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After almost 16 years on Ciao I'm still here! Thanks in advance for all the ratings, much appreciated! Sad to see so many familiar faces have gone after I got back from a lengthy break.

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since 24/07/2000


10 Great Songs - Jethro Tull 19/06/2016

Life Is a Long Song!

10 Great Songs - Jethro Tull As many of you may know from having read my previous Music review my musical tastes are quite varied but growing up in the 70s one genre was my earliest obsession and most important to me in my formative years, Prog Rock. Whether it was Pink Floyd, Yes or Genesis I was listening to it at least until 1977 and then like many others the appeal of the prefect 3 minute, 3 chord punk single changed everything. Now many years later and musically wiser I can see why Prog Rock had become self-indulgent and overthought but I still do consider it a guilty pleasure and from time to time I still play those old favourites. Jethro Tull in the late 60’s and 70’s were one of the best exponents of Prog Rock and produced a series of classic albums (Aqualung, Thick As A Brick, Stand Up, Living In The Past, War Child) in that period which helped to later define the genre. Over the years many Jethro Tull compilations have been released, some good and some awful, so what is this particular CD collection like? The first thing to make clear is despite what it says on the CD cover 'The Best of Jethro Tull The Anniversary Collection,' this CD is not the 1993 2 CD box set but in fact a edited version of that collection featuring only 10 ‘great’ songs. The original release included a fairly good selection of Jethro Tull’s best material from 1968 to 1991, this edited version while not being as inclusive still manages to be a good sampler for those that might not be too familiar with the bands prolific ...

Rock or Bust - AC/DC 09/06/2016

Too Old To Rock? No!

Rock or Bust - AC/DC There are some bands you can rely upon to give you a high-quality, tried and tested product that will fulfil fans expectations without testing or challenging their tastes in any way. As Gavin Hayes writing for the NME said “Like the Ramones, or Iron Maiden, AC/DC have never released a bad album because they’ve never shown any interest in making a great one”. Now I don’t think is meant as a criticism but as a testament to the high quality of their output even if it does rely on a tried and tested formula for it success. ‘Rock or Bust’ is the latest AC/DC studio album released in 2014 after a period of great hiatus for the veteran Aussie rockers. Since the premature death of their lead singer Bon Scott in 1980 the band has been fronted by Brian Johnson who quickly cemented himself in the role with his very first outing as vocalist on ‘Back in Black’ in 1980 still AC/DC biggest album ever. Since then and with many albums in the back catalogue the nucleus of the band has survived with Australian founding brothers Malcom and Angus Young (he of the schoolboy outfit) taking care of the riffs and Phil Rudd on drums although he left the band in 1983 just to re-join in 1994. However the time of recording of ‘Rock or Bust’ in 2014 and the following years since have not been a happy time for the band. Malcom Young was tragically diagnosed with early onset dementia and had to retire prior to the album’s release, his place being taken over by his and Angus’s nephew Stevie Young and ...

Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes 01/06/2016

Alfie Does It Again!

Alfie Gets in First - Shirley Hughes For those of you without kids and a love of classic 60’s cinema Alfie can only be the loveable rogue that made Michael Caine in to an international star. For those of us with children and an interest in quality kids’ books Alfie is a very different kind of star. Shirley Hughes first published a book in the 1960’s when she herself was a young mother and today has had over 200 books published. One of her most enduring creations is Alfie the 4-year-old boy first introduced in the late 70’s, which in the intervening years has become a classic character in kid’s literature. Shirley Hughes also received an OBE in 1999 for services to Children's Literature and in 2007 one of her other books ‘Dogger’ was voted the public's favourite Greenaway winner of all time. The Alfie stories centre on the everyday adventures of Alfie and his family; mum, dad and his little sister Annie Rose and many of Alfie's playschool friends. In this story we also meet the neighbours Mr. and Mrs. MacNally and their daughter Maureen as well as the milkman and the window cleaner. Alfie and his family live in an ordinary terraced town house in an average English town. The makeup of the family is fairly traditional. This is very much about what we perceive to be the nuclear family even though we never actually know if Alfie’s parents are married or not. Such details are unimportant as the stories are primarily seen through Alfie’s eyes. Alfie’s mum is a housewife while Alfie’s dad goes out to work. Alfie and ...

Doctor Who - Beneath The Surface (DVD) 30/05/2016

Excellent box set despite one very weak story

Doctor Who - Beneath The Surface (DVD) Growing up in the 70's and being a big fan of the original Doctor Who series I have fond memories of being scared and excited watching Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in particular deal with an array of terrifying and sometimes less convincing monsters. Some make a greater impression and stay with you for longer than others. The Dalek stories are the obvious example but I also remember eyeing shop window dummies very suspiciously after having watched the original Auton story and for some reason the Silurians and Sea Devils have always been among the most memorable of monster for me. The BBC has started packaging together some Dr Who stories with themes running through them into handy box sets. One suspect's that part of the reason for doing this is putting in some weaker stories with the good ones and then selling the whole thing for an inflated price. Whether true or not it is true to say that in this collection two of the stories are much stronger than the last. STORY 1: THE SILURIANS CAST Jon Pertwee - Third Doctor Caroline John - Liz Shaw Nicholas Courtney --Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart Fulton Mackay -- Dr Quinn Peter Miles -- Dr Lawrence Ian Cunningham -- Dr Meredith Norman Jones -- Major Baker Thomasine Heiner -- Miss Dawson Geoffrey Palmer -- Masters Paul Darrow -- Captain Hawkins Writer: Malcolm Hulke Director: Timothy Combe Script editor: Terrance Dicks Producer: Barry Letts The original story was broadcast in seven 25 minute episodes between January and March 1970. ...

Dimplex OFC-1500 28/05/2016

Short term heating solution

Dimplex OFC-1500 Our boiler broke down at the height of a cold weather snap and we found that we had little is any alternative ways to heat any part of the house. Thankfully an engineer came out within 24 hours and we only had to endure one night without heating. But this got me thinking that it would be a good idea to have an alternative emergency source of heating that would also be mobile so that it could be used in whatever room it was needed without much hassle. Having done some research it seemed like the oil filled portable mini radiators were a good option and relatively economical to run. Of these I decided on the Dimplex OFC1500 for the following reasons; it was a reasonable price around £50, Dimplex are a known reliable make, the product had some good user write ups online and was also aesthetically quite pleasing. THE PRODUCT The Dimplex OFC1500 is a 5 bladed oil filled radiator type heater. It stands on castors so it can be moved around easily and it has two setting one with a maximum output of 800w and the other with a maximum of 1500W (1.5kw) with a variable range thermostatic control on each setting and a frost setting if the radiator is being left in an especially cold environment like an outhouse or garage. The principle behind the use is the same as an ordinary radiator; the blades are filled with a hot liquid which then radiates heat out to its surroundings. The difference is that in a central heating radiator the liquid would be water heated up by your gas fired boiler ...

Working Out - Arthur Beatrice 27/05/2016

It's Working Out Fine!

Working Out - Arthur Beatrice If you didn't know better you might guess that Arthur Beatrice was a solo artist but don’t let the name fool you they are in fact an indie pop group coming out of east London. There have been rumours that the name is a nod to veteran American actress Bea Arthur of Golden Girls fame but the band have denied this link. Arthur Beatrice was formed by brothers Elliot (drums) and Hamish Barnes (bass) and long-time friend and exotically named frontman Orlando Leopard. They soon decided that the group would benefit from a feminine influence and they recruited the elfish looking Ella Girardot after seeing her singing performance at a school talent show. ‘Working Out’ is their very accomplished and listenable debut album and was more than two years in the making as the band perfected their stylish and polish brand of indie pop that has brought them comparisons to The XX and The Sundays. Despite those flattering comparisons Arthur Beatrice’s musical style is a little more difficult to define that you might at first think. Some tracks border on polished soul others take on a slightly grittier and darker tone. The album starts with one of their stronger songs ‘Councillor’, which has a haunting ethereal introduction but then transforms into at more striding rhythm but always with lyrics taking the song forward. This song relies almost entirely on vocals by Orlando Leopard with Ella Girardot only heard as a backing voice, however this changes with the second song that gives Girardot an ...

Greatest Ever! Prog Rock (The Definitive Collection) - Various Artists 12/10/2015


Greatest Ever! Prog Rock (The Definitive Collection) - Various Artists Progressive Rock or Prog for short; overblown, self-reverential, pompous and pretentious…I love it! Back in the days of whispering Bob Harris on the Old Grey Whistle Test, Prog Rock was the thinking man’s (and a minority of thinking women’s) music. Now it is scorned and ridiculed, where did it all go wrong? Prog Rock as a musical genre developed in the late 1960’s primarily from the Psychedelic rock and Space Rock movement and was an attempt by serious rock musicians to give greater respectability and intellectual weight to their music often adopting the compositional virtuosity of classical music and free form techniques of jazz. The music was often fuelled by copious amounts of mind altering drug taking by both musicians and fans. The subject matter of the music and song often referenced mystical, fantasy or science fictional themes. As the genre developed the idea of the 3 minute pop song was ditched for longer more complex formats eventually leading to the main exponents of Prog to produce concept albums, whole LP’s sometimes double LP’s where a single theme or story runs through all of the songs and music. You could make a good case that the first Prog Rock album was Sgt Pepper’s by the Beatles who are never thought of as a Prog band, but many would point to Pink Floyd’s ‘Piper At The gates Of Dawn’ as a more likely culprit. The instrumentation become increasingly important and like in Jazz, instrument solos showcasing the skills of the musicians become more common. ...

Greatest Ever Mod - Various Artists 08/10/2015


Greatest Ever Mod - Various Artists ‘The Greatest Ever’ series of Box set covers a variety of musical types and genres, some better than others. This one concentrating on ‘Mod’ music is certainly one of the betters one. The box set comprises of three CDs with 20 tracks on each disc, even though the set cost only a fiver does this represent very good value? MOD OR ROCKER? I was a teenager growing up in the late 70’s at a time of huge musical changes post punk and one of those was the emergence of the Mods and a cultural force. I was always on the Rock side of the divide, being rather fonder of Prog Rock and heavy Metal than soul or Disco, but then Punk came along and I was seduced by the spontaneity and energy of the music and through the early punk records I discovered Reggae/ska and eventually R&B and Motown. While the guys we knew brave enough to wear their fish tail Parker to school got mercilessly ribbed, secretly I quite liked their musical tastes if not their sartorial choices. And when it came to parties the Mods had the edge on getting down on the dance floor and getting to dance with the girls. WHAT IS MOD MUSIC? Looking at the track listings for the three CDs below we can see that Mod music as defined by the makers of this box set is a quite eclectic mix of styles and genres. Mod stands for ‘modern’ and came from a subgroup the ‘modernists’ who in the late 50’s in Britain listened to ‘modern Jazz’. In 1960’s along the subculture developed to encompass along with the music the Mod style and ...

The Devil in Amber: A Lucifer Box Novel (Lucifer Box 2) - Mark Gatiss 02/10/2015


The Devil in Amber: A Lucifer Box Novel (Lucifer Box 2) - Mark Gatiss Many of you might know Mark Gatiss from the darkly surreal comedy 'The League of Gentlemen' or more recently from his appearance and scriptwriting for the new Doctor Who but a few years ago he also gained a reputation as a novelist with his successful debut book 'The Vesuvius Club' in which he introduced the world to Lucifer Box the rakish Edwardian secret agent and royal academy artist. 'The Vesuvius Club' was an enjoyable read and I was pleased to find that Gatiss had written a sequel called 'The Devil In Amber'. Lucifer Box is an intriguing literary creation a James Bond figure with the moral depravity that would make Harry Flashman look like a country vicar; Box swings both sides of the gender divide. Lucifer Box like Flashman is the ultimate anti hero, he is selfish, immoral and egoistic but unlike Flashman he is courageous and while it coincides with his own interests he does with some regularity save the Empire from even more wicked and ruthless master criminals and evil foreign plots. In the first novel we see Lucifer Box in his prime as a twenty something man serving his country as a secret agent working for the most secret of secret government agencies 'The Royal Academy' (?). His daytime occupation as an artist provided perfect cover for him just as the pursuit of fine art provides perfect cover for the agency. While he is not saving Britain from criminal plots he was busy having sex with anyone he was able to... male or female. Written in the first person ...

Zulu (DVD) 01/10/2015


Zulu (DVD) On the 22nd January 1879 after the crushing the defeat of the British forces by the Zulu army at the Battle of Isandlwana a small contingent of British soldiers is left to defend the nearby mission station of Rorke's Drift. Just over 150 British and colonial troops faced more than 4,000 Zulu warriors in a desperate attempt to survive until reinforcements would arrive. Was this going to be another British military rout in the Anglo/Zulu war? Was it a noble but ultimately heroic defeat or an unlikely victory for the outnumbered British forces? The battle of Rorke's Drift has gone down in British military history as our own modern Thermopylae where a small group of Spartans faced the might of the Persian army and it remains the military encounter for which the most Victoria crosses were awarded to one regiment. The film represents the events that took place at Rorke's Drift on that famous day and manages to bring to the screen the brutality and heroism of the men involved on both sides of the conflict. While some artistic licence was inevitably used in depicting the events for dramatic purposes it remains a fairly accurate, if rather sanitised historical account of the battle. Made in 1964 it includes a stupendous cast of top British character actors and represents a first starring role for a young Michael Caine. The project was the brainchild of Stanley Baker a huge star and leading man in the 1960's who together with the film's director Cy Endfield set up a production ...

Tomorrowland (DVD) 29/09/2015


Tomorrowland (DVD) A whole generation of little boys like me growing up in the 60’s and 70’s were misled, lied to and finally betrayed by hollow promises that in the year 2000 we would all have our own Jet packs and be flying around futuristic cityscapes acrobatically whizzing in and out of the path of all the other flying vehicles taking up the air space. So what if we have ultra-powerful hand held computers that enable us to listen to music and watch moves in the palm of our hands or that advances in medical science means we will live longer than any other people in history…where are our jetpacks?! This is the essential question that lies at the core of director Brad Bird’s enjoyable, family friendly film Tomorrowland (2015) a recent offering from the recently faltering Disney studios. THE PLOT The film starts with a middle aged man Frank Walker (Clooney) and a young woman Casey Newton (Brit Robertson) facing camera making a video telling their audience what a grim and desperate place the future will be, well Frank is telling us that Casey seems to be more upbeat, but who are they talking to and how will they know what the future is like? We next find ourselves in 1964 at the world fair in New York where a young Frank turns up to the Fair with his homemade jet pack, which while admittedly doesn’t work so well does prove that the eleven year old is indeed a genius. Here he is noticed by Athena a young gild who seems to be helping out the mysterious Mr Nix (Hugh Laurie) in identifying ...

Apple iPhone 6 64GB 27/09/2015


Apple iPhone 6 64GB I recently bought my latest iPhone, until a few months ago I was the owner of a iPhone 4 (8GB), which had served me well for a number of years but was starting to look and feel a little tired. It was also beginning to struggle with the number of apps I was using and the newest software. So I decided to treat myself to a brand new phone and after having a look at the next iPhone model up the iPhone 5 I decided that on balance I would be better off skipping that model and buying the latest offering the iPhone 6. A LITTLE BACKGROUND I’ve never liked Apple Inc. and I’ve always resisted buying an iPhone but eventually I did succumb to buying an iPhone 4 about 3 years ago after having had a Blackberry curve for a few years before that. I soon found that although the Apple products were more expensive and despite my inherent dislike of Apple and their aggressive commercial policies I did find that the iPhone 4 was the best mobile phone I had ever owned. On deciding to upgrade my phone I yet again attempted to break away from Apple and see what the competition could offer. My partner has had a Sony Xperia M2 for over a year and while overall it was ok she did have a huge amount of problems to begin with in setting it up and getting 3G to work properly and she also found that the range of apps you could get were not quite as good as those available for the Apple phones. The Sony itself was larger than my iPhone 4 but the screen resolution wasn't quite as good and the design was ...

Anker Ultra Thin Soft Cover Case 24/09/2015


Anker Ultra Thin Soft Cover Case I admit I am a little obsessive about taking good care of my electronic gadgets, whether it’s my phone, laptop or tablet after years of use they will look almost like new, unless of course the kids have had their hands on them. So when I recently treated myself to a new phone, the i-phone 6 in this case I as usual decided to buy a few things to look after it and stop it from getting damaged. Normally I am very good with my phones, I never drop them or lose them. I always carry them about with me but not in my back pocket so no danger of sitting on it! One thing that I do worry about is getting the casing or screen scratched so I normally invest in getting a protective case for it. Taking into consideration that I will be mostly carrying in the front pocket of my jeans and that the I- phone 6 is quite a bit larger than my previous phone the i-phone 4 or the newer i-phone 5 I didn’t want to have a bulky case I decided that I would risk the possibility of dropping the phone but protect it from scratches alone. With this in mind I was looking for an ultra-thin case that would afford anti scratch protection but not make the phone unwieldy to carry around in your pocket. After a little online research and being conscious of price as well as quality I plumped for the Anker Ultra-Thin TPU transparent cover which comes in packs of 2 one clear and one smoky grey. When I bought they were on offer at Amazon UK for £5.99, down from £15.99 so seemed like good value. THE PRODUCT The ...

Skyline(DVD) 23/09/2015


Skyline(DVD) It seems that alien invasion or alien first contact movies are a very popular genre at the moment. Recently we've had 'Super 8' and in the last few years we had 'Cloverfiled' (2008), 'District 9' (2009), 'Monsters' (2010) and 'Battle: Los Angeles' (2011) as well some more less well known titles I'm sure. 'Skyline' made in 2010 fits neatly into this trend and there is no mistaking the influences that some of the others especially 'Cloverfield' had on it. Unfortunately where 'Cloverfield' was innovative and imaginative in both its story and the way it was filmed 'Skyline' falls into the usual pattern of alien invasion movies and in the end is a well-executed if rather formulaic and derivative effort. THE PLOT Graphic artist Jarrod and his girlfriend Elaine fly to Los Angeles to meet up with Jarrod's old friend and successful businessman Terry, and his wife Candice. Terry gives a party in his penthouse apartment and offers Jarrod a job with him in LA. Things seems to be going well but very early in the morning when the party has finished and only a few people are left in the apartment a strange beam of bright light shines through the windows. As people stare at it they seem to be taken away by a mysterious force. Soon the group of friends realise that they are in the middle of a hostile alien invasion. THE OPINION What is there to say about this film? Anyone who has seen Cloverfield will immediately recognise the attempts by the brothers Strause (Colin and Greg) to imitate ...

The Dark Design - Philip Jose Farmer 21/09/2015


The Dark Design - Philip Jose Farmer 'The Dark Design' first published in 1977 is the third instalment of the Riverworld series, the first two books being 'To Your Scattered Bodies Go' (1971), 'The Fabulous Riverboat' (1971). The idea of the 'Riverworld' stories is a rather unusual and imaginative one and worthy of winning the prestigious Science fiction Hugo Award for the author Philip Jose Farmer in 1971. The story is set on a strange alien world which consists of a huge river valley snaking its way north to south across the circumference of the globe bordered on either side by impassable mountain ranges. The planet is populated by the whole deceased human and pre-human population of the earth all of them 'reborn' in the river valley at the physical age of 25, with all the memories of their previous lives intact. This book takes up the story where the second left off but separates the narrative into three strands. One strand features new characters, author Jack London and the early western movie star Tom Mix as well as Science fiction author Peter Frigate who set out in a boat to follow the steps of a group of ancient Egyptians led by the Pharaoh Imhotep to the fabled source of the great river. A second strand features old favourites like the great explorer and adventurer Sir Richard Burton, the Neanderthal Kaz and Alice Liddell (of Alice in wonderland) all reunited and once again travelling by boat up river trying to evade the clutches of the mysterious 'Ethicals' and their human agents. The third and ...
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