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slbhill

slbhill
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Member since: 29.01.2004

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    • Philips AJ 3112 / Portable Radio / 23 Readings / 21 Ratings
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      28.04.2011 14:09
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      Does everything you would expect - but too many small annoyances to be recommended.

      ____Looks____
      Although I've had this clock for some time now, it still looks upside down to me! This is because it's slightly wider at the top than at the bottom. It has nice clean lines but is quite blocky and plasticky. As always with this type of product, the cable coming out of the back rather spoils the look (such as it is!). The cable is fine for where I use it but not particularly long (about 1m).

      ____Function____
      This is an alarm clock radio. You can use it as an (analogue) AM/FM radio which has a "sleep" function so you can listen to the radio in bed & it will turn itself off after a chosen length of time. You can set it to wake you at any time of the day or night with the radio or a rather unpleasant but effective buzzer. It has a snooze button which (as always) is rather too easy to use! The clock is digital on an LED display so you can read it in the dark. It can be set to 12 or 24 hour clock, and there is a useful little dot on the display to indicate whether the alarm is set or not.

      The radio goes up to a good volume, and reception is reasonable. The aerial is a dangly wire out of the back of the clock, which is apparently very tasty (at least, my cat keeps trying to chew it!) When I had the wire just hanging down the radio had a tendency to pick up a different station in the morning from the one it was playing in the evening - I think some of the frequencies are very close together and affected by atmospheric conditions. But it's not good to set up for Radio 4 and be woken by crackly pop music - or indeed the reverse! However once I got round to spreading the aerial wire more horizontally (by hooking it round the mount for the headboard!) this seems to have resolved itself.

      ____Controls____
      This is where this clock really falls down. It has a nice big flat snooze button right across the front. All the other buttons just behind the snooze button are small, flat, and the most fiddly buttons I've got on any appliance! The on/off/auto slider is the worst - it's almost flat with just a ridge in the middle, and I have broken nails on it several times, and let's not talk about how many times I've turned it on instead of off accidentally.

      It has what I now think of as old fashioned digital adjustment - hold down the "hour" button and click the "adjust" button to increase the hour, and similarly to change the minutes. So if you want to put it back 5 minutes to give yourself a little extra time in the morning then you have to go all round the clock - increase the hours by 23 and the minutes by 55. Last thing at night. When you're not really awake. The adjustment buttons also make a noise when you press them - so if you're doing this after the other bed occupant has gone to sleep, then you'll probably wake them up with the click click click click click click. It's not very loud - but loud enough in a quiet bedroom! You can press and hold the button to reduce the noise, but it's very slow and I am usually too impatient for that!

      There are two dials on the right, for volume and tuning. They are chunky and easy to manipulate, but not much good for fine adjustment. There is an indicator on the front (a bit of plastic on a scale of frequencies - basic but fair enough) to show what frequency you're at - useful if you know what you're aiming for - but it's not very easy to read because the shape of the clock means it's pointing slightly downwards, away from you.

      ____Price____
      This is why I didn't cut the rating more for the annoyance of the stupid fiddly buttons: it's cheap, very cheap. When I bought it, the price was within £1 of the Tesco Value clock radio, so they don't come much cheaper. And it seems to be pretty robust and reliable for the price.

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      • iRobot Roomba 520 / Vacuum Cleaner / 27 Readings / 25 Ratings
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        14.04.2011 14:51
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        Huge novelty value but not as much of a time saver as you might expect

        Who wouldn't want a gadget which does the hoovering for you? You just set it going and it cleans all your floors itself - how fabulous is that?? Of course as with most things, it's not quite as fabulous as it sounds.

        ___Meet Roomba___
        The iRobot vacuum cleaner is called Roomba. It is about 18 inches across and 3 inches tall, with brushes and chunky wheels underneath and the controls on top. The controls are nice and simple - just 3 buttons, and in general you just use one to set it going. There are a few flashing lights etc. with the controls, and handle to lift Roomba and take him (her? it?) somewhere else. It comes with a charger / docking port (see "maintenance" below. Some models also include an extra bit which allows you to set a barrier to keep him within one area - mostly it's not needed though.

        Roomba will clean your floors for you - carpet, lino, tile, laminate, it's all the same to Roomba. He never complains (well kind of... see later) and saves you all that cleaning. He's amazing to watch ambling round the floor in a seemingly random pattern which nonetheless covers the whole floor. And when he's finished, he stops and gives a little "I'm done, aren't I great" fanfare (that's why I think Roomba is male, by the way - I apologise for the implied sexism!) He is very clever at coping with most obstacles - he can even do the landing without falling down the stairs (he senses the drop and retreats), although obviously he can't do stairs.

        My cat doesn't like Roomba and avoids him which is a shame because Roomba is just the right size to be ridden by a cat - checkout youtube for an excellent video of one cat who loves his Roomba!

        ___Cleaning___
        Put Roomba in the room you want, press the button and leave him to get on with it, it's that simple! Well kind of. First you need to move anything he'll get tangled up on - shoelaces are pretty bad, as are stray wires (like a mobile phone charger for instance) and dangling fabric like the valance sheet on a bed. He doesn't generally damage things if he gets caught - but he stops where he is waiting for you to go in and rescue him, and he sometimes swallows quite a lot of the dangling cable which is fiddly to disentangle.

        He will clean hard floors and carpet, and some rugs. I have a shaggy rug in the living room which he detests, and stops in protest whenever he touches it - I think each shaggy strand is like a wire to him (see above). He copes well with the doormat but does tend to push it round the hall for a bit before actually climbing on and cleaning it. I think he would manage most rugs as long as they are well anchored and the pile isn't too deep.

        He has no trouble at all running under the table or even the coffee table, which is fantastic. However our dining chairs include a metal tube across the floor (about an inch diameter) which he often runs onto and strands himself - at which point he stops and does his best "damsel in distress" act.

        As a big round robot he obviously can't get into corners very well, and the suction is all underneath rather than at the edges. So you will still need to do your corners periodically. On carpet this isn't too bad but it can be an issue on hard floors - he sometimes chases bits of cat fur round the room and eventually just runs them into a corner and leaves them there.

        On the main sections he does a reasonable job of cleaning - not perfect but pretty good.

        ___Maintenance___
        Roomba comes with his own bed (docking port / charging station) which plugs into the wall. If it's placed on carpet he will even take himself to bed when he's finished - but if it's on laminate then it tends to slide around as if it's running away from him which is a bit unfair on a poor robot who just wants to go to bed! The battery charge lasts long enough to do most of a medium sized house, which is pretty good.

        Roomba doesn't have a bag - just a box which you pull out and empty into the bin. The main problem is that the box is really quite small - if you have a cat or dog you'll probably need to empty it after every 3 rooms or so.

        And the crowning glory is the frequency with which is stops, beeps and says, "Please remove and clean Roomba's brushes". I think this is a consequence of someone in the house with long hair - long hairs tend to wrap themselves around the brushes, and cleaning them is very fiddly. This is the last straw for me - it takes me as long to clean the brushes as it does to hoover most of the house (for a quick once over at least). I think if you only have short haired people this is much less of a problem.

        So overall it's a great concept and it does work. But the time spent pulling long hairs out of the brushes is almost as much as you save pushing a hoover round the house.

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        • More +
          17.03.2011 14:43
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          Basic but functional

          This is only the 2nd electric toothbrush I've had - I would describe it as a good basic toothbrush.

          ___USE___
          Electric toothbrushes all seem to have the same size heads and this one is no exception - about the size of one of my smaller teeth, now there's a coincidence ;-) The head vibrates (rotates) to clean your teeth and seems to do a very effective job. Certainly my teeth feel cleaner after using this toothbrush than after using a manual one. I would say my previous (much more expensive) brush did a slightly better job, maybe because it rotated more quickly.

          It is surprisingly good at getting into funny shaped gaps (for those of us who should have gone to an orthodontist but didn't!)

          A few points:
          * It doesn't have a timer or any snazzy extra features - it just brushes your teeth.
          * If it tickles then it's probably running low on battery power!
          * If you don't regularly remove the head & rinse out the inside then you tend to get toothpaste-y water running down the handle when you stand the brush upright. It's easy enough to rinse though.

          ___CHARGING___
          It comes with a small charger stand which you plug into a shaver socket (adapters are cheap if you don't have a shaver socket). The wire isn't very long but certainly long enough for most bathrooms.

          The stand is small so it doesn't get in the way but that means that when you stand the toothbrush (upright) on the charger it wobbles about a bit. There is no light on the charger or the brush to reassure you that the brush has seated correctly on the charger - and it's not a great fit so that's not quite as obvious as it sounds! However, I've never had the brush fail to charge so I think it's mainly a comfort thing!

          I would also like an indicator to tell me whether the charge is complete or not. The instructions were lost months ago & I don't think I ever read them (silly me) so I never know how long I'm meant to leave it plugged in for. However, I just plug it in overnight and the charge lasts over a week - usually nearer a fortnight.

          I have had the toothbrush about 2 or 3 years now and it still holds its charge as well as it always has done.

          ___REPLACEMENTS___
          The heads count as consumables and should be replaced frequently. The ones I get have some bristles which start out blue and lose their colour over time - when they fade it's time to replace the head. I take that with a pinch of salt personally and keep them quite a bit longer but it does help to remind you that it's been a while.

          A word of caution - shop around! Last time I needed a new pack of heads I found a 4 pack in one supermarket for less than a 2 pack in a competing store. If you don't pay attention you can pay as much for a pack of new heads as you did for the brush itself.

          When you buy a pack of 4 you get several different little coloured rings. These can be attached to the heads so that you can share the toothbrush handle without having to use the same actual brush. I wouldn't fancy it myself but I suppose the concept makes sense

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        • Casio F91W1XY / Watch / 18 Readings / 18 Ratings
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          17.02.2011 14:35
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          A great basic watch with no gimmicks.

          I have had one of these watches for many years. In fact counting it up, it must be close to 20 years - eek! I should qualify that by saying it's not the same watch, I've replaced it with an identical one several times. So I guess I am very qualified to renew it - or perhaps not as I'm not going to compare it to many others!

          This is a basic digital watch. Digital display, black casing with 3 buttons, black plastic strap.

          ____FUNCTION____
          The display gives you
          - the time (duh!) (in 12-hour or 24-hour clock) including seconds
          - the day of the week and the day of the month (eg. today it says TH 17 - Thursday 17th).
          - an indicator of whether the alarm or the hourly beep is set.

          It has a basic alarm which, once set, will go off at the same time every day until you remember to turn it off. This can be confusing if you use it to remind yourself to take dinner out of the oven but it only takes a few button presses to turn it off so I've nobody to blame for that but myself!

          You can choose it to beep at the top of every hour. I have no idea why you would want to do this.

          It has a basic timer - you can time things (in 1/100ths of a second, not that you hitting the start / stop button is that accurate!). Press to start, press to stop. Or press another button to pause the display while the counter keeps counting - "lap timer"

          There is a backlight - push the top left button & the display lights up. If using this in the full dark you need to be able to identify the correct button by touch. This is the advantage of a 3-button watch: 2 buttons on one side, one on the other, so you know which is which.

          That's it for functions. It's a watch, not a gizmo.

          It is advertised as "water resistant". I have never had one die due to getting wet - I don't wear it to shower or go swimming, but I spend a lot of time outdoors or camping so it's been pretty drenched.

          ____LOOK____
          The look is basic and probably a bit clunky. It's really a man's watch. It doesn't contribute much to fashion, unless possibly you're into 80s retro :-) The watch part itself is about 3.5cm square with the display window being about 2cm long by 1cm tall. 2 silver-coloured metal buttons on the left, one on the right provide access to all the functions.

          ____FEEL____
          The watch face has a metal back, as with most watches except the very cheapest.

          The strap is plastic with a black plastic buckle and feels rather cheap. This is ALWAYS the first part to go - usually the little sleeve that holds the end of the strap in place but occasionally the strap itself will crack across. I suppose this is a consequence of it being curved the same way round the same wrist day after day - it builds up a weakness at certain points which then split. You could theoretically replace the strap, but as you can replace the entire watch for under £10 it hardly seems worth the effort.

          The main disadvantage of the plastic strap is that your wrist can get a bit sweaty under it. But it does clean easily!

          The plastic buckle looks and feels cheap - but is surprisingly robust.

          ____LONGEVITY____
          As mentioned above, the straps break before the watch itself. I would say the straps last 3 years, sometimes up to 5. The battery lasts longer (at least 5 years) and I've never had anything else break, even when I dropped one in the car & then put the seat down on it (oops).

          ____PRICE____
          You can buy this design at High Street jewellers for around £15. Alternatively if you shop around online you can get it for around half that, including delivery.

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        • Kingsmill 50/50 Rolls / Snacks / 15 Readings / 13 Ratings
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          10.02.2011 14:55
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          They do the job - but I wouldn't recommend them.

          Kingsmill, along with their big bread-making competitor started making "compromise bread" a few years back now. These are bread rolls for those of us who like white rolls... but know we should really be eating brown.

          The rolls are part of the 50/50 range, along with sliced bread. Half of the flour used is white while the other half is wholemeal. This is meant to give you the taste of white bread but at least some of the nutritional value of wholemeal. For the sliced bread this works - see my separate review for details. But somehow the rolls just aren't as nice.

          __Appearance__
          The packaging is mainly blue with some brown to highlight the "half brown" selling point. They come in a pack of six or a bag of 12 - the six pack is flat and sealed at both ends, while the twelve pack is more of a bag with the rolls stacked 2 deep and one of those fiddly little stickers with the best before date printed on to secure the neck of the bag.

          These are soft rolls, fairly small, and generally displayed next to the bakery rolls which are often baked instore. Maybe that's the problem - they're trying to compete with a product which is almost always fresher and tastier. The rolls are slightly speckled inside and out, showing up the wholemeal flour.

          For some reason the top crust, although soft, is often cracked or torn. They are still perfectly edible but they tend to disintegrate when you take them out of the packet.

          __Taste__
          This is the important bit, of course. The 50/50 sliced bread always tastes very fresh - but for some reason the rolls start out tasting quite dry, and don't get any better with time. They usually have a "best before" date 3-6 days ahead, and they last reasonably well, but you never get the "fresh baked" texture you can get from bakery rolls and sometimes from other types of pre-packaged rolls. They're ok in taste, but I would give them a 6/10.

          __Nutrition__
          One roll has 149 calories and 2.8g of fibre - for comparison Kingsmill's standard white rolls have 154 calories and 1.5g of fibre, and their wholemeal ones have 158 calories and 4.4g of fibre. Presumably because of the preservatives which help them last up to a week, two rolls will give you 1.26g of salt - nearly 1/4 of your guideline daily amount.

          __Price__
          Price varies but generally around £1 for 6 or £1.50 for 12. They are no dryer after freezing than before so if you're short of time during the week, make up your packed lunches at the weekend and take them out of the freezer as you go.

          Overall the rolls are easy and keep well - but on taste grounds alone I wouldn't really recommend them.

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        • Kingsmill 50/50 Bread / Snacks / 10 Readings / 10 Ratings
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          10.02.2011 14:29
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          An excellent compromise between the taste and texture of white bread and the nutrition of brown.

          Ok I admit it - I love white bread! I know it's bad for you, it has little fibre and the manufacturer has leached out most of the goodness before it goes in the oven - but there is still something wonderful about two slices of fresh clean white bread wrapped around your rashers of bacon on a Saturday morning! Kingsmill 50/50 lets you have almost all of that "white bread" taste but salve your conscience about the health issue.

          __Appearance__
          The packaging is a brightly coloured plastic bag, as with most sliced bread. It's clearly labelled 50/50 but is very similar in colouring to Kingsmill's "great everyday white" loaf, so if it's been a long day by the time you reach the bread aisle of your supermarket, make sure you pay attention!

          The slices themselves are often very well risen - to that awkward height that doesn't quite fit in the toaster. Not always though, I wonder why? You can tell by looking at it that it's not *really* white bread (you're unlikely to fool the kids into thinking it's white bread) but it does look more white than brown. To be honest it looks rather like white bread with a bit of sand cooked into it!

          __Taste__
          This is the important bit, of course. Wrapped around a strong flavoured filling (bacon, cheese & pickle, whatever's your choice) the taste is almost "white". You would have to be a very picky eater to refuse it because you "only like white". Similarly when toasted & buttered it tastes white -and very yummy. With a milder flavoured sandwich filling (sliced chicken for instance), or just on its own with a bit of margarine you can tell it's not white bread - but it's still towards the white end of the white/brown spectrum.

          One of the other disadvantages of white bread is that it doesn't keep you full for as long as wholemeal - as you'd expect, 50/50 comes somewhere in the middle.

          When it's freshly bought it is wonderfully soft and squishy, as sliced bread should be. It keeps fairly well - lasting about 5 days in my kitchen if I can stay off the toast that long!

          __Nutrition__
          One medium slice has 90 calories and 2g of fibre - for comparison Kingsmill's standard white loaf has 93 calories and 1.1g of fibre per slice and wholemeal has 91 calories and 2.5g of fibre.

          Thick slices (better for everything except dieting!) aren't as much more as you might think, at 99 calories and 2.2g of fibre. Also 4.4g of protein - who would have thought? For some reason 50/50 also has very slightly less salt at 0.4g in a medium slice, compared to 0.43g for white or brown bread.

          __Price__
          Pricewise, it's fairly typical bread and has gone up a lot in price in the last year or two. Last week at my big chain supermarket it was £1.25 per loaf but with a special offer of 2 loaves for £1.50. (So it's useful that it freezes perfectly well).

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          • freecycle.org / Internet Site / 21 Readings / 21 Ratings
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            03.02.2011 14:21
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            Freecycle: keeping stuff out of landfill

            The concept
            Freecycle is a green network - described on their website (freecycle.org) as "a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills."

            Until Freecycle, your only real option was to give to charity shops and jumble sales - which is fine for books and clothes, but often harder if you're talking about electrical goods or furniture.

            I have given away a garden shed (in pieces), decorating stuff, a lawn mower, a kitchen table, a very ancient laptop, craft stuff, books, moving boxes, stationery and probably a lot more that I've forgotten. I've also received a tent, moving boxes (received, used, given away again!) and a wide variety of strange oddments for my guide unit (youth group). And all for free!

            The setup
            Individual members (over 8 million people!) join their local group (nearly 5,000 so far). Most are set up as Yahoo groups. You join up using a yahoo id (available free) or your email address. You can then send and receive emails to and from everyone else in your local group. Some groups cover a wider area than others, and some may overlap. Also watch out for breakaway groups (Freegle, or local variations) which do broadly the same things but under a different name.

            Once you've joined up, you're set. If you have something you no longer need - you post it as an OFFER on your group - by sending an email, or entering it through the yahoo group's page. People can then email you back if they're interested. Some things are more popular than others - if you offer a working fridge or computer for instance, you are likely to get a deluge of emails!

            If you're interested in receiving stuff, you have 2 options. The best is to just keep an eye on all the emails & be quick off the mark replying to anyone which interest you. The other option is to post a WANTED ad. Most groups put some limits on these, as they can overwhelm a group - some require you to have posted at least one OFFER before you can put up a WANTED, some may limit the number of WANTEDs you can post in a month. Keep it real - posting to say you're looking for "an extra armchair, anything will do" is one thing but if you say you're looking for "a 3-piece suite, must be black leather, good quality and in perfect condition" - well, you're unlikely to get a great response!

            Freecycle is the overarching organisation, and puts a number of requirements on every local group - effectively a company policy. The local groups are run by local volunteers - unpaid and often unappreciated! But without them the system wouldn't work.

            Local variation
            Many local groups have their own by-laws. My current one asks that if you have several things to offer at the same time that you combine them in one email, to reduce the number of emails going out. Others prefer you to post each item separately for easier organisation. Many have limits on offering things like pets or perishable goods like food.

            The practicalities
            If you're offering an item and you have several requests, it is totally up to you to decide who gets it. You can work a "first come, first served" system - especially if you're in a hurry to get rid of something bulky. What's generally seen as the fairer way is to wait a day or 2 until everyone has seen the offer, and then choose one - the most deserving, the most entertaining, the closest to you to reduce the carbon footprint - whatever's your thing.

            The recipient always collects. This is the fairest way - if you want to benefit from free stuff then you make the effort to pick it up. It also encourages people to offer items even if they don't have the time, energy or capability to move it themselves (we passed on our old garden shed this way). You may need to think about this is advance before requesting something! Occasionally the giver may offer to deliver but it's not the general rule.

            The problems
            Any great concept has its downsides. Don't get your hopes too high if somebody offers something you'd like - this is like counting chickens before they are hatched. Sometimes the wanted posts can get overwhelming and frustrating. And the person who doesn't turn up when they say they will (the "no show") is a regular frustration.

            But overall freecycle is a huge asset to any community - why not give it a go?

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            • Nestle Breakaway / Snacks / 25 Readings / 23 Ratings
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              20.01.2011 15:50
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              Generous chocolate - but there are nicer options

              Nestle's Breakaway is a wholemeal biscuit coated with choclate. Yes, wholemeal. Like that makes it healthy. It even has a green tick on the wrapper, and a wheatfield background, to help us believe in its health benefits!

              The chocolate coating is thicker than any other chocolate biscuit I've eaten, and this alone gets it 3 stars. However I have to be honest and say that the chocolate isn't particularly good quality - we are not talking Dairy Milk here. For my taste is just a little bit dark, and a little bit chemical-tasting.

              The biscuit holds its texture well and gives the biscuit a good crunch, but if I was looking for a simple biscuit & chocolate McVities digestives would win every time.

              Breakaways now come in a sealed plastic foil individual wrap, which is very convenient - especially as it's air and water tight so that the condensation from the yoghurt or salad in your lunchbox doesn't make the wrapper or the biscuit go all soggy.

              The main advantage of the breakaway is that it's only 99 calories (with 5.0g of fat per biscuit). But so many other biscuits have been resized to meet the "acceptable naughtiness" level of 99 calories that you can get a lot nicer snacks for your 99 calories and without paying any more either.

              So if you're looking for a chocolate-heavy option without breaking the 100-calorie mark, and you're happy with Nestle chocolate - then go for it. Otherwise, look a bit further on the shelf & you'll find something nicer.

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              • Drifter / Chocolate / 21 Readings / 20 Ratings
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                19.01.2011 14:43
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                Pretty good for a 99 calorie chocolate hit

                There are so many chocolate biscuits on the market these days that the choice is bewildering. The drifter is a worthy addition to Nestle's range.

                The bar is based on a wafer (vaguely kitkat-like), topped with caramel and surrounded by milk chocolate. The caramel topping is chewy rather than soft - almost toffee like. Somehow the whole flavour is of chocolate, rather than wafer or caramel, while the texture is definitely chewy with an underlying crunch from the wafer. It's a winning combination. It's more chocolatey and less sweet than many bars, and according to my exhaustive tests it's probably the chewiest of all of them.

                I think they have adjusted the size of their bars recently, to bring them down to the magic figure of 99 calories. You can eat as many as you like if they're less than 100 calories, right?? Each single finger bar from the multipack has 99 kcal, with 4.8g of fat. This has perhaps left them feeling a bit small - 4 bites and it's gone, but that's the case with most chocolate biscuits.

                Spot them on the shelf by the red "hand written" style text in a yellow & white surround on a dark blue wrapper. You can still get 2-finger packs, but the 1-finger "snack size" are the topic of this review. Each biscuit is individually wrapped, so ideal for lunch boxes, snacks etc. And also handy for portion control - somehow it is possible to eat one single-wrapped chocolate biscuit, where one biscuit eaten from a packet quickly becomes "where did all the biscuits go?".

                In summary, a tasty, chocolatey snack for a bargain 99 calories - yum.

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              • Bols Blue / Liqueur / Cocktails / 12 Readings / 11 Ratings
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                06.01.2011 17:30
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                Yum yum yum

                Blue curacao is an orange flavoured, rum-based liquer, coloured blue for no apparent reason. It is very sweet, and it's best not to think about the e-numbers.

                Bols is a drink manufacturing company based in the Netherlands. They are the best known maker of blue curacao which is why it's more well known as "blue bols". This may also be because "bols" is a lot easier to say than "curacao"! It also leads to the possibility of asking friendly barmen if they have blue bols, but that's perhaps a story for another time :-)

                Other people make blue curacao, but don't be taken in by the imitations - Bols is the original and the best. I'll take the taste test any day! Cheaper, inferior brands should be saved for later in the evening when your taste buds have lost their initial sensitivity...

                The strange thing about blue curacao is that although it's about 20% proof, it doesn't really taste of alcohol. As you can imagine, this tends to make it a bit dangerous as it's very easy to drink! My preferred solution is to drink it with orange juice - you can't drink too much orange juice, so that puts a natural limit on consumption. And adds plenty of vitamin C! Of course it is an orange flavoured liquer to start with, so some may consider this an orange overdose. I first came across it mixed with lemonade, which is an absolutely gorgeous clear blue colour of a drink - rather than the murky green you get if you mix it with orange juice. On the other hand if you pour the orange juice carefully you can get a lovely graduated drink - from dark blue, through green to orange - which is virgin at the top and full strength at the bottom.

                The big advantage of a murky green drink: nobody ever pinches your drink! It's also a good converstation starter ("What on earth are you drinking??").

                The picture of the bottle at the top of this page shows the old hexagonal style (or was it octagonal?), which changed several years ago and is much missed. It now comes in a rather boring round bottle with ribbed sides. In off licences and supermarkets it is most often found as a 50cl bottle. It is not very widely stocked, but it's worth the hunt. Oddbins stock it (Victoria Wine and Threshers didn't the last time I checked), and Asda. Recently somebody told me that Tesco had got it back in, but not in my local one. Asda periodically do a multibuy - £7 per bottle or £10 for 2.

                I would have said that Cocktails Green Frog and Blue Lagoon were the best known uses for blue bols - but a quick bit of web research shows that not everybody uses the same ingredients. How strange. Blue lagoon adds vodka to the bols and is mixed with lemonade. A green frog involves bols, dark rum, clear creme de menthe and orange juice, served over ice.

                Personally I'll stick with the basic bols and orange. It tastes like orange juice but with the edge taken off it. Very yummy. The main disadvantage (other than how few premises stock it) is that the orange flavour rather clashes with chocolate. Oh well, I'll have to stick to crisps instead.

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                • Tesco Smoked Cheese Slices / Cheese / 22 Readings / 22 Ratings
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                  26.10.2010 14:04
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                  Ultimate easy filling for rolls

                  Mmmmm cheese :-) I love mild cheeses, including smoked cheese despite friends' assertions that the processing and smoking makes it more akin to rubber than actual cheese - surely that's the point?! I also have a tendency to leave making my packed lunch to the last minute - so these were well worth a try.

                  The slices are just the right size for a "normal" bread roll, so no mucking about cutting. They're a pain in the neck for sandwiches though - round cheese on square bread just doesn't work if you're finicky about the filling going to the edge of the bread.

                  The bad news is that the slices have a brown plasticky coating around the circumference. It seems to be edible, but it is really not very nice and I dread to think what it's made of, so you really need to take this off, which is very fiddly. If the cheese is at room temperature then the coating peels off fairly easily, but if it's just out of the fridge (which it probably is if you're filling rolls with it) then it disintegrates so I ended up trimming it with a knife. At that point I might as well have sliced proper cheese.

                  On the plus side, if you've had Austrian or Bavarian smoked cheese which comes in those little plastic sausage shapes, you'll know what a pain it is to slice because it's so soft and elastic that it deforms long before it cuts. There is none of that problem with these slices which does make life easier. The cheese in the slices is slightly less elastic than the "normal" smoked cheese so it is a bit less squishy and more chewy. Whether this is a good thing depends on your personal taste.

                  The controlled portion size is also useful if you're trying to keep an eye on your calories - it's amazing how much cheese you can cram into a cheese roll if you're not careful, or is that just me?? However, for the lazy dieter like me having ready sliced cheese in the fridge is just that little bit too easy. Oh well, it's not as bad as having a biscuit!

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                  The numbers:
                  * A pack of 8 slices costs £1.78 at the time of writing, so about 22p per slice.
                  * Each slice (22.5g) provides 67 calories, 5.2g of fat (3.6g saturated fats) and 0.2g of sodium. This is slightly less calories and fat than the red leicester I usually buy.

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                  So overall, if you aren't horrified at the very idea of buying pre-sliced cheese (one of the ultimate lazy options) then these provide that junk food, rubbery, processed cheese hit without the Krypton Factor challenge of getting into the plastic wrap on more traditional smoked cheese. Ideal for tipsy or lazy people, or maybe kids (I know I used to love this stuff). I just wish they didn't have the plastic coating.

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                  • Civilization II (PS) / Archive Game / 15 Readings / 14 Ratings
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                    25.10.2010 14:33
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                    The father of all strategy games: if you have a few days to spare then go for it!

                    This is not a game to fill a spare few minutes - this is a long-term strategy game which will eat up weeks of your life. But it's worth it :-)

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                    The basics, and setting up:

                    The setup is very simple and intuitive but feels annoyingly slow after the first few times, as you repeat most of the settings you used last time. It's only a few minutes though.

                    A single game takes about 4 hours to complete at an absolute minimum - and can take weeks. You can save the game to a memory card as long as you're still using PS1 - although you can use the game in a PS2, it will no longer save which I have found to be a bit of an issue. Serves me right for being too tight to buy the PS2 version I suppose :-)

                    But this is not a game you will have "completed" within a week - there are several levels of difficulty, the world's cartography (layout) is different every time, you can choose how many other civilisations you're competing against, and you can take so many different strategies. I've played this on and off for more than 5 years and although I leave it for months at a time, I always come back eventually.

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                    Playing the game:

                    You start with a unit of explorers, who can wander through the world discovering territory and encountering other civilisations, or they can settle down and build a village. Villages grow into towns and then cities, and can produce more explorers as well as military units.

                    You can play the Romans, the English, Indians (your chance to be Ghandi!), or Zulus (there are around 30 options) but it doesn't really make any difference. You are king / prime minister / president / dictator / God of the civilisation, and you will have your work cut out keeping your civilisation growing and succeeding.

                    A settlement can only concentrate on one thing at a time:
                    - Build a unit (soldiers, settlers/engineers, diplomats, or in later stages ships and even aircraft)
                    - Build a city improvement (a temple to improve the happiness of your citizen, a city wall to protect them, a harbour to provide more food, and so on)
                    - Build one of the WONDERS OF THE WORLD. The 7 wonders of the ancient world are available, so you can build the Great Wall of China in England or the USA, or the great Pyramids in France or Russia. There are also 7 wonders for each subsequent age - things like Michaelangelo's Chapel and the Statue of Liberty. These bring various advantages, some more valuable than others.

                    But while this is going on in the foreground, in the background they are growing their populations, and adding to your scientific knowledge. The crib sheet provided with the game which shows the development of knowledge is invaluable - all advances have pre-requisites and they're not always obvious. The cribsheet helps you identify a path suited to your strategy - for example if you want to set up a monarchy you will need philosophy first (who would have guessed??)

                    You have to spend quite a lot of time checking that all your settlements are doing what they need to and that the citizens are happy. This can be time consuming and honestly a bit boring - especially once you've taken over most of a planet. There is also a limit to how many towns you can build (presumably a memory limitation) which can be frustrating on the larger maps.

                    While your citizens are busy at home producing, your army can be out and about taking over the world. You can use military units or more peaceable ones, and meet other civilisations as well as warlike barbarians. You can build relationships with other civilisations and trade knowledge - or fight them to the death. Your choice - loved leader, or warlord.

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                    Aim of the game:

                    It is your choice whether to aim for world domination, by wiping out all other civilisations, or for peaceful development towards space flight so that you can colonise another planet.

                    There is a scoring system, assigning points for the size of your population, how happy they are, and how far your science has advanced. But it's quite artificial and heavily biased towards size of population - the real test is how soon you can dominate the planet or expand to a new one.

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                    What it is:
                    Involving, complex, requiring of concentration and patience, different every time.

                    What it isn't:
                    Quick, straightforward, suited for the butterfly mind, realistic graphics.

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                    Summary

                    This is a long-term game for those who prefer strategy and detail to speed and excitement. If that's your style then it's great - fairly easy to use and with plenty of variation to keep you interested for years to come.

                    Newer versions have better graphics - but for me at least are a lot less intuitive and logical. I have tried others but for me the Civilization series stops at II.

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                  • More +
                    24.10.2010 22:07
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                    Ok for occasional use but for regular use find a more specialised book.

                    I was new to using a slow cooker, so I needed a book to get me started. "Slow Cooking" by Katie Bishop seemed to fit the bill but I've been rather disappointed with it.

                    The book has a lot of variety - to be honest, that's part of the problem. For me the main advantage of a slow cooker is to be able to throw dinner in the pot, go to work or whatever all day, and come home to a yummy dinner all ready for you. I would say no more than 1 in 10 of the recipes in this book suit that plan of action. Many (even most) of the recipes only need 2 or 3 hours cooking - for some situations that might be useful but for me if it's only a couple of hours why not just use the oven?!

                    The book covers all meals (again, not what I was looking for - I should have done more research before I bought! Here are the chapter headings, with *approximate* number of recipes in each:
                    Breakfast and brunch - 20
                    Easy lunches - 20
                    Afterwork suppers - 25
                    Get togethers - 30
                    Sweet things - 20
                    Chutnews, jams and drinks - 25

                    Clearly I should have chosen a book which concentrated on "afterwork suppers". But even that chapter has several "quick" recipes which only need 4 hours cooking, and most of them say 6-8 hours. A lot of these are fine for 9 or 10 hours (a more realistic time for people working 9-5 and travelling to and fro) but there is nothing in the recipes to say which will suffer if cooked for longer and which won't.

                    I also found some of the recipes rather pretentious and impractical - but it has to be said I am more of an "Irish stew" kind of gal rather than a "beetroot, thyme and goat's cheese salad" lady, so perhaps I'm biased. But really, who actually makes "mussels with cream and saffron" or "mini chestnut, mushroom and red wine pies with mustard pastry"? It must be a whole different world from mine! There are a reasonable number of basics in there - from overnight porridge through to Christmas pudding, but most of them seem to gain little from the use of a slow cooker.

                    The other issue I had was that a significant number of the recipes require quite a lot of preparation before they go in the dish. I was hoping for more "chuck it all in" lazy recipes.

                    This is a reasonable book with a very wide variety of recipes. It tries to be all things to all people which is never going to be possible! Whatever you are looking for from your slow cooker you will find a few recipes that suit you - but an awful lot that don't. But if you're looking for one type of recipe in particular (as I was looking for "chuck it all in the cooker in the morning and it's ready to eat in the evening" recipes) then you probably need a more specialist book.

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                  • More +
                    23.10.2010 23:48
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                    Good - but not his best

                    This taut thriller from Jeffery Deaver is well worth a read - although perhaps not quite as gripping as some of his others. If you've read several of his books before, I'd say it's more along the lines of "Praying for Sleep" than "The Bone Collector".

                    Deputy Brinn MacKenzie, from a rural police force, is sent to an isolated house in the woods miles from anywhere, following up on a 911 call which was hung up after the caller said just one word. Of course once she arrives the situation get progressively more confused and frightening.

                    In the ensuing hunt through the forest the prey stays just steps ahead of the predators, with false trails a-plenty. Other people get involved - but are they really innocent bystanders, or not? The atmosphere is tense throughout the lethal game of hide-and-seek, although for me the chase went on just a little bit too long.

                    In the final section of the book, the plot wends its way through typical Deaver false trails, dead ends and other confusions. Here I felt just a bit of anticlimax - it was still gripping me, but not as tight as the earlier sections.

                    The novel has just as many twists and turns as I've come to expect from his books - but more of these than usual are personal rather than plot related. There are also a few bits at the end which are left unexplained - not in an exciting way, just seemingly forgotten, which was a bit of a disappointment for me. It's a good book, but it won't haunt me like some of Deaver's books have!

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                  • flylady.net / Internet Site / 19 Readings / 18 Ratings
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                    17.09.2010 14:43
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                    Follow the emails, set up your routines, and be free to FLY.

                    Flylady is an American woman, Marla Cilley, who's website and reminder service helps people (mainly women) get their homes and lives under control. I have been using the Flylady system on and off for quite a few years now and it has made a big difference to the state of my house and my level of organisation.

                    Flylady identifies 2 types of person - the SHE and the BO. A SHE is a Sidetracked Home Executive. Have you read that email about "I was going to pick up the post, noticed the flowers were dry, went to get some water, realised I was thirsty so went for a drink, spilt some and noticed the floor was dirty so go the mop out... now it's the end of the day, I'm shattered but I haven't done anything"? If you've read it and thought "that's me!" then you are a SHE and Flylady can help you out! BO stands for "Born Organised". If you are just confused by the email story then you're probably BO - and you probably don't need Flylady!

                    The website is free, huge, confusing and overwhelming. But if you sign up for the emails (also free), that will get you going without worrying about the website. The emails are of 3 types:
                    * A daily "flight plan". Until recently these came in bits and pieces through the day, now it's all in one. This is effectively a checklist of all the stuff you should try to do today.
                    * Essays and thoughts - Flylady and friends talking about the system and how it works.
                    * Testimonials - short tales from Flylady users (Flybabies) about how the system works for them. Most of these relate to the products Flylady sells on her website. They get really annoying after a while, but I remind myself that the shop is what keeps the rest of Flylady free. That's not a big price to pay!

                    Somehow getting these emails every day, and reading at least some of them (you can always delete the ones you don't want) works by osmosis, and some of the concepts start to make sense.

                    The basic principles of Flylady are mainly very straightforward; I've listed some of them below, with my explanations and thoughts.

                    * Housework done incorrectly still blesses your family.
                    If you don't do something because you don't have time to do it RIGHT, then you can end up never doing it. Better to "hit a lick at a snake" than not do it at all.

                    * You can do anything for 15 minutes (your timer is your friend).
                    How often do you put off a job because it's too huge and overwhelming? Set a timer and work at it for 15 minutes. Sometimes you'll find it's done already, that the job wasn't as horrendous as you thought. If not, that's fine, you've made a dent in it and can go back the next day. 15 minutes a day at a massive task can have a massive impact - this is how I got my filing under control, now it's no trouble at all!

                    * Do it now!
                    The do it now principle - don't pile things up to put away later, put them away as you finish with them. Wash up as you cook. Things like that. Just like your mum always told you to LOL.

                    * Routines and a weekly plan
                    Set up a morning and evening routine (and maybe a few others) with the basics that need doing every day - make your packed lunches the night before, for instance. Tick them off as you go. Also a weekly plan for things you need to do once a week or so, schedule when you will do them and again tick them off as you go.

                    * Shine your sink
                    Ok, this is step one of the Flylady programme and I admit I skipped it. The theory is that keeping your sink shining helps you do everything else, and it spreads to the rest of the room. You can think of a "shiny sink" for each room - if you keep your bed nicely made then you're more likely to keep the floor clear and put clothes away. If you keep your desk clear... well you get the idea.

                    * Wear your shoes
                    If you're wearing shoes then you're more likely to do jobs when you need to do them rather than put them off because you need to put shoes on. Again I'm not a huge devotee of this one.


                    In summary - Flylady really can help you to change your life for the better. You might have to tune out some of the "adverts", and some of her folksy "America is the whole world" kind of attitude. But it is well worth the effort!

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