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Member since: 30.09.2008

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      30.11.2009 11:00
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      Use 'FREE' energy to light up your bike

      It seems that winter is really established now. It's cold dark and gloomy and often seems just really dismal all day. With such poor light characteristics this is a particularly dangerous time of year for those of us who venture out on bicycles. The law requires that bikes should have a front white light and a red rear light together with a rear red reflector whenever light conditions are poor. Yet, how many cycles have you seen on a dark night, no lights at all and the rider dressed completely in black. It's little wonder that accidents are all too frequent, and in the majority of all such collisions it's the cyclist who comes off worst. Pedalite is not a new concept, indeed I can remember seeing flyers advertising them over 10 years ago whilst shopping in a Hypermarket in France, but it has taken a little while to complete the journey across the Channel. These simple pedal replacements offer twinkling red, white and amber lights, with no batteries and really help improve the visibility of cyclists for other road users. They are however not a replacement for the legally required front and back lights, but should be seen as a sensible enhancement.

      *** Product Installation ***

      Available today from the likes of Amazon and other high street outlets you can expect to pay around £30 for a set of these replacement pedals. Replacement pedals are exactly what they are, you simply remove your old pedals (once you have worked out which way the thread runs, which is actually quite simple since it is in opposition to the way the pedal rotates) and thread on the new pedal. Each Pedalite pedal is marked with a large 'L' or ' R' so you will be in no doubt which one goes where. Indeed you will probably have more difficulty removing the Pedalite pedals from the cardboard packaging, where they are tightly bound with strong fierce cable ties, than deciding where each should go. You will need a decent 14mm open ended spanner, rather than a cumbersome adjustable type since the distance from the crank is quite small and an adjustable one simply won't fit. Whilst a bike spanner probably would do the job, there would not have been sufficient purchase for me to undo the old pedals, but the better leverage of a longer spanner makes the job really easy.

      *** The Pedals In Action ***

      Wow, these work without batteries, the simple action of normal pedalling, generates kinetic energy which powers the lights. The front of the pedal has a white light, the rear is red and the sides are amber and boy do they shine brightly. I do not think that the light would be sufficient if your front light went out, but it would certainly be better than nothing. I can also vouch that the lights can be seen over a quarter of a mile away, giving even the speedier motorists a fighting chance to miss you. Even better , the lights continue to twinkle for 1 to 2 mins when you stop pedalling, for example at a junction or waiting for traffic lights. They really are simple brilliance, robustly made, no parts to replace and suitable for all standard bicycle cranks.

      What a good idea to put onto youngsters' bikes, so even when their lights get nicked, which unfortunately appears to be all too commonplace these days; there still is a decent chance of them being visible as they pedal about. They even look pretty cool too; so will be easily accepted, and may even become the envy of their friends. Whatever the age of the cyclist, state of the bike, these pedals can only be a huge safety boost, for relatively little money and no ongoing maintenance.

      Thanks for reading



      Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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        22.10.2009 14:27
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        Fairtrade instant coffee worth a try

        I really love the taste and smell of fresh ground coffee, especially from Colombia or Costa Rica. There is a richness and distinctive aroma as you open the pack which just sets the taste buds tingling...........Alas, all too often it is simply not practical or best use of time to indulge in real brewed coffee so instant must suffice. Unfortunately in this sector of the beverage market price is often indicative of quality, and premium brand instant coffees almost always taste better than the standard or economy offerings. Having experienced enjoyable cups of Percol Fresh Ground Colombian Coffee I had high expectations from the instant variety: even more so since it was on offer at just over £2 for a 100g jar making it very competitive against other premium brands. The packaging with it's familiar green green hue and prominent Fairtrade logo made me feel even more socially and environmentally responsible.

        Percol and Fairtrade

        Percol was launched in 1988 with a registered office in London. My guess is that Percol is a combination of Peru and Colombia reflecting the focus of activity in Mexico and Central America. In 2008 there were only 10 UK employees; so this really is a small but ethical business. In fact the business model relies on support for Coffee Kids as a registered charity with elements of profit, staff time and marketing effort going into developing awareness and support for Coffee Kids. Percol is amongst the pioneers of "Fairtade" for Coffee and Tea Growers, which delivers a guaranteed, fair price to producers, plus a 'premium' that producers can invest back into developing their community.  Such contracts with suppliers also allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices. So glowing with enthusiasm and pride from the moral high ground I set about enjoying this worthwhile product. Just gleaning this from the Fairtrade Foundation Website is almost enough to make you feel good about any Fairtrade labelled products.

        My Experience

        The glass jar is highly colourful and attractive, sealed with a screw top plastic lid, beneath which sits the usual foil seal to keep the product fresh. Opening the pack did not deliver me the same intensity of aroma as its Kenco rivals, but the freeze dried granules looked fresh and consistent. The packaging blurb leads you to believe that this coffee will give you an adventure in coffee and connect you somehow with the people who grow and produce it. My nostrils clearly failed this first test! I have however persisted with the coffee, using a good heaped teaspoon and water just below boiling for each small mug that I make. Adding milk gives a satisfying crema froth around the edges and the aroma becomes more enticing.

        First sips of the coffee and it's not at all bad, only mild in strength but a definite nutty twang. Mellow would probably be the best word to describe the taste, and to be honest it's probably not quite definite or full bodied enough for my tastes. In this respect it does not come anywhere near the ground coffee from the same source, so a bit of a disappointment for me. Undeterred I have since tried the Rain Forest Organic variety which I have found a lot more satisfying, richer yet mellow and with a similar hint of nuts. Other tasting reports suggest a finish of citrus but I'm afraid I cannot confirm this, perhaps my palate is too desensitised from the real fresh ground brew!

        I cannot help but commend the ethical and sustainable concepts behind this brand, so whilst it might not be the leader in the field of premium instant coffees it is worth a go. You never know you just might get images of Maya civilisations, blue parrots and steaming jungle as you take your refreshment. At least you would be sure that some of your purchase price was going to a worthy cause.

        Enjoy..........

        Thanks for reading



        Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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        • More +
          24.09.2009 13:46
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          Innovative Toilet Cleaning......needs development

          I really hate 'iffy' toilets. This includes both the unclean variety....... and those which are so heavily charged with either chemical disinfectants or overpowering masking scents. Historically toilet blocks or cleaners were either added to the cistern : slowly generating sludge and gunk or lurked under the rim in a cage arrangement collecting germs and other unpleasant looking growths. As the flu pandemic threatens to return in anger this Autumn, so thoughts naturally turn to cleaning, protecting and dare I say disinfecting the smallest room in the house. Consider then 'Fresh Discs' a cageless rim block scented gel dispensed into the toilet bowl and effective for up to one week. Should be no more 'iffy' growths here then.....

          Product and Packaging

          Produced by S C Johnson, the US Company which brings you for example Raid, Pledge, Brillo, ,Mr Muscle and now this latest variant in the DuckTM range and is actually made in Mexico. Packaged in a non-descript predominantly blue or green/yellow box two 'flavours' are available, Lime Zest or Marine Blue. This box contains a gel holder filled with a gloopy substance which is remarkably similar in colour whatever the flavour, and undoubtedly both are a shade of green to my eyes. Also a blue plastic handle is included with pre-determined holes to ensure that you dispense just the right amount of gel,; at least in theory........Each box which should contain enough for 6 gel dispensing retails for about £3.00 full price. This sounds expensive until you consider that a disc should last at least a week or over one hundred flushes. I have to confess I bough mine half this price whilst on offer at Sainsbury's so this no doubt has influenced my impression of the value of the product.

          Contents include predominantly surfactants or detergents to actually clean the bowl, and a raft of compounds including coumarin, limonene and eugenol to actually provide the fresh natural scent. It should be noted that anyone with perfume allergy would be advised to avoid those product as the Coumarin may cause an allergic reaction. Indeed the product was briefly withdrawn from the Italian market earlier this but it is unclear which compounds were the reason. Nevertheless there is no obvious disinfectant present so the product effectiveness must be based on it's cleaning properties.

          The Product in Use

          The box contains clear instructions and easy diagrams to understand how you should insert the plunger/applicator; remove and retain the end cap; then gently push the dispenser to the next hole; leaving a perfect disc discreetly in the bowl of the toilet. The gel should never touch your fingers. Well,.........I confess I did not read the instructions too carefully, after all how difficult could it be to dispense the little disc like wonder. I pushed like mad to ram the dispenser to the next hole and the gel oozed out around the end of the business end. So not as simple as they would have you believe to just hold and squish lightly under the rim. With a bit of practice over the next 5 discs I did get better, but more often than not the discs were more like unsightly blobs splattered on the bowl. Worse in trying to contain the 'Quatermass' dispensation I got it all over my fingers and I have to say the pungent smell was with me for many hours. User Beware, please try to avoid getting this on your fingers. But does it work..........?

          I can confirm that a 'blob' does last over a week, and the toilet bowl seems sparkling clean. When flushed some froth or foam appears and the scent seems to be refreshed. The last bits in the dispenser which I could not squeeze out I scraped into the cistern and even this looks cleaner for it. The Lime Zest however, to me smells nothing like lime, and in fact was a touch overpowering in our small downstairs loo. The Marine Blue I found less pervasive and more natural, but even so could not be considered a non-intrusive smell. In fact you can smell these products whilst still contained in their original packaging, unopened. When we left the house uninhabited for a week the scent pervaded but the gel crusted over to an opaque hard looking surface yet this soon cleared again with new flushings and it did not appear to interfere with the effectiveness of the product.. Yes, it does seem to work but I am not sure that I like the appearance of random gel blobs lurking in the loo, but I do think it is better than the caged varieties.. No doubt with the intense competition amongst cleaning material manufacturers this dispersal concept will develop further and I think it will be an innovation here to stay.

          Thanks for reading

          Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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          • Toshiba NB100 -128 / Netbook / 82 Readings / 81 Ratings
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            26.08.2009 20:57
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            Reliable but fiddly little computer

            I am really fond of my old Toshiba laptop. It's big and it's clunky, only has a 15 inch screen, but it's familiar: loaded with lots of useful stuff and frankly too valuable to tote about where it might get lost stolen or broken. Furthermore the notion of accessing e-mail or the internet on a mobile phone device is just too fiddly and beyond my ageing eyesight. Yet, when out and about I still want to be in touch, able to access information, data and send meaningful ( not text speak or hieroglyphics) out to friends and relatives. Enter then the concept of a Netbook computer. You will have seen many examples in the high street shops and white goods outlets, and it even seems that some mobile phone contracts offer them as an incentive. (I rest my case then that there is no competition between the versatility and usefulness of such powerful miniscule computers compared to the compromises built into scaling such functionality so far down so that it fits on a phone). I am happy to carry my phone separately and just boot up my Netbook PC when the need dictates. With a plethora of choice for me familiarity and trust in the Toshiba brand attracted me to the mini marvel. I gleefully selected My Toshiba NB100 from Amazon, electronically submitted payment of £249.98 and waited for the postman to arrive. This he did some two days later in April 2009 bringing a simply boxed package containing a Toshiba NB100-12A 8.9-inch Netbook, Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD, Windows XP Home When you look on Amazon now you will see this model has already been superceded by a version with 160 GB HDD,...... but what the heck I am really quite pleased with mine.

            ***Reasons For Believing***

            Once I had opened the box, plugged the power cord in and pushed the start button I was away; up and running. This little gizmo which is not much bigger than a paperback book, sports an 8.9 inch screen (meaning it's actually bigger than many portable DVD players that do such yeoman service keeping the kids quiet in the back of the car) and with all the familiarity of Windows XP. Not for me the intricacies of mobile windows or Linux operating systems, my trusty XP makes it easy to transfer and load existing files and shortcuts. I quickly disposed of the 'free' Norton Antivirus software, loaded my own and happily set up Mozilla Firefox as my browser. I quickly discovered that the touch pad although sensitive and convenient really does not suit me, (any more than it does on it's big Toshiba brother) so opted to plug in to one of the three USB ports a small retractable corded mouse. This made things much easier and I was soon flying about the screen setting all my personal preferences. It has the solid feel of a Tosh, the image on the screen is crystal clear, but yes. it is still quite small, and on a busy page can be quite awkward to read even with the help of my glasses. Opting for large fonts does not make things much better, you just have to scroll about more to read the whole contents of the page, so I opted for the standard settings. Battery life is claimed to be up to 3.5 hours, but I have never managed more than 2, before dire warnings of meltdown if you don't plug, in are sounded. I suspect 3.5 hours is realistic if you just say work in Word, don't change any other applications or pages, nor load the internet and type very very carefully. So 2 hours longevity as I crash round from programme to programme; to mail and web pages is probably the more realistic!

            ***A Communication Tool***

            Reasons for wanting such a compact gadget were obviously to capture data and information but also to be able to use it's inbuilt communication channels. Here this gadget excels. Wireless connectivity easily searches out the hotspot options around you and connecting is just as easy as being at home. Armed with a mail2web account, you can pick up your e-mails remotely and initiate or respond just as you would do from the comfort of home. There is even a tidgy integrated webcam for those amongst you who want to stream pics whilst you chat: although I must admit I have not got around to mastering it yet, and to be honest I am not sure that I will be bothering. The keyboard is small, compact even, but all the keys are discreet and I quickly got the hang of picking out most letters. If there is one complaint it's that in scaling things down some of the keys have been moved from where I am used to finding them, in particular the ubiquitous 'Delete' key ........which has somehow migrated to the bottom right of the keyboard, where I still have trouble finding it!

            Curiously the device comes with a back up CD which is interesting since there is no inbuilt CD drive, so any recovery would have to be initiated form another PC, whereby you may as well have accessed the Toshiba website directly for the recovery data to load onto a flash drive. No doubt this will be a cost saving in future versions!
            Sound quality and graphics are adequate for most general media files and the speed of the machine is not nearly as dire as I had anticipated. In fact it's not really that much slower than either my desktop or the ancient laptop itself, so this should not be a factor to deter you. Instruction booklets are adequate, but the this is so simple and self explanatory, I have mot really needed to use them. The Toshiba website is superb and any imaginable question or support issue could be resolved with persistence.

            ***Will it Catch On ?***

            For me I have to say the jury is still out as to the future of these mini netbooks. They are powerful and compact, much less fiddly than a web enabled phone, but still cannot really compete with the clarity and comfort of a 15 inch laptop. Much more portable so ideal for travellers I really have to question the claim it would be an ideal replacement for the larger screened version if you have the space. However withe its memory, speed and functionality just like the larger brethren for me it's just so much easier than a smart phone.

            Thanks for reading

            Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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            • Eurolite Beam Deflectors / Car Care / 70 Readings / 70 Ratings
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              23.07.2009 16:28
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              Clever concept for Continental Driving

              Over the course of many years I have driven on the Continent numerous times in both my own vehicles and hired cars. Each time I have driven a hired car (once I have finished complaining that the gear stick is on the wrong side) I have been struck by how much better the night vision and headlamp performance seems than when I dive my own car abroad. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that I used to insist on creating my own beam deflectors from black sticky tape rather than purchasing adapters, and the blacked out bits were very effective at cutting out the light rather than just directing it away from the centre of the European roads. Moreover living on the .south coast and near to busy cross channel ferry services I am very critical of foreign drivers who come to our shores, do nothing to adapt their headlamps to be suitable for our roads and proceed to blind and dazzle me with what feels to be full on beam headlamps. I appreciate then that notwithstanding the legal implications that doing nothing to adapt my headlamps whilst overseas is simply not an option.

              On previous vehicles working out which bits of the headlamp needed to be blacked out was always very simple from the prism type patterns on the headlamp glass. No longer is this the case, when you next bother to look in any detail at your lights you can find all manner of different configurations and projection systems which make our modern day lights so much more efficient. Enter then a universal headlamp deflector kit produced by Eurolites, widely sold by Halfords for example at £6.99 but available from online retailers from £4.99 and upwards. On opening the blister pack 2 silver stripey plastic sticker like objects appear (shaped a bit like a giant apostrophe; together with a very neatly folded large sheet of instructions.printed on both sides.!!............

              Don' t Despair.............Please read on.........

              You don't have to read all the instructions thank goodness, but use the index to identify your particular make of car and model. This then directs to a sequentially numbered box where hopefully you can recognise the headlamp depicted as being similar to your own. Well it worked that easily for me. It seems I only needed the blob shaped part of the apostrophe which was quickly trimmed off with the kitchen scissors. The instructions recommend turning on the headlamps to gently warm the glass before application. I did not bother and believe me the blobs stayed well stuck on! With graphic in hand it was a simple matter to peel off the the adhesive backing strip and line up the blob so that it was at approximately 5 o'clock and on the edge of the central bulb assembly. Would I have guessed to place it here? Certainly not, so please don't discard the instructions until you have worked exactly where each blob has to go. Interestingly glancing down the instructions it doeas not always follow that both headlamps have the same location for the adapters.

              The Acid Test

              I could hardly wait to drive in the dark to try these out, and did they work, well yes they most certainly did. I could obviously still see a significant difference between dipped and beam headlamps, but not nearly as extreme as resulting from my own previous cheapskate bodges. Furthermore there were no angry flashes from other drivers so the beams bending away from the centre of the road clearly worked.
              Once back in UK it was time to take them off (again warming the headlamp to make this easier was recommended) but I did not bother. They came off relatively easily leaving just a little sticky residue behind which was easily removed by some window cleaner or alcohol. Had I had the forethought to retain the original backing paper I'm sure I could have saved these for reuse another time. Alas, I did not, but will certainly give this ago next time I buy these nifty little gadgets.


              Would I recommend.........Unhesitatingly Yes; already my new set is waiting patiently alongside the warning triangle and spare bulb kit.

              Thanks for reading

              Posted on Ciao and Dooyoo under the same author.

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              • More +
                16.04.2009 12:39
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                Use Public transport for easy access in Paris

                Paris is a magical city, with inspiring imperial and modern buildings and a fabulous central river heart. However for those with a limited attention span; keen to avoid long walks or highbrow culture there still is a reasonable way to introduce the magic and so pave the way for a future return using the integrated transport options which abound in this city.

                Parking

                I would recommend that you don't even think about driving or parking in Paris. Whilst there are obvious car parks signposted, the traffic is a nightmare and the manners non-existent. It makes central London feel like a picnic. With the price of truly integrated public transport so cheap, the car really is an unnecessary complication; except for access to a link point to get into the city. This is where we really scored lucky. Since we were staying just a few miles SE of Paris we had easy access to the RER (Regional Express Railway) station at Marne La Valley (Chessy) which also serves Disneyland Paris. So, yes there is a massive well organised, safe and supervised car park all for just 8 Euro per day. A bargain if you care about your vehicle, as many of the other station car parks seem to attract drivers who fling their cars and doors about with complete disregard for others. It almost seems car ownership is scored by how many dings you have or can dispense to others!

                A Paris Day Ticket

                Less than 13 Euros will buy you a day ticket for access across all Paris zones, unlimited travel on the RER, metro bus and tram networks including the funicular at Montmatre. This latter is probably a must if you intend to visit Sacre Coeur and legs or energy levels are flagging. Purchase at the station ticket office is very simple even for those with very limited or non French speakers; we saw people using fingers communicating ONE DAY, "Paris adult inclusif" obtain their tickets without any hassle. Similar to the London Underground posting the ticket into the automated barrier opens the gates which access escalators to the trains below. The great huff of compressed air as the gates pull open seems to delight many younger travellers and they can't seem to wait for the next gates. At a terminal station like Marne La Valee (Chessy) you will usually see the train waiting for you on the platform These modern trains are well used and not particularly clean, again much like our own underground. However there is one nifty feature that is sure to fascinate younger travellers, as the train travels along the station name is not only spoken aloud, but the station name is lit up on the route map, so they can try to relate the spoken words to the written format. Certain lines run 2 level trains with steps up to more seating, a bit like a double decker bus, and again this seems to be a novelty feature which keeps interest alive. I would strongly recommend obtaining the free map which is available from the ticket office as this will make it much easier to plan your route, rather than reacting on the hoof amongst the hubbub so to speak. At peak times these trains become very crowded, and there is little sign of any consideration for others. However it is certainly no worse than our own transport systems, and if anything more frequent so the crowding quickly thins out. Signposting is really easy to follow, with clear colour coding of the lines; numbers for the metro and letters for the RER lines, together with excellent platform displays of the next train coming and the stops which it will make. And yes, as you have probably guessed even with all this, it did not prevent us getting on a train going in the wrong direction; but the mistake was quickly spotted, we simply got off at the next station, crossed over and got the train going the correct way.

                Our Day in Detail

                The Essential First Coffee Stop

                We boarded our first train at approx 10.00 arriving at Chateaulin des Halles at approx 1030. Just right for a coffee stop then. This area is a shopping mecca and excellent for traditional type French cafes, so we easily found one facing into the street with tables beckoning and waiters hovering outside. Dressed in the traditional black waistcoats, dark trousers and white aprons we really felt we had entered a "Cafe Rene" film set Again the ability to quickly relate this to a much loved and familiar TV series gives added interest. We chose simple hot chocolate and cafe au lait, which cost 4.5 Euros, not too bad for central Paris, but it was before 12.00; be warned often prices for hot drinks will go up between 30 and 50 cents a cup after 12.00 The drinks were lovely, piping hot and tasty, and served with a complimentary chocolate dusted almond. Other customers were eating either a continental style breakfast of croissants, bread and preserves with drinks included for 7 Euros, or just simply having drinks and soaking up the atmosphere. The toilets were typically old and Gallic; a spiral staircase downstairs to a split half door just like the door to the Saloon in a Western. With little privacy between the Gents and the Ladies the hand wash area was just squeezed in and not particularly clean or appealing. Still a welcome relief before going back to the station and our next visit. Whilst ambling back to the station we spotted a bargain bookshop selling new and second-hand multi-lingual books, and also racks of postcards at 12 for 2 Euros, which was a real bargain. This area seems really cosmopolitan and definitely cheaper than many of the more obvious tourist traps.

                Tour Montparnasse

                We have been to Paris before, so had already been to the Eiffel Tower, endured the queues and crammed into the lift to get to the top, but this time a more civilised aerial view was planned. We alighted from the metro in the business district at Montparnasse Bienvenue and walked the short distance to the entrance of the tower building. For a 10 Euros adult entry a high speed lift whips you up 56 floors at amazing speed (196 metres in 38 seconds.......so much better than walking); apparently its Europe's fastest elevator! When you alight there is a panoramic observation floor, double glazed and carpeted with a fantastic view of the city below. A handy bar, souvenir shop and audio visual show entice you to linger, but the steps beckon you to clamber up the final 15m to the 59th floor which is open air and positively breathtaking. So much so that we ate our sandwiches on the roof, which I swear I could detect was moving; whilst soaking up the amazing view below. Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides (with Napoleon's tomb), Trocadero and of course the Eiffel Tower can clearly be seen as you wander around the rooftop. Fortified now, and the sun shining on the river below encouraged us back down to the trains, and so emerging at Pont d'Alma where Bateaux Parisiens have their shore side pontoons and ticket office.

                A Short River Tour


                Eleven Euros will buy you a seat on the hour long commentated river tour. This really is excellent values for money. As you glide along the multi-lingual handsets deliver a commentary, identifying the buildings, giving snippets of interest, history and music which you can relate to what you are cruising past. The magnificence of the Alexandre Bridge, Louvre, Museum d'Orsay and Notre Dame unfold before you. The boats themselves are glass covered, so in more inclement weather you can still shelter from the elements whilst still enjoying the gentle and interesting tour. We were lucky it was a balmy spring afternoon, so we were able to sit outside enjoying the sunshine, together with the sounds and smells of this busy city. Something seen from the boat is almost bound to spark interest, then so provide the next quick destination in the unlikely event that you are running low on ideas. Spotting the twin towers of Notre Dame provoked a discussion about the hunchback and Quasimodo, so on our next trip this will certainly be on the itinerary. All too soon the trip was over and we happily wandered back to the nearest station, opting to take the metro back to large interchange from where we could board our RER train back to the car park, arriving there at approx 1830.

                Summary


                Should you be staying actually in Paris there is a Paris Pass which would be worth checking out. At 89 Euros for 2 days this allows unlimited travel on the transport systems and free access to many of the major attractions including Tour Montparnasse. Unfortunately the river tours are not included though.

                We could have easily spent much longer in the city there is so much to see and do; but a shorter day leaves you less exhausted; since believe me, even this small amount of travelling around is surprisingly tiring...... This way everyone is keen to go back another time!







                Thanks for reading

                Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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                • Sainsburys / Employment / 121 Readings / 114 Ratings
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                  16.03.2009 17:50
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                  Excellent employer for disadvantaged people

                  My brother has Downs Syndrome, which in these politically correct times is quaintly described as a learning difficulty. The reality is probably much closer to the historic descriptors of 'mentally handicapped' or 'mentally retarded'. However he is fortunate in that he does go out to work independently to a proper job at a local Sainsbury's supermarket. Indeed he has been working in the retail sector for most of his working life, although it has only been at Sainsbury's for the last few years due to TUPE transfer from Safeway via Morrison's. His employment experience also includes Tesco and Marks & Spencer.

                  *** Job Role ***

                  He is employed as a General Assistant, competent grade within the checkout department, working 24 hours per week spread over 4 days. This competent grade is important since it determines that his hourly rate is paid at a premium over a new team member or someone who has not completed all their training. His current rate is £6.08 per hour which is above the National Minimum Wage rate of £5.73 per hour meaning that Sainsbury's are actually rewarding him above the minimum they would be obliged to honour.

                  Although he works within the checkout team, there is no way he would be competent to be left unattended on a checkout. Whilst he could operate a scanner and count money, he would be slow with change, and any complications would completely fluster him, whereby the queue would be snaked back to the car park. Consequently his role is based around collecting baskets, returning them to the entrance doors, removing and returning any abandoned items, and assisting other disabled people either with their shopping or helping to carry out shopping to their cars/taxis. He can direct customers to specific items in the store and assist with stock replenishment. However when left to stack the toilet rolls, heaven help any poor customer who wants to disrupt his military precision!

                  Like all staff he has to clock in and out whilst working so he needs to be able to manage time., as he is paid directly from his recorded hours. .A typical shift starts at 0930 and then he takes a 15 minute tea break (which is paid) at 1115. Normally a lunch break of an hour between one and two o'clock, is taken in the staff canteen, where there is a good choice of fresh rolls, sandwiches, snacks and hot meals at subsidised prices. He will typically choose filled rolls knowing he is coming home to an evening meal! No doubt it is cheaper too!! His shift finishes at 4.30 whereby he clocks off and can then return home. Whilst the store is on a bus route, it is not frequent nor easy to connect to where we live so typically he will get a taxi, which costs about £5 per journey.

                  Along with all other staff members he is issued with a uniform, of which he is fiercely proud. It comprises black trousers (which have to be taken up significantly to accommodate a 24 inch inside leg measurement), blue polo type shirt, dark blue fleece V neck sweater or orange thick fleece zipped jacket and the all important name badge. The name badge is just like one of those fiddly things you get at conferences whereby the pin is much smaller than the badge and hidden underneath. It is a total pain to get straight in relation to the Sainsbury's logo embroidered onto the fleeces or shirts, and this is an essential part of the pride in his uniform. Many arguments have ensued as to whether it is wonky or not, a concern completely lost to most people! Fortunately he has to provide his own black shoes since I suspect size 5 "H" fitting would be outside the normal range for typical menswear uniform.

                  *** Pay and Benefits ***

                  As I mentioned earlier, Sainsbury's pay an hourly rate of £6.08 per hour, paid by BACS to his bank account every 4 weeks. It is always reliable and transferred on time, and a simple payslip is electronically produced with all the statutory data, which is picked up directly in the store from the personnel team. He is a member of the Sainsbury's Final Salary Pension Scheme, and has recently been able to opt to reduce his contributions to a career average scheme which is beneficial in his case since he will never be a high earning employee. Also he gets a staff discount card which is typically 10% but occasionally rises to 15% discount on purchases including online shopping. As you may imagine we take full advantage of the shopping benefits.

                  The shop is a nice clean fresh and warm working environment, and there is excellent contact and interaction with both other staff and customers to act as a stimulus. Indeed at Christmas time he will often come home with tips and cards that he has received from customers. Often when out and about in the town people will approach and say "Hello" since they are familiar with seeing him at the supermarket.

                  Whilst he only works 4 days per week in the store the Wednesday is spent at college., where he is doing an NVQ entry level course to adult literacy. Although Sainsbury's do not sponsor him as such since this is a community based course provided by the local council, they do always ensure that his schedules are such that he can attend the classes and are keen to record the certificates of achievement at each stage.

                  The schedules are probably the most complex area for a mentally handicapped person to handle. Booking leave is complex even for me to understand since all the hours are annualised and include the statutory holidays. This means you have to plan carefully ahead to ensure that leave is correctly booked out so that holiday pay is not missed, and typically about February time you are asked to request all your leave days for the next year which runs from April to March, sometimes including Easter and sometimes not, depending on where it falls. As I say this is where a disadvantaged person would certainly need help.

                  He is treated just as anyone else so far as time and attendance is concerned which is a very good thing. This even extends to losing 45 mins pay when his taxi was late in the recent snow, since it could not negotiate our local hills. I say this is a good thing since he has to live in the real world and there are consequences which make him realise how important time and attendance is. The reality is that he has a mindset that would rather be early than late which can be no bad thing.

                  I have to say his department manager and the personnel team are all very helpful and supportive, which makes all the difference, since obviously training (whether it be Health & Safety or compliance training) is going to take longer and be more difficult to ascertain that it has been absorbed. The only concession as such that I am aware of relates to him having his own Personal Evacuation Plan in the event of fire or similar emergency since he would be like a 'rabbit in the headlamps' and certainly no use to assist with the evacuation of customers.

                  Finally the local store he works in has a fairly active social and participative attitude. My brother loves taking part in store events, dressing up for Halloween, Christmas, Red Nose Day, St Georges Day etc etc, and being included in parties, bowling events and BBQs. He feels part of the team and is very proud and loyal to be working for Sainsbury's, and looking forward to receiving his 15 year service award, which is a new badge he can wear on his uniform, replacing the 10 year one.


                  If you look on the corporate website maybe as a prospective employee you will see the following statement:

                  " 'Respect for the Individual' is one of Sainsbury's core values. We are committed to putting that into practice, creating a working environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute, is valued and respected. "

                  From the experience of my brother's employment, his store is certainly trying to live up to this value and I thank them sincerely for this commitment, as it has enabled an otherwise disadvantaged individual to realise his potential.


                  Thanks for reading

                  Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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                    19.02.2009 15:57
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                    A very welcome addition to Ocean Village in Southampton

                    We decided to try a slightly different idea for a half term treat, opting to try out the newest Wetherspoon's in Southampton for breakfast. Yes, I do mean breakfast and since this review has this specific focus I have left other more tantalising possibilities for you to explore should you so wish......

                    *** Location ***

                    The latest addition to the Wetherspoon's chain in Southampton is the aptly named Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis, Canute Road, Ocean Village, Southampton. I say it is aptly named since Sir Lucius bless him laid the foundation stone for Southampton Docks, and the pub is now situated in the old Dock House offices where affairs and labour was originally managed. My dad when he was alive was an ex-stevedore and would never set foot in the place when it was first sold off during an earlier property boom. Formerly called Ferry House, this is a grade II listed building, with a poignant memorial remembering World War I dead built into an external wall. Happily this means that alterations to this high ceiling-ed and oak panelled building are carefully controlled. For the history buffs this building is alongside the offices of the White Star Line, usually associated with those sad pictures of clamouring faces anxiously awaiting news of the ill fated Titanic disaster. As it is on the edge of the marina complex, which has a cinema, Tesco Express, restaurants and some high profile business buildings the mix of people in the pub was eclectic to say the least. A nearby student village no doubt adds further to the richness of clientele later in the day.

                    *** First Impressions ***

                    Weatherspoon's have done a tasteful update and refurbishment for this location. The dark oak panelling and dark furniture blend well together, and the inevitable TV screens are not too overt. We chose a table near a window overlooking the street. Unfortunately none of the windows look out onto anything interesting, and the view from the window was traffic and more jaded but nevertheless listed buildings. The carpeting was a lush rich looking Axminster type pattern more reminiscent of a stately home than a pub and this added to the character as did some occasional leather sofas and a couple of interesting artifacts on the walls. We entered just after 10 o'clock and I would guess that there were perhaps only 10 to 12 other people already present. Interestingly, only two had pints of beer the rest were eating, drinking tea or coffee or making use of the free wi-fi connections. Customers ranged from well suited business types to site workers grabbing a bite or just taking a break. I must admit the idea of using my laptop to access the net and keep in touch, whilst enjoying a leisurely morning immediately appealed to me. I am sure this free wi-fi will attract many users during the course of a normal day, and clearly complements the Weatherspoon approach to good value for it's customers. I suspect it would be too rowdy and busy to even contemplate later in the evenings!!

                    A purpose built disabled toilet has been added near the rear entrance, and this was pristine. The other facilities are probably not quite as good as you might expect from a Weatherspoon's, the Ladies whilst clean was a little cramped and the seats did not fit properly. There may of course be some building restrictions which have a bearing here. However everything did work and my visit was not unpleasant. Meantime to the all important offerings and our experience.

                    == The Breakfast Menu ==

                    This menu is available only until 1200 noon. Before you get the impression that a cooked breakfast is the norm in our household, please let me disabuse you. This was a treat and not one I would repeat too often, not for the food quality or the value, but more for the 'well stuffed' feeling and incentive to idle the day away. A separate menu card is provided for the breakfast menu, and we both opted for the standard fare. This traditional breakfast consisted of bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, fried egg, hash browns, mushrooms and baked beans all for £2.69. For larger appetites you could double up on everything plus have toast and butter for an extra £1.20. You could also add extra individual items should you wish at nominal cost. Personally, I could not even contemplate such a feast so early in the day, but some of the customers appeared to manage quite easily. The food was piping hot when it was brought to the table and to my mind perfectly cooked. The grilled bacon and sausage had the stripes from the grill and that glorious char-grilled flavour, which makes my mouth water even to think about it. The egg yolk was just soft and not at all swimming in oil, and even the baked beans were clearly quality Heinz beans.

                    When we ordered or breakfast we ordered the drinks too, him ordering hot chocolate and me a standard large white coffee. I have to say that whilst the drinks came fresh from an impressive looking machine they were both quite weak and uninspiring. This was probably the most disappointing part of the whole experience. The whole meal came to just £ 7.64 for the pair of us, and honestly we did not want anything further to eat until later the same evening. The staff were attentive and considerate, and the place felt clean and inviting for a start to a leisurely day.

                    For other tastes, you could have a morning roll with egg, bacon, sausage or vegetarian sausage, or a breakfast bloomer sandwich containing sausage, bacon and fried egg, a muffin or just toast and preserves. From memory these dishes ranged fro 80p for the toast to approx £1.99 for the sandwiches. A child size platter is also available at proportional cost. Unfortunately no fresh fruit, cereal or fruit juice is on offer so this is definitely not going to suit all tastes, but as an occasional teat I can highly recommend it.


                    But just before you go......

                    Finally, I should just comment on car parking. Unlike most pubs this does not have a free car park, and street parking or within the complex will actually cost you if it's before 6pm.

                    Thanks for reading

                    Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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                      10.02.2009 14:00
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                      Decent Individual Chicken and Mushroom Pie

                      A new food ritual has developed in our household. Suddenly, whenever there is a home football match, a specific pie has to be heated and served in preparation for the 'entertainment'. ........and no, it cannot be any sort of pie it has to be an individual Chicken and Mushroom Pie made by Pukka Pies of Leicestershire.

                      Amused by the grand sounding title, I looked up the definition of 'pukka' which turned out to be: " Anglo-Indian in origin, meaning good, first rate of it's kind, genuine or real". Well now I know that at least the stock of boxes stacking up in the freezer are real, and not a figment of my imagination: but should I worry about the contents?

                      *** The Company ***

                      It seems that Pukka Pies is a privately owned family business founded in 1963, currently employing 250 people. Output is a staggering 40 million pies and pasties per year from what is claimed to be the most modern pie production facility in Europe. The best selling product is apparently the round chilled Steak and Kidney Pie followed by the Chicken and Mushroom variant I am reviewing here. Just in case you were thinking of ordering a pallet load the website at : http://www.pukkadirect.co.uk would be happy to oblige I'm sure; but individual pies are not available: just curiously aprons, hats, shirts, footballs, flags or mugs can be ordered from the online shop!!

                      *** A Round Chilled Chicken & Mushroom Pie ***

                      Widely available from supermarkets each 226g pie is packed in a recyclable cardboard box with the pie nestling in a round gold coloured aluminium foil tray. No extra film or covering is used so all the packaging is recyclable. Currently retailing at £1.00, even from Tesco Express, typically these pies range from £1.00 to £1.40 at most outlets, but offers are quite common. I usually stock up whilst on offer and keep in the freezer, ready for instant action! This packaging format is particularly convenient and easy to stack in the freezer . With 475 kCal energy content these make an ideal light snack or contribution to a main meal.

                      The manufacturer's claim to have a passion for pies and use only wholesome ingredients. No hydrogenated fat is used nor artificial flavouring, colouring or preservatives. However those prone to allergic reaction are warned that celery, gluten, soya and wheat are present as are traces of egg and milk. Salt content is approximately 10% below the Government Maximum Target for meat products at 1.0g per 100gram as compared to the target of 1.1g per 100gram and a daily intake target of 6g salt. Eat three of these pies in one day then and you would have blown that advice!! However I suggest even the most hearty of appetites would be daunted by 3 pies............

                      *** Preparation ***

                      I always defrost the pie before heating, but apparently you can cook from frozen. My advice for the best tasting pie is 20 minutes moderate heat (gas mark 5 or 190oC) , otherwise whilst the insipid pastry evident on opening the box is attractively browned, the extra time in the oven has set it like rock........ Please do not try to cut corners and microwave this pie, it deserves better than that, and will only go limp but steaming hot on you, completely ruining the taste and texture of the light flaky pastry. Sadly when you see these pies on sale in fish and chip shops, often their fate is a microwave which would detract from my enjoyment.

                      *** Consumption ***

                      In my humble opinion this is not finger food so the notion of munching one actually at the football match is hard to imagine.......The pie has a a light flaky pastry top, with a 4cm deep filled base. I simply cannot imagine how you could eat it without a fork The white chunks of chicken are chunks and identifiable as such, as are actual slices of mushroom in a creamy sauce. The sauce is spiced with herbs and pepper but if I am honest perhaps a little too peppery for my taste, but at least you cannot accuse it of being bland. Its not gloopy but has a rich creamy texture more consistent with chicken supreme than your usual chicken and mushroom pie. Eaten as a snack it is certainly satisfying but not heavy on your stomach..........ideal then as fodder to provide warmth and energy as you shout encouragement from the terraces.

                      But does the ritual work and enhance team performance..............sadly not!!!

                      Thanks for reading

                      Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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                        15.01.2009 14:09
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                        Tasty ice cream more suitable for people with diabetes?

                        Diabetes is a condition which knowingly affects over 2.5 million people here in the UK, and probably at least half a million who don't yet know. The condition is caused when the amount of glucose circulating in the bloodstream becomes too high through either a lack of insulin production or what is produced not working effectively. Since glucose is produced within the body from starchy or carbohydrate rich foods it therefore follows that diabetic people have to be careful about their dietary intake of such foods. The product I am reviewing is declared to have been designed to a recipe more suitable for people with diabetes. It goes without saying that consumption should be as part a normal healthy diet.

                        With a diabetic in the family, our approach has been to try to follow a normal healthy diet, but indulge in the occasional naughty treat. Low sugar/calorie puddings have been the normal order of the day. Imagine my delight when I spotted an award winning "consumer taste approved" diabetic vanilla ice cream carton lurking in the freezers in my local Asda.

                        *** The Product ***

                        The one litre carton has an attractive image of golden creamy melt in the mouth ice cream and retails for £1.88 at Asda. This compares favourably with store's own brand 'Good For You' vanilla Ice cream and costs much less than other premium brands. A good start then since these specialist products tend to command a higher price; so well done Asda.

                        There is really nothing remarkable in the packaging, it's just your standard ice cream box with the usual removable tab on one corner. On opening the ice cream does look like the picture on the box, pale not golden yellow, has a faint whiff of vanilla and appears to be rich and creamy. The texture on scooping it out is probably closest to a typical soft scoop product, thankfully it's not rock hard or crystalline. Visually you would probably not be able to tell that this was any different to mainstream ice cream.

                        I cannot profess to be an ice cream connoisseur, but initial taste and impression in my mouth is simply creamy vanilla ice cream. Its not overly sweet, and the vanilla is not overpowering, and I would probably be hard pressed to distinguish it from an own brand standard ice cream. Better still there is no unpleasant or lingering after taste. Please don't expect a luxury treat based on the award winning claims on the packaging but equally it's not claiming to be anything more than standard vanilla, but it certainly tastes far better than any of the non-dairy vanilla desserts that we have tried.

                        In the UK to be called ice cream a product must contain a minimum of 5% fat and a minimum of 2.5% milk protein. This product actually contains skimmed milk powder, vegetable fat, fructose, maltodextrin, dextrose, emulsifiers, flavourings and natural colours. Nutritional information as follows:

                        Nutrients per 100g

                        Energy 163kCal
                        Energy 683kJ
                        Protein 3.4g
                        Carbohydrate 17.9g
                        Fat 7.7g

                        *** The Dilemma ***

                        I understand that it's the use of primarily the sugar fructose rather than other sugars which makes this recipe more suitable for people with diabetes. This approach has been developed since fructose is sweeter than conventional sugar (sucrose0 or glucose in its pure form, ergo you need to put less in to achieve the same sense of sweetness. Also the metabolism of fructose is different. Sucrose is digested quickly in the stomach passing rapidly through to the blood stream as glucose and fructose molecules. However fructose on its own has to reach the intestine before absorption therefore uptake into the bloodstream is slower. Also the metabolism of fructose is via the liver, not requiring use of insulin. Therefore fructose which is commonly found naturally in fruit has traditionally been considered a better source of sweetener for diabetic people. Indeed like the rest of the population diabetics are recommended to ingest the healthy 5 a day fruit and vegetable portions.

                        However excessive fructose ingestion (particularly fructose corn syrup) has been shown to contribute to diarrhoea and obesity, since the metabolism of this sugar by the liver results in fat production and cholesterol. Given that people with diabetes have a a pre-disposition to high blood pressure and heart problems there is a shift in some quarters to suggest that fructose is probably not the best alternative for diabetics. Indeed some authors even suggest that sucrose within a healthy diet is the best nutrition for a diabetic.

                        Whilst I am not saying that the fructose concentrations within this tasty ice cream are a major concern within a normal healthy diet, I guess I am just questioning whether as a mild diabetic my brother would be better served with a smaller portion of traditional ice cream?

                        Interestingly on visiting the Diabetes UK website I discovered the following text in a position statement

                        http://www.diabetes.org.uk/en/About_us/Our_Views/Position_statements/

                        "Diabetes UK and the Food Standards Agency are calling for an end to the use of terms such as 'diabetic' or 'suitable for diabetics' on food labels.
                        Some people might see 'diabetic' labelling as a stamp of approval, and think that the food is beneficial or even essential for people with diabetes. Also, 'diabetic' foods tend to cost more than conventional products, and sugar-free and reduced-sugar versions, so marketing products as 'diabetic' can lead people with diabetes to spend more than they need to.
                        'Diabetic' labelling tends to be used on sweets, biscuits and similar foods. The main concern is that labelling these types of foods as 'diabetic' undermines important messages about healthy eating. If people do eat foods and drinks containing added sugars they should do so sparingly, as part of a healthy balanced diet. This advice applies to everyone, not just people with diabetes.
                        Since healthy eating advice is essentially the same for people with diabetes as it is for other people, the idea of special 'diabetic' foods is out of date."

                        It seems then that despite my glee at discovering at last a tasty ice cream product suitable for diabetics, that I could actually buy the standard Frank's product and just use much less within a healthy balanced diet.............only Asda don't stock any other variants.


                        Thanks for reading

                        Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author.

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                        • Nestle Quality Street / Chocolate / 95 Readings / 93 Ratings
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                          08.01.2009 13:39
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                          Quality Sweets at Discount Price

                          I love Christmas and am lucky to have friends and family to enjoy it with. A product I always associate with Christmas is Quality Street as it always seems to have been around at this special time of year. Today somehow it appears much more ordinary and less luxurious than the packaging and media hype would have you believe. Still popular in offices and mess rooms, it seems many people still feel the urge to dip into a tin and select their personal favourite. Please indulge me as I try to explain why I think this assortment still represents a savvy buy at Christmas or thereabouts.

                          *** Value For Money ***

                          Local supermarkets were knocking out a 1.2 kg tin (which is 1.16kg sweets if you exclude the wrappings) at the rate of any 2 for £9.00 just before Christmas. This equates to less than 39p per 100g for a well known and branded chocolate and toffee assortment, which just has to be fantastic value for money if you like this type of product as an occasional or sharing treat. Given a sell by date that stretches out to April, investment in these gives a decent opportunity to pace consumption and enjoy the indulgence. Individually wrapped the twelve varieties of sweet will easily keep fresh and inviting in the sturdy, octagonal shaped tin emblazoned with cheer and gaiety. Yes, the tin is well made with nicely rounded edges; useful for storage in cupboards or the shed, but happily as you reach saturation for this need, can be recycled too.

                          *** The Contents ***

                          Each tin contains 12 different varieties of chocolates, all individually shaped and wrapped in distinctive and brightly coloured packaging. Most people have their own particular favourite, and the contents tend to evolve year by year to reflect current trends. To my amazement the most popular flavour is reported to be the strawberry cream. If you are interested visit the web site and you can see the whole list.:

                          http://www.qualitystreet.co.uk/products/oursweets/favourites.aspx

                          Clearly we are not typical, since in my household and circles it was always these and the orange creams which were left in the dregs of the tin. However I am really pleased to note that the strange hard praline wrapped in chocolate which used to be in a red wrapper (and equally unpopular with us) has disappeared from the selection. The old favourites of toffee penny, fudge, and the purple one ( a hazelnut is soft caramel within a chocolate shell) still remain just as you remember them.

                          *** Indulgence ***

                          The manufacturers would have us believe 'that eating chocolate as part of a balance diet is one of life's little pleasures' but at an average 157 calories and 6.9g fat per 4 sweets, it would be very easy to over indulge. With a diabetic in the household enforced moderation or abstinence is the rule. Similarly anyone with a nut allergy would be at risk too.

                          I am sure that the original concept of a quality selection of chocolates and toffees as invented by Mackintosh's in 1936 is still alive today. However the modern packaging is more bright and garish, and feels less sophisticated than the posh Major and Miss which launched this product, yet is now so much more attainable to all.

                          Enjoy but watch out for those dodgy fillings...........

                          Thanks for reading

                          Posted on Ciao and Dooyoo by the same author

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                          • Nabisco Ritz Crackers / Snacks / 102 Readings / 98 Ratings
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                            16.12.2008 15:59
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                            A handy standby in the store cupboard for many occasions

                            With Christmas fast approaching much of my attention is being turned to the seemingly endless preparations and stock of 'just in case' measures. Enter here in stoic readiness the humble RITZ cracker.........

                            ** Christmas Past **

                            Apparently in 1898 the New York Biscuit Company was formed by the merger of over 100 small bakeries. This became known as NABISCO the name emblazoned on the top of the iconic red box packaging that so easily identifies these crackers. RITZ crackers were launched in the US in 1935, but today the parent Company was formed by a merger between Kraft Foods and Nabisco in 2000, so both these marques can be found on the box.

                            Today a 200g box of these crackers is further protected inside with a clear plastic sealed envelope, much like a crisp packet but without all the colours; so you can easily see the crackers inside. My recollection of childhood Christmas was that the inner wrapper was more like a greaseproof paper, but no doubt both served the same purpose to keep the biscuits crisp, fresh and appetising. A box would be placed on 'Hostess Trolley' for Christmas and Boxing Day supper alongside cheeses, pickles, cheese and pineapple on sticks, sliced bacon, ham, Twiglets and Cheese Footballs. Squeezy cheese from a tube or cheese triangles could easily be heaped onto RITZ and the whole cracker popped in at once. There seldom seemed to be any left over!

                            ** Christmas Present **

                            Today the tempting little RITZ cracker is equally acceptable, whether undressed to accompany the range of hard and soft cheeses on a typical cheeseboard, dipped into cream cheese or other type dips or sauces, coated in salmon mousse, seafood cocktail, pate, fresh fruit, char grilled peppers; the list is seemingly endless. Whilst many party nibbles have become more sophisticated and complex it is the sheer simplicity of RITZ which makes them so versatile. In a typical 200g box there must be between 50 and 60 crisp little crackers. About 4 cm in diameter each biscuit is baked to a lovely golden brown with perfectly serrated edged and seven little dimples with holes, encrusted with just a dusting of salt. It seems these holes are known as 'Dockers' and are included in the manufacture to ensure that each biscuit is consistent in thickness and so that the cooking is even throughout. Light in texture, with a satisfying crunch and crispness, there is just a hint of salt. They really do look good enough to eat just as they are, and simply become more irresistible with delicious sweet or savoury toppings. Typically retailing from just 65p in Tesco today, other supermarkets are generally 75 p to 92p, with corner shops and garage forecourts anything from £1.05 and upwards.


                            Needless to say this is not a healthy snack, but Christmas is the time for indulgence so for those that must know the headline food facts are as follows:

                            Per 100g // per cracker

                            Energy 493kCal // 17kCal
                            Fat 26.1g // 0.9g
                            Sat Fat 12.3g // 0.4g
                            Sugar 6.6g // 0.2g
                            Salt 3.3g // Trace

                            So not too bad then if you limit yourself to just a few...........

                            ** Christmas Future **

                            I would say that these simple little nibbles should still be around for many Christmases to come, whether lurking in the store cupboard or acknowledged with a place at the table. Given a typical shelf life of 6 to 8 months for an unopened box investment now will carry you through the New Year celebrations too. Have a good one.

                            Thanks for reading

                            Posted on Ciao and Dooyoo by the same author

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                            • Philips DA1102 1GB / MP3 Player / 73 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                              11.12.2008 16:22
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                              Personal DAB radio ........plays music too

                              My brother is an avid follower of our local football team, and with his season ticket attends most home games. However when they play away or heaven forbid another commitment interferes then the pressure is on to keep up to date by tuning in a radio. Trouble is the rest of the world has to put up with this also until I discovered this miracle little gadget. It's a truly portable and best of all completely personal DAB radio; and inconsequentially for me, a 1GB mp3 player too.

                              ** What's in the Box **

                              The personal DAB (that's Digital Audio Broadcasting in case you ever wondered ) radio control unit itself. With a white face and 3cm black and white display screen , the unit measures 6cm wide and 9 cm tall, and 1.5 cm deep; so truly portable in any small pocket.

                              2 AAA batteries; the nice common little tiny ones you can buy almost everywhere.
                              2 interchangeable back covers, so you can choose between red, white or blue as the mood takes you. The slide on back is slightly rubbery, no doubt designed for shock absorption for when you drop or throw down the unit. Needless to say red was his immediate choice!
                              The de-rigueur USB cable to connect to a PC for download of music tracks etc. and finally a set of those horrid earplug things that you push into your ears. Apparently the radio aerial is also within these earphones so I was a touch concerned that swopping them for a more conventional headphone set would be a problem, but I need not have worried, the sputnik ones work just fine.

                              Best of all the quick start guide to use the kit is not much bigger than a large postcard, with just 2 main headings Install/Connect then Enjoy. Now that is my type of instruction complexity.

                              ** Using the Radio **

                              Slide off back cover, insert batteries, replace cover, pug in earphones to the obvious socket on the top of the unit and press the button in the centre of unit. What could be easier? The screen lights up with an initial display of PHILLIPS but quickly changes to 4 easily understood icons. The radio picture is highlighted with the toggle switch outside the central button and you simply press REC/SCAN to search for all available stations in your area. Both Radio Solent and Hampshire FM immediately appeared so a choice of commentary was possible in our local area. The beauty of the digital signal is the clarity especially since we live in a very hilly area where signal tends to fade and crackle. With the earphones on, only the wearer can hear the sound, so other than a few groans or shouts of encouragement, it's blissful peace until a goal is scored. The simple controls and clear icons make this unit very intuitive to use so frankly the instructions have not really been necessary. Naturally once you have identified your favourites it's possible to set a preset in place to quickly find them again.

                              ** MP3 Functionality **

                              As I explained we did not buy the unit for it's music capability, but I easily downloaded 100 tracks from the PC onto the memory, by simply connecting up the USB cable. The radio was recognised as a USB mass storage device, so it was simple to just drag and drop selected tracks across. Again it could not be easier to play the tracks, merely select the music icon, and either play all, select artist or select tracks , then press the central button to confirm.

                              Volume is controlled with up/down toggle and play modes or equaliser effects can be set within the main menu. So simple even a technophobe can use it.

                              We obtained our radio from Argos price £29.99 (before the VAT rate was reduced) and I expect it to return good value for money. The unit itself is reasonably rugged, the buttons are not too fiddly and the display screen is clear even in fairly bright sunlight. Battery life seems quite good and the volume supplied is more than adequate, so this gadget is actually usable outside. It claims to be a sports model, no go faster stripes, but it would be useful for a jogger or outdoor enthusiast who did not want to miss any sort of broadcast.

                              Thanks for reading

                              Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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                              • More +
                                04.12.2008 17:44
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                                A wasted opportunity

                                It was at the end of the summer when we were on our way to the continent, that we needed an activity as a distraction en-route to our overnight hotel. You might think that Southampton to Dover is not too far but it is just so boring a journey that we like to break it up if at all possible. A trawl of the internet for something suitable came up with Dicken's World as a relatively new and novel attraction, and being in Chatham it could loosely be described as being en-route.

                                Fortunately, we were not greeted by the long queues bemoaned by many other visitors and there were acres of car park spaces. This should have told me what to expect, but without a second thought; and just pausing to admire the animated clock with its hint of the exciting boat ride to come, we entered the foyer.

                                We walked straight up to the ticket desk around 2pm; again no queues, so I was beginning to like this place; then even more so when I got a reduction of £3.00 on an adult ticket of around £12.00 for my disabled brother. We went through and down the steps into the courtyard. Spotting refreshment I headed straight for the cafe area which would afford us a good view of the themed central area. Cradling a reasonable cup of coffee we sat down to enjoy the playlet, which we quickly discovered was set around ' A Tale of Two Cities'.

                                Consequently, I think the subject matter for this playlet could have been chosen better; the action was confusing, the language 'high brow' and it dragged on without really engaging the audience. Most of the 30 or so people sat in the cafe area seemed unfamiliar with this particular Dicken's tale. However we were able to gaze around and be impressed by the excellent scenery and effects, and I was able to indulge in a little people watching; but overall my brother was bored.

                                Playlet finished we headed next to the Haunted House which was frankly pathetic, save for the Scrooge scenario which most people could relate with and enjoy. Many of the other exhibits were just holographic features uttering Dicken's speak, and not ghostly at all. The boat ride was our next goal, billed as a thrill it was completely bland and unexciting, not even a rat jumped out at me; but at least there was no wait.!! Certainly not a patch on the Pirates of The Caribbean ride in EuroDisney. The best indicator of it's entertainment value was that nobody wanted to go again despite there being no queue whatsoever.

                                We ventured into the learning area set in a Dicken's type schoolroom, but the desks and inert computer screens did not attract us to stay. A few people were tapping at keys; but I noticed that not many stayed for very long, so yet another opportunity to engage with visitors was not being effectively exploited.

                                The 3D show in a cinema area was good, enjoyable and actually brought Dickens to life as a historic icon. You could even begin to feel queasy as the animation took you on the Atlantic crossings to his US tours, and I did learn some facts about the man rather than the writer that I had not appreciated before. We were ready to leave around 4.30pm, having seen all we wanted to see, so this would not constitute a good day out for a family in my opinion.

                                Naturally, as you exit the place there is the inevitable gift shop with a range of goods and prices. Most of the items ( from books to chocolate bars and rubber tipped pencils) seemed a reasonable price and quality but we did not purchase anything.

                                All the staff throughout the venue were exceptionally friendly and helpful; clearly trying their utmost to bring the concepts to life for the few visitors that were there. I would estimate there were fewer than 100 visitors during the time that we were there.

                                It's just a pity that the attraction does not have enough charisma and adventure to generate the respect and admiration which Dickens should command. A wasted opportunity which I am sure will not survive the current economic downturn.

                                Thanks for reading.

                                Updated and enhanced from an earlier review published on Ciao.

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                                • Nestle Caramac / Chocolate / 83 Readings / 78 Ratings
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                                  02.12.2008 15:30
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                                  Unique flavoured 'choclate' bar

                                  Sitting around at the ritual family takeaway meal last Friday evening, conversation turned to the demise of Woolworth's and what would be missed. Somehow, the surrounding clutter from the discarded boxes and dishes just added to the poignancy of the topic. The elders in the room waxed lyrical about pic 'n' mix, top 10 singles and the cheapest chocolates and toys in the town at Christmas. The youngsters seemed unmoved, merely resigned that the shop had never had it; much less 'lost the plot' .............until my brother recalled the biscuit counter from our childhood where not only could you buy broken biscuits for a penny but loose 'Caramac' coated biscuits sold by the quarter pound, and suddenly a novelty stirred. They were lovingly recalled as scrummy!!! Was Caramac still around, nobody had seen it for ages and was it the same as we remembered? I was dispatched to research and find out.

                                  ** Caramac Today **

                                  I have to say that Caramac is not that easy to find today, it's not in the local petrol supermarkets and not stocked by the likes of Sainsbury or Waitremose. However it does seem to be still available in Tesco ( not the Express) and Asda and some smaller outlets, like the local Post Office cum sweetie shop. Again, it is not all as I remember to look at. The familiar 'Caramac' logo is plastered across the front of a small plastic sealed package, which is a golden yellow at the ends whilst the main body of the packaging is a sort of orange/reddish colour. Gone is the rich golden foil which used to wrap the bar and contrasting darker coloured paper sleeve which created the illusion of the riches beneath, and its now only 30 grams, which I am sure is less than half it used to be; and it costs some 37p.

                                  Undeterred I tore open the package to reveal six small rectangles of a light brown almost toffee coloured substance, each with 'Caramac' emblazoned across. The bar easily broke up into the six segments, so now for the test. I popped one in my my mouth and immediately felt a sugar rush, boy was this sweet, yet somehow still rich and creamy almost fudge like, but more solid. The texture is like regular chocolate, but I think a conventional thick square in 'Caramac' format would be quite sickly and overpowering. Perhaps that's why it's now made in such thin and petite pieces?? It certainly does not taste like real chocolate nor a mixture of white and milk chocolate as some pundits would have you believe. It is a quite unique taste and reminded me of those other candy bars like the Pink Panther bar which were around for a time. There is almost a hint of toffee perfume in the taste.

                                  Caramac is only produced in these 30 g bars toady. It is Gluten Free, Egg Free, Nut Free and is also suitable for vegetarians, however at a hefty 169 kCal, 16.3g sugar and 10.8 g fat per measly little 30 g bar, this bar certainly is not for the health conscious.


                                  **Origins & History **

                                  Caramac first hit the shops in 1959 made by the Mackintosh Company (famed for Quality Street and penny shaped toffees) and is thought to have been named as an abbreviation from caramel and Mackintosh, hence equals Caramac. No doubt the brainchild of an advertising genius. Today Rowntree Mackintosh is part of the giant Nestle corporation which is why there is a small Nestle logo at the top .left hand corner of the packaging.


                                  ** The Trip to Nostalgia **

                                  Well, there clearly will not be any more Caramac coated biscuits around form Woolworth's but could I concoct something similar to pander to my nostalgia. We had no shortcake style biscuits in the house, but I did manage to find a Rich Tea, so tried the combination of biscuit and Caramac. The result was still far too sickly and sweet so I can only conclude that my tastes have moved on, and that this memory is best left stored on the shelf at the back of my brain.


                                  Thanks for reading

                                  Posted on Dooyoo and Ciao under the same author

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