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I've had a bit of a manky dry tickly cough recently, as well as other flu symptoms, so when nipping past the pound shop in town last week, I decided to nip into the pound shop and see if there was anything there that might help. Alongside some ibuprofen capsules, I also picked up some Bells Cough Linctus, which comes in a 200ml bottle with no exterior packaging. It's an old fashioned brown bottle with a non safety cap, and it's not very fancy looking. It simply states that it is for the relief of sore throats, irritating and chesty coughs. The dosage is 2 5ml spoonfuls, up to four times a day, for those over 14. For those between 7 and 14, the dose is halved. There are many active ingredients, including Ammonium Chloride, Tussilago, Horehound, Squill and Tolu which all possess expectorant properties (meaning, disgusting as it sounds, they they help thin phlegm and mucus so it can be coughed up and gotten rid of. It also contains sodium citrate to soothe and relieve the pain of a sore throat, and menthol which helps clear congestion and provides a strong flavour base. This is a strongly flavoured medicine - it's not one that I imagine children taking happily, but I actually like the flavour, which is mostly menthol based, with something almost licorice flavoured in it. Being a linctus, this is quite thick and syrupy, helping it to coat the back of the throat and provide immediate cooling and soothing to the area. I've been using this for the last week, and find that, especially at night when the tickling and irritation are at their worst, it's been very helpful. I don't think it helped so much with the other symptoms of flu I had, the headaches, temperature, and achy muscles, but with this medicine not containing either paracetemol of ibuprofen, I have been able to use this in conjunction with both varieties of painkiller in order to minimise all symptoms. At only a pound a bottle, I think this is great value, and certainly much cheaper than many bigger brand cough medicines. I would prefer it to have a safety cap, but other than that I have no real complaints. 4 stars.
I suffer often with heartburn, and one of the products I always have to hand to enable me to cope with it is Rennie, which come in various flavours, Orange, Spearming, and Peppermint . Rennie are widely available, you can find them in any chemist or supermarket, and fortunately for me as a long term heartburn sufferer, in any corner shop too. a wide range of Rennie products designed to relieve similar symptoms, the most popular products in the range are the Rennie Tablets which come in a range of flavours. They come in a mainly red box with a smaller blue box on the front that lets you know these are Peppemint flavour, and the bottom left of the box tells you how many Rennie are included in white lettering (72 in this case). It's pretty recognizable on the shop shelves, though there are different flavours distinguished by different ribbons of colour across the box. To use this, you simply take one or two tablets at a time as required, up to a maximum of 16 tablets daily. These tablets taste really dry and chalky. But they do taste quite pleasant, and they don't cause any kind of displeasure when you chew them (and you are meant to chew them, not just swallow). I find they leave my mouth feeling dry and strange after use, but I do find that they settle heartburn and reflux for me. Reflux in particular has been a longstanding problem that can never be cured, but Rennie do make it tolerable, and at the price of 4 quid for 72 tablets, which tends to last me nearly 3 weeks, I'm happy. These work for me. I've tried all the various flavours, and I've yet to find one that doesn't leave my mouth feeling a bit dry and uncomfortable. So far, these are the best things I've found for dealing with heartburn and reflux. Does that mean they're perfect? Not by any means! But they are the best solution I'm currently aware of, for which I award them 4 stars.
I suffer from severe stress and anxiety, and one of the side effects of this is my tendency to get mouth ulcers frequently. Mouth Ulcers can be incredibly annoying, especially the ones on the underside of the tongue that end up scraping against teeth, so it's good to have something to numb them, and one of the products I use to do this is Medigel, which can be purchased in pharmacies and supermarkets for a little over £2. It's simple to use, squeeze out a small amount of the gel, and rub onto the ulcer, with treatment repeatable after 20 minutes. This has a strong, spicy mint taste to it, which is a little unpleasant, but after a few seconds your tongue won't be able to feel anything, never mind taste anything normally. This gives a very quick tingly numbness to the ulcer site, so much so that my tongue feels quite thick and heavy in my mouth. It's a really odd feeling, though not unpleasant, and it stops me from biting and scraping at my ulcer to make it work. Effects are immediate, but short term, possibly because I do drink water constantly throughout the day and wash it off. But, with it being something you can use every 20 minutes, it does do a good job of taking away the pain, albeit by distracting you with how weird your own tongue now feels in your mouth. It's not my favourite mouth ulcer treatment - I much prefer clove flavoured products, and do find that in particular Boots own brand is longer lasting and more effective, but it certainly does the trick. 4 stars, one off for not liking the taste over much.
I have a favourite old pair of trainers that I've pretty much worn to death - to the gym, out and about walking, or just for long shifts standing up at the charity shop where I volunteer. They can tend to get a little ripe, especially in the hotter months, and I've worn them so much that the inside sole is quite worn and tatty. I decided to tackle both the odour and the general tattiness by buying some foam insoles that should not only help make them more comfortable, but also a little less stinky, and opted for Scholl as they are a brand I've used in the past with some success. A pair of these unisex, cut-to-fit odour control insoles costs about a fiver, and they're available everywhere, from shoe shops and chemists to supermarket shelves. They're black in colour, about 5 mm thick, and although flexible are quite tough, requiring some good sharp scissors to cut. Although there is a cutting guideline on the insole, I'd recommend cutting a little larger than you need and trimming down, as different brands of shoes vary in size slightly. Fitting them to my shoes properly took around five minutes, starting with a larger cut and trimming down to get an exact snug match. The insoles contain a layer of activated charcoal to help eliminate odour, and anti fungal and anti bacterial agents to help keep your shoes fresh. My shoes were already pretty worn and stinky when I put these in, but they did seem to block some of the odour fairly quickly. It was after wearing that the difference became more noticeable - perhaps walking about activated it in some way, but after a couple of days wear, my shoes smelled pretty neutral, and certainly not as pongy as they had been. Walking with these insoles was very comfortable - it took a little while to get used to the softness, but really it didn't take very long to adjust to having these in at all. They actually made my battered but much loved trainers more comfortable to wear as the insides had gotten quite threadbare and scruffy. I've been using the same pair of insoles for two months now, and they still work brilliantly at keeping odours away, and absorbing sweat. They look a little worn now, and I'll probably replace them in the next month or so, but I'm very pleased with the way these have performed, and will continue to use them, and other products in the Scholl brand in future. 5 stars.
Distilled Witch Hazel is something I always have in my house- not only is it excellent at soothing dry and irritated skin, but it's also good at soothing sprains, insect bites, and tackling spots and blemishes. As someone who is often spraining my ankle due to a weak joint, and who suffers fairly regularly with spots, it's something of a bathroom staple now. The Distilled Witch Hazel it totally clear in colour, and the bottle has a blue label around the middle of it with the words Distilled Witch Hazel B.P.C written in white letters, there is also a little information on the bottle about the various uses. It comes with a white, non-childproof cap, which unscrews to reveal an ordinary bottle mouth - personally I think some kind of dispenser might be useful for times when I only need a small amount. It costs £1.59 for 200ml. This is intended for topical use only, and as such there are no real dosage instructions, simply advice to apply to the affected area with cotton wool. I mostly use this for treating spots and blemishes - using a little of this on a cotton wool pad on the spots I want to get rid of, and find it does help to reduce spots much faster than if I use nothing , and also stings much less than other products I've tried. It also feels very cool and soothing on the skin, which can make the spot less irritating and makes it less likely that I will pick at it and make it worse. I also use this on bites and itchy skin, and again found that the cooling effect provides mild immediate relief. With that said, the relief in this case is more of a temporary measure, and I do find that I often need to apply again to keep the itch or bite soothed. Whilst I don't know that I could say hand on heart that this makes the bites or itching heal faster, it has the same effect it does with the spots, of stopping me picking and scratching at them and making things worse. I've used this on all kinds of itchy skin, from heat rash to sun burn, and found the cooling relief wonderful. For use on sprains and bruises, I find that this perhaps isn't terribly effective during the day when I am active. However, at night if my sprain is aching, I actually soak a tubular bandage in this before putting it on, and find that it soothes things enough for me to get to sleep a little easier. That said, I don't feel this is as effective as using specialised pain relief gels, or even bog standard ibuprofen, and is only really 'enough' once the sprain or bruising has mostly healed. Readers of a more sqeamish disposition may want to skip over this paragraph, but I've also found this incredibly helpful for treating 'ring sting' after a spicy meal or stomach upset. A cotton wool ball soaked in this and held on the hole for a few minutes is incredibly relieving! Overall, this is a great cooling and soothing topical medicine. I can't say with certainty that it gets rid of rashes or spots themselves sooner, but what it does do is make it comfortable enough for me to not pick at and scratch them. As someone who DOES pick and scratch a lot, that means a great deal of relief for me, and a much less blemished face. The fact that it helps with the aftermath of a curry is also great, but if it's a sprain or severe bruising you've got, this may not be the most effective product for you! Three stars - works to soothe itching and irritation, but the lack of safety cap concerns me, and it's not the most powerful product out there.
I've always been aware that I should clean my tongue when brushing in order to avoid bad breath, but I'd always tried to do it with my toothbrush, which often resulted in me gagging and giving up, and never feeling like my tongue was properly clean. I decided to take a look on amazon for tongue cleaners, and among the specialist brushes, I found the Detox Tongue Cleaner, which looked like an interesting gadget that just might be up to the job. Mine came in a nice aqua blue, but other than the different colour is the same in design as the one above - a thin curve attached to two handles, each of which bears a moulded thumb imprint. It's quite flexible and bendy, so I imagine it would be suitable for most tongue sizes (although for hygiene purposes I don't imagine you'd want to share these). It had a sweet mild mint scent when new. Using this is fairly simple -putting your thumbs into the imprints, stick your tongue out and move the curved thin part to the back of your tongue, then slowly pull it forward out of your mouth along the tongue with gentle pressure, to scrape off all the gunk. It has a pleasant mint taste (although this faded after a few uses) and I was quite surprised that thanks to the design I could place this quite far back on my tongue with no gag reaction. I was also quite surprised by just how much white gunk came off my tongue. The first time I used it , I made a few passes to get my tongue thoroughly pink and clean, and it really was an easy and comfortable process. After that, I simply used it any time I brushed my teeth, and occasionally throughout the day after eating, and found that it did make my mouth feel much cleaner and my breath much nicer, something that pleased both myself and my boyfriend. My one criticism is that there are other cheaper versions out there, but this was the one I opted for as it had the highest number of positive reviews. Other than that though, I think it's a great product that really helps keep your mouth clean and your breath fresh!For £4.99 including delivery, I'm very happy with this, and award it 4 stars.
If there is one thing I hate more than anything, it's cold callers. You can almost guarantee they'll pick the most inconvenient time of day - when I'm cooking for instance, or whilst I'm on the loo, or just when things are starting to get interesting when watching a favourite TV programme. There is nothing more annoying than someone trying to sell you something you just don't want, especially when they refuse to take no for an answer and just won't budge. I never used to get it at the old house, but now that I live in a lower income area, I'm forever getting people trying to set me up with small loans, or sell me overpriced tat from the back of a van on credit. It's even worse when you're expected a parcel and dash excitedly to the door, only to discover it's someone trying to flog me double glazing. Enough was enough - knowing that my dad had a similar sign and found it had been quite effective, I decided to get myself one from amazon, which cost £3.50 including delivery. The sign measures 130mm X 50mm x 1.6mm, and is also available in white. It can be hung up, screwed into the wall, or affixed with adhesive (and does half a self adhesive backing). I opted to have mine screwed into the wall, as I wasn't too sure what damage the adhesive backing would to to my exterior paintwork. The sign simply reads 'No salesme, cold callers, or canvassers' in block capitals. The key issue is has it worked. Well, there has been a definite reduction in the number of people knocking at my door, and it's only on rare occasions that someone disturbs me during my down time. The key difference now is (given that the sign is prominently displayed and can't be missed) that I no longer feel the need to be polite to the people that intrude on my time, and can simply get rid of them with a pointed finger and a 'Can't you read? Sod off!' It's really quite liberating! Of course, I wish I'd not had to buy one in the first place, but it's cheap, and looks fairly smart. It's not the most attractive looking thing to have by your front door though, and a little part of me, the part that is always scared of causing offence, wishes it had the words 'Thank You' tacked on the end, but overall it's been pretty effective and I can't really moan.
A few years ago, my daughter was going through a bit of a Hello Kitty phase, so for christmas 2011 I got her a Hello Kitty mood lamp, which I think was around £8 in Asda at the time (not including the 3 AA batteries needed to power it). Not only did it cater to her tastes, but I was hoping it would get her out of the habit of sleeping with the light on - we'd done various things to encourage her to turn her bedroom light off at night, but she simply could not sleep in darkness at that age. Installing the batteries in the lamp is easy - provided you have the correct size screwdriver to hand, as they are secured in a childproof compartment. This can also be powered with an AC adaptor, although this wasn't included with the package. The design of the lamp is a simple Hello Kitty design - she stands in a pretty pink dress, with a pink bow, looking very sweet. The lamp is operated through an on/off switch on the base. It's only a small pull across switch, which might prove fiddly for younger users but wasn't too problematic for my daughter who was 8 at the time. Once on, it gently cycles through a range of colours - no sudden changes, just one colour seeming to seamlessly blend into another. It doesn't give off enough light to be useful as any kind of reading light, or even really to see where you are going in a darkened room, but it does stand out in a room that is otherwise dark, and for my daughter at least seemed to provide a comforting and reassuring presence that made the darkness less total. My daughter used this regularly, and did begin to sleep without the main light on, which is great as it means she sleeps more deeply, and of course that our electricity bills are reduced. She used to use it all the time for about the first year, but now only uses it on nights when she needs a little more comfort and reassurance - when she is ill, for example, or when there are loud noises outside in windy weather. The batteries have so far not needed replacing. Overall, I think this is a cute little lamp that works excellently as a comforting nightlight for children who may be scared of the dark. And of course, for any Hello Kitty fans, it's a great piece of merchandise featuring their favourite character. This is no longer sold in Asda, but can be picked up on Ebay for less than a tenner quite easily. 5 stars.
I do quite a lot of cooking at home, so prefer when possible to buy spices and herbs in bulk from my local Asian supermarket. This garlic powder costs me £1.20 for a 1kg bag. When you consider that Scwartz garlic granules cost £1.50 for a 47g jar, buying in bulk in this way actually results in a fairly big saving of around £27. Of course, this only works out well if you're actually going to use all of the powder before it begins to lose it's flavour - luckily I use a lot of garlic in pasta, to season potatoes, to create rubs for chicken, and of course in Indian cookery. However, there are smaller bags available in 400g and 100g sizes. I prefer to buy the larger bag and split it with a friend, as I find this works out the best option for me economically. The texture of this garlic powder is similar to a very fine flour, and it has quite a mild garlic taste, with none of the burn you get with raw garlic. It's also not salty at all, just a gentle garlic flavour. If stirred into a sauce, the powder simply disappears into it - you can't detect individual granules. The pack doesn't really give any guidance into what amount of this constitutes a clove, but I find a teaspoon seems to be about right for me. This has many advantages over fresh garlic - no chopping, no garlic fingers, no need to cook for a while to get the raw burn out of the flavour. For most dishes, this is an excellent and inexpensive substitute for the real thing. There are certain dishes where it doesn't work quite as well as the real thing though, including one of my favourites 'Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic' which relies on the creamy, nutty taste you get when the whole peeled cloves have been slow cooked for a while. I also find that for hoummous, I prefer the bite of real garlic, but it's all down to personal preference. This does need to be stored in a cool dry place, preferably in a air tight container. It does tend to settle and solidify after a few weeks, so benefits from a good shake up to loosen it. I also find that it can start to lose it's flavour after a few months, so I'd recommend just buying an amount you know you're going to need, or going in with your friends and splitting a pack as I do. Natco garlic powder is available from many asian/indian supermarkets, so if you live as I do in a very multicultural area it should be a doddle to find. It can also be purchased online, and I've also noticed that supermarkets such as Asda and Tesco are beginning to stock it in their 'world foods' aisles, though it does seem to cost a little more there. Overall, I give this 4 stars. Its a great substitute for fresh garlic, but it does lose flavour after a while, and there are a couple of dishes where it just doesn't work as a substitute.
My mum is a big fan and has all of Nigella's cookbooks. When she requested Nigellisima from my dad for Christmas, he accidentally got her a copy of 'Kitchen' which she already had - I was only too happy to take the duplicate off her hands, and I must say I've gotten rather more use out of it than I'd expected to, given that it was a book I probably wouldn't have purchased myself. The first 20 pages or so are comprised of an introduction , a list of must have gadgets (and those that she has purchased but, having never really used, consigned to the gadget hall of shame) and a 'kitchen confidential' section which is a list of handy little shortcuts and tips, including the surprising information that as well as being an excellent all round cleaner, bicarbonate of soda is also the first thing you should take if you feel a bout of cystitis coming on! Then it's on to the recipes themselves, which are divided into six sections 'Whats for tea?', 'Hurry up, I'm hungry!', 'Easy Does It', 'Cook it Better', 'My Sweet Solution' and 'Off the Cuff' - all of which are fairly easy to decipher as to their purpose. The recipes all come with artfully staged colour photos, either of the meal in the process of being made, or the completed dish. They almost all come with a brief introduction (as in fact do all the chapters). This is quite interesting, with tales of Nigella's travels, the best places to source particular ingredients, whether her kids eat it - and helps to inject a bit of her own personality into the book. The recipes themselves are nicely laid out, with clear recommendations on how many people it serves, a straightforward list of ingredients, and easy to follow bullet pointed instructions. So, which ones have I tried? Well, I've actually tried quite a few, which really surprised me. Having glanced through my mums other Nigella books, a lot of the recipes seemed overly complex, contained difficult to find ingredients, or just weren't the sort of thing I would eat, whereas this book seemed more towards achievable every day meals with a bit of a twist. The Tomato Curry with coconut rice has been made a few times, and as well as being delicious is incredibly easy and cheap to make, freezes well (the curry, not the rice) and is suitable for serving up to my Vegan friends when they come round. The spaghetti with marmite and parmesan is a great quick kid friendly meal when the cupboards are otherwise a bit bare, and her tip for making tiny little roast potatoes out of a pocket of gnocchi is being trotted out every Sunday now, and earning me plenty of praise because it looks like something really complicated when in fact it's simply a matter of tossing in oil, seasoning, and roasting. It's less work than real roasties, and much faster,with the result that we'll occasionally even have them with a midweek meal. I've also found that some of the recipes, Spring Chicken and Chorizo and Chickpea Stew for example, are very adaptable to the slow cooker, allowing me to prep them and put them on in the morning, get on with my volunteer work, then come home to a satisfying cooked meal at the end of the day. I've really been amazed by how easy some of the recipes are - I'm something of a lazy cook, and easily put off with things with lots of different steps in, but I think the bullet pointed style has really made it much easier for me to follow a recipe well, and has encouraged me to try things I otherwise wouldn't. I also really like that she includes notes on which parts can be made ahead, and even gives tips on how to jazz up leftovers to make them into a new meal. As with every cookbook, there are a few recipes that just don't appeal due to my own personal preferences (I'm not a big fan of seafood, for example, so I'll avoid those kind of recipes) but overall almost all of them seem like something I can do, and I have already tried many of them. I'm surprised by how practical I've found this cookbook, compared to some of Nigella's other books, which seemed focused more on entertaining type meal than on practical and filling recipes. Although I would never have purchased this book myself, I'm glad I was given it. I love the recipes, love the layout, love the colourful photographs and handy tips, and really enjoyed reading the personal introductions that came with each recipe. And even better, my family are enjoying my renewed interest in cooking. 5 stars!
In October, we went to a friends wedding in Liverpool, and opted to stay at the Liverpool Aigburth Travelodge, which was just a few minutes fro the church where the service was being held. Reserving a room was easy - we did it months in advance via the Travelodge website, and two nights stay cost us £74 (2 people, sharing a double). We took a train down to Liverpool Lime Street. The hotel is almost 4 miles as the crow flies from the station, and a taxi from station to hotel was surprisingly expensive (around £13) so I would recommend, if you can manage it, getting a bus. There is a regular bus running from the city centre to Aigburth Road every few minutes, and the inconvenience of carrying your case to the bus stop is well worth the saving of approximately £8 you'll make. Checking in was easy - a simple matter of confirming a few details, and receiving your key - a single key per room, which may be an inconvenience if two people who are sharing have separate plans. We were given clear instructions as to how to get to our room, and left to it. The room was fine. A bit basic, and a bit dated in terms of style, but very serviceable and spotlessly clean. It was also remarkable large - despite containing a king bed, two bedside tables, two chairs, a hanging wardrobe, and a desk and dressing table (complete with a fine sized mirror) there seemed to be a lot of empty space in the room. I was pleased that there were hangers in the wardrobe enabling me to hang my outfit and avoid creases, and was also pleased to note that the spacious en suite shower/toilet room including a spare toilet roll (my partner suffers from allergies in any new environment, so we knew he was going to have a sneezing fit!). I was perhaps less impressed that for a fully occupied double room, they had only provided one bath towel and one face cloth, and one tiny soap. However, as we left to visit the pub over the road, we requested one more of each to be in our room for out return, which was done at no extra charge. The pub has no bar or restaurant, but is right next to a Toby Carvery which does reasonably priced drinks and carvery meals. It also serves an all you can eat buffet breakfast. For dinner, we opted instead to try the chinese takeaway right across the road (there is also a garage, an Indian Restaurant, an Off License, a Hairdressers, a Kebab Shop, and an English restaurant just over the crossing. We took our food back to the room to eat, which was fine with the B&B staff, and then settled in for the night, having noted that we had been provided with extra towels and soap as requested. The bed, despite some initial shock at the softness of the mattress was very comfortable - cool clean smelling cotton sheets, a handy lamp on each side, and an in-room thermostat helped to make things very comfortable. There was also a window that could be opened, however the road at the front was very noisy, so we promptly shut it again. We did notice they'd been a little tight with the refreshments - 4 coffee sachets and 4 teabags per couple is fine, but really, only four sugars? And only two milks? However, the tiny travel kettle provided was spotless with not a trace of limescale. The television (which has 18 channels) was also a wee bit on the tiny side, with only a 17 inch screen. We slept very well the first night of our stay. Not so much the second - we were not the only wedding guest using the hotel, and although we went to bed early on the night, other people rolled in at two singing rugby songs very loudly, and with the doors and walls being quite thin we were woken up. The shower and toilet were spotless. The shower cubicle was huge, you could easily have fit four people in there, and it had a nice temperature and power to it (although no instructions were provided, so we had to figure that out ourselves) and the bathroom had a point for an electrical shaver. In fact, there were lots of plug points available in the room, which enabled us to have straighteners, a hair dryer, a razor, and a toastie maker (never travel without it!) plugged in at once with points to spare. Both days we had breakfast as the adjoining Toby Carvery, which was fine. It perhaps wasn't the best quality, but in terms of price and quantity, it certainly worked out very cheaply, and we were both fully satisfied. Checking out was as easy as checking in - it took probably a minute and a half at most. Overall, for the money we paid, I don't think we could expect much better. There were a few tiny niggles that prevent me from giving the full five stars - tightness with sugar and milk, no comfy smoking seat outside, and the fact that the rooms, despite being large and spotless, lacked any kind of personality, but overall I really feel our stay was great value for money.
Cannibalism has always been something I've been curious about (learning more about, I should say, not actually trying) perhaps because it's one of those things that is regarded as Taboo, at least in western culture. It's something that, in the old days of British Imperialism, we would (often wrongly) accuse tribes in 'uncivilised' parts of the world of practicing. With that said, it is something that happens. There are a small number of tribes who have historically practiced cannibalism for different reasons - to humiliate enemies, or to pay repect to their elders by eating them in the hope of taking on their traits. But it's also something that has often been practiced for survival - such as in the case of people wrecked at see, or in the Andes Flight Disaster. And sometimes, it's practiced purely for fantasy fulfillment by those whose minds work a little differently. This book explores all kinds of cannibalism. It starts off with a chapter explaining what cannibalism is, the different reasons it might be practiced, and the different ways it is viewed in different societies. It's an interesting mix of anthropology and history, and although written in a conversational tone that makes it easy to read, sets a nice educational tone for the book. Which makes it a little surprising then that after the first chapter (which to be fair is a fairly long one) the book changes tone, using case studies of individual, and taking on a more sensationalist tone using lots of gallows humour. Now, I've nothing against a book full of true crime case studies, in fact I read quite a lot of such books, but when I was expecting a book dealing more with cannibalism overall, and when the first chapter had done quite well going in that direction, it was a little disappointing - especially as none of the cases were new to me, but were all quite well known and well publicized cases that any google search would uncover - Ed Gein, Issei Sagawa, Jeffrey Dahmer, Armin Meiwes and Sweeny Todd for example. Bizarrely, the end of the book then switches tone again, explaining that at the time of writing (2008), Cannibalism was on the rise, and putting forward various reasons as to why that might be. Overall, whilst I did enjoy the book, I felt that the first and last chapters didn't really gel with the main body of the book. The small section of photographs also didn't add very much - Whilst I wouldn't have expected (or wanted) to see half eaten corpses, I was quite bored with the photos of the cannibals, as again, they were photos any web search would unveil. I think, if you like true crime books made up of short, easily readable case studies, this book might be for you. However, if you are looking to learn more about cannibalism from an anthropological or viewpoint, you're better off leaving it on the shelf. 3 stars - a think the 'A history of cannibalism' subtitle is misleading, as the book only really covers relatively modern times. Good for easy entertainment, less valuable for learning.
I first became aware of photographer Paul Koudounaris through Reddit, when someone posted a link to one of his photographs - an elaborately decorated skeleton, dripping in gold and riches, with huge jewels inserted into it's eye sockets. I've always had a slight fascination with the weird and wonderful, and wanted to know more about these pictures - luckily for me, a quick googling revealed that he'd released many of them in a book 'Heavenly Bodies'. This isn't just a tabletop photo book though - it's also a tale of how Catholicism has changed throughout the years. Before the reformation, religious relics such as saints bodies, bones, blood, nail clipping, or even foreskins were displayed in many catholic churches, where they were venerated by worshipers, and many people prayed to the relics, seeking the saints direct intercession with god on their behalf. During the reformation, many of these relics were taken out and destroyed, regarded as false idols that should not be prayed to or worshiped, and in Europe, this led a rise in various kinds of Protestantism. The Catholics however needed a way to bring worshipers back into the fold. Without these relics during in the pilgrims (who would often make donations towards the upkeep of the church) , and without the miracles of healing attributed to many of these relics, they were losing vast numbers of worshipers. Some sort of counter reformation was needed, and when a cache of bodies from the 1st century AD was unearthed under Rome, presumed to be the bodies of early Christian martyrs, it seemed like their prayers had been answered. They got them out, polished them up, gave them all names (many of them made up), and shipped them out to Catholic churches all over German speaking Europe, to the places where they most needed to bring back followers. These 'catacomb saints' were then dressed up in all manner of finery, and put on display, ready to start bringing in the crowds and performing miracles. The book lays all this out, telling of great parades held for the bones as they arrived, of how there was a great turning back to Catholicism, and of how these mistakenly identified bones performed miracles, raised funds for their communities, and became part of religious life. As a history book, it's great - engaging my interest, not at all dry to read, informative, and written by someone who clearly cares about his subject. However, it is of course the pictures here that are the real star of the show. They are amazing shots - skeletons posed standing in full battle armour, reclining on beds of flowers, being carried aloft on the shoulders of villages, or just lying with their hands clasped in thoughtful prayer. All done up in the most elaborate ways - powdered wigs, jewels, beautiful fabrics, fingers adorned with rings left as tribute by pilgrims. All of them wear elaborately designed costumes, some of them specially designed to allow the bones to be as visible as possible, others with body mostly covered up with only the hands and skull remaining visible as bone. There are even pictures of some that have been encased in wax with hardly any bone showing at all as there relics once more became unfashionable, and some particularly sad photos of some of the skeletons as they are now, hidden away in darkness or in dusty attics. A lot of my friends had seen the book on my table as I was reading through it, and many commented on it perhaps being a little macabre - but there is nothing gory or disturbing in this book at all. Of course, whether these bones are actually the bones of Christian martyrs is highly questionable - after all, most were found with no identifying markers, hence names having to be given to them. It's what they represent, rather than what they are that makes them so fascinating - our changing attitudes to life, death, and religion throughout the years. It's an absolutely fascinating book about a subject of which I wasn't aware. It was a great read, keeping me engaged all the way through, and my copy (which I received for Christmas) has already started doing the rounds of interested friends who saw my copy and commented on it. 5 stars, absolutely fascinating.
Since starting a new medication for depression some months ago, one of the unfortunate side effects has been that occasionally, when it comes to bowel movements, they need a little help keeping them moving. Having tried various sachets and tablets that dissolved into drinks to attempt to solve the problem, I'd found them mostly pretty unpleasant. So, when a friend recommended Ortisan Fruits and Fibre, a chewable fruit sweet you nibble on before bed before leaving it to do it's work, it seemed worth a try. Nibbling my recommended dose before bed time (1/2 a cube, can be increased to one cube if necessary) it was really quite tasty. The cubes are individually wrapped and about the size of a knorr stock cube ,though I can't help thinking that if the recommended starting does is half a cube, then maybe they should make the cubes smaller, as wrapping one back up when I've had half of it doesn't seem very hygienic, especially as I don't need these every night, just a couple a week. The taste is very natural and fruity - as is should be really given that the main ingredients are figs, senna, tamarind pulp, and natural orange extract. There are no colourings or preservatives added (meaning the cube is quite a deep brownish colour, and again making me question the freshness of one that is half eaten). The main flavour I get is fig, though there is also something that tastes a little tangy in there, but I'm not entirely sure what that is. The texture is sort of squishy and chewy, but not unpleasant. I washed it down, as recommended, with a glass of water before going to sleep. Nothing happened for the first half cube. The next night, I took another half cube, and went to bed again. In the morning, my trip to the loo was back to normal. My movements were moving again, which is all I could ask for. There were no cramps, no wetness, just an easy movement. I'm not sure how effective this would be if one were really backed up, but if your stools need softening just lightly to keep things regular, then these are certainly worth a try. I also think they're pretty expensive, at £10 for 24 cubes (Tesco) - although with only using half a cube at a time, and not needing to use every day, that should last me about 4 months. As with all medications, they shouldn't be used for any extended length of time without consulting your doctor, and you should also consult your GP before use if you are pregnant. These are suitable for vegetarians, but not vegans as they contain lactose. Overall, these did the trick. If I was really blocked I might turn to something stronger, but these do the job of keeping me moving. Three stars - one off for the cubes not being made smaller, rather than the unhygienic practice of closing them up again half used (after all, this is fruit with no preservatives, essentially) and one off for being a bit pricey, and not as easily available as other brands.
I came across this book by accident - a friend of mine had recommended a Japanese novel called Naoko, and a simple mis-spelling resulted in this book 'The Reason I Jump' by Naoki Higashida showing up on the list. I have a couple of friends who are at various places on the autism spectrum, as well as some friends who are parents of children with varying degrees of autism, so I thought it might be a good book for me to read, in order to enhance my own understanding, and perhaps to pass onto friends when I had finished reading. There are many books dealing with autism - from medical books stating the facts, to books written by parents on ways to cope with the challenges, to books written by education specialists telling you the best ways to engage with and educate someone with autism. There are however, relatively few written from the perspective of the autistic person themselves, and I imagine even fewer written by a thirteen year old. In fact, it's remarkable that this book even exists. Autism has varying degrees of severity, and for Naoki Higashida, at 13 when this book was written, it was very hard for him to communicate verbally or in writing. As he explains at various points in the book, he felt frustrated, and locked inside his own thoughts, with no way to express them clearly to others. It was a teacher who introduced him to an alphabet board - a board featuring letters, numbers, and punctuation that he could use to spell out words, respond to questions, and ask questions of his own. And, with his teacher writing his words down, it was then that Naoki found that not only did he have a voice, but he wanted to write so that everyone could hear it. The book begins with an introduction by author David Mitchell, himself a parent of a child with autism. I don't normally read introductions to books, but I found this one very interesting and touching to read, as it explains how his Japanese wife purchased a copy of this from Japan, and spent time translating it so that, as parents, they could both use it in order to understand their son better. Then there is a preface by Naoki himself, and this one actually made me cry, as he went to great pains to describe how worrying it was for him to realise that his autism caused stress and unhappiness to others, and about how much simpler it might be if, rather than regarding autism as a disorder and something that was 'wrong' with people, the world could treat it as just another personality trait, and his hopes that his book will help people to better understand autism, and therefore be better friends and supporters to people like himself. It's a very mature sentiment from any teenage boy! The book is written in a simple question and answer format, interspersed with short stories that Naoki has written. I found the short stories, many of which were very short and simple, very touching - many of them around the theme of finding happiness in spite of being different - whether that be beauty in nature, in flying in a plane, or in just being happy in who you are. The questions cover a range of topics, things such as 'Why do you wave your hands in front of your face?','Why do you do things you know you shouldn't do?' and 'Why are you always running off?'. Naoki responds to each question with honesty, humour, and dignity. When he can't answer, he tries to explain why he can't answer. He explains the sadness of knowing that behavior he can't easily control causes worry and hurt to others, the frustration of not being able to clearly communicate an apology, crossed with the annoyance of feeling like he has to be apologetic for being the way he is. He compares the comfort and enjoyment he finds in repeating familiar words and sentences to the enjoyment others might feel re-reading a favourite book, or watching a favourite film for the umpteenth time. He explains that far from being the loner that other people percieve him as, we wants to spend time with people, but isolates himself sometimes out of fear of upsetting others or behaving in the 'wrong' way. He explains that he loves nature because it never judges, but is simply his friend. He makes it clear isolation and lack of empathy are not symptoms of autism, but consequences of it. It's not that he doesn't desire to spend time with people, or empathise, but simply that he knows how hard it is to successfully interact with people in the 'right' way. This book made me quite sad in some places, and happy in others. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for him at times, or how lonely, but there is also a beautiful acceptance in the book - it's just the way he is, and he wouldn't change it, though he does wish sometimes other people could understand it better. By far the saddest part of the book for me were the simple repetitions of sentiments such as '"But please, whatever you do, don't give up on us. We need your help." and "The hardest ordeal for us is the idea that we are causing grief for other people." I think this book helped me understand a little more the way people with autism might actually feel about it, and this has helped me particularly in interacting more positively with friend's children who are autistic. I think it has also helped me understand the frustrations of those same friends, and empathise with how hard it can be for them. This wonderful book is available from £6.50 on Amazon.co.uk. There is also a recording of the entire book being read on Youtube if you prefer to listen to it rather than read. Either way, I would certainly recommend it, and have already been sharing it out amongst my friends. 5 stars.