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since 25/05/2006


Member Advice on Domestic Violence 06/01/2007

It's alright miss - she's my girlfriend!

Member Advice on Domestic Violence The title of this review comes from a true story I was told whilst working to raise the profile of domestic violence amongst primary school staff. A school teaching assistant was on playground duty one lunchtime, when she saw a small boy ( aged about 7) grab a girl of about the same age and start punching her in the face. The woman rushed over, pulled the boy away and said " X, what on earth are you doing? You don't hit people!" To which he replied "It's alright miss, she's my girlfriend". I first became aware of the issues surrounding domestic violence (or DV as I shall refer to it from now on) several years ago. Of course it was an issue that had always been around - I remember a friend of my mum's who work in a "home for battered wives" as it was then known, and spoke to my mum in hushed tones of the horrors she encountered daily. But the reality of the issue only really struck me when my best friend became involved in a violent relationship. Just to put this in context, my friend - let's call her M - I have known since I was 13. She is an incredible woman - beautiful, sexy, highly intelligent, forceful, independent - she had everything going for her. Until she met T. Like most relationships, theirs started as a full on, intense love affair, and she could see their future mapped out, with getting a place together, maybe marriage, definitely a child or two on the way. And as for me, bezzie mate, I thought he was OK. Not wildly exciting - and certainly not good enough ...

Chart Throb - Ben Elton 04/01/2007

A Clinger, Minger or Blinger? You decide!

Chart Throb - Ben Elton I love Ben Elton's books, and whenever a new one comes out - usually just before Christmas by some strange co-incidence, I always have a quiet word with the bearded fella in the dodgy red suit. He usually comes up trumps, and this year was no different - there it was in my Christmas stocking all nicely wrapped in shiny gold paper - "Chart Throb - The Ultimate Pop Quest". The story follows the reality TV programme, Chart Throb, which starts with ninety five thousand entrants to the hottest show on TV. Of course there can only be one winner - and that's where the three celebrity judges come in. The Judges 1. Calvin Simms - apparently the genius behind the wildly successful television talent show, Calvin is always the ultimate winner. With his intuitive grasp of the popular zeitgeist, Calvin has made it his show and he makes the rules - end of story. He's the rude, acerbic English element of the trio, and has carefully selected his fellow judges to ensure the formula succeeds. 2. Beryl Blenheim - a maternal star of her own reality TV series about a highly dysfunctional family, which features her mumbling partner, two horrendous offspring and various farm animals which are encouraged to defecate in the house during filming, to make for better TV. 3. The Other Bloke - aka Rodney Root, a pleasant pop professional who is desperate to raise his public profile and is routinely bullied by Calvin and humiliated by Beryl, fully aware that he will be sacked from the show ...

Welcome To Lazy Town (DVD) 06/12/2006

No - I'm Sportacus!

Welcome To Lazy Town (DVD) Anyone who doesn't have small children and isn't subjected to kids TV at regular intervals probably isn't familiar with recent Icelandic import, LazyTown. But if you haven't heard of it yet, you soon will! This kids programme is set to be The Next Big Thing, jumping on the Jamie Oliver bandwagon of promoting health and fitness at an early age. And why not - with our ever increasing levels of childhood obesity, someone's got to do it. And in Lazy Town, that someone is superhero Sportacus. But I'm getting ahead of myself! This series of programmes is a strange blend of puppetry (only the 3 main characters are human!), garishly coloured scenery and annoyingly catchy Europop-style music. This new DVD tells the story of 8 year old Stephanie, our vivacious pink haired heroine, who comes to live in Lazy Town with her uncle, the rather scary looking Mayor. There she makes friends with a number of other weird looking residents - such as Ziggy, who loves his sweets, Stingy who won't share and Pixel who can't stop playing video games. Stephanie soon encounters the dastardly Robbie Rotten, who's mission is to keep the town people lazy. Robbie - a bizarre character with a worrying taste in skin tight stripy leggings, a shiny black plastic quiff and a rather unfortunate chin, spies on the townspeople from his underground lair, where he scoffs unhealthy food and watches TV. He's a great villain, being a master of disguise, and often inventing ever more ludicrous traps to get rid ...

Hotel Chocolat 27/11/2006

Willy Wonka - Eat Your Heart Out....

Hotel Chocolat If you're on a diet, a healthy eating plan, or are of a nervous disposition, I suggest you stop reading now. This review is about the most heavenly shop I have ever encountered - and all it sells is CHOCOLATE. Although to describe it as "chocolate" is a bit like describing an Aston Martin as simply "a car". Or a bottle of Chateau Petrus as mere "red wine". I'm sure you're getting the picture. Anyone who's familiar with Coleridge's "Xanadu" will recall the following words "For he on honey-dew hath fed And drunk the milk of Paradise." I'm absolutely certain that had Hotel Chocolat been around circa 1798, these words would actually have been: "For he on a Molten Chocolate and Hazelnut slab hath fed And drunk the milk of Mocha Arabica" Hotel Chocolat sells dreams. In fact, Hotel Chocolat is what Willy Wonka's factory should have been - Heaven - in a High Street near you. I would like, if I may, to share with you my experience of the store. * The Hotel Chocolat Experience * On entering the store, the first thing to hit you is the smell - think thick, rich, gloriously indulgent and totally unadulterated chocolate, oozing from every crevice. Beautifully displayed products tease you from every shelf, slyly beckoning, daring you to touch them - to actually feel the delicious weight of the treasures within their elegant packaging. Once they've caught your eye, stiff expensive shiny packets let you have just a hint at what's beneath - a glimmer of smooth, ...

Come On Daisy! - Jane Simmons 15/11/2006

A cautionary tale for your toddler!

Come On Daisy! - Jane Simmons I don't know if it's just me, but one of the biggest frustrations of having a young child is instilling in them the importance of staying close to mummy when we're out and about. Of course, mine doesn't take the slightest bit of notice - wherever we go, she's off - I take my eye off her for a split second, and suddenly - nowhere to be seen. I end up running to keep up with her on the way home from nursery, chasing her around the supermarket - and if I ever want to go shopping for anything that involves a bit of browsing - well, it just doesn't happen. If I try to browse - she's off. I usually resort to holding her hand in a vice-like grip out of sheer desperation, which of course causes huge tantrums. So when I came across this delightful book, I hoped it would help get the message across in a subliminal way! This enchanting children's book tells a cautionary tale of the importance of staying close to your mummy - and the potential dangers of wandering off alone. It's done in a very sweet, gentle way - but still, the message is very clear! "You must stay close, Daisy" said Mamma Duck. But Daisy the duckling didn't. She was busy chasing dragonflies and bouncing on the lily pads. When she looked round, Mamma Duck wasn't there any more. Daisy was all alone…." The story begins with Mamma telling Daisy that she must stay close - but of course the world is a fascinating place for one so young, and Daisy is easily distracted by her surroundings of frogs, lily ...

Fifteen-Firsts 12/11/2006

Hindsight is a marvellous thing!

Fifteen-Firsts Oooh it's scary looking at your own life in retrospect and trying to pinpoint those moments that changed everything. But hey, I'll give it a go. What have I got to lose? Well, there's my dignity I suppose. And my self confidence. And my street cred (I delude myself that I still have some). Not forgetting that aura of mystique I try to cultivate and shroud myself in. But apart from all that - nothing! 1. FIRST KISS *************** This was a classic "school party" moment when I was about 13 -ie turning up at the house of someone we knew through the most tenuous of links, clutching a bottle of Thunderbird (between six of us) a pack of 10 Rothmans tucked away in my pocket together with a packet of polos so my mum wouldn't know I'd been smoking. His name was Martin and he was a fairly pleasant school chum -but I'd never thought of him in THAT way - but I guess the Thunderbird got the better of me, because he started to look strangely attractive midway through "Stairway to Heaven" (classic school party snog fodder). Anyway, he also had fixed braces on his teeth, but I didn't even care. We snogged and then I ignored him at school on Monday. That was the start of a pattern I found very hard to break!! 2.FIRST TIME YOU HAD YOUR HEART BROKEN *************** *************** *************** ******** I'm not sure I ever have really - although the closest I've ever come to it was by a man I thought I was in love with, although age and experience have taught me it ...

Poetry 06/11/2006

A poem that is close to my heart

Poetry Several years ago I was involved in a very unpleasant and deeply destructive relationship which was based on my own insecurity and vulnerability at the time. I wrote this poem following one of our many break ups. After a few very unhappy years I managed to get away and rebuild my life and recover what was left of my self confidence. Despite my bad experiences, I was distraught when the person I wrote about died suddenly last year. I never got the chance to say goodbye. Love such as this I've never known Like all consuming fire A match of souls together thrown Tumultuous desire Obsession? Yes - and mortal fears Of shadows from your past That leave me weak with spilling tears As sleep descends at last. A troubled dream about me creeps Memories, vague with sorrow And demons which unsettle sleep Vanish - 'til tomorrow. No respite whence dawn arrives Unhappiness compounded My abject loneliness contrives To leave my mind confounded. I yearn the light your presence brings, The sweetness of your touch. Uncomplicated, simple things Cherished and missed so much. Embers ignited smoulder yet, I sense that you must know My heart is heavy with regret Because I love you so. Thanks for reading. ...

Sicily (Italy) 23/10/2006

"More Greek than Italian..."*

Sicily (Italy) Sicily - oh, where to start? The most beautiful and fascinating country I have ever visited - I cannot recommend it highly enough. But that's not going to get me any decent ratings is it? So I'll do it properly: *Where is Sicily?* As I'm sure most people know, Sicily is the area of land which appears to have been kicked by the toe of the boot of Italy. This sentence seems to sum up the way Sicilians feel about the mainland too! While the country may look small on the map, it is in fact the largest island in the Mediterranean - and one of the most populated, with the majority of its inhabitants concentrated in the island's two main cities, Palermo (the Capital) and Catania. Although it is just 3km from Italy, Sicily has a very definite identity and culture all of its own. * A brief history* Sicily's strategic position in Europe has made for a colourful past, with a stream of conquering nations, each of which have left a little of their identity on the island. Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Arabs - and many others have fought over and occupied the island over the years. When Sicily was eventually unified with Italy, it wasn't exactly a cause for celebration for most Sicilians. In fact, to this day, there remains a distrust and suspicion of Italians - in particular Romans - and it seems that the feeling is mutual. When considering the history of Sicily, it is inevitable that the dreaded "M" word will crop up. And for many people, Sicily and "Mafia" will always be ...

10 Things That Really Annoy Me 29/09/2006

The gloves are off....

10 Things That Really Annoy Me Having sniggered at some of the other offerings on this subject, I thought I'd have a go myself. My first thought was "I'm not sure if there are as many as 10 Things That Really Annoy Me" Hmmm, let's see - I'll put them down in no particular order, but will start with a serious one.... 1. Inheritance Tax For those of you fortunate enough not to have lost a parent or loved one, you probably haven't come across this modern day equivalent of Highway Robbery. In a nutshell, Inheritance Tax works like this: When someone dies, everything they own (property, savings, pension etc) is valued. To pay no Inheritance Tax, all of your worldy goods must amount to less than £285,000 (2006/07). Therefore everything over and above that amount is subject to 40% - yes, 40% tax - or to put it another way, £400 out of every £1,000 goes to the Inland Revenue. Now I know I'm not always the sharpest tool in the sweet shop, but hasn't tax already been paid on this stuff? For example when my dad paid his mortgage, he was paying income tax - so why then because he's died, does he have to pay tax again? It's a complete outrage - well done Gordon Brown, another nail in the coffin of Middle England - actually, make that most of England, because there's a hell of a lot of people who have an estate which adds up to more than £285,000. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask. 2. People who sell roses in pubs / restaurants Now I have to confess that as a teenager I was thrilled if a boyfriend ... 27/09/2006

Great skin delivered to your door! Now I don't mean actual bits of skin delivered to your door - obviously. But with the great products from the Jersey Beauty company winging their way across the Channel, you can treat yourself to some luxury salon-standard products at incredible prices. I first came across Dermalogica skin products several years ago when I had a facial at a local salon and was given some free samples to take home. As this review isn't about Dermalogica itself, suffice to say that I loved the stuff I tried. It's not easy to get hold of though - it's usually only sold through approved beauty salons and I have since found out that this is a deliberate ploy on the part of Dermalogica. If punters can't buy the stuff anywhere else, the salons are very willing to sell it at vastly inflated prices! So when I heard about the Jersey Beauty Company, I was extremely tempted to give it a try. Their website is very straightforward, setting out clearly what it sells (the complete range of Dermalogica products at very competitive prices). And because it is based in Jersey, the products are VAT free. And delivery is free. Too good to be true? Well it hasn't gone wrong for me yet! On their website, the company states they have had Dermalogica's Premier Platinum status since 1998 and in 2005 were awarded the "coveted most valued Dermalogica Client award". Impressive huh? And it is - I really like the fact that there's a phone number on the website's home page, so there's no hunting around if you ...

Zizzi's, Maidstone 19/09/2006

It's Zizzi to lose track of time!

Zizzi's, Maidstone As I occasionally have to work in Maidstone, I usually arrange to meet up with an old friend who works there and try out one of the many fine eateries that the County Town of Kent has to offer. And over the years, we've had the good, the bad and the downright revolting. Happily, Zizzi's falls into the "good" category. If you don't know Maidstone, it's not the easiest place to find, as the town sprawls across quite a large area, with numerous small side streets. However, a new shopping centre, Fremlin Walk has recently opened, and is well signposted - Zizzi's is very close by in Earl Street. The decor is nice - classy and opulent at the same time. As my friend and I visited for lunch, we didn't book and were seated straight away by a very pleasant waiter. As Italian restaurants go, the menu is pretty much what you'd expect, with a decent range of starters and main courses including pasta, pizza, meat dishes, seafood and salads. I had Bruschetta al Pomodoro to start, which was delicious - a number of small portions of ciabatta topped with tomatoes, onions, basil and garlic. It was just enough for a starter - not so much that I suddenly didn't want my main course, which was Risotto di Pollo. It was great - large pieces of chicken breast with parma ham and melted mozzerella served with mushrooms and a delicately flavoured rice. My companion had a mushroom and ricotta ravioli which she said was fantastic. Of course you can't have a civilised lunch and catch up with an ...

Everything that starts with G ... 05/09/2006

It's a bit parky out!

Everything that starts with G ... Having read other reviewer's pieces, I just wanted to add mine - about the greatest grandad that ever lived. He was a Yorkshireman, named Squire (how cool is that!) and had loads of brothers and sisters with similarly outrageous names, such as Cyril, Milford and Nellie. My early memories are of him being a slightly scary, but very fair typical Yorkshireman man who smelled of tweed and was a diabetic, before I even knew what that meant. It did mean that Christmas presents for him were easy - diabetic chocolate or jam from Boots, which tasted bloody awful to a child reared on Cadbury's. He loved his twin daughters (my mum and her sister) and was a devoted gardener who often won the local "in bloom" competition in his Yorkshire village. He didn't quite understand us southerners and often expressed his disappointment that "folk down south" didn't greet him with a "good morning" as he took his morning walk. Believe it or not, he bred bulldogs, and you know what they say about people ending up looking like their dogs? Well he did - but in a good way. He was there for me until I was 17 years old - darling old grandad with his flat cap, his funny accent and his Hush Puppy shoes which he didn't realise were incredibly fashionable. Then suddenly he was gone. And the tragedy is that I don't remember the last time I saw him - properly that is - until we had a late night phone call and my mum was frantically packing to head off up North. I offered to drive - having just passed ...

Moto Motorway Service Stations 25/08/2006

Moto Services, Thurrock M25

Moto Motorway Service Stations It was lashing down with rain when we pulled in at these services en route to Cambridge with a hungry 3 year old in tow. So I will give the cleaners the benefit of the doubt, as the entrance to the place was filthy - muddy footprints, and hazardous wet floors. Anyway we headed straight for the "restaurant" and breakfast. £7.99 for a plate of wilting toast, a couple of greasy sausages, an egg, some beans and some bacon wasn't the worst part! On top of that, tea or coffee starts at almost 2 quid, so for two people (we decided the little one would have to share ours!), you're talking nearly £20 before you've even touched the petrol pumps. There was a display of supposedly healthy options for kids, but to be honest, they were all overpriced. And I've often wondered exactly what chemicals are used to keep apple slices white in the packet - surely apples go brown if left when you slice them? Anyway, the only other option in these services to this extortionate place is Burger King - and let's just say I'm not a fan. There's also a fairly standard shop in the services, selling newspapers, magazines, sweets etc. That was OK - nothing worthy of comment really. There are also toilets and baby changing facilities, but we made the mistake of using these the ones at the petrol forecourt - more of which later. Next stop was the services' petrol station - again very expensive, but with the added attraction of the rudest staff I've ever encountered! When I asked for a receipt, I was ...

Champneys Citrus Glow Energising Shower Gel 25/08/2006

Affordable luxury

Champneys Citrus Glow Energising Shower Gel I bought this shower gel from Sainsbury's, having been drawn to the Champney's range of products, but been put off by the fact that they're quite expensive. This though costs £5 for a 200ml bottle, which I think is a bargain! The packaging is not as eye catching as some of the other items in the range, but it's still attractive enough to want on your bathroom shelf. The claim made on the bottle that it "invigorates, revitalises and cleanses your skin" is dead right. The gel itself is thick and smells absolutely lovely - think freshly cut oranges and lemons and something like honey. Apparently it contains eucalyptus and cardamom as well, although this isn't really obvious from the scent. Another plus side is that you don't need much, so it should last a reasonable amount of time. Best used with a sponge, or body polisher, the gel produces a lovely thick luxurious foam and leaves skin feeling clean, soft and smelling great. All of this and it's made in the UK as well! Try it - you'll like it.

Everything that starts with N ... 25/08/2006

Nanny says NO! A football perspective.

Everything that starts with N ... Now, I've been going to watch the mighty Spurs for quite a few years now, but for several reasons, haven't made it to White Hart Lane for 2 seasons. And having finally got my act together and ventured north on Tuesday night, I have to say I know a change for the worse when I see one. In fact, I hate to say this, but my visit to the Lane actually made me question whether I really want to watch live football anymore! Suffice to say the "Nanny State" is alive and well and smacking the legs of premiership football at every opportunity. First surprise was the massive police presence in and around the ground. My first thought was - my God, this is Sheffield Utd we're playing, not Arsenal! But then in these times of increased vigilance in public areas, I suppose any gathering of more than 30,000 people in one area is fair game for heightened security. It still didn't make for the lively pre-game atmosphere I have grown to know and love though. Inside the ground itself, I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable when I read in the programme an article entitled "Safety at the Lane". Whilst a small section referred to the sensible precaution of not bringing large bags into the stadium, and increased searching taking place at the turnstiles, the rest of it took on a more sinister tone. Firstly, supporters were urged to text a published number if they "experience any form of discrimination". Now we all know that efforts to remove racism from football have been overwhelmingly ...
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