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venice105

venice105
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Member since: 29.08.2006

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      07.08.2013 13:08
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      Fairly disposable lip crayon that won't break the bank, not much staying power or pigment

      I purchased the Boots. No.7 High Shine Lip Crayon with the aid of my handy voucher a couple of weeks back (£3 off cosmetics, used to be £5, don't think we haven't noticed Boots!). This lip crayon is a fairly blatant rip off - ahem, imitation of another more expensive brand, the Clinique Chubby Stick (worst name for a beauty product ever?). But that's ok, seemingly everyone is doing it, with Revlon and various other companies rolling out their own crayon.

      The idea behind the lip crayon is that it is a sheer, idiot proof sort of wash of colour - not as gloopy as a gloss, nor as dense as a lipstick. Perfect for summer then. The No.7 version retails at £9.00, which means you could buy two of these for the price of one chubby stick. Ahem. Ok I'm going to stop saying that now, it's just wrong.

      These come in five shades, a reddish, a plummy, a pink, a coral, and a sheer nude type. The orange-y one grabbed my attention, usually I go for plummy pinks but am trying to break out of my lippy comfort zone so have been experimenting with more sunny hues of late. A swipe of it across my wrist creates a sheer, shiny orange wash that intrigues me. I tend not to test things on my actual mouth because Eew, cooties. It is ineptly named "delicate pink", when anyone with eyes can see the lid is bright orange and the product itself is a sheer coral.

      Anyway, the whole crayon concept is fun, new(ish) one that appeals to the kid in me, I'm sure the people who originated the idea are super pleased with themselves. I could not wait to try this product out when I bought it. It sounds silly, it's just lipstick, but it's a new lip concept that will totally change the presentation of lips forever right? I must admit I had tried the Clinique version at the makeup counter, and I was pretty enamoured of it. However, I waited to see how long it lasted and sadly it was a very short lived pink pout. After a few sips of water it was pretty much gone.

      Unfortunately, my No.7 lip crayon is also not very pigmented. It does create a pretty wash of sheer colour with a nice, properly glossy shine, but leaves little if any imprint for more than an hour if you are lucky. I'm sure lip liner would help this but for me the whole appeal of these products is their effortless, idiot proof appeal. I can apply this without looking and know that I won't look like a clown. It does bleed a bit but it's basically just shine so it doesn't look very noticeable.

      This product looks brighter on my skin test than on my lips, I presume that is because my lips are slightly more pigmented than is ideal for this shade. Although from the colour of it I had high hopes it would have a bit more impact to it. It applies fairly evenly but always seems to just sit on top of the lips. It doesn't seem to stain the lip or build with added layers, when it does fade there is just a bit of leftover sparkle. I do wish the shade were slightly bolder, there is a bit too much gold sheen/shimmer in it for my liking, and I was not intrigued enough by the other colours to buy another version of this. If you are looking for a real pop of coral I wouldn't bother with this one unless you have very pale lips. I don't expect these sorts of products to produce lipstick style colour, but I have been more impressed with the pigment in other "sheer" lip products like L'Oreal Rouge Caresse for instance.

      The crayon itself is a thick stick with a chunky "crayon" type tip. The lid stays on pretty snugly thus far though there is nothing to stop it coming off either. I do not like that the product cannot be retracted, as rather a big chunk of it is exposed when you buy it, were it to break off you would be stuffed. It does roll up, but does not retract all the way. This is pretty stupid construction in my opinion that is designed for mess and disaster should the lid fall off in your purse. I'm not sure how long this will last, it is hard to judge how much more product is in the tube and I am afraid to roll it up all the way in case it breaks/doesn't retract. I don't think there is an awful lot more than what is on display however.

      All in all, this Boots No.7 lip crayon falls a bit short for me. That said, it is handy as a light, lip balm type thing that I don't have to fuss with. It feels nicely moisturising, isn't tacky feeling, is taste and odour free and doesn't dry my lips out so far as I can tell. I think the darker shades might have better pay off but I'd be hesitant to buy another (oh okay maybe with the voucher...).

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        02.08.2013 12:12
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        Enjoyably voyeuristic account of possibly the most famous love affair of the 20th century

        Furious Love is a biography of the love affair/marriage/tempest that was the fusion of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Or as the tagline boldly reads "The Marriage of the Century". I must admit I got hooked into buying it after reading a few juicy excerpts. The book garnered a lot of publicity when it was first published in 2010 due to its purported unrivalled access to "very close" sources to the couple and previous unseen excerpts from the diaries and love letters of Burton in particular. It is co-written by Sam Kashner and Nancy Shoenberger, both scribes at Vanity Fair with c.v.'s that mostly involve this sort of thing.

        This book is most definitely in the "guilty pleasure" category for me, it has been a while since I read a celebrity tome but this one proved too irresistible to ignore. The couple are probably known to many for their notoriously tempestuous relationship, having married and divorced twice. They were the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson of their day, really.

        The book has a decent introductory section outlining the pair's respective childhoods and lives before they came to meet one another. The contrast in their childhoods is a dramatic one. Elizabeth was a baby starlet from her youth, appearing most famously in National Velvet. With well to do parents, she was privileged but also a bit of a caged bird. Her first two marriages were essentially studio arranged affairs that ended badly due to no real fault of her own (her first husband, a Hilton heir, was a proper creep).

        Burton, by contrast, was a poor Welsh miner's son (12th of 13 children), whose mother died young, resulting in him being raised by his elder sister. His remarkable voice and talent for reading poetry was noted by a schoolmaster who took enough interest in him to pay for his schooling and aided him in attaining a scholarship to drama school.

        A decent and measured psychological analysis of the two builds to a clearer picture of the personalities they were by the time they met. Elizabeth was genuinely in love with her third husband Mike Todd, who died tragically in a plane crash - her subsequent scandalous marriage to his best friend, Eddie Fisher, seemed a peculiar reaction. Fisher was famously married to Debbie Reynolds. By all accounts the marriage was over on both sides, although public sympathy for Debbie was high and not for the first time Elizabeth was painted as the villainous vamp. Elizabeth's somewhat roughshod approach to maintaining a husband at all times isn't met with much criticism in the book it has to be said, but at the same time it is more understandable in the context of the times, when most Hollywood marriages were part of a peculiar caste system laid out by the studios.

        Elizabeth's diva-esque tendencies are described lovingly and amusingly. It is hard not to admire her tenacity; she was the first actress to break the shackles of the studio contract system. After being burned a few times she learned to play hardball, usually always having some part in the choice and production of her projects, which was virtually unheard of in her day.

        Meanwhile Burton was, although married, cutting a swathe through the theatre and film actresses of England. He is portrayed as a sort of leonine, more sexually potent Olivier. He was highly vaunted as the actor of his generation, yet like most actors was full of self-doubt, which he drowned in drink seemingly as a matter of course. He is portrayed as a real man's man, a rake, and a loyal friend if quite a cruel drunk at times. The descriptions of his friendships and affairs paint a very vivid picture of the man, not having seen much of his work I came away curious to see more.

        Elizabeth is portrayed slightly more sycophantically I felt, one can only read so many descriptions of a woman's beauty (and I do not dispute she was a stunner), before they get a bit tedious. On the flip side they do describe her weight battles and the slight trouble they gave her career, although in this day and age it is hard to imagine a thirtyish slightly chubby actress would still get the roles that she did. She really wasn't very vain and in general couldn't be bothered worrying about her weight, aside from when she was told to slim down.

        At any rate, the pair's momentous meeting finally occurs on the set of Cleopatra. Although apparently not. It emerges that Burton saw Taylor at a Hollywood pool a few years prior and was rather smitten, while apparently she claimed not to have noticed him. At long last anyway, they meet, Burton having been wrangled in to the epic production of Cleopatra to lend it some thespian class, Taylor being the star attraction. Burton tries to take Elizabeth down a peg or two but cannot resist her charms for long. They are irresistibly attracted to one another and their affair was notoriously all consuming. Both seemed to have forgotten their spouses altogether from the moment they laid eyes on one another. Taylor's marriage was a damp squib seemingly from the start and Burton had been cheating on his long suffering wife for so long that the whole thing does feel sort of inevitable. The difference being that Burton actually threw caution finally, completely to the wind once Taylor took over his Welsh dragon of a heart (apologies, florid prose is catching).

        The film's production was notoriously over-budget, fraught with fired directors, producers and Taylor's ill health (quite how she managed to cement the love of her life whilst in and out of hospital is in and of itself impressive). The Italian paparazzi were on to the Burton Taylor scent long before stalker journalists were the norm, and the two became the focus of worldwide attention once intimate shots of them frolicking on a yacht went global. The Pope weighed in and denounced them, and for a time the couple were shut in's, being public enemy number one. The immense drama of their situation seems almost quaint in this day and age, but is recreated with great detail and import.

        The fact that Burton remained reluctant to divorce his wife infuriated Taylor. He seemed for a time to think he could continue on as he had done in the past. He underestimated his latest conquest and his own affection for her. Elizabeth swallowed a bunch of sleeping pills to spite him and nearly died. This sort of melodrama would really set the tone for the rest of their tempestuous relationship.

        Even after they were married, they were either madly in love or fighting like a couple of drunken alley cats by all accounts. The detailed descriptions by various named friends and cohorts lend credence to this. They lived on yachts and in tropical climes, sunning and boozing in an early lustful haze that sounded momentarily idyllic. The description of their time in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico while filming Night of the Iguana, is particularly evocative and paints a picture of their life being about as close to sanguinity as they ever got.

        Forming their own film company, they initially refused to work without each other, with mixed results. They veered from acclaimed work like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to several film choices that were a bit underwhelming. At the same time Liz was very concerned with promoting Dick as the crème de la crème actor of his era, trying to line up theatre projects for him at every turn. The common consensus of the negative impact on the career trajectory of Burton due to his relationship with Liz is something the authors take great pains to disprove. She was often cited as the thing that held him back from achieving greatness on stage, but the book fairly points out her encouragement of his stage work. The ill timing of most of his Academy Awards nominations is addressed; the guy just seemingly could not catch a break when it came to career recognition (seven Oscar nominations, no wins, a record shared with Peter O'Toole). Memorably a drunken John Wayne approached him the night he won for True Grit and said the award should belong to Burton.

        Speaking of drink, it really is worth noting the booze was virtually the third person in their relationship. Burton's ability to imbibe mass qualities of alcohol without suffering for it lessened with age, unlike Taylor whose addiction was seemingly slightly less intrinsic/ easier for her to take or leave, at least in her younger years. The accounts of their consumption are simply staggering and one wonders how they managed to stay upright, let alone work. Richard's whiskey consumption per play performance would have sunk most men trying to match it in a week. They seemed to get along best when both were drinking - to a point. Richard would go through brief periods of sobriety, usually unfortunately timed when Elizabeth was not. Their inability to synch up on this front does seem to have played as big a part in their eventual downfall as anything else.

        Both suffered much tragedy and loss in their lives -with Richard the loss of certain friends and family members seemed particularly to push him past caring when it came to self-destruction. It is truly sad to read about the wasting and obliteration of the talent that he had, his body was a complete ruin by the time he was still a relatively young man. Burton was epileptic but ashamed of his illness; Taylor tried to promote awareness of the illness on Burton's behalf in a seeming effort to encourage him to accept it. Both had additional numerous incidences of chronic ill health, aside from the drinking, which of course did not aid matters.

        Their opulent spending is addressed in great detail, and while it is mind boggling, at the same time I found it bizarrely not as distasteful as I might have thought. They might have flown meals on private jets from their favourite restaurants and bought jewels so expensive they had to be kept in bank vaults, but their lavishness is portrayed as them simply not caring about money. They are generous with friends and family and do lots of work for charity, so their gaudiness is slightly lessened. Still largely stupefying though, and certainly a lifestyle most can only gawp at. It seemed like a bit of a game for them, and they did fritter most of their combined fortune away unsurprisingly.

        The decline of their relationship, from fire and fury to bitterness and Richard slipping back into his old ways, is a sad one. The two seemed to genuinely love one another, but it was not enough to surmount their duelling egos and addictions. Their passion seemed not to dull, but their tolerance for the slights and slurs did over time. The accounts of the barbs they flung at one another are quite painfully vicious. They also never established a home base for long, their gypsy lifestyle adding glamour and jewels to their arsenal but perhaps not the stability they needed

        Even after the divorce, the botched second attempt and subsequent second divorce, both attempted to cling on and reconnect, rarely ever completely out of each other's lives. No matter how much enmity they built up, it seemed to fizzle when one or the other started to get sentimental. Elizabeth in particular seemed to flounder after they split, largely retreating from films and marrying some strange types even for her.

        Their last gasp at creative partnership, a theatrical production of Noel Coward's Private Lives, was amusingly recreated by BBC4 in "Burton and Taylor" last week. Helena Bonham Carter made a lovingly observed vision of Liz in all of her blowsy middle aged glory. West captured some of Burton's charm but lacked a bit of the cocksure swagger I envisioned. The fact that they still possessed such passion and fire during this production, and that they chose to work together regardless of their exhausting past is peculiar, yet reflective of their very melodramatic relationship I suppose. The "can't live with them/without them" epithet seems tailor made for these two.

        Furious Love paints quite a vivid, if at times slightly too worshipful picture of the iconic couple. Perhaps because it is so warts and all the authors took greater pains to show the couple's positive traits; I just felt it was unnecessary at times. Everyone knows they were two beautiful, talented, sadly tortured souls when it came to each other.

        The excerpts from Burton's diary and letters add greatly to the understanding of the man's passion, not to mention his many unprintable compliments for Liz that did reflect his adoration for her better than any biographer could.

        The book moves at a decent pace and is by and large very well written, with the exception of arguably too much exposition. While I appreciate the attention to detail and authentic stories, it seems the authors found themselves spoilt for choice with new accounts and couldn't bear to edit some out. It feels positively epic in scope at times despite only encompassing a thirteen year love affair (give or take). They do an admirable job of trying to contextualise and give meaning to such an iconic relationship. The varying accounts do add up to something that feels true, it would seem that most everyone who knew them had sympathy for both parties.

        I came away from reading this slightly exhausted, feeling as though I had imbibed every whiskey along with Burton and been through the mill with Liz's tantrums. I don't know how on earth they managed it. They were certainly one of a kind and I enjoyed their story, tragic though it may be. It is well worth a read for fans of either, or even just those curious about a different era in filmmaking.

        Along with the previously unpublished (although I think since they have been in a separate book) Burton notebooks and letters are a couple of Burton penned poems. There are also several pages of lovely photos.

        "I am forever punished by the gods for being given the fire and trying to put it out. The fire, of course, is you" - Richard Burton

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          31.07.2013 14:29
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          Myth Busting this overpriced cream.

          I feel a bit silly writing a review of this product, but in the interests of gullible consumerism I feel sort of obliged to. Clarins Bust Beauty Firming Lotion has been around for quite some time, so someone out there must be suckered into buying it once in awhile. They also have an Extra-Lift Bust gel, in case you weren't convinced by this one I suppose.

          First off let me state that I did not fork out my own money for this, I tested it for a well known beauty review book. There is a certain pleasure that comes with receiving insanely silly products like this to test, as in all honesty you can't help but wonder if the crazy people who have money to burn are walking around with abnormally pert breasts thanks to French lotions. I may not be gullible enough to buy this, but I most certainly will lather it on in the interests of "science".

          I would have thought my assets might be what this company had in mind - being childless, the only major toll that has occurred is, you know, gravity. I am their ideal candidate - unattracted to surgical intervention but still wanting to remain as upstanding as possible. That said I notice they also categorize this for pregnant women on their website, no doubt because that market is particularly exploitable in its self image vulnerability.

          Anyway, this cream comes in a rather small glass bottle for a body lotion, I guess they justify this by the merit of you only applying it to one small (or large depending) area of the body. It is rather a thin lotion with a pump dispenser and has a pleasant but not overpowering scent. It does smell expensive. Clarins are not known for their skincare for nothing I guess, and were I inclined to spend lots of money on moisturiser they might be my first port of call. This absorbs easily but does leave a very slightly sticky film on the skin.

          You are meant to apply it in circular, upward movements. This part just makes me giggle and I feel a bit stupid doing it. I really don't see how it can make any possible difference in which direction this is applied. You are also meant to apply this in the evening, as I presume this is when magic bosom lifting miracles are more likely to occur.

          Clarins marketing team manage to put out this description of their product, I wonder how they do it with a straight face:

          "Support your breasts! Get them back into great, young-looking shape with a night-time treatment formulated with Vu Sua and Bocoa extracts--two ingredients that form an invisible "natural bra" that instantly help restore firmness and tone to the bust area. Replenishes and helps tighten skin from base of breasts to chin. Results improve with continued use."

          There is also a (sfw) how to video of a foetus demonstrating the very important application process here : http://www.clarins.co.uk/Bust-Beauty-Firming-Lotion/C020303005,en_GB,pd.html

          For the reasonable sum of £38, they are promising you newer, younger bosoms. A "natural bra" no less, is a pretty hefty claim. I used the entire bottle dear reader, and let me assure you they are fibbing. I will say it does have a very slight, temporary firming effect, but I have had the same results with far cheaper high street lotions. This lasted me approximately a month with regular application so this would be a very expensive temporary fix indeed. Save your money for less ludicrous ventures, or even a more worthy folly than this.

          I resisted reviewing this product because let's be honest it's a bit cringe inducing, but I figured I would claw back some pennies (despite not spending any) on behalf of women everywhere who feel pressured to submit to seemingly harmless measures like this. I think it is insidious that companies make money with blatant, ageist, body shaming lies. A generic "firming cream" I take less issue with - but this company has the gall to insinuate younger, fuller body parts can be obtained with this lotion, and for that I think they should be forced to donate money to a worthy cause - as that is unlikely all pennies from this review will go to one, I promise.

          I am giving it two stars instead of one because it does have some slight efficacy and smells nice, but honestly you can get the same effect with much cheaper pharmacy products.

          Magic ingredients: there is not a full list online and I no longer have the bottle, here is some of what is in it:

          Vu Sua extract : strengthens firming collagen, protects against free radicals.
          Centella Asiatica : strengthens, tones.
          Bocoa : firms, renews.
          Pomegranate: smoothes.
          Vitamin B5 : hydrates.
          Vitamin E : protects against free radicals.

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            30.07.2013 13:53
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            Suburban drug lord comedy that delivers laughs and twists and turns aplenty

            Weeds is a recently defunct U.S. (Showtime) television series starring Mary Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother and recent widow who also happens to be a producer/dealer of the green drug in the title.

            I received this box set last Christmas and have since watched the rest of the series which finished this year after 8 seasons. Like most long running shows it had occasional dips in quality in the last few seasons, with the last one being by far the weakest. This box set encompasses the first four however and in fairness only dips slightly in quality in my opinion in the 4th season. Well how best to go about describing a box set without giving away any huge spoilers? Especially with a show as eventful and changeable as this one? Tricky...

            The central character, Nancy, is complex, to say the least. A devoted mother who at the same time continually puts her family in danger with her chosen profession, she is prone to making rash, risk taking decisions that as dealer often pay off in her favour - "Fortune favours the bold" could be Nancy's mantra. She is at times incredibly unsympathetic and you do want to slap her for her narcissistic danger junkie-ism. At the same time she can use her seeming fragility to boldly flip advantage to her side. Her oftentimes blasé attitude in the face of mortal danger is something the show plays with throughout, and is reflected in part/explained by the fact she is in mourning, especially in the first two seasons. The sense of "(Insert appropriate swear) it, what else can go wrong?" seems to be driving her often manic behaviour.

            Nancy is the mother hen, surrounding herself with men who aid and nurture her often rashly idiotic ways. Her brother in law, Andy, played by the effervescently witty Justin Kirk, is a sort of aimless philosopher/male nanny/sexual deviant. He is better at holding down the fort than Nancy, but his character has numerous comical mishaps of his own. He is particularly weak when it comes to women, including Nancy, and this is usually the source of his downfall.

            Her two sons, Silas and Shane, are also making their way after the loss of their father, and adjusting to their mother's newfound profession (which she does keep secret from the youngest, for a while anyway). Silas is a teenage boy who is relatively well adjusted, if a tad dense on occasion. Shane is just a little kid at the start but he is the brainier of the two with antisocial tendencies that sometimes border on sociopathic.

            Agrestic is the incestuously suburban Californian town where they live, populated by numerous supporting characters. Notables are Elizabeth Perkins as the enjoyably overbearing busybody Celia, and Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon as the laid back to the point of idiocy local councillor Doug. With all the strings of the town inexplicably in his pocket, his character arc if you can call it that is perhaps the most unpredictable.

            Weeds rarely attempts to moralise over Nancy's job, although she does fall into it in a fairly haphazard way. She basically was a pampered wife with no real desirable job skills and found herself in the position of having to provide for her family as they had become used to. She herself is not interested in drugs, it is strictly a profession which does snowball over time in its effects on her life. The show does get a healthy dose of humour from the subject but rarely goes for the obvious. More often than not it is plot driven with a fairly impressive web of character and plot development. The crime and strife all come from the superficial aspects surrounding its production.

            I do think, despite the fairly ludicrous nature of its premise, it does a good job of portraying how a small time, suburban drug dealer like Nancy might progress in the world. Her product, much like Walter White's in Breaking Bad, is superior to everything else on the market, and so she enters into inevitable competition and conflict with less savoury types of dealers.

            There is much power manoeuvring, with Nancy using the unexpectedness of her suburban mom status to full advantage. The other big guns vary from not knowing what to make of her to underestimating and being outplayed by her at nearly every turn. She is also not afraid to use sex as a weapon or get out of jail free card. This element of the show has inspired some controversy and while I can see why, Nancy is never a victim; she is always in control of her actions. Of course there is a level of uneasiness but it never made me feel outraged as a female or anything, as she is essentially transforming into a gangster in suburbia.

            She forms an uneasy partnership with another dealer Heylia, and her nephew Conrad. Together they grow a strain of hydroponic weed they dub "MILF". Back when the term was still sort of underground.
            The most enjoyable aspects of this series for me are the comedic interplay of the characters and the constant unexpected changes that crop up. Most of the series end with big cliff hangers. The show's creator Jenji Kohan found plentiful ways of keeping the pace moving, sometimes to its detriment in some people's opinion.

            I don't think it is a huge spoiler to say that this show changed locations several times throughout its run, it would have been implausible for it to stay in one place after a certain point. This did lead to a sacrifice in the original charms of the suburban setting being so snarkily subverted. But this in turn opened up numerous other doors, including brilliant cameos/supporting turns by the likes of Albert Brooks, Richard Dreyfuss and Jennifer Jason Leigh to name a few.

            By intermittently starting the reset button throughout, it did allow the story arcs to open back up and go in new directions. I think this could have diluted the overall effect of the show, and perhaps it did slightly, but the characters' foibles and patterns remain the same. It takes far more than the first half of its run(this boxset) for the characters to even begin to grow or transform beyond their usual patterns.

            The kids are the only ones growing up here, and they of course have their own issues from growing up with Nancy as a mother. Nancy is slowly re-entering the world of dating, which of course in her situation brings up its own problems.

            The first couple of seasons are probably my favourite, the fourth is a bit weaker and I found the Mexican druglord stuff took away too much from what made the show great. I do feel they got the show largely back on track in subsequent series though so it is worth sticking with it if like me you get a bit fed up in seasons 4 and 5. It is quite a good box set to binge watch as each episode is only a half hour long. The first season had ten episodes, the second 12, the third 15 and the fourth 13 which seems a bit random.

            This dvd box set is packed with treats for fans to savour, from mock talk shows hosted by the sages Andy and Doug, to Andy's advice on how to score chicks, to cookery advice for anyone looking for that extra special ingredient. As tongue in cheek as they portray the drug itself, I don't feel the show marginalises the consequences of the drug trade in the slightest. It does have dark moments of consequence for Nancy, nowhere near as dark as Breaking Bad though as this is essentially a comedy.

            Mary Louise Parker is just wonderful in the part, I think she deserved every plaudit (she won the Golden Globe and she and the show were nominated for most things at various points), and then some for creating such a brave, unapologetically complex character. It was trailblazing in its way and I really don't think some of the messy, flawed female lead characters we are seeing now would be around (Carrie in Homeland, Jackie in Nurse Jackie) were it not for Nancy Botwin.

            I find that I often remember funny lines or scenes from this show, the witty banter of Andy in particular was always my favourite. The humour is often irreverent and subversive without being averse to the occasional broad slapstick either. There are some truly memorable characters that for me always lifted it when it was in danger of sliding irretrievably down a silly plot slope. I highly recommend this for fans of quirky comedy that requires a little bit of mental investment.

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              24.07.2013 17:42
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              An Italian, celeb run restaurant chain that fails to meet basic expectations.

              I ventured to Jamie's Italian in Glasgow for lunch with friends one rainy Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago. The expanding Oliver chain had planted a
              branch in my city as well earlier this year which I had yet to try.

              I was quite looking forward to this, despite markedly underwhelming reviews of my local branch I held out hope. How bad could it be? I thought, surely the man who trekked round Italy in a VW camper van must have picked up some gastronomical pleasures to share on a mass market level with the nation?
              Despite my griping, I don't actually mind Oliver as a t.v. chef, I like that his food is simple and straightforward, and genuinely admire his efforts to stop the nation's children from porking out to American proportions.

              We arrived at the restaurant, just off George Square, rain soaked and overnight suitcase encumbered. The door staff helpfully offered for us to store our bag with the pram brigade's baggage.

              The space is quite vast, with high ceilings, "exposed" (pretty sure much of it was fabricated/not original) pipes, and rather a lot going on. There is a large deli counter looking space at which little appears to be going on from which fancy looking meats are hung. There is a large table with piles of artisan bread as you walk in (none of which we were offered gratis). There is a display with Oliver artefacts like olive oil and chopping boards for sale. Hey Jamie, I came here to eat, not to cook, mate!

              We were a party of 7 (5 adults, 2 kids), seated at a spacious long table. The seats were a sort of red, cafeteria style plastic, the tables were wood. I think the whole thing was going for urban industrial chic or some such, according to the website all of the restaurants have unique décor. The overall effect was a bit cold and cacophonous at once. The downstairs area has a bar and more intimate seating for those looking for a quieter dining experience. Also very old toilets by the inventor of the toilet Thomas Crapper(!) according to my friend, with which the toddler in the group was endlessly fascinated. The kids were also provided with crayons and paper, as well as a viewfinder toy with the menu inside which kept them momentarily amused.

              The service was very attentive, if slightly harried. We were read a list of the specials which were also posted on a board approximately a mile away (it would be helpful to have more than one board in such a vast space as this). The menu has a wide array of Italian pasta dishes, as well as plenty of choices for the non-pasta enthusiast.

              The menu was full of very yummy sounding dishes and it took us a while to decide. I went for the baked chestnut mushrooms to start - described as prepared with "smoked thyme & crispy "music bread". For the main I went for the smaller (I presumed lunch portion, they have two price points for the pasta and risotto dishes) "Land and Sea Risotto" - "with spicy Italian sausage, pancetta, mussels, clams, white wine, black olives, sweet baby tomatoes & field mushrooms.".

              Our food arrived after a slight wait, with the children's burgers arriving first. I have to say the burgers for the kids were miniscule - two mini-burgers on a plate. Luckily neither child was particularly interested in the food or they might have gone hungry. They came with a side salad in a jar that you are meant to shake to season - a bit of a foolhardy serving idea for kids in my opinion but the toddler had fun with it nonetheless!

              Everyone else who had a starter went for the ciabatta with buffalo mozzarella (I think it was the special). There was either a miscommunication or they ran out of mozzarella because it was in fact ricotta cheese. No one complained though, as we were all hungry and the place was a bit busy to be sending stuff back.

              My starter was a bit uninspired. The "crispy music bread" was in fact soggy mushy bread that had been baked with some cheese and a few sliced mushrooms scattered on top. It wasn't exactly what I was expecting when
              I ordered baked mushrooms and I have to say it was pretty underwhelming. The cheese had a nice smokiness, I did wonder if I had ordered what I thought I had; though looking at the menu again I can see I was maybe expecting more of a stuffed mushroom.

              The mains arrived relatively promptly after that. Two of our party had ordered the special, a linguine with sardine dish, one had the burger, and hubby had the Jimmy's Farm Italian Sausage (Jimmy being Jamie's fellow t.v.chef mate who has a farm). Hubby enjoyed the sausage, and for research I had a bite - it was indeed very good. For £10.95 though it seemed a bit paltry to not come with any carb on the side (Is Jamie trying to streamline us all?). This kind of thing just irks me.

              My risotto was....sigh. Where to begin. Well the seafood, what little of it there was, was nice and fresh. The bits of sausage and olives and things were lovely, although it did seem at least one flavour too many to me. The risotto itself was hugely disappointing. Now I am not an expert, but I do cook risotto, and have had it enough times in restaurants to have some idea (I think) of what it's supposed to be like. Maybe this was some sort of very special risotto, but it was just unlike what I have become used to - more like a split grain rice, in rather a lot of broth (a big no no as far as I understand risotto is meant to absorb all the liquid). Just as well there were approximately three or four spoonfuls of it on my plate then.

              My fellow diners were less than blown away by the under al dente cooking of the pasta as well. "Practically inedible" was one comment. I think the only happy customer was my friend who had the burger, which did look lovely and came with a generous serving of polenta chips, which were quite nice.

              We also split the "Epic Brownie" for pudding (I was still famished), as my friend recommended it. It was indeed a lovely warm gooey brownie, definitely death by chocolate. The small spoon of amaretto ice cream was nice but there was not enough of it to cut the denseness of the brownie and its gooey chocolate sauce. It also had caramelised amaretti popcorn on top which was just a bit pointless and added nothing to the dish.
              The brownie was so big and rich that the five of us did not manage to finish it.

              I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed and disappointed by the food here - while some of the raw ingredients are obviously high quality and fresh, the quality of the cooking is pretty sub-par, especially given the prices. If a place purports to be "Italian", they really need to learn how to get the basics right for a start.

              I would definitely not recommend you go for the small portion unless you have a bird like appetite. The service was fine, the ambience a bit chaotic and loud. I doubt I would return of my own volition.

              Jamie's Italian seems to have expanded rapidly into many major cities, so if you are still curious it shouldn't be difficult to find one- although in this diner's opinion I can't see them sticking around for long unless major improvements are made. Chain restaurants serve a purpose, but this one is neither affordable nor reliable enough to serve even that basic function.

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                12.03.2013 11:37
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                Aloof fine dining, fine for those who enjoy that sort of thing!

                Cafe Montmartre is a restaurant in Aberdeen that has been around for some time. I have always heard good things about it but "French Food" is never something that came up as top of our to do list when choosing a restaurant. At any rate, a friend of ours was in town and had enjoyed it previously, so there we went one frosty Saturday eve.

                The atmosphere is slightly peculiar when you walk in. The tables are set in a very "fine dining" manner, with white tablecloths and a fairly sterile ambiance. The place wasn't terribly crowded either which always leads to more self consciousness when there are half a dozen staff staring you up and down as you walk through the door. There is an attempt in the decor to recreate an "authentic" French restaurant - i.e. wood beams and other accents. It vaguely reminded me of a restaurant in the Latin Quarter, without the warmth unfortunately. I don't know if it was the high ceilings, the slight starkness of the rest of the decor, or the stiffness of the service, it just felt a slightly mismatched amalgamation of style.

                However these things can be overlooked if I am properly fed. The menu was relatively small, with a half dozen or so options for each course there should be something to suit everyone who isn't terribly fussy/a vegetarian (I speak as a former veggie). There were a few nods to traditional French cuisine - escargots, steak tartare, etc, but the dishes seemed largely cooked in a more rustic, simple manner than the heavy sauces and such one might think of as "French".

                Getting the distinct impression that portions would not be generous, we all opted for starters. Myself and a friend opted for the mussels, my husband had the soup, and our other friend had a tart of some sort (ooh er). There was freshly baked crusty bread and nicely softened butter, deliciously simple but surprisingly hard to find in our dining experiences where we live. All were satisfied, the mussels were a generous portion and perfectly cooked, served in their steaming pot. This always reminds me of New England which I love. They were steamed in a light Pernod sauce that had an aniseed flavour however so might not be to everyone's taste (no allowances were mentioned in terms of this but we were both happy with the slightly unusual flavouring as it didn't overwhelm the mussels). We had a bottle of (French) red wine which was decent if no doubt overpriced.

                For the main my husband and I opted for the sea bass, our friends had the monk fish and chicken, respectively. The food was by and large cooked well and seasoned perfectly. The fish had a nice crispness but was still soft and fleshy. The fillet was definitely on the small side and for the price I did find this a bit stingy. It was served on a bed of "char grilled Mediterranean vegetables",which were a bit underwhelming as this consisted of peppers and some overworked scraps of courgette. No lovely aubergine or anything else exciting/imaginative. I think there were approximately two small wedges of new potato. This was perplexing to me. If a dish isn't meant to come with potatoes, fine, I will order them on the side (although I do find this irksome). But to throw two tiny lumps of potato on a plate seems an afterthought. My husband in particular was still famished after his main.

                Our companions were happy enough with their lot, with one remarking his monk fish portion was even nicer and larger than it had been the last time he'd ordered it. We all had plenty of room for dessert, which is a novelty for me after two courses.

                I opted for the apple tarte with ice cream, memories of warm tarte tatins fresh from the baker in Paris swirling in my head. My husband had the chocolate torte, our companions opted for the creme caramel. My tarte arrived and I could tell by looking at it that it was to be a mediocre tarte, sadly. Lukewarm, a bit bland, no bite to the apples, no crispness or butteriness to the tarte crust, with a generous if unremarkable splodge of vanilla ice cream. Yawn. Sorry but for the better part of £10 I expect something a bit more special than this. As is my wont I seemed to have picked the dessert dud on the menu as everyone else was happily sated if not blown away.

                I do find the laziness/incompetence of restaurants in regards to desserts endlessly frustrating though it must be said. It is the one course that is meant for adulterated pleasure & indulgence - most people who order dessert do so as a treat, yet sadly the experience is rarely fulfilling. I could have picked up a nicer tarte in M&S for half the price.

                The service was efficient if not very friendly, again just a bit cold which seeing as the place was near enough empty on a Saturday night you would think they would make more of an effort to get return customers (I think by the end a half dozen or so parties had trickled in - our reservation was it would seem unnecessary).
                Restaurants like this frustrate me as for whatever reason they proliferate my town. Expensive, ultimately unfulfilling (if I am still peckishly hungry after three courses that is a fail), and yet they continue to thrive. We dropped the equivalent of half a week's grocery shop in this place, it is ludicrous (we don't usually eat at such stupidly priced places if that's not obvious already!).

                In conclusion, if you are flush with cash, as many are in this oil rich town, this may be right up your street. As for me, I wouldn't bother, not even as a "treat", as there are plenty of other restaurants to try and hopefully fare better with. I will give it three stars as the food was largely good quality and nicely, if unimaginitively prepared.

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                • Paranormal Activity 2 (DVD) / DVD / 54 Readings / 54 Ratings
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                  07.03.2013 12:10
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                  Prequel to the original film that offers more of the same lo-fi horror

                  I picked up Paranormal Activity 2 for the princely sum of £2 at HMV's "We're not going out of business sale, really!" sale. Having seen and relatively enjoyed the first film's lo-fi spook fest, I figured it was worth a punt. I am quite behind on viewing these films as there have been four made already due to popular demand for camcorder shot ghost stories it would seem.

                  Common sense would imply that this film should have been left as a one trick pony, but I guess mass demand proved otherwise. At any rate, we are introduced to a young family, well a middle aged man called Daniel and his new, pregnant wife Kristi. He also has a teenage daughter Ali, from what we presume is an earlier relationship. They have recently moved into suburban splendour in a spacious house with a large pool and hot tub. What could possibly go wrong?

                  These films are shot with the premise of being home movies and eventually security cameras covering the lives of the family, with appropriate lapses in time and banal Big Brother style shots of nothingness to lull the viewer into momentary calm - all the while of course knowing that something bad is going to happen at some point. It was highly effective in the first film, and like that one this sequel takes its sweet time building up to the spooky stuff. I think it was at least a half hour in before weird things started happening.

                  The subtly ominous atmosphere this style of filmmaking creates is an effective trick, if quickly becoming an overused one. The novelty of the first film has largely dissipated here, although I'd be lying if I didn't admit to occasionally getting caught off guard by it!

                  They up the ante in this film by having the ultimate vulnerable target for the pesky demon stalking the family-a baby, along with his loyal German Shepherd protector, Abbie, without a doubt the best acted and most sympathetic character in the piece.

                  The mother's sister Katie is, we slowly realise (well it took me a bit to cotton on), the main character in the first film, who suffered her own haunting torments along with her husband. Slowly we realise this is a prequel to that film....ah....

                  A few unsubtle lines are dropped about the sisters messing about with Ouija boards as kids and possibly having been possessed/haunted in some way as children -"I don't want to talk about it", they implore to seemingly no one. The house is broken into and trashed, but nothing is stolen save for a necklace. Everyone is spooked enough by this to get home security cameras installed, thus setting up the stage for the Bad Things to start happening.

                  Repetitive innocuous shots of the house at night over several days begin, and that is when the eagle eyed viewer gets to play "Spot the demon" - these films really are the Where's Wally of horror. You never see the creature itself, only shadows and things moving when they shouldn't be moving. The baby's mobile moving alone is possibly the first and eeriest. From there it amps up a bit and is far more action packed in terms of demonic mean tricks than the first film. The absolute worst is the dog, ugh. I think the filmmaker's probably knew people were dulled/knew what to expect and so went for the lowest common denominator - dogs and babies. I don't know, it's not gross and torturous like most horror films so I don't want to bang on about it too much, it is just manipulative of the worst fears anyone could have for their family.

                  One might think "Just leave the house dummies!" but in this case it is the person being haunted, not the house. Rather than call in an exorcist, they entreat their Hispanic maid to do some hoodoo type stuff. Which has terrible consequences of course.

                  The sketching of the story arc, the familial ties and eventual chain of events that stem from this are relatively believable as far as these things go, but not exactly convincing in terms of origin of the monster type satisfaction. It all feels a bit paint by numbers.

                  The acting is well, what you would expect although I will say it's relatively naturalistic and fit for purpose. I think the female protagonist in this is better than her predecessor, which is highlighted whenever she turns up and stares vacantly into space while delivering her lines. The teenage daughter Ali is also well played. The dog is definitely the Oscar mutt of the year though.

                  The climax of this film feels inevitable and spelled out sadly; the scariest bits for me came about halfway in. They don't throw in enough new stuff to surprise at the end. All of this said, it was watchable enough nonsense and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wanting to see how the rest of the series plays out once it hits the bargain bin at HMV! I prefer films like this to the (thankfully dying a bit) trend for torture style horror, they are innocuous enough when you are looking for a cheap thrill I think.

                  We watched the extended, not the theatrical version. The main difference, as I gather from looking online, is an extra six minutes of footage, none of which seems particularly graphic to merit the "Unrated" title.
                  Also on the dvd is extra "found footage", just a bit more silly spiel about the genesis of the thing.

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                  • KMS HairStay Styling Gel / Hair Care / 42 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                    21.12.2012 00:27
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                    Hairstay gel, does what it says on the tin

                    I am always on the lookout for a good, strong hold gel as I have curly hair that loses its shape without a firm hold to start with. That said, there is such a thing as too firm a hold and you can end up with crunchy zig zags instead of nice ringlets. I first heard of this KMS hairstay gel on naturallycurly.com so that was a good sign, it is really hard for me to find gels on the high street that are suitable for my hair.

                    At any rate, I took a risk on this one. I have to use a lot of trial and error with hair products. This is a seriously dense gel that it was a bit intimidatingly gloopy looking at first. I was afraid it would be too thick but it was not very difficult to distribute though once I got the hang of it. I tend to scrunch gel in after I have applied curl cream or leave in conditioner, as it helps curls form and creates a protective barrier between the gel and my hair.

                    I can get away with using quite a small amount of this gel, and I have a lot of hair so I imagine for most people a little would go a long way. This gel is not quite as strong a hold as my usual gel and can usually be scrunched out to result in nice looking hair. If you have very fine hair or are looking for a spiky type gel this would probably not work for you.

                    I do get fairly predictable, good results with this gel, which is always appreciated when you have unpredictable hair! It is a strong enough hold for me not to have to wash my hair for two days and still have defined curls. It helps keep frizz to a minimum, especially when used with curl enhancing products, and seems pretty humidity resistant in my experience living in rainy Scotland!

                    I would say its only drawback is that I do think it is a bit drying on my hair if I use it exclusively, so I tend to rotate it with other products. It does not leave a particular shine but it is not the dullest gel I've used either.

                    KMS products are usually cheapest bought online but are widely available in salons as well. Their conditioners are also lovely and worth a try in my opinion. Thanks for reading!

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                      20.12.2012 14:46
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                      Natural eye cream that actually works, shame about the scent

                      I tested the Weleda Pomegranate firming eye cream for the Handbag Beauty Bible. Weleda is a natural brand you mostly see sold in health food shops.

                      I wouldn't normally look to an organic eye cream so this was a bit of an experiment for me. I must admit to being fooled more than once into buying overpriced eye creams that seldom live up to promises however, so I was willing to give this one a shot. Unfortunately when I initially applied this cream the lavender scent of the cream was so overpowering it made my eyes water and sting slighly.

                      As I was testing it though, I commited to using it as it was a relatively minor discomfort that I do think I got more used to with repeated use (the watering certainly lessened, the smell was still a bit annoying though). I sincerely hope they consider reducing the scent of their lotions however as I find them off putting, especially in an eye cream.

                      Well, other than the overpowering scent, this cream did have some notable plus sides. It is very light and quickly absorbed, and really quite moisturising considering how light it is texture-wise. I would even go so far as to say it had a tightening effect, especially when used in the morning. Pomegranate is full of anti-oxidants with internal benefits that it would seem can be applied topically. Weleda purport that the macademia nut oil and golden millet add moisture back to the skin, which I would agree with from my experience.

                      I felt my undereye area appeared less "crepey" while using this and confident my makeup would look good over it. I do suffer from dark circles, I would not say this improved them much if any but it did not worsen them either. I came to enjoy using this cream despite the scent. I just used it sparingly and made sure to keep it as far away from my waterline as possible. Which isn't ideal for an eye cream, really, but I would say this one is worth a try if you like these sorts of products as I do think the benefits outweigh the drawback of the scent. Like pretty much all eye creams, the efficacy of this one goes away when you stop using it.

                      INCI: Water (Aqua), Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Alcohol, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Macadamia Ternifolia Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Punica Granatum Seed Oil, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Panicum Miliaceum (Millet) Seed Extract, Ruscus Aculeatus Root Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Petal Extract, Xanthan Gum.

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                        20.12.2012 13:01
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                        Natural eye cream that actually works, shame about the scent

                        PLEASE IGNORE THIS REVIEW I POSTED IT UNDER THE WRONG CATEGORY!!!! APOLOGIES! I have amended it to the proper one and asked dooyoo to remove this one. Thanks and please read the correctly posted one if you wish!







                        I tested the Weleda Wild Rose Cream for the Handbag Beauty Bible. Weleda is a natural brand you mostly see sold in health food shops.

                        I wouldn't normally look to an organic eye cream so this was a bit of an experiment for me. I must admit to being fooled more than once into buying overpriced eye creams that seldom live up to promises however, so I was willing to give this one a shot. Unfortunately when I initially applied this cream the lavender (not rose) scent of the cream was so overpowering it made my eyes water and sting slighly. As I was testing it though, I commited to using it as it was a relatively minor discomfort that I do think I got more used to with repeated use (the watering certainly lessened, the smell was still a bit annoying though). I sincerely hope they consider reducing the scent of their lotions however as I find them off putting, especially in an eye cream. I notice it says in the dooyoo product decription this is unscented, that was certainly not my experience, unless they have two versions which I am unaware of.

                        Well other than the overpowering scent, this cream did have some plus sides. It is very light and quickly absorbed, and really quite moisturising considering how light it is texture-wise. I would even go so far as to say it had a tightening effect, especially when used in the morning. Weleda purport that the essential fatty acids in the plant seed oils add moisture back to the skin, which I would agree with from my experience.

                        I felt less "crepey" while using this and confident my makeup would look good over it. I came to enjoy using it despite the scent. I just used it sparingly and made sure to keep it as far away from my waterline as possible. Which isn't ideal for an eye cream, really, but I would say this one is worth a try if you like these sorts of products as I do think the benefits outweigh the drawback of the scent. Like pretty much all eye creams, the efficacy of this one goes away when you stop using it.

                        INCI: Water (Aqua), Prunus Persica (Peach) Kernel Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Alcohol, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Hydrolyzed Beeswax, Rosa Moschata Seed Oil, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables, Sedum Purpureum Extract, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Euphrasia Officinalis Extract, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Beeswax.

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                        • More +
                          19.12.2012 13:48
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                          St.Tropez up top, Essex down bottom

                          Ah, self tanners, when you are good, you are very good, when you are bad, you can make an innocent woman look like a clementine streaked nightmare. I tend to dabble, rather than judiciously use these products as let's be honest it's far too cold this time of year to worry about pasty legs. That said it is the time of year for parties and if you are mental enough to get skimpy in this weather you might want to armour yourself with a (preferably) golden sheen.

                          I was quite keen to try this product for some time, so was pleased to receive a large sample bottle in a magazine. I tend to only usual gradual tanners, as I am a pasty type, so went for the light/medium shade in this. I had heard only good things about the St. Tropez mousse, it is I think one of, if not the best selling self tanner out there. The tube I received had enough for approximately 3-4 appplications, which in my opinion is ample for review purposes.

                          I like that this product is in a squeezy tube, my normal brand comes in a bottle and is a bit messy. This product has a nice consistency. It doesn't have much of an immediate smell and absorbs relatively easily. I had read that this product can streak so I was careful to use a self tanning mitt to try and ensure even application. It dries impressively quickly which is a definite perk, I hate the sticky, tacky skin feel of many of these products. This does dry nearly as seamlessly as a mousse. So far, so impressed.

                          This is not an immediate tanner and takes several hours to develop, although I would say that within a couple of hours you can start to see a toffee tinge occuring. This is most definitely a lovely, subtly toasty, as opposed to oppressively orange tone. I think I am in love.

                          I awaken in the morning to see a very subtle "tanned" effect. It would possibly be too subtle for some but I am pleased with it. I only have a faint whiff of biscuit about me, this is probably the least offensive one I have tried so far. Everything is looking golden, until I scroll down to my legs. Hmmm. A bit of an unfortunate streak, rather obvious and hamfisted looking - how did that happen? Possible user error although I have to say I rarely get it this wrong anymore. Oh drat there is another one - wah! Unfortunately my legs are barely salvageable after this first application. I apply a bit of the tanner to the patchy bits best as I can but am left disgruntled.

                          By the next day there is some improvement but still a tidemark from the earlier streak. It's particularly frustrating as the product got such gold star marks up until this point. The rest of me is fine however, and the product does fade evenly. I have subsequently only used this product on my upper half, with no obvious disasters. With extra effort maybe it would be possible to avoid the streaking, but I really do feel I did my best. I do really love the colour, enough so to possibly even purchase this and use a different product on my legs if necessary. Although this is not cheap and that is a bit silly. Ah well, the search continues!

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                          19.12.2012 11:57
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                          Organic anti-ageing moisturiser suitable for combination skin

                          I have experimented with several Neal's Yard moisturisers over the years with varying levels of success. The products themselves are always of lovely quality, with organic, non-chemical, non-yukky ingredients that you know aren't in any way bad for your skin. My skin in particular, while approaching the need for anti-wrinkle products, is sensitive and spot prone, more so in my thirties than ever before. It is probably the various things I slap on to paper over the cracks, but with this cream I have never experienced any breakouts or irritation.

                          This cream is meant to be quite the anti-ageing wonder and was very highly ranked in the Handbag Beauty Bible a few years back, which is pretty impressive for a natural product that doesn't boast of intergalactic biospheres cooked up by scientists in a Swiss lab somewhere as most of these anti-ageing creams do!

                          It has a lovely, subtly sweet spicy smell (no doubt the frankincense or myrhh but it reminds me of nutmeg). I mostly use this one as a night cream as it is relatively rich and I tend to stick to light moisturisers in the day. That said this is a fairly light, easily absorbed cream that never leaves my combination skin with any greasiness, in fact it does seem to have a slight toning/de-greasing effect if anything. So it might not be rich enough for dry skin types.

                          As for anti-ageing, well I do think this helps minimise fine lines. Frankincense oil is apparently the mack daddy of natural products for its anti-wrinkle/restorative benefits, among many other holistic uses. This product also contains myrrh which is also known for its healing qualities. I honestly am not too bad for wrinkles yet, even at my ripe old age of almost 38! But I do think this smooths and makes my skin tone look more even, and generally just glowier. And crucially for me, no breakouts or oiliness. This cream is part of a line of other Frankincense products, including a richer Nourishing cream, face wash, serum, toner, etc.

                          Neal's Yard Remedies is a very successful brand that began as as small Covent Garden shop in 1981, basing their products on Apothecary/plant based natural, organic skin care. They support organic farmers and the environment according to their website, which is jolly nice of them. The products are bottled in heavy blue glass that preserves them for longer as they are not full of artificial preservatives like most (and they look rather pretty as well!). They sell everything from face to body and hair care, as well as homeopathic oils and such (which I have never tried but am sure smell lovely if their creams are anything to go by).

                          Unlike some other organic brands, I don't find the scents of their products overwhelming, or remotely fusty as these sorts of things sometimes can be. They smell and feel luxurious. They are not particularly cheap, this cream retails at around £21 for 50ml but I do think it is value for money, there are probably many more actual beneficial ingredients in here than other more expensive creams.

                          I for one would be very happy to find some Neal's Yard in my Christmas stocking, not holding my breath
                          though as hubby doesn't stray far from The Body Shop! Their products are sold in stand alone shops and selected other shops including Boots and John Lewis. Also they have a website, of course - http://www.nealsyardremedies.com/



                          Ingredients list:

                          Aqua (Water), Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) seed oil*, Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba) seed oil*, Glycerin*, Cetearyl alcohol, Alcohol denat.*, Calendula officinalis (Marigold) flower extract*, Cetearyl glucoside, Prunus amygdalus dulcis (Almond) oil*+, Prunus armeniaca (Apricot) kernel oil*+, Borago officinalis (Borage) seed oil*, Daucus carota (Carrot) fruit oil*, Aloe barbadensis (Aloe vera) leaf juice powder*, Glyceryl stearate, Cetearyl olivate, Sorbitan olivate, Levulinic acid, Glycerin, Tocopherol, Potassium sorbate, Sodium hyaluronate, Boswellia carterii (Frankincense) oil, Commiphora myrrha (Myrhh) oil, Limonene.

                          *Organically produced ingredient. +Nut/Seed-based ingredient. Natural constituent of essential oils listed. Made with 91% organic ingredients. This is a vegan product.

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                          • whitestuff.com / Online Shop / 39 Readings / 37 Ratings
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                            11.12.2012 14:00
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                            A clothing shop for the aspirational set that also happens to do nice stuff

                            Please note I am reviewing White Stuff the shop as well as the website (not sure why only the website is listed?). If I should add a new category? Not sure as they are selling the same products - anyway here is my review!

                            White Stuff is a clothing shop with a doozy of a misnomer. Not many of the clothes are white, and even if they were white the White Stuff deities would never name them as such - they would be called pure cloud or daisy dreamscape or something far more exciting. And they would cost £60 and come with a cute note and a bracelet to make you feel that bit more clever about shopping there.

                            White Stuff is a place I initially dismissed as an overpriced, yummy mummy-type shop. But with their quirky, faux vintage prints and jersey wool blends, I couldn't help but have an occasional snoop. With time I have come to realise they are a bit more intriguing than some others of their ilk. They are, in effect, the indie record store of retail clothing for the over 30 female. You walk in and feel magically young, but not like you are trying to be hip. The clothes have a fairly ageless preppy appeal. They remind me a bit of the American brand J.Crew, way back before it started thinking of itself as high fashion. They are largely stupidly priced, in response to Fat Face I presume, which sells similar but not quite as pricey stuff - yet not quite as silly as Boden. They are the kind of prices that make you wince a bit, but the garments are so pretty and comfy and cosy looking that you might, if you are a certain type of delusional shopaholic, start trying to justify them as "investment pieces".

                            The store makes you want to linger, there is no blaring music a la Topshop, just some gentle surf folk-type rock playing at just the right level. The sales assistants are generally laid back and don't pester you much. The dressing rooms... ah the dressing rooms. They are divine. No dust bunnies, no cold ugly overhead lighting or gaping sheets. They are just spacious enough, warm but not too warm. I could happily move in. These people know what they are doing. I needed another size in a dress I was trying on but was dubious about them having it as it was the last one on the sale rack. The kindly assistant nipped into the back room et voila - my size had magically appeared from behind the Cath Kidston-esque cowboy print curtain. This is just the kind of thing that happens in the magic land of White Stuff.

                            It doesn't hurt that the clothes, by and large, fit well. They tend to favour empire or smock cuts, but somehow they are not cut too baggy, either. Even the fitted clothes tend to skim rather than stick to any lumps or bumps. The knits are all cosy and pretty and practical. Fabrics are earthy, not man made. Things are normally sewn and finished to a high standard. The colours are largely in the muted to pastel range, nothing too garish or bright generally although there is the occasional pop of crimson or cerulean. The dresses and tunic-y things are that rare breed of vestment that can be dressed up or down. You can be comfortable and look smart which is no easy feat. It may not be high fashion, and truth be told the more drawn I am to the shop the more I do feel any efforts to be in any way sartorially hip dwindling ever smaller.

                            You realise that the White Stuff brand is pretty formidable when you venture onto the website. It is not just a website, nay, but a quaint village of sorts, where a pretty but relatively human looking group of folk gather to have cocktail parties and walks on the beach. They seem to live on some Hebridean type island/small village where everyone is terribly well dressed and presumably drinking mulled wine and playing gin rummy whilst the kids do their homework. Sure, it is an obvious spiel, but it is done well and the attention to ludicrous and entertaining detail in the naming of the clothes is something that dorks like me take great zeal in. I am a total marketing sucker. If you put the words "heritage" and "carpenter" in front of something, I believe it to be somehow intrinsically more trustworthy and durable. The men's current line includes a range called "gentlemen's relish", if you can believe that. I think someone at h.q. is taking the pistachio.

                            They appear to be a charitable lot and have several "what makes us happy" videos and pictures of dogs and inventive competitions. I may just win a trip to Lapland, now wouldn't that be nice? Then I could get myself that Clementine knit, that would go nicely with the reindeer...Standard delivery on their website is usually £3.95 but until Dec.17th they are offering it free which is jolly good of them. Returns are free or can be made in some but not all stores, so a B- there. In further seasonal news, they have a section devoted to "festive fillers" at the moment, which includes how to make the perfect snowball (cocktail) and ideas for your holiday wardrobe which is a bit presumptious really! Also are couple of bloggy deals by some posh birds. Which isn't terribly useful in my opinion but I guess interesting for those at a loss as to what goes with what.

                            The clothes are reviewed on site which is always handy, with hearts in lieu of stars. Each user review has a profile with a politely competitive list of what makes Jemima or Eloise tick. Popular pastimes include the usual children, theatre and reading but there also intriguingly seems to be a collection of farmyard pet enthusiasts. I envision them in their wellies and Fairisle knits, mucking out Herbert the micro pig's stall. I mock, but this is just another clever clogs aspect of the brand creating a homely, personal feel on the site to make their customers feel less like a number and more part of some mad, woolly tunic wearing sorority.

                            The sales are sometimes email invite only which is a bit annoying if you forget to walk around with vouchers like me. A high street chain maintaining such an air of exclusivity is laughable and bold in this economy but more power to them I guess. The aspirational smugness of it all is no doubt off putting, but what can a girl do with a dwindling selection of high street shops that cater to my needs?

                            I will let you in on a little secret - Ebay is a veritable treasure trove of often unworn White Stuff stuff. Presumably clotheshorses like me who realise their re-sell value. I acquired a (new with tags!) brown and teal corduroy skirt last week for peanuts, very Miss Jean Brodie let me tell you. The husband was a bit perplexed by my new fixation. White Stuff actually has lovely clothes for men of a certain age, they are not too trendy and only occasionally dandyish. But I'd only ever get my husband into something if it was a gift, he would recoil at the prices and probably moan the jumpers were itchy. Why can't he just sit in the corner and look pretty like the White Stuff model?

                            Well truth be told I am writing this review as the last minutes of the sale are dwindling as a means of distraction. I mustn't dally; the cherry pie tunic and wandering typewriter dress are calling my name. Should you feel inclined to part with a pretty wad of cash in exchange for something that looks nice with a country cottage and a golden retriever, there is no doubt a White Stuff in your vicinity. The website is quite user friendly although I did read a few complaints about it crashing during sales. Keep Calm and Shop on. A friendly White Stuff employee will be waiting for you with mince pies and wine should you tire of the Primark Christmas tussle.

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                              05.12.2012 16:02
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                              A chaotic,disorganised but sometimes funny rant on the art of being female

                              I went into this book with a mixture of high expectations and simultaneous trepidation, A friend of mine had so raved about this book, and her adoration for the author from her teen years reading her zines and music writing, that I was quite excited to read it. Then I saw Ms. Moran, never having heard or read anything by her before,on a Sunday breakfast program. Now, I like a spunky comedienne as much as the next gal, I had envisioned Ms.Moran as a kind of British Janeane Garofalo, an acerbicly dry, funny gal who delivered political zingers with aplomb.

                              Ms. Moran, at least on this particular program, came off more to me like an overgrown schoolgirl, talking non-stop, making rapid fire, mostly unfunny (to me) jokes, self -referencing and pop culture rattling constantly in a well, bizarre way. She was a manic, ott kooky presence to watch and it put me off her book a bit. Then I was at the airport and the books were buy one get one half price, so I figured what the hey. There must be something to this British journalist if she's so notorious and best selling after all.

                              It opens promisingly, once I got past staring at Ms.Moran's bold, look at my face cover. It's an interesting face, and I cannot help but compare my similiarly aged one and wonder if I would have the guts to make such a close up, un-airbrushed (but lovely) photo front and center of a book. She earns kudos for this, I think.

                              Anyway, Ms. -she is a Mrs. but not sure which she's called?- Moran writes amusingly and endearingly of growing up in a large Catholic family and the deprivations and humiliations this entailed. Particularly good are the sections describing adolescent embarassments like the horror of the first period, and in Moran's case a particularly holistic Mother who wouldn't let her take painkillers. The trials and travails of being an overweight, clever teenager are well expressed, as are the first pangs of love,lust, etc.

                              Moran's writing is peppered with amusing anecdotes, but also slightly too often rather cumbersome, unfunny jokes. A couple that were particularly cringeworthy involved the young girl covered in Napalm in the famous Vietnam photo, and cancer patients. Hmm. Which just stood out as a bit weird in amongst all the pro-feminist rants. A bit teenager trying too hard to shock, which seems to be a default setting when Moran is trying to soften/deflect her more important statements.

                              I thought this was a shame as there are several passages where she writes impressively about the state of the female nation as it were. She seems oddly compelled to press the schlock button every so often to stop people thinking she is being terribly serious/boring or something, I don't quite understand it. Well, I do, but for me it undermined her writing quite distractingly.

                              I also got the feeling she purposefully dumbed down her message on several occasions, which again had a diluting effect. She says Germaine Greer had a strong impression on her as a youth, but doesn't really expand much. Yet she rhapsodises about Lady Gaga in a frankly embarassing and over-complimentary fashion, dismissing Madonna as being a "26 year old donut seller" when Lady Gaga had conquered the world by her age. This did bemuse me a bit.

                              When addressing pop stars as feminist icons, it would seem slightly unfair to favour the privately educated, rich Manhattanite Gaga over the Detroit raised,blue collar, orphaned by her mother Madonna, who pulled herself up from arriving in New York with pennies in her pocket and little else in the 80's era of real crime and disadvantage. She dismisses Madonna for using her sexuality too much, purporting Gaga's heavily gay/young outcast (self proclaimed) fan base to be somehow socially more important. Never minding that Madonna came up in gay clubs back when being gay really did make you an outcast. Or that Gaga stole half of her song ideas. It just irked me a bit, but then again Moran did hang out with Gaga in a nightclub and was assured in a drunken lovefest that her risque image is not remotely about sex, of course. So what do I know.

                              On other points I did agree with her, although again she feels compelled to nudge and wink Carry On-style throughout, which was most detrimental in the section on sexual harassment at work. As a young female music journalist in the 80's Moran was a rarity. Her own experience of old fashioned, Mad Men- style sexism (her boss once pulled her onto his lap and made a lewd remark in front of a room full of people), does not seem terribly relevant nowadays I have to say. While she found it easy to make a cheeky remark undercutting the fellow in front of their peers, putting an end to the matter there and then, her subsequent advice to other women to do the same seems fairly unsophisticated and naive to anyone who has experienced the more subversive elements of office sexism and/or harassment.

                              It's not all fluff though. The passages on childbirth were pretty grippingly and gorily told I have to say. Moran's first childbirth was to put it mildly, nightmarish. She does not shy away from cringeworthy, but well described accounts of the experience. Which is refreshing, and she herself addresses the bizarre conspiracy of the sisterhood to play down how absolutely awful it can be. This is slightly undercut by the ease of her second childbirth, which she largely prescribes to experience, not fighting it, and thus it all happens much more easily. Which flies in the face of medicine in many cases, and I did find a bit perplexingly simplistic.

                              Her take on love is basically, don't waste too much time on the douchey hot musicians in life, but marry the nice guy you don't pay attention to at first. Actually she does very amusingly portray the young love section of her life, the lies told to oneself to justify staying with a slacker creep, etc. might be helpful for younger women who have yet to learn this lesson.

                              Perhaps the most controversial chapter of the book is to do with Moran's opinion of and experience of abortion. It was, if I'm honest, my favourite, because it is the one subject where she doesn't counterbalance or soften what she is trying to say with banal fluff. She is unapologetic and unsentimental on the subject, and calls b.s. on the societal need for women to mourn/self flagellate the anniversary of their abortions. She speaks of a young Irish woman in the clinic because she cannot get one at home and it does reinforce the still present fight that women are battling on this front. She does not sugar coat the experience in the slightest, so it was a very fascinating thing to read, honest and a little sad but refreshing to see her reject the culture of blame that still pervades the topic. If only she could have shown such restraint and thoughtfulness in the rest of the book I think I would have gotten on with it much better.

                              I also enjoyed her take on ageing and plastic surgery. It was mature and non-judgemental, but still funny. It was written more from an aesthetic, rather than completely personal point of view though. Moran kind of flits between the two, she can't quite settle, resulting in a somewhat cacophonous narrative voice.

                              Her concluding chapter was a bit of a wash for me, I can't honestly remember much about it. This book often reads like the frantic, chatty emails of a friend. Moran is a talented and highly readable writer so I don't want to poo poo it entirely. There are several bright and bouncy passages that are funny and relatable to most modern women and hopefully men alike. I think maybe she was trying too hard to appeal to all ages, and while a young reader might indeed enjoy this, I don't know that she would truly learn How To Be a Woman.

                              I think there is enough good stuff in here to merit a read, and yet I would hesitate to dive back in to wade through all of the rest of it. The editorial process seems to have gone a bit awry. Well, they probably want this book to read like an off the cuff, magazine style rant. It all wants to be terribly modern and zeitgeisty I think. It does achieve this, and I do think this kind of book is important and I am pleased it has done well. I just wish it didn't spend so much time apologising for being "feminist". Unfortunately, to me anyway, this weakens its overall impact.



                              p.s. Dear doyoo - the product pic is the wrong one, not sure why as the book is correctly listed with the photo elsewhere on site.

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                                03.09.2012 19:08
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                                Spooky HBO drama involving a 1930's carnival and a unique twist on good vs. evil

                                Carnivale was an HBO television series that ran from 2003-2005. I only heard of this recently thanks to Amazon suggesting it (more often than not their suggestions seem random and off the mark but for once this one was exactly what I was looking for ).

                                It is a show about a travelling carnival in 1930's dustbowl America, ostensibly. It's also a classic tale of good and evil with a hefty dose of supernatural and religious elements thrown in. And lots of naked ladies doing 1930's style "cooch" dances for those less interested in the aforementioned.

                                Like many of HBO's productions it is so richly crafted, the production feels more cinematic than most t.v. programs. I would go so far as to say this is the best produced, most impressively filmed and acted production they have made. Why it was cancelled is beyond me, it has far more depth than other shows they continue to produce for multiple series. Like Deadwood it was cut short in its prime.

                                It stars Nick Stahl as Ben Hawkins, a young man with a secret. By the time the second series begins we are well aware of the secret, I very much suggest you watch the first series prior to this of course (I admit I am reviewing this one first as it has yet to be, will probably review them in wrong order apologies!). At any rate, he has a special ability which makes him stand out from the rest of the "rubes", which by the onset of series two we know is leading him on a path towards his destined nemesis, a preacher man called Brother Justin.

                                Life in the Carnivale is reflected by the tough times of the era, they are scraping by a living, hot footing it out of each small town any time trouble is caused (which seemingly follows them wherever they go). The man running the show is a mystery figure known as the Manager, but his mouthpiece is the character Samson, played by Michael J. Anderson (some might recognize him as the dancing dwarf from Twin Peaks -"Semitemos ym smra dneb kcab!)"). He has a much more fleshed out character in this series, he feels like the soul of the show and my main criticism of this second series is probably not enough Samson, too much other peripheral characters.

                                There are several character story arcs to contend with, which I felt were slightly more well-orchestrated in the first series. The momentum was built slowly in the first, perhaps too slowly for some, but the change in pace in this season does make you wonder if they knew it was being cancelled. Some of the startling cinematography and eerie atmosphere of the first series is sacrificed in this one (also possibly due to budget cuts). It is still hugely watchable and enjoyable, some might even prefer it; I just feel it is worth noting that the production style felt different and ever so slightly less original than the first at some points.

                                At any rate, the very suspenseful backstory that the first season set up is played out here with a relentless pursuit. Brother Justin, played by Clancy Brown, is mesmerizingly creepy as a reverend with a mission of maleficence. The man's voice can drop an octave and give goose bumps like no other. The ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing, his plans to bring his message to the masses are unfurling to his satisfaction, with a growing encampment of worshippers and a radio show reaching the entire country. His sister Iris (another wonderful performance by Amy Madigan), is seemingly willing to do anything to further her brother's power and demonic desires, resulting in many genuinely stomach churning awful scenarios. Brother Justin is a hypnotically evil creature who has shed pretty much all of his initial good intentions; Clancy Brown is just spectacular in this part.

                                Meanwhile Ben is coming to terms with his role in the battle of good and evil, nothing is ever as clear cut as he would like though and in order to help those he loves he must "re-balance" nature, which has its own deadly consequences. I don't want to give too much away here!
                                The other central figures in the drama are "Jonesy", a former baseball player who had his kneecap demolished, and Sofie, the tarot card reading daughter of a paralyzed psychic. The majority of their story is told in the first series but it is worth mentioning Sofie, like Ben has hidden abilities and conflicts of her own that are integral to the story arc. Jonesy is possibly the most purely "good" character in the show, I really enjoyed his progression and wish more emphasis had been placed on he and Samson in this series.

                                Which leads me to my least favourite thing about this series, and it is just nit picking. The Dreifuss family, a husband whose wife and daughter dance the "Cooch" amongst other services, were just a bit too over-emphasized in this series in my opinion. They are likeable enough, but I felt like I learned everything there was to know about them in the first series. There were other characters I would have preferred to see developed more, especially as they are completely peripheral to the main story. I'm sure there was a reason for this, and maybe they were counting on more series to flesh out other characters, but I did find myself growing impatient at times with their story.

                                The show, at twelve episodes long is over in seemingly a heartbeat and left me frustrated and wanting more, of course! I did feel that the final showdown had moments of greatness (Brother Justin with a scythe, watch out!), but was ever so slightly anti-climactic. That said the reduction of special effects in comparison with the first series did give it a more realistic feel which in its own way is more powerful. It does have a culmination that is somewhat satisfactory, but leaves many threads dangling with which they could have played out more creepy, Steinbeck/Lynch-esque heartache and fury. So annoying HBO, drat you!

                                It is just such an intelligent, well acted production. The historical context of it is well considered and the dust storms that consumed some of the states at times are used to great effect. Apparently there was a epidemic of people dying from dust inhalation, embarassed to say I had not known about this. The costumes and carnival set pieces are all perfectly done, everything feels authentic, right down to the bearded lady. It has been mooted as a potential Netflix re-birth but like Deadwood I fear the production costs would be prohibitive. What made it so great was perhaps its ultimate downfall, it was too rich, too special to last for long I suppose. Sigh and sulk. Get it now, you won't regret it.

                                The extras are somewhat minimal but do involve a q&a panel chat with several cast members, presented in the most idiotic format I've even seen - rather than a full screen they are framed in small tarot cards, it was just really distracting and annoyed me quite a bit!

                                Also there is a behind the scenes doc which I have yet to watch but am sure is great, presuming they didn't do something stupid with the framing again(!). And the obligatory audio commentaries which maybe someday if I have the time I will get round to!

                                Also a small note, the actor Robert Knepper (he of Prison Break T-Bag fame) is in the series as a character named Tommy Dolan, he is excellent as always, love him!

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