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Now here is a blast from the past. What has happened? I am now 40, and found myself at a loose end, so I thought I would pick up my opinionating pen again. Will pop in from time to time and write stuff. Enjoy! Nolly

Reviews written

since 27/04/2001


Toshiba BDX1100KB 05/08/2011

Toshiba reboots me to Blu-ray Nirvana

Toshiba BDX1100KB I love film. There! I've said it, and I have been trying to admit that for literally years. I like nothing more than to put my feet up on my battered old sofa and watch a film, provided it is not a gory horror movie. I used to have loads of VHS cassettes, then in 2002 I joined the DVD revolution. As you will no doubt be aware, the middle of the noughties saw a battle for supremacy regarding the format of the 'next' generation disc, between the High Definition DVD (HD-DVD) and Blu-ray. Well, Bluray won. Now, as you can well imagine, the cost of any 'new' technology is normally very high when it first hits the high street, and that was very true in the case of the Bluray format. Up until a couple of years ago you couldn't get a Bluray player for under £300, but things soon changed. I got my first Bluray player last year to play on my Toshiba LCD television. My TV has a 32 inch screen and is HD Ready, not Full HD - that means that it can only show pictures up to an enhanced rate of 768 lines, as opposed to the normal SD picture of 625 lines. The Bluray player I got then was very basic and, to be honest, not a good machine. Still, it did the job and, you could say, 'popped my Bluray cherry'. I was, however, not fully content, as discs loaded slowly and would occasionally pause or just damn well freeze! Last Autumn I resolved to see if I could get a new Bluray player. I scoured the websotes of the different purveyors of home tech and narrowed it down to a ...

Member Advice on Separated Families 08/04/2010

There is a light at the end of the tunnel

Member Advice on Separated Families I have written an article on this topic (or, more precisely children and divorce) but I do not intend this to be merely a copying and pasting exercise. I do, however, apologise for any similarities... Writing about separated families is one of the toughest things that I have done. Normally I try to be factual and, if at all possible, silly, but this topic does not lend itself to that. Please excuse me if anything I write seems flippant, it isn't meant to be, that is just me. This year, 2010, should have seen me celebrating my eleventh wedding anniversary, but I won't, as I am no longer with the lady who used to be my wife. I am not going to go into the whys, wherefores and hows of our split. Some of you will know of her, as she was also a contributor to Ciao, and I will refer to her as A. A and I met in September 1998 and married in the Autumn of 1999. In March 2000 our eldest daughter was born, and she was followed two and a half years later by her little sister. The most important thing to know, and this may be an inappropriate juncture, is that they are both well adjusted, intelligent, adorable and loving girls. They are my world and nothing, and no-one will ever change that. In October 2004 A told me that she thought we should separate and that led to a very strained time in the household. Here we were for a while living apart in the same house, but al the time it was paramount in both of our minds that the most important focus for both of us was the girls. No ...

Lasan Restaurant, Birmingham 05/04/2010

Truly the F word - fantastic

Lasan Restaurant, Birmingham I have been away, folks. I have just been away to spend 4 days indulging in healthy educational debate at the conference of one of the teaching unions. With discussion also comes the need to network and meet other delegates. But what else is there to do when you have an evening free and are in the delights of the big city? Well, my fellow delegates and myself were in Birmingham, and so three of us decided to dine at the fabled Lasan Indian Restaurant in Birmingham. Why is it fabled, you may ask. Well, if you are a fan of a certain cookery programme featuring a blonde, gnarled, shouty sweary chef, you may well be aware that 'The F Word' was looking for the best local restaurant in Britain. Well, to cut a long story shout, Lasan won it. Therefore this visit had a lot to live up to. Would the restaurant live up to expectations? Or would it prove to be a disappointment? Read on, and you will see what I think... Just for reference the restaurant's website can be accessed at, where you can examine the full extent of the menu to your heart's content. First impressions... Upon entering the restaurant you immediately get the feeling that this is not just any restaurant. It definitely has the look and feel of an Indian restaurant, but with two large and comfortable sofas in front of a well-stocked bar and a very contemporary feel, you know you are lined up for something special. My colleagues and I were greeted by the ...

Being Human - Series 1 (DVD) 22/03/2010

You've got to have friends...

Being Human - Series 1 (DVD) If you are like me, you are a bit staid in your tastes. I think I am the archetypal fuddy-duddy. I am resistant to change and know what I like and like what I know. I used to think that BBC Three was a complete and utter waste of time, a channel devoted to the lowest possible common denominator - a sort of publicly funded Channel 5. That was until I encountered Little Britain and Gavin and Stacey. A year or so ago I saw trailers for a new BBC Three Comedy Drama. Now being the ardent cynic that I am, the phrase 'comedy drama' immediately leads me to form the impression that it will be neither funny nor dramatic. The other thing that did not lend any kind of passing interest to me was that the programme was a horror comedy drama. Over the Christmas holidays, in a fit of insomnia, I watched one episode in a late-night re-run, and I was actually hooked. I bought the DVD on the strength of that one episode alone. That series, you may have realised, is 'Being Human'. The Premise = In Bristol there is a house rented by two men, George and Mitchell. Annie lives there as well. This is not just any 20-something house share, as each of the people is, um different. Well, let me be clear, George is a werewolf and Mitchell is a vampire. Oh, Annie is a ghost. Not exactly run of the mill, is it. The characters are played by Aidan Turner (Mitchell), Russell Tovey (George) and Lenore Critchlow (Annie). Tovey was in Doctor who and The History Boys and Critchlow's ...

Toshiba 32AV554DG 21/03/2010

Hello Tosh - My First LCD TV

Toshiba 32AV554DG And lo! It came to pass that in 2009 I ditched the humungous television that sat in the corner of my living room and would not move, mainly because it was so large that it required 2 people to lift it (it was a 28 inch CRT). As is my wont, and with a debit card in hand, I ventured out one Saturday morning at about 5am (yep, that hour does exist) and head off to my local branch of Tescos with the intention of buying a new television. I was a bit of a nincompoop with regard to LCD televisions. What kind would I need? What was HD? What was the difference between HD ready and Full HD? Would it be heavy? Would it require complex installation? Well, let me expand a little. LCD televisions are a huge step forward in television. Whereas my previous Goodmans television had a good picture, it was via an enormous Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and, as a consequence, it was enourmous. Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) televisions require far fewer bulky components and are thinner and lighter, and the picture can occupy the whole screen! My shopping expedition, even at such an ungodly hour, proved fruitful. I mooched around the aisles and came across the Toshiba 32AV554DG. It was stylish, in a gloss piano black finish, it had a 32 inch screen, it had the magic words HD on it (HD = High Definition, but more on that later) and it was, in my opinion, good value at £380! Therefore I bought it, managed to put the box under one arm (I am a very tall chap), and took it home. After managing to ...

FA Cup Final 1976 - Southampton vs Manchester United (DVD) 20/03/2010

When the Saints go marching in!

FA Cup Final 1976 - Southampton vs Manchester United (DVD) Oh, 1976, the Summer of drought. Do you remember it? A long hot summer, long traffic queues, short tempers, plagues of ladybirds. I will never forget sitting in the back of my dad's Austin 1300 Countryman (in El Paso beige, by the way), in a long traffic queue travelling up to visit my uncle in Colchester. Anyway, I digress. I am harkening back to my childhood, when I used to argue with my brothers and my dad would emit that deafening battle-cry 'Brenda will you come and sort these boys out?'. Ah, halcyon days. Anyway, back to football. I was always interested in 'the beautiful game' but I always lacked the edge of fitness (and skill, and speed, and talent). My family and I would always watch FA Cup Final Day from the off, from the special 'It's a Knockout', to whatever special items 'Grandstand' and 'World of Sport' had lined up as a televisual treat for the viewers. For some reason we always seemed to watch the game itself on BBC. Anyway, May 1st 1976 was the day that I became a fan of Southampton FC, 'The Saints', the eternal underdogs. While my family all wanted Manchester United to win, I stuck out like a sore thumb in my household. The match itself was 2 days after my seventh birthday. It was a warm day, with the sun shining. We all gathered round the television and geared up for battle. The two teams battling for this illustrious piece of silverware were diametrically opposed. Firstly we had the once-great Machester United, a team on the up after being ...

Humax Foxsat-HD 14/03/2010

High-quality reception? Humax. What , the Foxsat?

Humax Foxsat-HD In the back of beyond, which is the technical term for the area in which I live, television reception is a thorny issue. Well, it doesn't actually scratch my hands, but it is problematic. I moved into Nolly Towers in November 2006, and immediately saw that the existing TV aerial was not fit for purpose. Luckily the previous occupants had had satellite TV installed and I plumped for this, subscribing at first and then just picking up the free-to-view (FTV) channels. In November 2008 I had a lucky break. I had started a new teaching job, and got my normal month's salary, but I also got paid for the last bit of supply teaching I did. I resolved to replace the humungous widescreen television that dominated the corner of my living room and so, with a bulging debit card in my wallet (well, that's what I told police that it was), I set off to buy a 32" LCD television. As I now had a television that was HD compatible, I decided to work out what my options were. I could have re-subscribed to Uncle Rupert's television empire, paid an as yet undetermined amount per month for a selection of programmes, sports events or films that I either had no inclination to watch or had seen already, or to investigate this (then) new-fangled Freesat system. Freesat is a digital satellite broadcaster from the same stable as Freeview. Channels broadcast by Freesat can be picked up by just replacing an existing Sky set-top box with a Freesat one. Whereas Sky viewers needs to subscribe to pick up High ...

Messiah - Series 1-2 - Complete (DVD) 23/08/2009

Disturbing, stomach-churning, but absolutely brilliant Messiah

Messiah - Series 1-2 - Complete (DVD) Each year from 2001 to 2005, I think, around one of the bank holidays in either May or August, there would be something on television that amazed me. Now, let me state from the outset that the whole reason it amazed me was the fact that it was something that, in a normal world, I would not seek to watch... You see, much as I like a rollicking good drama or film, there is one genre that I (literally) cannot stomach - horror movies. I am quite happy to see a good story, but when it is accompanied with much bloodletting, dismemberment and general goriness I would much rather watch a documentary on flower arranging and keep hold of the contents of my stomach. Messiah The original drama, 'Messiah' , was broadcast in 2001. It is based on a novel by Boris Starling. It was broadcast as two episodes, each of 90 minutes' duration. Its sequel, 'Messiah II : Vengeance is Mine', was broadcast in 2003. Each of the two stories has a core cast: DCI Red Metcalfe - Ken Stott DI Duncan Warren - Neil Dudgeon DS Kate Beauchamp - Frances Grey DCS Emerson - Art Malik Susan Metcalfe - Michelle Forbes Eric Metcalfe - Kieran O'Brien Redfern 'Red' Metcalfe is a policeman who does not deal with run-of-the-mill cases. He is often confronted with having to solve the cases of serial murderers, serial murderers who seem to use the same M.O (modus operandi). He tries to work out why the killer is acting as he or she is by working out if there are links to the victims or if there ...

Navigon 2200 19/08/2009

An Excellent All Rounder!

Navigon 2200 I do not know where I would be without my Sat-Nav, literally in fact. I first bought one in 2006. It was made by Medion and there is a review for it on this site (apologies for the plug). My circumstances, however, dictated last year that I should seek to purchase something with a bit more, how can I put it, 'oomph'. I had taken a teaching job 200 miles away from my home, and would be living my rural idyll only at weekends. I perused a number of websites for shops that sell Sat-Navs, but eventually fell upon one that was on sale in my local Halfords or so, at least, their website told me. I went down there (a mere 5 minute hop in the car as, luckily, my rural idyll includes easy access to shops), and could not see it on view! I started to get annoyed, thinking that the Halfords website had fed me erroneous information. In my agitated manner, I enquired of the surly youth behind the counter, who informed me that there were indeed supplies of this gizmo in stock, but they did not have them on display. Therefore, dear reader, if you want to buy this system after reading my review, you may still be able to get it even if your local store does not appear to acknowledge its existence! The Machine itself The Navigon 2200 boasts a number of features: TMC Reality-View Pro Text-to-Speech Lane Assistant Pro Radar Information Speed Assistant Now, all these different systems may have baffling names (well, they baffled me), so I will deal with each one in turn. ...

Nigella Christmas: Food Family Friends Festivities - Nigella Lawson 19/08/2009

The Queen of the Kitchen 'does' the Festive Season

Nigella Christmas: Food Family Friends Festivities - Nigella Lawson Pre-Ramble The life of a teacher is a tough one, you see. You may think that the long summer holiday is wonderful, but at its end there comes a very long term - fifteen and a bit weeks with a one week pause in the middle. The way that I, and perhaps many other teachers survive this is to fix in our minds the target at the end of it. It's a survival instinct, I guess, but the end of August and the beginning of September make me start thinking of Christmas, and all the joy and laughter it brings (along with 2 weeks of pseudo-rest. Which is why, on this warm, humid, August afternoon, I scanned the tomes on one of my bookshelves and chanced upon one I bought last Autumn. It is published by Chatto and Windus (ISBN Number 978 0701 18322 6), and is entitled 'Nigella Christmas'. It is written, funnily enough, by a lady I have been known to admire from afar, as do many middle-aged men (oh no! I have just, for the first time, referred to myself as 'middle aged'). That lady is Nigella Lawson. The Queen of 'Food Porn' Nigella Lawson was born in 1960, and is the daughter of former Conservative MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson. After leaving Oxford University she worked as a book reviewer and restaurant critic, before making the transition to journalism. In 2000 her first television series Nigella Bites, with its accompanying book, propelled her to the forefront of the nation's TV cookery consciousness. The reason for this information is to point out, if you ...

My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle - Marcel Pagnol 17/08/2009

Remembrance of Things Past

My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle - Marcel Pagnol Please don't turn off now thinking that I am going to hurtle headlong into an essay about Marcel Proust, because I'm not. It's just that I think that the English title of Proust's mammoth tome is fitting for an opinion about this book. In my view there aren't many aware of the writer of the books I am talking about, and I think that that is a crying shame. Marcel Pagnol was born on 28 February 1895 in the small Provençal village of Aubagne. To many this may be a singularly uninteresting piece of trivial knowledge, but to those who are aware of Pagnol and his later career there is a major coincidence going on. This date and this place also happened to be where Louis Lumière showed the first film. Later on he became one of France's most successful filmmakers. He was hailed by Truffaut, Rossellini and Godard, and his film 'The Baker's Wife' was said by Orson Welles to be the most beautiful he had ever seen. Pagnol is not well known on this side of the English Channel for his films. He is most noted for his novels 'Jean de Florette' and 'Manon des Sources' which were made into successful films in their own right. The books that I intend to write about used to be one of the staples of the 'A' Level French Literature 'circuit'. Pagnol wrote a series of books looking back on his childhood in the glorious sun-baked landscape of Provence. The two stories 'My Father's Glory' and 'My Mother's Castle' were originally published under the title 'The Days were Too Short' in ...

Wake Up To Wogan (Radio 2) 12/08/2009

What else is there to listen to?

Wake Up To Wogan (Radio 2) I have just been rummaging around in the nether parts (oooh-er) of Ciao and have come across a category for 'Wake up to Wogan'. Due to my advancing years (I am now 40), I feel that this is a review that I have been destined to write. When is it on? Wake up to Wogan can be found on BBC Radio 2 on a Monday to Friday morning, from 7:30 until 9:30. It is immediately preceded by Sarah Kannedy's show (The Dawn Patrol) and is followed by Ken Bruce. The Music As it is Radio 2, the music that is played can best be described as eclectic. This morning's (11/08/2009) show began with Amy Grant and then continued with tracks by Maroon 5, The Beatles, Billy Joel, A-ha, Pixie Lot, V V Brown, Lily Allen and Keane to name but a few. All the music is selected by the show's producer, Alan Boyd (but more on him later). I like the music- it appeals to my wide-ranging tastes. I very often find myself singing along. The Personalities Wogan: Terry Wogan, the main man, the Togmeister, has been a central part of the BBC's output for more than 30 years. When Radios 1 and 2 were launched he was a weekly presenter, and then in the early 70s he had the early afternoon slot. I remember him from his first stint on the breakfast show, with spots like 'Wogan's Winner' and 'Fight the Flab'. Wogan left radio in the 80s and was famous for his three-times-a-week chat show on BBC1. In the mid 90s he returned with 'Wake up to Wogan', and has been presenting it ever ...

Ashes Cricket 2009 (Wii) 12/08/2009

Ashes Cricket 2009 - Guarantee an Ashes win (In your home)

Ashes Cricket 2009 (Wii) The Nintendo Wii has become somewhat of a phenomenon over the last few years. I myself bought my console this year and have become an addict. I even have a Wii Fit and balance board. Sports are a highlight in my life. I play golf, and enjoy playing golf on my Wii. What I feel the Wii has been crying out for for such a long time now, particularly with its unique control system, is a game concerning my favourite game, cricket. I have played cricket on computer and games system for quite some time. First there was Brian Lara Cricket, then Brian Lara 2005, then Brian Lara 2008. I never really had too much time for the EA Sports versions of cricket (the one thing that my versions had in common was that they were all developed by Codemasters). This year Codemasters have produced yet another game. It is designed for various platforms, but I will specifically deal with the version for the Wii. It is entitled Ashes Cricket 2009. It costs around £30 (I ordered mine early and got it for £25 from Amazon). The Game The game offers you the opportunity to take part in varying types of game. There are exhibition games, which can be of varying durations, between different teams. There are also a number of scenarios that you can tackle to unlock further scenarios. One example is the first England scenario, whcih is to survive five overs of spin bowling in a 20-20 context. The one other mode is Ashes Mode. Funnily enough this allows you to play the current Ashes series ...

The Door In The Floor (DVD) 11/08/2009

Secrets, Personal Fears and Tragedy make 'The Door' a great film

The Door In The Floor (DVD) Before I begin, I feel I must nail my colours firmly to the mast. I love books. I love reading. One of my favourite authors is John Irving. One of my favourite books by Irving is 'A Widow for One Year'. Now, you may be wondering what in the wide, wide world of sports this has to do with my review of a film entitled 'The Door in the Floor'. Well, dear reader, read on and I shall explain... In 2004 a film was made. There is nothing curious in that minor fact. Of course there are hundreds, nay, thousands of films made every year. The film I am referring to, though, is based upon the first third of an existing novel. The novel in question is, funnily enough, 'A Widow for One Year' by John Irving. The screenplay for 'The Door in the Floor' was not written by Irving himself, although he is not averse to screenwriting (he adapted his own novel 'The Ciderhouse Rules' for the screen). Irving approved the screenplay for 'TDitF', which was written by Tod Williams, who also directed the film. The Plot I will try to avoid major spoilers, but if you would rather not know at all, look away now. Ted Cole is a writer of children's books, and also a serial seducer of women. He is enduring the last rites of his marriage to Marion, who has entered a deep depression after the death of their sons. The couple also have a young daughter, Ruth. Ted hires a young man, Eddie O'Hare, to do general work for him and Marion over the summer vacation, and to learn about the life of a ...

Philips DVDR3590 11/08/2009

A Good Machine that could have been a whole lot better

Philips DVDR3590 Exactly one year ago today, my faithful DVD recorder (A Panasonic I had nicknamed Penelope) gave up the ghost and decided, due to no sensible reason, to refuse to read DVDs of any kind. I was heartbroken - how was I going to watch programmes I had recorded from all those obscure channels found at the other end of the satellite spectrum (like UKTV TopGear sorry, I mean Dave)? I shot off, and went to my local electrical retailer (in that order) and had a look at what I could get to replace Penelope. I was a little confused - did I want a machine that could refine Einstein's first Law of Relativity or one that could make a perfect capuccino with a combined triple salchow and landing with a half-pike. I was utterly bemused. And then it happened - our I clapped eyes on it across the crowded showroom. It was a brand that I had never considered before. It was a Philips DVDR3590. The main thing that caught my eye was it had a built-in Hard Disk Drive (HDD) for recording things onto as well. The size of the hard drive was 250GB. But, I asked myself, is this enough? Is it too much? Does size matter? The machine itself cost me £110, which I did not think was too bad at all, particularly as it had £20 off its retail price. I paid my money, and walked out with a box that was going to bring me so much personal satisfaction (Jeremy Clarkson was becoming impatient). Upon opening the box I took out a machine that looked like any other machine, or so I thought... Set-up ...
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