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Very sad to discover that almost half of my COT list haven't posted in the last 6 months - so I had a clean up. All still on alerts though.

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since 26/12/2005


The Gypsy Goddess - Meena Kandasamy 31/03/2015

Few books beat me - this one did

The Gypsy Goddess - Meena Kandasamy My Indian Lit Collection I have a vast collection of books by Indian writers and books set in India and I’m always keen to get anything new, especially if it’s causing a bit of a stir in the media. One such book was added to my collection last summer. Shortly after I received my copy of Meena Kandasamy’s ‘The Gypsy Goddess’, I heard her interviewed on the radio. If I remember correctly, it was on Woman's Hour although it might have been Front Row. Either way, it will have been Radio 4. My sense of excitement and belief that this was a ‘significant’ book was high and I was keen to start reading. I heard that the book's publication in India had been delayed due to controversy surrounding the content and the author was being touted around the media as the next big thing since Arundhati Roy - young, good looking, politically outspoken, she was going to be the darling of the literary set. Again, I was expecting something special - although I have to admit I think Roy is seriously over-rated and more famous for looking gorgeous than writing particularly well. Sadly, I was deeply disappointed by The Gypsy Goddess, finding it to be an almost unreadable vanity project rather than a book. Yes, I know that sounds harsh but if a book is so infused with the personality of its writer that the story is second to the personality, then that writer has to accept the risk that a criticism of the book might look like a criticism of the writer. I’m sorry if this is taken badly but honestly, ...

Enchey Monastery, Gangtok 30/03/2015

Flying Lamas, Scaffolding and Computer Games

Enchey Monastery, Gangtok Find your Monastery The day we spent sightseeing in the Sikkimese capital, Gangtok was a very full one and my head was spinning by the end of the day after seeing so many different things. The second stop - after the Handloom and Crafts Centre that I reviewed here last year - was Enchey Monastery also known as Enchey Gompa. It was further up the mountainside from the Handloom centre. It’s always hard to describe where places are in a city like Gangtok because it’s so three-dimensional. If you were to stand on the other side of the valley and look at Gangtok from afar, the Enchey Monastery is close to the television tower which can be seen from great distances. It’s at one of the highest points in the city. Despite the mountain top location, the temple is surrounded by trees and vegetation and the views are rather less than you might hope to find. The fantastical story of Enchey Monastery A sign on the road to the monastery explains that a lama called Drubthob Karpo had fabulous flying powers and built a small place on the site two hundred years ago after flying there. Just keep in mind that I don’t mean he got a helicopter - he flew there under his own power. That’s the sort of thing that baffles me about Buddhism. You’re wandering around monasteries thinking “This seems like an entirely sane and reasonable if very confusing religion” and suddenly you’re confronted with crazy stuff like flying lamas. Make that flying lamas who hang around for two centuries before deciding ...

L'Occitane Immortelle Precious Night Cream 29/03/2015

It's great but it won't give you the secret of immortality

L'Occitane Immortelle Precious Night Cream Me and L'Occitane I have long adored the French cosmetics brand L’Occitane and I’m lucky (or not, depending on my bank balance) to have easy access to one of their outlet shops although to preserve the anonymity of the innocent (and generous) I'd better not say which one. I’m particularly lucky to have found an assistant in the store who I really like and who is always ultra-generous with the free samples whenever I buy anything. I have had to stop going in there because I always get far too carried away and more recently I've been taking my boss in there when she's over from Germany and getting her to buy something instead. Call it second-hand retail therapy. The lovely shop assistant knows that I love the Immortelle range of products and slips lots of sachets of the creams from that range into my bag. Over they years, I’ve had so many of the sachets of the night cream and the cream masque that I’ve easily used the equivalent of more than a full tub of each. Cold, very cold When I first sat down to write an earlier version of this review, I was in Holland and staying in a hotel that was a half hour walk from the office along the riverside. The wind whistles down the Ij like an Arctic blast so I was relying on sachets of Precious Night Cream for some special protection and to compensate for the shockingly harsh conditions. Compared to the much better known day cream in the Immortelle range, the Night Cream is a much thicker, heavier product and much more rich and ...

Novotel, Mumbai (Bombay) 27/03/2015

Beach Life - Mumbai Style

Novotel, Mumbai (Bombay) Life’s a Beach For our trip to India in 2013, we started and ended our holiday in Mumbai. This wasn’t out of any particular desire to stay in the city (super though it is) but out of a wish to use up a load of British Airways Avios at a time of year when all the points flights to Delhi were already fully booked. Since we had quite an expensive custom-made tour in Sikkim and West Bengal, I was trying to cut back on the costs by using airmiles for the flights and hotel loyalty points for the Mumbai stays. When it came to deciding where to stay in Mumbai, I wanted to keep things simple and avoid a lot of long taxi drives. Rather than go into the city, I booked the Novotel at Juhu Beach which is north of the city and (in theory at least) not too far from the airport. I wouldn’t recommend to do this if you’re intending to explore downtown Mumbai but for a short beach break it was just what we needed. In theory it should have been a cheap and easy ride to get from the airport to the Novotel but we had some issues with the taxi driver. We’d booked a cab through one of the agencies at the airport - one where you pay the driver rather than the agency (they just get a small cut and you get the reassurance that they can track the cab and the driver if anything dodgy should happen). Normally when you do this, you can be pretty sure that the driver knows what he’s doing. We got one who didn’t know the hotel, wouldn’t admit that he couldn’t read the address, didn’t understand us and then ...

Origins Ginger Essence Eau de Toilette 26/03/2015

I'm nuts about Ginger

Origins Ginger Essence Eau de Toilette Fifteen Years and Going Strong Origins Ginger Essence was launched back in 2000 and I have been using it pretty much ever since. I took a diversion for a few years when they launched ‘Ginger with a Twist’ which is sadly no longer available, and now that I’m clinging on to the last drops of Ginger with a Twist, I’m going back to the original Ginger Essence again. I loved it from first spray although I almost wish they’d never introduced the twist as the original scent now feels a little ‘flat’ without that extra blast of lime. I came to Ginger Essence via the Ginger body lotion and body souffle. Sometimes you just want the quick hit of a blast of ginger without the bother of having to rub goop all over yourself. And sometimes you just want to super-charge the ginger blast with both the body products and the scent. I suppose most people start with the fragrance and gradually head towards the scented body products. I went the opposite way. A rather ordinary bottle for an extraordinary scent Ginger Essence comes in a tall, willowy bottle with a copper coloured top and a frosted glass bottle. It’s a very simple and not particularly distinctive bottle - something that indicates a company that’s more interested in putting their efforts inside the bottle than in tarting up an indifferent whiff with a posh or quirky bottle. It’s available in standard bottles in both 50 ml and 100 ml sizes at RRPs of £32.50 for the smaller and £42.50 for the larger bottle. You’ll sadly never see ...

Aromatherapy Associates Revive Body Gel 25/03/2015

Am I 'revived' or just feeling sticky?

Aromatherapy Associates Revive Body Gel A gift from the AA – not the car rescue or the alcoholism group I received my tube of Aromatherapy Associates Revive Body Gel through one of the monthly box schemes that I was subscribing to at the time. I was initially really pleased when I saw it in my box because I really like the Aromatherapy Associates brand and had dabbled with several of their skin care products that I'd received as 'gift with purchase' on women's magazines. My delight was then tempered with a bit of disappointment when I realised that the tube in my Birchbox a body gel and not one of their lovely facial skin care products. But hey ho! I’d give it a go even if I wasn't entirely sure what it was supposed to do. Aromatherapy Associates is a lovely little company that's been running for nearly three decades and which exploits what the founders call the 'mind altering' power of natural aromas. Clearly they know their stuff when it comes to aromatherapy. What I'm not so sure about is whether they know about flabby human bodies and what to do with them. Have you got it? Do you care? I don't The beauty industry makes a fortune out of making us women worry about problems we probably don't have and even if we do, we probably should just ignore – and if extremely afflicted, just keep covered up. Amongst the many of those things they want us to worry about I can honestly say I’m pretty baffled by cellulite. As far as I know I don’t have it. I can't rule out the possibility that I might have it and I've just not ...

Dr Wolff Plantur 39 Caffeine Tonic 24/03/2015

Hair today, Hair Tomorrow? It's a tonic

Dr Wolff Plantur 39 Caffeine Tonic A Year of Messing with my Follicles In April 2014 I started using Plantur 39 shampoo and I’ve been a faithful customer ever since. I’ve worked my way through 5 or 6 bottles of shampoo since then and just ordered another 4 from a site in Jersey which consistently proves to be the cheapest place to buy. I’ve been hoping that now that the product is advertised on television - with a nice voiceover from someone who sounds like Mariella Fostrup - it might be getting cheaper but so far, no such luck. Those who use it and love it are addicted to the shampoo but in the time it’s taken me to use five bottles, I’ve barely made a dent in my bottle of the Plantur 39 caffeine tonic. For me this is a product I don’t really ‘get’ and I’m still not sure what to think of it. The Plantur 39 Story As we age our hair changes not just in colour or in texture, but also in volume. Hair thinning happens not only for men but for women too, especially when they reach the years leading up to menopause. Plantur 39 is so called because they recommend you should start using it in your early 40s. In my case I also have the ‘no thyroid’ factor to add to the equation and it’s quite well documented that changes in thyroid hormones can really mess up your hair. Whilst my medication is very much under control, a few years after surgery, I definitely noticed that my hair was thinner than I wanted it to be. Someone on the Macmillan Thyroid Cancer Forum recommended Plantur 39 and I’ve been using it ever ...

Dalhousie, India 23/03/2015

Dalhousie in the Mountains

Dalhousie, India What's in a Name? If I try to explain why I wanted to go to Dalhousie in Himachal Pradesh, I struggle. If I'm entirely honest, I didn't really know what was there or whether it was worth visiting; I just liked the name. My first big travel adventure took place when I was 21 and I set off to do my undergraduate field mapping project in Nova Scotia. I set off with a one way ticket to New York and nothing that even vaguely could be mistaken for a plan. Despite this, I made it to Halifax to meet up with the father of a man I didn't know who was an old college mate of someone I played with on my university ice-hockey team. Equally randomly I fell in with a group of medical students from Dalhousie University, one of them the cousin of my ice-hockey coach. I had the most fabulous summer, got through my field work without killing myself, fell in love, left him to go travelling, went back again at the end of the summer and eventually headed back to England. It's a pretty daft reason to seek out a small town that shares its name with the university whose frat house I stayed at for several weeks. The connection between Dalhousie the town and Dalhousie the university is a family one. The university was founded by George Ramsey, 9th Earl Dalhousie and the town is named after his third son James Andrew Broun-Ramsey, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie who was the Governor General of India between 1848 to 1856. Not a bad achievement for a youngest son. Indian history buffs will note that his rule ...

Restaurant Hotel Tamarind, Mangan 22/03/2015

A thousand times better than a motorway service station

Restaurant Hotel Tamarind, Mangan No, no! Not the packed lunch Sikkim is India’s least populated state with just over 600,000 inhabitants. It’s also quite small but what looks like a small distance on a map can be a long way on Himalayan mountain roads. The route from the capital city Gangtok to the small northern town of Lachung is a full day’s drive along really bad roads but it’s less than 120 km. If you gain any experience being driven long hours in India, you’ll soon learn that the only thing that keeps you going is the thought of a good lunch and that nothing could bring your spirits down quicker than the words ‘packed lunch’. I would rather eat dal and chapattis from a dirty stall on the side of the road than face a boiled egg and a vegetable rissole in a box. On the morning that we set off to Lachung we gained a new driver and guide who hadn’t had the chance our previous driver had to get to know us and how low our standards were about where we were prepared to eat. The new guys didn’t know we were pretty laid back so they needed to find a place for us to eat and chose the Tamarind Hotel in the small town of Mangan. Mangan is around 65 km from Gangtok and took around three and a half hours to reach. They dropped us off outside, pointed at the door and then disappeared off down the road to a place that was more to their local taste. Perhaps they thought we couldn’t deal with their chosen dining option but they knew that we’d get a clean toilet and safe food at the Tamarind. Hey, it’s even in ...

Malin+Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturiser 21/03/2015

Malin+Goetz - Vitamin E+Goop

Malin+Goetz Vitamin E Face Moisturiser Testing Times There are many beauty brands of which I’ve heard but on which I have no experience or opinion. However, some stick in the mind as likely to be worth a go and Malin+Goetz was one of those for me. I am 5 months into a 6 month subscription to the ‘lovemebeauty’ beauty box scheme and I’ve been struggling to find things to pick for my monthly boxes as they really don’t have enough new products each month. When a bunch of Malin+Goetz products came up for grabs, I ‘spent’ four of my six monthly points on four of their products in trial sizes. One of these was the Vitamin E Face Moisturiser. I had thyroid surgery four and a half years ago and picked up tips from many forum members on how to care for scars. I was happy enough using Bio Oil and didn’t need anything fancier, but a lot of people in the USA swore by using vitamin E on their scars. They would buy Vit E capsules, cut them open and rub the Vit E oil directly on their scars. For this reason, I knew that Vit E had almost magical properties on skin and was therefore a relevant thing to find in a skin care product. Introducing M+G Malin+Goetz is the creation of two people - Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz - who run a family business in New York which was founded in 2004 in a small shop in Chelsea. They specialise in products for sensitive skin, inspired by Malin’s own skin problems which include rosacea, eczema and a bunch or allergies. They style themselves as a traditional neighbourhood apothecary and live ...

Yumesamdong Zero Point, Lachung 21/03/2015

Zero Point - as close to the Chinese army as you'll want to get

Yumesamdong Zero Point, Lachung Snow Harm in Asking If I asked you to suggest what we might do on a day out in India, my guess is that you’d either suggest a trip to a temple or a museum or to go shopping. Maybe if we were by the coast, you’d suggest a trip to the sea. All good ideas. But would you ever propose that we go and look for snow? I somehow doubt it. The small Sikkim town of Lachung is a long way from everywhere and it took us a full day of driving on really bad roads just to get there. I should perhaps have thought more seriously about what there would be once we arrived but I didn’t. I’m just drawn to going to places that are off the beaten track and Lachung is certainly one of those. It’s not only a bit of an ordeal to get there, but you need a special permit, an approved local vehicle and driver and even an official ‘guide’ before you’re allowed to head down the road. Zero Point We visited in October 2013 and stayed at the fabulous Yarlam Resort hotel. Our made-to-measure tour package from ‘Makemytrip’ and their subcontractor ‘Clubside Travel’ did NOT include a trip to Yumesamdong - also known as ‘Zero Point’ - even though it’s really the only show in town. Imagine that you go all the way to Macchu Pichu and then your tour company tell you the entrance fee isn’t included. Or you sail to Antarctica and then get told there’s an extra charge to see some penguins. That’s a bit how we felt about being charged an extra fee (£30-35) to take a vehicle we’d already hired with a driver we were ...

Along Came Betty Clean Around the Clock Shower Wash 19/03/2015

Run Along Betty - I'm not interested in you any more

Along Came Betty Clean Around the Clock Shower Wash Getting to Know Betty Better My first experience with the ‘Along Came Betty’ brand from Tesco was very good. I had a pack of 50 ml tubes of the hand cream, body cream, scrub and shower wash that I picked up on offer a few weeks ago and I must have got lucky by picking the hand cream to start using. That was great - a really impressive cream that I thought was as good as many five times its price. I was less impressed by the body lotion which left my skin feeling a bit dry and powdery. Time to try out the shower and bath products. I had one go with the scrub and then chucked it in the bin; it was horrible and I still keep finding little beads of blue plastic in the bath. My final hope was for the so-called ‘Clean Around the Clock Shower Wash’. I was a bit irritated by the term ‘shower wash’. I would expect it to be called a shower gel (if it’s a gel) or a shower cream or shower foam or shower something but what on earth am I supposed to deduce from a shower ‘wash’? Looking Good Betty? No, time to get a new wardrobe dear The shower wash comes in a primrose yellow tube which stands on its cap. It has a ‘retro’ look with a 1950s housewife in a puffy outfit. Think Madmen and then stop thinking that and recognise that no amount of quirky packaging can upgrade a bad product. Even the name is irritating ‘Clean around the clock’ - no way. Pay someone to come in and do all your cleaning so you can sit down and write a review for Ciao instead.The pack copy is full of cheesy ...

Denby Black Silicone Baking Sheet 19/03/2015

A (Part Time Trainee) Domestic Goddess on Silicone Sheets

Denby Black Silicone Baking Sheet Time saving - that's for me! The life of a trainee part-time domestic goddess is a hard one. In between flying off all over the place, working stupidly long hours and doing a ridiculous commute, it’s not so easy to make the time to whip up a quiche at the drop of a hat. And as a trainee part-time domestic goddess who is intrinsically lazy and hates cleaning ovens (well I would probably hate it if I’d ever done it) and hates scraping baking sheets and pans, any little time-saving devices will always be welcome in my kitchen. If they are made of silicone, then they are doubly welcome. I LOVE silicone. I like my silicone kitchen goodies best if they are bright pink. I have hot pink silicone spatulas, oven mitts, trays and trivets but when it came to buying a Denby silicone baking sheet at a knock-down price in TK Maxx, beggars couldn’t be choosers and I bought one in black. I think I paid about £4. I’ve had a lot of baking tray liners, usually from Poundland or Aldi. These are lightweight typically Teflon, heat-resistant fabric that you cut to fit any baking pans and then wash off with a lot less effort than washing an unlined pan. I have lots of those but they’re a bit flimsy. My mother has a heavyweight one like mine and it sits in the bottom of her oven and collects all the spills and splats. She then takes it out, wipes it clean or chucks it in the dishwasher then puts it back in, good as new. I wanted to do a bit more with mine - it felt like it was massively ...

Au Bon Pain, Kolkata (Calcutta) 17/03/2015

Let the good times (and good bread) roll!

Au Bon Pain, Kolkata (Calcutta) Curry Overload There will be readers who will shake their heads in disbelief when they read that it is actually possible to get bored of eating curry. I know, sounds unlikely doesn’t it, but halfway through a three week trip in India the urge can come upon you for a ‘bit of bland’. Those who love curry will just have to take my word for it that it loses its sparkle if you eat it three times a day and throw in the odd spicy snack to keep the capsaicin levels topped up. Sometimes - hard as it might seem to believe - you really do need in the words of the great ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ sketch to ‘go for an English’. And if you can’t find English, then American is even more bland. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the name ‘Au Bon Pain’ but I’d have struggled to put a national origin to the chain. It’s actually a US “ fast-casual bakery and café chain” and it hails from Boston, home of the Tea Party and the Red Sox. I hadn’t expected to find one in Kolkata but there it was, on the street corner, a mere stone’s throw from our hotel. Working in the bakery industry means I have the perfect excuse to sit in cafes and call it ‘research’ but don’t worry, I didn’t ‘expense’ any of my many visits. Our hotel was The Park on Park Street, a really swanky and very European-feeling street in the heart of the historic districts of Kolkata. Think Park Lane, London, but with fewer fancy cars and fewer beggars and much hotter weather and you’ll get the idea. The shops lean towards the international ...

Rituals Qi Stress Relief Serum 16/03/2015

Making a Ritual out of stress relief

Rituals Qi Stress Relief Serum Rituals? Who? I had been familiar with the Rituals brand of toiletries, cosmetics and home fragrances for several years without realising that they weren’t well known in the UK. As a team at work we have often had a whip-round and bought a bunch of Rituals goodies for people’s birthdays, wedding presents and post-baby gifts and many of my continental colleagues rate the brand very highly. Rituals is a Dutch brand which was started by Raymond Cloosterman in 2000. The company’s philosophy is about making little rituals out of our daily routines and thereby making them into more meaningful moments. I regularly see their shops in Holland and in Germany and would say that their positioning is eastern, perhaps a bit ‘mystical’, and heavily linked to the spa and hammam. Price wise, I would characterise them as towards the upper end of the middle market, certainly more than you’d pay for everyday smellies but not so much that you need to use them so sparingly that you can’t really enjoy them. I’ve had several of their boxed sets through the Achica website and they make very nice gifts, especially since recipients often haven’t seen the brand before. My first Rituals purchase was the Qi Stress Relief Serum and if I’m really honest, it’s a rather silly product. I’ve previously been quite fond of the Origins product ‘Peace of Mind’ which used to often be stocked in airline in-flight boutiques since it’s a tiny little product and one that’s relevant to use during flight. Like ‘Peace ...
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