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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


Neewer USB Laser Scan Barcode Scanner 30/01/2015

Yes, actually, I DO have my own bar code scanner

Neewer USB Laser Scan Barcode Scanner You've got a WHAT?! I can imagine that those of you who scan the lists of new reviews might have passed this one by thinking “Why on earth would I want one of those?” You can be forgiven for imagining I’ve got some kind of till-operator fetish and love to sit at home randomly scanning bar codes. You might even imagine that my next step is to start saying “Unidentified item in the bagging area” just for fun. But sadly you’d be wrong. I do actually have a totally logical and almost quite sensible reason for owning a bar code scanner. Honest I do. When my sister pressed me for a Christmas list, this was on the top of that list. She didn’t even ask me why - she just followed the link to Amazon and bought it for me. That’s what I like, a sister who does what you ask her to. To put this into context, two years ago she bought me a portable Swingball set for my birthday. Seeing my disbelieving and confused face, she told me “But you loved Swingball when we were kids”. It’s true, I did but that was a very long time ago. So getting what you ask for is a victory in my family. My Neewer USB Laser Scan Barcode Scanner cost around £17 on Amazon. I had previously been watching various other scanners in the £15 to £25 range but this looked like the best deal at the time I was making my Christmas list. I can’t claim to be the kind of person who might understand the subtle differences of features when buying such an item but it looked ok, the ratings were good and it was neither too big or ...

Swadesh, Manchester 29/01/2015

Very different from my student days on the Curry Mile

Swadesh, Manchester Birthday treat My husband has his birthday at a really inconvenient time of year - two-thirds of the way through January. I have usually used up all my best present ideas at Christmas time so it’s hard to think of what to get him. We’re also three weeks into a dry January which is a bit limiting on celebrations and the weather is so lousy that you don’t want to go away so early in the year. I had a free ‘night’ voucher for the Marriott hotel chain which needed to be used up by mid March so we checked the site to see if there was anywhere in the UK we could go to for his birthday and found the Renaissance in central Manchester and picked that. The idea was to drive over after I finished work, settle in at the hotel and then go out for dinner. Continuing my penny-pinching ways, I went to the Tastecard website to see if I could find a place I liked the look of that would honour my card on a Friday night. From a relatively short list of those that would be an easy walk from the hotel, I chose and booked Swadesh. I had previously eaten at Sangam in Heald Green which is in the same restaurant group so I knew the food should be excellent. In my student days in Manchester I ate a lot of curry, most of it from places with suspect hygiene and a lot of flock wallpaper. I suspected that Swadesh would be a very different place from those grubby curry houses of my youth. Gay or Chinese? Swadesh is located at 98 Portland Street which puts it just south of China Town and just north of ...

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Gold Ultra Lift and Strengthening Eye Capsules 28/01/2015

Beads for your eyes to prevent bags under your eyes

Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Gold Ultra Lift and Strengthening Eye Capsules Drops of Youth Ever since the clever folks at Elizabeth Arden first worked out how to stick liquids inside little capsule beads way back in the 1990s, they seem to have been finding new and different things to encapsulate. I started with them way back when they were really ‘hot’ at Alpha Hydroxy Acid capsules (they were big back in the days of shoulder pads and Madonna) and picked them up again 20 years later in the form of these "Ceramide Gold Ultra Lift & Strengthening Eye Capsules" and their "Ceramide Daily Youth Restoring Serum" capsules. I've already reviewed the second of these products here on Ciao which are for using on your face and neck. Time now for the little eye capsules. I love a bargain I got an excellent price for a multi-pack of the eye capsules on although I've noticed a lot of discount cosmetics companies offering these at good prices recently. My pack was a Duty Free 'special' containing 3 tubes of eye capsules with 30 in each tube. This meant a price of £25.95 for 90 - or less than 30 pence a pop. The regular price for 60 of these at Boots is £50.00 so it was a substantial saving. Eye Eye I’ve used 60 of the capsules for my face and am considering buying those again but the eye capsules really haven't been such a hit for me and I'm still working my way through the first pack of 30. If I were to buy again, and if I could get them at a good price once more, I would buy the face capsules ahead of the eye ones. They really just don’t ‘do ...

SpiceJet 27/01/2015

Spice is Nice - but currently a bit volatile

SpiceJet Fly Spice Spicejet is one of India’s independent ‘budget’ airlines that gives a level of service that’s long been forgotten by its European counterparts. We had used them several years ago to fly between Bagdogra (the nearest airport to Darjeeling) and Delhi and been quite impressed but on last year’s trip to India we flew three different routes with them and were really impressed by both the prices and the service. Spicejet is less than ten years old and was founded in 2005. Roughly 80% of their routes are domestic ones - i.e. between Indian cities - but they also serve some international destinations such as several cities in the Middle East (Dubai, Sharjah, Muscat) plus Kabul, Bangkok, Colombo, Kathmandu and Male (in the Maldives). We flew their routes between Bagdogra and Kolkata, Kolkata to Chennai and Chennai to Bangalore. I booked all the flights through the Indian website MakeMyTrip - that was my only mistake and it turned out to be a big one - but more of that later. Cheap and Spicy Indian flights can be extraordinarily cheap and often cost not much more than a first class train ticket if you book well in advance. Compared to a train ticket they’re also a lot easier to get when you are buying from outside India. This is because the train services only put their tickets on the market 60 days before departure, ticket availability can be quite restricted, and it being a major challenge to register with the ICRTC train booking site. The main reason to fly though is ...

Origins Plantscription Anti Aging Cleanser 26/01/2015

A lovely rich foaming cleanser from Origins

Origins Plantscription Anti Aging Cleanser Testing Times When someone gave me a large tube of Origins Plantscriptions Anti-Ageing cleanser to try about a year ago I was really pleased. I have been using Origins products for about 15 years and I really do love most of their products. Actually, I can’t think of anything they make that I’ve tried and not liked - except maybe some crazy relaxing bubble gum balls which were briefly in their range about 12 years ago. It was of course likely that I was going to love this product. Given the choice, my prefered form of facial cleanser is always going to be a foaming wash-off cleanser so this had everything in its favour. I don’t use make-up so cleaning my face is less of a big deal than for those who need to remove lots of make-up and I obviously can’t comment on how effective it would be for that. The Origins of Origins Origins products used to be quite hard to find in the UK and for years I bought their products in the USA where the prices were usually the same number of dollars as pounds - so a major discount. Now they are available in some of the bigger department stores and even in a few airport Duty Free outlets but it’s still a good idea to buy in the USA if you can. I loaded up with half a suitcase full of goodies in December last year. Origins is the younger, more natural and slightly ‘funkier’ arm of Estee Lauder and it tends to play down its links. It’s a brand with more fun than Lauder, the same technological credentials but more natural ingredients. What’s not ...

Cafe Sol, Shimla 25/01/2015

Sun over Shimla

Cafe Sol, Shimla Shimla in Perspective The Indian Himalayan city of Shimla is one of the most accessible cities in the mountains and so very popular with tourists, mostly Indian, but also international. It's known as one of the honeymoon hotspots of the country - couples going off to to mountains to get cold, cuddle up to their new partners and get to know them better whilst wearing unfashionably ugly woollen jumpers. It might not sound like paradise to you, but in a land where many couples are strangers when they marry, a trip to Shimla can be a very novel start to married life. In the days of the Raj, Shimla was the summer capital of British India and it retains its status as the most popular and most visited of the so-called hill stations. It's not my personal favourite - I prefer Darjeeling, the summer bolthole of the Calcutta set - but I do still like Shimla a lot and I've been twice. This review relates to a restaurant we've eaten in on both our visits to the city. When you've had too much curry I love Indian food. I can eat it all the time but for some strange reason, once I get to India and there's nothing else to eat, I can quickly get rather jaded with eating the same sort of food twice a day every day. Looking at our itinerary for our trip around Himachal Pradesh a couple of years ago, it didn't take me long to identify that we weren't likely to get too many opportunities to eat anything that wasn't local except in Shimla, near the beginning of our trip. Hence I was determined ...

The Shop, Delhi 23/01/2015

The Shop is my Favourite Shop in Delhi

The Shop, Delhi Finding the will to shop at ‘the Shop’ I first discovered ‘The Shop’ in Delhi five years ago and each time I’ve been back to Delhi since then, I’ve hunted it down. That might sound like a strange thing to say, but believe me, trying to find a place called ‘The Shop’ in the centre of a city like this is not easy. You can’t stop people on the street and ask them the way - they’ll always try to take you to a completely different shop instead. I know better than to ask. After three or four visits, I’m now pretty confident to find it. I walk around the inner circle of the ‘double doughnut’ of Connaught Place, New Delhi’s main tourist hub and I know that if I walk anti-clockwise, when I reach the point at which the inner donut breaks (for the underground Palika Bazaar market), I need to transfer out to the outer donut, walk a little further around the circle and eventually I’m in the right place. If you get REALLY lost, ask for directions to the Regal Building - just don’t ask for ‘The Shop’. The first time I went to this place we just got lucky and stumbled across it. Now it’s a place I plan time to visit - sometimes lots of time. On that first visit I bought a beautiful and very individual necklace in black silver and rutilated quartz. It’s a real conversation piece. I also bought some glycerine soaps, some small items of pottery from a pottery we’ve been trying to visit for years down in Pondicherry, and a hippo in very smart pyjamas. We were also lucky enough the year after ...

Dermalogica MultiVitamin Hand & Nail Treatment 21/01/2015

Too rich for me - financially rather than product-wise

Dermalogica MultiVitamin Hand & Nail Treatment Testing Times I was given a full sized tube of Dermalogica Multivitamin Hand and Nail Cream to test about a year ago and I’ve now almost finished the tube. I always have a lot of different hand creams on the go but I tend to get bored with them before I reach the end but I've persisted with this one. I didn’t want to miss a drop of this cream so when I got near to the end, I cut open the tube and scraped out all the little bits left inside. It really is too good and too expensive to waste. If you've never tried cutting open tubes yourself, I think you'll be amazed how much cream you can get out of an apparently empty tube. HOW MUCH?! Are you serious? Dermalogica is not a cheap brand and a 75 ml tube of this will set you back around £20. I’m not going to pretend that’s not extraordinarily expensive for a hand cream so I would recommend trying to get a sampler before you buy. The cream is much more lightweight than the ones I would normally buy and I don't consider it to be a tough cold-weather hand cream so when the temperature plummets, I want something thicker and more substantial than this. However, for the warmer times of the year, this one is excellent because it’s light enough to soak in quickly and get your hands back to typing and writing condition without wasting too much time. I hate having to wait ages, flapping my hands around whilst I wait for a hand cream to sink in. Decanting During the time I’ve had this cream, I’ve been decanting small amounts into small ...

Anatomicals Cruisin for a Snoozin Sleep Balm 20/01/2015

Cruisin' for Not Usin'

Anatomicals Cruisin for a Snoozin Sleep Balm Cruisin’ for a Samplin’ In December last year I signed up for a 6 month subscription to a new ‘beauty box’ scheme called ‘Lovemebeauty’ and I’ve already had two boxes jam-packed with interesting goodies. One of the companies that Lovemebeauty have been featuring a lot is called ‘Anatomicals’ and I have received several products from this company including their ‘Cruisin’ for a Snoozin’ sleep balm. I don’t particularly suffer sleep problems, but I’d recently had a pillow spray that I thought was excellent so I was quite turned on to the idea of smells that help you to drift off to the land of nod. If you’re looking for the short version of the review and you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can stop here. This product is rubbish and the only thing I think when I look at it is “Hmm, nice little tin. I can empty it out and keep paper clips in that” Anatomically Correct? I hadn’t heard of Anatomicals until the box scheme introduced me to them. They are a British company which aims to weld together strong animal friendly ethics and quirky humour but sadly - to me anyway - they come over as having spent too much time looking at Lush and Innocent Smoothies rather than coming up with something different for themselves. In short, I find they look a bit desperate and a bit ‘trying too hard’. If half as much thought had gone into the product as seems to have gone into the bullsh&t on the packaging, they might have made a half-decent product. Anatomicals claim to have ...

Familotel Aparthotel Am Rennsteig, Wurzbach 19/01/2015

Family Fun in Dreary Wurzbach

Familotel Aparthotel Am Rennsteig, Wurzbach Welcome to Wurzbach – Where? One of the (sometimes dubious) pleasures of my job is that it often takes me to places no ‘normal’ person would tend to go to. Last year I went to the tiny German town of Wurzbach (there are umlauts on the U – I mention it in case Malu is reading) which is most definitely not the same place as Wurzburg which is not so far away. It’s quite hard to imagine anyone would go there. It really is in the middle of nowhere or, as we decided to describe it, it’s a hole in the middle of nowhere. It’s an eerie feeling when you find yourself heading downhill into a steep valley with the town nestled at the bottom. Even more strange is finding all the houses and shops are almost covered in artistically arranged slate. If you want to find a depressing stone for cladding buildings, look no further. Slate’s the one. On a November or December grey day, you can’t beat slate for inducing feelings of ‘blergh’. They must surely have high suicide rates. In the unlikely event that you SHOULD find yourself wanting to go to Wurzbach, chances are you’ll stay at the Apartotel Am Rennsteig and probably eat in the same restaurant that we did. Colleagues tell me that there are no other options nearby. On that basis, you could assume it’s going to be a really rubbish hotel but you’d be wrong. One colleague whimsically described it as ‘charming’ and I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but it’s certainly not at all bad. And best of all, we pay just €40 a night including ...

Borjia Bar, Northampton 18/01/2015

A Labour of Love for a Lost Son

Borjia Bar, Northampton Northampton Heritage You can be forgiven for not liking this review if what you are looking for is a detailed treatment of Borjias as a drinking venue. However, in my defence, I did actually request this place be added under the ‘attractions’ category rather than bars and nightlife and always intended to write about the building and its history. If you want to punish that with a low rating, I can’t argue with you but Borjias occupies a building that deserves to be written about and its owner would no doubt be happy to have his devotion to the building’s history recognised. After nine years living in the area, we can count on one hand the number of times each year that we go into Northampton town centre. This once great town was historically significant in much of our nation’s history but somehow it lost its way. Before the 1600s we had the third or fourth largest castle in the land (I’ve heard both claims) but when the locals backed the ‘wrong side’ in the Civil War, Charles II had the castle destroyed to teach them a lesson. Not long after the historic centre of the city was ravaged by fire and sadly nothing much seemed to have improved after that. I thought about this on the Saturday of the Heritage Open Days in September 2013 when we went to visit a bar called Borjia’s on the town’s Castilian Street. I thought about it because my husband summed up everything he felt about the place when he said "I had no idea that there were places this nice in Northampton" and I knew ...

High Voltage Insect Killer 17/01/2015

There are no flies on me

High Voltage Insect Killer I’m a fly-girl It’s perhaps a bit of a strange time of year to be writing about an insect zapper since one of life’s eternal mysteries is the question of where do flies go to in winter. As a child I knew the answer; they went to my grandparents’ house. Their home was built close to an old sand quarry and for reasons best known to the flies, that seemed to mean the house was always full of flies. It still is - my parents rent it out and despite everything they’ve done to try to fix the problem, there are still loads of flies. My grandfather was prone to over-using the expression “There’s no flies on you - but you can see where they’ve been”. True - they’d been in his house. Perhaps it’s that loathing of these little buzzy bastards that makes me keen to avoid having them in my house. I don’t want flies in my kitchen Most of the year we have no problem with flies but because we have three cats and we tend to feed them in the kitchen or the utility room, in the summer months the food can attract flies and I don’t want them making my furry friends poorly. Mind you, given that cats are happy to eat still warm small critters and even their own (or another cat’s vomit), it’s fair to say our cats aren’t the fussiest of eaters. I definitely don’t want to use toxic insect sprays which might harm feline and human inhabitants and I also think they’re a pretty nasty way to kill insects. Better surely that they go from thinking “Hey, pretty blue light” to total oblivion in a ...

The Hundred-Foot Journey (DVD) 16/01/2015

Thousands of Miles in a Hundred Feet

The Hundred-Foot Journey (DVD) Book Disappointment I read Richard Morais’ book ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ a couple of years ago and – appropriately enough for a book about fine cuisine - it left a rather off-taste in my mouth. I was oddly disturbed by Morais’ attempt to fuse India and France into a rather unbalanced ‘masala’. I read the book the whole way through, took some delight in the evil conniving and eventual compliance of the ‘madame’ over the road who gave her life and love to her art but at the same time I missed an essential Indian-ness in the book. When I realised that Morais had written this in honour of his old deceased friend Ishmael Merchant – he of Merchant Ivory fame – it all started to make sense. What he’d written was a story of complex manners and prejudices, very much in the style of the classic authors whose novels were adapted by the Merchant Ivory team. It almost didn’t matter that the characters were Indian émigrés, forced to leave their homeland by racist attacks, and to leave England, their first bolt-hole, by the vegetables that had “no soul”. It explained to me why the book always felt a bit too much like a screen-play in the making. Whilst reading I could see the scenery in my head, imagine the music in the background, the lingering swoops on ripe, juicy vegetables in the market – the slow motion beating and mixing and heady ‘food porn’. The book was - in short – too cinematic. The things I loved in the book, like the foundation of the family restaurant at the foot of ...

Elizabeth Arden Millenium Millenium Day Renewal Emulsion 14/01/2015

Lovely Lizzy Lotion

Regatta Halawa Ladies Fleece 12/01/2015

No soft toys were killed to produce this cuddly fleece

Regatta Halawa Ladies Fleece Pretty in Pink? Some men love to buy clothes for their wives or girlfriends and mine is no exception. He doesn’t buy lacy fancies or sexy dresses or anything too risky. Instead his focus when buying clothes for me is almost always to keep me warm. He knows that I am prone to not turning the heating on when it gets cold so he frequently brings home absurdly ‘cosy’ things that he thinks will stop me turning into a human ice-cube. Unfortunately he also has a tendency to shop in the colour range best described as ‘highlighter pen’ - clearly a need to not only keep me warm but to prevent me getting run over on dark nights. My furry Regatta Halawa ladies fleece is the same colour as a pink highlighter pen. Make that a ‘new’ pink highlighter pen, before the ink gets a bit thin and the pen starts to lose its full impact. This is loud - really loud. This is not a good choice if you like to go through life incognito or you hate to stand out. People will notice this top - but not necessarily in a positive way. They may well reach for their sunglasses as you walk past, fearing damage to their retinas if they look too directly at you. Not once but twice This is not my only shaggy pink highlighter pen top. I have a zip-through top that’s made from a very similar fabric - exactly the same colour but a heavier texture - but comes from a different manufacturer. The other one is by Tog 24 (it’s reviewed on this site somewhere) and I’m quite amazed at the colour match. I’m tempted to go out ...
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