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Have decided to wander back to the site for a bit - 2016 was a bit hectic!

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since 21/05/2008


If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 items would you take? 29/11/2015

Shipwrecked with the random offerings of a Rucksack!

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 5 items would you take? Now this is an unexpected development. Somehow I have been shipwrecked in what appears to be the middle of nowhere . . . it’s not a good start, is it? By some lucky miracle my glasses have stayed on as I began to swim towards something in the distance and I can see that it’s some kind of rock. Or maybe it isn’t; it seems to be rather a big rock . . . in fact it could even be an island. There is definitely some kind of greenery sticking up, which could be handy; the sun’s quite hot when you’re out of the water, and you’ve got a rucksack on. (Obviously it was worth getting that one with the belt that clips round my waist after all.) That thing ahead is definitely an island; it’s got a pale edge, which I’m hoping will be sand instead of that funny gravelly stuff. After about twenty minutes’ swimming - long enough in this heat - the water is definitely getting more shallow, because my feet keep hitting the bottom so . . . oh, handy! I can stand up . . . nearly trod on a crab there, which possibly wouldn’t have been fun for me or the crab. (At least there’s food; I’ve never actually tried crab, but it could be quite nice.) It’s been . . . I’d guess five minutes (I knew it was a bad idea to stop wearing a watch!), and luckily this rock that I’m sitting on is quite flat, but it is getting quite hot, so maybe this is a bad side of the island to sit in the evening? It looks like the sun’s setting but it’s also in my eyes. Luckily, I think I’ve got a solution. I’ll just check my ...

Muller Fruit Corner Blackberry & Raspberry Yoghurt 19/11/2015

There are berries in my Fruit Corner!

Muller Fruit Corner Blackberry & Raspberry Yoghurt We eat a lot of Fruit Corners in our house, but normally it’s the invariable strawberry or peach and apricot ones they put into multipacks; no one else in our house likes the latter flavour so I tend to eat them and I recently recall going round Tesco thinking, “Please can we buy something else for a change?” But fate has worked for me. Tesco have ended the buy-one-get-one-free on the fruit multipacks and there’s a new offer on; 68p per individual Fruit Corner or £3 for six (as opposed to £3.89 per Fruit Corner six-pack) and my parents are on holiday so I’m in charge of the shopping . . . and I spotted the blackberry and raspberry Fruit Corners. (You probably already know I crave variety, and I came over all nostalgic when I saw these; as I recall, the blackberry and raspberry ones were one of the early Fruit Corner flavours . . . before they started doing things with mini meringues and Eton Mess . . . it’s so long since I’ve seen one that I was sure they’d been discontinued.) So they went into the trolley. I tend to find that Fruit Corners have a reasonable shelf life; this one was about ten or twelve days after the day I went shopping. As with most Fruit Corners, it comes in a square pot divided into a big section and a smaller one and the foil lid was sealed down properly; I sometimes find they can come unsealed and leak but this one didn’t. Naturally, they can't be resealed. They are vegetarian, need to be refrigerated (obviously), and the standard 150g pot offers you ...

Tesco Cotton Multi Surface Cleaner 17/11/2015

Coming up smelling of . . . lemons?

Tesco Cotton Multi Surface Cleaner Before I start, to clarify any confusion, this review is about the lemon version of this cleaner. Ciao have ordered me to post it under this category, so feel free to use your imagination.) Occasionally - when I’ve got nothing better to do - I start stalking round the house, noticing things . . . like cobwebs and dust and general grime. When that mood strikes me, I know it won’t be long before a bucket gets filled with hot water and a generous splash of multi-surface cleaner. I normally use the Ecover one but last time I was shopping with my dad (which means “select most suitable item and buy it” rather than traipse from shop to shop!) Tesco didn’t have it last time I needed it and this one seemed worth a go. I’m sure you’ll be astounded to know that the lemon-scented version of this Tesco own-brand cleaner is a vivid yellow-with-a-hint-of-green; if you can imagine the colour that would come from dropping a luminous yellow highlighter in water, you’re probably quite close. (It almost looks like it should glow in the dark . . . not unlike Peckham Spring water in Only Fools and Horses, come to think of it.) Like most cleaners of this type, it comes in a semi-opaque plastic bottle which can be recycled. The liquid smells fresh - not exactly freshly sliced lemon, there’s a slightly “detergent” scent to it and to be honest, I prefer the almost colourless Ecover one - and you only need a little splash (about a capful) in a bucket of water, so at only £1 for a 1 litre bottle, it ...

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England - Ian Mortimer 16/11/2015

Plague, disease . . . and Elizabeth I stealing the silver?

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England - Ian Mortimer If you wanted a book that would tell you how people in general lived during the Elizabethan period, you could do far worse than read this one. I think I had vaguely heard of it before I spotted it on sale in Waterstones for £8.99 and decided it was worth spending a handy voucher on (winnings from a photography competition). Being me, I’d started on it before I caught the train home! I am a big history fan and I’m also a researcher; I’ve done talks about my own family history and I think that a huge challenge for any historian has to be the point where the research gets manhandled into a talk, book, article or whatever other final outcome is required. Finding useful and interesting information about the past is one thing; shaping it into a 400+ page paperback that engages a reader is quite another. So has Ian Mortimer managed this? To get to the point, yes, I think he has. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it covers just about every aspect of life that you could possibly think of; this book could answer all those questions that school history lessons - and many TV documentaries - rarely ever touch upon. If you want to know what people ate - or even read a recipe for preparing a pike fish - or how much the goods mentioned by a wealthy farmer in his will were worth, this is the book you need. Basic, useful details just seem to come up in passing, so the chapter about people manages to cover such diverse topics as the average age of an Elizabethan, the number of ...

Marks & Spencer La Maison de Senteurs Blanche Body Wash 11/11/2015

A sophisticated scent from a bubbly birthday present

Marks & Spencer La Maison de Senteurs Blanche Body Wash I’m keen on many things but one thing that I really love is a good, hot bath; most of the bath brushes, body scrubs, scrubby gloves and sponges in our bathroom are mine! So I was very pleased to open a birthday gift bag from my friend almost seven weeks ago and find a Marks and Spencer’s Senteurs Blanche body wash from their La Maison de Senteurs range. (I know you shouldn’t check the price of presents, but the Marks and Spencer website suggests that the 200ml version that I received retails at £4.) The pale blue tube feels slightly soft, with a matte texture and looks like it should contain something calming and relaxing. The lacy pattern on it certainly makes it look like it’s aimed at females. The flip-open cap is a bit stiff to close, but it has stood up to repeated opening/closing. The scent is quite clean, said to have lemon and “green” notes; it is certainly refreshing but the lemon in there mixes well with the other scents and isn’t so strong that it feels like showering with bathroom cleaner and certainly doesn’t make the body wash feel overwhelmingly citrus. It’s not overpowering but I’d say it was quite perfumed and definitely nice enough to give as a gift; it’s just a bit more sophisticated than a standard shower gel and I like it very much. The ingredients suggest that lemon peel has been included in this particular shower gel but I didn’t spot anything else with a botanical name, so I assume the rest of the scent is down to added perfume. Since the tube is ...

McCoys Flame Grilled Steak Flavour Crisps 10/11/2015

An impressively meaty crisp from McCoys

McCoys Flame Grilled Steak Flavour Crisps I’m fairly well-known in my house (and my general circle of friends) as a great fan of sweets, but occasionally I do prefer something more savoury, and I certainly like a good bag of crisps. I’ve loved McCoys crisps for years, so didn’t need to think for long when I saw their Flame Grilled Steak ones in Tesco yesterday. At present, it seems that Tesco is the one of the most expensive places to get them; a six-pack is on offer at £1 at ASDA and Ocado, £1.80 at Sainsbury’s, with Morrisons and Waitrose matching the Tesco price of £1.88. I notice that there is a smoky/meaty smell to the crisps, which does hang around inside the bag. I would certainly say these seemed thicker than average (which is possibly why the 30g bag didn’t seem very full when I opened it) and they definitely call for some dedicated crunching between your teeth, but I think they seem a bit more filling. I like the fact that they also have a slightly dry texture; generally I find that McCoys crisps aren’t as greasy as some other brands. The flame grilled steak variety has got a straightforward meaty taste which is somehow more appealing to me than a standard barbecue flavour usually is; admittedly these crisps are no substitute for a real piece of steak but they come close enough to be convincing. I don’t think they would appeal to everyone - you would have to like a well-flavoured crisp to like these, even if they aren’t as sharp as McCoys’ salt and vinegar version; in fact the brand that I would say was ...

Organic Surge Gently Cleansing Shower Gel 27/10/2015

Showering in Sweet Oranges and Cedar

Organic Surge Gently Cleansing Shower Gel I made a few purchases when I went online shopping with (the subject of my previous review) and, although I didn’t have much success with my haircare choices, I have had a much better experience with the Organic Surge Cedar and Sweet Orange shower gel that found its way into my online basket. (You can also purchase it directly from Organic Surge’s website but I’m not sure that it’s widely available on the high street.) To be fair, I expected as much; I like Organic Surge for a few reasons. They don’t test on animals, they don’t include parabens and sulphates in their products and - being based in Scotland - they’re also a UK-based company. You can expect to pay around £4.75 for any of their 200ml shower gels, and they also offer “bundles” via their website; currently you can get the full-sized Cedar and Sweet Blossom shower, with two other scents, for £13.50, saving you a little bit of cash, or - if you find that you really love this one - you can go mad and buy twelve for £52.50! According to the bottle, this one is made with organic peach extract and almond oil, as well as organic aloe vera; it’s also vegetarian and vegan (should you need a shower gel that fits the bill). You might guess that the fragrance is fairly understated; it’s pleasantly unusual. There is a citrus edge to it, but it’s quite sweet - almost like orange juice, somehow - and there is a slight woody edge (which I imagine comes from the cedar, although confusingly the ingredients ... 25/10/2015

A Big Green way around the plastic bag charge - get it delivered! I’ve tried to be an environmentally aware shopper for a few years now, and I’m quite fond of trying out different brands. Some, it must be admitted, are better than others, but - perhaps because I’m a freelance researcher and my parents set up their own company when they were working? - I’ve made an effort over the past few years to support smaller, less well-known brands and companies. It often seems to me that “green” bodycare products and smaller companies tend to go together (I am a big fan of Organic Surge, who are based somewhere up in northern Scotland, for instance), but it’s not always easy to discover these - usually more interesting - products. Lately, Organic Surge were out of my favourite shampoo, and a quick Google led me to an alternative supplier, Big Green Smile, which - in turn - prompted a bit of online shopping. What’s On Offer? I could simply describe the stock simply as “environmentally friendly bodycare products”, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Whether you’re after shampoo, shower gel, organic cotton sanitary protection (or even a Mooncup, if you’re adventurous), baby food or even household cleaning products, if you’re shopping for something that’s been made in an ecologically responsible way and you’re struggling to find it in your local shops, I’d try Big Green Smile first. (You could have a reasonable go at stocking several cupboards in your home just using this site; it’s a bit of a one-stop-shop in that sense.) Do I Need A Map To ...

Bentley Organic Conditioner 20/10/2015

Still waiting for the sunflower shine to come out . . .

Bentley Organic Conditioner Buying things on the internet is a gamble; sometimes it pays off, other times it doesn’t. About a month ago, craving variety (as I do) I made a couple of purchases from the Big Green Smile website; they sell all sorts of eco-friendly stuff, including toiletries. Needing a new shampoo and conditioner, I decided to go for the Bentley Organic range; made in Britain, quite reasonably priced for a “green” product and apparently 75% organic. For the princely sum of £4.99, you get a 250ml bottle with a flip-open cap that’s bit hard to snap shut; it’s opaque so you need to shake it to see what’s left. The yellow-themed label features a sunflower because - unsurprisingly - it does contain sunflower oil, along with olive oil, aloe vera powder, camomile flower extract and a whole host of (largely citrus) fruit extracts, all of which have been certified as organic by the Soil Association. So I was expecting it to be good. My first impression was that it looked quite runny and milky, thinner than I’d expect a conditioner to be. It’s vaguely cream-coloured, and is fairly easy to distribute through my hair, but also quite drippy; it would be no trouble to comb through wet hair, as long as it doesn’t spill out of your hand first. It does have a slightly creamy fragrance, but it’s fairly faint; there isn’t much to dislike about it, but it’s nowhere near as citrus-scented as the frequent use shampoo. So far, so promising. Unfortunately, in practice, using this has been quite frustrating. No ...

Bentley Organic Frequent Use Shampoo 23/09/2015

That's a refreshing hair wash, Bentley!

Bentley Organic Frequent Use Shampoo Up until last week, I’d never even heard of Bentley Organic shampoo, but I spotted it when browsing for replacement shampoo and thought it was worth trying something different. Part of what attracted me was the fact that it’s made in Britain; I’m really keen on supporting smaller British brands and this stood out when I filtered my search. Apparently the brand was only launched in 2006, and it’s based in Leeds. The shampoo is slightly cheaper than the Organic Surge shampoo I’ve recently been using (£4.99 for a 250ml bottle, compared to £6.50 for the Organic Surge one) and it may be worth noting that, to date, I’ve never seen any Bentley Organic products on the high street. Like most shampoos, this comes in a bottle with a flip-top cap, so its easy to pour the liquid out. Pouring is a good description for this shampoo; it’s not watery but I would call it runny rather than thick, so pouring it into cupped hand is a good idea. It’s said to contain 70% organic ingredients; these include chamomile, bitter orange, Roman chamomile, lemon peel, grapefruit, sunflower and sweet orange oils, as well as aloe vera powder. Although it’s pale in colour, I noticed a definite citrus scent; it’s more orange than anything else (I didn’t notice the grapefruit and lemon it contains) but it seems a bit rounded so it’s not eye-wateringly sharp. It is refreshing, and I suspect that the chamomile balances out the orange, grapefruit and lemon; it seems like a good fragrance to ...

Organic Surge Volume Boost Conditioner 18/09/2015

Organic Surge has turned the volume down

Organic Surge Volume Boost Conditioner I'm my own worst enemy sometimes; I'm quite keen on "unusual" brands and products, the kind of thing that high street shops don't routinely stock. Unfortunately when I rediscovered Organic Surge last year, I didn't realise my new favourite - their Moisture Boost shampoo and conditioner - would be so ridiculously popular (and frequently out of stock. The inevitable moment came when I absolutely needed more shampoo and conditioner; my hair can be a bit flat at times so I decided their Volume Boost range was worth a shot. It's vegan, vegetarian, hasn't been tested on animals and the bottle - a squeezy tube with blue labelling and a flip-open cap that goes flat (to let it stand up in the shower) - can be recycled. If you're into supporting UK businesses, you may like to note that the company who make this is based in Wick, in northern Scotland. A 200ml tube will set you back £6.95, so is it worth it? I wouldn’t call it eye-catching; it’s opaque (as most conditioners are) and completely white. I seriously doubt there are any added colourings in this Volume Boost Conditioner, which makes sense; Organic Surge promise not to use synthetic fragrances, artificial colours, parabens and silicons, which is good enough for me. I find I’m a little sensitive to sodium laureth sulphate and generally try to avoid it anyway. It’s not a bad consistency, as conditioners go - it’s too thick to be watery but it’s not as heavy as an intensive treatment. Instead, it’s quite practical; easy to ...

Organic Surge Volume Boost Shampoo 15/09/2015

You've got my hair clean, so where's this Volume Boost?

Organic Surge Volume Boost Shampoo Something’s been loitering in my shower for months . . . and it’s not a spider. There’s a bottle of Organic Surge shampoo in there that I’d like to have used up, but it’s not been easy. Every time I go in there, there’s pale blue labelling, with organic certification logos and the promise that it’s been made in the UK (Scotland, actually), hasn’t been tested on animals, doesn’t contain parabens . . . as beauty products go, it should be up there on my “most used” list, but I can’t quite get along with Organic Surge’s Volume Boost Shampoo. The bottle looks fairly handy; it stands on the lid and features a flip-open cap and a flat base so it will stand up in the shower, and allow me to get the very last bit out. Alas, there are also drawbacks; my particular bottle features a cap that’s fairly stiff so it takes some force to both open and close it. I also find the cap collects water, which is a pest when I’m travelling and have to double-check that it’s empty before packing it up. The branding wraps around the bottle but does leave a little strip clear so I can see how much is left; unfortunately the Volume Boost shampoo isn’t all that eye-catching. It’s pale straw coloured, neither too thick nor too runny, so the right consistency for a shampoo and the scent is rather interesting. The website describes it as featuring their “Earth Balance fragrance” and amongst the ingredients listed are aloe vera juice, oils of mandarin peel, frankincense, bergamot, geranium, patchouli and ...

St George's Hotel, York 11/09/2015

I wonder if the real St. George cooked such a good breakfast?

St George's Hotel, York You’ll have gathered from recent reviews that I went to York this April, and - naturally - a little holiday needs to involve a place to stay. As a freelancer my income varies, so I like to spend it wisely and did a bit of background research before booking. St. George’s Hotel, a bed and breakfast not far from the racecourse, had got good reviews online, so I dubbed it my first choice, phoned up a good eight weeks before my stay and booked for five nights. Whoever I spoke to was friendly and helpful, and quoted me £50 a night; I was reassured to find that, although the listed price had risen slightly by the time I arrived, my final bill was £250 per night. So was it worth it? Getting There and Getting In Located on St. George’s Place (you’d never guess that, would you?), St. George’s Hotel proved relatively easy to find. I was coming from Lancashire, so basically had to drive east on the A59 (which becomes Holgate Road), then turn right onto The Mount and drive about 400 metres before turning right onto St. George’s Place. I did no driving at all until I left - preferring to explore on foot - and the most difficult bit was waiting for a gap in the traffic. The drive down the side of St. George’s Hotel was just wide enough to get the car round to the parking area at the back - being a Victorian terraced house, the whole property seems tall and thin - and although I worried that I might not get round the corner at the right angle when I left, the only thing that held me up ...

York Minster, York 08/09/2015

The Stunning Stained Glass and Soaring Ceilings of York Minster

York Minster, York York Minster is a destination that just can’t be missed if you visit the city centre, and I mean that literally. If you can find the tourist information centre on Museum Street, you’re almost there. If you want to attempt to fit it all into your camera’s viewfinder, a short walk straight ahead onto Duncombe Place is probably a reasonable place to try; you should be facing the west window from there. As you may be able to tell, I was seriously impressed by the view. The First of Many Details about the Minster York Minster goes by a choice of names; if you’d rather, you can call it the cathedral of York, or you might prefer its full title. Officially it’s the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St. Peter in York; personally I think “York Minster” is the most efficient. As is the case with many religious buildings, it has become more elaborate over time. The original wooden version of 627 was replaced by a stone building ten years later, dedicated to St. Peter, but the existing structure was started in about 1220. Like many building projects, it took some time to complete; the final additions - the western towers - were only finished in 1472. The Minster has been unlucky enough to suffer an arson attack (in 1829), a fire (in 1840) and a lightning strike (in 1984) but I can honestly say that - thanks to the careful restoration work that has been done over the years - I would never have guessed about the fires if I hadn’t done some background reading. I was interested to ...

Cliffords Tower, York 07/09/2015

There's a tower on the Hill . . . but is it Clifford's?

Cliffords Tower, York On first glance, Clifford’s Tower does look rather unusual. An oversided, rounded stone tower standing on a great mound of earth, right next to a main road (so, from my secondary school history lessons, I suppose that makes it a motte and bailey castle) and close to York Castle Museum. I had been puzzled as to where York Castle itself was, until I did some reading and learnt that Clifford’s Tower is the only remaining bit. You get a sense of history before you even enter the tower. A plaque outside notes the that one hundred and fifty Jewish residents of the city who fled to the castle for protection in 1190 killed themselves so they wouldn’t be forced to convert to Christianity - quite a sobering thought, and a reminder that Clifford’s Tower dates back to a time when such events were probably thought necessary to establish your own authority. Entry Requirements - Money and Energy The walk up the hill to the entrance is pretty steep, and I found it took a bit of energy. I couldn’t see any obvious ways in which it was accessible to anyone who wasn’t walking. A little room at the tower entrance was used as an office and the member of staff had no trouble swiping my YorkPass, which admitted me for free (but had cost £36 earlier that day). If you don’t have a YorkPass you can expect to pay £4.40 for adults, £2.60 for children aged five to fifteen, £11.40 for a family (two adults and up to three children) and £4.00 for concessions (or slightly more if you opt to Gift Aid the ...
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