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since 26/12/2005


Hollowell Steam Rally, Northamptonshire 29/06/2015

The most fun you could have this Saturday and Sunday

Hollowell Steam Rally, Northamptonshire A timely review It has been eleven and a half months since I requested that the Hollowell Steam and Heavy Horse Show should be added to the Ciao database. Logically, I should have written about it just after I went last year - for the second year in a row. However, if I’d done that then lots of you would have said “Wow, sounds great, I must go” and then you’d almost certainly have completely forgotten about it. So instead I am going to write about it just a few days before this year’s show so you can be prompted to hop in your cars and come over to see it. Just be aware that it takes place the same weekend as the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, so if you’re coming from the south, stay well away from the A43 as it will be closed to anyone who doesn’t have tickets. The 2015 Hollowell Steam and Heavy Horse Show takes place in the small northern Northants village of Hollowell, easily accessed from the A14 or M1 and well sign-posted for miled around. It’s this coming weekend - Saturday the 4th and 5th of July - and it is easily my favourite event of the local calendar which makes it all the more frustrating that I can’t go as I’m heading off on holiday on the 4th. We went the last two years and absolutely loved it. I recommend that if you have the choice go on the Saturday as the show is a bit less busy . In previous years, there were OAP discounts for my parents on the Saturday but not on the Sunday but this year I noticed that they pay £2 less than other adults on both ...

VWC Argan Oil Cuticle Serum 27/06/2015

Have you got cute cuticles?

VWC Argan Oil Cuticle Serum Nailed it! I am not the sort of person who fusses over their nails. I buy the odd nail polish, more often than not remove it almost as soon as I’ve put it on, and I have never had false nails or gel polishes or anything the slightest bit technically challenging. I’m lucky in having nicely shaped long nail ‘beds’ and nails that grow quickly and quite strongly but I keep them very short for keyboard use (computer, not piano). I’m happy with my general nail apathy in all respects except one; I hate getting dry and raggedy cuticles and hangnails. They look ugly and they can get quite painful. For this reason I keep buying cuticle creams that claim they will solve my problems. Barmy Balms I should save my money. I can’t get the hang of creams and balms for my cuticles. They tend to be thick and sticky - take Badger Balm cuticle cream for example - and I neither like the smell nor the texture. When the owner of Valerie Widman Cosmetics offered to send me some of her argan oil products, I tried to not be greedy. I took an anti-ageing face cream (which I’ve already reviewed) and this tiny bottle of Argan Oil Cuticle Serum. If you are interested to try it, you can find it on her website at where a bottle will cost you a little under £8. I’ve been sitting on this for a while - not literally, that would be stupid, but I wanted to give it a good long test before I wrote my review. I’ve gone through periods of using it, then ...

Gecko Cafe, Mahabalipuram 23/06/2015

Geckos for dinner and breakfast

Gecko Cafe, Mahabalipuram I love Geckos The hotel I chose for a two night break in the southern Indian seaside town of Mahabalipuram had no restaurant. Most likely if it had done we still wouldn’t have wanted to eat there. The town has lots of cute little restaurants and I’m a firm believer in only eating in hotels when there’s nowhere else nearby. That applies doubly so when the hotel has very few guests and there’s no knowing how long the food’s been hanging around the kitchen. Fortunately for us, just across the road from our hotel was a restaurant called the Gecko Cafe. Undoubtedly one of the least grown-up reasons to choose a place to eat is because it’s named after your favourite small lizard. I love geckos and I like brightly painted buildings with open air seating. I also like avoiding going past too many shops whose owners all want me to go inside and do the whole ‘just looking’ routine. Proximity and a lizardy name was enough for me. We headed inside on our first evening, went back again on our second and had our pre-departure breakfast there too. We loved it. Our first visit Gecko Cafe is on Othavadai Street, a road that runs perpendicular to the beach and is lined with plenty of shops and restaurants. We were there in October last year, perhaps a little ahead of the busy tourist season but it was still shockingly hot and humid. Access to the restaurant is up a flight of stairs on the outside of the building so it’s probably not a natural choice for anyone who has mobility issues. We ...

Molton Brown Apple Pectin Exfoliating Hydra-mask 21/06/2015

Grab this one whilst you can still get it

Molton Brown Apple Pectin Exfoliating Hydra-mask From hair to body to face Once upon a time, forty-odd years ago Molton Brown was a swanky hairdressing salon in a trendy part of London but they reinvented themselves as a cosmetics firm and soon grew well beyond their roots. I remember them in the 1990s as a brand that turned up in business class airline ‘amenity kits’ and I once visited them in my days selling toothpaste ingredients when they were slapping their name on everything they could think of. More recently, I’d say they have been best known for their handwashes and hand creams which come in a dazzling array of different scents - some nice, some not so - as well as some very expensive scented candles. For a while Molton Brown had a good go at skincare products but their website now confirms that they have discontinued this range. This did not come as a surprise to me for two reasons; firstly their products had been very expensive without being them having the credentials to be convincingly ‘worth it’ and secondly, my local outlet shop has been selling off all their stock at heavily discounted prices. Hence my recent success in picking up not one but three 75ml tubes of the Apple Pectin Exfoliating Hydra-Mask for the grand sum of just £5 a tube instead of the original RRP of around £50. So what’s the point in reviewing a product that’s been discontinued? There are two good reasons. Firstly it’s still widely available at discounted prices and secondly it’s fantastic stuff. Go chase some down and fill your boots. ...

Fastenmaster Timberlok Wood Screw 20/06/2015

Why a screw from Timberlok would beat a screw from Timberlake

Fastenmaster Timberlok Wood Screw You have to write about this Like the non-reviewing partners of many Ciao members, my husband is pretty indifferent to what I get up to on the site. He doesn’t read my reviews or show any particular interest in what I might be writing about. That’s fine with me. I’m not going to push him to do so. Consequently I was pretty surprised a couple of months back when he told me “You HAVE to write about this on that site of yours” and waved a long screw under my nose. No. Stop it. No smutty comments. It really was a long screw and he had been very impressed by it. “People need to know about these”, he said with a degree of excitement I hadn’t seen him express about much that wasn’t expensive and electrical or had a big engine. The exciting product I had to tell you all about was the Fastenmaster Timberlok Wood Screw. And I have to admit, even I - a novice in the world of wood screws - could see was really quite exceptional. Have you ever given any thought to how to screw big chunks of wood together? Last summer my husband took a saw to a whole row of pyracantha trees in our garden. He hated them and decided that they had to go. This then left a very ‘exposed’ and rather beautiful old wall. Since our house is a converted stone barn that was built over 400 years ago, the stone wall could quite easily be nearly as old. It’s pretty. It should be seen, not hidden with pyracanthas. And now it is. I asked if we could have a couple of raised beds and take advantage of the sunny aspect ...

Parks Aromatherapy One Wick Candle 17/06/2015

Park your nose over here

Parks Aromatherapy One Wick Candle Spoilt by Quality I think my introduction to the world of smelly candles was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it made me realise what I’d been missing for all the years that I’d dismissed scented candles as an unnecessary extravagance and a curse because the ones I started with were so good that they spoiled me for candles that followed. I jumped from being candle-agnostic to candle-snob without pausing for breath. My first candle was an American Bath and Body Works lavender which is still going strong despite burning at every bathtime since I got it, and then the full on corruption of Parks Candles left me unwilling to settle for anything less. I bought Parks Candles from Secret Sales, an online shopping site which was selling their single wick candles at £9 each with further discounts that brought mine down to less than £8. The regular prices is £30 each. I bought examples of three of their ranges - one each of the ‘exclusive’ candle (already reviewed here on Ciao) and the ‘fragrance’ candle (reviewed by Nar2) and three different variants of the ‘aromatherapy’ candle. The one I’m writing about today is the Parks Aromatherapy single wick candle in a scent called Hyacinth. The Range The aromatherapy range from Parks Candles comes in an astonishing choice of 37 different fragrances, most of them fruity or flowery but with a few culinary versions smelling of teas or alcoholic spirits, and a few woody ones too. There are even ones that smell of frankincense or ...

Korres Sleeping Beauty Set 15/06/2015

Sleeping Beauty probably wouldn't bother to wake for this set.

Korres Sleeping Beauty Set Korres The Greek natural beauty firm Korres makes products that are quite tricky to find and seldom very affordable. Their range includes one of my all time favourite night creams - their Black Pine night cream - as well as some very disappointing ones - such as their allegedly near-iconic Wild Rose day cream which I don’t rate at all. With a company whose products are quite polarising, there’s a lot to be said for getting smaller trial sizes if you can before you risk blowing a lot of money on something you might regret. One way to access some of their products is via their sets such as the Sleeping Beauty set. These sets are normally offered around Christmas time and mine does have a rather strange drawing of a reindeer and some snowflakes on it. Despite this, the sets are still widely available even at this time of year and a quick google will throw up several companies who still have the product in stock. The RRP is just £12 for the four products which would normally have a nominal value of £19.90. That’s not the biggest of discounts but it’s still pretty good. I bought this and another set from Birchbox with the ‘points’ that I’d earned filling in ridiculous surveys about the products they had sent me in my monthly boxes. The points were burning a hole in my pocket and had to be spent before I cancelled my subscription so I opted for some Korres items. As a tip for next year, Debenhams overstocked on these and had them significantly marked down in the January ...

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris 14/06/2015

A modern Aesop with fables of manners and human behaviour

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris Meet David Sedaris David Sedaris is a hard man to pigeonhole. He’s not a comic, he’s not a stand-up but he has elements of both. He’s a writer - but much more than just a writer. He’s a performer - but one so understated that you could be forgiven for not immediately spotting how incredibly funny he is. So what does he do? He writes stuff and then he reads it out. This sounds like it shouldn’t be funny, clever and often utterly disrespectful but you’d be wrong to underestimate him. You may well have heard him if you’re a Radio 4 listener as he gets a series most years in the 6.30 pm comedy slot. David Sedaris is a comic genius. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk ‘Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk’ was published in 2010 and marks a temporary change of direction for Sedaris. Most of his books contain a series of essays and reflections on his day to day life and the strange things that he, his family and friends have experienced. He’s a guy you’d be nervous (and very lucky) to have as a friend because you’d always be worrying that something you did or something you told him would crop up in one of his essays. His partner Hugh and his close relatives must all fear each new book for all the dreadful things written about him. However, ‘Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk’ is a book that doesn’t contain any personal stories - or at least not in a way that’s too obvious or too clear. I would suggest that these stories of shameful and stupid behaviour may well contain the experiences too dreadful to be attached ...

Yankee Candle Floral Wax Potpourri Tart Burner 11/06/2015

Don't melt my heart - melt my tart

Yankee Candle Floral Wax Potpourri Tart Burner Candle Addiction This whole scented candle malarky is a slippery slope. You start thinking you can ‘dabble’; that you’re in control and you can stop whenever you want to. It all seems so simple. Then you start buying a few more candles, probably a few more than you really need. Next thing your candle guru is telling you that wax tart melter would be a good idea for your leftover wax and then suddenly you’re hanging out in the Yankee Candle shop buying ‘accessories’. And if you aren’t careful, it can all happen so quickly. That’s the problem with candles; sometimes they are a gateway to ‘harder’ stuff. I went from cynic to convert far too quickly. Waste Not Want Not I hate waste and scented candles have a naughty habit of burning irregularly so that the wick runs out before the wax does. My guru told me that when that happens, you should bung the leftover wax into a tart burner and there’s no waste. I was so hooked that I went onto Amazon and ordered one for next day delivery. I had seen a few of the Yankee tart burners in their outlet shop at Cheshire Oaks and I knew I didn’t want most of them. I find the stench of the shop so overpowering that I can only manage to run in and out for slightly longer than I can hold my breath before I fear the onset of breathing difficulties. A quick glance through the tart burners showed me that most were too fussy, too clumpy or too ugly. Hence when I saw the simplicity of the Floral Wax Potpourri Tart Burner on Amazon and spotted that it ...

YOU Beauty Discovery CEW Limited Edition Box 2015 10/06/2015

The Good, The Bad and The Swapsies Beauty Box

YOU Beauty Discovery CEW Limited Edition Box 2015 Youbeautybargains is a website which offers a monthly ‘beauty box’ scheme in which members pick two products each month from a shortlist of available items and they are delivered a few days later along with a few other little ‘treats’. In addition to this monthly ‘members box’, a few times a year the site offers a special ‘limited edition box’. These boxes are available to everyone - the only difference is that members get them with free P&P whilst others pay for P&P. The box I’m reviewing today is still available at - just click on the link that says ‘Limited Edition Box’ and it’s called the CEW 2015 Limited Edition Box. It was made available a few months ago and I resisted for quite a long time before I decided to buy it. It cost £19.95 and includes 9 products, some of them just small samples and others full sized. The CEW 2015 Limited Edition Box contains products which were all finalists in the annual ‘Cosmetic Executive Women Beauty Awards’ earlier this year. Non members will pay £19.95 plus £4.95 postage. Let’s see if you think it’s worth it! Nine Lives The collection comes in one of the standard YBD boxes, lined with soft shredded paper worms. These boxes are very handy and all mine get reused around the house. The presentation is a miraculous example of creative packing. I cannot - no matter how I try - get all the products back into the box and get the lid to close. I love skin care product but I don’t wear ...

Apples to Pears Bee & Insect House 09/06/2015

Bee & Bee - with a few vacancies for hard workers

Apples to Pears Bee & Insect House Bee Hospitable I have written recently about the Insect Hotel that I received for Christmas and the Bumble Bee house that I bought last autumn. I may have mentioned at that time that I had another ‘Bee House’ and that’s the wone I’m reviewing today. It’s the ‘Bee and Insect House’ by a company called ‘Apples to Pears’. I bought three - one for my parents, one for mysister and one for us - from Achica last autumn for £9.75 but you can find them online from around £12. Bee Proactive We took a decision to plant our garden to encourage bees. These little fellas need all the help they can get these days. Pesticides, intensive farming and houses being built with ever smaller and more barren gardens have all contributed to bees finding the going tough. Add in the odd bee disease like the Varroa mite and everything in the garden is far from lovely for the bees. A friend who used to be a big bee in the bee research world sent me a fantastic book about plants to encourage bees in your garden but I also wanted to make sure they’d have somewhere to hang out, do their bee-thing, and have their babies. Hence the purchase of this solitary bee house. I like it so much that I plan to get (or make) some more. Bee Wise Most of us associate bees with honey and honey bees are indeed said to be responsible for 80% of pollination in the UK. However there’s more to British bees than honey bees. There are a total of around 250 species of bees in the UK. There are 24 types of bumble bee - the fat ...

Lost Cat - Caroline Paul 08/06/2015

A True Story of love, desperation and GPS technology

Lost Cat - Caroline Paul Perfect Presents I have three wonderful Dutch lesbian friends who treat me and my husband like family. For my birthday this year they each chose a book to send to me. Each book was about a cat and each book had a very moving little handwritten note on the flyleaf to thank me for my part in their lives. It’s no exaggeration to say that I got quite emotional when I was reading them. ‘Lost Cat’ came from Ineke who I’ve known for more than 15 years and she tells me that if I ever got ‘Lost’, I should get a GPS or give her a call. Sweet! My friends know about my cat Baloo and his tendency to ‘wander’ and they also know that I am torn between wanting to know where he goes and not wanting to intrude into his kitty privacy. They also know I bought a cat cam four and a half years ago but quickly recognised it was rubbish. They probably know that my friend in Wales gave me a GPS tracker for him - but no way to actually attach it to him - and that I’ve had to think long and hard about whether to try to track him. I always come down on the side of his kitty rights to privacy and he’s been much better the last few months. Respect your cat’s boundaries and maybe he’ll respect you. (Or maybe not - he’s a cat after all). Where’s your kitty gone? Lost Cat is a beautiful book and one that really spoke to me. The author Caroline Paul had a plane crash which broke her leg and smashed her ankle into dust. Through the pain and the fog of the painkillers, she reflected that she’d broken the ...

The Konjac Sponge Company Konjac Angel Cloth 07/06/2015

Your one to three month guardian angel

The Konjac Sponge Company Konjac Angel Cloth Angelic Influences The Konjac Angel Cloth was one of the items I chose for my May Youbeautydiscovery beauty box so I’ve had it for about a month now. YBD is a monthly scheme where members choose two items from a shortlist of beauty products and receive those items plus a couple of other goodies each month. May wasn’t a month with particularly inspiring shortlist and I rather grudgingly picked my cloth as my second choice. The Konjac Angel Cloth is made by a company called The Konjac Sponge Co who - unsurprisingly given the name - sell sponges, face-cloths and other items made of konjac. I’ve long known Konjac for the oddly textured konjac jelly ‘shots’ which got banned a few years ago as a choking hazard. I also knew it was the ingredient in some ultra-low calorie noodle and pasta dishes but I hadn’t known it could be used for cosmetic and cleaning purposes. So what IS Konjac? Konjac is a large plant of tropical or sub-tropical regions which is also known as elephant yam, devil’s tonge, voodoo lily or snake palm. It has massive leaves up to 1.3 m across and has long spear-like flowers. The part used for food and - I assume - for sponges and cloths is the root of the plant. The Japanese have been eating it for 1500 years, so whilst it’s a relative newcomer to the west, it’s long established. The Konjac company claim that their product is from fully sustainable sources and is 100% biodegradable and free from chemicals, colours, irritants or additives and that it’s made by ...

GAP Garden Products Conical Plant Support 06/06/2015

Protect your Pretty Peonies

GAP Garden Products Conical Plant Support Passion for Peonies One of my favourite garden flowers is the peony. There’s something about these big, frilly, blousy beauties which never fails to make me smile. We planted our first few about five or six years ago and they’ve become well established in our garden. Most years they are one of the first of the proper big flowers to arrive in the garden after the spring bulbs but this year everything seems to be a bit behind schedule due to the lousy May weather. This year we’ve planted lots more peonies because I like them so much and we plan to track down different ones which will flower at different times in the year in order to prolong the flowering season. Last weekend we went to visit my parents in Wiltshire where the peonies appeared to be a few weeks ahead of ours in the East Midlands and were already in full bloom. I did notice that all the ones we saw in flower down south were of the deep burgundy variety so perhaps it’s not just the weather but a colour issue too. Peony Problem For the first few years we had them, our peony plants would burst into glorious bloom and then a few days later they’d get flattened by a massive rain storm. I spotted that one of our neighbours was using metal ‘cages’ to support their more ‘leggy’ plants, so I suggested to my husband to get some. Our first experience with peony cages from the local garden centre was partially successful - they did the job of preventing the peonies getting flattened but they were quite fiddly to use ...

Hotel Ramakrishna, Mamallapuram 04/06/2015

Ramalama Ramakrishna Mamallapuram

Hotel Ramakrishna, Mamallapuram Destination During our holiday in India last year we spent nearly a week on the south eastern coast in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. We loved Pondicherry and were quite sad when the time came to leave and head up the coast to the magical little town of Mahabalipuram (also known now as Mamalapurum). We had been there before for a few hours during a group tour of South India many years ago and had wanted to go back ever since. You could fairly ask why we were so keen to go back and let’s be honest, you’re not going to book a hotel in this town without knowing why it’s so special. Mahabalipuram stands on the site of a 1st Century sea port which later - in the 7th and 8th centuries - became an important port for the Pallava dynasty. During their reign incredible rock carvings were made in the area, many of them astonishing giant monolithic (carved from a single rock) carvings. Mahabalipuram has ancient sites so amazing that your eyes will nearly pop out of your head at the complexity and advanced carving techniques that they exhibit. Despite seeing them before, we knew we wanted to go back and see them again. The group of monuments at Mahabalipuram is one of India’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and easily worthy of a few more reviews. Finding somewhere to stay When I was booking accommodation quite a few months before we were due to travel, the options for booking online were very limited. Many of the hotels don’t release their rooms for online booking until much nearer the time ...
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