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There is a great gulf between dog and man. We can't understand why they pee on the carpet. They can't understand why we pee in their water bowl.

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since 19/07/2001


Avery GUA4 A4 Office Guillotine 21/05/2009

The Avery A4 Ofice Guillotine - at the cutting edge

Avery GUA4 A4 Office Guillotine It came as something of a surprise at Bookbag Towers to realise that our fledgling business actually needed a guillotine. It wasn't just that we fancied it, or that it was a bit of retail therapy – we realised that the cheap guillotine that I'd picked up at the craft centre simply wasn't cutting the mustard. It definitely wasn't doing anything very professional to the expensive card with lots of letters after its name. So - time to invest in something that would do a good job. We wanted something sturdy enough to cope with the needs of a small business but we didn't need to invest in the type of machine which you'd find in a large office. We didn't need to spend that sort of money either. Finally we opted for the Avery A4 Office Guillotine which was said to be suitable for the home or the small business. Packaging is appropriate and largely recyclable. The instructions are brief and mainly on the lines of 'lift the guard up and get on with it'. In fairness it is pretty obvious and within minutes of unpacking it was in working order. Something which struck me immediately and which continued to be slightly irksome in operation is that the blade is VERY heavy but the base and the guards are quite light. In consequence when I cut anything the guard gives a jelly-like wobble and if I'm doing repeated cutting the base tends to wander across the table. You do need quite a bit of space – including the handle the depth of the machine is 22 inches/56cm and 10inches/26cm width. ...

Bioflow Collar 27/08/2006

I'm a believer! - Updated - what the vet said!

Bioflow Collar Rosie the Rhodesian Ridgeback will be seven in a couple of days' time. In truth we're amazed that she is still with us, as she's been very ill for most of the year. It began rather innocuously. Sometimes she needed help getting into the car. I mentioned this to the vet who examined her and could find no problem. He suggested that she could perhaps do with losing a little weight. We got her weight down to the optimum but still the problem persisted. In fact it got worse. She had pain-killing injections which helped for a little while and then there would be a further deterioration. We were reluctant to have her x-rayed as she has difficulty with general anaesthetics, but eventually we bit the bullet. The x-rays were seen by an orthopaedic vet and we were told the bad news. The probability was that Rosie had a metastatic tumour in her spine and had weeks rather than months to live. There was just a slim chance that she had a major infection in the bones of the spine. We were prepared to grasp any straw and she was given massive doses of antibiotics for twelve weeks. By the middle of August the vet was prepared to say that the problem had been an infection, but we were left with a dog whose physical fitness was severely compromised. This was, he said, as good as it was going to get. We have three steps down from our back door. Rosie was reluctant to go out on her own because she knew that she would have trouble getting back up the steps. We fitted a ramp. She couldn't ...

Lakeland Loaf Tin Liners 22/02/2006

How to eat more cake

Lakeland Loaf Tin Liners Rather than making a circular cake which has to be cut into wedges I prefer to make cakes in a loaf tin. It's easier to cut exactly as much as you want and a slice fits neatly into a lunch box. There's always a loaf on the go in our house and I keep a few in the freezer - they stack like bricks and defrost quickly in an emergency. I can mix up the ingredients in less than five minutes, but it used to take me a lot longer than that just to line the loaf tin with baking parchment. It caused a lot of bad language, I always managed to waste some paper and sometimes I didn't bake a cake simply because of the time and bother of lining the tin. Then I discovered Lakeland's Loaf Tin Liners. They come, forty at a time, in a see-through plastic container which keeps them perfectly in shape. I can't recycle it, or use it for anything else and normally I would object to this, but a pack of liners lasts me about nine months and the container means that the last liner out of the pack will be in the same condition as the first. It keeps them dry and means that you don't need to be quite as careful about where you store them as you needed to be when they were packed in a cardboard box. There are four different sizes of liner. Lakeland stress that you should measure your loaf tin before buying/ordering. When you see them in the shop it is very easy to guess and buy the wrong size. I know - I've done it. You should be able to find a liner to fit your loaf tin, and I've listed the ...

Blood Rain - Michael Dibdin 20/02/2006

Blood and Sand

Blood Rain - Michael Dibdin If "Blood Rain" had been the first Aurelio Zen mystery that I'd read, it would also have been the last. I finished the book but it was with more of a sigh of relief than enjoyment. Aurelio Zen is the Italian detective who stars in a long-running series of novels by Michael Dibdin. They're set in various parts of Italy and I've enjoyed every one - until now. Zen has been given the posting that's he's always dreaded - to Sicily - where's he's been sidelined into a meaningless liaison job. To complicate matters, the woman who might, or might not, be his daughter is responsible for the installation of a computer network in the building where he's working. A decomposed and unidentifiable body is found in a locked railway carriage. Is it the son of one of the local Mafia families? Zen is not officially on the case, but he can't help becoming involved. I'd better begin by admitting to a bias. I'm not too keen on fiction about organised crime, even if it's written by one of my favourite writers, Ian Rankin. In order for there to be some balance the criminals are shown to have a more sympathetic side. Personally I prefer to remember the murder, prostitution and drug dealing that produces their income. In Blood Rain the Mafiosi are two-dimensional: they're stupid, bumbling idiots. Some of it could be written for comedy. Even their violence doesn't seem quite real and none of it rang true. It was more like farce. I was put off too by the hint of lesbianism, only this time it's ...

Fatal Remedies - Donna Leon 17/02/2006

Paedophiles are men who love children.

Fatal Remedies - Donna Leon In the early hours of the morning Commissario Guido Brunetti is called to his own police station where his wife is being held after deliberately breaking the window of a travel agency. Arranging sex tours is illegal in Italy but the acts the men perform abroad are not. It's therefore perfectly legal in Italy for an man to go to Thailand and rape a ten-year old girl. The sex tours are not so blatantly advertised these days, but for those who know what to look for in the advertising - "tolerant receptionists" and similar phrases - the tours are still available. Paola Brunetti was incensed to read in a magazine that "A paedophile … is doubtlessly one who loves children". Failing to see any legal way of stopping men taking the sex tours she decides that she will break the window of a Travel Agency that arranges the trips. She hopes that others will follow her example and make it more expensive to continue the tours than to stop. Many years ago I managed a team of Investigators for the Inland Revenue. One of the hardest lessons for any new investigator to learn is that they are not on a moral crusade - they are there simply to apply the law as it stands. If an action - in our case it was legal tax avoidance - was within the law then it was no part of our function to tackle it. I lost count of the times that I heard the words "But he's getting away with…" This is probably why Donna Leon's "Fatal Remedies", the eighth in the Brunetti series, rang such a bell with me. Guido ...

Oz Clarke Wine Chiller 15/02/2006

Disgruntled of Burgundy

Oz Clarke Wine Chiller There comes a time in your life when those fine judgements about how long you can safely leave a bottle of sparkling wine in the freezer before it explodes and how close to the central heating boiler you should put the bottle of red become tiresome. You want an easy way. You certainly don't want to have to clean out the freezer or drink mulled wine on a regular basis. We enjoy wine. We're also probably better-known than we ought to be in various wine-merchants and supermarket wine departments where we're happy to pay more for a good wine. It makes sense to ensure that you serve wine at the correct temperature so that you get the best out of it: most people have grimaced when given a tepid white wine or one so chilled that it tastes rather like water. Worse still, if that's possible, is the red that's served cold and all it tastes of is, er, cold. Shortly before Christmas I was browsing for something else entirely when I chanced on the Oz Clarke Electric Bottle Chiller for £29.95. I've seen Oz Clarke on television and thought that he was a bit of a buffoon, but a buffoon who knew something about wine. Not only would the machine chill wines, it would also warm them, having a temperature range of 3°C to 50°C. It would, I was told, ensure that my favourite wine was served at the correct temperature. Two extras sealed the deal for me - it was wide enough to take champagne bottles and an Oz Clarke wine guide was included in the price. It was sold to the lady whose dogs were ...

From Anna's Kitchen: Plain and Fancy Vegetarian Menus - Anna Thomas 13/02/2006

California Dreaming

From Anna's Kitchen: Plain and Fancy Vegetarian Menus - Anna Thomas Just over two years ago, in that period just after Christmas when you know that you will explode if you eat any more rich food, I found this book. I'd been idly flicking through a few cookery books in the local bookshop when three words - Green Apple Sorbet - propelled me straight to the till, credit card in hand. It wasn't until I got home that I had a really good look at the book and I began to wonder if I might have made a mistake. In small letters at the bottom of the front cover I read "Plain and Fancy Vegetarian Menus". I'm not a vegetarian. I'd never heard of the writer, Anna Thomas. It turned out that she writes screenplays and produces films. She lives in California. Oh, dear, this didn't sound like my kind of cookery book at all. Still, I'd bought the book, so I thought I might as well have a look through and see if there was anything I could salvage from it. Two hours later I was half-way through the book and I had a page full of notes of recipes that I wanted to try and ideas for meals. One of the problems I've always had when planning any sort of vegetarian meal was in getting the balance of the meal right. Normally, you see, I start with the meat or fish that we're eating, plan what's going to accompany it and then balance it out with a starter or a pudding - or even both if they're light. When I planned a vegetarian meal I didn't have a starting point. This book solved the problem instantly because it supplies menus and as there's an influence on ...

The Rhodesian Ridgeback - Eileen M. Bailey 11/02/2006

The view from the ridge

The Rhodesian Ridgeback - Eileen M. Bailey For several years I've been looking for a specialist book about my favourite breed of dog. I wanted details about the breed standard (that's the written list of the characteristics which would make up the perfect dog), quirks of character, training needs and possible health problems. I was interested too in having some background to the development of the breed and some good pictures wouldn't go amiss. The dogs which have my heart are Rhodesian Ridgebacks - the lion hunters of Southern Africa. They're big dogs in every sense of the word, weighing in at about 35kg (the size of a small adult) and a heart, as the song says, as big as all outdoors. The first book on the breed which I bought was Stig Carlson's "Pet Owner's Guide to the Rhodesian Ridgeback" which I found disappointing, but I'm happier with Eileen M Bailey's "The Rhodesian Ridgeback". It's part of the "An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet" series of which 1.5 million copies have been sold. It's good but it's not perfect. Although this is sold as one book by Eileen Bailey it's actually three books in one, with three different authors. The first and most substantial part of the book deals with the Rhodesian Ridgeback dog and is written by Ms. Bailey. She's a breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks and lives in New York State, USA. She begins with a description of the Ridgeback, complete with a diagram showing the names of all the different parts of the dog. This is very useful - too many writers of books of this ...

Fruit Book - Jane Grigson 09/02/2006

Something very fruity

Fruit Book - Jane Grigson Delia Smith taught me to put food on the table, but two people have influenced more than any others the way that I buy and prepare food. They're Nigel Slater and his predecessor as the Observer food writer, the incomparable Jane Grigson. I indulged myself at Amazon last year and bought "Jane Grigson's Fruit Book", first published in 1982, but republished in the Penguin Cookery Library in 2000. I was going to say that it's as relevant today as it was when it was published, but I think it's actually more relevant today given the poor choice of fruit provided by the supermarkets. The format is very simple: think of a fruit and it will be there in alphabetical order. If it might be known under a different name - Chinese Gooseberry/Kiwi fruit for example - then it will be cross-referenced and to tie it all together there's a very comprehensive index. Each fruit is considered in real depth. Let's take apples as an example. We start with some interesting facts about the history of the apple and even some speculation that the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was actually a banana rather than an apple. The discussion about the best apple variety is knowledgeable and comes down in favour of Cox's Orange Pippin, Blenheim Orange or Orleans Reinette, but only if the Cox's is of the standard that it was many years ago. She doubts that Mr Cox would recognise his apple these days. "Our growers have turned the richness of the Cox into a boring crunch … all the smart ...

The Dogs of Riga - Henning Mankell 07/02/2006

Split Personality

The Dogs of Riga - Henning Mankell I share a taste for detective fiction with the local librarian. "Have you tried Henning Mankell?" she asked. "His Kurt Wallander makes Inspector Morse look positively optimistic!" I couldn't wait. An unmarked life raft is washed up on Wallander's local beach in Sweden. On it are the bodies of two men. They've been tortured, shot and then the jackets of their expensive suits have been put back onto the bodies. When it's discovered that the victims have come from across the Baltic Sea it should be an open-and-shut case but Inspector Wallander finds himself travelling to Latvia to help the local police in Riga. Once there he can't let go until he gets the answers he needs. The book begins as a pure police-procedural novel. This is where we follow the police as they accumulate evidence through observation, elimination and the use of forensic science. It's about reasoning and deduction and this is my preferred form of novel. Unfortunately, once it became evident that the crime was committed in Latvia and Sweden had simply been the dumping place for the bodies the novel had a complete change of identity and became an international thriller. This isn't my preferred form of novel at all. Both parts are well done, but it's rather like the couple you think should never have got married despite being perfectly decent people in their own right. It put me in mind of Peter Hoeg's "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" where there was a similar change of direction, but it was nowhere ...

A Sea of Troubles - Donna Leon 05/02/2006

Plain Sailing

A Sea of Troubles - Donna Leon Donna Leon was an accidental discovery. I'm a big fan of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen books and I read a review in which Zen, who seems to operate on both sides of the law, was contrasted with Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti, another Italian policeman, who is his opposite in just about every way. "A Sea of Troubles" is her tenth Brunetti novel. I read this first simply because it was the only one on the library shelves. "Very popular", said the librarian when I enquired. The books can be read as stand-alone novels (I just did!) but I suspect I would have had a better understanding of some of the nuances of Brunetti's character if I'd read at least some of the earlier books. I might also have found Signorina Elettra a little more endearing. In the harbour on the island of Pellestrina in the Venetian Lagoon a boat catches fire, explodes and sinks. The owner and his eighteen-year-old son are missing and it's only when a diver examines the boat that their bodies are found in the wreck. Brunetti senses that the owner of the boat, Giulio Bottin, was not well-liked, but it's a very close-knit community and outsiders are not welcomed and certainly not confided in. Brunetti's boss's secretary, Elettra, visits her relatives on the island to see what she can find out. It's a good story, well-told. This is despite the fact that I'm always disinclined towards police-procedural stories (where the novel is essentially about the methods the police use in the course of an ...

End in Tears - Ruth Rendell 03/02/2006

No tears from me

End in Tears - Ruth Rendell A block of concrete is dropped from a bridge and hits the car in front of the one driven by Amber Marshalson. A passenger in the car is killed. Some weeks later Amber's father finds his daughter bludgeoned to death after a night out and it's obvious to the police that Amber was the real target in the earlier attack. Why would anyone be so determined to kill an eighteen-year-old single mother? Where did Amber get the thousand pounds which she has in her bag and why has she recently been to Frankfurt with an acquaintance who has disappeared? I've been a fan of Ruth Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford novels since they first appeared more than a quarter of a century ago. Wexford himself (who must surely be coming up to retirement sometime soon) tries to be politically correct but doesn't always succeed in the finer points. He's certainly not in tune with current trends. He and his wife Dora are shocked to find that their divorced daughter is pregnant, and uncomprehending when they realises that Sylvia is to be a surrogate mother for her ex husband and girl friend. For the first time I thought about surrogacy from the point of view of the grandparents who would be parting with their grandchild. Inspector Mike Burden was more interesting in his youth when he did occasionally kick over the traces. Now he seems to be little more than a foil for Wexford, albeit a rather well-dressed and modish one. This is the twentieth book in the series and I suspect it wouldn't harm Burden to ...

With No One As Witness - Elizabeth George 01/02/2006

So nearly not seen!

With No One As Witness - Elizabeth George The serial killer had been at work for some time before anyone noticed. Sometimes even the parents didn't realise that their son was missing. The boys were all in their early teens, usually they'd been in trouble with the police and they were of mixed race. The murders took place in different parts of London and the bodies were mutilated. When Acting Superintendent Lynley is given the case he has to contend with the trauma and pressure of further boys being murdered as well as the political pressures within a Scotland Yard striving to prevent a charge of institutionalised racism being made by the media. I'd just about decided to give up on Elizabeth George and her Lynley and Havers detective novels. Lynley is a suave, Bentley-driving Earl who is a policeman because he wants to be. Barbara Havers is his opposite in every way. Early books in the series made good reads, but recent novels seemed to concentrate far too much on the private lives of the main characters with the investigative side coming a poor second. "With no one as witness" was Elizabeth George's final chance and I'm glad I took the risk. The underlying theme of the book is racism within the police force. It's frighteningly easy to see how the individual murders of boys in their early teens were not linked as some of the boys remained unidentified until well into the enquiry. To the local police the body was just another tearaway who'd got himself into trouble and whom no one would miss. Would there have ...

Home-Tek HT807 30/01/2006

Dishing the Dirt

Home-Tek HT807 With a bad back and problem hands I needed some way of vacuuming the stairs without having to resort to our weighty and cumbersome Dyson. I wanted a handheld machine which I could use to clean up small problem areas or which would allow me to get to those places which the bulky Dyson found impossible. I needed something which would effectively swallow all the dog hair and dirt which accumulates in our car - and I didn't want to spend a lot of money. There was an added complication too - one of our dogs has an allergy to house-dust mite, so I needed a machine with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter is the one that removes most of the pollens and dust motes from the air rather than recirculating them. What I bought was the Home-tek HT807 also known as "The Hunter" and I got it from Lakeland Ltd for £29.95. The packaging was appropriate and all recyclable. What I got for my money was a retro-looking machine 17 x 30 x 20cm weighing no more than a lightly filled shopping basket. It comes complete with a motorised brush, dusting brush and crevice tool. The manual with the machine is comprehensive and bearing in mind the necessity to give warnings to fools ("Do not pick up anything that is burning…") is as short as possible. I read it in a few minutes and had the machine fully-operational in less than ten. I've now been using it for about six months. It comes with 6m of flex, which is comparable to many full-sized vacuum cleaners and means that there's no problem when cleaning ...

Leo Dog Ear Cleaner 28/01/2006

Ear we go!

Leo Dog Ear Cleaner If you know a friendly dog, have a look inside his ear. Even in the bit you can see quite easily there are a lot of folds. The ear then gets more complicated because the canal makes a right-angle turn towards the ear drum. Wax is just one of the substances produced along the length of the canal to keep it healthy and supple and the only way this can escape is upwards - against gravity. A lot of it is going to get caught in all those folds. Have another look at this friendly dog. Does he swim a lot? Does he love hunting in the long grass? Does he generally like rooting around in the undergrowth? If he does then the chances are that all sorts of grass seeds, micro-organisms and general gunk are going to be meeting the wax that's trying to make its way up and out of the ear. The ear then becomes the perfect breeding ground for an infection. I have two Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs - Rosie and Kia. Ridgebacks were originally bred as lion hunters, so the long grass is their natural habitat. They swim regularly. Although they've got short hair their love of anything messy in the undergrowth means that we have to be very careful about their ears and my cleaner of choice is the Leo Dog Ear Cleaner. The first thing to be clear about it is that if your dog's ear is hot, red, bleeding or showing signs of puss then it's not an ear cleaner he needs - it's a vet. He may well recommend the use of an ear cleaner, but he will also want to look at the underlying cause and possibly give ...
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