned out to be funny. There are 3 events every day and you can choose which you would like from, weightlifting, cabaret, singing, catwalk and a wet tee-shirt contest. The weightlifting and wet tee-shirt contests are the best. Beach Life isn’t as sophisticated or as clever as Zoo Tycoon but to my mind far more enjoyable. The scenarios don’t last as long, sometimes not long enough but they never become boring. It isn’t as challenging either but sometimes I just want to play without being challenged too much. The graphics are more realistic in Zoo Tycoon, but the cartoon type graphics in Beach Life are more fun visually and seem right for that type of game. Sometimes there are imperfections like people walking through each other or boats going through your guests but it’s only a game and doesn’t detract from enjoyment. Once you have completed the scenarios you can pla
        y each one in sand box mode as often as you like, or you can reset the game to start again and close down the previously completed scenarios. There is a camera feature which you can use to take close ups and email them to your friends or get them posted on the Beach Life site. There is also a built in MP3 player but there are several tracks to set the mood for any given time of the day. In the evening it changes to upbeat for your guests to party to. I liked the music and the background noises of the sea, people talking and singing on their way back to their hotels after a night out, partying or tills ringing. You can even hear visitors shouting for help when they get into trouble in the water. The lifeguards usually respond and rescue them but not always. Sometimes other swimmers swim straight past them totally ignoring their pleas for help, not very realistic. I paid £25.99 for my copy at Total Games and think that it was worth the money. It comes in a DVD case and includes an easy to understand instruction booklet. It’s taken me about 5 weeks to complete but I haven’t been playing every day, just when I had some time to chill. It took me a lot longer to complete Zoo Tycoon but I think that Beach Life is better value for money because I know that I’m more likely to play it in the future. The game is easy enough for children to play but as it involves booze and sex I wouldn’t really consider it suitable for young children. Rated 11+ it is eminently suitable for older children like me who sometimes want to relax without being too taxed. There are some cheats listed on the Beach Life website. You are supposed to be able to get more money and make your guests all go topless but they didn’t work for me. There is a downloadable demo at http://www.eidosinteractive.co.uk/downloads/search.html?gmid=133 In conclusion, it’s an amusing, atmospheric game that I have found far more relaxi
        ng than any other and was as much fun as I hoped. It’s the sort of game that you can pick up after a few days and enjoy without becoming so addicted you play for hours on end. I can recommend Beach Life highly but I now feel disappointed that my fun is over and wish that there were more levels. I could play it in sandbox mode but there wouldn’t be a challenge there. Or I could reset it to close the scenarios and start over, maybe. System Requirements 450MHz Pentium 2 128MB Ram 16MB 3D card Recommended for maximum enjoyment 256 MB Ram 800MHz Pentium 3

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          20.11.2003 02:11
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          I wasn't going to read another Danielle Steele book after finding them too predictable but when I saw The Klone and I my resolve weakened. The main character Stephanie is 41, divorced and at a low ebb when she meets 59 year old Peter in Paris. Her marriage break up 2 years earlier came as a total shock to her. She believed that her and her husband Roger were happy until the day he told her that he had met somebody else, didn’t love her and wanted a divorce. Stephanie blamed the break up on letting herself go and becoming frumpy. Once over the shock she threw away her flannelette nighties, dieted and exercised and bought herself a new wardrobe. Her new image didn’t get her husband back as she secretly hoped but it did give her the confidence to help rebuild her life and start dating again. Some people manage to find new partners quickly after break ups and diminish their feelings of hurt and rejection. Others like Stephanie try the dating game and meet many prospective partners but none ever feel right. After the break up Stephanie realised or perhaps accepted that her husband had used her for a meal ticket. She had a healthy private income and he was in and out of work or following pipe dreams for a lot of their 13 year marriage leaving her to support them and their two children. Roger’s new partner has a larger trust fund than Stephanie, making her feel as if her money had been why he stayed with her for so long rather than herself and he had waited to move on until he found a better meal ticket. The feeling of being used would bring a massive blow to the confidence and it would be hard to learn to trust anybody of the opposite sex. Stephanie had just about given up on the hope of finding a new partner when she met wealthy bionic engineer Peter. She had gone to Paris to pick up her children after them spending a holiday in the south of France with their father and his new wife. For a few days before meetin
          g them she shopped and explored Paris. Peter was staying at the same hotel as her and they shared some of that time together. By coincidence Peter also lived in New York and the relationship continued and grew once they got back. After 3 months Peter announced that he had to go to California for 2 weeks to oversee the company that he owns there and says that he has a surprise for her. The surprise rang her doorbell and turned out to be Peter or his double called Paul who is exactly like Peter in good looks and physique but totally opposite Peter in dress sense and behaviour. Peter is conservative in every way that Paul is not and when Stephanie first sees Paul dressed in fluorescent green skin-tight and revealing satin pants, a see through sparkly black net shirt, black satin cowboy boots with rhinestone buckles and wearing a diamond peace chain around his neck she believes that Peter is playing a joke or has flipped. From there on the novel slips into fantasy and becomes so unrealistic that I laughed at most of the rest of it. Stephanie’s visitor tells her that he is Paul’s klone and his most successful experiment to date. He has been sent to entertain her for the 2 weeks that Peter is away but usually he stays in the shop with his head off. Stephanie treats it as a joke and goes along with it but wonders if this new Peter is some form of escapism for the conservative Peter. The Peter she knows wouldn’t do double, then treble, then quadruple flips in bed, nor would he wear such a variety of wild outfits. I liked the basic idea in that it feels safe to be with somebody who is staid and reliable but every now and then spice things up by throwing in unexpected fun, madness and wild sex. With the same partner pretending to be somebody else that could be quite a roller coaster ride, but with two different partners you would surely be heading for double trouble - and a bad back from the bedtime antics! I don’t t
          hink that I’m a fuddy duddy but the thought of a 59 year old man wearing garish spandex outfits seemed ridiculous to me. I found it hard to create an image in my mind of such an exotic creature and as far as eroticism is concerned I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything for laughing. I can imagine that it would be fun to go to a posh restaurant with him and watch the waiters pretending that there is nothing out of the ordinary, but 2 weeks of posh restaurants, parties, business meetings and extreme behaviour would cause more than the indicated tiny ripple if those who see peacock Paul are used to staid Peter. Then there are the children. Danielle Steele makes it clear that the children are quite normally taking their time to get to know and accept Peter. After 3 months the oldest 13 year old Charlotte still hasn’t accepted him, thinks he is boring and would throw a wobbly if she thought her mum had sex with him. Then Paul appears and not only do the children accept him and his dramatically altered appearance without question and think him cool, they are suddenly happy that he stays overnight at their apartment. They are told that he is sleeping in the guest room but come on, children are inquisitive and with 2 weeks of nights full of double flips from the bed to the floor the bumps in the night would be enough to waken the dead never mind two youngsters. I found the Peter/Paul character hard to like in either guise and they wouldn't figure in my fantasies. Peter would be too staid and Paul would be too silly. You’ll have to read the book to find out if Paul is really a klone, Peter has a split personality, playing out his sexual fantasies or Peter’s identical twin. I expected the novel to be a little different from Danielle’s normal style of writing and it was to a certain extent. I had fun reading it but I did find the ending easy to guess. Part of the fun was imagining what I would do in Stephan
          ie’s situation. Enjoy it I guess but burn the spandex. I felt that Danielle Steele enjoyed writing this novel, it is a change from her normal formulaic style probably expected by her publishers but I did wonder how much of it was her own fantasy. Although I liked the book I found it easy to put down and pick up again later. Good for light reading and it entertained me on a train journey but not a fantasic book. You can find The Klone and I on Amazon for £5.59 ISBN: 0552146374

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          • Malta / Destination International / 0 Readings / 19 Ratings
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            06.06.2003 05:13
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            I went to Malta for the first time for 2 weeks in the summer of 1990. After that I went for 2 weeks every summer and 2 weeks twice at Christmas and the New Year until my last holiday there in 1996 – 8 times in all. It is the type of place that is said you either love or hate - obviously I loved it. I have considered completing and posting this before, but held back because I didn’t think my experiences were recent enough knowing how places change, but a friend who has just come back from a holiday there has assured me that little has changed. Also my type of holiday isn't the normal touristy thing. I don't go on many guided tours or have much interest in old ruins. Saying that I did pick up a fairly extensive knowledge of the brave history of Malta. What I love about there most are the people. I have never known such friendliness and helpfulness even though I live in friendly Yorkshire. Cynics say that it's because you are spending money. I don't think so, even though a lot of the Maltese people are on low wages and work in two jobs to survive I've found that many of them happily buy you drinks, take you for meals, spend money on petrol to drive you around the island without asking for anything back but friendship. We always left with invites to stay in homes the next time but we preferred to be independent and use hotels. There is a love for British people and all things British. We have had strong connections with Malta, which was part of our empire for 160 years until Malta became independent within the Commonwealth in 1964 and became a republic in 1974. Valletta harbour is the largest in the Mediterranean. During the Second World War our ships refuelled and were repaired in the dry docks there. Malta suffered a tremendous barrage of bombing for months. The people never gave in even though many of them had their homes destroyed and lived in catacombs and caves. For their bravery they were awarded the Geo
            rge cross, which is now often known as the Maltese cross. The Maltese are rightfully proud of their George cross and I always wear one attached to an earring as a reminder of some fantastic times. Malta is a rocky archipelago – only 15 miles from one end to the other and has a population of around 500,000. It is 288kms north of Africa and I once read that many centuries ago was actually joined to that coastline before sea erosion made the separation. The first inhabitants were escaping wars and terror in Africa and the Maltese language I was told was originally Semetic. English is the second main language but Italian is also quite widely spoken there. Malta is close to the foot of Italy, only 93kms from Sicily and there are many Italian inhabitants. I noticed that a lot of the TV and radio channels were Italian and that there is an abundance of Italian restaurants there. Although English is widely spoken I did meet some from the small villages who speak nothing but Maltese. During my visits I often came across Maltese who also spoke French, German and Libyan. It is a holiday resort but they put many of us Brits to shame in the multi lingual stakes. The British influence is very strong despite it being over 30 years since our forces garrisons were closed down. Most of the Maltese that I met have anglicised names like Peter, David, Susan, Brian, Janet and Ben though I did meet a few Marios and Marias. They drive madly on the left hand side of roads that are often full of potholes and I found that the best way to get cars to stop was smile broadly. Then I would hear a not uncommon almighty screech of brakes and be able to cross safely. A lot of those I met had 2 cars, an old banger for night driving and a newer one for the day. A friend of ours Sylvio had a brand new BMW for the day and an old mini for evenings. On one memorable trip coming back from Popeye village, bits of his old mini fell off into the road every
            now and then. A policeman stopped him and went off with his tail between his legs when Sylvio shouted at him – that wouldn’t happen here! If you are into classic cars you will be gobsmacked at the amount of cars from the 60s and 70s that are around. I remember seeing a Ford Capri that was identical to one that a friend owned in 1970. Malta didn’t have any drink drive laws up until the last time that I visited and accidents of young people are sadly remembered by small shrines at the roadside to mark where they had died in crashes and as a reminder to drive carefully. Saying that I noticed that very few Maltese people drank alcohol and even when they visited the bars mostly drank soft drinks or didn’t drink at all. The buildings are generally sandstone with a weather worn crumbling look. I didn’t see many houses in Malta, mostly apartments. I visited several apartments of friends and they were usually laid out in the same way, with rooms in single file and few windows. There would be one or two sitting rooms leading off from the entrance, then a kitchen or bedroom, more bedrooms if they were big apartments and a bathroom often at the end meaning a walk through several rooms to get there. The walls and floors were usually marble and the furniture a mixture of 50s to modern day. Perhaps it’s the dry air in Malta but some of the furniture and fittings were wonderfully preserved. I went to a party in one apartment that was definitely a throwback to the early 70s. Psychedelic wall paintings and a black ceiling dotted with stars and moons. A hammock hanging from the sitting room ceiling, 70s furniture and a table in the middle designed to put wacky baccy smokes together. The most incongruous item of all in the apartment was a knitted doll loo roll holder just like those that were all the rage in the 70s. As Malta is a holiday resort I should mention the weather. I went during the last week of June and
            first of July and found it hot, varying from 20 – 37 degrees and it can get hotter during August. Rain is rare during the summer and it can get very dry and dusty with little but cactuses thriving. Mosquitoes queued up waiting for me to get off the aeroplane and each summer that I went my reaction to the bites became more severe. I tried everything that I could to avoid them but the little blighters always got me at some point. The last time bites on my feet caused them to swell up so much that I couldn’t get my shoes or sandals on and I had to call a doctor to visit me in the hotel. I was charged around £20 for the visit and some antibiotics but on a previous occasion I took my bite-swollen elbow to a doctors surgery and paid nothing. Malta have a reciprocal agreement with the UK concerning free medical care but that must exclude doctors being called out. The agreement is for free healthcare for one month only so you do need to take out insurance. We visited a friend Brian in the hospital in the capital Valleta several times and found it to be an ancient, grim looking prison like place. We are lucky to have modern bright hospitals around here, though Pinderfields at Wakefield looks almost as grim. Despite the old building then 18 year old Brian assured us that the doctors and nurses were good at their jobs and treated him well with nothing too much trouble. Brian had broken his back several years earlier by diving off the high rocks in Valleta harbour and was a regular there. My Christmas visits were smack bang in the middle of winter and I found most days a little warmer than our British summers but with a lot less rain and no mosquitos. I was walking along the main street of Valleta one New Years day when it started raining. A man celebrated the rare rainfall by running into the middle of the street waving his arms in the air shouting ‘shitta’ the Maltese word for rain. Although quite dry, there is more pla
            nt life evident during the winter. I particularly remember how pretty the tree-lined road leading into Valleta is when they flower. Apparently the autumn and spring can bring hot dry winds called Xlokk in Malta, otherwise known as Siroccos. I remember hearing that snow fell a couple of years ago, highly unusual on this sunny island. Being a mainly catholic country the Maltese celebrate Christmas but in a much quieter religious way than us. Even so they go to town on the decorations. Everywhere you go you see hand painted window decorations ranging from religious in nature to Disney like cartoons. Much more attractive than anything that I’ve seen here. Valleta was chocca block with enough streetlights to rival the Blackpool illuminations. As there is a one hour time difference with the UK it was fun to celebrate the New Year twice, but watch out for balloons attached to bar ceilings filled with water. Every time that I visited I stayed at the St Georges Apartments in the Paceville area of St Julians, 5 or 6 miles away from Valleta . The apartments that we had were always reasonably clean and neatly furnished with the basics including TVs. Nothing fancy but I don't really need much except a bed, fridge, loo and shower when holidaying. On one visit the apartment was invaded by ants and the only way to solve the problem was to put some small piles of sugar in corners to attract them. The complex had a couple of lounges, a poolroom, a gym, 2 shops, a dining room and an indoor and outdoor pool. I used the pools often and the shops were small but not bad for quick food purchases. The well equipped gym I used nearly every day that it was open. Mainly to keep fit but partly because I developed a look but don't touch mutual flirtation/friendship with one of the owners - disappointed huh!! I never ate in the dining room, preferring to make sandwiches in the apartment or eat the most gorgeous pizzas in Italian restaura
            nts. We asked where the best restaurants were on our first visit and were told to go where the Maltese eat. Usually in Italian restaurants but some of the Maltese owned restaurants were pretty good. I didn’t try the Maltese favourites of octopus and rabbit but their addition of boiled egg to pizzas was different but good. Although I can remember the approximate vicinity of the best restaurants I can’t remember the names. Pointless anyway, as with bars the names changed nearly every time that we went. Along with Sliema, St Julians has the busiest nightlife with lots of bars with seats outside and several nightclubs. We always timed our flights to arrive from Manchester on Saturday nights at around 8 pm. The short bus trip from Luqa airport, which was modernised in the early 90s, only takes about 20 minutes. We would check in, get washed and changed and be having our first drink in one of the nearby bars within 30 minutes. St Julians has a one-way traffic system and it was fun sitting outside one of the roadside bars watching the Maltese arrive in their bangers for nights out. Or on foot, the Maltese are in general a very attractive race and thanks to the abundance of gyms there are plenty of well toned bodies to watch as they strut around in shorts and skimpy tops. Mostly men at night, the women don’t go out much due to their religion. Sunday is family day and the evening would see families milling around the bar areas but drinking very little except for the atmosphere. Some of the visitors complained about the noise at night but St. Julians and Sliema are not the places to go if you want a quiet holiday. Just about everywhere else is quiet at night though. Just down the hill from the St Georges apartments is one of the island’s best hotels the Dragonara, which hosts the only casino on the island. I went in the hotel once and it looked good but a better sight to me was the Yachts anchored in the bay on the right hand sid
            e of the hotel. On the other side is St Georges bay where we hired pedalos and speedboats. Often we would have pedalo parties where our friends and we would tie several together in the middle of the bay and eat, drink, swim and listen to loud music. We had to be careful and plaster ourselves with high factor sun tan lotions but the middle of the bay was just about the coolest place to be during the day. Swimming was great but there are stinging jellyfish to avoid. Malta is a rocky island with mostly pebble beaches, the one in St Georges bay was no bigger than my backyard and with only a little murky looking sand. Because there isn’t much sand the sea is very clear and I was able to look over the side of the pedalos or speedboats and enjoy watching the fish swimming about quite a few feet below me. If you are into watersports Malta is a good place to go. There are lots of different types of watersports and we saw windsurfing, diving clubs and speedboat racing. Unfortunately one speedboat exploded during a race, which put me off speedboats for a little while. I watched a water volleyball match once in Msida, which is about a mile away from Valleta. Msida is a small fishing port that I visited a few times with a friend who owned a gym there. The sea front was very picturesque with lots of small old-fashioned brightly painted fishing boats. The other big sport in Malta is football. They are football crazy and many of them support Manchester United, probably because the team went there every year during the second week of July. My next to last visit coincided with the world cup and Italy got through to the final. Every time Italy won the island went berserk and the St Julian’s one-way system was jammed with vehicles overflowing with jubilant supporters, it was quite a sight. If you like sandy beaches you can find them on Malta, but they are few and far between and quite small. The one that I remember visiting is Golden San
            ds. I think that one is the biggest but it was only a few hundred yards across. For a beach holiday you really need to check carefully if you don’t want to be disappointed. Topless sunbathing was banned in Malta, but I did visit a nudist beach there once. There is also a splash pool park with some pools and slides, a cafe and a small funfair. I went there in 1990 on a day trip with the hotel. I thought that I was being clever finding a large umbrella to keep me out of the sun but the sun moves and the umbrellas don’t. By midday I was fully exposed to the hot sun and without a hope of finding any shade in the busy place. By the end of the afternoon I had little bubble blisters on my arms and back which scared some of our Maltese friends into thinking that I’d caught something. That was a problem with the sun that I’d previously had on a smaller scale in the UK and my doctor advised me afterwards to have a few sunbed sessions before going again in the summer. That worked but I always came back paler than when I went and sparking off rumours because I have a tendency to stay out of the sun if I can. Prices were very low, we were able to buy bottles of the local brewed lager Cisk (very nice) for at the highest 25 cents. There is 100 cents to one Maltese Lira and as 1GBP is equivilant to around 60 cents would work out at about 41p per bottle. In Valleta and the smaller villages you could get bottles for 15 cents, plus nearly every time we ordered a round a plate of free food would be planted on the table. Usually small slices of bread with a spicy tomato paste spread or crispy nibble type things. Very tasty the food was too. If you look beyond the tourist shops you can find some good prices on gold and especially 22 carot. Hand knitted in the small villages there are Arran jumpers in abundance and very cheap too. We didn’t find anything except some other types of clothing over expensive and only one
            place tried to rip us off. That was a bar in St Julians, which charged us more than double the usual amount for drinks. Some Maltese friends joined us and when we told them they complained and we got our money back. In some places there was a higher nightclub entry fee for holidaymakers but we were told to ask for the lower Maltese price at the door that we got with no problems. Clothes were either cheap and nasty or expensive and nearly as nasty. The Maltese that we met did not generally buy clothes in Malta. They caught the once a week ferry from Sliema to Sicily and bought clothes and leather goods there at fantastically low prices. A friend used to get good Italian leather shoes for less than £10, probably far more expensive here. It would probably be worth taking an empty suitcase and filling it with bargains. Sliema is nearly half way between St Julians and Valleta. As I said earlier it’s a good place for nightlife but it also has the most up to date shopping centre where you will find some of the familiar larger chain stores with imported goods, lots of hotels and some water sports clubs. To get there we usually walked in the winter or caught a bus in the summer. The buses were an experience in themselves. Old and battered throwbacks from the 50s with often bad tempered drivers who drove fast over potholed roads and left the doors open to help create a more hair raising ride. It’s a good job I like a rough ride, but alas they were replacing the old buses with new ones the last time that I was there. A friend hired a car once and found the price was good and you can also get around Valleta in horse drawn carriages. Sometimes we caught the bus from St Julians to Valleta. The bus station was open plan to the extent that you almost don’t realise that you are in a bus station when you arrive. There is an archway at the entrance leading into Valleta, but watch out for the pigeons they like to bomb you when you walk
            under it. On the left hand side you will find a public loo in what seemed like a dark cellar. There used to be a gnarled old lady wearing widow’s weeds selling toilet roll at the entrance. No matter how much money we gave her she handed over one sheet and glared defying us to complain. The same happened in some nightclubs but not all. I made sure that I had plenty of tissues in my bag and waved them at her as I passed. On the way out I would tip her and the glare would soften a little. On my first visit a lot of the loos were disgustingly dirty and smelly. They blamed it on a shortage of water but within a few years there was a vast improvement in that area. Every Sunday there is an open air market at the entrance. Some say it is really good for bargains but I never saw anything worth buying. On the right hand side after the archway is the remains of an opera house which was bombed during the last world war and is now used as a car park. A stark reminder of the bad times, and of how brave the Maltese were in defiance. This is the beginning of the capital’s main street, Republican street. It is quite narrow and mostly shop lined. About half way up was a jeweller’s and watch repairs shop that we visited many times. The elderly owner King Ben became a good friend of ours and would usually shut his shop and take us to a café or bar when we visited him. Sometimes there would be gifts of bottles of vodka waiting and he always offered us free or very cut price jewellery or watches which we turned down. His good-looking son owned a bar in Valleta and we weren’t allowed to pay for drinks if we went there in the evening. The loss of income while he closed the shop, and the complete generosity with no strings attached, typified what we found in a lot of Maltese people. Sadly Ben passed away just before our last visit. Further up Republican street there are government buildings and the police station. The police station was b
            ombed just after we passed it one day, it seems we were lucky. On the left hand side there are narrow streets with tall crumbling apartment buildings that lead down to the harbour. It is quite steep with lots of old sandstone steps, even when I was at peak fitness I found it heavy going and not a good idea to come back up from the harbour when it is very hot. Sometimes we travelled by ferry from Sliema to Valleta. One of our friends Sylvio ran a burger bar at the ferry stop and we would sit at one of the tables and play the practical joke of gluing a coin to the ground. Brian, the friend that we visited in hospital would meet us there and we would push his wheelchair up the slopes into Valleta. He couldn’t manage to get up there by himself and if we didn’t take him he would wait at street corners for volunteers to push him, he never had to wait for long though. He lived in a top floor apartment with his family. No stair lift, just steep narrow flights that his family had to lift him up. I was told that the Maltese were working on improving wheelchair facilities, but it would be advisable to check before booking. Despite the poor facilities the people treated Brian as if he was special - with respect, kindness and not as if he was thick. We attended a festa one evening at the ferry stop with fireworks and lots to eat and drink. It was the one time that we felt any unfriendliness, perhaps because we were the only outsiders at their festival. That was until a little boy came and sat with us and chattered away in Maltese. We would say yes or no and a torrent of Maltese would spew forth making us and his parents at the next table laugh. There are festas just about every week in Malta, usually celebrating religious occasions but even the police have a festa. We found that out when my friend had some jewellery stolen from her hotel room and she went to report it to the police. She came back alarmed because the police had been wearing skirts. T
            heir national costume and we found out later that some of the police had been locked in cells overnight after celebrating too much. In Valleta one of the many attractions is the Maltese Experience. A series of slideshows detailing the Maltese history from the Knights of St John turning Valetta into a Baroque fortress to the events of the war. A lot of the old battlements are still there and reminded me of the walk around the battlements of York. There are a few old cannons around which deafened us on some of the festas. Popeye was filmed in Malta and there remains a quaint looking wooden village purpose built into the side of a rock cliff for holidaymakers to visit. We went there but found a bar next to Popeye village a more attractive proposition than the tour. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular tourist attractions. You pay for a boatman to take you around and through a few caves that jut out of the water. The sea is a lovely blue colour but the sea around Malta is lovely anyway. I couldn’t see the attraction personally, it took longer to get there than the actual boat trip and the best bit was one of my friends trying to chat up the boatman and the boat nearly tipped over when she tried to get to him for a snog. Mdina was built by Monks and is called the silent city after the monks who had a vow of silence. It is a walled town and Maltas medieval capital. The streets are narrower than any that I’ve seen before and some of the rich Maltese live there in palaces. Gozo is one of 2 small islands off the tip of Malta and to get there you can get a ferry from Sliema. There is more greenery there than on the main island and it is quieter and more relaxed. A great place for diving. Bugiba has a holiday complex and is probably more the place to go if you like quiet holidays. We were very disappointed to find that the nightlife was nil after 10.00 pm and the town was virtually in darkness. Al
            l of the other places that I visited are dim memories but I hope that I had given you a good general idea of Malta. There really is plenty to do whatever your taste in holidays. Apart from the things that I mentioned there are museums, art galleries, street shows, concerts and cruises. Finally a few practical things: We didn’t need visas to visit Malta but if you live outside the UK it would be something to check beforehand. We found that it was best to take only a small amount of Maltese currency, as the exchange rate was always better in Malta. There are plenty of banks but don’t try to rob them they are very security conscious with armed guards who unlock the doors each time somebody goes in or out. Most major credit cards can be used but you can also spend sterling in Malta. Many of the Maltese like to come here for visits and want the currency. The holiday reps told us that the water is safe but we were told differently by the Maltese. They told us to only drink bottled or boiled water and to be careful about eating salads in cafes and restaurants. They built a water purifying plant but as was pointed out to us, some of the restaurants and hotels have water tanks on their roofs that are open to insects and muck getting in. We were cautious and never had jippy tummys. I paid between £300 and £350 for my two week holidays which included flights and accomodation but no meals. Having recently looked at travel brochures the same deals are still available for less than £400 depending upon how many are sharing an appartment. Hope you’ve enjoyed this long but what is a small part of my Malta experience. We always came home laughing at the amount of fun that we had. I'd like to go back again but it would be sad if it was different.

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            • Spreads / Other Food / 0 Readings / 26 Ratings
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              13.05.2003 23:19
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              My first time was on one of my Maltese holidays about 10 years ago. My friend Christine and I stayed in St Georges Apartments in St Julians Bay, where the nightlife was about the busiest on the island. We always managed to extend our nights out until at least 6.00 am, even if that meant we were playing cards or dares in the streets with the locals. This particular morning we went down to the rocky beach by the casino and for some mad reason I was drunkenly paddling in a rock pool. Of course I slipped and sat down with a painful thump, ending up with a bruised rump and a necklace of mosquito bites. We walked up the hill to our apartment, Christine laughing and me trying to hide the fact that my long soggy figure hugging blue dress was revealing far more than a bikini would. On the way we encountered a bread delivery van and bought a fresh crusty loaf and a few leers from the driver. At the hotel a coach full of new arrivals were standing outside with their suitcases looking bemused at the rep and then astonished at the sight of the pair of us. Fortunately the loaf was covering part of my embarrassment but I must have looked a sight in that dripping dress. I remember calling out something inane like 'Nice day for a swim' before we ran giggling into the hotel. Once I'd showered, dried and put my nightie on we sat out on the balcony as normal and watched the sun rising while we discussed the events of the night out over a cuppa and a bite to eat. The mosquito bites were starting to feel uncomfortable by then so Christine hacked chunks off the bread while I put cream on my bites. “Will this do?” she asked as she waved a tube of Primula Cheese Spread at me. There wasn’t anything else in the fridge so I agreed to try Christine’s favourite spread even though I didn’t fancy it. Combined with the freshly baked bread it was wonderful, the best cheese spread that I’d ever tasted. For the rest o
              f that holiday and several afterwards we lived off Primula on bread or on toast and Pizzas. We discovered the cheese and ham and cheese and chives flavours so at least we had a bit of variety. We bought it in a tube, very much like one that toothpaste comes in. One of the good things about it is that it stays fresh for several days after opening. Vital in hot Malta, where the apartment fridges weren’t that good and milk went off in less than a day. Back in England I bought it occasionally when I had a yen for cream crackers or crisp breads and wanted something especially tasty to spread on them. Then I forgot about it for a few years until this week. My food habits change with my lifestyle and for the first time in years I’ve been taking sandwiches to work rather than being tempted with the very fattening goodies in the shop. The trouble with sandwiches is that they can become boring if you don’t fill them with lots of flavours. Temptation overrides common sense and the sandwiches get binned in favour of crisps, chocolate, cakes and pies, costing more in money and in calories. I’d tried nearly all of my favourite sandwich fillings and was wondering what the heck to buy to help avoid temptation as I prowled the supermarket on Saturday. Then I saw my old friend looking bright and cheerful in amongst the Dairy Produce. There was only my favourite flavour Cheese and Chives in stock, so I grabbed a tube before I could change my mind. On Monday morning I squeezed the yellow and green tube and a creamy looking trail with green bits in it made it’s way across a slice of wholemeal bread, ready and waiting for me to smooth it out and top it with another slice. Come lunchtime I was ravenous and the lure of chicken tikka slices was getting too much for me. With massive restraint I turned my back on them and picked up one of my unappetising looking sandwiches. My first bite was heaven, the cheese tasted scrumptiou
              sly creamy and the chives although apparent added to the taste rather than overwhelming it. Sitting on an upturned beer crate out the back with the sun beating down on me I almost felt as if I was back on that balcony in Malta. Today I made Primula sandwiches again and enjoyed them just as much. I have 2 days off and am working for 3 days. I know that I’ll make and enjoy them then, which will mean 5 days of sandwich filling for just £1.09. I doubt the tube will be finished but you are supposed to use it within 7 days of opening. Hopefully when I go shopping again I’ll be able to get some of the other flavours and enjoy my lunches from now on. On the health front the tube tells you that it’s a good source of calcium, helpful for our bones, teeth, nails and hair. The fat content looks high but as there are only 354 calories in a 150g tube, spread over 5 days that’s only about 70 calories for each day’s sandwich so not bad really. Primula is also suitable for vegetarians. Apart from spreading on sandwiches and crackers the makers Kavli Limited of Tyne & Wear offer 2 tasty tips: Delicious as a filling for baked potatoes or melted into cooked mashed potato for a cheesy treat. I must try those tips and if I don’t like them I can always ring their customer care line on 0800 716551 from 9 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Mmm now I’ve got the tube in front of me I feel like being transported back to Malta again.

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                09.05.2003 16:46
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                I don’t think that I’ve read a book written by Val McDermid before so from the first page it was like starting out in unexplored territory, not knowing what to expect. The main character is Professor Fiona Cameron, in her late thirties and lives with crime thriller writer Kit Martin in London. She is a psychologist, teaches but also uses computers to build up crime linkage and geographical profiles to help the police in their search for serial killers. She works out where they may physically live and the links between crimes by inputting details into a specially designed programme rather than character profiles, an idea that I find fascinating. There are several different storylines running alongside each other, multi layered the cover says. That sounds as if the book could be confusing but it wasn’t, for me it added to the tension and made the book more interesting. One of the sub plots is that Fiona is called to help in the search for a serial killer in Toledo, Spain. Bodies of tourists are found displayed in surroundings important to the history of Toledo and the police are baffled. They have no clues and no ideas as far as motive is concerned. Fiona and Kit fly out to Toledo and Fiona visits the murder scenes. She doesn’t really need to because her work is done on the computer with facts, but her visiting the murder scenes of each case reassures the police who don’t understand how the programme works. She inputs what facts are available and comes up with an area that the killer probably lives in. She can see that the crimes are against tourists – all armed with the same travel book and points out that this killer must hate tourists and perhaps his or her life has been badly affected by tourism at some point. She then asks for details of older crimes against tourists that haven’t resulted in death. When these crimes are input into the programme she comes up with a different area and sug
                gests that perhaps the killer had moved from that area to the other area and that the reason for the move had angered the killer and that the assaults had accelerated into killings. This is enough information for the police to open new lines of inquiry but I won’t say if they were successful, my aim was to give more idea of the work that Fiona does. At the same time crime thriller writer Drew Shand is murdered in Edinburgh. His death and the grusome display of his bloody remains are similar to a scene in one of his books. Because Drew is gay and into rough sex it is assumed by the police and media that his death was a sexual encounter gone wrong. Fiona’s long-time friend Detective Inspector Steve Martin has problems. Susan Blanchard was raped and murdered on Hampstead Heath and the man who was charged with the murder has just been released from the Old Bailey. Freed because the judge said that the case was brought to court through entrapment and little real evidence. Steve needs some help from Fiona when he and his team decide to give up their free time to hunt the murderer, be it the man who was tried or somebody else entirely. The trail has gone cold and so is Fiona initially towards his need for help. She had vowed never to help London Met again after Steve’s superior had taken her off the case and put somebody less competent on it. Jane Elias, another thriller writer is killed in a similar manner to a victim in one of her books. Her gruesome remains are found on her estate in County Wicklow, Ireland. The police and media believe that it is a copycat killer and don’t link it to the murder in Edinburgh. Despite that Kit and Fiona feel the beginning of fear, and distress because both writers were friends of Kit and they all wrote the same type of novels. Throughout the book are extracts from a serial killers diary, describing what he does to his victims in an almost matter of fact way that left me shudder
                ing but not feeling sick with the details. The extracts work well in helping to build up suspense and throughout you don’t know whose diary it is. I found the main character Fiona quite cold and it wasn’t easy to build any empathy with her. She is driven by her sister’s unsolved murder many years earlier. She felt guilty because she had encouraged her to go to University and her choice of career stems from her pain and guilt at the murder. Her relationship with her friends and lover Kit show a warm side to her character but when about her business the coldness is there. Perhaps a defence mechanism against the gruesome nature of her work or maybe Val McDermid couldn’t imagine anything but a cold female in this line of work. Kit remained a bit of an enigma to me. Maybe because he came across as very ordinary whereas I imagine a best selling author to be quite extraordinary. At times Fiona practically mothers him. You know that it comes from a fear of her losing somebody that she loved in a terrible way but wonder why he doesn’t get irritated more. Steve comes across as a bit of a lovelorn wimp who although he has a tough demanding career unnaturally to me hangs around with Fiona the woman who he has loved for years and her lover, talk about rubbing your nose in it. The places that we visit in the book are described well and helped me to picture events more vividly. Scenes in the Scottish Highlands in particular almost made me feel as if I was there watching on. Did I enjoy the book? So much that I couldn’t put it down and unlike me, missed going on the internet for a whole day in favour of reading it. I managed to complete all 549 pages within 2 days which is quite a feat for me. It is fast paced and I found it totally compelling. From the first chapter I wanted to know what surprise the next one held and I was absorbed right until the breathtaking, exciting conclusion. I didn&#
                8217;t guess the ending and found Killing The Shadows not totally but less predictable than some of the books that I’ve read recently. Crime thriller novels have never been my first choice of reading matter but some of the best books that I’ve read in recent months are of that genre and I would say that this novel is the most outstanding of anything that I’ve read for a long time. Apparently it’s not thought of as the best work by Val McDermid, if that’s the case then I can’t wait to read more of her work. Amazon prices for Killing The Shadows: Paperback £5.49 ISBN: 0006514189 Hardback in the used collectable Marketplace ranging from £9.48 - £37.06 ISBN:0 00 226108 1 Audiocassette £7.99 ISBN: 0007113560

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                  27.04.2003 16:59
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                  Cannie Shapiro is overweight and her size makes her feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. When she goes to the beach she covers the rolls with a sarong. Sounds familiar, we are conditioned to think that thin is beautiful and fat should be hidden. At the beginning of the book we hear that 28 year old Cannie is a journalist, writes a column about the famous for the Philadelphia Examiner. She had ended her 3 year relationship with writer Bruce Gruberman 3 months earlier by saying that she wanted a break. She is fine with that until she picks up a copy of Moxie, a popular women’s magazine. There she reads an article by new columnist Bruce called Loving A Larger Woman. The first sentence of the article says: ‘I’ll never forget the day I found out my girlfriend weighed more than I did’. He goes on to let the readers know that he never thought of himself as a chubby chaser. Cruel you think until you read further and see that he understands that her hefty 5’ 10” well covered body makes her feel bad when really to him big is beautiful. He ends the article by saying: ‘Loving a larger woman is an act of courage in this world, and maybe it’s even an act of futility. Because, in loving C., I knew I was loving someone who didn’t believe that she herself was worthy of anyone’s love. And now that it’s over, I don’t know where to direct my anger and sorrow. At a world that made her feel the way she did about her body – no, herself – and whether she was desirable. At C., for not being strong enough to overcome what the world told her. Or at myself, for not loving C. enough to make her believe in herself’. I included those sentences from the book because they struck a chord with me. Some people can live happily with being overweight but for many every extra pound means miserable self-consciousness and guilt trips – straight to the kitchen cupboard usua
                  lly! The bigger you get the less desirable you feel and you start to believe that is the way that others perceive you. I wondered if any of my partners had thought loving me an act of courage at the times in my life that I’ve been overweight. Cannie is very hurt that Bruce could discuss her size with the huge readership of the magazine. She knows that people who know her will read the article and realise that it’s about her. Cannie cries her heart out, gets drunk and cries a lot more. She rings Bruce in anger but then ends up missing him and wishing that she hadn’t ended the relationship. Her mother Ann calls round to Cannie’s flat to offer her comfort and advice. Not welcome because she has a problem with her mother. Ann came out of the closet in her mid fifties and is living with Tanya who Cannie resents too much to give her a chance to get to know her properly. Cannie’s father a plastic surgeon who was very critical of her, walked out on the family when she was twelve. He disappeared from her life leaving her with much insecurity about herself. Her only consolation is her little dog Nifkin, named after a naughty part of the male anatomy. Nifkin had never really got on with Bruce – dogs know you know. Before the article Cannie and Nifkin were drifting along quite happily, but suddenly her life was in turmoil and her insecurities came to a fore. She tries to get her life back on track by deciding that she wants to get back with Bruce, pesters him with phone calls which he always ends and becomes increasingly distant. She blames her size on a lot of her misfortunes and decides to join a fat clinic where some humour is introduced. Good In Bed is described as ‘wildly funny and surprisingly tender’ on the front cover. I have to disagree with it being wildly funny. I found the book amusing in parts but never found myself laughing out loud. I grinned when I read about Cannie going to a
                  New York hotel to interview film star Maxi. The interview was cancelled by an over zealous agent who was afraid that Cannie would ask awkward questions that would expose the real Maxi to her fans. She got her interview after a touching meeting in the ladies toilets and a drunken girlie night out where the over protected film star was allowed to be herself for once and not act like the image built up for her. Surprisingly tender, yes it is. The story is set over a year and each month a new article appears to hurt Cannie. She reads how Bruce misses her but then gets a blow-by-blow account of how he moves on. I found the book true to life in that I could identify with the emotional turmoil felt at the end of a long-term relationship. You end things for the right reasons and are jogging along quite happily with your life then a few weeks or months down the line something happens or you suddenly miss your ex partner and put yourself through the emotional grinder wondering if you made the right decision. Usually you have but sometimes you have a re-run just to make sure. Will Cannie? I’m not telling. I enjoyed reading Good In Bed but I found it an interesting read rather than compelling. I was able to put it down easily but always looked forward to reading a bit more the next night. Perfect for me when I am tired and just want to read a little to help me relax before going to sleep. There isn’t tons of sex as the title and front cover might suggest, but that would have spoiled the book for me anyway. Instead of finding it wildly funny I found it an amusing, thoughtful read. It was well written enough for me to be able to visualise Cannie’s world and understand her feelings and turmoil while she comes to terms with everything that is happening around her. The ending was unexpected but it wasn’t one of those books where you are trying to figure out the outcome from word go. It is a story that takes you through a period of
                  lots of big and unexpected changes in Cannie’s life and you learn how she deals with them. Not always well but it’s nice to read about somebody who isn’t perfect – just like the rest of us. This is the second book that I’ve read recently with an overweight heroine and what a refreshing change it is to read about characters who aren’t the stereotyped skinny beautiful heroines that you often find in novels. Unfortunately both were classed as humorous – we big girls don’t just do humour but it’s a good job we can laugh. Good In Bed was Jennifer Weiner’s first novel, published in 2001. Jennifer is a staff writer and columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It is said that it’s always best to start writing about something you know and Jennifer gives a real feel of what it’s like working as a journalist, adding a great background to a pretty good story. I will certainly look out for her second book ‘Get In Her Shoes’. Good In Bed can be found on Amazon for £5.59. ISBN 0-7434-1528-0

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                  • Trapped - Dean Koontz / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 31 Ratings
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                    17.04.2003 07:48
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                    Caught in the pool of light from my bedside lamp I could see the creature staring at me. The malevolent expression on the big white rat’s face was enough to make me shudder – or was that caused by the cold I wondered as I snuggled further into my bedcovers. On further inspection I could see that the rat on the front cover of the book looked cute rather than scary, especially as it’s red eyes look crossed. Trapped is the first visual adaptation of a story by Dean Koontz written in 1989. Published in 1992 by Eclipse it is a short story adapted by horror writer Edward Gorman and illustrated by Anthony Bilau. Think comics with a glossy card cover and brightly coloured glossy pages and you might be able to picture the effect. The story is quite simple. Meg and her 10-year-old son Tommy are driving home from the doctor’s office in a snow blizzard. Tommy has broken his leg and both are still mourning the death of his father. They pass the curve where a drunk driver crashing into and killed his father and you feel sorry for the widow and her son. They come to a road block and their car is checked over by men carrying rifles. Meg suspects that they are looking for bombs when really 8 white rats have escaped from a laboratory. They reach their farmhouse unscathed but it isn’t long before they realise that they have aggressive furry visitors. These are not ordinary rats, they are very clever as Meg realises after baiting some traps with Warfarin. Not long afterwards she finds the traps sprung, no trapped rats and the Warfarin pellets have been moved. Deposited in a box of All Bran cereals, the rats have tried to turn the tables on them. Meg and Tommy can’t escape in the car because the rats immobilise it and they don’t think about the telephone until it’s too late. They are alone in the middle of nowhere and the snow is deep. Tommy is wearing a pot on his leg and can’t get far under his o
                    wn steam. Meg tries to pull him on a sledge but she has doubts that she will be able to reach the road. Will they escape or will the rats get them? I haven’t read the original story but guess that chunks were taken out during the adaptation to enable the illustrations to work on the reader’s imagination. It didn’t work for me, the story wasn’t scary, not many twists and turns, little suspense and the ending was very predictable. Perhaps it was better in its original form, Dean Koontz isn’t usually so predictable. The illustrations are good if you look at them on their own but I found them a garish distraction while reading the story. On some pages the story seemed disjointed making you rely on the pictures more than I liked to get the drift of the tale. I’m not used to reading comics so perhaps that’s why I found the pictures distracting rather than an enjoyable addition. It was less than 30 minutes before I could snuggle down further in my bed, book finished and sure that I wouldn’t have any nightmares. I got my copy from the library but I doubt if I’d have been happy at paying the new price of £6.99 on Amazon if I had got it for the story alone. I was curious to see an illustrated Dean Koontz story and have spent quite some time poring over some of the individual illustrations since finishing the story, which has given me some enjoyment of the book. As it’s hard to find much information about this book on the internet, unusual for anything of Dean Koontz I wonder if Trapped will become a collectors item in years to come and worth investing in a copy. I did find a site where the original artwork is up for sale by the page and for $60 each. I’ll end by saying that I was disappointed in the storyline. Rare for something by Dean Koontz, but it is an adaptation by another writer and perhaps it might have been better if Dean had adapted it himself. It’s
                    too predictable to read again but at least my curiosity has been satisfied. ISBN 0-586-21753-3

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                    • Room 101 / Discussion / 0 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                      12.04.2003 18:17
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                      I’m a very patient person normally but the some things really get up my nose and it would be lovely to lock them away in room 101. MOBILE PHONES I have a mobile and use it for emergencies or to ring taxis when I'm out so obviously I don't object to mobiles entirely. The most annoying thing about mobiles is idiots using them whilst driving. Three years ago my daughter was involved in a motorway accident caused by a man talking while driving. He crashed into the back of her car and she was rammed into the back of the car in front. Fortunately she wasn't seriously injured, just had whiplash but she could have been killed due to the other driver's thoughtlessness. Since then I have noticed a large amount of drivers using their mobiles. I feel like shouting 'Hey an idiot like you could have killed my daughter' every time that I see one. As I work in a petrol station (just promoted and celebrating!) I often have to turn petrol pumps off and ask drivers over the tannoy not to use their mobiles. Why? Because it is a dangerous ignition point, one spark and we could all get blown to smithereeens. Other annoying things about mobiles are the extra cost to landline users to call one. It isn't us who are benefiting from their convenience so why should we pay through the nose? The silly ring tones and having to listen to inane conversations wherever you go bug me. ASSUMPTIONS I don’t like people making assumptions about me or trying to fit me into a slot. Years ago when I was first divorced and still getting over the shock, well meaning friends or acquaintances thought that they were doing me a favour by suggesting that I join a dating club or respond to ads in the paper. This still happens even though I am happy to be single and flirt whenever I get the chance. Although I’ve had a few boyfriends I have never expressed any wishes to become permanently part of a couple again
                      so what is their problem? It’s usually married people who can’t understand anybody being content with a single life, but for anybody who makes assumptions - Get into room 101!! CHEATING I have never liked cheating of any kind. My distaste for cheating started when I was a child when my brothers cheated at board and card games. As an adult an experience with an ex reinforced that. He was a serial cheater who couldn't understand why I was angry at finding pictures of naked women that he had been with while going out with me in my house - at least 10 the nympho!! Of course he got kicked out, literally with my foot up his jacksy. I got a kick out of that too!! I have been astonished to see some cheating on opinion sites: copying, revenge rating, cut and paste comments, multiple accounts. Can't understand why the very small minority go to the trouble, it isn't as if there are fortunes to be made. DRINK DRIVING I worked behind a bar for ten years and often saw people drink alcohol and then drive off in their cars. One is too many as far as I'm concerned. Even a small amount of alcohol can cloud judgement or slow down reactions and cause accidents. I don't think that it is necessary to drink drive, taxis are not that expensive and there are plenty of alternative non or low alcohol drinks available. **** Confession time **** As a free house there were often guest beers. I only worked one or two evenings a week and wasn't always immediately aware when we had a new beer on. One evening A guy asked for a pint of Tennants so I gave him a pint of Tennants Extra strength, three times running. Just after he left, car keys in hand I spotted a new beer in one of the pumps - Tennants Light or whatever it was called, significantly lower in alcohol content than Tennants Extra. Guess what he asked for the next time that he came in? ********** At th
                      e petrol station and especially at the weekends we get irresponsible drivers breathing booze fumes on us while paying for their fuel. Be warned!! Unless it is too busy we will take your reg and ring the police. You might end up in a cell instead of room 101. SPIDERS No they don’t annoy me at all, but people who shriek and run away from incy wincy little spiders and other insects bug me. I know that they can’t help being scared but there is no need to startle others and make a drama over tiny things that do them no harm. Not being scared of spiders has its uses though. When my daughter lived at home she often woke me in the night and asked me to remove spiders from the bathroom. Being drowsy I didn’t immediately jump out of bed to comply with her wishes and my natural reluctance to get out of a warm bed usually got promises to do the dishes for a week or other household chores he he. DRINK SPIKING Most of us are capable of getting drunk with no help from others, but know our capacities and have a right to choose the amount that we drink or indeed if we have a drink at all. Some people become ill with only a small amount of drink, some avoid alcohol because it can turn a normally mild mannered person to violence. Not very clever spiking their drinks, but ... **** Another Confession **** About 10 years ago I used to go out on the town every Friday night with a group of women. We met at the same pub every week and Helen was always the last to get there. She never failed to be grumpy for the first hour or so and often spoiled the first part of the evening making it difficult for everybody to get in the mood for fun. One week we were discussing how we could cheer her up just before she arrived. The barman suggested getting her a couple of shorts to jolly her along, but Helen never drank shorts. Somehow we were talked into all chipping in for a couple of Vodkas, which the barman would pop into
                      her first half while she was talking to us. It worked; grumpy drawers practically waved her drawers. She laughed and joked with the rest of us and we all had a great night. For months after that we paid for 2 Vodkas to be slipped into her first drink, until her birthday. As soon as she arrived at the pub Christine, one of our friends offered to buy her a drink for her birthday. Helen asked for a half but Christine wanted to buy her a short also. "Get me a Vodka then" Helen said "But don't put it in my half like normal". WOMAN’S LIB OR ANTI-LIB I am who I am, have always been independent and make no apologies for being me. I’ve always supported myself, even when married. I can do many of my own household repairs and improvements, including putting shelves up, sorting my drains out, tiling and practically fitting my own kitchen. Despite my independence I’ve never been a woman’s libber – just me getting on with my life. On occasion I’ve come across women spouting WL crap. Women who are in cosy marriages being supported by their husbands, all talk no action. One fine specimen, a ‘supported’ neighbour who was always vocal about women’s rights explains better what I mean. Before I got double glazing I climbed up a ladder and painted my upstairs window frames. A few days later this neighbour told me that she felt sorry for me. Why? Because I didn’t have a man to climb up ladders and she thought that it was mans work. I did it without a thought because it needed doing and was quite capable of doing it myself. I’m sorry ladies, if you want to be totally equal there is no such thing as men’s work and you should walk the talk. SPAM Having to rid my inbox of spam emails really bugs me, especially when I get home to 60 emails to find that only one is anything of any interest – what a waste of time. Most of the spam is illegal junk or
                      people trying to rip me off, like the Nigerian scam emails from bogus Doctors offering to put millions in my bank for their use and a percentage for me. Bull, the money would never materialise and they would want some of my brass to blackmail so called government officials. Then there are the invites to watch sex shows, which I have according to them shown an interest in. Not on your nelly, I’m a doer not a viewer. Then those offering me penus enlargements when I haven't got one that I can see. I got a supposedly spam free email address but not long after I got idiots offering to share their business with me, but I would share my money with them. Grrrr why the hell do they think that email address has despammed in it, are they thick? VANDALS Wanton destruction of other people’s property really gets up my nose. I live in a nice quiet area but because I live next to a snicket or ginnel I live next to where children play and teenagers gather. Last year my wall was broken with a cricket bat and a window in my door with a football. My garden plants never survive long because of kids trampling them down or pulling them up. I’ve had countless washing lines cut and my gate pulled from the wall. Before I go on I’ll say that I actually get on well with children, perhaps too well because they aren’t afraid of causing damage to my property. Kids climbing over it after their footballs instead of using the gate destroyed my original garden fence. I got fed up with trying to keep the garden nice and it became overgrown and full of sweet wrappers and rotten apple cores. Last year I decided to do something about it after coming home to find some old pieces of wood with rusty nails hanging out of them and a bucket with some wet cement in the bottom. I assumed that somebody had been working on their house and used my garden as a tip and asked the kids nearby who. A little boy told me that the wood and cement had come from
                      the Vicarage. I was just about to go and blast the Vicar when the boy told me that he and his mates had got them to make a den. I found it difficult not to laugh because this 6 year old boy had cement splashes from head to toe, including splodges on his specs. I also had a picture in my mind of him trying to cement pieces of wood together. I made the kids take the stuff back, with me lugging the biggest pieces of wood before making a call to get the fence sorted. In August a 6 foot tall thick woven fence was erected at a cost of over £500. I mostly cleared the garden myself and that included cutting down 5 trees. It was lovely, made my sitting room feel bigger and gave me some privacy from the nosy couple opposite. I started to plant some shrubs and looked forward to working on it this summer. Within 2 weeks some of the panels next to the gate had been punched in. I found out that it was two ten year old boys who felt as if I had done something against them by putting the fence up. Their fathers fixed it and their backsides and they soon found that it was better because their balls didn’t go into my garden so much. A couple of weeks later I came home one evening to find that most of the bottom part of my fence had been kicked in by teenage boys. Don’t know who or I’d skin them. I had it replaced at the cost of £432. Paid for by my insurance company, but I’d rather not have had the problem in the first place. Part of me felt as if it wasn’t worth doing because I know it won’t be long before there is some more damage, but I wanted a nice garden and to be able to run around my house starkers again without being spied on. TELEPHONES The normal things like bills and the pnone ringing just as I'm starting a meal, watching my favourite programme or getting into the shower or bath bug me. Usually tele-marketers or work asking me to go in on an emergency. Worse to me is when I used my answering
                      machine. Nearly every day I used to get messages asking me to ring back. More often than not because they wanted a chat at my expense. They knew when I was out and as the calls were National calls my bills were high. I pulled the plug on my answering machine and surprise surprise these inconsiderate people stopped ringing. Phew. I didn't think that so many things bugged me and I'm sure that I've missed some out. I'm not a Mrs Angry really, my sense of humour usually stops me from being that. I'm sure that there are more serious things that I could put in room 101 but today I don't want to be too serious, it's sunny, I'm getting a nice pay rise and I'm going out tonight to celebrate. Cheers!!

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                      • More +
                        09.04.2003 05:12
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                        Eeee when I were a lass. I used to come home to the gorgeous smell of freshly baked cakes, buns and biscuits that mum used to bake. Home made jam and bread, nothing can compare to those simple wholesome treats from my childhood. Cakes, buns and biscuits were for after meals, never for in between snacks. One of the few pre made afters that mum bought occasionally for Sunday tea was Soreen Malt Loaf. She used to carefully slice it making sure that we all had the same amount, and then liberally butter each slice with Adams best butter. All five of us kids would greedily eye the plateful in the centre of the table while eating sandwiches made from the leftovers of the Sunday dinner roast. The first to finish grabbed the one with the most butter on. If mum was in an especially good mood there were slices of Cheddar cheese on a plate at the side for us to top our malt loaf slices with. Although those days are long gone Soreen Malt Loaf hasn't. Those distinctive yellow packs still grace the food shelves with nothing to compete for my affections. I've been on funny shifts at work this week and bored with sandwiches decided to try something different - or revert back to my childhood you might say. I bought a non-sliced malt loaf for 89p at the corner shop but being good spread my slices with low fat spread rather than best butter. That was a few days ago and I enjoyed it so much that I bought a Soreen Sliced and Easy malt loaf today for £1.09. As I had some of the non-sliced left I decided to do a comparison test with both versions and my memories. When opened both versions are squarish edged loaves and a rich brown colour. At a guess I would say that they are about 8 inches long and 3 inches wide. You can forget centimetres in my house - I have anyway. There isn't a weight on either pack but I think that the original loaves are smaller than the sliced. I can't compare them properly because I've just eaten the
                        last of the non-sliced, but when I tried to fit a piece from the ready sliced into the empty wrapper it was too big and tore it. What I did notice when I opened both packs was that there didn't seem to be as much fruit as there used to be when I was a lass and the colour a touch lighter than my memories. I don't normally smell malt loaves but for you I will. Rather unpleasant and difficult to describe, the closest I can think of is a mixture of sweaty socks and stale beer when they’ve lost the power to make your head jerk back. The original Malt loaf is very squashy and difficult to cut and retain it's shape. The Sliced and Easy is of course pre sliced, probably larger to make it easier for the manufacturers. I didn't think that it was sliced at first because I had to peel away the stuck together half inch thick slices. Both loaves taste the same, malty obviously and when you get one of those rarer than there used to be pieces of fruit the juicy raisins are lovely. Malt loaves taste moister than they look but they are very chewy and tend to stick to your teeth. I’ve still got my own but I’d imagine that somebody with false teeth might struggle a bit. Another thing to expect is very sticky fingers as my keyboard can testify. Looking at the packets we are told that the product is 97% fat free, though the Sliced and Easy highlights that more. Soreen are marketing their malt loaves as energy boosters and nutritious but I guess that would depend what you eat with them. Calories, protein, carbohydrate and fat content are given but by the 100g, so unless you actually weigh portions out it’s pretty pointless having the tables there. I’ve done a bit of Internet detective work and found that the smaller original malt loaf weighs 215g. That would make the fat content of the original loaf 4.00g and the calories approximately 670. The larger pre sliced loaf will be more so no
                        t exa ctly good for dieting and especially if you pile butter and cheese on. Both versions are suitable for vegetarians and for home freezing. The original version warns that it is manufactured in a bakery that also makes products containing walnuts. You are advised to store in a dry cool place and eat within 2 days of opening. It took me 4 days to eat the original and the last piece was still moist so that’s pretty good going. Apart from butter and cheese topping another serving suggestion is cream cheese and banana. If you want to be more creative www.soreen.com is worth a visit. There I found recipes for summer fruits pudding, malt loaf with caramelised apples and frozen yoghurt, malty cinnamon ice cream, lime and coconut crème brulee twist and sticky malt loaf pudding. I never realised that malt loafs could be so versatile. Soreen also make a Rich Fruit Loaf, a Banana Fruit Loaf and a Plum Fruit Loaf. Packs of 2 slices of the original ready spread with butter are also available now and called Snack Malt Loaf. I still like Soreen Malt Loaf despite it seeming less fruity. I much prefer it to fruitcakes and especially Christmas cakes with yukky peel and marzipan icing. Come Christmas day I’d rather sit under the fairy lights with a slice of Soreen and a little bit of butter. If I feel adventurous I might just make the lime and coconut crème brulee twist and really treat myself.

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                          28.03.2003 16:24
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                          I didn't know about Fair Trade goods until I read an opinion several months ago. It has always bothered me that people in the third world work for long hours and slave labour wages and that many are children. They work in conditions that would be totally unacceptable to us, and all to give profits to large fat cat corporations who import the products to this and other countries to be sold at huge mark ups. The Fair Trade Foundation is a registered charity and aims to give a better deal to workers in the third world or developing countries by paying living wages, providing good working conditions and helping them to develop. The foundation operates in direct competition with big corporations and to me is a splendid idea that needs supporting more. The website is at http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/ and there you will see that there are quite a lot of food products available under the Fair Trade banner and the stores are listed that stock them. Far more than I realised, leaving me wondering why supermarkets don’t promote the fact that they sell Fair Trade goods. I discovered Fair Trade’s Clipper teabags almost by accident in the Coop. They were tucked away on the bottom shelf underneath the popular well known brands. As I work in a shop I know that some of the larger companies insist upon their products being displayed more prominently! The box was originally dark blue with nothing to make it stand out amongst the more attractive looking teas on offer. Now the box has a dark blue background with a bright yellow and orange picture of the world on the front. An improvement, but still likely to be missed amongst the more attractively designed packages. I was a bit of a tea whore without loyalty to any brand and usually bought Brook Bond, Typhoo, PG Tips or Yorkshire Tea according to which was the cheapest or had the best special offer on. At £1.59 for 80 teabags Clipper wasn’t the cheapest but it was by no means the most expens
                          ive either. Eminently affordable and Free Trade, I just hoped that it tasted ok. When you open the box you see teabags in sets of two. They don’t look as posh as the more popular brands and I was a bit flabbergasted at first to have to spend time tearing them apart. I’d been used to individual teabags that required no effort other than popping them in a cup and pouring boiling water over them. It was a bit like going back to early teabag days but then I reminded myself that I was helping to support Fair Trade and that it didn’t matter if a bit of effort was required on my part or that the teabags didn’t look very good. I make my tea in a mug. One teabag, boiling water and impatiently stir a spoon around to get it to brew quicker. I noticed straight away that the colour of the water was rapidly darkening, much quicker than the teabags I was used to and a zillion times quicker than those drawstring things that we sometimes use at work. After removing the teabag I add one sugar but no milk to spoil the taste of my tea. I had no need to be apprehensive about the taste. My first Clipper cuppa was simply the best cup of tea that I can remember tasting. It was a perfect strength for me, too weak tea isn’t worth drinking, too strong tea can taste horrible. I can’t really describe the taste of tea but Clipper is full of flavour without the bitterness that you get with some teas. It's a nicely refreshing drink and tastes good cold too. I’m a tea whore no more and have been buying Clipper teabags for at least 6 months with no complaint. I regularly drink other brands at work (my boss provides them free) and they just don’t match up to Clipper in taste. I’ve seen them on sale at Morrisons for £1.95 for 80 teabags and wondered why they are so much more expensive than the £1.59 charged by the Coop. Leaf tea and organic tea are also available from Clipper Fairtrade. Inside e
                          ach box is an invitation to join the Clipper tea club where you receive a quarterly newsletter with news about Fair Trade and organic developments, tea samples and competitions. The annual subscriptions are UK £7.50, Europe £11.50, outside Europe £15.00. I haven’t joined that yet but it might be worth £7.50 to learn more.

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                          • Theme Hospital (PS) / Archive Game / 0 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                            26.03.2003 05:59
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                            For 7 weeks I have spent - some might say wasted - many hours glued to my computer playing this game. I first heard about it by reading an opinion and a few days later saw it in my local branch of Dixons. It was priced at £9.99 but there was an offer on of 3 games for the price of 2. As I bought 3 games for £19.98 the cost for each one worked out at just short of £6.67. Was it worth the money – we’ll find out!! I counted 13 levels to Theme Hospital, which gets more difficult as it progresses. On each level you start off with a blueprint and some money $40,000 in the first round graduating to $70,000 in the final round. With each level you have goalposts to reach that you can check on by clicking on the progress report icon at the bottom of your screen. In the first round you have to have a reputation level of 300, a bank balance of $1000, treat 40% of the visitors, cure 10 people and increase your hospital value to $55,000 to be able to advance to the next level. These goalposts increase, as you get further into the game. There are 3 build icons at the bottom of the screen. The first enables you to buy and build a selection of rooms, the second allows you to buy corridor furniture and the third allows you to alter or delete your rooms. The rooms that you can buy and build initially on the first level are GPs Offices, General Diagnosis, Pharmacies, Psychiatrists, Wards, Operating Theatres, Research rooms, Inflation and Fracture Clinics, Toilets and Staff Rooms. More different types of clinics are available as the game advances. You can equip the rooms at further cost with furniture, radiators, plants and fire extinguishers. You need GPs offices and General diagnosis first to be able to have your patients diagnosed and forwarded to treatment rooms and you should build a ward close to your operating theatre for pre ops. A staff room is also important to rest your employers and keep them happy. If you delay too long your s
                            taff will demand pay rises, walk out on you or go loopy through overwork. You can buy as much corridor furniture as you can fit in to help keep the patients happy, seats, plants, radiators, reception desks and drinks machines that have Kit Kat blazoned across them – maybe chocolate drinks. I found that the patients didn’t start to come in until I’d bought a reception desk but you need to build some rooms first and staff them or the patients will either get fed up and go home or die on you. You have to hire staff to work in the hospital and doctors, nurses, receptionists and cleaners are available through clicking on another icon at the bottom of the screen. Before you hire them you can check out their skill levels and varying rates of pay and learn something of their characters. No point in hiring staff that are bone idle and useless at the job unless you are desperate. You can see what your staff are up to and control them to a certain extent by clicking on the Staff Management icon. You can assess their happiness and tiredness levels, move them, zoom in on them, give them pay rises and bonuses or fire them if you want. With all of this spending going on you have to be careful not to overspend. You can borrow money from the bank but if you go too far into the red you can lose the game or are unable to buy anything else or hire staff that you may need to help you earn money or stop patients from dying. It’s quite easy learning how to balance the books in the first round but it gets harder as you go along. Patients pay for diagnosis and treatment; they even pay the extortionate sum of $20 for a Kit Kat drink. If you can get the money rolling in the game gets easier. Cleaners work in every room and in the corridors. Apart from cleaning they maintain and repair machinery and water the plants. You can alter their priority levels for each separate job. Nurses can only work in the pharmacy, ward and the fracture
                            clinic. Doctors work in the GPs office, General Diagnosis and most of the clinics. Only doctors with research skills can work in the Research room, which needs to be built fairly quickly to enable you to research new equipment and ailments. You need 2 doctors with surgical skills to work in the operating theatre and only a trained psychiatrist can treat psychiatric patients. There is a training room for you to build where juniors can become doctors or doctors can be trained to specialise in other areas but only higher paid Consultants can do the training. Trouble is the doctors with the skills that you need aren’t always available and you have to decide whether to keep the patients waiting or send them home, risking your reputation. I found that by experimenting with building rooms in different places I could improve my selection of available doctors. Even if the correctly trained doctors are available they won't always stay put when you move them to treat patients when there is a queue or an emergency, that can become very frustrating unless there is another suitably trained doctor available to hire quickly. When a patient has visited a GPs office, they are either automatically sent on their way for treatment or you see a question mark above their head and get a prompt. You might be told that the patient has Bloaty Head and there is varying degrees of a chance of a cure. You are given choices of try to cure, wait until you build more diagnosis rooms or send home. If for instance the chance of a cure is 90% you try to cure, but if the chance is 10% you select one of the other 2 alternatives. Even if there is a high chance of a cure it isn’t guaranteed and the more patients who die on you the more your reputation will suffer and lesson your chances of winning the game. You can click on patients and see their case histories. Sometimes you can send them to be cured before a visit to the GPs office, useful to keep the
                            queues down. Sometimes a cure isn’t available – the ailment or equipment might not have been researched yet, or if the patient needs operating on and you haven’t got 2 surgeons you can’t cure the patient. You can choose to send them home, or once your research room is up and running and staffed by a doctor with research skills you can sometimes send them there. Once the ailment and equipment has been researched you are given a message by a little guy at the bottom of the screen and can build the correct treatment room. The first 2 clinics are Fracture and Inflation. You see the patients with bandages on various parts of their body. A nurse closes them in a machine where only their heads are showing, the bandages miraculously come off and drop into a bucket and the nurse releases the patient. If they are cured a cheer goes up, if not they walk out of the room and keel over – sometimes into a fiery hole with a devilish looking bloke in a black cloak waiting for them. Sometimes an angel is waiting. Bloaty head is cured in the Inflation Clinic. I thought this ailment sexist. Only men get bloaty head, but both sexes get most of the other ailments. You see blokes with enormous heads put underneath something that looks like one of those drips on stands. Their heads are burst leaving only jagged skin above their shoulders and then their heads are blown up again to a normal size. Once your research room has had a few Slack Tongue patients you can buy and build a Slack Tongue clinic. The poor beggars have enormously swollen red tongues that look really odd waggling up and down as they consult the doctors. Their tongues are put into something that looks like a big ironing press - whoosh their extra length of tongue is chopped off. Once you have met the criteria of each round you are sent a letter inviting you to run another, bigger and better hospital with more pay. After the first round you can buy increasing
                            amounts of land to build more rooms, land that you will need as more patients visit you and lots of extra weird and wonderful ailments are added and different clinics are needed. I won’t go into all of the illnesses but will mention a few that amused me. BALDNESS Just men again and the cause is telling lies and making up stories to be popular. For that you build a Hair Restorer clinic and your patients sit under what looks like an hairdryer. A few seconds and a lot of dollars later if the treatment is a success they emerge with a full head of hair. JELLYITIS I thought that there was something wrong with my computer when the patients with this problem first appeared half way through the game. All of the other patients have solid bodies but these have wavy vague outlines that look as if your patients are going to disappear on you. This affliction is caused by a gelatine rich diet and too much exercise. The symptoms are falling down a lot and excessive wobbliness, the cure a machine that looks like a helter skelter. They climb up to the top and dive in head first, feet kicking. They reappear as a skeleton standing at the bottom and their body and clothes gradually appear from the bottom up. RUPTURED NOODLES The cause is bungee jumping in cold weather and the symptom is an inability to sit down. Those patients are sent to the operating theatre for treatment. HAIRYITIS Patients completely covered with hair that makes them look like mini yetis. They are treated in an Electrolysis clinic by being placed in a machine that send what looks like electrical volts through them while their extra hair falls off to reveal their clothes. Some of the other ailments are sleeping illness, broken wind, sweaty palms, chronic nosehair, heaped piles, spare ribs, TV personalities, discrete itching, radiation contamination, corrugated ankles and alien DNA which appears in the next to last round. These patients have had their
                            DNA mixed with aliens have bright green wrinkly bodies with feet and a big nose, soon sorted if you can afford $20,000 for a DNA clinic when they appear during emergencies. EMERGENCIES To make the game less straightforward you get emergencies to deal with in a specified amount of time. If you choose to deal with the emergencies you need to have the right treatment rooms and specialists. I found it useful to leave enough space to quickly add another room close enough to where the helicopter which brings the patient in lands. If you don’t cure all of the emergency patients you lose part or all of a bonus and your reputation suffers. You can choose not to deal with the emergencies but they are part of the challenge. EPIDEMICS If one of your patients has a contagious disease they can pass it on to all of the others that they have been in contact with. You can either bottle out and declare an epidemic and pay a fine and take a reputation hit to have your patients vaccinated or you can attempt a cover up. When that happens the contagious patients are highlighted with a green icon above their heads and you have a set amount of time to cure them. If you don’t you get a higher fine and reputation hit, if you do you get a compensation award for false rumours. EARTHQUAKES Every now and then there are earthquakes that damage your machinery in the operating theatre, diagnosis rooms and clinics. The more you have the harder it is to get round them all and either repair or buy new machinery before it blows up killing your patient and doctor using it and destroying a room – you can’t build another there. You can click on every piece of machinery and a panel appears. It tells you how many times the machine has been used and gives you a choice of sending for a cleaner for maintenance or buying new machinery. VISITORS Every now and then you get asked if a visitor can look around. You can say yes or put them of
                            f. If you say yes and they like what they see you get varying cash awards. If they don’t like your hospital your reputation can suffer. SOUND & GRAPHICS I thought the graphics were excellent. The little people look cute and not realistic enough to make the game too serious. I laughed when the patients went to the toilet. Some of the men pull newspapers out and sit and read them and you can hear grunts and groans and toilets flushing. Other background sounds come from the machinery when it’s being used or a siren to warn you that a machine needs repairing before it blows up. Every now and then you hear a nasal tannoy message asking doctors or nurses to report to the treatment rooms. Or what made me laugh was announcements asking patients not to be sick or not to die in the corridors. Sometimes you get a vomit virus and patients spewing out brown sick to the accompaniment of retching noises. The poor cleaners get fed up with cleaning the mess up and demand pay rises or quit on you. Then at odd times patients get the squits and squat and squirt brown puddles – good job they aren't wearing undies or you would need a laundry! If you are managing everything well it doesn’t happen too often but it does tend to happen when you are trying to deal with another emergency so you need to be quick and get the cleaners moved or hire more. MUSIC I found the background music a bit monotonous despite being able to select from 8 different tunes or turn the ones off that I didn’t want to listen to. For the last few rounds I turned the sound down and played the game in semi silence. INFORMATION There are lots of different panels giving you information on the games progress. You can find out your monetary status and where the money is going. You can find out if ailments are curable and increase or lower charges made for treatment. You can turn the heating up and see how happy, how thirsty or how w
                            arm your patients are. Another panel shows you how much you have earned, how high your reputation is, how much your hospital is worth and how many and what percentage of patients you have treated. After patients have been in your hospital a while they get an icon above their heads. They start off with a face with a down turned mouth that gradually turns into a skull. You need to get those patients treated as quickly as possible before they die and your reputation suffers. COMPETITION You are supposed to be competing against 3 other hospitals but the competition isn’t that hot and didn’t really mean anything to me. You can also play Theme Hospital online with others but I haven’t tried that yet. DOWNSIDE I got my copy in a DVD case, but was disappointed that there was no tutorial. I found that on the CD and had to print off 18 A4 pages to learn how to play the game. PLAYABILITY I found Theme Hospital easy to learn how to play and very addictive. The challenges were enough not to find the game too easy and to keep me playing without boredom for many hours. I liked being able to save the game when I wanted or being able to restart a round if it wasn't going too well for me. WAS IT WORTH IT? Absolutely, I would have been quite happy to pay a lot more for Theme Hospital. As you might already have gathered I loved playing this game. So much that I got withdrawal symptoms and missed it when I had completed it. The good news is that I’ve just found a download to enable me to add a pregnancy clinic at http://www.eudoxus.demon.co.uk/thc/ and now I can play it again with this free extra. SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Windows 95/98 (Apparently there are problems with ME that require a patch) Intel Pentium Processor 25MB Hard Disk Space 4x CD Rom Drive DirectX 3.0 Compatible 1MB Videocard DirectX 3.0 Compatible Soundcard Theme Hospital was released in 1997 by
                            Bullfrog and is available on Amazon for £6.99 Demo downloadable from http://www.medsvr.co.uk/th/demo.zip

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                              15.03.2003 16:17
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                              Based in Grantley a fictitious suburb of London East End, the story begins with a shocking and puzzling new case for Detective Inspector Kate Burrows. Two year old Jamie is reported missing by his mother Regina. He is discovered on the top of a derelict building that is just about to be demolished. A description of the woman who abandoned him to his fate fits his mother. 18 month old Christian is dumped into the back of a garbage disposal truck by a woman and shortly afterwards Caroline reports her two young sons missing. Witnesses to the incident describe a woman who looks like Caroline. Her other young son Ivor is still missing. The body of an unknown young boy is discovered on a rubbish tip. He hasn't been reported missing - doesn't anybody care? More children go missing - more mothers are under suspicion. They all live on the same housing estate, they are all single parents and they all neglect their children in a matter of fact normal way of life to them. Mickey Dougan is killed. Beaten to death in Girlie Girls, a lap-dancing club partly owned by Patrick Kelly. Patrick lives with Kate and has promised to go straight after years of being a hardman in London’s underworld. Kate doesn’t know about his partial ownership of the club and that he still maintains strong links with the criminal fraternities that could compromise her position in the police force. He knows that she will find out but Mickey was one of his men and murdered on his turf. Patrick needs to know why and how much of a threat the killing is to him despite the risk to his relationship. Both stories run side by side and both are powerful in their own way. We have a story of gross neglect by young mothers towards their children. Young mothers who are heavily involved with drug taking and prostitution and are suspected of allowing their children to be used by paedophiles for monetary gain. Kate needs to solve the case quickly be
                              fore more children are harmed, but why do the mothers seem to be abandoning their children? Patrick’s predicament gives us an insight into the intricacies of the London underworld and corruption at the highest level. We see the intense loyalty of his henchman of many years Willie Duggan, who is kidnapped and tortured. We see the fear of lesser criminals who get in the way of hoodlums who demand allegiance, but allegiance depends upon which hoodlum is the highest in the pecking order – or the most feared. New kid on the block Boris the good-looking arrogant Russian is up and coming and totally ruthless. Along with his henchman Sergei they inspire fear into everybody who crosses their paths including Patrick and Willy. Boris wants Patricks turf but Patrick is most reluctant to let go. That’s enough of the storyline. There are lots of twists and turns in this ambitious 660 page novel, certainly enough to keep me totally engrossed for days. I normally find anything about child abuse and paedophiles too upsetting and harrowing to enjoy reading about, but Martina treats the subject with care. We are told what is happening without too much graphic detail that would have marred the book for me. I learned just enough to make me want to read to the end to find out if the beasts got what they deserved. It ends with a twist in the tale. I guessed what that might be but that in no way marred my enjoyment of the novel. Although Martina treated the subject of child abuse carefully my skin did crawl at times. One of the characters is a gross man called Lucas who deals in child prostitution and child pornography. I particularly wanted that horrendous beast to get his come uppance. The main character Kate came across well. In her 40s she holds down a demanding and at times harrowing job. She could have been stereotyped as a tough clever female cop but we are shown a strong warm human side as she tries to hold herself toge
                              ther with problems in her domestic life at the same time as having a very difficult and emotive case to solve. Kate struggles to understand how anybody could harm a child and especially it’s own mother. I could empathise with that struggle and felt that it was portrayed well. I felt a bit at odds with Patrick’s character. Although he is supposed to be going straight for the sake of his relationship with Kate he is prepared to kill to save face, knowing that he could lose the woman that he claims to love beyond anything. A warm side to him emerges when he is with Kate, but as a police officer with strong ethics her relationship with a villain causes her a great deal of emotional conflict. I haven’t read anything from Martina Cole before but I found Broken to be one of the most compelling novels that I have ever read. Martina’s writing style is straightforward and easy to read without too many unnecessary flowery descriptions that can be boring to me. Right from the first page my interest was caught and I didn’t want to put the book down and had to force myself to stop reading when dawn was breaking and I needed to get some sleep before my next shift at work. There is an unusually large number of diverse characters in this novel. Normally I would have lost track of who was who and have to keep looking back to find out, but I didn’t have that problem with Broken. I think that was because I became so intensely involved with the storylines that each character had his or her place for me and was memorable. Broken is the follow up to Martina Cole’s previous novel The Ladykiller, the story of how Patrick and Kate meet and fall in love. My only regret is that I didn’t read The Ladykiller first, Broken is a fantastic compelling read that I can highly recommend. Broken is available on Amazon for £5.59

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                                24.02.2003 05:36
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                                I grabbed Fear Nothing with relish as soon as I saw it on the library shelves. Dean Koontz became my favourite horror storywriter a few years ago and I looked forward to reading one of the few books of his that I hadn't already read. Fear Nothing centres around 28 year old writer Christopher Snow who was born with a rare genetic disorder called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. His condition means that his skin and eyes are extremely sensitive to light and especially sunlight that can cause irreparable cancerous damage to him. Because of this Chris lives his life at night in Moonlight Bay and like a vampire goes to bed at sunrise. Even artificial light is damaging to him and he has to wear special extra strong sunglasses. The novel starts on the evening of his father’s death. Chris goes to the hospital where the lights are thoughtfully dimmed on his entry and is with his father when he dies. His sorrow is more poignant when you learn that his mother had died in a car accident 2 years earlier and that apart from his friends he has nobody to help him to bridge the gap between the normal day time world and his twilight one. Before he leaves the hospital he is shocked to discover that his fathers body has been switched with that of a murdered hitchhiker and Chris spends the rest of the night endangering himself by searching for answers to the mystery that unfolds around Moonlight Bay. He finds people who have changed in themselves making it hard for him to know who to trust. A clever cat comes to his aid while he is trying to escape from being hunted down. We meet his dog Orson who is an Orson Welles fan and reveals an intelligence that dogs don’t normally have. Then there are rhesus monkeys with golden eyes that are nastier and cleverer than normal monkeys. He suspects that the strangeness and change around him has something to do with an ex government research centre Fort Wyvern, where his mother worked as a genetic scientist b
                                efore she died. His findings make him wonder if her death was really an accident and touch upon the problems that can be caused by genetic research. Apart from Chris and his adorable mutt Orson the other two main characters are his girlfriend Sasha and best friend Bobby. Sasha is a night DJ at the local radio station and Bobby lives in a house on the beach and runs a lucrative business providing information about where the best waves for surfing are going to be and when. They don’t come into the story much at first but another obstacle for Chris is the fear that Bobby or Sasha will be harmed if he continues to search for the truth, or that they may have changed too. I enjoyed reading Fear Nothing right from the very first paragraph until the quite satisfactory ending. Dean Koontz is a superb writer who knows how to draw you in straight away and makes me want to devour every word. He has done this time after time for me with excellent novels like Shattered, Lightning, Midnight, The Door To December, Hideaway, The Funhouse and Demon Seed. As with his other best selling novels Dean creates tension in every chapter of Fear Nothing and uses his imagination to create gripping unreal storylines that become real in your imagination for a short time. Added to that there were touches of humour involving the dog Orson that made me smile at the same time as feeling the suspense. Unlike his other novels Koontz has added an extra dimension by writing it in a first person style that works well for this novel. We get into the mind of Christopher Snow and can feel his thoughts and fears as each new revelation or obstacle comes along. He is very laid back when you consider the difficulties that XP causes him in normal life, never mind the 2 horrific nights that the story centres around. He has learned to accept his disorder and make the most of what he can do in life despite the restrictions that his condition imposes. I felt that Dean Koontz
                                did well introducing this character. Apart from the empathy that you feel with Chris his disorder creates extra obstacles in his search for the truth and trying to escape from the villains around him. He can’t go just anywhere in Moonlight Bay because of the hampering light but those who pursue him can. His matter of factness and lack of frustration at his limitations can seem quite strange but then I realised that I find the same qualities in most people with disabilities and the character became more lifelike to me. I was kept guessing at the ending which was as I said quite satisfactory. Not everything was resolved which would be frustrating if I didn’t know that Fear Nothing was the first novel in a trilogy and the second one Seize The Night was published a year after Fear Nothing in 1999. Fear Nothing is listed on Amazon for £5.59. Or it is available together with the second part of the trilogy Seize The Night for £11.18 I can’t find any details of the third novel in the trilogy, but perhaps that hasn’t been written yet.

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                                  05.02.2003 16:35
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                                  • "Only one lift working"

                                  I stayed in the hotel Britannia in Birmingham for a weekend last August where I met a large group of Dooyoo and Ciao members. The hottest weekend of the year was certainly very memorable, a fantastic time but what about the hotel? My first impression of the Britannia wasn't very favourable. That could have been because the instructions that the hotel had sent on how to get there from the M6 were not very good and after driving around for ages only the car park which isn't attached to the hotel could be found. We lugged our cases up and down steps through a shopping centre after Mel (cheekychicken) asked for directions and were slightly travel worn by the time we found the entrance that was down an alley. Access was through revolving doors and then down a rather steep wheelchair ramp into a dark and dismal looking reception. We had no problems checking in, but I was witness to two of our group checking in the next day and a mix up which meant that they had been given a double room instead of 2 singles. The receptionist promised that something would be sorted for them but it wasn't and they had to rearrange things themselves - that's their story though. There were 2 lifts but one of them was broken down the whole weekend. Apart from the long waiting the other had a mind of its own but more about that later. It was a big relief to reach my room on the sixth floor where I freshened up quickly and hung my clothes up before going to meet cheekychicken (Mel) and Deano76 (Dean) who I had travelled down with, in the hotel bar. I wasn't madly impressed with the room either, the decor was a bit dingy, the furnishings were old and some of the wallpaper was peeling off. In my room there was a tiny single bed, a small table with a TV on it which I didn't watch, a dressing table and chair, a smallish built in wardrobe with shelves, a bedside table with a lamp sitting on it that worked and a standing lamp that d
                                  idn't work. Apparently you were supposed to use different combinations of switches to turn the lights on reminding me of the Crystal Maze, but who would imagine that one switch for each wouldn't do the job. It was very noisy in my room due to building work that was going on outside and the hotel being in the middle of a busy shopping area. The bathroom had standard white fittings with a shower in the bath. No shower mat, which I think should be an essential to help avoid slipping in the bath. White towels, two sachets of body and hair shampoo and soap were provided. Also provided was a kettle, cup and saucer, just two tea bags, two sachets of coffee, two tubs of milk (good job I drink black tea) and four sachets of sugar. I was glad that I had brought some bottles of Doctor Peppers to quench my day after the night before thirst that I expected on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I had a balcony that looked grubbily ancient. A net curtain with a big hole in it covered the door that I always left open due to the stifling heat in the hotel - apparantly the radiators were on full blast. I stood on the balcony which had a metal grill around it for a little while just to cool off before going down to Harvey’s bar which was situated 2 floors below the first and the floor above the ground floor reception. Mel and Dean weren't in the bar so instead of waiting in the by now suffocating heat I left the hotel and took a walk around outside. As it was late afternoon the shops were closing so it was just nice to window shop and get some fresh air. There didn't seem to be any noticeably working air conditioning in the hotel or fans, so at any given time over the weekend it was hotter inside than out. Refreshed I lost my way twice before I found my room again. The hotel, which used to be a Department Store, was like a rabbit warren, but the layout was no more confusing than the roads into Birmingham or the general are
                                  a surrounding the hotel. I took a cool shower before getting ready for the evening. I felt hot and sweaty again almost before I’d dried off and had to escape to the balcony several times in various stages of undress and regardless of whoever might be at the windows overlooking mine – I didn’t care the heat was that bad. Mel and Dean still weren’t around when I went back to the bar but I quite happily chatted to members of a Bermudan cricket team while I waited. One of the players Reggie, treated me to my first half of much needed cool lager which tasted great. The lowest of the fluctuating prices was £1.10 - quite good for a hotel bar, but I would question why the prices fluctuated. The 23 year old bartender was very friendly and attentative, quickly satisfying my every need – well as far as serving me drinks and fetching the ash tray and emptying it as soon as I stubbed my cig out was concerned. After my speedily consumed second half – well it was hot and Reggie was threatening to take me back to Bermuda with him – I nipped out for something to eat. On my return about 20 minutes later I was slightly relieved to find that Reggie and the rest of the players had left and sat on a bar stool until Mel and Dean turned up, chatting to the cricket coach and the bartender who again provided excellent service. That is until I told him that I was there for the meet. The truth came out then. He thought that I was one of a party of three from head office in London visiting to check up on the place. We laughed about his mistake but after that the level of service deteriorated, still quite good but not excellent as previously. I missed out on an extra 20 minutes of chatting with KirstyJane and Superpricee because they were tucked away in a corner which was hidden from where I was at the bar. Not long after Mel and Dean turned up Michaird and Kittykat18 arrived and we all had a brilliant night out t
                                  hat ended around 3.00 am. I was really cheesed off at 8.00 the next morning to be jerked out of my self inflicted booze coma by building work in progress. I was just dozing off again when a busker started up outside. He was playing 2 Caribbean drums (can’t remember what they are called), lovely to listen to normally but not when you have a skanking hangover. Giving up on sleep I made a cup of tea, then a coffee and chilled out for a while reading a magazine. Just after 10.00 am a maid walked into the room without knocking first. Apologies were made but I was not happy about the unannounced intrusion that ended my chill out time. I washed and dressed and got out of the hotel as soon as I could before melting. First I hid the remainder of the drink sachets before leaving because I knew that if topped up to the previous level there wouldn’t be enough for my needs. My search for somewhere to eat that wasn’t junk food took over an hour because I lost my way several times and kept coming back to square one. I didn’t want breakfast in the hotel, which was in with the cost because of the heat. Back at the hotel I was pleased to find that double the previous amount of drink sachets were waiting for me but I only wanted water at that point. I went to look for the room where we were all meeting but the lift showed me its quirk of depositing passengers at the wrong floor. I got out without realising and started to wander one of those endless look-alike passages. Boy what a relief it was to spot a friendly face. My night in shining armour (ok jeans kenjohn) knew the way and escorted me to the room. No prize for guessing what he does for a living in Dublin. The initial meeting was a great success despite the heat that made most of us beat a path to the water cooler. Jo (pinkle) and I left the meeting a couple of times to grab some food and air. Going in a lift with her is hilarious because of the funny comments that she
                                  makes in front of strangers; just as well that we could laugh because trying to escape from the furnace was testing to say the least. Every time we left the building that day and on Sunday the heavy ramp had been moved to one side making escape by wheelchair impossible. A coffee table hindered the straightening up of Jo’s wheelchair to enable us to get it up the ramp. Weakened by the heat it was a struggle for me to drag it back into place. When we got to the top of the ramp we couldn’t get the wheelchair through the revolting doors and had to wait for a member of staff to push the revolving bit to one side. This happened on another 2 occasions convincing me that the entrance was not suitable for handicapped people or I would think anybody with more than one medium sized suitcase. Getting ready for the evening I got in a bit of a flap when the antiquated shower handle came off in my hand. I couldn’t see well enough to replace the handle in its slot so I had to climb out of the shower and find my specs. It took a bit of sorting and by the time that I’d done that the bathroom floor was swimming. The towel wasn’t big enough to mop the floodwater up so I got wet feet every time that I used the bathroom mirror. More times than expected because as soon as I went into the bedroom area the bulb in the lamp flickered before it gave up the ghost. Left with only twilight I tried a few combinations of switches to get the standing lamp going without any success. I have a vague impression that it didn’t have a bulb in; my fingers didn’t encounter one anyway. Before joining the others I decided to go to reception and get the lights sorted out. The lift stopped at the wrong floor again and I forgot to get back in again before it set off. Walking down the steps was thirsty work but by accident I found the bar rather than the reception. Thirst quenched with a lager I set off on my journey again. It took 5 att
                                  empts in the lift to get to the ground floor reception. Each time I was diverted back to Harvey’s bar much to the amusement of my newfound friends who laughed and cleared a space at the bar every time they saw me. Obviously the lift wanted me there so I took advantage of 3 of the extra visits to quench my thirst. I didn’t want to be drunk by the time I got to reception so I risked the stairs again and found it straight away. A promise was made to sort out the lights in my room immediately so I waited and waited for the lift to come to take me to the third floor where the rest of the group were. It didn’t get there. Once again I was taken to the bar and grabbed a quickie before using the stairs. One and a half hours later I went to my room to fetch something. It was in darkness and the light from the bathroom wasn’t adequate enough. I propped the door open with the chair and stumbled round with a lighter in each hand, stubbing my toes and burning my thumb in the process. I’m sure that the guy at reception could tell how angry I was because it was then fixed immediately. He tried to tell me later that I’d pressed the wrong combination in the silly switch system but when a bulb flickers for several times before going out even I know that the bulb has gone. It was 4.00 am when I crawled into bed looking forward to a few hours sleep. No sooner had my eyes shut then 2 men started to sing in the next room. Loud enough for me to think that they were in my room and make me half open my glued together with make up eyes while I looked round to allay my fears. Once the singing had stopped I settled down to be disturbed again by a chorus of very loud seagulls grrrrr. Not the hotels fault I know but perhaps earplugs should have been available in every room. I only slept until 7.00 am and took full advantage of the tea and coffee, remembering my hidden cache while I came round. I packed and was enthroned when
                                  the outside door of the room which was just opposite the loo started to open. After shouting a warning in the nick of time I got another apology but I can’t understand why on earth the maids don’t knock first, common courtesy I would have thought. I managed to get to the breakfast room before eleven. There wasn’t much food left though I was told that it was a very nice buffet style breakfast, so I settled for juice, a slice of toast and a gossip. I had to ask 3 members of staff for some life saving coffee. Stood there waiting and waiting while they busied themselves with anything but. I was nearly falling over with weakness by the time somebody got me some and it was only after asking her for the second time. I went up to the fifth floor to see if Jo was awake and we got lost on her floor while looking for the lift. The umpteen doors were a normal width and part at the side had to be pushed open to accommodate the wheelchair. Endorsing my feeling that the hotel is eminently unsuitable for wheelchair access and a big risk if a fire broke out. We met in the meeting room again while waiting for the bar to open at the promised 12.30, it didn’t but somehow it wasn’t much of a surprise. I was told that there was a shortage of staff. Pretty evident from the events of the weekend. The staff were friendly and helpful enough but I had the feeling that they were so used to complaints that they weren’t as quick as they might be handling them. I paid £90 for a single room for 2 nights but the price according to the list in reception should have been £200. If I had paid that much I would have been choked and demanding a refund. The hotel wasn’t worth that much by a long chalk. Jo called it Hotel California, my name for it is Hotel Hades. Despite the hotel I had a brilliant time and am looking forward to the next meet. Thanks Offy, Ana, Craig, Dean and Mel for organising it.

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