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    • Don't Tell The Bride / TV Programme / 83 Readings / 80 Ratings
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      17.10.2009 23:53
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      One of the better realityTV shows

      Generally speaking I am not a great fan of reality television and go to great lengths to avoid programmes like "Big Brother" and "I'm a Celebrity" but "Don't Tell the Bride" is one I can tolerate and sometimes even enjoy. This is an offering from Renegade Pictures, a production company based in North London, which purports to specialise in "high quality factual programmes including feature documentaries, broadcast documentaries, factual formats and series". However, as none of its other products ring any bells with me, I will move swiftly on! At present in its third series, "Don't Tell the Bride" is screened each week on BBC 3, with the initial broadcast on a Tuesday evening and repeats playing throughout the week. The last three episodes can also currently be viewed on BBC iPlayer.

      Each one hour episode is devoted to one couple and the recipe is simplicity itself. Take one loving, cash-strapped couple, give them £12,000, mix together in a haphazard fashion and serve up one perfect wedding. But of course there must be a catch and indeed there are several. The preparation time is just three weeks, the couple must have no contact in that time, horror of horror, the bridegroom must organize every last detail even his partner's wedding gown and they must sign a contract to this effect in front of a lawyer. Despite everything the end result is usually a gourmet offering but it's one which often seems to owe more to luck than to judgement.

      Quite how the couples are selected is open to speculation but I notice the credits include a fair sized casting crew which presumably seeks out couples of a certain predisposition because the brides are usually the controllers in the relationship with very definite ideas of what they want whilst the grooms are laid back types who, whilst not exactly useless, generally somewhat lack in drive and organizational skills.

      The formula is inevitably the same in each episode as we follow the groom and his accomplices getting in the beers and playing their computer games whilst the brides and their cronies fret, worry and mull over all that can go wrong and how their dreams might be trashed! Tension is built up by the juxtaposition of scenes such as the bride visiting her ideal location and the groom booking one which bears no similarity. In one episode the bride dreams of a picturesque country retreat whilst the groom is enquiring about the Aston Villa ground. He eventually settled for a second rate hotel by Manchester airport plus a claret and blue colour scheme but his beloved was happy enough! Often the dress is a problem and, as the bride tries on wedding dresses, she will declare her distaste for a certain style whilst the groom is seen handing over the cash for just such an abhorrent creation! The viewer is inevitably left wondering if the bride will walk away in disgust on her big day but knowing that inevitably there will be a happy ever after ending.

      Often the families will feel it necessary to get involved. The Mum who is fretting that four days before the wedding no invitations have gone out, the Dad who is worried there won't be enough liquid refreshment collars his son-in- law to be but saves the day with a cash contribution. My favourite was in a recent episode when a formidable Grandma (a dead ringer for Blanche in Corrie) cornered her grandson, the groom, berating him for causing her sleepless nights and aggravating her arthritis and issuing an ultimatum that all arrangements must be finalized before he touched another drop of alcohol. Needless to say, her grandson, suitably chastened, obeyed her dictates with some alacrity!

      Considering all has to be accomplished in a nail biting three weeks, it's a miracle that it all comes together and everything turns out pretty perfectly. I am sure that the various traders will be swayed and go that extra mile knowing they will get some TV publicity and it's obvious that the production team will be heavily involved in the behind the scenes arrangements but it's remarkable nevertheless.

      It's a programme that will probably be of more appeal to the ladies who, let's face it, have more of an interest in such ceremonies and are generally of a more romantic disposition. The men's discomfort will be the cause of great mirth borne of female superiority as they indulge in outbursts of amused tut-tutting at the weaker sex's lack of organizational ability. They will also find immense pleasure getting through the tissues during the ceremonial grand finale. But the gents will surely also find something to please. If nothing else there is usually a scantily clad female at the stag do! My apologies for the unashamed sexism here but it's a fact of life!

      The greatest strength of the show for me is that participants are all very natural. There is no posing for the camera and no presenter interviews or interference, just a true fly on the wall perspective as events unfold. Unfortunately I am not too impressed with the narration. The script lacks sparkle and the narrator, Rebekah Stanton, has a somewhat breathy voice and flat delivery which can become monotonous. It needs a more humourous script with a generous sprinkling of tongue in cheek sarcasm here and there and a narrator with much more panache in the delivery. Somebody of the calibre of Dave Lamb and his brand a cutting wit as demonstrated in the series "Come Dine with Me" springs to mind and a substitution of this order would really add to the programme's appeal.

      Apart from this the production's greatest weakness is the lack of variety. All the couples fall into the same late twenties to early thirties age group, all are heterosexual couplings and all opt for very traditional white wedding. Why not give a chance to older couples, to same sex partnerships and to less traditional participants who might opt for more unusual ceremonial options? This would certainly widen the appeal.

      Nevertheless I quite enjoy my weekly dose of tirades, tantrums, tears, tribulations and triumphs in its easily digestible, bite-sized format but then I am a typical romantic female. If, like me, you enjoy a good cry over a confetti shower then don your best bib and tucker, pour yourself a glass of bubbly, grab you tissues and join me.

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      • tesco.com / Online Shop / 137 Readings / 133 Ratings
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        13.06.2009 03:07
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        Such convenience can cost you dear - be vigilant!

        This is less of a review and more of a warning as an experience today made me think I should issue a quick alert to all online Tesco shoppers!

        Apart from the time several years ago when my Christmas order did not turn up and they claimed it had been stolen and would not resend, I have been generally happy with the service over the many years I have used it.

        Now I am the first to admit that I am quite slip shod when it comes to managing finances and do not always give my bank statements the close scrutiny I should but today something jumped out at me! On 28th May Tesco had taken two identical sums from my account thus charging me £89 over the odds! Obviously I had been charged twice for the same order!

        The gent at Tesco Customer Services was quite helpful when I rang although it took a lot of holding the line and piped music before he agreed they had made a mistake, apologised and promised a refund. Of course he blamed it all on computer error!

        The matter was then clearly concluded from his perspective but I was feeling uncharacteristically assertive and questioned whether they would be offering me some compensation. After a lot of murmurs and vocal shufflings, he magnanimously agreed to send me an electronic voucher for £10. This duly arrived in my inbox within a few minutes.

        Really I think it was the least they could do after such a glaring faux pas and should have been offered unprompted. After all Sainsbury's give a £10 voucher if they are late with your order - even by a few minutes. But it was a salutory lesson and just shows that it pays to be vigilant and even a little cheeky!

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        • chambersharrap.co.uk / Internet Site / 95 Readings / 92 Ratings
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          07.06.2009 20:50
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          An interesting and useful site which would benefit from some updating features

          I first came across chambersharrap.co.uk some years ago when I was searching for online crosswords. Since then it has ranked high on my favourite click list especially when I am writing reviews. Although primarily designed as a showcase for Chambers' published offerings and a resource selling the same direct to online shoppers, the site has a number of other features which I find both useful, entertaining and worth sharing! My apologies in advance that this is a long review but there is a lot to cover!

          ~~~THE FIRM & ITS HISTORY~~~

          Chambers, of course, are best known for their dictionaries and phrase books but they publish quite a number of other titles most of which are concerned with language in some guise. I knew they went back some years as I can remember there being a very well thumbed version of their English dictionary on the family bookshelves some fifty years ago. My parents referred me to it whenever I questioned the meaning or spelling of a word and thus it became the object of my extreme dislike!

          However Chambers go back even further than me to the early nineteenth century and to two brothers, Robert and William Chambers. They had been born into a prosperous mill owning family in Peebles but when the family fortune was lost, apparently as a result of the war with France, they had to find work. William was apprenticed to a bookseller in Edinburgh and a couple of years later when Robert left school he rented a one room shop in Leith Walk, Edinburgh selling books from his own collection and what was left of his father's library. He was just 16. William joined him shortly afterwards when his apprenticeship finished and, from these humble beginnings, Chambers was born.

          Robert and William invested some of their early profits in a printing press and around 1819, with no training in either printing or binding, produced 750 copies of "The Songs of Robert Burns". In 1824 they published a work by Robert entitled, "The Traditions of Edinburgh". 1832 saw their first entry into the world of periodicals with "The Chambers Journal", a weekly with articles (many written by Robert) on history, religion, language and science. Over the next two decades they ventured into educational works including over one hundred short textbooks for schools on almost every subject. There were several precursors of their most celebrated and enduring work but it was not until 1872 that the first edition of "Chambers English Dictionary" was published. By the end of the century, W & R Chambers was one of the largest English language publishers in the world.

          Today, the company, now more correctly entitled Chambers Harrap following its acquisition of the Harrap's bilingual dictionary list in the early 1990s, is part of the Hachette Livre UK Group but it continues to be based in Edinburgh. More information on the history of the firm can be found on the website.

          ~~~THE WEBSITE IN GENERAL~~~

          With its plain white background highlighted by the slim red band running down the left of the screen, the appearance of the site is quite stylish and clearly set out. It has a "well cut" appearance which contrasts favourably with some other book sites, for example Amazon, which seem to cram too much information into too small a space in a jumble which I find confusing but maybe this is unfair as Chambers are peddling a much smaller selection of goods.

          As far as it goes, the site is also very quick to load and easy to navigate via just nine links which run down the left hand side of the home page. However it is not the most sophisticated of its type and lacks several features one would expect to find such as an FAQ section, a sitemap or a site search facility whilst some of the features which are present are difficult to find such as their security and privacy statements which comes under the unlikely link entitled Shopping Basket! I emailed their web manager about the perceived deficiencies to ensure I had not missed anything but after a fortnight I still have not received an acknowledgement let alone a reply! Therefore I can't claim this is an all singing and all dancing offering but it remains well worth a visit.

          ~~~THE ONLINE BOOKSHOP~~~

          ~The Portfolio/Catalogue~

          As a librarian I have been familiar with many of Chamber's more serious titles for many years as they always form part of any reference collection worth its salt. Apart from their ordinary dictionaries and thesauruses which come in many shapes and sizes - compact, giant, pocket, mini, large print -Chambers publish other dictionaries which are subject based; these include some centring on the more usual suspects such as Slang, Quotations, Biography, Science and Technology and World History whilst others, for example the Dictionary of the Unexplained, are less predictable! One of my favourites in the dictionary range is the legendary "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable" which has delighted readers since Victorian times with it's eclectic mix of words, expressions, folklore, general knowledge and trivia. Devoted fans apparently include Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman and Maeve Binchy.

          But the Chambers range goes far beyond English dictionaries and thesauruses and it is well worth a perusal. There are learning ranges for students of all ages including adult literacy and numeracy titles plus writing and desktop guides - whole tomes on such topics as synonyms and antonyms, better spelling, perfect punctuation, business English, letter writing, report writing and writing for the web. Those rooted in earthbound realities may be attracted to the Factfinder Range which includes collections on Sport, History, the World, Film and Science whilst those drawn to the more ethereal might be tempted by works on "Myths and Mysteries" or "Ghosts and Sprits".

          There are also volumes which cater for more recreational interests including no less than eighteen crossword titles, including both collections and aids to solving the same. The Family Scrabble Dictionary may be the answer for all families who (like mine) need an arbiter every time the board appears. A range on Card Games stretches to five titles including one on card tricks which is due to publish soon.

          And it's not all serious! For example, "Chamber's Smut" invites you to "get down and dirty with the filthiest words", the "Gigglossary" is a collection of funny definitions whilst "Weasel Words" seeks "to demystify words that are deliberately used to bewilder, fool or confuse" ( the language we might associate with estate agents and politicians and similar 'professionals'!)

          Last but not least, are the bilingual offerings. French Dictionaries and Study Aids predominate presumably because of the Hachette connection. However there are works on vocabulary and grammar for Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic and a range of twenty phrasebooks which includes more unusual languages such as Korean, Croatian and Brazilian Portuguese. There are even titles covering French German and Spanish slang not to mention titles covering rude words in French and in Spanish.

          Thus Chambers provides a great variety of titles and I have found it invaluable over the years for present ideas especially for those who are difficult to buy for. Years ago I bought my Dad one of the slang dictionaries and it kept him engrossed over much of the Christmas holiday, as he sat giggling in a corner and occasionally regaling us with little nuggets. An elderly aunt was rather taken with "Chambers Kiss Chase and Conkers" which details eighty traditional children's games including skipping rhymes and clapping chants. A friend, who is a crossword fanatic, was intrigued by "Chambers Morse Crosswords": this is a collection from the Oxford Times which were all set by Colin Dexter, the creator of the beer drinking, classical music loving and enigmatic Inspector Morse. I could go on but think this is enough to illustrate that most people would find something useful, of interest or just to amuse in this collection.

          ~Shopping, Ordering, Prices and Delivery~

          Here I have to mention the worst weakness of the site which is the lack of a search facility for finding individual titles. The bookshop section is subdivided into groups which are none too helpful. Some are quite clearly defined such as Dictionaries, Thesauruses, Crosswords and Phrasebooks but others, such as Adult Learners, Learning, Desktop Guides, can be quite confusing whilst the group entitled Reference is really just a miscellany of titles which do not fit elsewhere! There is an online version of their paper catalogue but this is very unsatisfactory because if you wish to see a full page at a time the print is too small to read and if you zoom in to a readable magnification the necessary scrolling back and forth and up and down to read the entire entry is a slow and very frustrating process plus, of course, there are no links to the ordering process. I usually end up searching through the entire online list which is great for browsing but less helpful when seeking specifics!

          Once you have identified a title of interest, a mouse click will quickly lead to the product description and these are really well presented and clear. In addition to the usual bibliographical details, each entry contains a decent photo, a short précis of contents and a longer abstract giving more in depth details. The "Buy Now" button will quickly deposit a chosen item into the shopping basket which can be easily accessed at any time from one of the left hand links. This will display the running total of your order together with details of the ordering procedure (which includes the security provisions (SSL protocol encryption) and privacy statements) and delivery charges.

          It's worth noting that Chambers' online prices are quite substantially discounted and often they are cheaper than Amazon but not always! Their delivery charges are also reasonable at £1.50 per order plus 50p for each book within that order for UK destinations. There are separate scales for orders to other places in Western Europe and to the rest of the world. However they only accept credit cards (Master, Visa and American Express). This can be really inconvenient as is the fact that you can't set up an account and have to enter your personal details every time you order!

          Although I must admit I don't use them often as I usually go via the Amazon route to use up vouchers from various sources, the orders I have placed have been trouble free. There is no sophistication here beyond an email acknowledging your order, no information concerning despatch and certainly no order tracking facility. Delivery also takes a while, in fact it's advisable to allow one - two weeks, but orders have always arrived eventually and have been accurate and well packed.

          Although this site may not be my first choice for book shopping, it is adequate and has some features which appeal, not least, the commendable descriptions and cheap prices. In general it's always worth a visit before ordering a Chambers' title online.

          ~~~ FOR EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS~~~

          One feature I have not explored too closely but which may be of interest to those in the education field is the Learning link.

          Here teachers can consult school catalogues online or print them off for inspection, register to receive up to three inspection copies of certain student titles and place orders for 'class sets' at discounts of up to 35%.

          There are also free downloadable activity sheets and handouts for various age groups from 7 to 14 plus and, although I can't assess these with a teacher's eye, they appear to be quite useful.

          ~~~OTHER SITE FEATURES~~~

          This is where I describe the features which bring me back to the site again and again. I should preface this with a warning. These all appeal to me because I am a lover of the English language with all its conundrums and eccentricities, a fan of trivia, an unaccomplished crossword enthusiast, a boring stickler for correct spelling and a review writer who likes to pepper her scribblings with some variety by using a number of alternative adjectives, verbs, adverbs, nouns and expletives in the hope she will not bore her readers with the over use of any name, expression, term or similar designation! (I realise that the last two assertions concerning my spelling fetish and my never ending search for synonyms may open the flood gates which will allow my fellow reviewers to pour on me the cold water of assertions that I do not succeed but I do aspire to those heights!). These are the personality quirks which draw me to Chambers. If you share none of my idiosyncrasies you may well be bored by the ensuing paragraphs and wish to skip to the conclusion!

          ~On This Day~

          This is an ever-changing feature to be found on the home page. It's not a particularly unusual or remarkable feature but it does include less common place facts! Here I am on 7th June learning that on this day in 1947 the premiere of Britten's opera Peter Grimes was staged, in 1977 over a million people lined London's streets watching the Queen's Silver Jubilee procession( I was there!), in 1946, the BBC resumed normal transmissions with the same Mickey Mouse cartoon which had been showing when the service was shut down for the duration of the war in September 1939, in 1906, the ill-fated Lusitania was launched and in 2000 Tony Blair was famously heckled when addressing members of the Women's Institute. None are earth shattering events but entertain me nevertheless.

          ~Chambers Editors' Blogs ( their punctuation, not mine!)~

          This is a link to the feature entitled "clishmaclaver", a Scottish noun meaning 'gossip'! Here you can find an eclectic mix of musings on lexicographic and language-related matters which may bore some but which I find quite fascinating. Examples of the postings in the last couple of weeks might illustrate the appeal:-

          A Hairy Situation - consists of hair related words, definitions and stereotypes. A mullet is defined as "short at the front long at the back and ridiculous all round", a comb over as "a vain attempt to make the most of one's dwindling resources of hair". The possible origins of the stereotype of fiery tempered redheads are considered as being linked to situations where redness is seen as synonymous with extreme bad temper (seeing red, red mist etc.)

          Let's Talk about Text - is a follow up to an earlier blog concerning the world of the text messages, how our language is being transformed by the same and the shortcomings of predictive text.

          Cornering the Meerkat - is a discussion of the origin of this name which in Dutch means lake (or sea) cat but which also may have associations with the Hindu word "markat" meaning "monkey", all of which ignore the fact that the creature is in fact a mongoose!

          A Different Kettle of Ghoti - centres on the shortcomings of our spelling system where one spelling - "ough" - can have nine different pronunciations and whereby the term " ghoti" could be read as "fish" ( a George Bernard Shaw example which is worth thinking about!)

          Are you yawning yet? Skipping quickly on then ....


          ~Search Chambers~

          This is probably the facet I use most often and which can be reached from the Features link. It is also present throughout the site at the top of each page. In fact it is confusing because you think you are searching the site when in fact you are searching the Chambers English Dictionary, Thesaurus or Biographical Dictionary! Confused? I shall attempt to explain.

          Here you can enter a word and chose between the sources as listed above which resource you wish to search. Thus you can find definitions (Dictionary), synonyms, antonyms and related words (Thesaurus) or life histories ( Biographical Dictionary) and this is a free facility. It is so handy when working online and you wish to check spelling or find alternatives to use without having to drag heavy tomes from the book shelves.

          Unfortunately it is not fool proof! Searches for plurals and some participles or tenses will yield a nil result, as will spelling errors as there is no google-type second guessing as to what you might have in mind. Nevertheless I find it very useful especially when I am unsure if I am using a word in context or need a decent alternative to prevent the over-use of a term.

          I don't use the biographical dictionary very often because it is based on the 1997 edition which does not cover persons who have entered our lives in the last decade and entries which are there are more "potted" than those on other sites, such as Wikipedia, but now and again it can be a handy quick resource.

          ~Gigglossary~

          Chambers Gigglossary (as mentioned above) is a collection of humorous definitions (extracted from its full dictionary) which is now in its eleventh edition. This part of the site, which is accessible from the Features link, not only allows access to the various existing entries but also invites readers to submit their own contenders for possible use in the next edition.

          Examples may clarify this and include:-

          Tweenager: a child who, although not yet a teenager, has already developed an interest in pop music, fashion and exasperating his or her parents

          Tracksuit: a loose warm suit intended to be worn by athletes when warming up or training, but sometimes worn by others in an error of judgment

          Buckwheat: a plant (Polygonum or Fagopyrum), its seed used especially in Europe for feeding horses, cattle and poultry, in America for making into cakes for the breakfast table, etc.

          Wife: a woman who has ceased to be your girlfriend and resents anyone attempting to fill the vacancy

          Naturist: a person who prefers to go about naked, and by doing so reminds others why it is a good idea to go about clothed

          Phantom pregnancy: a state of labouring under a misconception

          ~Puzzles~

          If you now approaching a dormant state - this is the penultimate section of my ramblings and concerns the last link worth a mention - the Puzzles.

          Crosswords
          There are two crosswords - the Cryptic and the General Knowledge versions. A new version in both categories is posted each month and the former postings back to January 2006 can also be accessed providing your browser is Java enabled. All crosswords can be completed online or printed off and cheat facilities will reveal particular letters or words if you are so inclined!

          Sudoku
          A new Sudoku is posted each day with the solution available on the following day. Here there are no clues and no printable version is available.

          Word Wizard
          All crossword enthusiasts should be let in on this little secret. If you are stuck for a word but have some of the letters in place simply enter these letters with question marks for the unknown spaces and Chambers will come up with a list of possible words. Alternatively enter a full word and suggestions for anagrams will appear together with an indication of whether the word is allowable for Scrabble. Cheats' heaven!

          ~~~AND FINALLY~~~

          I haven't even touched on the links to companion sites where, for example you can subscribe to the online dictionary and thesaurus resources but this review is long enough!

          Therefore in conclusion, this may not be the most advanced of internet sites and may lack a number of the more sophisticated features one might expect or wish for but I still have to recommend it. It may not be everybody's cup of tea but if you share my slightly odd preoccupation with language and trivia, find yourself stuck for words when writing, have a partiality for crosswords or sudoku or just want a book bargain from the Chambers range, you will certainly find it worth a visit.

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          • More +
            11.05.2009 04:15
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            Good results but not really value for money

            PREFACE

            It's been a busy week trialing the hair conditioner which is the second part of my Redken adventure. Part 1 described how and why I arrived in Redken land, including some details of the company and its history together with an outline of my experiences testing the Body Full Shampoo without the use of conditioner or any "artificial" aids! I reached the conclusion that, although my hair appeared slightly thicker and more voluminous, with quite a nice sheen, I wasn't sure the results were startling enough to justify the colossal £8.85 I paid for it. And so the stage is set for the second act - the test drive of the Body Full Conditioner.

            REDKEN BODY FULL CONDITIONER

            At a recommended retail price of £11.25 for 250 mls, this is even more expensive than the shampoo. I bought it for £10.15 at feelunique.com which, according to Kelkoo, wasn't a bad deal; prices there range from £9.86 to £14.45.

            The opaque plastic bottle is without frills and almost clinical in appearance with a flip top lid. The shampoo comes in a bottle of a similar shade but is transparent making the two clearly distinguishable from each other and this is handy when ferreting in the shower for the correct potion!

            The white print informs me that this is a conditioner giving "antigravity volume for normal/fine hair". Again I am amused but also slightly irritated by the term "antigravity" being used in this context and make a mental note that I must try to keep my feet on the ground! This may be a lesson which has come a little late in the day when I have already spent such an excessive amount on a bottle of hair conditioner.

            As with the shampoo the small print gives, what I assume to be, the same information in half a dozen languages. The English section, which I squint to read, proclaims that this "detangles" and "provides weightless volume to normal/fine hair". This is encouraging because my hair is so fine it tangles easily. However I am still puzzled as to how a hair product can make my hair weightless. If only this wonder lotion could do the same for my body! The blurb adds that the conditioner gives the hair "long-lasting volume, movement and style".

            The ingredients are in the same small print and are far too many to list but on the website the key ones are listed as polymers for style retention, carbohydrates for body and thickness and protein for internal strength and support.

            Over the course of the week I used the conditioner three times, once with the Aussie Full Volume Shampoo which I have reviewed elsewhere and which I know has no significant effect on my hair in terms of adding thickness or volume and twice with the Redken Full Body Shampoo.
            The conditioner is a white liquid, neither very thick nor runny, with a slightly pearlised appearance. The scent is difficult to describe as it's slightly pine like with a suggestion of citrus too. In fact I thought it smelled more like my Duck Fresh toilet cleaner than a luxury hair preparation! But it's not unpleasant and does not linger long after the application.

            Instructions for use are brief merely stating that the conditioner should be applied after shampooing, distributed through the hair and rinsed. There is not any indication as to the quantity to be used. My hair is very prone to tangling even after a good cut and, although I always comb it through before washing, it still knots during the shampooing process. I found that although a couple of squirts was sufficient to cover my hair, it needed more than double this quantity before my fingers could detect any detangling effect and then I still had to work it in for several minutes. I was rather disappointed. Not only did it not smell particularly outstanding, it also didn't feel at all luxurious. Thre are many other cheaper conditioners that are far more creamy, giving a nice indulgent sensation as you massage it through and even leaving your hands feeling softer. There was no such effect with this product. However the advantage of this consistency was that it all washed out quite easily.

            The hair was still quite tangled when I came to comb it through. I have used other cheaper conditioners which work much better in this respect; even some which leave it completely tangle free so this was a real disappointment. However it was less tangled than when I used the shampoo alone. Once the hair was sufficiently de-knotted for the rake to proceed unhindered, I stuck to my normal drying method, piling all of my chin length hair up on top until it has nearly dried naturally, then combing down into place and tonging the ends under into a more recognisable bob!
            On the occasion when I used the Aussie shampoo I could detect very little difference in the normal rather lank appearance of my hair - maybe a little more volume and shine but certainly nothing startling! I have had better results using cheaper preparations with the addition of a little volumising mousse at the styling stage.

            However when I used the Redken shampoo and conditioner together there certainly was an almost unbelievable improvement far better than the results when I used the shampoo alone. My hair easily fell into shape with very little coaxing and looked so much thicker and bulkier. It had healthy looking sheen and a natural movement when I preened, waving my head from side to side in the mirror just to take a satisfying look!, It was just as the hype claimed! There was no significant greasiness the next day and it only needed a tweak or two with the tong to look reasonably acceptable. It would not have gone a third day as it then started to appear greasy again but this is the norm for me!

            Despite my delight at the results, I still cannot wholeheartedly recommend either of these products because I feel the prices are just too exorbitant. Even though the shampoo can be used quite sparingly which makes it a slightly more economical proposition, my hair needs quite hefty dosages of the conditioner which is not going to go anywhere near as far. The results are impressive but I have managed to achieve similar success using cheaper preparations together with Tigi Small Talk (reviewed elsewhere) and/or a volumising mousse. There is nothing luxurious in the presentation of these products or in the feel of them when applied and I find it extremely difficult to understand how Redken can justify such prices. I doubt that I will ever buy them again unless prices are severely pruned.

            However I still have to add the Body Full Carbo-Bodifier into the equation. It's waiting in the wings to play its role in Part 3 of my adventures in Redken land!

            For further information visit http://www.redken.co.uk/

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            • Redken Body Full Shampoo / Hair Care / 93 Readings / 88 Ratings
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              03.05.2009 21:27
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              Quite pleasing results but the jury is still out on whether it is value for money.

              My hairdresser, Jermaine, is a tactful soul. The last time he sheared and highlighted me, he casually asked what type of shampoo and conditioner I was using and went on to suggest I might consider trying Kerastase or Redken. I am a bit of a slouch when it comes to my tresses and don't often go in for lots of conditioning and such and, although I have made occasional sorties into the land of posh hair preparations, I usually stick to the more affordable alternatives. But this was obviously Jermaine's way of telling me that my hair not in the best of shape and, as I was so pleased with his last recommendation for Tigi Small Talk (as previously reviewed), I decided to spend a few precious pennies on some more upmarket potions.

              REDKEN - The Brand

              I went for Redken because the name amused me. I guess I am still a political animal although I long since gave up any such affiliations but this name immediately conjures up thoughts of Mr Livingstone, the ex Mayor of London, who is no longer the most hirsute individual! Meandering through my mind came the thought that the range should be renamed and relaunched as Blue Boris but considering the untamed mane of that individual maybe it would not be the best marketing strategy!

              Of course Redken has no such political connections but is a combination of the names of the founders of the hairdressing empire Paula Kent, an aspiring actress in the 60s, and her hairdresser Jheri Redding. Having discovered she was extra sensitive to many of the hairdressing and cosmetic preparations of the day, Paula working with professional stylists to produce preparations which were effective but gentle. They came up with protein based products designed to condition the hair rather than solely camouflage damage and apparently now own over sixty global patents on products and ingredients. Originally based in California, they now operate from headquarters in 5th Avenue, New York, a move which followed their acquisition by L'Oreal in 1993.

              Unfortunately those against animal testing will not welcome the L'Oreal connection. The credentials of that organisation in this respect are not the best but the subject is contentious and the present situation, none too clear. Suffice it to say that Redken products used to have the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) stamp of approval but it was withdrawn when they were acquired by L'Oreal. I was unaware of this connection when I bought my Redken stash so I can truly claim ignorance which, of course, can be bliss especially when it comes to matters of conscience!

              REDKEN - Body Full

              Having looked at the various ranges available, I decided Body Full was the one for me because it is billed as providing "anti-gravity volume to normal /fine hair for long-lasting fullness, style and shine." The only off putting element in the description was the "anti-gravity" credential. I wonder where the pundits come up with such ridiculous specifications. I have visions of struggling to keep my feet on the ground as my up-ended hair pulls me skywards! Nevertheless, spurred on by my confidence in Jermaine, I proceeded to order from the cheapest online source I could find which was feelunique.com.

              I never do things by half and actually ordered three products from the range, the shampoo, the conditioner and the carbo-bodifier but when I came to suggest these products for review I could only register them individually. Such is my devotion as a reviewer that I am proceeding to use the products one step at a time starting with the shampoo only and eventually building up to a crescendo involving the effect of all three products in unison! Hence this is part 1 of the saga.

              REDKEN - Body Full - Shampoo

              The bottle containing 300 mls cost me £8.85, the most I have ever paid for a shampoo but the full recommended retail price is £10.35 and I have seen it advertised for up to £12 so it's worth shopping around. It's a very plain, almost clinical looking, translucent plastic bottle in a dull dark green/grey tone with white printing which includes instructions in half a dozen languages and an ingredient list. I refuse to test my eyesight on the small print in order to list the ingredients. Suffice it to say that the Redken website lists polymers (for style retention), carbohydrates (for body and thickness) and protein (for internal strength and support). I am starting to wonder if I am reviewing a hair preparation or a food product at this point but of course it's all about nourishment so I decide it's quite reassuring! I do read that the product "gently cleanses and provides weightless volume to normal/fine hair". Somehow the use of the term 'weightless' seems far less bombastic than 'anti-gravity'!

              I had no plans to go out on Friday so I decided I was safe to use the shampoo alone without the addition of any artificial styling aids. I had already used it in combination with the other products from the range but this going solo was to be a real acid test. Having combed my hair thoroughly as it has a tendency to tangle, I wet my extremely fine (as in thin, not as in splendid) hair thoroughly during my usual shower routine and massage the clear liquid into my hair. It does not take much to lather up quite well. There is a scent which is difficult to describe. It's not fruity or flowery, just slightly sweet and clean. In fact, if anything, it reminds me of the old style plain washing up liquids in the days before they added extra more exotic "flavours"!

              It washes out easily and my scalp feels good. I would add that I managed to get a dribble in one eye! This was quite accidental and not done for the purposes of the review. I don't have such masochistic tendencies! Usually when this happens I am left flailing around with tightly closed eyes until I can find a flannel or sponge to wash out the eye with clear water. Even then the pain lingers around for some time and the red eye is evident for a while. This was quite different. I felt the eye tingle a little and become uncomfortable for a few seconds but then without any further action the pain cleared and the eye did not suffer any unsightly redness. This is a real plus for me! As the instructions did not advise a second application I left it at that.

              When I came to comb my hair through it was rather tangly in parts. However this is normal with me even directly after having a good cut it seems to be so fine it gets all interwoven after shampooing. And of course I had not used any conditioner.

              As usual I did not blow dry, just piled the hair up on top in my usual bird's nest to dry naturally. It's so fine this takes no time at all and when I combed it down and into shape it did seem thicker and slightly more voluminous than with other preparations. It also fell into my chin length bob style reasonably well although I still had to use a tong to turn the ends under as usual. It wasn't a dramatic improvement but not bad for shampoo alone to achieve and it definitely felt quite silky and had a good shine. In fact I even felt confident enough to go out, although it was after dark and I merely strolled up to the local off licence where they are quite used to me appearing ungroomed! My scalp felt good and I suffered no adverse reaction which can happen as I am extremely sensitive!

              The next morning my hair was not in the best of shape but then it rarely is and there was a slight greasiness at the roots but it was only evident on close inspection. As I was doing nothing extra special I decided not to wash it again and managed to tong it into a reasonable shape which stayed in place with a little dose of Elnette. By the third day (today!), it was definitely greasy, my scalp was slightly itchy and I would not have got away with another day without shampooing.

              Would I recommend the shampoo? Well at this stage the jury is still out. It was certainly no worse than others I have used and better than many. You can use it quite sparingly as it lathers well. I have used it half a dozen times now and the bottle is still three quarters full. Maybe, as this is a repair treatment, the benefits will be more apparent after a longer period of use but at present I don't feel the results really justify the cost. This may well change when I add the conditioner and carbo-bodifier into the equation.

              Watch this space for further details of my adventures in Redken land!


              For further information visit http://www.redken.co.uk/

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                01.05.2009 07:38
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                A good read but as a Bennett fan I was disappointed

                There is no doubt that Alan Bennet's novella, "The Uncommon Reader" is a little jewel. In the two years since it was first published it has attracted almost universal critical acclaim and, for this reason I have been reluctant to review it because I seem to be rather out of step with the literati! For me this work may be a jewel but it's one which fails to sparkle as brightly as I had hoped.

                It's undoubtedly a great premise for a story. The Queen is walking her corgis in the Palace grounds when they scamper off route and start yapping at a Travelling Library parked by the kitchen doors. Embarrassed by their bad behaviour Her Majesty goes in to apologise to the librarian. She considers it might appear rude to depart without borrowing a book but she is on unknown territory as "liking books was something she left to other people ... reading wasn't doing and she was a doer" Therefore she seeks the advice of the librarian and the van's only other occupant Seakins, a palace kitchen hand. Eventually she departs clutching an Ivy Compton Burnett mainly because she remembers making that lady a Dame. When she returns the tome, she seizes upon a Nancy Mitford. "Didn't her sister marry that Mosely man? And the mother-in law of another sister was my mistress of the robes." She finds "The Pursuit of Love" much more to her liking, is quickly drawn into the pleasure of reading and thus embarks on a great literary adventure.

                Although regarded as "not pretty enough" by the palace retinue, Seakin is promoted by royal command to the position of an equerry whose sole task is to be the Queen's amanuensis. His initial choices are considered suspect by the librarian as they centre on his own penchant for gay writers but Her Majesty is not fazed. Reading J R Ackerley's account of himself she is not shocked by his sexuality but is surprised that "the Guards seem to be as readily available as the book made out and at such a reasonable tariff!" The reading programme takes on its own momentum and whilst the initial forays are quite indiscriminate, she gradually progresses to the classics and devours Pepys, Tolsoy, Dickens, Hardy, Turgenev,Trollope and even Proust with relish.

                The Queen revels in a dimension previously unknown to her. "I read .... because one has a duty to find out what people are like." The appeal lay in the "indifference" of such literature." Books did not care who was reading them or whether one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included" and this was a new experience to one who was used to the deference of all. But it is also an experience edged with the regret that she has made this discovery so late in life.

                As the Queen's passion develops to the realms of obsession, the establishment become increasingly concerned. She is no longer so dutiful in pursuance of her regal commitments and becomes more unpredictable. Sometimes late for appointments, cutting short briefings with her pompous Private Secretary, Sir Kevin, breaking into an impromptu rendition of Philip Larkin's poem, "The Trees" at a planting ceremony and even, on walkabouts, questioning her subjects on what they were reading rather than the more normal enquiry about how far they had come? Her Majesty was "getting to be what is known as a handful."

                All sorts of ruses are used to separate her from her books, including the underhand removal of Seakins from the palace, but with little success. However when the Prime Minister gets annoyed by Ma'am giving him books to read and subsequently questioning him on their content, things have gone too far and the great and the good in Downing Street demand that a stop is put to such behaviour. Sir Kevin enlists the help of Sir Claude, an elderly royal aide, in breaking this addiction and the Queen is quite taken with the old retainer's tentative suggestion that she might take up writing instead. Thus begins her "scribbling" stage which if anything absorbs her even more than the reading. The story progresses to a conclusion which is actually quite inevitable in retrospect but one I have to admit I did not see coming.

                Bennett weaves a wonderful and very readable tale and must be admired for packing such a horde of treasures into just one hundred and twenty short pages. His style flows easily and engagingly along and is as witty concise and distinctive as ever. Anybody familiar with the writer's dramatic performances can't fail to hear his voice recounting her Majesty's experiences and the counter measures of her opponents in those rather languid, slightly quizzical tones rendered all the more endearing by the remnants of the northern inflections. There is also warmth and affection in the lines and a definite empathy with the Queen's isolation:-
                "I have to seem like a human being all the time but I seldom have to be one. I have people to do that for me."
                The affection in Bennett's portrayal of the Queen is matched by his obvious disdain for the sycophants around her whom he skillfully but gently satirises. Accounts of incidents when Her Majesty succeeds in ill disguised games of one upmanship with her Private Secretary or manages to highlight the ignorance of her Prime Minister are told with a certain relish.

                "The Uncommon Reader" is unquestionably an erudite, well constructed and memorable piece so why, on each of the three occasions I have reached its final page, have I felt a certain disappointment. It may be that the answer lies more in my expectations than in any shortcoming in the work itself and perhaps if I had come to it without any prior knowledge of the author, my delight would have been unqualified. But this is Alan Bennett who has entertained us for over forty years. From his "Beyond the Fringe" days with Peter Cook and Dudley More in the sixties to his latest play "The History Boys" in the noughties, he has traded on the mundanities of life to entertain with his distinctive brand of humour often born of pathos but never sinking into the morbid. He has attracted such epithets as "national teddy bear", "prose laureate" and "Oracle of Little England". It would be difficult, if not impossible, to approach any of his work without some preconceptions and expectations.

                It is difficult to criticise such an established literary figure with so many well deserved accolades but, for me, this is not Bennett at his best. It could be that he is less at home in this genre because his reputation is primarily built on his talent as a playwright. True he has written stories too but these are mostly autobiographical to some degree. However it seems more likely that is down to the subject matter. Choosing the Queen as his main protagonist is something of a departure for Bennett and quite a surprising choice considering he is known to have anti-establishment views and has turned down a CBE and a knighthood. It is not his first foray into the world of royalty; in fact the Queen featured in "A Question of Attribution" which was the story of the spy, Anthony Blunt, during the time he was Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. However this portrayal of Her Majesty did not involve such depths of character analysis being more of a cameo role exploring the lady's dealings with Blunt. "The Madness of King George" also ventured into regal realms but this also had a factual and historical perspective. As a fictional account of a reigning monarch's perceptions partialities and ideas, "The Uncommon Reader" stands alone in Bennett's repertoire.

                The world of the elite may not be a milieu which is beyond Bennett's powerful imagination but maybe it is one in which he is not quite at home. His forte, as displayed in such offerings as "Talking Heads", "A Private Function", "The Lady in the Van", and even "The History Boys" is in what Michael Palin has referred to as "the small print of everyday life". Bennett excels in portraying the minutiae and banality of a world inhabited by the uncelebrated, the commoners, the pretentious, the misfits and the flawed. The very lack of consequence of such personalities (whether they are fictional or real) allows him to portray all their imperfections, eccentricities, deviations and aspirations unfettered by such constraints as must apply when composing a parody in which a living and very widely known monarch is the main protagonist. And this is what comes across, a somewhat restrained and oversimplified version of the Bennett most of us admire.

                Why Bennett chose such a subject is quite an enigma. It's tempting to think he was merely seeking a vessel in which to demonstrate his extensive literary knowledge but, as he appears to be quite unassuming without any need to impress, it has to be unlikely. Some commentators suggest it is a crusading work demonstrating the importance of reading but preaching just is not Bennett's style. Others see it as his lament on old age and a wasted life but he has already done this far more effectively in "The Lady in the Van" and in his writings about his mother's last years when she was suffering from Alzheimer's. As Bennett himself is something of an enigma in that he always refuses to be interviewed, it is likely we will never know what motivated him in this choice of material.

                Accepting it at face value, it is a charming and amusing tale of a lonely monarch whose life is enriched and transformed when she discovers the joys of reading. It is told with Bennett's usual panache and gentle humour and his eye for detail never fails. Unfortunately it doesn't have the depth or the insight of many of his works. It also seems to miss out on many opportunities for additional humour, for example the Duke of Edinburgh appears only as a slightly tetchy cameo and the other members of the royal family, even those like Charles with good comic mileage, do not figure at all. But it's not a bad way of wiling away a couple of hours as long as it is approached without any expectation of the heights to which Bennett can usually rise.

                "Books are wonderful aren't they? At the risk of sounding like a piece of steak, they tenderise one!"

                ~~Bibliographical Details~~

                Hardback
                Profile , 2007. ISBN-13 978-1846680496
                RRP £10.99 Amazon £6.04

                Paperback
                Faber & Faber/Profile, 2008. ISBN-13 978 1846681332
                RRP £6.99 Amazon £3.82

                Audio
                BBC Audiobooks, 2007. ISBN-13 978-1405687478
                RRP £12.72 Amazon £6.99

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                  28.04.2009 18:26
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                  It worked for me where many other, more expensive candidates have failed.

                  I am quite a fan of Boots No 7 products and often take advantage of their free gift offers whereby they give a collection of samples and often a makeup bag too if you purchase goods totalling up to a certain value. This must be how this 25mls tube of Protect and Perfect Hand Cream happened to find its way into my make-up drawer because I don't remember purchasing it and it's not generally available in this size. I discovered it there, neglected and forgotten, a month or so ago and decided to give it a try.

                  ~~~MY HANDS - A POTTED HISTORY!~~~

                  A good few years ago now, a guy I was dating told me I really didn't look my age. How gallant was he? Unfortunately he followed through by adding that this was the case until he considered my hands! This lack of tact put the final nail in the coffin of our relationship but I have to admit he was right! I do have incredibly ugly hands because at the height of my eczema problems in the eighties, my hands were the part of me that suffered most. They were so bad that people would ask me if I had burned them.

                  Doctors happily prescribed stronger and stronger steroid creams. I was warned of the dangers of such preparations inasmuch as long term use causes thinning of the skin but the alternative of bleeding, weeping sores seemed so much worse! Although happily I no longer suffer such serious eruptions, having found my own less harmful solutions (as detailed in an earlier review), I have been left with very unattractive, deeply wrinkled and sagging skin on the backs of my hands and my fingers and also quite a crop of horrid freckles ( I refuse to call them age spots!). However I still get patches of eczema because I can't wear rubber gloves (another allergy!) unless I wear cotton ones underneath and who has time to fiddle like this? I have also tried the disposable ones but some of these use a talcum type preparation inside which irritates my skin whilst others don't come far enough up my arms so, if I am working in more than a few inches of water, it seeps in at the wrists. Nor can I use barrier creams which tend to trigger the very condition I am trying to guard against. Therefore most of the time I just plunge in regardless, usually sans protection and often suffering accordingly!

                  I am not asking for sympathetic violins here, just trying to illustrate that my hands represent quite a challenge for any hand cream. Some actually trigger the allergy whilst those which my skin tolerates rarely bring about any noticeable de-wrinkling results! Over the years only one or two elite preparations achieved some measure of success but these tended to be expensive. Therefore, some time ago, I gave up on any regular hand cream routine in favour of the occasional application of my Purepotions Skin Salvation (reviewed elsewhere) which can be a bit greasy and does not really improve the wrinkled appearance of the skin, just calms and soothes eruptions!

                  ~~~THE PROTECT & PERFECT RANGE!~~~

                  In March 2007 the BBC Horizon programme announced that, following extensive testing of anti-ageing preparations by dermatologists at Manchester University, the only over the counter product which really seemed to work was Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect Beauty Serum. Within a fortnight women had stripped the shelves bare of this particular preparation and since then I have read nothing but rave reviews concerning its efficacy!

                  The Beauty Serum appears to have been the first in a range which now includes Body Serum, Eye Cream, Night Cream, Day Cream, Lip Care, Hand Cream and Foundation. More recently they have introduced two products (Eye Care and Anti-Ageing Serum) specifically for men.

                  I assume all products are based on a similar formula to the original which caused such a sensation a couple of years ago but I can't vouch for this because Boots, understandably, keep such details under wraps. On the website pages for products in this range, the relevant tab just contains the enigmatic description, "contains active ingredients".

                  ~~~THE HAND CREAM~~~

                  ~~The Claims~~

                  On their website Boots claim that the hand cream "quickly absorbs into your skin, leaving your hands beautifully soft and smooth. Plus the unique formula reduces the appearance of fine lines -evening out your skin tone in just two weeks and helping to fade away age spots in just four weeks." Even after washing your hands, "the cream keeps replenishing and conditioning your skin, moisturising your cuticles and strengthening your nails."

                  ~~The Test~~

                  The free sample tube has a screw off lid but the 75 mls size available for sale appears to have a handier flip top version. A gentle squeeze dispenses a pea sized amount of white cream of a consistency not dissimilar to whipped double cream. I have always been assured that No.7 products are not perfumed but this one does have a pleasant slightly sweet aroma which lingers a while after application. It spreads easily and a little goes a long way. Two or three such drops easily cover two hands. It is absorbed into the skin within seconds, assisted maybe by the overwhelming "thirst" of my skin! At first I was tempted to add more but soon found it to be unnecessary as it was evident complete coverage had been achieved and, quite incredibly, my hands felt softer and somehow more nourished almost immediately. There is absolutely no greasy sensation and I do not experience the problem encountered with other products where things literally slip from my hands for a good ten minutes or so after application. Similarly I did not find myself leaving finger marks on all and sundry in my wake.

                  The only slightly alarming effect was that where I had patches of eczema on several fingers, I experienced a little irritation which was surprising because I never usually suffer any such reaction with No 7 products, all of which are hypoallergenic and dematologically tested. It wasn't a strong sensation just a slight itchiness. Sometimes, with eczema of this type, the reaction can be so severe that it is difficult to resist the temptation to scratch. This was not on such a scale although I admit I rubbed it a little and feared the worst as this can presage the outbreak of a rash of tiny blisters. Fortunately the irritation calmed within a few minutes with no ill effects. I was reminded that my grandma always used to tell me that if a wound was itching, it meant that it was healing. Now she also told me not to consume vinegar because it would dry out my blood so she was not infallible nor can all skin irritation be said to herald healing but in this case I am beginning to wonder if she was partially correct! Witness what happened next!

                  ~~The Results~~

                  The instructions are to smooth the cream into the hands every morning and "at any time they need a little extra care." I persevered with this routine and, at first, I applied it two or three times a day. However after a few days my hands did not seem to need more than one daily application. They were already showing signs that they were benefitting from the treatment and not only felt but also looked better. The wrinkles were less evident, the skin tone better and, best of all, even the eczema patches seemed to be responding well. Patches where there were small open wounds seemed to be healing without any medication and the dry patches which were the result of older outbreaks were beginning to loose their unsightly flakiness. I really could not believe it!

                  After nearly three weeks in daily use the cream has nearly run out but the improvement has continued. I do still have wrinkles but they are far less noticeable and the skin has in general taken on a plumper appearance. The "freckles" are still there but whereas before they jumped out at you, they are now only evident on much closer inspection. My cuticles seem softer and are more easily coaxed back from nail encroachment. It's too early to say if my nails are benefitting but they certainly don't seem to be suffering!

                  Now and again I experience the same slight irritation after an application but it's short-lived and I have not noticed any adverse after effects only pleasantly surprising results.

                  ~~Price and Availability~~

                  The hand cream is only available at branches of Boots and from their online site:- http://www.boots.com/
                  It comes in just one size which contains 75ml and costs £10. It may not seem cheap initially but, as it goes quite a long way (the 25ml tester has lasted me for three weeks), it shouldn't work out too expensive overall. Moreover Boots nearly always have special offers on their No 7 range. At present they are advertising three products for the price of two. This will provide me with a good excuse to buy another couple of products from the Protect and Perfect Range when I purchase the hand cream!

                  ~~The Recommendation?~~

                  Should there be any doubt after such a glowing report, of course I recommend this product and, although I would advise caution if irritation occurs, my experience suggests it is probably worth persevering unless a really adverse reaction is experienced. After all, if it can bring about such a dramatic improvement in the appearance of my sad, saggy, wrinkled, "freckled" skin, it should be able to help most people especially those whose hands betray their years!

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                    22.04.2009 15:14
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                    Better than other methods I have used but not a perfect glider!

                    Just how hard can it be to draw a straight line? Ordinarily no problem maybe, but if you are trying to draw it on your eyelid it's a different matter! I am sure most ladies will be able to recount many infuriating experiences when attempting this task. Sorry I don't mean to be sexist, maybe some men of a more theatrical persuasion have had similar experiences! For myself, I have tried everything. I would be rich if I still had all the money I have spent over the years on kohl pencils and liquid eyeliner varieties.

                    Although I don't use eyeliner that often, I sometimes feel the need to define my blinkers on special occasions when out to impress. (I am never sure who I am trying to impress - maybe just myself in the mirror!) I must be some sort of masochist because I know in trying to eye line, I am just asking for a stress attack! On goes the eye shadow, no problem, and then starts the "fun" as I pull one eyelid as taut as I can which is no mean feat when they are starting so sag a bit with age! Then, as I squint in the mirror with the other eye, starts the attempt to draw a bold but discrete line across the line of my sparse lashes. I don't have the DTs (well not often!) but inevitably this brings on a shaky hand and quivering eyelid attack. On more than one occasion I have even managed to stick the implement into my eye resulting in one red and watering eye effect that can endure for hours, totally defeating the object of trying to make myself more attractive in the first place! I seldom succeed in producing any acceptable result without the use of a damp cotton bud to wipe away the many deviations from the straight and narrow. Of course this invariably also wipes away some of the eye shadow too and when this is re-applied it's difficult not to cover the eye liner and so on ad nauseum!

                    At least this was always the scenario until, a few years ago, I found a product which helped me to achieve better results more easily. This was a Boots No 7 eyeliner which was a wand like implement with a very thin tip like a felt tip pen. It wasn't perfect but after this discovery I had much happier eye definition experiences, that was until Boots decided to discontinue the line! Isn't it always the way? I emailed them in protest and got a standard unhelpful reply. I went to the shop and moaned to the assistant who just persuaded me to try their little bottles of liquid with a thin brush. It was no good at all for me as the brush was just too soft and the liquid ended up all over the place as my torturous attempts resumed. Imagine my delight when I recently stumbled across this Max Factor Glide and Define Eye Liner which is a similar arrangement to my trusty, old friend!

                    It's amazing what you learn when researching a review! Max Factor has been around all my life and I used to use many of their products before I realised they had become part of the giant Proctor and Gamble empire and was made aware of that company's questionable animal testing credentials. For example, until I checked the company website, I never knew that Max Factor was actually a real person. According to Wikipedia, his full name was Maximilian Faktorowicz. He was originally a makeup artist for the Russian Royal ballet, who founded the cosmetic company in 1909 and went on to become makeup artist to many Hollywood stars in the 1920's and 1930's such as Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Judy Garland. He even appeared in cameo parts in some films. Of course Max Factor still trade on being "make-up artists to the stars".

                    I know I will never look like a Hollywood star and don't aspire to those heights! It was just my unfortunate lack of ability in the eye lining department which drew me to this product making it a "must have". And my animal testing concerns? Well I have to admit that I have always stuck to one Max Factor product (their 2000 Calorie Mascara) because I have never found an alternative that works so well. Besides I will never be a 100% ethical. I wonder who can be because I know I must buy hundreds of unethical products even quite unwittingly. It's so difficult to keep up with who owns whom let alone who does what! I can't plead ignorance on this occasion. I was so eager to try this I just cast aside those principles and swept my scruples under the carpet. Shameful, but at least I have admitted it!

                    So there it was in my hand ,an eight centimetre long, quite chubby, little article in the usual Max Factor black with gold lettering. It cost me £6.84 from Boots online where I only found two shades at that time, brown and black. Apparently, it also comes in "Smoke", which looks to me like a light shade of grey! I chose the brown as I reasoned it would not only be better for my pale skin tones but also show up my mistakes less blatantly!

                    And what does it claim to do? Well, according to the Max Factor website, "the hunt for the perfect liquid eyeliner is over (and this) draws a line under badly applied eyeliner for good". Moving quickly over this intentional or unintentional pun, it continues, "Whether you're an eyeliner pro or a total first timer this new miracle brings a touch of ease to one of make-up's toughest tasks." On Boots website the description states that "this combines the smoothness of liquid eyeliner with the precision of a kohl pencil". In my experience smoothness and precision are not words I would associate with any eyeliner products but I live in hopes!

                    And does it work? Well yes and no! I have not seen any instructions for use (maybe it normally comes in a box with instructions because Boots often seem to remove packaging before sending out the items). However, as the similar No7 item used to require a good shake, having unscrewed the top, I held it tip downwards and did the same. It rattled as if it contains a ball bearing which I assume assists the flow of the liquid to the tip. The tip is much finer than that I previously encountered. It tapers down to a tip almost as sharp as a pinhead.

                    I was impressed that drawing a straight line on the back of my hand was as easy as ABC! Drawing the same on my eyelid was a little more difficult. It glides for a brief while and a nice fine line appears, in roughly the right place at that, but it is a very short line because the tip seems to run dry before I get too far. Strangely enough, when this happens, I can still get a result on my hand, presumably because I am holding it vertically. Could it be that if I had very long arms I could use the same horizontal technique on my eyes? Sadly I have evolved too far and have to use the vertically held method! I find that I must shake and reload it at least twice before I can finish off one entire eyelid and my eyes are not that large! Of course, having to break off and resume in this way makes the whole process far more difficult than accomplishing it in one clean sweep as I have to ensure I am getting back on line as it were!

                    My old No 7 also used to suffer a similar drying out but only when it was expiring. With this Max Factor offering it has been the same from the off! I also find it a little too short in stature! Maybe my cheekbones stick out too much or my nose is too big but I find it a little too short to manoeuvre with ease or to achieve easy access to all areas. It's the same problem I find with the bottled liquid brush versions. Again my No 7 excelled because it was a good couple of inches longer! In this case I find size does really matter!

                    As to the £6.84 price, it's hard to judge if this is good value as I don't know of any comparable products and nowhere can I find any indication of how much it contains. Judging by the size of the container it is less than the 60 mls in my little Boots No 7 bottle but for that I paid £8.30 so maybe it isn't too bad. How long it will last is open to speculation as I can't see the contents. I have used it half a dozen times or so and it is still going strong but this isn't much of a recommendation. After a quick search of price comparison sites, I have not found it any cheaper except there are currently a few on offer at ebay.

                    And will I buy it again? Despite my criticisms I can achieve quite a nice clean eye line (eventually) and one that defines my eyes without being too obvious. It's also easier and more precise than the alternatives and less messy than the liquids. Above all, although this method may still be a little irritating, overall it's less stressful. It doesn't play up my sensitive eyes and it wipes off very easily with my ordinary Simple cleansing lotion. So the answer is yes, I will probably buy it again especially as I haven't yet found any similar products. If anybody has I would love to hear from them.

                    Maybe some would say it's time to give up such vanities but I enjoy the end result even if nobody else notices so I will persevere until the droopy eyelid syndrome make it totally impractical! Hopefully that will be a few years hence. There's life in this ol' gal yet a while and thankfully I still have a twinkle in my eye, at least on the days it is not bloodshot due to my cosmetic wand missing its mark!

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                    • Tigi Bed Head Small Talk / Hair Care / 78 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                      21.04.2009 01:52
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                      This truly lives up to the claims it makes!

                      In a nutshell, this Tigi Bed Head Small Talk is a splendid hair styling product, once you get the hang of how to use it! In my case it took a while!

                      I suppose it was about a year ago when I first purchased this on a recommendation from Jermaine, my hairdresser, when he first cut my hair and styled it in a bob. I guess he took one look at my fine, flyaway, non voluminous locks and decided I was in need of help! In general I am reluctant to spend a lot on fancy hair care products but we have to trust our hairdressers, don't we? I was also a little worried about my own ability to maintain my new style so I thought I had better get some and quickly! As Jermaine reckoned it was only available in salons and I couldn't be bothered with trailing around town to find it, I quickly found an online source. There are many and I can't remember which one I chose but it would have been the cheapest! From memory I think it cost me about £8.50 for the 200 mls but a look on Kelkoo today shows a range between £8.90 and £14.29 so it's really worth shopping around.

                      I had never come across Tigi products before and I always like to find out more but the Tigi website did not give me a clue as to the origin apart from pointing me to statements by two Italian brothers, Bruno (Chairman and CEO) and Anthony (International Creative Director) Mascolo. There is no mention that these gents are the brothers of Guiseppe and Gaetano who founded their first hairdressing establishment in Clapham, South London in 1963 and who are better known as Toni and Guy! Their two younger brothers, Bruno and Anthony joined the family firm a little later. Of course Toni and Guy need no introduction as they are almost legendary now with salons and academies around the world. Tigi was the hair product division but demerged in 2006 and is now run from the headquarters of Toni and Guy International in Dallas Texas. When I recounted this to my daughter, she gave me a disdainful look, raised her eyes heavenwards and told me, "Everybody knows that! Hence TG?" It all goes to show what a hairdressing ignoramus I am! Apologies to all readers who find these facts self evident!

                      When it arrived, I immediately loved the bottle which is like a large purple Christmas bauble with a lime green top. It's not a word I use often but I think the term "funky" applies! The big problem was that I couldn't get the little pump dispenser, which is part of the cap, to operate. It wouldn't pop up no matter what method I employed. It wasn't just me - four of my friends also failed even the male one! Nor would the top unscrew. It seemed to be jammed into a locked position. I just couldn't access the prize within and so it remained on my dressing table until Jermaine's next visit when he had it operational in a trice with a few deft twists!

                      The next problem was searching for instructions on the bottle. The very tiny black writing does not show up well against the deep mauve background. This is obviously a product for the young with good eyesight but I defy even those with 20/20 vision to read it without some difficulty. I eventually took it into the light and armed myself with a magnifying glass only to discover there is not a hint what to do with it, just a description of what it is and what it is supposed to do in half a dozen languages! I learned it is a 'thickifier (that's the word used!) which 'adds body and volume', an 'energizer' which 'gives life to limp hair' and a 'stylizer' which 'defines, separates and controls'. Just what my lank locks are in need of!

                      On the website the only instructions are to "work into damp hair and style". After my usual shampoo, I proceeded with no other guidance. The soft, creamy, white liquid which I pumped into my hand felt silky and luxurious as I rubbed my hands together and then through my hair. Better still the scent which is deliciously fruity, a blackcurrant or blueberry aroma. I am unsure which. It seemed to take a number of pumps to get adequate coverage. I have long since given up blow drying my hair as I can never manage it properly. I just pile my hair on top of my head until it is nearly dry and then tong the ends under.

                      The result was very impressive. It looked as if my hair was at least double its usual thickness and volume. It fell into shape without any coaxing and retained its style with no problem. It did not go stiff and matt as with some styling products. There was still natural looking movement and the hair had healthy shine which made it look in top condition. I was delighted. Unfortunately my euphoria was short-lived. The next morning, just about twelve hours later, I looked in the mirror and my hair looked unappetisingly greasy! I am prone to greasy hair but this was just such a quick decline. I usually wash my hair every couple of days but there was no way I was going out like this. I had to treat it with dry shampoo and wash it again that night.

                      Having persevered a couple of times with the same results, I searched for an alternative and found the Trevor Sorbie Thickening Mousse which I have previously reviewed. The results with this were really good if not as dramatic and I tucked the Small Talk in a drawer and forgot it. Several months later I thought to mention the greasy episode to Jermaine. He immediately diagnosed the problem as an overdose and pointed out that on my chin length hair I would only need the amount a couple of pumps would dispense! I think I had used three times this amount.

                      To be honest I was sceptical because the greasy look had not been immediately apparent but I decided to try again. I used the cream very sparingly, just the two pumps as advised, and rubbed and combed it through more thoroughly. It worked! There has been no recurrence of the greasy syndrome and I can again get away with washing my hair every other day. Using less still produces the same voluminous results. My hair looks better than it has for years and feels good too. I have even had a couple of compliments on its condition.

                      Therefore I have to recommend Tigi's Bed Head, Small Talk without reservations although I must underline it should be used sparingly and an NVQ in opening pump dispensers would be an advantage! It's not cheap but, as so little goes so far, it will definitely last a good while. It has even made me revise my opinion of such salon designer-type hair dressing preparations which I always thought were a waste of money. How could I have been so ignorant?

                      Availability
                      There are plenty of sources online. The recommended retail price is £13.50 but, as I observed above, the prices vary widely and it can be purchased for far less so it's wise to shop around.
                      Those who prefer to buy offline can find nearby stockists on the Tigi website by entering their postcode. The address is:-
                      http://www.tigihaircare.com/consumer/en-UK/salonfinder/default.asp
                      I have discovered there are seven stockists within a mile of me so it shouldn't be difficult to find.

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                        15.04.2009 21:19
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                        Definitely wrth a try!

                        I first purchased a couple of these Sausage and Onion Lattices about a year ago when I was catering for a buffet style party. Now it has become a favourite standby and I nearly always have a spare in my freezer.

                        ~~~First impressions~~~

                        Basically it's all it says on the box which is 400 grams of "pork sausage meat with onion and herbs wrapped in puff pastry". The complete ingredient list as shown on this carton would be too tedious to read but I note a couple of points. Firstly it contains only British meat. Secondly it includes only one colourant (plain caramel) and no preservatives. So far so good!

                        Undo the box and out slides a plastic tray containing the goody. All that is really evident is a bar of uncooked pastry around 8 inches long and 3.5, wide with a satisfactory bulge running the entire length; the evidence of the filling within! The bottom is solid pastry, obviously to contain the sausage meat in any attempt it may make to defy gravity! The top is not easy to describe but as the image above does not show the product to best advantage I will try! Strictly speaking it is not a lattice as there are no interwoven links but on top are thin strips of pastry running from side to side and placed quite close together. There is a central slit in middle of each strip and these are pulled into oval shapes which link together with their neighbours to form an attractive arrangement.

                        ~~~Keeping and Cooking~~~

                        The lattice comes from the chilled section but is suitable for freezing although, as per usual, the instructions advise this is done on the day of purchase. It seems to have a shelf life of around a week if refrigerated; if frozen it is supposed to be one month but I have stored them frozen for longer (about six weeks) will no ill effects so far. I think there may be a slight diminution of flavour after the cut off but nothing significant.

                        The beauty of these is that they are so simple to cook. There is no need to muck around brushing them with eggs or milk to glaze, just out of the plastic tray, onto a baking tray (a feat which is easier if they are frozen!) and into the pre-heated oven. According to the instructions, at 190C / Gas Mark 5 they will take 20-25 minutes from chilled and 40-45 minutes from frozen but, in my fan assisted model, they take a good ten minutes less.

                        The only herb in these appears to be sage and if you love the smell of sage and onion stuffing, as I do, the aroma from your oven whilst these cook will definitely stimulate your appetite.

                        ~~~Appearance and Flavour~~~

                        The end result has never let me down. The pastry rises beautifully and emerges from the oven with a delightful rich golden sheen. It is always crisp and light, top and bottom and the filling full of flavour, which will please anybody who has a liking for herby sausages! I couldn't identify all the flavours when I first tasted these as the sage predominates but apparently the filling also contains mace, black pepper and nutmeg and, once you are aware of these, you can definitely identify a certain spiciness. The firm but soft texture of the sausage mixture contrasts well with the crispy pastry too.

                        ~~~Serving Up~~~

                        Often we will eat these with a good serving of salad and some new potatoes but they are equally acceptable with beans and (a few!) chips. The serving described on the box is one third but my daughter and I, who definitely don't have small appetites, find a quarter is a generous enough portion for our main meal of the day. As this is equally delicious hot or cold it is very convenient when we eat at different times. It also makes a nice alternative to sandwiches for lunch and is convenient to parcel up in a packed version! I expect it would re-heat pretty satisfactorily and there is no warning against this. However I have never tried it.

                        The lattice will also grace any party spread as it looks quite impressive and is a far more attractive offering than the usual sausage rolls, not to mention a lot tastier. Presentation is all of course and served on a bed of lettuce, edged around with sliced tomato it really looks the part! It slices quite easily with a sharp knife without crumbling too much and will yield twelve decent sized slices. The sausage mixture goes right up to the sealed ends so you don't have to worry about any meatless portions. It has been well received by my friends who are all, without exception, great cooks. (How I hate them all, bless'em!) They know I have an aversion to cooking and a couple, when first tasting this, enquired if I made it myself, their quizzical eyebrows raised in disbelief! I suppose it does have an appearance that suggests it could be home made by somebody who can handle a block of frozen puff pastry. Personally I couldn't be bothered with all that fiddling but to my shame I just smiled enigmatically before rushing off to hide the box at the bottom of the recycling!

                        ~~~Criticisms and Negatives~~~

                        I have no real criticism except perhaps I would like a more generous serving of the filling. Maybe because this is shaped in a long roll and not spread out, it goes right to the ends but does not reach the sides. However this is a minor point because it really isn't a miserly amount.

                        Of course this definitely doesn't fall into the healthy snack category! A serving consisting of one third of the bar ( around 133 grams) has 485 calories, 36.8 grams of fat (over half the adult recommended daily amount), 16.8 grams of saturated fat ( a massive 82% of the RDA) and 1.8grams of salt (30% RDA). In fact the sugar content at 2 grams is the only reasonably acceptable statistic!

                        Potential allergens are listed as milk, wheat and gluten and it cannot be guaranteed as nut free. Do I also need to add that it is vegetarian unfriendly?

                        ~~~Recommendation~~~

                        Just in case there is any doubt I heartily recommend this product. It looks as good as it tastes! It may not be the best from a nutritional standpoint but, as it encourages us to eat our salad, this minor transgression can be forgiven! It's very versatile especially as it is equally delicious hot or cold. All in all, at just £1.98 for 400 grams, just about 30p more than you would expect to pay for the same weight in sausage rolls, I consider it to be a real bargain.

                        ~~~And Finally~~~

                        During the course of researching this review, I noticed that Tesco also do a Chicken and Asparagus and a Chilli Beef version. These will definitely be on my next shopping list.

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                        • More +
                          14.04.2009 23:00
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                          Safe, effective, inexpensive and therefore worth a try.

                          I haven't washed my face since I was in my early teens. Friends often look aghast when I tell them this and my poor Mum was horrified when I took up such nasty, unclean habits! However I was determined because the Mum of my best friend was a beauty consultant (at least she sold perfume and cosmetics in the local chemist's) and she told me water was bad for my face and soap even worse. Now I thought she was quite old (in retrospect she was probably about 39!) and had beautiful skin so I thought it wise to take her advice especially as I felt soap and water made my face come up all blotchy and feeling tight. Mum had to acquiesce as I used my own pocket money to buy some cheap cleansing preparation!

                          It's well known that lots of kids develop an allergy to soap at some stage! But it later turned out mine was a real one. After the development of my eczema, in my twenties, I found I could only use glycerine or olive oil soaps but I stuck to cleansing lotion on my face and this has to be very mild and suitable for sensitive skin.

                          I first used Simple some years ago but then turned to more expensive brands thinking they were better for my skin. However a couple of years or so ago, feeling the need for a little economy, I again purchased Simple Cleansing Lotion and I have to say I am really impressed and wonder why I ever gave it up!

                          *****SIMPLE PRODUCTS*****

                          Simple soap was launched in 1960 and, it is claimed, was the first ever perfume and colour free soap but it was not until 1978 that their first skin care range was launched , just a cleanser , toner and moisturiser. Although today their products cover a much wider range from antiperspirants to shower/ bath preparations, sun protection products and antiwrinkle treatments and include special ranges for babies and men, their philosophy remains the same in that all products are 100% perfume and colour free and contain " no unnecessary additives". As such they are considered suitable for sensitive skins from which apparently 50% of people in the UK claim to suffer. Importantly too, for many readers, their products are not tested on animals.

                          The website is worth a visit as it contains not only product details but also helpful advice for those with sensitve skins. An interesting glossary explains many of those long terms which can be found on cosmetic ingredient lists. http://www.simple.co.uk/index.aspx

                          *****SIMPLE PURIFYING CLEANSING LOTION*****

                          ***Ingredients***

                          I won't go into all the ingredients because it would take a lot of effort to discern the tiny writing and I am sure most people would not be too interested. However the chief ingredients seem to be water, hydrogenated vegetable oil and glycerin. It also boasts active ingredient pro-vitamin B5, otherwise known as panthenol which is a well known emollient and moisturiser. Interestingly enough Wikipedia notes that it is sometimes mixed with allantoin (also listed as an ingredient) and used for the treatment of sunburns, mild burns and minor skin disorders as it "improves hydration, reduces itching and inflammation of the skin and accelerates and improves healing of epidermal wounds".

                          I just need to confirm it is lanolin free because, although it is widely believed that lanolin is good for the skin and it is used in many trusted skin care products, such E45 cream, some people are allergic to it and these include (yes, you've guessed it) boring, old, allergy ridden ME!

                          ***My experience***

                          This white plastic container containing 200ml is about 6 ins high with a screw on lid and is recyclable The dispenser is just a hole, revealed when the lid is removed and the thick white creamy liquid is quite easily dispensed when the bottle is inverted. As with all Simple products there is no perfume at all.

                          The instructions are to squeeze onto cotton wool and "cleanse in upward movements over the skin morning and night". I usually use this method but when I have run out of cotton wool, I have been known to use my fingers applying straight onto the skin and then using a tissue to wipe over. It certainly cleanses as the evidence shows on the cotton wool or tissue! It's easy, it's quick and accomplished with very little mess!

                          But, in addition, it is claimed that the lotion softens and conditions and I have to admit my skin always feels good afterwards -never tight or dry and still soft to the touch. Most important, I have never yet suffered any adverse reaction which must prove, knowing my skin, that it is very gentle.
                          It is also, according to the instructions, "soft enough to use around the delicate eye area" and I can verify this because I also use it to remove eye makeup. Maybe I should add that I do not wear waterproof mascara so I can't judge how effective it would be on that. It has never yet stung my eyes.

                          The instructions also add that toner and moisturiser should be applied afterwards but I skip the toner. (Any beauticians reading this, please don't admonish me for this sin of omission, I just don't like the way toners feel on my skin!)

                          Just a couple of small criticisms. Firstly, this type of container seems to trap air and, the lower the contents become, the harder you have to squeeze to remove the air before any lotion emerges. Secondly, the dispenser under the screw top does not screw off but is very firmly attached to the container and, if you want to remove all those last drops, you may have to run the risk of cutting this off. Normal precautions should be taken if attempting this!

                          ***Value for Money***

                          This is a very reasonably priced when compared with similar products. A quick search of Tesco website will illustrate:-

                          Price per 100 mls:-
                          Simple Cleansing Lotion £1.00
                          Tesco Skin Wisdom Cleansing Lotion £1.22
                          Garnier Clean and Soft Cleansing Milk £0.91
                          Nivea Visage Gentle Cleansing Lotion £1.93
                          L'Oreal Dermo Extreme Nourishing Cleansing Milk £1.80

                          I find it goes a long way as just two small, pea-sized globules will usually be sufficient for a cleansing session. My present bottle has lasted some two months and is still going strong and I don't have to pay extra for special eye make up removers.
                          .
                          ***The Verdict***

                          This is a reasonably priced and effective product which I will be buying again and which I would recommend to all whether or not they suffer from sensitive skin. From my experience it cleanses efficiently and leaves the skin feeling as good as some products I have used which cost ten times the price. But then I am a sensitive woman with simple tastes (whatever my ex husband may say!).

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                          • More +
                            13.04.2009 20:13
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                            It may be organic but it's also over-priced!

                            To be honest I am not sure why I bought this bar. I don't usually have chocolate in the house as it provides too much temptation and when I do buy it, it's because I see a special offer I can't refuse! Moreover I usually avoid the virtual confectionery aisle when doing my online shop so how or why this got clicked into my basket escapes me. Looking at my receipt it doesn't seem any offer applied. It's still on Sainsbury's site at £1.94, the price I paid. Maybe on that particular day I was on a mission to find something more unusual to review and this intention led me off the straight and narrow. I cannot say. Whichever route took me to this purchase it's one I will not be treading again in a hurry!

                            ~~SEEDS OF CHANGE~~

                            According to their British website, Seeds of Change was born when a small group of people in Sante Fe, New Mexico came together, united by their common concern regarding intensive farming methods and the effect of these on the planet's biodiversity. Consequently, in 1989, they founded a small organic seed company with the mission statement:-

                            "To protect the planet's biodiversity and promote organic agricultural practices by offering a diverse range of open-pollinated 100% organic seeds and products.
                            To promote the benefits of organic farming and food.
                            To help people and future generations improve their lives and enjoy wholesome, natural, pure, chemical-free foods."

                            Should anybody, in these environmentally aware times, be unsure of the definition of biodiversity (and I must admit the term sometimes confuses me), an explanation is also included on the website as follows:-
                            "Biodiversity" is the sum total of all the world's plant, animal and insect life, and all the other organisms that make up the world's ecosystems. The loss of biodiversity affects the actual plants we eat, including heirloom and traditional varieties, as well as affecting the rainforests.

                            They started from scratch building a growers' network, finding farmers who were interested in the concept, educating them in the art of saving seeds and developing strong working partnerships with them. Building on this they went on to build their own farm and research centre which acts as a central resource providing information and advice to farmers and gardeners. In the States their mail order seed catalogue now offers some 2000 vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, fruits and other plants, seeds which they claim are open pollinated varieties selected for their "flavour, vigour and nutrition".

                            The natural progression from this was to pick the best varieties to create a range of foods which are made from "natural, wholesome, 100% organically grown ingredients" and to this end they claim to have "spent the past decade exploring the globe in (their) quest for new and exotic tastes ( and continuing) to hunt for the most uniquely flavorful and authentically genuine recipes from around the world". They arrived in the UK in 1999 and now offer a range of soups, sauces, pasta, cereal bars, and, most recently, chocolate bars.

                            They claim to set aside 1% of their revenue to contribute to research into sustainable, organic agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity.

                            Thus it's all very worthy!

                            ~~THE CHOCOLATE RANGE~~

                            The Seeds of Change chocolate range must be quite new to these shores because on the UK website it is not listed under the "Our Foods" section. I had to search to find any mention and eventually found it under the "What's New" Banner. Indeed, although all the major supermarkets are listed as stockists on the website, of those I checked only Sainsbury's seem to offer the chocolate range.

                            Apparently the chocolate is made from Trinitario cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic where Seeds of Change are working "to help farmers protect their crops and achieve higher prices". Cynically I might observe this carefully worded statement stops short of claiming they are fully committed to fair trade but it's a gesture in that direction.

                            There are four varieties currently available
                            Dark Chocolate ( Plain)
                            Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut and Walnut
                            Dark Chocolate with Orange and Fig
                            Milk Chocolate with Apricot and Cashew

                            I chose the only milk chocolate variety as I find dark chocolate often triggers a migraine attack.

                            ~~MILK CHOCOLATE - APRICOT & CASHEW~~

                            Onto an exploration of my purchase and I am impressed by the wrapper. The orange background (which occupies most of the recyclable paper sheet) is inscribed with depictions of a tree, a peacock and other flora and fauna in silhouette. It is very easily recognisable. The wrapper is also filled with a description of the product and nutritional information whilst overleaf there are details of the company's history and mission statement, an abbreviated version of that found on their website. This includes an affirmation that the passion of the company has led it all over the world to find exquisite ingredients for its chocolate range. The euphoric description of this particular bar is worth quoting in full:-

                            "Malatya apricots dried naturally under the Turkish sun, married with crisp cashews and folded into our sublime, full cream milk chocolate. Relax"

                            Salivating already, I break into the thin silver foil which protects the chocolate within. The bar which emerges is around 5.5 by 3 inches and divided into segments (unfortunately I can't remember how many because I scoffed the lot before embarking on this review!). The chocolate IS delicious! There is a strong rich chocolate flavour and the texture is probably the smoothest and creamiest I have tasted in a long time. In my experience, it most closely resembles Lindt but is less sweet and sickly. Unfortunately it is also the "thinnest" chocolate bar I have ever encountered, hardly even as thick as the layer of icing on an iced bun and maybe be even thinner. As such it can't contain very generous quantities of apricot and cashew nuts. In fact I can't even taste the apricots at first. I have to resort to letting all the chocolate melt away and then exploring the residue. Sure enough there are a few slivers of apricot but so few in number and so minute they are hardly chewable and I really have to concentrate to experience the flavour. I am forced to ask why Seeds of Change reportedly invest so much effort into sourcing the tastiest ingredients when they include them in such small quantities it's hardly possible to get a flavour of them! Quite honestly any old dried apricot would have done the job! Moreover I never did discover the cashews. I expected a slight crunch or so along the way but it never happened!

                            What an utter disappointment this was especially considering I had just consumed 525 calories and 13.2 grams of fat (including 17.4 grams of saturated fat) and not really enjoyed it very much. My only consolation, it only contains 0.18 grams of salt!

                            ~~IN CONCLUSION~~

                            I am quite partial to organic products not only because I often find they taste better but also because I feel organic farmers are worth supporting as their methods are more environmentally ethical. For this reason I do not usually mind paying a little extra. But in this case I am afraid I feel conned. I paid £1.94 for this 100 gram bar when I could have purchased a 400 gram bar of Cadbury's Fruit and Nut for just £ 2.49. Why such a huge differential? Cadbury's Milk is a different quality chocolate, less smooth and rich, but it's perfectly acceptable and with raisins and nuts in sufficient quantities to contribute not only to the flavour but also to the varied textures one can discern in the product. Maybe it's good to know that Seeds of Change will reserve 1% of the profit to plough back into projects linked with research into methods to ensure greater biodiversity but I think I would be just as happy buying Cadbury's and contributing the few pence to an environmental charity. It's also worth noting that Cadbury's have recently given an unequivocal commitment to Fair Trade for all their Dairy Milk products, a move which has been applauded by many proponents of the Fair Trade movement and a commitment which Seeds of Change only hints at but does not actually claim to adhere to.

                            Whatever the Seeds of Change credentials I won't be buying this product again. It's just too high a price to pay for all the hype!

                            References
                            Seeds of Change US site: http://www.seedsofchange.com/default.aspx
                            Seeds of Change UK site: http://www.seedsofchange.co.uk/
                            Details of Cadbury's Fair Trade Commitment: http://fairtrade.change.org/?page=7

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                              10.04.2009 19:06
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                              Worth considering if looking for an economical option

                              I have often wondered who came up with the wretched dictate that we should all eat five a day. The answer would seem to be the government and okay it is supposed to reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease and other chronic conditions but I am sick of the message being hammered home so hard. Sometimes it just makes me want to rebel and go and stuff myself with calories, saturated fats, salt and sugar galore; oh the allure of cheese, butter, red meat, chocolate, cream and deep fried chips by the bucketful. But however hard I try to dismiss the nasty slogan, it continues to haunt me in quiet moments. The nutrition police are like traffic wardens! You never know where they are hiding or when they are going to launch an assault. On the TV, in a magazine or newspaper, on the internet, in your local supermarket, they are an ever present threat to my peace of mind. Despite all the other ways in which I carelessly put my life at risk, I get anxieties that compel me to, at least, try to adhere to their decrees!

                              Strangely enough I don't find vegetables too much of a problem - a handful of broccoli here, a spoonful of peas there, a smattering of wilted spinach where ever, it's easy and there are so many good frozen ones around . But I don't find it easy to consume the right amount of fruit. I like apples and oranges but I seldom want to consume whole ones at one sitting so halves sit around going brown or becoming hard pith bound; my daughter doesn't seem to touch them. I like melon but it invariably goes off before we eat it all. Grapes are lovely but only for few days before they go brown and shrivel up. With mandarins clementines and similar, I always manage to find the difficult to peel or very tart varieties. Plums are fine and just the right size but when I buy a punnet they are often rock hard, then all ripen at once and go off within nanoseconds! The list goes on. I am ashamed to say that I often found myself throwing out more fruit than the two of us consume. Therefore I have been known to resort to buying portions of fresh fruit salad and other prepared fruit because we enjoy the variety. However this is quite an expensive habit and these too have limited shelf life so I try to limit my purchases.

                              Happily my problem has been solved in part by Sainsbury's Basics Fruit Salad which is a frozen option. This Basics range consists of around 550 products which are described as everyday essentials. It makes me wonder if I am lacking something because I certainly don't have such a vast number of essential needs but it looks good for those on economy drives. I have not been impressed with quite a number of these and indeed my reviews have slated a few but this one is worth some consideration.

                              It comes in a standard white polythene bag (shame on you Sainsbury's, it's not recyclable!) with the usual orange and green labels, logos and literature which invariably festoon the Basics range. There is an enticing, but rather flattering, photo of the fruit salad placed as if it's in a naively drawn bowl. The statement above proclaims "not fancy, still fruity" and this is quite an accurate summation!

                              Open the bag and all you can see are frozen lumps of quite a good size but I can tell from the packet that here we have apple, melon, grapes, mandarins and pineapple. Once defrosted, it's evident that apple and melon predominate but there are quite decent quantities of whole red grapes, mandarin segments and pineapple too. To be honest it isn't as good as fresh; the apples are not so crisp, the melon less firm and the mandarins not so succulent but the grapes compare quite well with fresh and the pineapple lumps, although small, are large enough to give a decent dose of flavour and, at well under half the price of fresh erquivalents, it is still an attractive option especially for those who are counting the pennies.

                              In fact, at just £1 for 480g, I consider it a real bargain. Sainsbury's fresh equivalent which contains the same fruits with the exception of the mandarins is £1.39 for just 200g. Asda do better with their equivalent costing £1 whilst Tesco's comes in at £1.50 but does include more exotic fruits such as kiwi and mango. Neither Tesco nor Asda seem to do an equivalent frozen offering. Here I may well be challenged on the fresh versus frozen debate but years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my midwife told me that frozen products are often better from a nutritional point of view than the fresh products we find in our supermarkets. This is because they are processed at their peak of ripeness when, as a general rule, they are most nutrient filled. I have found many references since that back up her theory.

                              The real beauty of this is that you can defrost as much or as little as you require although occasionally I have found it requires some gentle prising apart. This takes about 2.5 hours at room temperature. I am more likely to put a bowlful in the fridge over night. I would add a word of warning here however. Do take care not to spill any once it's defrosted or mop up any spills very thoroughly and immediately because, if left to dry for any time, the juice leaves an awful sticky mess which it takes a good measure of elbow grease to clean. Once defrosted the instructions state it can be kept in the fridge for 24 hours. However I have found it's best eaten quite soon after defrosting as, if left, the rather scented flavour of the melon can permeate the whole which, for me, makes it less appetising. As to shelf life when frozen, my most recent packet purchased a week or so ago has a best before date of March 2011, a couple of years hence!

                              If we must talk about vital statistics, four of the five sectors of the wheel of health glow green. Based on an 80g serving, there are 30 kcals, just a trace of fat and salt and NO saturated fats. The only orange one is sugars at 7g. It's a "good source of Vitamin C" and just one three tablespoon serving constitutes one of that Holy Grail, your five a day! Rejoice!

                              It may not be as good as fresh fruit but it is far better than tinned and I find it a useful and convenient addition to my freezer. Of course it goes without saying (but I will anyway), it is quite versatile. It can be eaten alone, with a little dollop of ice-cream or cream if you are feeling a little indulgent, in a fruit trifle or, as we do, added to cereals. I think one day I may well cheat and use it as a basis for a fresher fruit salad just adding a few more varieties of fruit to spice it up a little. It certainly helps eke out the family budget and waste less fruit. Best of all it is a useful weapon in the war to keep the five a day thought police at bay. I can recommend it for that alone!

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                                09.04.2009 20:06
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                                RIP Uncle Ted

                                I must preface this article by an apology that it is probably in a misleading place but unfortunately there is no suitable category in Speakers Corner and my attempts to post this under the General heading were foiled. Everytime I tried it would take me to my last review under that heading with an invite to update it! Therefore I gave up and searched out this heading - after all this is a little piece of my family history!

                                +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

                                This week the two themes of Remembrance and Reconciliation have been on my mind. To explain why this is, I must return to the beginning of a story. It started years ago but the most recent chapter opened some eighteen months ago and is best recounted in a piece written by my Mum. It was her contribution to the local version of "Talking Newspapers for the Blind " which, being November, was including some reflections on Remembrance Day

                                +++My Mum's Story in her Own Words+++

                                Many years ago, 1936 to be exact at the age of 10, I said my goodbyes to my brother Ted. Ted had followed in our father's footsteps and joined the Royal Artillery and was home on embarkation leave. He took me to a matinee performance at the Hippodrome in Dover. I don't remember much about that, but I do remember the overcoat he bought me afterwards. He was the third of my five brothers and, as the youngest in the family, I was spoilt by them all. He was going to be stationed for three years in Rawalpindi, which, in those days of the Raj, was in India. Three years! To me, at that age, it was a lifetime away. Little was I to know!

                                His tour of duty ended in 1939, but with the outbreak of war in Europe his homecoming was deferred. Then, in 1941, on his way home, his ship was turned back when Pearl Harbour was bombed. I don't know where or when it happened but he was captured by the Japanese. I have a card he wrote in 1944, from a prisoner of war camp in Taiwan mentioning that I was now 18 years old and he hoped to be at my wedding. The next year the family heard that he was to be moved to Nagasaki in Japan and later on the sad news that he had died of pneumonia. The War Graves Commission sent us a booklet showing the Memorial Crass and the rows of stone plaques, beautifully kept, in the Commonwealth Cemetery in Yokohama.

                                That was many moons ago.

                                Ted's name is now on the list in Deal's War Memorial Hospital. Long may it remain! But often I have felt great sadness that Ted died and was buried so many miles away, without any of the family there. I always thought that one day I would go there but the years have gone by and I never made it.

                                However a few months ago one of my nephews, Martin, rang to tell me that his son Jonathan, had made the acquaintance of a young Japanese lady on the internet. She had invited him to visit her home in Yokohama and he was out there at that moment. She lives only a ten minute bus ride away from the cemetery and they had gone there that morning, found Ted's grave and laid flowers for him. Martin said we would find a copy of the photo they had taken on our computer and we did. It was the first time we had seen just his grave and the inscription. Starting with his army number it reads:-

                                838852 L. Sjt
                                E R C HARRISSON
                                ROYAL ARTILLERY
                                26th April 1945. Age 29

                                Now Ted's great nephew is back and I have received more photos of him and the Japanese girl, Yoko, carrying the flowers they laid on Ted's grave. We have now heard that she will visit Jonathan next year. I hope that I shall be able to meet her. She and Jonathan have made me feel that there has been closure, in that a member of the family has visited his graveside - " in a foreign field that is forever England".

                                +++Uncle and Great Uncle Ted+++

                                Unfortunately my Mum now has an eye condition which prevents her crying but, although I am not given to over sentimentality, I shed a few tears for her when first reading her story and viewing the pictures. Of course I never knew my Uncle Ted but his memory has always been kept alive in the family. However, until I read this I had never really appreciated how young he was when going off to Rawalpindi, how, because of World War II, he was away from home for nine years and how young he was when he died, the same age as my son is now! Coincidentally, when Mum wrote this in October 2007, my own daughter was in Islamabad, doing the initial training for her one year VSO stint in Pakistan. She too has grown up with an awareness of her Great Uncle Ted's story and would have loved to visit Rawalpindi, just a few miles away, on her own little pilgrimage. In fact she would have landed very near there as it is now the location of Islamabad International Airport but she was strongly advised not to go there as it is now the headquarters of the Pakistani Armed Forces and, as such, it is a dangerous location in that troubled. country. My own anxieties about my daughter at that time brought the whole thing home to me especially thinking of my Grandmother, seventy years ago, waving her lad off and presumably experiencing the same mixed feelings of pride and trepidation which I was then experiencing.

                                +++Moving On+++

                                Nearly a year later Jonathan brought Yoko to visit my parents. She brought them little traditional Japanese gifts and they were absolutely charmed by her. Unfortunately I have still not had the opportunity to meet her but think that will soon be rectified because last week my cousin Martin and his wife flew to Japan so that they could be present at the wedding of their son and Yoko. I expect there will also be a family trip to pay respects to Uncle Ted. This is why the two themes Remembrance and Reconciliation have been very much in my thoughts this week. I wonder what my Uncle Ted would have made of it all but, if he was anything like the rest of my family, I like to think he would have approved and wished the young couple well.

                                I don't want to comment too much on the rights and wrongs of war. I suppose by nature I am a pacifist but I am also a realist and can understand why some people believe in the concept of a "just war". I also appreciate the sacrifice made by so many in past and present wars. However it is a sobering thought that four months after my uncle died in a Nakasaki Prisoner of War Camp, the Americans dropped the second atomic bomb on that unfortunate city.

                                On Saturday my Japanese friend, Mariko, called round for dinner. I have only known her for a couple of years and had not mentioned the story to her before because of some misplaced feeling that I should not mention the war (a la Fawlty Towers and John Cleese). However I really wanted to tell her about the wedding and that led on to the story of my Uncle Ted and the subsequent history. I needn't have worried. She was delighted by the news of the marriage and it sparked a brief conversation about the history of our two countries and the futility of war which in a way cemented our friendship. It was she who first identified that we now had our very own Jon and Yoko in the family! Sadly she said that although she has lived in this country for some thirty years (she married an English man but is now a widow) she still occasionally experiences some prejudice against her race.

                                And so begins another chapter in our family history. Hopefully the younger generation will never again experience the horrors my Uncle Ted and so many others must have witnessed. I feel proud that they seem to be free of prejudice and are moving on whilst still keeping the memories alive, memories which should provide a lesson to us all.

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                                  08.04.2009 07:40
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                                  It's nothing special and there are much more effective products around

                                  Glancing through the special offers at Tesco, something I do more often in these penny pinching times, I stumbled upon some Aussie hair care products at an enticing one third off, just £2.27 instead of £3.40. I have not used Aussie products for years not through any dissatisfaction but because I just drifted away. In fact I seem to recall I was quite a fan and always found their shampoos especially effective leaving the hair feeling as if the shampoo had also acted as a conditioner. As my hair is fine, flyaway and always in need of some body I went for their Real Volume Shampoo and eagerly anticipated the results. How boring is my life that a new shampoo can cause me so much excitement?

                                  Of course there can be no prizes for guessing whence Aussie products originate or can there? I was surprised to learn that, although the ingredients are supposedly from the land of the kangaroo, they were developed by an American hair supremo, Tom Redmond. Apparently when visiting Oz in 1979, he was introduced to many local fruit and other natural remedies. He was impressed by such delights as blue gum leaves, Australian custard apple. Quandong, mint balm, wild cherry bark and Jojoba seed oil and it dawned on him that such exotic ingredients might well benefit tired frazzled locks. From this experience came his first product the Aussie 3 Minute Miracle Reconstructor quickly followed by many other lines designed to cope with problem hair. In 1997 Redmond Products was sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb and became part of Clairol which in 2001 was sold to Procter & Gamble. I didn't know all this when I made my purchase. It's so easy to be fooled into thinking you are buying from quite a small specialised concern and that because its products are based on natural ingredients they must be ethically sound only to find out you are actually adding to the coffers of a huge multinational and in this case one with very poor environmental and animal testing credentials!

                                  Nevertheless, remembering Aussie from the old days, I looked forward to the experience of trying this Real Volume shampoo. The cream opaque plastic bottle is quite a plain but brightened by the familiar purple logo with its leaping kangaroo and matching cap. I read that this 300ml of shampoo contains "extract of Australian hops" which leaves the hair "with body and fullness from roots to tips." I wondered for a minute about the hops but then had to smile as I remembered that, when I was a nipper, my Mum used to wash my hair using a very popular beer shampoo! Well perhaps fifty years ago we knew a thing or two because I read on and apparently the proteins in the hops coat the hair and help build it up! Most of the other ingredients, which I have to squint to read, are incomprehensible and unpronounceable but I do note the presence of citric acid, Hawaiian white ginger and wild cherry.

                                  In the shower, the handy rocker mechanism dispenser is easy to cope with and I pour a little of the colourless clear liquid into my palm. There is an aroma and quite a pleasant one but it's difficult to describe. Quite sharp at first it then settles into a gentler fusion of spicy fruitiness with a hint of sweetness. I can't identify the hops but then I realise that, even though I come from Kent originally, I have no idea what hops smell like! I massage it into my wet hair and I don't need a great deal before I am well lathered. Amazingly the directions end there, no mention of rinsing it out and no mention of a second application. I decide rinsing would be advisable and it takes quite an effort to clear all the bubblea but eventually my hair is squeaking.

                                  This was my first experience and it was rather misleading because I invariably use a Trevor Sorbie hair thickening mousse whilst my hair is still damp. I do know this works well and I have already reviewed it. The end result was satisfactory and my hair appeared thick with plenty of body but soft and shiny too. But was it any better than when I used other shampoos? I decided it was too close to call. I did find that my hair still looked quite good the following day and I did not need to wash it again.

                                  The real test came several applications later when my home hairdresser came to give me some streaks and a trim. I washed my hair before he arrived and just left it to dry without any styling products. When it dried I couldn't notice any increased volume. It hung lifeless and sparse and looked a right sight! I used it again when I rinsed out the potions Jermaine used to streak me beautiful. Now Jermaine does not use any styling products when he blow dries my hair and usually he manages to make it look reasonably voluminous being very adept with his brush strokes. However this time I was disappointed. Although it was nicely cut and styled, it looked limp and very flat. After he left I re-brushed it and it was rather fly away even with a hint of static. Of course, this could have been down to the colouring products but it has never happened before and the only difference from previous occasions was the application of the Aussie.

                                  So would I buy it again? Definitely not! It is quite pleasant to use, not exorbitantly priced and seems to be lasting well as a little lathers a long way. The hair feels quite fresh after use and the scalp, clean without any trace of the skin irritation to which I am prone. But unfortunately it just doesn't do what it claims for my hair. There is no lift, no voluminous appearance and "that bit of oomph" promised by the hype on the container never happened for me! I have had better results with other thickening shampoos and I have used cheaper shampoos with no 'volumising' credentials but much the same results. It is not the worst shampoo I have ever used but I think the beer shampoo my Mum used to use did a better job even if it didn't smell as sweet!

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