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waterlilly

waterlilly
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Member since: 10.06.2009

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      18.10.2009 21:09
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      A good way to spend a couple of hours in Halifax.

      My husband and I have been visiting my family in Canada and recently found ourselves faced with a rainy Sunday morning in Halifax. Years ago I went to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and remembered it as being warm and dry which were my two major priorities at the time so off we went for a visit. As it was the first weekend in October we did not face crowds of any sort but I am sure it can get more crowded during July and August.

      THE ESSENTIALS

      The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is on the Halifax waterfront on Lower Water St. There is a bus stop located directly in front of the building and public pay and display parking just up the road. We happened to be staying at the Marriot Hotel on the Halifax Waterfront so it was about a 5 minute walk up the road. It is open seven days a week during the high season which is May-October. November- April they close on Mondays. If you're trying to visit around Christmas or Easter it would be best to check ahead of time. Entry rates also vary depending on whether or not it is the busy season. Children under five are free except for the major school holiday in March when only two and under are free. There are special rates for families, school groups, ESL students and season passes. When we visited it was $8.75 Canadian per adult which included a visit aboard the "Acadia". For another $2 you could also visit the "Sackville". Both ships are docked right by the museum.

      THE MUSEUM

      The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic began with a small collection in another part of Halifax in 1952 and has grown to be the largest Maritime Museum in Canada with a truly impressive range of exhibits about Canada's naval, shipping, fishing and recreational history on the seas. To clarify when Canadians refer to "the Maritimes" it refers to the coastal region along the Atlantic in general and the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island specifically. We managed to spend about two hours browsing the displays despite the fact that we did not read every detail. I would say this is a great spot for older children and adults but does lack much to keep small children occupied for long.

      The newest exhibit at the Maritime Museum is all about Tugboats, which I have a soft spot for as one of my favourite childhood books was about Scruffie the Tugboat. It focuses on the tugboats and their crews that were employed in the Halifax harbour over the years, some of whom died while on duty. This area has a fun wooden replica in which you can have your photo taken. There is also a computer simulator that challenges you, as the tugboat, to safely dock a huge container ship. My husband spent 7 or 8 minutes playing with the simulator as there was no crowd at all when we were there.

      In the large two-story high, glassed room facing the harbour is the Small Craft Room which houses about two dozen replicas of various types of wooden boats used around the Maritime region of Canada in the course of its history. I am not a sailor and really have no background knowledge of or specific interest in boats but some of the boats in the Small Craft Room are absolutely beautiful. I did more photo taking than sign reading, but I do remember a very cool wooden lifeboat amongst the collection.

      There is an extensive collection of model cruise ships in the museum which specifically looks at the Cunard cruise line. This leads into the Titanic exhibit which looks at both the history of the ship and its role in popular history. Some may be interested in watching the film that they offer on the Titanic as well though we passed on it for this trip.

      I think one of the most impressive and lovingly crafted exhibit is that of the Halifax Explosion. Most Brits will be unfamiliar with the devastating events that occurred in Halifax in the middle of World War I. In December 1917 two ships collided in Halifax Harbour and one caught fire. Many watched the blaze from shore unaware that the ship was loaded with explosives. The blast devastated the city with about 1,900 dead, 6000 homeless and hundreds maimed for life. The exhibit includes touching personal accounts of loss as well as the kindness and generosity of the state of Massachusetts which sent aid and temporary housing which wound up lasting for decades. My husband, who had never heard of the event, found this section particularly interesting.

      Along side some of the very serious history of ship wrecks, explosions and warfare is a delightful little collection; Theodore Tugboat's Big Harbour. Theodore Tugboat was kind of Canada's answer to Thomas the Tank Engine featuring boats, ships and other harbour machinery with distinct roles and personalities. The museum has the original models used for the show set up in a replica of the Halifax Harbour. There is information regarding the show and an area for watching bits of episodes. Guaranteed to put a little smile on your face.

      CONCLUSION

      The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is a great way to stay occupied in Halifax if the weather does not behave itself or if you need a break from the blazing sun. On a first or short trip to Halifax I might suggest spending more time exploring outside but if you have a spare hour or two the museum is well worth a look. The facilities are clean and well lit. The staff were friendly and welcoming and the exhibits are interesting, even if you don't have a specific interest in boats.

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      • Funny People (DVD) / DVD / 78 Readings / 74 Ratings
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        13.10.2009 15:27
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        Should have done a little better at the box office than it did.

        Heading to "Funny People" one 2for1 Wednesday this summer I was hoping to be amused but had concerns that it would be one of those films where all the best bits had already been shown in the adverts. Adam Sandler usually manages to make me laugh even if at times he appeals more to my little brothers than to me and Judd Apatow has been a little hit and miss for me so I wasn't sure what to expect.

        THE PREMISE

        Prior to the release of the film I read an interview with Judd Apatow in which even he admitted that he probably overindulged his own interests with "Funny People". He took two plotlines that just weren't quite enough for films unto themselves and kind of smashed them together. The main character of the film is a middle aged comedian named George Simmons (Adam Sandler) who discovers he has advanced cancer and is forced to re-evaluate his life choices. He takes on aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen- yes, in a Judd Apatow film, shocking right?) as his assistant and stand up writer.

        SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

        I have to admit that I enjoyed this film generally without feeling like it was actually a great movie. In fairness there were some genuine laughs to be found though at times it really felt like it was trying too hard. I did also appreciate that the trailers had actually given away very little of the film as some of the stand up shown in the previews wasn't even in the movie!

        I do wonder if in this case the director also being the writer was just a bad idea. The story of Ira and his friends who are all trying to break into the comedy business in LA is interwoven with George's regrets and attempt at a redemption story. Both men give love a try with varying degrees of success. At times this all works better than at others. The buddy film portion of the movie makes more sense than the romantic portions but really the stand up sections are where the film excels. Sandler has been making films for family and teenagers for so long that it's hard to remember that he used to be properly funny rather than whatever he was in "Bedtime Stories" and it's nice to see that edge come back out. He manages to give his character depth and has wonderful chemistry with the young guys in the film.

        The supporting cast was also used to varying degrees of effectiveness. If Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman had been given a full buddy film with Sandler I think it would have been a much better movie. Aubrey Plaza rounded out their half of the film as Ira's love interest and is intriguing if not really properly developed as a character. I also thought that Bana was hilarious if one-dimensional in the "George tries to find love" half of the film. But that's where that half really stops working for me. Leslie Mann is beautiful if not overly memorable as Simmonds ex-girlfriend and the Apatow girls are getting a bit too old to simply be thrown into the movie at will. They were a bit younger when he put them into "Knocked Up" and it's obvious that at times the older daughter is over it all. Dear Mr. Apatow- stop pimping your family to us and focus on making a movie. That being said, they are very cute kids and I guess if you're going to have people swear in front of young children it might as well be your own.

        The cameos in this film indicate that Judd Apatow is Hollywood's new comedy golden boy. The big names of comedy will happily show up for a bar scene if he comes calling and I don't think he's going anywhere any time soon.

        CONCLUSION

        It was a funny movie that could have been funnier and could have made a lot more sense. It could also have been a heck of a lot shorter. Apatow's experienced a great deal of success lately but needs to be careful that he's not resting on his laurels.

        Rating: 15
        Running time: 146 minutes

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        • District 9 (DVD) / DVD / 80 Readings / 78 Ratings
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          30.09.2009 02:10
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          I'd see it again without a doubt.

          "District 9" had barely registered on my radar so I was rather surprised when my bestfriend and my parents told me in the same week that I really had to go see it. None of them really told me anything about the film as my mother insisted that it was the type of film that is better the less you know about it. So, with that in mind, I'll try to review it without telling you too much about it!

          THE PREMISE

          While much credit for "District 9" has to go to its director and writer Neill Blomkamp, but it cannot be ignored that Peter Jackson as producer was a huge driving force. This sci-fi flick was refreshingly not American in setting, cast and story telling approach. Set in 2010, a decade after the malfunctioning spaceship arrived in the airspace over Johannesburg carrying nearly a million malnourished aliens, "District 9" uses documentary style interviews and footage to tell the story of the worst day of Wikus Van De Merwe (Shartlo Copley)'s life. Wikus works for Multi-National United which has been put in charge of relocating the alien population, who have been nicknamed "Prawns", from their current slum on the edge of Johannesburg to somewhere further away from the local population. After a regular day at work, Wikus's life becomes very irregular.

          SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

          I'm guessing that I'd get in trouble with the dooyoo powers that be if I just said "yes" and left it at that! "District 9" is refreshing in its simplicity. A recent trend in sci-fi films is to spend so much time shoving its technical magnificence in your face rather than telling you a story. In this case one is so caught up with the story of Wikus and the Prawns that you almost fail to notice that you're watching computer generated aliens, weaponry, space ships, etc. I'd have to go back and watch the movie again to do justice to the special effects team so perhaps I'll just send you to see it to see for yourself.

          Shartlo Copley who was a virtual unknown prior to this film basically carried the film with the help of the special effects team as he spends most of it talking to prawns. Faced with what could be a preposterous sci-fi plot Copley helps you to believe every step of the way. I have to say it was also delightful to spend so much time with the South African accent (which sounds nothing like whatever it was DiCaprio was doing in "Blood Diamond"). I think if he can manage to neutralise his accent in order to take on a wider range of roles he's likely to make quite a name for himself. The rest of the cast does a great job of providing support but no one stands out as phenomenal. It is slightly interesting who they choose to subtitle and who they do not. I'm not sure it was always the thickest accents that got subtitles, but perhaps some people have a harder time with accents than others.

          A word of warning, rated 15, one does hear a lot of swear words from Copley's lovely South African accent. In all fairness I think anyone would have sworn a lot if they found themselves in Wikus' situation, but the swearing and the violence did earn themselves the rating.

          CONCLUSION

          This is an action, sci-fi film that actually manages to be character focussed and character driven. It is refreshing to have a film that doesn't treat its audience as if they are stupid but trusts that you will invest in the journey and figure things out for yourself.

          Rating: 15
          Running Time: 112 minutes

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          • Julie and Julia (DVD) / DVD / 83 Readings / 83 Ratings
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            24.09.2009 13:42
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            A wonderful film that makes you want to eat cake.

            I hadn't seen a single trailer for "Julie& Julia" before seeing it which is rather rare these days and kind of refreshing. It seemed this would likely be a slightly cheerier offering than Streep and Adams' last film that I reviewed "Doubt" and neither actress has really ever let me down before. Luckily my husband has a bit of a crush on Amy Adams so he was happy to go along with me and see what it was all about.

            PREMISE

            "Julie & Julia" is based on a book, blog and the real life of Julie Powell and directed by Nora Ephron who wrote the screen play. In 2002 Julie Powell (Amy Adam's) came to the realisation that her life was in a rut; she had failed to become a writer, completing half of a novel and she doesn't like most of her friends. Seeking a purpose and motivation in life she decided to cook her way through Julia Child's first cookbook in one year. With herself, her patient husband (Chris Messina) and occasionally friends as guinea pigs Powell will blog about her triumphs and failures. Her task causes her to delve deeper into the life of cooking icon Julia Child (Meryl Streep).

            Julie's plotline is interwoven with the life of the larger than life Julia who we first encounter in the late-1940s Paris feeling at loose ends as her wonderful husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), is busy working at the American Embassy. After Paul, the love of Julia's life is food and so, to stifle her boredom, she enrols in the world famous Cordon Bleu institute to learn to cook.

            The film moves between the lives of Julie and Julia as they conquer the art of cooking and master life, love and lobsters while slathering on enough butter to give an entire cinema full of people heart attacks on the spot.

            SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

            "Julie & Julia" is a delightful, comfortable film filled with warmth, emotion and really, really yummy looking food. The only slaughter is of the culinary sort and nothing blows up (think there may have been a dish or two set on fire). It's not a love story in the traditional sense though Powell definitely has a girl-crush on Child. It's a story of two people and how someone can impact your life without ever meeting them. At times the weaving of the two stories seems forced which I blame on Ephron (though not having read the book perhaps Powell is partially at fault) but Adams and Streep reel you in and cause you to love both Julie and Julia.

            Meryl Streep is a powerhouse whatever the role and she easily captured the huge personality that made Julia Childs stand out above the rest. I think in real life Julia Child would have driven me nuts. Her voice alone would have caused me to decide that we could never be friends. However, Meryl as Julia was a delight for two hours. Julia and Paul's marriage is a beautiful, mature and sexy relationship and it was great to see Julia's naughty side. Tucci was a great surprise as Paul. You can't steal a scene from Streep but Tucci managed to keep up with her.

            In some ways I was very disappointed that Streep and Adams never got to interact as I bet they would be great together. Adams infused quite a bit of her usual perky, peppiness into the character. I have no idea if Powell is actually either of these things. It really doesn't matter to the film as Adams also manages to hit the lows striking a balance between reality and comedy. Much of the "Julie" storyline takes place in a small apartment with Messina and Adams who had great chemistry. I wasn't familiar with Messina before but was impressed with him.

            The third star of the film is in fact food and the film makers took the food aspect seriously. About five minutes in Julie is whipping up a chocolate pie and I started thinking of places that would be open when the film let out that would be able to serve me such a thing. Don't go to this film hungry. Just don't. You won't survive. Streep and Adams both took lessons in chopping prior to the film to ensure that they were doing it right which amuses me but seems to have paid off since, Streep in particular, is pretty impressive with a knife. Not being the kitchen type really I have never actually looked at Julia Child's Cookbook (though I do own a copy of the often mentioned Joy of Cooking) but I think it may have been sponsored by the butter makers of America. I don't think that after watching this film anyone should actually go out and attempt to emulate Powell and actually make all of the recipes because it just might kill you. There is no way I believe that Adams consumed even a small portion of the food that her character would have gone through daily!

            In many ways I could have enjoyed a film that focussed entirely on Julia Child and the political climate of the time. Her plotline was the strongest aspect of the film with the period costumes and sets overshadowing the more modern setting (of course Child's delightful hats are going to be better than 2002's long sleeve t-shirts tied around waists). Child's life provides great insight into the Post-War and Cold War Eras. Effron manages to avoid too obviously hitting the audience over the head with her message in this area keeping it personal and emotional rather than soapbox sermonising. Her attempts to in some way relate this to New York post-911 don't really work but at least she doesn't force it too hard.

            CONCLUSION

            Once in awhile a film comes a long that is just lovely. It doesn't have to be life changing or award winning, but just embraces what it is and doesn't over reach. "Julie & Julia" is such a film. The performances are nuanced and real yet with a hint of humour. The period aspects are spot on with beautiful sets and costumes. And at the end of it you've learned something new about an icon. I'd have given it 4 1/2 if it were an option but close enough to 5 stars.

            Running time: 123 minutes
            Rating: 12A

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            • The Time Traveler's Wife (DVD) / DVD / 77 Readings / 76 Ratings
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              18.09.2009 20:11
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              Better than people said it was!

              A few years ago I read and loved the novel "The Time Traveller's Wife" and so when the film was in its early stages I started really look forward to it. As the film took ages to get to the cinema my excitement had time to wane. The early reports on the film were not good, but I was keen to see for myself. Despite it not even being a 2 for 1 Wednesday my husband agreed to go along as he thinks Rachel McAdams is hot.

              THE PREMISE

              Based on the bestseller by Audrey Niffenegger (what a fun last name!) and directed by Robert Schwentke, "The Time Traveller's Wife" is the story of Henry (Eric Bana) and Claire (Rachel McAdams), the time traveller and his wife (eventually) respectively. Henry is a librarian with a secret, he travels through time. His time travelling isn't a cool Dr. Who kind of thing but instead a scary, traumatic experience as he has no control over when he leaves or where he arrives and unfortunately his clothes do not take this trip with him. One day at work a young woman, Claire greets him with rather unwarranted joy and enthusiasm considering he has no idea who she is. It turns out that his future self has been visiting Claire since she was a small child and that she has been in love with him her whole life.

              This is a love story and shouldn't be mistaken for a romantic comedy. While there are some amusing and light hearted moments (what age is Henry when he actually gets married?) Henry's condition and its likelihood of being passed on to any children they may have places a huge amount of strain on their marriage. Claire struggles to deal with loving a man who disappears, sometimes for weeks on end. Henry is faced with the dilemma of knowing too much about his own future.

              SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

              If you have read the book recently and loved it, then the film will be a let down. I have trouble thinking of any book to film adaptation where this does not hold true though. In this case the writing of the screen play does seem slightly weak and at times just lazy. I read the book when it was originally published back in 2003 and, while my memory is fairly good, I didn't remember every aspect of the book, which in this case was probably a good thing. The book provides explanations of Henry's condition that the film does not bother with (and the plot holes are still smaller than Terminator Salvation) and you gain a better understanding of Claire who really ought to be the protagonist rather than Henry. Obviously a film has to pare down the amount of information found in a novel and they did manage to make it all make sense. However, a bit more exposition could have brought the film up a step in my estimation as any of the unique sci-fi aspects of the story were totally lost.

              I do feel that the screen play let down the character of Claire who is after all the title character. In the film it is unclear why she is so obsessed with having a child, refusing to consider adoption which makes her seen narrow minded and selfish at times. However, McAdams is the delight of the film. Her performance is both strong and soft, highly nuanced. She looks gorgeous in the film though men may be disappointed at the amount of clothing that gets worn for most of the film. I just wish I looked that good when I cry, hmmm, I wish I looked as good normally as she does when crying.

              Bana's performance has largely been panned. His Henry is stiff and hard to connect to. I didn't enjoy his performance but my husband (who tends to be more forgiving than I am) pointed out that it might have been a choice on the part of Bana or the director to make Henry stand-offish as his condition and childhood likely made it difficult to form relationships or open up as a normal person might. So that is food for thought. It didn't seem to be Bana's best work though it's certainly no disaster like "Hulk". Here is hoping for more performances like "Munich", though one similarity to that film is that Bana is in fabulous shape and you get some glimpses of all that hard work since he arrives naked when he time jumps.

              The supporting characters have had their roles cut down so much that at times their importance is unclear. Again, you have to lose some things when you make a film. I'm not sure that Gomez (Ron Livingston) was given enough screen time to properly convey his friendship to the couple and Dr. Osman (Donald Carrier) might as well have been cut entirely for all they actually used him.

              CONCLUSION

              This film is really a 3 ½ but I couldn't leave it as 3 after the rating I gave some previous experiences. It's a fairly emotional love story with some decent acting and some sci-fi interest but not quite enough it a great film.

              Running Time: 107 minutes
              Rating: 12A

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              • The Proposal (DVD) / DVD / 78 Readings / 74 Ratings
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                08.09.2009 19:38
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                A green card story with a twist

                Awhile back my sister-in-law messaged to say that my husband and I had to see "The Proposal". Then my bestfriend over in Canada said the same. Then my parents up and plan a cruise to Alaska after watching the film (it had been a dream of my dad's for years but still... they went to the film, they booked the trip). Now this is a lot of build up for what looked like a fairly mediocre comedy so I was actually had some trepidations when we finally found a convenient Wednesday to 2for1 it.

                THE PREMISE

                Directed by Ann Fletcher and written by Peter Chiarelli is an unabashed romantic comedy. Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a straight-laced, up-tight book editor with her eye on success. Her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), has aspirations of becoming an editor himself and has served her at the expense of his social life, family and likely health in order to eventually move up the ladder of success. So when the Canadian Margaret is threatened with deportation Andrew's career is also at stake. Somehow this is enough to lead him to agree to marry her in exchange for a promotion. In order to convince the zealous immigration officer of the validity of their relationship Margaret and Andrew head off to announce their engagement to Andrew's family, who happen to live in Alaska.

                SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

                The promotion for this film was terrible. I do not know what they were thinking when they put together the trailer as it looked horrible. It's plot is formulaic romantic comedy with boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl are forced to spend time together... well I won't spoil things but you know how that formula ends! However, this film managed to strike a really good balance between romantic comedy cheesiness and silly, quirky comedy. There were some real laugh-out-loud moments and a strong supporting cast of familiar faces. Often at this point with romantic comedies I apologize to all male readers and try to point them in the direction of something they might like better, but guys stick with this one!

                I am not a Ryan Reynolds fan for the most part (I believe I mentioned this when writing about Wolverine as well) and would have been just as happy to substitute him for some other male lead but, as Andrew Paxton, Reynolds was immediately likeable and had great chemistry with Bullock. Sandra Bullock has had a few misses in her career but her comedic timing is generally impeccable and her commitment to character thorough. Bullock took what could have been a very stock, stereotypical character and made her thrive. A side note here is that I get a chuckle out of the fact that Reynolds is in fact the Canadian. Things like that amuse me. Props must be given to both actors for being in ridiculously good shape in this film. There is a whole lot of pretty going on in their scenes together and both bare rather a large amount!

                As for the supporting cast, there is a list of veteran actors to round out the film. Craig T. Nelson is Andrew's hard working, down home father who just doesn't understand what his son is doing in the big city. The delightful Mary Streenburgen plays Andrew's father. The senior Paxtons are loving and level-headed complicating the situation as it's always hard to lie to your parents, no matter how old you are. Streenburgen and Nelson ground the characters and you would honestly believe they'd been married for decades. Realism goes right out the window when it comes to Andrew's grandmother played by the fabulous Betty White. White is her usual fabulous self and strongly contributes to making the film so much better than the trailer indicates. I cannot find a credit online (and obviously don't have the dvd yet) to tell me who played, trained, etc the family dog but that dog was awesome and I want it! The film just would not be the same without the dog.

                The final main character of the film that cannot be over looked is Alaska itself. The majority of the film was filmed on location in that great state and I can't help but wonder why more movies aren't made in Alaska. It contributes to the clean-living, family oriented image of the Paxton family. In contrast, New York City (which we all know can look fabulous on film) is barely shown. The ideal is Alaska and it certainly looks ideal. Tourism Alaska is likely very pleased with the results.

                If you go into this looking for a realistic plot or life changing meaning you will be disappointed. I can't imagine why you would be looking for those things in a romantic comedy but just in case I figured I should warn you. Yes, it is ridiculous that such a focussed, hard working woman would have messed up on her immigration process and be about to be deported. Yes, it is bizarre that a woman who grew up in Canada would find Alaska particularly daunting and pack 6 inch heels to go there (though Toronto has no moose or eagles or polar bears or igloos for those of you who are wondering). Yes, it is stupid to believe that Andrew's mother and grandmother would happily embrace a woman who had previously banned Andrew from attending his grandmother's birthday party. Just go with those things and laugh at the little dog. You'll be much happier.

                CONCLUSION

                If you're looking for a laugh, some decent acting and some gorgeous scenery then this film is for you. If you're looking for depth and meaning in life why would you pick a Sandra Bullock film?

                Running Time: 108 minutes
                Rating: 12A

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                • Subway / Restaurant / Cafe National / 100 Readings / 94 Ratings
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                  21.07.2009 19:35
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                  Subway, Eat Fresh

                  For the most part I am not a big fast food person but I have one weakness that is rooted in nostalgia going back to high school, Subway. In high school we would go all of the time for the cookies because the Subway was right next to the cinema. In the tiny university town where I spent four years the Subway was one of two 24 hour options for food and was about 20 feet from the building where I did most of my work. Obviously I was there a lot. I can remember when the bread used to be cut "the old way" (until about 2000) and when they switched the cookies over and just weren't quite as good (Autumn 2001). At times Subway is a little bit of home in the UK. Also, as shops empty and become derelict all over Norwich, Subway just keeps opening franchises. It's nice to see somebody in there at least!

                  SO WHAT IS IT?

                  Subway is a franchise of sandwich shops that sell what a type of sandwich that we North Americans call "Subs", short for Submarine Sandwich due to the long narrow bread that is rounded at each end. It looks a little bit like a submarine if you have some imagination. A submarine with no telescope and filled with yummy sandwich goodness!

                  HOW TO ORDER AT SUBWAY

                  Subway can be a bit intimidating for someone going in for the first time. There are a number of choices to make. The first is whether you want a sandwich, wrap or salad bowl. Wraps and salad bowls are relatively new Subway innovations (dating myself here as they've been around for nearly a decade!) which I tend to ignore because if I'm craving subway then I'm craving a sub. I also feel there are probably cheaper options for getting salad or a wrap! Very recently Subway has introduced a snack menu that ranges from a cheese toastie (on one half of a 6 inch sub) to a bowl of meatballs ranging in price from 99p to about £2.

                  So assuming that you want a sub I will take you through the decision making process. The first is whether you want a 6 inch sub or a foot long 12inch sub. For a foot long sub you add £1.89 to the price as opposed to doubling it. Then comes the type of bread that you wish to have your sandwich made from. Every once in awhile they introduce a new type of bread (I remember when your options were wheat or white). You have Italian, Wheat, Honey Oat and Italian Herb and Cheese. The bread dough I am certain is mass produced but it is baked on site and the smell can be enough to drag me in off of the pavement on a day when I ought to be making my own lunch!

                  Then there is a buffet layout of possible fillings to choose from. In order to help with your selection there will be a board listing some possible combinations such as BMT, Spicy Italian or Subway Melt. It's perfectly acceptable to ignore that board and simply choose to start with turkey, ham, tuna, meatballs etc and then add as you go along. It can be useful to consult the board as not all subs are the same price. Some, such as Steak and Cheese or the ones with chicken patties are more expensive. For vegetarians you have it easy as you skip this part!

                  You will be asked if you want cheese on your sub (But of course! What do you mean that makes it less healthy? I don't hear you! La La La!) and whether you want it toasted. I have to admit that the toasting of subs doesn't gel with my sense of nostalgia as subs were never toasted when I was in school or uni! I find that toasting is great for the sub if you're going to eat it right away. However, if you're going to walk back to your office, wind up speaking to colleagues and checking your email before you eat it then it tends to just lead to soggy veg in a semi-warm sub. It seems fresher untoasted but that is my humble opinion.

                  Speaking of freshness, the fresh vegetables are one of the benefits of the Subway style of fast food. Some subs lend themselves more to veggie additions than others. My husband refuses to believe that vegetables have any place on a meatball sub whereas I find that adding some peppers and onions and even pickles can make it more interesting! Options include lettuce, cucumber, pickles, peppers, jalapeños, onions, olives and tomato. I think I'm forgetting one or two that I never have! All of these can also be added to a salad bowl.

                  Then you have your sauce options. Some sub orders come with a suggested sauce, such as the current special Reggae Reggae. Past specials that have now because standard subs include Southwest Chicken and Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. However, suggested sauce or not you can really choose whatever you want. Options include mayo (and light mayo), honey mustard, bbq, horseradish, Chipotle Southwest, chilli and ranch. Don't be afraid to ask for more than one sauce or to request a little more.

                  Speaking of additions, you can add extras to your sub for a fee (I think it's between £1-2 but can't remember as I never do this). You can add extra cheese or bacon to any type of sub (though I'm really not sure that bacon and tuna mayo go, but to each their own).

                  OTHER THAN SUBS WHAT CAN I HAVE?

                  Subway sells a variety of crisps and bottled drinks as well as three sizes of cups for drinks from the fountain. There are also several types of baked goods such as the cookies which for 50p each or 3 for a £1 are a great deal. Types that are available (though perhaps not at all locations on all days depending on baking schedule and popularity) are Double Chocolate Chip, Rainbow Candy Chip, Chocolate Chip and White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. There are also donuts and muffins at some locations though I've never been inspired to try them!

                  MISCELLANIA

                  Subway is primarily a take away sandwich shop however many stores do have small seating areas. Service at Subway varies from store to store obviously. Traditionally there is a high turn over rate as it's a relatively low paid job. For the most part their "Sandwich Artists" have always been friendly. I have noticed that in the current economic climate the subway folks in Norwich seem to be sticking around longer meaning they tend to be more efficient.

                  CONCLUSION

                  As far as fast food options go Subway is one of the healthier options that includes fresh ingredients and can be tailored to your own cravings. Some will always prefer other types of sandwiches such as baguettes or paninis. Some will prefer to support local sandwich shops, which I entirely understand. However, if you're looking for a place with consistent options, reasonable prices and very filling sandwiches, Subway is a great option. It's certainly a happy place for me.

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                  • The Wedding Planner (DVD) / DVD / 61 Readings / 60 Ratings
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                    20.07.2009 23:10
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                    The wedding planner didn't plan to fall in love.

                    In the continuing theme of girly films (I have been left on my own A LOT lately between the end of the school year for my teacher husband and stag dos) I recently stumbled upon "The Wedding Planner". Of course by stumbled upon, I mean, pulled out the dvd that I've owned for years and years. Sigh. I'm realising that, when shared with the reviewing world, my dvd collection is a little sad!! In my defence I had spent 4 ½ hours showing my newly engaged friend around all of the bridal shops and wedding goodies that Norwich has to offer that day! So it fit with the theme and I like it when my days have a theme.


                    THE PREMISE

                    "The Wedding Planner" was Adam Shankman's directorial debut (see my review on "Bedtime Stories" for why I love Shankman, but not that film) and was his take on a modern day fairy tale. Mary Fiore (Jennifer Lopez) is one of San Francisco's best wedding planners. Every detail of her life is perfectly organised so that she doesn't have a free moment to notice that she actually has no life. Her major goal is to land the Donnolly wedding, the biggest social event of the summer, in order to become a partner at the wedding planning agency to which she has dedicated her life.

                    Meanwhile Mary's friends and family are keen to see her happily settled with someone. When Mary is rescued from a runaway rubbish bin by Dr. Steve Edison (Matthew McConaughey) her friend and assistant, Penny (Judy Greer), shoves her into an impromptu date. Her Italian father goes a rather large step further and brings over a family friend from Italy, Massimo (Justin Chambers), to marry her. The charming doctor seems a much better option except for one tiny detail- he's the groom in the Donnolly wedding. How can Mary maintain order in her work life when her personal life is suddenly so out of wack?

                    SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

                    A few of you men may remember that I recently reviewed "Taken", a film with a lot of shooting and chasing and even people getting electrocuted. I promise to find another one of those (I just briefly considered watching one of my husband's war films and then caught myself) and review it sometime soon. For now, I apologise yet again and point out that, if you did manage to sit through it without making horrible sarcastic comments it would probably win you real brownie points. Seriously men, we don't ask that you enjoy such things, just that you don't ruin it for us. So anyway, yeah, that's about the only reason for watching for you guys yet again.

                    Alright, so the film is not ground breaking as far as plot. It's a fairly straight forward, boy meets girl, major reason why boy can't be with girl, boy and girl bicker a lot.... You know how that works out. But it has a comfortable feel to it. There is very little that is unexpected, but the film manages to tell its story at a fairly good pace and manages the emotions well without getting ridiculously sentimental.

                    Visually the film is surprisingly beautiful and it is in this area that Shankman's dance and choreography background really becomes a strength. The various weddings that Mary attends as planner over the course of the film are romantic visions (and the sort of thing that made my father very very concerned when I started planning my own wedding as the flowers for just one of those film weddings would have been several times my entire wedding budget). But all of these are put to shame by the romantic, fairy tale date to see a classic film in the park. Shankman put together a beautiful moment and got to work in dancing couples! He works dance into some other sections of the film as well which seems to be playing to his strengths.

                    Jennifer Lopez really should never be listed in acting award nominees but she, and her famous backside, look fabulous in this film. Considering how sexy she can be when she wants to she obviously threw herself into the role and pulls off the uptight control freak very well. She and McConaughey have great chemistry together. This film reminds me of a time when McConaughey was comfortable with the romantic comedy genre before such horrors as "Failure to Launch" and "Fools Gold" and actually wore clothes (and wore them well!). He's sweet and charismatic and has a good sense of comedic timing. It's a little sad what's happened to him since!

                    The supporting cast has some really fun characters who have a tendency to steal scenes. Bridgette Wilson strikes a great balance between the strong, domineering business woman and the sensitive, vulnerable bride to be, as Steve's fiancé, Fran Donnolly. She and McConaughey also have great chemistry. Justin Chambers is now famous as one of the hot doctors of Grey's Anatomy which makes his role as the bumbling, rustic Massimo rather hilarious to watch now. Watching him on the doctor show you'd never realise that he had this role in him so Chambers' acting abilities have actually risen in my estimation! The vetran actors should not be overlooked of course. Charles Kimbrough and Joanna Gleason steal all of their scenes as the nouveau riche, drunken Donnollys. Meanwhile, Alex Rocco as Mary's over protective father and Lou Myers as his bestfriend provide a nice balance to all of the comedy.

                    THE EXTRAS

                    As expected the bonus materials include director's commentary of the film as well as deleted scenes. It also has a short but somewhat interesting little piece on The Dancer and The Cowboy talking about how out of place McConaughey was with the dance scenes while Lopez really is terrified on a horse (you have to watch the film to see why this is important but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that at some point they dance and ride horses, but not simultaneously).

                    On a whole "The Wedding Planner" falls very comfortably into the romantic comedy genre and gives us what we have come to expect from such. It is not the best of the genre but it certainly is not the worst! At 103 min it's also fairly easy to sit through even if you're not a huge fan.

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                  • Shakespeare In Love (DVD) / DVD / 70 Readings / 68 Ratings
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                    19.07.2009 16:57
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                    The writing of Romeo and Juliet (not historically accurate but who cares?)

                    Another Sunday on my own has rolled around (husband on a stag do in the Peak District) so it's time for another girly film review. Sorry men! I am realising that my taste in film may be coming across as a little shallow, but in 1998 everyone fell in love with "Shakespeare in Love" which went home from the Oscars with 7 awards including Best Picture. A decade later, does it still hold up?

                    THE PREMISE

                    Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) has written a couple of plays, but is no match for the brilliance of the playwright of the day, Christopher Marlowe (Rupert Everett) and still a player for hire who dreams of greater things. Something of a womaniser, Shakespeare has writer's block when it comes to his latest work, "Romeo and Ethel the Pirate's Daughter" because he cannot find his muse.

                    Meanwhile the beautiful and wealthy Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) is hopelessly in love with poetry and plays, particularly those of William Shakespeare. Having been promised in marriage in a business deal between her title hungry father (Nicholas Le Prevost) and the impoverished Lord Wessex (Colin Firth) Viola decides to embark on one last adventure.... performing in Shakespeare's production disguised as a man, Thomas Kent. The romance of Will and Viola inspires the writing of Shakespeare's greatest love story, and poor Ethel is lost to the world to the world of literature forever.

                    SO SHOULD I SEE IT?

                    "Shakespeare In Love" is a beautiful period piece by any standards. Directed by John Madden, "Shakespeare In Love" balances the period costumes, locations and crowds with a love story that works in any time period. The costumes really are gorgeous, particularly Viola's gowns. The poor extras must have been rolled in mud to represent the folk who lived and worked along the Thames. Reconstructions of the theatres of the time as well as the court of Elizabeth I were beautifully executed and before you know you are immersed in Elizabethan England. I have a history background but choose not to employ it to nit pick if there are one or two details that may be slightly historically inaccurate. On a whole I was impressed. The first time I saw the film I was sixth form age and went to the cinema where I fell in love.

                    Madden obviously had a clear, strong vision and handled his star-studded cast brilliantly. In a very large ensemble cast of big personalities the leads had to stand out and win us over quickly. Gwyneth Paltrow is vibrant and full of life in this film in a way that I'm not sure we've seen since. I'm not the biggest Paltrow fan in the world and I really do question that Best Actress Oscar as it doesn't seem like the most challenging role, but she immersed herself in it fully. Fiennes is sexy and romantic in this film. Again, as a Canadian teenager I think this film was the first time I encountered this member of the Fiennes family and fell in love with him.

                    "Shakespeare In Love" had a slew of veteran actors turning relatively small roles into scene stealer. Judy Dench plays the iconic but aging queen with strength and humour, winning the Best Supporting Actress award that year. I have to admit that the size of the role barely seemed to merit such an award but the Academy has always loved Dame Judy and I can't blame them. Geoffrey Rush is delightful as one of the pioneering theatre owners and patrons of the arts, Philip Henslowe, while Martin Clunes is equally as wonderful as his competitor, Richard Burbage. Tom Wilkinson really does steal almost every scene he's in as the money lender, Hugh Fennyman. It is fun to see Colin Firth as an unattractive marriage partner considering his usual roles and Ben Affleck manages to convince me to like him (and I am not generally a fan!) as the leading man of the day, Ned Alleyn.

                    BONUS FEATURES

                    The dvd comes with a few Bonus Features including the theatrical trailers for the film and a documentary on the love that the film industry has for Shakespeare and "Romeo and Juliet" in general. It's actually quite a lovely and interesting documentary.

                    Looking back "Shakespeare In Love" was a product of a time when Hollywood was enamoured of huge, period romances of love in the face of adversity. "Titanic" had been the big winner at the Oscars the year before and "Shakespeare In Love" was playing to the same audience. However, this film stands the test of time better than "Titanic" (and didn't have a theme song by Celine Dion which has got to be a good thing). At only 123 min it's also a much more manageable length! It is a classic romance that will continue to delight.

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                    • Flashbacks Of A Fool (DVD) / DVD / 44 Readings / 44 Ratings
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                      18.07.2009 23:20
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                      Like Daniel Craig? Go watch Defiance instead.

                      When "Flashbacks of a Fool" was in cinema I had been mildly interested but didn't get around to seeing it so I added it to the good old Love Film list. I'm not the biggest Bond fan in the world but really enjoyed Daniel Craig in "Defiance" and so was looking forward to the film. However, if this review is missing a bit of spark and excitement, well, you'll see why.

                      THE PREMISE

                      Directed and written by Baillie Walsh, "Flashbacks of a Fool" opens with aging British Hollywood star, Joe Scott (Daniel Craig). Living a life of substance abuse but no real substance, Scott's life is a series of meaningless sexual encounters. He depends upon his hired help (Eve) to keep his life together and provide a little dose of reality. Waking from yet another rough night and on his way to find out that Hollywood no longer really wants him, Joe learns of the death of his childhood friend, Boots. The death of Boots sets off Joe's flashbacks to his teenager years (Where Joe is played by Harry Eden) in a small seaside town in England and the events that lead him to leave it all behind.

                      SO SHOULD I SEE IT

                      You know what, reading over the premise this could be a really good film! It has great potential. Unfortunately, it's not a really good film. Walsh's imdb page doesn't turn up much of any interest and suggests that perhaps he took on more than he could handle writing and directing this film. Sometimes writing and directing done by the same individual can turn out wonderful, entertaining, witty, films, but in this case a fresh eye and some more experience might have been able to do a better job with Walsh's material.

                      The opening of the film seemed poorly judged. The credit section seemed to go on forever and the theme song (which I have barred from my mind and refuse to go look up again... hate, hate, hate) was loud and jarring and repetitive. It was set over what started out as a beautifully shot scene of a very young, adorable, cherub cheeked Joe Scott. Just as I'm thinking "what a beautiful little child actor" suddenly there before my eyes is a writhing sex scene. What the heck??? This was a little off putting as my brain refused to put the two together. There are several scenes of a sexual nature in this film and they have some rather graphic noises to go with them. Just a warning as this film is only rated 15.

                      Even with the sex scenes, there just wasn't enough done with a great premise to keep a viewer's attention. The story arc did not seem to unfold very well, the characters just didn't develop enough for us to feel much empathy and, considering the death of Boots sets off the flashbacks, the film barely gives us anything about their past history. If you don't connect with the young Joe Scott (and I don't think this was really the fault of Eden) then you just don't care where the film is going. It is not a good sign when you start thinking that probably you should empty the dishwasher halfway through the film!!

                      Craig is actually delightful in the film. Considering the man is James Bond and really quite gorgeous, he really embraced the aging actor role. Don't get me wrong, he's still in great shape and shows it off right from the start with a very in-your-face sex scene. However, Craig is in so little of the film that his charisma really couldn't save it.

                      Eve had a really small role as Joe Scott's housekeeper and general confident. She was refreshing and real and straight speaking in a film where a lot of people seemed to want to whisper. The first thirty minutes of the film, particularly the ten or so where she and Craig were interacting was wonderful. I'd totally sign up to see a film about her straightening out his life. Make it a bit of a comedy with heart and I'm there. But that was not this film.

                      The younger actors were ok for the most part. Harry Eden is a really really good looking, but I think could have used more direction and more to work with in many ways. Max Deacon as Boots was barely there and made very little lasting impression. As far as the younger generation go it was Felicity Jones as the young love of Joe's life, Ruth, who totally stole every scene she was in. She is delightful and has a star quality that makes me think we'll see a lot of her in the future. I must say she can pull of 1970s fashion and work it to within an inch of its life. I loved her wardrobe in this film.

                      This film has one or two great 70s songs on the soundtrack but otherwise I was not overly enamoured of the music choices. It was a great era but it had not yet reached the coastal town that Joe grew up in so, other than the previously mentioned wardrobe of Ruth, and a great blue eye shadow moment for Joe, don't expect great 70s references here either.

                      EXTRAS

                      The film lasted 110 min. That was really enough for me. If it's not for you then the extras section contains some deleted scenes. I checked what was under the extras tab purely for the purposes of writing a review, but I wasn't watching any more of the film in the form of deleted scenes, not even for you lovely folks!

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                      • More +
                        17.07.2009 10:36
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                        A convenient gift list

                        General disclaimer to start things off: This is a review of a Gift List service. If the comments you are going to make all relate to how gift lists are tacky and horrible and you find it horribly gauche to receive them with your wedding invitation then don't read a review of a Gift List service. Go read about something you like. Why put yourself through it?

                        I'm sorry if that sounds a little harsh and it probably is a bit harsh because when I started wedding planning I had conflicted thoughts about gift lists and was actually a little horrified that in England you receive information about the gift list with the invite. I've never had that in Canada. Of course I also know of a friend who received no less than 15 silver photo frames and another couple that wound up with a rather impressive but not overly practical collection of tea pots. Since moving to England buying wedding presents for people has been much more fun (if no cheaper) as you can actually see what people want, get it for them and feel like you've told them you're happy for them in an appropriate way.

                        We did recently receive a wedding invite with no gift list information. The groom is a good friend of my husband but I barely know the bride. I figured that eventually I'd have to make my husband get in touch with the groom to find out if they wanted money for honeymoon or what we were supposed to do. Luckily we wound up socialising with both of them and the bride handed me their John Lewis gift list information a little sheepishly. She said she'd felt it was tacky to include gift list info with their invites but was now having to either hand it to people directly or post it on its own which seemed even tackier to her! Instead of saying "We want you to celebrate with us when we get married and if you want to give us something here's some help with what to buy." It wound up being "Gift List" all on its own.

                        We got married in the summer of 2008 which many brides will remember as the year that Wrap It went bust and their wedding gift list became a nightmare. Luckily I was spared such horrors as my husband had decided that the Wrap It centre in Norwich was weird and wanted to go to John Lewis where he was comfortable. As wedding season is once again upon us I have been interested to note that both weddings we are invited to next month have gone with John Lewis for their lists as well. This means I've now been on both sides of the equation when it comes to their Wedding Gift List service.

                        SETTING UP YOUR LIST

                        One of the reasons that we chose John Lewis is that they have branches almost everywhere, unlike a local Norwich department store that we considered. This means that for most folks looking to set up a gift list all you have to do is go to the store and follow the signs to the specially designated gift list department. We waited a few minutes for one of the gift list folks to be free and they sat us down at a computer and showed us how the process worked. Our person was very friendly and knowledgeable. Obviously they are trying to sell you on their list, but we didn't feel uncomfortably pressured.

                        If you decide you want to go through with setting up a list with John Lewis then both the bride and groom's details are taken as well as the wedding date. Generally the gift list goes live six weeks before the wedding but we requested a slightly earlier date because of the number of friends and family who were travelling over the summer. The usual process is for John Lewis to arrange for delivery of the gifts two to three weeks after your wedding but you could modify that as well if you wished. We were given a stack of cards that you send off with your invitations indicating that you have a gift list with John Lewis, the account number associated with your wedding and the date that the list will be accessible online and in store. One was filled out for us and I sat and did the rest at home later.

                        The details out of the way, the fun could begin. The helpful man demonstrated how the hand held scanner worked. It's most basic function, scanning in the item in front of you using its barcode is very straight forward. However there were some other options that I promptly forgot once I was on the store floor but luckily it's a gadget and my husband is a gadget person. Actually at times it was hard to get him to discuss the things right in front of us because he discovered that, upon scanning an item such as a milk jug, you could access a list of all other items in the same line. I don't think I actually got to hold the scanner the entire time we were in the store! Once we'd had enough for the day we simply returned the scanner to the gift list section.

                        When making up your list they do recommend putting a wide range of gifts at various prices. We knew that many of our friends are as broke as we are so really tried to keep that in mind. While we were setting up a home, the apartment was already furnished as we were already playing with the idea of emigrating to Canada at the time so we didn't have huge pieces that we wanted anyway. Some of our items were around £5. The majority were under £50. Your gift list information when sent to you or when access online will tell you how many of your gifts fall into various price categories. This can give you an idea if you're going a little overboard (ie if all of your gifts are over £75 some of your guests might struggle a little) We included some fun things like board games as we love playing them with our friends and I often by them as wedding presents anyway. Was pleased to see on a friend's list recently that they decided to do the same thing after buying Cranium for us!

                        For many people, such as ourselves, you want the gift list set up before you send out invites. While the wedding planning guide lines still suggest you send your invites out 6 to 8 weeks before the wedding, that's just not practical for most people in this day and age. We had to confirm the number of tables if not the exact numbers a couple of weeks before the wedding and the hotel wanted rooms reserved at least three weeks before the wedding or they would release them. Many people are now sending their invites out three or four months before the wedding. However, as far as the store is concerned, scanning your full gift list four months before the wedding is far too early. Goods are somewhat seasonal and you may find that the item you scanned in May has limited availability by August while new fun and exciting things are suddenly available to you. So they may suggest that you set up your list but return to scan things at a later date.

                        MANAGING YOUR LIST

                        Once you have gone home you are able to access your list online from the start. It is not available to guests yet but you can add and delete items via the internet. This means you have access to goods that are available on the John Lewis website that my not have been to hand in the store. John Lewis does insist on sending paper updates and information regarding your gift list for those who have less internet access or are less internet addicted. Ever conscious of the amount of paper and postage being used on our wedding we tried to decline this service but got the paper anyway!

                        This is where I have to bring up one of the problems, or at least annoyances, that I had with this service. Not long before our gift list went live I received an email from the gift list folks at our local branch telling me that there was limited availability on our silverware set and so they wanted us to switch it for something else. This doesn't sound like a big deal except that my husband and I had spent embarrassing amounts of time playing with every piece of silverware in the store and my husband was dedicated to this particular set. I was in love with its wooden box and we were both slightly devastated (it was wedding planning that really made us overly emotional but still) at this news. Then I went online and discovered that, while Norwich only had one set listed on their inventory, the London stores and Reading (where my in laws live so thought to check there) had upwards of 30 sets available between them. I called the store, pointed this out and asked if we were not able to get one of the sets at another location. The woman was polite, professional and said that as long as we didn't mind things being delivered separately if they had to be called in from other stores then they were happy to leave anything on our list that was available elsewhere.

                        Well, there goes our attempts at being environmentally friendly I guess, but we were happy to get the things we loved from elsewhere. It was an unneeded stress leading up to the wedding but I can see why they'd try to keep lorries off the road and deliver everything at once.

                        Anyway, once the list is available to guests they can access it online or by going into any John Lewis in the country. The account number included on your card is one way of quickly bringing up your list but they can also search by either the bride or groom's names. We did this recently for friends' wedding and it worked just as quickly. You can browse all gifts on the list or search by price bracket (ie under £50 etc) or by type of item (kitchen, bathroom, bedroom). If you buy the gift online you can leave a message for the couple then and there which is immediately available to them online. My husband and I loved watching our gift list and were just stunned by the generosity of people. We'd told all of our friends, who we know are young and just starting out and broke like we are, that we simply wanted them there for our day and not to worry about gifts and such and that we would arrange to put them up with local friends if need be. I mentioned before that we tried to keep our list reasonably priced. We found that people sometimes liked to buy a set of related items such as two pillows and the pillow cases, but no one felt forced to (I hope!).

                        Very important if you are a wedding guest who still likes to have the option of going into the store and picking up the item in person to remember to let the store know you are buying from a guest list!! We only had one set of guests bring a gift list item from a store, wrapped to the wedding. Opening it to see it was our wine glasses I didn't stop to think twice about whether they were the people whose name I'd seen with the wine glasses on the internet. When our delivery came later and I suddenly had wine glasses coming out of my ears I realised the people who'd gone into the store had not had their item crossed off the list!!

                        DELIVERY

                        The gift list remains active for about two weeks after the wedding. Sometimes people do decide to order your present later I guess but I think the real reason is to allow you to purchase things that guests didn't buy either using vouchers that you were given or your own money. Anyway, once the gift list is closed the items are delivered to you or you can arrange delivery earlier.

                        We arranged to have our items delivered the week after we got back from our honeymoon as I knew I'd have real flexibility with work that week. It was a relief to have a little time to sort out all of the wedding chaos at our apartment before having the presents all arrive. Our little apartment was so insane when we left for our honeymoon that my bridesmaid (who had a key in case of emergencies) went in and organised one day because she didn't want me coming back to a bomb site. If we'd had the gifts on top of that I might have had a break down.

                        I was recently at a wedding where they'd had a gift list but requested that everyone pick up the item and bring it with them (which was a bit of a pain quite honestly after ordering online any!). It was a military wedding that had about 100 for dinner but more like 200 in the evening. The next morning the bride, groom and their parents were found just staring at the pile of gifts plus all of the flowers and decorations in the middle of the hotel reception completely overwhelmed. I'm sure it made for a wonderful photo op but one that I could live without. You can decide for yourself whether or not you'd enjoy that!

                        Anyway, the day of the delivery was arranged and I believe I was given a general slot of time related to morning or afternoon. The pillowcases and duvet cover that had been found in another store arrived the day before and had their own separate delivery slips. The gift vouchers people had ordered online (some had bought theirs in person and put them in their wedding cards) were also delivered separately a few days before, which was no problem because they fit into our post box. All of the goods were delivered well packaged in boxes by a helpful man and left where I indicated. At the time I was given a full print out of the whole gift list, what had been ordered and what had not been purchased.

                        It was upon opening all of the boxes and sorting through everything that I discovered the wine glass duplication. I took one box of wine glasses and my gift list information back up to the gift list section of my local John Lewis. It was not a problem in the least. I was given vouchers to replace the extra wine glasses and the woman even apologised on behalf of the store. I don't think it was their fault that our guests hadn't crossed the item off of the gift list at the Reading branch, but nice of her all the same!


                        CONCLUSION

                        Over all we found the John Lewis staff helpful and friendly. I hope this is true at all branches but cannot say for sure. We found the process fairly easy and the addition of the scanner really did make the gift list a little more "groom" friendly. The presents are for the groom as well so it shouldn't be too painful for him but it did make finding matching pillow cases, sheets and duvet covers more exciting for him. Other than the annoyance at being informed an item had limited availability when there were lots in the country, I enjoyed monitoring our list. The delivery and follow up after the wedding was very straight forward. It's also nice to know that John Lewis is one of the more secure options in the current economic climate.

                        As a guest I've also found it very easy to use and enjoyed picking out something that I know my friends want to have. I know how excited I got when our list went live and so like to go on as soon as I can to find something fun to buy so others have the same exciting experience. I was pleased that they found it convenient enough when they were our guests to use the same service.

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                        • More +
                          14.07.2009 15:10
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                          Is everyone capable of evil deeds?

                          Originally published in the US in 2003, Lionel Shriver's novel "We Need to Talk About Kevin" received huge critical acclaim and was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. My copy of the book was published in 2006 here in the UK. Somehow I missed most of the fuss over the novel and picked it up largely at random from the 3 for 2 section at Waterstones a couple of years ago. As a member of the Columbine generation, having been in high school in Canada when the shootings there occurred, the subject matter of the novel touches a nerve, still raw a decade later. I have since read several books along the same lines but Shriver's stands out as the most striking, emotional and haunting of them all.

                          The novel is structured as a series of letters from Eva to her husband Franklin beginning in November 2000. Separated from Franklin and their daughter, Eva struggles to understand her family, particularly her son, Kevin, and how they all came to their present situation. It is no secret from the start that a tragedy has occurred at the hands of her teenage son, a tragedy from which a family and a community will never fully recover. Retrospectively she tries to comprehend the son of whom she has always been slightly frightened, divorced from emotionally and to determine her own guilt. Had her son been born different, or had she made him that way? Was he unable to love properly because she failed to love him?

                          Shriver explores a philosophical and psychological question that has pervaded society almost from the start, but resonates now as much as ever; are some people born more likely to commit evil than others? She draws Eva in such a way that you are compelled directly into her life and her emotions. Somewhere out there in the world are many Eva's and she steps off the page into being from the first line. At times it is hard to step back and question her perspective as certainly it is not an objective one. You see her family entirely through her eyes and her sense of loss and failure. You enter her world and with her suffer a mother's worst nightmare.

                          The use of letters allows Shriver to explore decades in her slightly less than 500 page novel. It gives Eva a strong voice and encourages the reader to enter her stream of consciousness in a way that most straight forward story telling would not. Her style is gripping and well paced. Her vocabulary is intelligent and extensive but never showy or off putting. It is one of those novels that you pick up and cannot put down. When you reach the last page you are left still clinging to the book, unable to shake off the feeling that it could be any of us.

                          Shriver dedicates her work to Terri calling her novel "One worst-case scenario we've both escaped." One can only hope that we too will escape such a fate.

                          The cover of the book I have is different from that in the photo. I doubt this matters much.


                          Original publication USA, Counterpoint, Perseus Books Group, New York, 2003
                          First UK publication Serpent's Tail, London, 2005
                          My 5-star edition Mackays of Chatham, 2006

                          ISBN: 1-85242-467-2
                          ISBN-13: 978-1-85242-467-1

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                          • Taken [2008] (DVD) / DVD / 50 Readings / 49 Ratings
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                            13.07.2009 18:16
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                            They took the wrong guy's daughter.

                            I'm fairly certain that Taken wound up on our Lovefilm list because I thought it might interest my husband. Maybe I'm making that up. However, I definitely don't think I meant to wind up watching it by myself in my pjs on a Saturday morning. In case you're wondering, I don't suggest this as Saturday morning viewing but it is worth a look.

                            THE PREMISE

                            Directed by Pierre Morel, Taken is an action story with heart (a little heart anyway). Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is a former government agent whose commitment to the job ruined his marriage and has caused his daughter to grow up largely without him. Hoping to reconnect with his daughter, Kim (Maggie Grace) before it is too late, Mills leaves his job to live near his daughter, ex-wire and her new, very wealthy husband. When Kim, a minor, needs Bryan's permission to travel out of the country to Europe for the summer with a friend, he is uneasy about the situation but agrees, primarily to avoid months of teenage sulking and anger. Kim is meant to be staying with her friend's cousins at their apartment in Paris and promises to call daily on the mobile he gives her (Awesome Dad by the way. Mine certainly didn't give me a free phone when I went to Europe and let me call internationally on his money!).

                            Considering the number of teenagers who travel to Europe every year and come home just fine Bryan's obsession with Kim's safety seems a little over the top. However, it turns out her friend, Amanda, is something of an idiot and agrees to share a cab with a cute guy they meet at the airport. Amanda has also failed to tell Kim that her cousins who own the apartment are actually in Spain for the summer so the girls are on their own. About an hour into their European adventure the girls find themselves in serious danger and Bryan is racing against the clock to rescue his daughter before she disappears into the underworld of sex trafficking. (If you're concerned this is a spoiler then take it up with the folks who do trailors because all of that was shown in the publicity!)

                            SO SHOULD I SEE IT

                            Have to say from the start that I love Liam Neeson. He's just loveable even when electrocuting someone. Oddly that may have made it slightly hard for me to commit to his character in this film as I just don't find Liam Neeson intimidating. He is really very tall for an actor though so manages to be imposing at least. Neeson is great in the film and manages to balance out his character without going over the top. He really is the whole film so quite honestly the other performances don't matter all that much. Maggie Grace does a good job with the role she was given. And my brother would say that doesn't matter because she's hot.

                            The plot line has a few holes that you might find yourself falling in. As I've already mentioned, thousands of American teenagers descend upon Europe every summer and I think most of them manage to be in Paris for more than 3 hours before being kidnapped and sold into the sex trade. However, the film plays on the fears that most women travelling or just out on their own in a strange place have. There is a vulnerability for women on their own because we know that scary things can happen. Just because Bryan Mills is a paranoid over protective and slightly controlling father does not mean that his daughter is safe. Once you accept that the rest falls into place.

                            There is a decent amount of action, shooting, exploding etc in this film and Neeson seems to be in pretty good shape. There are also some disturbing scenes which some people would find off putting. The film is rated 18 for a reason so go in prepared. This isn't a slasher flick and there are some much more disturbing revenge films out there but this does dip its toe into the revenge genre as Neeson promises his daughter's kidnappers will not live and doesn't necessarily carry out his threat in the most humane way possible.

                            Overall Taken is an entertaining film. The pace moves well. The action flows nicely and the characters fall into the categories with which Hollywood has made us comfortable. Just stick to cartoons on Saturday morning and save it for an evening.

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                            • Dirty Dancing (DVD) / DVD / 54 Readings / 52 Ratings
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                              12.07.2009 17:34
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                              No one puts Baby in a corner

                              My husband is away on a four day camping trip for school leaving me with rather a lot of time on my hands. This means time for all of those guilty pleasures and one of my all time guilty pleasures is Dirty Dancing. When it was first released in 1987 my parents felt that, being six years old, I was a little young to see it. Kind of have to agree with them that Sleeping Beauty was probably more my scene. That meant that I actually didn't get around to seeing Dirty Dancing for the first time until about 1997. Oh the cheesy goodness I had been missing out on!


                              THE PREMISE

                              Directed by Emile Ardano, Dirty Dancing was written by Eleanor Bergstein and inspired by her summer holidays at the old school resorts of the American Catskills. It is the summer of 1963, a simpler time when America was on the cusp of political and social change. As we are told in the opening voice over "when everyone called me Baby, and it didn't occur to me to mind. That was before Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn't wait to join the Peace Corps."

                              "Baby" Frances Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family spend the summer at Kellerman's, a resort the provides dance lessons, charades, bingo and an end of season talent show. About to start college in the Autumn, Baby is an idealist who worships her father, a doctor (Jerry Orbach) and has little in common with her sister (Jane Brucker) or mother (Kelly Bishop). The nosy type, Baby finds her way into the world of the resort staff with its clearly demarked class structure. She is drawn into the lives of dance pros Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes) and by helping them challenges her structure of beliefs and values.

                              A commentary on the class, gender and race barriers in American in the 1960s this film tries to elevate itself beyond a romantic dance film. Of course, really it is just a romantic dance film, but it has brief moments that do meet its lofty goals.

                              SO SHOULD I WATCH IT

                              First question, are you male? If the answer is yes then chances are the only reason you would watch this film is because of a woman. Patrick Swayze made other films for you, this one has no guns or car chases, move on. It does occur to me that if you are a gay man then this does have Swayze in his prime, showing off his six pack quite regularly and wearing very tight jeans. Of course he is also attempting to exude heterosexuality in his dancing so it's kind of a close call there. Will make a note to survey gay male friends and get back to you on this.

                              Ok, so the ladies are probably still with me here. It's a film about a hot dance instructor who falls in love with an average girl and makes her a great dancer. What's not to like there? The girl is smart, fairly wealthy, and opinionated and he loves all of those things about her. Regular women everywhere swoon and wish that someone with a six pack like that would dance with her that way. It evokes the innocence of the early 1960s but hints at the passion and sexuality to come later in the decade.

                              The reason I own Dirty Dancing (the special anniversary edition with two dvds at that) is the sense of nostalgia it evokes. This is not the best romantic film ever made. It's not even the best romantic film made in the 80s or the best romantic film starring Patrick Swayze (Ghost wins that one for me), but for so many who were pre-teens, teens or just around in the 80s this film recalls that time. Its soundtrack is up there with Top Gun for most recognised songs and I admit, I own the soundtrack as well!!

                              The acting is not really why anyone saw this film, I don't think. Swayze was really hitting his stride with his career and really commits to his character, a poor boy lost in the sea of affluence. His vulnerability is the reason posters went up in bedrooms all over America. If you watch some of the extras on the dvd and the commentary everyone openly admits that there was pretty much zero chemistry between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. There really is nothing there when they aren't dancing. Both were very good dancers going into the film and worked hard but chemistry can't be pulled out of thing air.

                              On the other hand Grey and Orbach work brilliantly as father and daughter. Orbach is wonderful in this film and it's just so nice to see him as something other than a cop. Kelly Bishop got thrown into the role of Baby's mother relatively late in the planning and she does a lovely job with a small role. I loved Bishop in the Gilmore Girls, proving that women can just get better with age. Jack Weston as the aging resort owner, Max Kellerman, who laments that the youth of the day want trips to Europe "22 countries in 3 days" is delightful.

                              The script is pretty much pure 80s romantic cheese. If it were good it wouldn't be the same film and the thousands of references to putting Baby in the corner would never have come to be.

                              EXTRAS

                              I have the two dvd set so not all of the extras I have access to will be included in the regular older dvd. Some of the highlights were to do with the dancing in the film. The first day the dancers were called together and simply had a dance party to get to know each other which is fun. The background on Swayze and Grey was also interesting. Swayze insisted on doing all of the work on the log himself and managed to get injured in the process. There is also a piece on the making of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (guest appearance by Patrick Swayze suggesting his career was not going so well at the time), which is such a guilty pleasure of mine that I wouldn't be able to review it because I know it's terrible but I love it (Oh Diego, how good your career has been other than that film!!). Not everyone will be interested in the extras but they're a time filler on a rainy day.

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                              • More +
                                11.07.2009 22:18
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                                Maids Head Hotel: a great venu in the Norwich city centre

                                When it came time to book accommodation for friends and family for our Norwich city-centre based wedding last summer I wound up selecting the four star Maids Head Hotel which is part of the Folio Hotels group. My parents spent a week there leading up to the wedding so we were in and out of the hotel all week. My brothers spent three nights in a room with two twins. My bridesmaids and I stayed in the Cathedral Suite the night before the wedding and then my husband and I stayed there the night of the wedding. Most of my husband's family also stayed in the hotel so we had a great deal of experience and feedback on the property.

                                THE LOCATION

                                The Maids Head Hotel is on the roundabout of the popular Tombland area in Norwich. There are a range of restaurant chains right on the doorstep including Whetherspoons, La Tasca, Café Uno and Zizzi's. It is also right next to the Norwich Cathedral. It is a walkable distance from both the railstation and bus station but those with luggage who are arriving to either of those locations would probably like to take a cab. For those driving, it has its own carpark behind the building. The receptionists will give you a code for getting in and out of the parking lot. For those wanting to be near the city centre and market it is an ideal location.

                                THE HISTORY

                                Despite the sad lights spelling out the hotel name (which my husband refused to vandalise in the middle of the night to remove them from our wedding week), the front of the hotel speaks of its history. The oldest portions of the building date back to the 13th century. The Courtyard restaurant has many pieces which indicate former church ownership and its Jacobean bar is oozing ambience. The claim is that in 1587 Queen Elizabeth I stayed here with a suite named in honour of its royal guest. Much of the hotel is much newer and the newer section does tend to have larger rooms though there are still many rooms with lovely beams and old fireplaces (which I don't think work!).

                                THE ROOMS

                                Prior to booking the hotel for our friends and family I was shown around much of the hotel and got to look in several different rooms. Over the course of 2008 the entire sleeping side of the hotel was renovated, a process which was still on going in August when our wedding party stayed (more on that later). From the look of the older rooms this renovation has seriously improved the quality of the hotel. As the hotel was build in several stages it can be a little complicated to get around. There are signs on the walls but they aren't always as helpful as they might be. I got very good at finding my parents' room and our suite, but never could get to my brothers' room without someone taking me there!

                                My parents' double room was very spacious, which was useful since they were storing my dress and some other bits and pieces for the wedding as well as all of their stuff for a three week trip to England (they live in Canada for those who aren't aware that I am Canadian!). Their room looked out over the roundabout giving them a nice view of some of the Cathedral Close but also a little noise from the street. They had air conditioning and could have closed all of the windows which would have virtually eliminated the noise but my Mum was singing at the wedding and overly cold air conditioned air sometimes bothers her throat. I crashed there with my Mum one night (long story) and can report they had a very comfortable double bed and a very nice bathtub. The room was very clean. The bathroom was well stocked with towels, shampoos and soaps and they had a good sized wardrobe.

                                The suite we stayed in was quite set apart from the rest of the hotel. I'd seen some lovely four-poster bedrooms that are the same price as their suites. If it had just been a room for my husband and I's "first night" I probably would have selected one of them, but having the very large sitting room was incredibly useful the night before and the day of the wedding. The sitting room had the original beams which made me happy. It also had a couch that pulled out into a bed (useful for bridesmaids the night before), a couple of chairs, a coffee table, a writing desk and a larger table with four chairs. It was very spacious! It also had great light, which pleased our wedding photographer. The bedroom had a king sized bed and another desk. The bathroom was off of the bedroom and was quite large with another very nice bathtub. There was a tv in both the bedroom and the sitting room as well as air conditioning in both. The staff came in and tidied up the room again after we'd gotten ready and departed for the wedding so everything looked great when my husband and I arrived after the wedding. We were actually so tired we didn't pop open the bottle of champagne that was sitting so fetchingly in it's bucket of ice.

                                We were all pleased with our rooms across the board.

                                THE RESTAURANT

                                The restaurant can be found by going through the couched lounge area (really the largest settee I've ever seen!), down the stairs, past the function room, toilets and coat area. It can also be accessed from the street. The Courtyard restaurant at the Maids Head is a lovely location, particularly for the colonials who just adore such things. It has a tiled floor and the tables are set up around the font. The font no longer has water, but instead holds candles. The courtyard has been glassed in providing great light.

                                Of great importance to anyone staying in a hotel is the breakfast. When I set aside a block of rooms I had guaranteed that breakfast would be included. I wound up eating there three or four mornings. They have the usual cooked breakfast buffet with bacon, sausages, mushrooms, hashbrowns, tomatoes and fried eggs. I discovered early on that you could ask one of the wait staff for scrambled eggs and they would have them prepared and brought out to you. There is an area for toasting your own bread with butter and various jams available. There is also lighter fair such as fruit, cheese and cereal available. We found their pots of tea and coffee to be of a good size for keeping everyone going.

                                I have also eaten dinner at the restaurant and they have a fairly wide range of options including local and seasonal produce. The menu changes regularly but has a fairly international flare. The prices are a little on the high side, starting at around £13 for an entrée, but quite what you'd expect merely from the décor of the restaurant. They have an extensive drinks menu as well.

                                My work Christmas lunch was also at the Courtyard Restaurant. They'd advertised a lunchtime group special which was about £20 for three courses which was very reasonable. We had a long table for 15 people that was decorated with streamers, noise makers and Christmas chocolates which was fun and festive. Our previously made choices were marked on our name card by coloured dots. I had the roast turkey dinner and the turkey was very nice. The veg were placed in dishes for sharing along the table and there was plenty of roast potatoes, carrots and sprouts for all.

                                THE SERVICE

                                So this is where I have to bring up a few minuses! The front of house staff for the hotel really let the property down and the only complaints we have come from our dealings with them. From my first visit where they decided I was there to plan a wedding even though I'd asked to see hotel rooms flags should have been raised. The people at the front desk do not seem very well trained. Perhaps they have had high staff turn over in the past, perhaps it's because many of them did not have English as a first language. I'm not sure, but they were always confused!

                                The two women who were in charge of group room bookings were fabulous. They were helpful and took the time to show me around on two different occasions. They negotiated a fair price between £80-90 per double room including breakfast which was very good for the height of tourist season in Norwich. They gave me all the information everyone would need to reserve their own room out of the group we set aside. They set up my parents' stay for a week as well as my brother's stay that was slightly longer than the rest. Our suite was £120 per night including breakfast

                                So everything should have gone very smoothly, right? Sigh. My mother's call to book their room somehow lead to them being put into one room for the first five nights and then another room for the two nights attached to the wedding. We had to work this out in person. My mother in law called to reserve a room for my in-laws and my husband's sister and her partner. At the time they did not take a credit card. On a visit to Norwich she popped in to check that was ok and was assured that it was. Until the day of the wedding when they all arrived and somehow there had been no reservation made for them. They got settled into rooms without my being notified so it all worked out, but unnecessary stress!! Somehow my aunt wound up making a reservation and having a room but being informed that breakfast wasn't included in her room charge. It was all just ridiculous!! Everything got worked out, but unnecessary if the staff were properly trained.

                                There were other little things as well. At one point I called down to reception to request a phone number as there were no phone books in the room. After 10 minutes I finally got the number I'd requested. I wished I'd just used my phone to search for it online to begin with. Also, as mentioned the hotel was undergoing renovations. I'd been advised that works will still be going on in August, which was fine. However, no one ever thought to mention that the corridor outside our suite was where the work would be happening. I checked in carrying wedding gear only to be met with a dusty corridor! No noise ever disturbed our room but my father walking me to the car was a pretty funny site as we tried to keep the dress from catching on anything and me from tripping over anything in my heels! a

                                I must say that the restaurant staff were lovely. They were quick to refill the breakfast buffet and pleasant when we made special requests. The bridal party met in the Jacobean bar prior to the rehearsal and found the bar tender helpful as well. On other visits to the Maids Head the function staff have always seemed good as well. I'd say that if you are considering the Maids Head for a conference, business meetings or even a wedding, their co-ordinators who are slightly higher up the ladder are great. Just avoid who ever is standing behind the reception desk!!

                                IN CONCLUSION

                                The Maids Head is a lovely hotel. There was been some great work put into the rooms as well as the meeting rooms and the restaurant making it a beautiful venue. It has everything you could really ask for as far as food and amenities. It really is the front desk staff that let things down. I hope they work on that because those particular staff aren't really up to the 4 stars everything else deserves.

                                For further info, photos and special package deals (they tend to run these regularly) see their website www.foliohotels.com/maidshead/.

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