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We rented Mission Impossible 3 on the weekend and it's a good weekend "I feel like watching an action movie" entertainment.
Ethan Hunt is engaged to be married. Hunt has retired from the field and is teaching new recruits, but is drawn back to rescue one of his pupils (Keri Russell), backed up by a crack team (Ving Rames, Maggie Q, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) while trying to keep his mission secret from his fiancee, played by Michelle Monaghan (as he intends to leave the field for good and thinks there is nothing to be gained by telling her). The baddie Owen Davian, is an arms dealer played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I won't say anything more about the plot as I don't want to give anything away.
The early scenes showing the engagement are a little weak. (There is an amusing scene, where he is boring the pants of some women at the engagement party, telling them nerdy anorak stuff and the women react thrilled saying "I'd marry him!", while this viewer was thinking, "who'd marry such a boring chap!" - but in Tom Cruise world, even the most inane thing he says is meant to be attractive!).
The film improves markedly when it comes to the action sequences. The stunts are spectacular, the settings glorious - I particularly enjoyed the sequence at the Vatican, where high action stuff is being carried out amid exquisite architecture, and half the time the viewer is worried they might damage something important, which adds to the suspense. The Shanghai stuff was also very different, very futuristic.
The plot was good enough so that I didn't see the ending coming. I think this film is an improvement on Mission Impossible 2, though not as good as Mission Impossible 1.
I didn't recognise any of the cast apart from Cruise - but I suppose that's the point of a Tom Cruise film - it's a vehicle for him only and he uses unknowns looking for a break to showcase his stardom. But all the cast members did their action stuff well. The movie is directed by JJ Abrams in his first feature film (he's the director of the TV series "Alias").
* Commentary provided by Tom Cruise and JJ Abrams (director)
* The Making of The Mission
* Deleted Scenes
* Generation Cruise
Generation Cruise is just a montage of film clips from Cruise's previous movies (Top Gun, Collateral, Far and Away etc) set to music. It was made for MTV awards.
The Making of the Mission was riveting (I may have enjoyed it better than the movie!). Tom Cruise does his own stunts, so you see the behind the scenes view of him jumping off buildings and lying in the road as a truck drives over him with him and so on. You start to realise that he's not just an actor, he's a very fit athelete and is very profesional in that he understands the craft of making action movies inside out. I think Viacom were insane to have terminated his contract, as I don't think there is another male actor who understands action moviemaking so well.
The movie is Certificate 12A.
The DVD can be rented from Blockbuster and other video rental firms. You can also buy it on amazon.co.uk from £11.95 (new) or £4.59 (used).
I wouldn't buy the movie, but I recommend renting it, as it's a good enjoyable action movie.
Much Ado About nothing is one of Shakespeare's best loved comedies, and this 1993 Kenneth Branagh film version is one of the best adaptations.
For those unfamiliar with the play, the story is set in Messina, Italy, at an undetermined point in the distant past. Leonato, a nobleman, welcomes home Don Pedro, his illegitimate brother Don John, and his friends Benedict and Claudio, back from war. Claudio falls in love with Lenonato's daughter Hero, while Benedict and Leonato's niece Beatrice are old time sparring partners and continue their battle of wits where they left off. Don Pedro decides it would be funny to get Benedict and Beatrice together and hatches a plot to make them fall in love. Meanwhile, Don John, jealous of Claudio's friendship with Don Pedro, seeks to spoil his romance with Hero.
This is a warm and ripe adaptation. As the titles roll, you get a great scene where the men and women rush to wash and make themselves presentable for the revelling that evening, complete with glimpses of naked bodies jumping into pools.
There are plenty of grapes, apricots, luscious loaves of bread and wine about, and you can feel the sunshine in the day scenes and the warm evening air in the night ones. The costumes are appropriately rustic and comfortable. The setting is a glorious Tuscany, with great views, and I always find myself wishing to visit straightaway. Even the music in the film manages to be rustic - they manage to bring off the song in the middle of the play very naturally, it seemed troubadourish but pleasant.
Kenneth Branagh, who directs as well as acts in the film, does a great job of ensuring that the verse is spoken naturally. Instead of being declaimed as in older adaptations, he makes them speak it normally, and it comes across as perfectly intelligible English - a huge achievement given that the play was written nearly 400 years ago.
Some of the actors speak the verse more naturally than others - Richard Briers as Leonato for instance. Denzel Washington, who plays Don Pedro, is a bit stiff at the beginning but gets better as the play goes on. Keanu Reeves, who plays Don John, delivers his famous speech moderately well - luckily most of his part is looking villainous, which he does superbly.
Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson play Benedict and Beatrice, the main characters, and pull off the change from adversaries to lovers convincingly. Kate Beckinsale (in one of her first films) looks very young and innocent as Hero, and Robert Sean Leonard carries off the high-minded jealousy of Claudio. The only weird bit is Michael Keaton's out-there performance as Dogberry the daft watchman.
As with all Shakespeare's plays, you soon get sucked into the drama and become unaware of the acting or the language. If you've been put off by school Shakespeare, this film will restore your appreciation of it.
It sounds a strange thing to say about Shakespeare, but this is a feel-good play, and I watch the film everytime I'm down, because the sunny scenic setting and the romance between Beatrice and Benedict cheers me up. I thoroughly recommend it.
Kenneth Branagh as Benedict
Emma Thompson as Beatrice
Kate Beckinsale as Hero
Robert Sean Leonard as Claudio
Denzel Washington as Don Pedro
Keanu Reeves as Don John
Richard Briers as Leonato
Michael Keaton as Dogberry
Ben Elton as Verges
Adapted for the screen and directed by Kenneth Branagh.
The film is certificate PG.
The DVD comes with a "making of" feature and with subtitles in English, Spanish and French.
The DVD is available from amazon.co.uk, new and used, from £4.76
Like most people, we've been feeling the pinch of the soaring gas and electricity prices. I tend to procrastrinate and leave things, but even I had to act when Southern Electric put their prices up by 19%. As you've probably guessed, we switched to EDF, hence this review.
Who are EDF?
EDF stands for Electricite de France, a French company that bought London Energy, Seeboard Energy and SWEB Energy, making them suppliers of energy to people living in Southern England. They are quite "green" in that they are one of the largest developers of off-shore wind-farms in the UK, and of course they import nuclear power into Britain from their nuclear power stations in Northern France.
How do you sign up?
I first heard of EDF through Nectar. I received an e-mail from Nectar which offered 5000 Nectar Points (worth £25) if you took out a dual-fuel (gas and electricity) deal with EDF. Nectar send out these e-mails quite regularly, and I signed up through one of them. I did it online, clicking the link from the Nectar e-mail, filling out my details including setting up the direct debit, and giving them by Nectar card number.
If you don't get Nectar e-mails, you can sign up by going to www.edf-energy.com - they give you the £25 sign-up bonus for dual-fuel off your bill if you don't want the Nectar points.
Service was very prompt - by return post I'd received a welcome pack from EDF, which included a copy of the contract I'd filled in, a booklet explaining the layout of the bills, how to read meters and other helpful hints on energy saving, and a letter advising that they would do all the administration of the switch-over which they said would take up to 8 weeks. This duly happened, and I had to contact them with the first reading and then I was off.
The telephone service was also very good - I got through almost straight-away, they were polite and efficient and didn't make any mistakes. The telephone number is 0800 096 9000 (i.e. you don't pay for the call).
Once you've set up the account, you manage it online. EDF pays you Nectar points to put in your readings each quarter online. You register with their read-reduce-reward scheme, that you want to read your own meter, and EDF then send you an e-mail 10 days before your quarterly bill is due prompting you to submit a meter reading. You then click on the link taking you to their web-site, input your meter-reading and they give you 250 Nectar points per fuel every quarter that you submit a reading this way. You can check your energy-usage each quarter using their online Energy Tracker, which creates a graph for you. If you reduce your energy from one year to the next, they give you a further 1000 bonus Nectar points for each fuel.
They also give you 200 Nectar points per fuel per quarter if you pay by monthly direct debit.
If you don't have a Nectar card, they give you a discount off your bill for the same value as the Nectar points.
I found their electricity tariff considerably cheaper than Southern Electric's. The gas tariff is similar to British Gas (though cheaper when you take account of the Nectar points).
I like them - in terms of tariffs, ease of looking after the account online and never having to bother with estimated bills ever again, I would recommend them. My only quibble is with their web-site - I think they could have done more to make it easier to navigate; it took me some time to find the page for registering on the read-reduce-reward scheme. However, to be fair, they do have a site-map, and I should have used it, rather than try to work things out from the tab headings.
I hope the above helps someone. Thanks for reading.
I expect everyone has been the "driver" at some point and had to abstain from alcohol during the evening. In my case my husband doesn't drive, so I'm always abstaining (or it seems that way)! And when you are gagging after your fourth Coke in a row, you long for something that isn't THAT sweet. Then you discover that there is not a lot of choice: fruit juice (very sweet); coke, lemonade, tango etc (all very sweet); appletise, various grape-juice derived drinks (also very sweet) or water (no taste at all and guaranteed to make you feel out of place among the drinkers)..
So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover Amé, a group of non-alcoholic drinks that taste great, are not too sweet and can be drunk in quantity without adverse effect.
Amé is made by Orchid Drinks, a company formed in 1992 following the management buyout of the soft-drinks division of Cameroons Brewery in Hartlepool. It was then bought by BritVic Drinks in 2000.
According to their web-site the word "Amé" is derived from the Japanese word for "gentle rain"
The drinks are a blend of fruit-juices, sparkling water and eastern herbal extracts. There are four versions:
Grape & Apricot: This is made from Grape juice Extract from concentrate (48%), Carbonated spring water (43%), fruit juices from concentrate (Grape 4%, Apricot 3%) Herbal extracts (Limeflower, Schisandra, Gentian) and citric acid.
Raspberry and Blackberry: Made from Grape juice Extract from concentrate (48%), Carbonated spring water (48%), fruit juices from concentrate (Raspberry 2%, Blackberry 1%) Herbal extracts (Limeflower, Schisandra, Gentian) and citric acid.
Grape and Orange: Made from Grape juice Extract from concentrate (48%), Carbonated spring water (43%), fruit juices from concentrate (Orange 4%, Grape 3%) Herbal extracts (Limeflower, Schisandra, Gentian) and citric acid.
Elderberry and Lemon: Made from Grape juice Extract from concentrate (48%), Carbonated spring water (48%), fruit juices from concentrate (Elderberry 2%, Lemon 1%) Herbal extracts (limeflower, Schisandra, Gentian) and citric acid.
This come in 1 litre bottles for the price of £1.99. It's available at most supermarkets (Sainsburys, Tescos, Waitrose etc) as well as most off-licences. The supermarkets often have a buy-1-get-1-free offer, in which case I tend to stock up as I drink an awful lot of this.
In my opinion, it's the sparkling water (the effect of bubbles on the tongue) that make this drink feel so refreshing. The other bonus is that it doesn't taste that sweet.
My favourite is the Elderberry and Lemon. This has a dry, refreshing taste - a really good wine subsititute in my opinion. The Grape and Apricot is slightly sweeter - you can distinctly taste a subtle flavour of apricot, giving it a mellower taste. The Grape and Orange has a gentle orange flavour, again not overwhelming, and it is also sweeter than the Elderberry and Lemon. The Raspberry and Blackberry is the fruitiest of the four, and has a soft rosé colour.
As you've probably gathered I drink a lot of this, often taking a bottle with me to parties so I have something paIatable to drink. We even started to drink this last summer in the garden, when alcohol was just too much in the heat. I thoroughly recommend this product. I think it's the best non-alcoholic drink on the market.
There can be very few people who are unaware that the price of unleaded is now almost £1 per litre. This piece is about the background to oil prices and how you can use fuel more efficiently.
The price of a barrel of crude oil is a function of supply and demand. When supply is low, the price rises and when demand is high the price rises. Conversely, when there is too much supply, the price falls, and when they is too little demand, the price also falls. Speculators pile in buying oil when they suspect that either demand will increase or supply will fall, exaggerating the price movements. For instance the price of a barrel of crude dropped to a low of just over $10 per barrel in the mid-90's. This was due to Russia desperately flooding the world market with oil, in order to earn money, as their economy was imploding in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 2000 the price had got back to $40 per barrel as the Russians rationed supply and the world economy boomed, increasing demand. The world recession of 2001/2 took the oil price back to $25 per barrel, but since the Iraq war it has been steadily climbing and is now over $70 per barrel.
So what's happened? Firstly the Iraq war caused a supply problem - Iraq is selling less oil than they did under Saddam as the pipelines keep getting blown up. In addition the Americans developed an SUV craze, partly fueled by a mad tax incentive that had any self-employed person able to claim the entire cost of an SUV up to $100,000 against tax. Why buy a normal car when Uncle Sam is happy to pay for an SUV? This tax break has now been repealed, but the damage has been done. Then the developing world started to grow strongly bringing in a new set of consumers. People in China and India would also rather have cars than walk, and though they tend to buy small cars, the sheer number of them mean that demand has risen. Finally the Bush administration has been sabre-rattling towards Iran, the holder of the second largest oil reserve in the world. Bombing Iran would remove a huge supply from the world market, and so speculators have piled in to buy oil now, to take advantages of the anticipated oil spike when the bombing actually takes place.
What can we do?
What we can do is to conserve oil. The less oil we use, the lower demand, and the price should fall. Europe and Japan have always been good at conservation - we use roughly the same amount of oil as we did in the 70's, despite the population being much larger. The good news is that the high oil prices is finally making Americans cut back - the latest figures show that oil usage has stalled there, as people try to use their cars less. Of course a beneficial side-effect of conserving petrol is that we emit less carbon into the atmosphere.
How can we conserve oil
People waste a lot of petrol when driving. How often do you see people racing towards a red traffic light and then braking sharply? Or people speeding unnecessarily, especially in city situations? That five seconds that you think you are saving in getting to your destination is costing you a lot. The good news is that the government is going to introduce fuel efficient driving as part of the driving test. This is already done in some European countries.
Here's how to do it:
1. Instead of braking, take your foot off the accelerator and let the car slow down to reach the traffic lights. I'm aware that sometimes the car behind might not be aware you are slowing down, so lightly touch the brake to flash the brake lights, and then take your foot off both the brake and accelerator and simply let the car drift to a stop.
2. Don't speed. Find out the optimal efficient speed for your car and stick to it. It's dangerous going over 30mph in a city environment anyway, so don't. On a motorway, stick to about 60mph. This will need some planning as driving at a lower speed means that the journey will take longer, so you may need to leave the house earlier.
3. Get your car serviced - dirty air filters and oil that hasn't been changed reduces fuel efficiency
4. Make sure your tire pressure is correct.
5. Don't carry heavy loads. The lighter the car, the less fuel it uses. Spend some time clearing junk from the car. Don't keep roof-racks on if you don't need them.
6. Air conditioning decreases fuel efficiency. Unfortunately leaving your windows down creates drag that also reduces fuel efficiency. The only way to get round this is to try not to drive in the hottest parts of the day, when your air conditioning needs will be highest. Park in cool spots to keep the car cool.
7. Drive in the correct gear, if you are using a manual car.
8. Make fewer journeys - instead of popping to the supermarket every couple of days, do big shops occasionally. This too demands prior organisation.
Fuel efficient cars
When it comes to replacing your car, try to buy a more fuel efficient car. The smaller the car the more fuel efficient, and the newer the car, the more fuel efficient due to newer technology incorporated. The following are a list of fuel efficient cars (based on Imperial gallons, not American ones):
Honda Insight 2 seater (petrol) 80.0 mpg
Toyota Aygo 1.4 D-4D 3 & 5 door (diesel) 68.9 mpg
Toyota Prius 1.5 VVT-i Hybrid (petrol) 65.7 mpg
Toyota Yaris 1.4 D-4D 3 & 5 door (diesel) 62.8 mpg
Toyota Aygo 1.0 VVT-i 3 & 5 door (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Peugeot 107 1.0 (petrol) 61.3 mpg
Renault Modus 1.5 dCi 80 (JP0D05) (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Mitsubishi Colt 1.5 AMT (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Skoda Fabia Hatch 1.4 TDI PD (75 bhp) (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Skoda Fabia Estate 1.4 TDI PD (75 bhp) (diesel)61.4 mpg
Renault Clio MY 20061.5 dCi (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Ford Fusion 1.6 Duratorq TDCi (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Seat New Ibiza 1.4 TDI (80 PS) (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Renault Megane 1.5 dCi (diesel) 61.4 mpg
VW Polo 1.4 TDI PD (80 PS) (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Nissan Micra 1.5 3/5 door (65 PS) (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Smart forfour 1.5Td (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Honda Civic Hybrid 1.4 IMA ES (petrol) 61.4 mpg
Suzuki Swift 1.3 GLZ 3 door DDiS (diesel) 61.4 mpg
Vauxhall Corsa MY2005 1.3CDTi 16v5Door (diesel)61.4 mpg
Vauxhall Astra MY2005 1.7CDTi 16v 5Door(diesel)61.4 mpg
Of course, the easiet way to conserve petrol is to walk!
Many people get their first experience of the races by going to Newbury racecourse, or visiting the Grand National at Aintree. If you are curious about this world, then Dick Francis' novel is a brilliant way to immerse yourself in this world and enjoy a great thriller at the same time.
The trouble all starts when the hero of the novel, Jonah Dereham, refuses a scam involving kickbacks. The thugs don't like his independence and start to systematically destroy his livelihood as well as inflicting actual violence on him (if you like a bit of violence in your books, then note that Dick Francis does this extremely realistically!). There's a love interest too for those who feel a book is incomplete without one.
Once you start reading it is hard to put down - Dick Francis has written hundreds of novels, but this one is his best in my opinion. I thoroughly recommend it.
Our Valentine's day was low-key - we'd decided to give the whole expensive restaurant thing a miss and were just going to stay in and open some wine. I also forbade hubby to buy flowers (£50+ for a bouquet of roses is rip-off as far as I'm concerned especially as they die within a week). But my husband, being a love, still marked the occasion - he bought me a bottle of Coco, which I'd worn on our first date and is still his favourite perfume on me (it's my favourite too).
The House of Chanel
I'm not sure if people appreciate just how much Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel has done for modern women. This Frenchwoman single-handedly invented the modern wardrobe. When her first shop was opened in 1912, women were wearing heavy Edwardian clothes with bustles. Chanel however was a modernist and an original. She took to wearing men's trousers and shirts and adapted men's clothes for wear for herself. Eyebrows were raised at the non-conformity, but she looked cool and some daring women copied her. By the time the first world war was over, mainstream opinion had moved towards her as people were ready for a change.
She started making clothes in lightweight jersey, dumping the heavy edwardian fabrics. In 1921 she launched Chanel No 5, the first modern perfume, being a blend of several scents, and made from aldehydes. In 1923 she invented the Chanel suit, in 1925 she invented the cardigan jacket and in 1926, the little black dress. Trouser-wearing, which she pioneered, was copied by Hollywood stars of the day, which in turn inspired ordinary women to try them. Essentially she invented the modern perfume industry, the modern designer house and the modern wardrobe, which we've been wearing ever since, give or take a few variations.
Her ideas suffered a brief set-back after the second world war when the New Look, a nipped-waist throw-back to the corseted Victorian/Edwardian era, was in fashion. However, by the 1960's the Chanel suit was back - Jackie Kennedy took to wearing it because it looked modern and professional (she was wearing it when JFK was shot). It really made a comeback in the 1980's, when women started to enter the workforce en masse, and the suit became their uniform. Karl Largefeld took over design for Chanel in 1983, and in addition to updating the Chanel suit, he celebrated the Chanel revival by commissioning a new perfume, Coco, launched in 1984.
This comes in a classy, glossy black box, with gold edging, with a neat white box in the middle with the words Coco Chanel written in gold. The spray eau-de-parfum is housed in a sleek rectangular block, with the lid clunking off by moving it apart in the middle. The non-spray version looks like the ciao photo.
Coco is very different from Chanel No 5. It's much more sensual. It is classed as a floral-oriental perfume and the notes are as follows:
Top notes: Peach, coriander, Comorus Island blossom
Heart notes: Spice Island clove bud, frangipani, Indian jasmine, Bulgarian rose, Carribean Cacarida, French angelica, mimosa and Bulgarian rose.
Base notes: amber, leather, Mysore sandlewood
This is a really warm, spicy perfume. It's very strong so do take care not to spray it all over you as though it is air-freshner. I use the spray eau-de-parfum, and normally spray a bit on the left wrist, and then use my finger to dab it from the wrist to the neck and behind the ears. (You are supposed to apply perfume to your pulse points as the warmth helps the scent to develop).
This is a very long-lasting scent - sometimes I can smell it in the car in the morning, if I've worn it the previous evening. I particularly love the smell of sandlewood, which lingers hours after you have put it on.
I tend to wear this only in the evenings and for special occasions. It is simply too strong (and too sensual) for day wear/going to the office.
I would advise people to try the scent for a day, before purchasing: scents behave differently on different women, as they interact with your natural scent and the oils on your skin. What smells good on someone else might not work for you.
Note that is is a different perfume from "Coco Mademoiselle", which was launched in 1987 as a lighter version.
This is expensive, there is no getting away from that. However because it is strong, you only need use a little, and it is probably much better value per wear than most other perfumes.
Superdrug is probably the cheapest place to get it from, as they try to discount prices.
You can buy on online from www.superdrugstore.com and prices are currently as follows:
Eau de Parfum Spray 100 ml £79.99
Eau de Parfum Spray 35ml £36.99
Eau de Toilette Spray 100ml £54.99
Coco Body Lotion £32.99
Smell is one of the more primitive senses. There is strong link between smell and memory and smell and sexual attraction (mice with no sense of smell do not mate). I happen to think selecting the correct perfume is very important! If you like sensual spicy scents, I recommend Coco.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, so I thought it would be appropriate to do homage to him and introduce him to those who haven't heard of him (can there be anyone?)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, then a city state located between the Austrian empire and Bavaria, on 27th January 1756. His father Leopold was the vice-Kapelmeister of the Salzburg court orchestra and had seven children, only two of whom survived, Mozart and his elder sister Maria Anna.
Leopold was deeply interested in teaching music, indeed he wrote a treatise on the subject, and set about teaching Maria Anna and Wolfgang to play the clavier and violin. To his great relief, both children had inherited his musical talent.
Though the precocious Mozart started to compose bits of music aged 6, his father focused tightly on musical performance and technique. The children begin to practise for hours every day. It has been estimated by scholars that by the time he was 18, Mozart had clocked up more hours practising and playing music than most musicians twice or three times his age (and that applies to musicians of our modern age too). If genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, then his father took care of the perspiration bit. Having utter technical mastery of his intrument at a young age enabled the genius in Mozart to flow freely without being held back by technical considerations. There is no sign that the children were oppressed by all the practice, they seemed to enjoy the parental attention, however they were prone to getting ill from being exposed to the germs and diseases of Europe on tour.
Soon the children were touring Europe - by the time he was 12, Mozart had visited France, Britain, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands as well as what is now the Czech republic. Each performance was rewarded, sometimes by as much as 100 ducats, so of course they tried to do as many as possible. They were received and dined with the Kings and Queens of Europe, including George III of England.
During this peroid Mozart's quick brain picks up many languages. His letters to his cousin Maria written over a considerable period of time, show him moving comfortably from German to French to Italian and back again, sometimes in the same paragraph. The letters incidently also reveal his playful, mischievous and crude side. They are full of dirty jokes and puns (he had a thing for toilet humour) - something that his later admirers tried to cover up as it contrasted so much with the elegance of his music.
In his early twenties, Mozart left his family behind in Salzburg and moved to Vienna and started work at the court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria (who famously pronounced that Mozart's work had "too many notes"). In Vienna he marries Constanze Weber, a singer, and the couple had several children, only two of whom survived.
It's in Vienna the composing talent blossoms. He starts writing operas in German, a novel innovation as the tradition up to then was to write in Italian. He is keen on new instruments - he writes major works for the early piano (which was smaller than the 19th C piano by at least two octaves. If you listen carefully, part of the difference in sound between Mozart and Chopin's piano work is due to the latter making use of the high notes of the later piano).
Mozart also composes horn and clarinet concertos for musician friends who specialised in these instruments but had no music to show off their skills. They are still the definative concert works for horn and clarinet players.
Mozart and Constanze were hopeless with money and Mozart died on 5th December 1791, a pauper, aged 35. Constanze then married a wealthy Danish diplomat and used his money and position to tour Europe, arranging performances of Mozart's work. It's largely thanks to her efforts that Mozart was not forgotten and his reputation grew.
In 1862, Ludwig Koechel published a chronological catalogue of Mozart's works, the first such scholarship done for any composer, identifying 626 works in all. Without this, undoubtedly some of the works would have been lost. All Mozart's works are now numbered and identified with a "K" number.
If you want to get an idea of Mozart's personality, it's a good idea to view the movie "Amadeus" - the juxtaposition between Mozart's playful and sometimes crude personality with his elegant music is beautifully done. However, note that he did NOT have a feud with Salieri and Salieri did not kill him - that's just license taken by the scriptwriters to make a good story. There is a mystery as to who commissioned the Requiem that Mozart wrote as he was dying. Scholars think it was commissioned by a wealthy man for the one year anniversary of his wife's death - he had intended to pass it off as his own work, hence the secrecy (it seems that the businessman concerned had a habit of pinching works). Fate intervened - Mozart died before it was finished and delivered, and it was instead played at Mozart's own funeral and acknowledged as a Mozart masterpiece.
For an introduction to Mozart's operas, I would start with The Marriage of Figaro, a lighthearted look at love above and below stairs. Most people are familiar with the beautiful Andante second movement of Mozart's piano concerto No 21 (K. 467), but it's worth listening to the whole of the concerto. If you want something deeper, try the piano concerto No 24 (K 491).
Many people dismiss Mozart as producing easy listening "muzak" - but I can only conclude that these people haven't listened to much Mozart. Under the elegant surface there is often a sadness. There arn't many requiems that can match the sense of grief of his Requiem. He does emotion better than other composers.
There have been various scientific studies looking at the effect of classical music and in particular Mozart's music, on the human psyche. There have been claims that playing Mozart to your unborn baby makes the child more intelligent. More recently it was shown that Mozart had a calming effect on people (and animals - Mozart is played by some farmers to cattle as they go into the slaughter house to calm them)- Beethoven and Wagner by contrast make people agitated and too much Chopin makes people depressive. It's something to do with the mathematical purity of Mozart's music - then again Bach's music is also mathematically pure but doesn't have the same effect, possibly because it's too cold and neglects the emotional side.
Whatever. In my opinion it is not possible to have too much Mozart and I always play some when feeling agitated as it calms me down straight away. I hope I've inspired people to seek his music out. The following bbc link will allow you to listen to Mozart online as performed by the BBC symphony orchestra.
Thanks for reading.
This is a beauty reference book devoted to make-up and make-up techniques.
Bobbi Brown is an American make-up artist who has her own line of products - Bobbi Brown Essentials - you know the one, with hundreds of different shades of neutral and browns. I've never actually bought any of her make-up - the shades arn't quite right for me - but I was intrigued by the pictures in this book as Bobbi Brown specialises in techniques that make you look as though you arn't wearing any make-up, that you are simply born looking fabulous.
She starts off by recommending that you focus on two basic elements: finding a foundation and powder that match your skin tone, and a lip colour or stain that matches your natural lip colour perfectly.
She then goes on to show how to choose and use concealer, foundation and powder and gives tips on how to overcome problems. For instance if concealer makes your eyes look more lined or crepey/baggy, you are probably using a texture that's too heavy. She also recommends using powder as the best way to lock in make-up and prevent it fading. She thinks yellow-based powders are more flattering than pink-based ones (sounds a little odd, but works).
There are also chapters on the following topics:
* How to shape the brow
* How to apply blush and lipstick
* How to avoid eye-make-up mistakes (e.g. never match your eye make-up exactly to eye-colour, blue eyes look good with navy liner, but disappear with blue shadow)
* How to deal with different skin tones, black, asian, latina
* How to do make-up for black-tie occasions and weddings
* How to do make-up for interviews
* How to look good in photographs ( the secret is not to use foundation or powder that is too pale and not to use shimmer or gloss).
My favourite is her tips for the "Three-Minute Face" - minimal make-up. The secret is concealer, blush - and mascara. It's the mascara that makes the difference between looking plain and looking good.
The book is full of photographs which illustrate what she means, including some photos of her - she's a medium-attractive woman made much much better by her make-up.
I really enjoyed this book and found it very useful - as a result of reading it, I started using powder and mascara again. People who enjoy make-up and reading about beauty techniques will also enjoy the book.
The recommended retail price of the book is £14.99, but you can get a used copy from amazon.co.uk from £3.95.
Nethouseprices.com was founded in 2005 by Steve Dunnett, when the Freedom of Information Act made house price data held by the Land Registry available from 1st January 2005. His insight was that people would prefer to access the information via the net rather than visit or write to a Land Registry office for the information, especially as the Land registry charge a fee for the information. Dunnett decided to pay the fee to access the information in bulk and distribute it free on his web-site which is funded by advertising, mainly from the financial sector. The site is now experiencing 500,000 hits a day.
What does the site do?
It allows you to type in an address or post-code and look up what price a house sold for and the date on which it sold. The first thing I did was type in my own postcode. It brought up the street name and said there had been seven sales registered. I then clicked on the street name, and it listed each house, with house number and post-code, the price it sold at, the date it sold on and whether it was a flat, terrace, semi-detached or detached. Unfortunately it doesn't list how many bedrooms a house has, but if you are familiar with a street, this is easy to work out. Beside each entry is a link to a map, showing the exact location.
As you can tell, this is snooper's heaven. You can find out what your neighbours paid for theirs, or look up your boss's house, or find out what Mr and Mrs Blair paid for their house (providing you know the address).
It's also helpful if you are buying a property, as you no longer need be vulnerable to estate agent's (usually false) patter on the lines of "the house next door went for xyz, therefore this house is an absolute bargain".
You need to be aware that a house is registered with the Land Registry only after a sale has been completed - i.e. only after contracts have been exchanged, completed and money and keys have changed hands, does your solicitor then register you as the owner with the Land Registry, together with the price paid and the date of completion. Nethouseprices get their data from the Land Registry a month in arrears. So there will be a lag between when an offer is made and when the price is registered on the site. In a rising market, the prices at the land registry will be below those being currently offered, in a falling market, they will be higher. Still, it's a useful tool to be able to bargain with. You should be able to gauge straight away whether the vendor is asking in excess of what the rest of the street has paid.
The data for England and Wales only goes back to April 2000, and for Scotland to May 2000
What else does the site do?
They keep expanding the site - as of this month, you can now also look up houses for sale, houses to rent and mortgages (i.e. on line estate agents services). There is a tab called "My Town" that allows you to search for schools, flood risk, crime statistics for the town, and noise pollution. They are intending to add council tax bands, planning applications and local ameneties (supermarkets, restaurants etc). They also have a tab called "News" which lists links to all news articles on the web to do with UK property.
The site is free for ordinary users - there is an advanced service for estate agents for £100 per year. To look up the price a house sold for, you do not need to register with the site and sign in. For everything else you do, but registration is free.
I recommend this site - if nothing else, it provides entertainment in the form of nosiness!
People love chatting about their houses. "My house has gone up by £10,000" or more recently "I managed to knock £5,000 off the asking price".
What all these people miss is the true cost of owning a home, which is the interest you pay on the loan. By crude rule of thumb, you will over the course of the 25 year mortgage, pay out three times the purchase price of the house - that is a £100,000 home will cost you £300,000 by the time you have repaid all the capital and interest on the loan.
It's a lot of money to lose. Therefore a sure-fire way to get rich is to overpay your mortgage, paying down the capital borrowed as fast as you can, because interest is only charged on debt outstanding.
In addition, mortgage interest rates tend to be higher than saving rates, and you pay tax on interest gained on savings, which means you get a higher return by paying down the mortgage.
It's easiest to see this if you look at an example:
Suppose you have a mortgage with interest rate charged of 5.5% and a savings account giving interest at 4%. You have £10,000 in the savings account.
The return on the savings account will be as follows:
Gross interest £400
tax at 20% £ 80
Net interest £320
If you used the £10,000 to pay off part of your loan the interest saved would be £550 - clearly a much higher rate of return.
The standard mortgage payment has a capital portion and an interest portion. When you overpay, the interest saved also gets paid against the loan as a capital prepayment.
Here's an example:
Monthly mortgage payment: £500
Capital portion: £150
Interest portion: £350
Paying off the £10,000 frees up interest of £550 per annum or £45.80 per month
so your mortgage payment now breaks down as follows:
Capital portion: £195.80
And of course this new extra capital paid will also save interest and so on - this is known as the miracle of compounding.
Your bank will hate this, so when interest rates change, they will try to adjust your total payment downwards so you are not paying off debt so fast.
What if you don't have £10,000 handy to pay against the mortgage? Not a problem, just pay £50 per month or whatever you can spare. You won't notice it making much difference to start with, but the miracle of compounding means that you should start seeing clear benefits after a few years. Obviously the more you can pay the sooner the loan outstanding drops.
The result of all this means you pay off your mortgage early. But given that most people's biggest outgoing is housing, it means your outgoings will drop sharply. You will have money (that you would have paid in interest) to spend and/or place in other investments.
We've been overpaying our mortgage for the last ten years and the loan payment is now quite small. We did it by overpaying the mortgage on a monthly basis, with a few lump sum payments eg using my annual bonus from work. It gives you tremendous security and it's also nice to have the extra cash to spend.
1. Make sure that your mortgage terms and conditions allow you to make overpayments without penalty. Some mortgage lenders restrict overpayments, because of course you paying off your loan early hurts their profits. If you are looking to take out a new mortgage, check that they allow you to overpay.
2. Only start making overpayments after you have set up an emergency cash fund in a high-interest building society/bank account, which you don't touch. There will always be emergencies where you need ready cash, and you don't want to find that you've paid your last spare penny into the mortgage, where you can't get at it.
I hope this review helps someone. Thanks for reading.
The Mind Gym is a book written by management consultant Octavius Black and business psychologist Sebastian Bailey, based on a series of workshops they had done for British companies such as Diageo, BT, GlaxoSmithKliene and Norwich Union. It's one of the few books in the business psychology genre written by Brits.
The aim of the book is to make you aware of how you think and behave with a view to sharpening your brain and therefore your performance. I imagine business/management types are most likely to read this, but anyone interested in thinking and how their brain works will get something out of it.
The book is divided into five sections:
* "Taking Control" is about understanding your mindset; it explains how your mindset affects how you perceive and this section explains how flaws in perception occur - people with undiluted optimism often duck responsibility for instance, whereas people with undiluted pessimism misallocate responsibility (they are often too hard on themselves). Once you are aware of how you think this section then goes on to describe how to break thinking cycles, how to get out of ruts and also has a very useful chapter on how to avoid procrastination.
* "The Right Impression" deals with how people interact. They start off explaining how people behave differently with different people, and how to assess your impact on others. They then go on to identify nine techniques people use to influence each other and how people connect with each other (including describing body language techniques such as matching and mirroring work).
* "Tough Conversations" deals with difficult situations: how to handle conflicts and arguments (including how to avoid getting drawn into arguments by others) and how to deliver bad news with the minimum of negative feeling.
* "Stress and Relaxation" deals with optimum stress (when the pressure makes you perform better) and at what point it becomes distress (when the pressure makes you perform worse), and how to recognise which stage you are in. They give techniques for how to overcome negative stress ranging from organsational tactics right through to techniques for relaxation (such as breathing and visualisation).
* "Creative Juices" is all about stimulating creativity. They have several techniques to help you think laterally, to problem solve and to be creative.
The book starts with a questionaire designed to highlight which chapters are most relevant to you, and the authors recommend you go straight to these rather than read the book chronologically. My relevant chapters were on procrastination and creativity. All the sections have additional questionaires designed to help you understand your thinking processes as well as anecdotes and exercises to do.
I enjoyed the section on creativity - especially the bit on locus of control. Briefly, some people have an internal locus - they always have a running commentary inside their head, a stream of consciousness type conversation with themselves. Others have an external locus - they are acutely aware of what is going on outside of them, sounds, sensations, colours, concentration and awareness is very acute. Everyone switches from one locus to another from time to time, sometimes on a daily basis, though they will have one dominant locus. I realized after reading this that when I'm just about to be creative, say write a story or a poem, I'm in external locus. When I'm stressed, I go into internal locus, and I simply cannot write.
There is a web-site that goes with this book - themindgym.com - and inside the front cover of the book there is a password to allow you to access the site. The web-site consists of more advanced questionaires and exercises and also has a members discussion forum.
If you work for a major company (esp in management) chances are you will come across some of the techniques in this book already (your firm will have sent you on a course). I had come across the some of material on influencing people and delivering bad news before. However some of the material was fresh and new. The style of the book was recognisably British - plenty of humour, lots of examples that most people working in British firms have come across - much easier to stomach than the American business books which tend to be too intense and well, American. You will enjoy this if you are interested in how you tick, or if you are interested in improving your performance or efficiency (at home or at work).
There are actually two Mind Gym books published. This review is of The Mind Gym subtitle "wake up your mind" - the one with the dark green circle on the cover, not to be confused with The Mind Gym subtitle "give me time", the follow up book with a pink circle on the cover.
The recommended retail price is £12.99; it can be found on amazon.co.uk from £5.49 new and £5.50 used.
Finally, no book about business and applied psychology is complete without the famous fisherman joke, (which is retold in this book), which goes as follows:
"A businessman is on holiday by the sea, sitting on the beach and watching the locals fishing and lazing in the sunshine. In the bar that evening, he decides to give one of the fishermen some advice.
'You are wasting yourself here,' he tells the fisherman. 'You should use your brain, make some money. Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant? Fresh fish dishes, you could make a fortune. And once the first restaurant works, you could set up another, and then another. Before you know it, you've got a whole chain on your hands. And if it works in this country, why not abroad? Then all you have to do is float your cmpany on the stock exchange, retire to the coast, and spend the rest of your days fishing and lazing in the sunshine'
'Another beer?' smiles the fisherman."
Home Comforts is a book about housekeeping - it's been described as the most comprehensive household management book since Mrs Beeton's tome of 1861. Modern household management that is, because it addresses the needs of the modern home.
Cheryl Mendelson, the author, starts off by describing the modern home "Comfort and engagement at home have diminished to the point that simple cleanliness and decent meals are no longer taken for granted", she writes. "Homes often seem to operate on an ad hoc basis....... Dirt, dust and disorder are more common than they used to be......Cleaning and tidying are done mostly when the house seems out of control."
She points out that in systematic households, most of the time you live comfortably, whereas in unsystematic households, the only time it's comfortable is just after strenuous emergency measures have been taken, the rest of the time, you live badly.
She goes on to suggest simple routines. One idea I liked was doing a mini-clean in between the weekly major clean, because it reduced the amount of work. She also suggests an order of work; starting upstairs, working your way down; doing the dry rooms before the wet ones; beginning with tasks that require waiting periods eg stripping the beds so they can air, while you get on with other tasks.
Despite these initial chapters on household routines, this book is really a reference book - most of the chapters tackle in comprehensive detail every aspect of the modern home.
For instance, she gives a detailed breakdown of the materials used in cooking pots: copper has the highest heat conductivity but it's best to buy copper lined on the inside with stainless steel as copper tends to react with some foods (particularly acidic ones) and can make you ill if you injest too much. Aluminium pots also leach aluminium into food.
The section on food gives a very good guide as to how long things can be kept. She is not against ready meals - she points out that bread, breakfast cereal, dried pasta, icecream etc are in fact ready meals introduced in the 1950's (prior to that people made them from scratch) - and apparently the old-fashioned housekeepers of the day curled their lips in much the same way some people now do at the idea of microwave meals! Instead of rejecting ready meals per se, she suggests making the decision whether to use them based on cost and nutrition.
She explains things like the egg grading system (which I didn't really know about); Grade A is the freshest, B less fresh and C only sold to food manufacturers.
She gives a guide to common food pathogens - moulds, parasites, different types of bacteria (e.coli, listeria, salmonella, shingella) and viruses (I had not realised that Hepatitis A is spread through food) and describes how they get into food, the illnesses they cause, how to avoid them and how to kill them.
She discusses air quality in the home. Apparently old-fashioned uninsulated homes had a complete exchange of air each hour, which was good for the health but bad for the heating bills. Modern homes decrease the change of air, reducing the bills but increasing indoor pollution - humidity increases, the percentage of oxygen decreases, volatile compounds contained in cleaning products linger.
The book also covers the following:
* Advice on how to clean the fridge, oven and microwave.
* How to preserve and care for carpets and upholstery.
* How to look after wooden floors, stone floors and ceramic tiling
* Dust, dust mites and how to deal with them.
* How to remove stains like milk, wine, nail varnish, ink, etc.
* How to clean and maintain pipes and drains
* How to care for jewelery, china, crystal, pianos and books
* How to preserve photographs
* A section on fabrics, natural and man-made, how they react to different weathers, how to care for them.
* A comprehensive guide to choosing mattresses, beds and bedding
* How to read laundry labels and guidance on when you can ignore the label
* A comprehensive section on the different types of lighting (it's all about colour rendition and lumen ratings apparently!)
* Pets and how to deal with their messes
* Electrical goods and electrical safety
* A section on the law as regards you home; privacy, planning controls and building regulations, the law on tresspass, the law on nuisance
* A section on household help, covering everything from how to hire to your legal responsibilities as an employer
For the historically curious, there are also interesting snippets of information on how housekeping was conducted in earlier times. One of the most amusing anecdotes concerns dusting - an 1842 manual by Catherine Beecher thought sweeping the carpet and dusting once a week was good enough, but by 1908, the manuals demanded daily dusting and sweeping. By 1950, this had ballooned into a monster recommendation to clean everything including window frames and all woodwork every day! But the modern view has reverted to thinking that the 1842 idea is the most reasonable.
This book is a doorstep of a reference book coming in at 835 pages. I found it interesting and useful. I'm already following the advice on airing the house and the beds and on the household routines. It's the sort of reference book you need on your shelf next to the medical book, in case something comes up that you arn't sure of how to deal with.
This is a hardback and the recommended retail price is £25, but I bought a new copy at a discounter for £3.99. You can also find it at amazon.so.uk from £5.26 used and £7.30 new..
I love the F.T. I first started reading it about six years ago to check the price of some shares my parents gave me, and I have been reading it faithfully ever since. It's not just that it's taught me everything I know about finance, but I also feel it's the most neutral, least politically biased newspaper published in Britain.
First some background:
The Financial Times was first published in 1888 and adopted the distinctive salmon coloured paper in 1893 to distinguish itself from other papers. The paper is owned by Pearson Plc (who publish Penguin). In 1997, it launched the US edition and by 1998 it became the first UK-based paper to sell more copies internationally than in the UK. FT Deutchland which is in German, was launched in 2000.
The Financial Times is rated higher than the Wall Street Journal, primarily because it is so accurate, authoritative and neutral (the Wall Street Journal by contrast has a neo-conservative slant and is not trusted in Asia and Europe). Rumour has it that the F.T. is the only UK paper to be delivered to the White House every day.
The daily FT has two sections, the main paper and Companies & Markets. This tends to get supplemented occasionally when they are doing special features on the Far East, Eastern Europe, or on particular industries. I tend to get the Weekend paper, which is published on Saturdays. In addition to the two main sections, the Saturday issue will have FT Weekend, FT Money, The Magazine and once a month the How to Spend IT supplement.
The Main Section
The main paper covers political and economic news from around the world. This is the main joy of the paper - it has such a Global perspective. You'll read about how soaring interest rates are affecting the New Zealand economy, or about the new man-made islands being built off the coast of Dubai or how online shopping is taking off around the world (the Germans are the most enthusiastic apparently) or about the Italian senate approving electoral reform. In short a whole lot of very interesting stuff that the other papers ignore entirely. There is always solid European coverage.
Everything is reported straight without distortion. There are usually only two opinion columns apart from the editorial (which makes a nice change from other papers who seem to have nothing but opinion). The main paper also has the famous Lex column, which comments on the business issue of the day. This section does include a TV guide and a page of sport.
Companies & Markets
This section is the business end of the FT. The back of the paper will list the closing price of the previous day, of every share listed on the London Stock Exchange, and the closing price of all insurance funds, pension funds, unit trusts and OEICs. They also list the closing price of the major shares from stock exchanges around the world; Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, through to Turkey, India, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and of course shares from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and NASDAQ (the exchange based in Chicago). In addition you can find bond prices and yields; currency rates (spot and futures) against the dollar, euro and pound; commodity prices (aluminium, copper, gold, oil, soya beans etc) and money market interest rates from around the world.
In short, if you require financial data, this is where you go for it.
The FT, together with The Institute of Actuaries, also compiles the famous FTSE index of share prices (for the technically minded, this is a number derived from the weighted average of the share price of the 100 biggest companies in the London Stock Exchange). So when people say "The Footsie was up five points to 5542", now you know what they are talking about! This number is published every day in this supplement.
The front part of this supplement carries stories about individual companies. For example, stories of companies issuing profit warnings, potential takeover bids, major products being launched, chief executives being appointed (or sacked). Most holders of shares will read these articles keenly as they may have information that could move the share price.
This is the lifestyle section of the FT. The front page will carry a long feature. Recent ones have been about cycling across Egypt, the dating habits of New Yorkers (the etiquette is more complex than in Jane Austen!) and so on. There is usually a big interview with a writer, artist or politician, the subjects come from around the world in keeping with the FT's global perspective. They usually cover wine, food, restaurants, jewelery, clothes, galleries, antiques. There's always lots of features on travel, a minimum three destinations will be covered. The back page has two columns, "Slow Lane, by Harry Eyres and "Fast Lane" by Tyler Brûlé. I personally enjoy the Brûlé column as he seems to spend all his time whizzing round the world, so you hear about the shops in Tokyo and his adventures in Toronto and so on.
This section is for private investors. They'll discuss pensions, ISA's, tax planning, mortgages. Peter Temple (the legendary fund manager from Fidelity) usually does a column. There is usually a money makeover feature and a readers questions feature. In this supplement you will find a list of the latest mortgage and savings rates from all the banks and building societies.
The magazine always has a long in-depth feature of serious journalism: recently they had a fascinating piece about Kazahkstan, which is the size of Europe but has only 15 million people, and oil and uranium galore and how they were using the money to build a cutting edge city, hiring the best architects in the world, in the middle of this ice zone (the city's name was originally Kazahk for "white grave"). The magazine always carries book reviews, cinema, theatre and art reviews, some interviews and the personal ads.
How to Spend IT
This glossy magazine comes with the FT once a month on Saturdays, and yes it's about luxury goods. They'll feature sumptuous articles with a lot of colour photographs, on clothes, jewelery, watches, cars, very expensive gadgets for the boys like solid gold memory sticks. You get the picture. These features wouldn't be out of place in Vogue (though unlike Vogue there is plenty of stuff for men, gadgets, cars and so on)
Why do I enjoy this newspaper so much? Because it's so different to everything else on offer both on the newstand and on television. I find it both more balanced and realistic: life isn't one disaster after another, or confined to the Westminister village, it's more interesting and varied than that, and the FT covers this variation. I am also interested in finance and this paper is the rolls-royce of financial news. I like the global reach, I like reading about what the latest fad is in Finland and elsewhere, the good things as well as the disasters. I particularly like the lack of heavy politics. Finally I never feel depressed after reading the FT; I never come away thinking, God the world's a mess. After reading, I usually feel the world's a pretty stable, interesting place.
You can buy the FT at newstands for £1.20.
They also have a web-site www.ft.com. The web-site is a mix of free articles and subscription articles. Many articles are free on the day published and subscription afterwards. During the stock-market's opening hours, you can also look up share prices with a fifteen-minute delay on this site, and they even have graphs on each one. I understand that most of their subscription users are investment banks who want access to the FT's archive of articles and prices. The site also has a link that takes you to the German FT Deutchland version.
If you are studying American literature, then you have to be sure to read F Scott's Great Gatsby.
Most people have seen the 1970's movie starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, but as great as that movie was, it still doesn't compare to the novel.
The novel is set in the 1920's a boom-time period with a soaring stock market (much like the first decade of the 21st century) when fortunes were being made, not always legally (back then they didn't really have many laws governing business and finance).
Jay Gatsby is a mysterious millionaire who appears out of nowhere and gives fabulous parties and does his best to impress Daisy Buchanon his childhood sweetheart.
If you want to breathe in the flavours, the atmosphere, the snobbery and the sheer fabulousness of the 1920's then this novel is for you. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand America of this period.