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Can't believe it's been a year! Time to tentatively dip my toes back in the Ciao waters.

Reviews written

since 30/10/2010


Miele S 8310 02/01/2014

This Miele sucks .... but in a good way!

Miele S 8310 When my old Dyson finally died, I resolved that I would replace it with a better brand. After two Dysons, both of which failed to live up to their marketing hype, it was definitely time to check out the competition. Although I'd initially intended to buy a Henry, I decided to research some other brands as well. I'd hoped to buy British but, sadly, the British manufacturing industry is just about dead on its feet and the British Mr Dyson has already failed me twice, besides which they're built somewhere in the Far East these days making them not quite as British as they should be. Of course, before making a final decision I first referred to a few of the reviews from that star vacuum reviewer, Nar2, who is definitely a champion of the Miele brand. Having done my homework, I did eventually plump for a Miele, the S8310 Power Plus cylinder model, which is small, relatively light and yet, punches well above its weight. The fact that it's a Which Best Buy was the clincher. I was not disappointed with my choice. Price: As a premium brand, this means that the vacuum does come with a premium price attached but it's possible to get pretty good discounts online. I bought mine through Peter Tyson Appliances (a fantastic supplier who offers free next day delivery and the best price on the internet I could find.) I paid £149 including the free delivery. This may still seem a pretty hefty price compared to the average vacuum cleaner but it's considerably less than a Dyson and after a few ...

The Tempest (DVD) 28/01/2013

I give this a full fathom three out of five

The Tempest (DVD) When The Tempest was originally shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2010, the director, Julie Taymor's take on Shakespeare's fantasy island adventure polarised the opinions of the critics and following its release, of audiences as well: the purists hated it with the rest finding at least something in it to be praiseworthy. The root of the problem for the Shakespeare purists is the fact that Julie Taymor cast Helen Mirran in the hitherto male role of Prospero, giving the part a sex change and a renaming the character Prospera. Although I wouldn't exactly call myself a total traditionalist, I don't like my Shakespeare set in weird times or locations such as the version of As You Like It set in Japan or Richard III in Nazi Germany, but I don't mind a little bit of tinkering and knowing this particular version of The Tempest had that major role change with the male Prospero being transformed into the female Prospera, it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch this movie. The plot: Prospera, a magician and former Duchess of Milan who inherited the Dukedom when her husband died, has been exiled to a small island by her brother who has usurped the dukedom, something which was condoned by the King of Naples. She has lived on the island for many years with her daughter, Miranda, and two servants Ariel, the sprite and Caliban, a grotesque creature who Prospera has enslaved. Prospera now has an opportunity to exact her revenge upon her brother and the king when their ...

American Soul - Mick Hucknall 17/11/2012

Sorry, Mick, but you ain't got soul

American Soul - Mick Hucknall Though I can't profess to ever having been a huge Simply Red fan, I've always thought that Mick Hucknall had a pretty good voice and being a fan of soul music from the Sixties and Seventies his latest album seemed right up my street. American Soul was released at the end of October and is currently available for £8.99 in CD format or £6.49 for the MP3 download. It's a rather ambitious project for any white singer to attempt what is usually regarded as the preserve of black American singers and the ones who've been able to cut the mustard in this arena are pretty thin on the ground. My overall opinion is that Mick is not going to join their ranks. The album begins with his version of Otis Redding's That's How Strong My Love Is and it's immediately obvious that Mick is no Otis. I'm a huge Otis Redding fan so his version was always going to be a hard act to follow but I was willing to give Mick the benefit of the doubt. The track begins with some dreadful tripling strings, flute and harp, a far cry from the Stax signature sound. This intro seems very incongruous to the rest of the song which is sung with a rocky rather than a soul beat and with an orchestral backing all the way through not helped by a choir chiming in every so often. Mick's voice is verging on the soulful but never reaches the depths of emotion that this song requires and which was there in spades in the original. Mick makes a much better job of Turn Back the Hands of Time , keeping the Motown/soul ...

20 - Kate Rusby 16/11/2012

Twenty of Kate's best?

20 - Kate Rusby Kate Rusby must surely be one of British music's best kept secrets. Although very well known amongst folk music fans, she's never really hit the dizzy heights of chart fame (unless you count her duet with Ronan Keating on his single 'All Over Again' which made the top ten) and neither has she gained the recognition one as talented as she deserves. Unless you're a folk buff or a fan of Ronan Keating the chances are you've never heard of her, though you've more than likely heard her version of the Kinks' 'Village Green Preservation Society', used as the theme tune for the sit-com 'Jam and Jerusalem' Born into a musical family, Kate's been immersed in the folk scene all her life and she played in several bands featuring other luminaries from the folk circuit such as Seth Lakeman and Cara Dillon before striking out on her own. Her first solo album 'Hourglass' received critical acclaim and some ten albums later, including one nominated for the Mercury Prize, she's released an album to commemorate her twenty years in the music business. As the album also showcases 20 songs, unsurprisingly it's entitled '20'. The album was produced by her husband Damien O'Kane who also plays guitar on the album. The 2-disc CD is currently on sale for £8.99 or it can be downloaded for £8.49. An additional incentive to buying the album is that it features guest appearances from such people as Paul Weller, Eddi Reader and Richard Thompson of Fairport Convention to name but three and The Grimethorpe ...

The Turning - Jennifer Armintrout 09/11/2012

Blood is thicker than water

The Turning - Jennifer Armintrout Urban fantasy may be regarded as a fairly new genre but its origins can be found way back in classic literature with such tales as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the adventure stories from such luminaries as Jules Verne and H G Wells, though the latter two are often regarded as the forerunners of the even more niche genre of steampunk. With such antecedents, you’d think urban fantasy would garner more respect but sadly as the popularity of the genre has risen, everyone has jumped onto the bandwagon and rather than enhancing, it has merely diluted the quality. That can’t be said for Jennifer Armintrout’s wonderful Blood Ties series, the first of which is The Turning. Synopsis: Dr Carrie Ames has just been taken to task for a squeamishness which isn’t appropriate to her calling and her mentor has called into questioned her suitability for her chosen profession. To prove to herself that she has what it takes, Carrie visits the morgue to view the corpse which brought about this situation but she suddenly finds herself in a living nightmare when the body proves to be very much alive and in need of her blood. The consequence is that Carrie now finds herself a vampire with a blood tie to a monster who wants to turn her into a viscious killer as well as being hunted by another vampire intent on putting an end to her existence. My opinion: As the urban fantasy genre grows in popularity, it’s proving more and more difficult to find the good stuff amongst the dross ...

Tesco BV012011 2500W BLOW VAC 26/10/2012

This blower sucks!

Tesco BV012011 2500W BLOW VAC My garden backs onto a stand of deciduous trees which every autumn drop their entire supply of leaves into my garden, or at least that's how it seems when I'm raking them up. Last year I decided that enough was enough and it was time to buy a leaf blower. To be honest, I didn't do much research into the best model, as cost was the primary criteria and after finding nothing suitable at Argos, I checked out the Tesco Direct website where their own label leaf blower seemed to have several positive reviews and that was recommendation enough for me. Cost I paid around £40 for this leaf blower last year and when checking the website to confirm how much it costs this year expecting it to have gone up in price by a few quid, I was a bit miffed to discover that it's been reduced to £29.97. If you're looking for a bargain, I'd say this is definitely it. Putting it all together For logistic reasons, the leaf blower comes in several parts which require some very minor assembly (and a screwdriver) but instructions on how to assemble the various parts are included in the accompanying booklet. I didn't find these assembly instructions particularly helpful as the text is minimal and the photographs alongside the text are dark and very difficult to decipher. Despite this, I did manage to put everything together without a problem as it's all pretty self-evident what goes where and how. The only drawback following assembly is that this is a one-way process. Once the leaf blow is ...

Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer 16/10/2012

A sure fire cure for the reading Doldrums

Regency Buck - Georgette Heyer Whenever I'm in a reading rut I always turn to my favourite author, Georgette Heyer, knowing that reading one of her wonderfully frothy Regency novels will revitalise my love of the written word. Just recently I've been staying away from home at my old family house with only the TV (with a screen the size of a postage stamp) and my trusty Kindle for company, however nothing on my Kindle was tempting me and whilst mooching through the bookshelves I found an old copy of Regency Buck which I must have left behind when I left home 40 years ago and settling down to read it, I was soon back in reading heaven. Synopsis: Judith Tavener and her brother Peregrine first encounter Julian Audley during their journey to visit their newly appointed guardian and their first impressions of that gentleman are not good. Both Judith and Peregrine find him extremely arrogant and a complete dandy and more to the point, he always seems to see them at their worst possible moments. Their father has recently died and left them as wards of his good friend, the Earl of Worth, but circumstances have played a cruel trick and Mr Tavener's will had referred to his friend as the Fifth Earl of Worth when, in fact, he had been the fourth in that illustrious line. When Judith and Peregrine are ushered in to meet the fifth Earl, their surprise is only matched by their dismay because instead of the elderly gentleman they expected to encounter, the fifth Earl of Worth is none other than Julian Audley and he ...

Leighton Denny Supermodel 18/09/2012

Supermodel nails!

Leighton Denny Supermodel Over the last year or so I've become a huge fan of Leighton Denny nail products and now have several colours from his vast range of nail polishes. The colour I keep returning to, however, is the one which goes with absolutely everything and that is Supermodel, a mid-beige neutral shade. For those who've never heard of him, Leighton Denny is an acknowledged and award winning expert on nail care and as well as being manicurist to the stars, he's also developed his own range of nail products which includes his very effective Renovate Cream which is a nail resurfacing treatment as well as his range of nail polishes featuring every colour under the sun and many more besides that you've never dreamed of, so there's a colour to suit everyone and in all the usual finishes whether it's elegant creams, shiny metallics or shimmering opalescents. His range includes several neutral shades which go with everything but for me Supermodel just has the edge. The full range of colours can be found on his website (address at the end of this review.) The Supermodel shade was first introduced as a limited edition colour but the response to its introduction was so overwhelming that the colour has now been added into the Leighton Denny permanent range and is not only a best seller but the most popular colour of all the shades on offer. It's a warm mushroom beige and because it's such a neutral shade, it complements any outfit from super casual jeans and t-shirt right up to evening wear. In fact, ...

Braun Oral-B ProfessionalCare 1000 27/08/2012

Not all the bells and whistles but plenty of flashing lights

Braun Oral-B ProfessionalCare 1000 On one of my frequent trips home to the north, I managed to leave my electric toothbrush behind in the bathroom and after a couple of days of manual scrubbing, I decided enough was enough and headed off to Boots for a replacement. After checking out all the many variants offered by Braun, I felt that for what the multi-mode models offered it simply wasn't worth any additional expense and I could do without most of the bells and whistles so plumped for the Professional Care 1000 which is the single mode 'Daily Clean' model. This is currently on sale in Boots for £29.99 plus 116 Advantage points, though I got slightly more being over 60. There are some benefits to being older it seems. ~~ What you get for your money The Professional Care 1000 comes supplied with one toothbrush head and a two-pinned charger unit. As I already have an adapter plug this didn't present any problem but if you're buying your first electric toothbrush you will need an adapter plug to be able to charge the toothbrush. The toothbrush also comes with a selection of coloured bands to slip onto the toothbrush head. These are for use when the main unit is being used by several people. The brush comes with a two year warranty, plus a passcode to use if you wish to register your toothbrush and extend the warranty by a further year. This model is a little slimmer than my previous toothbrush which was the Oral B Precision Clean and it's slightly concave in shape which means it fits well into the ...

Touch - Mark Sennen 03/08/2012

A crime novel that's a touch above the rest

Touch - Mark Sennen Synopsis: Devon may be mainly regarded as a tourist paradise of cream teas, sandy beaches and wild and ruggedly beautiful scenery both on the coast and inland, but in Plymouth, one that county’s principle cities, there is currently a spate of violent assaults on young female students and the police are under pressure to produce results in the shape of a conviction. When a body is washed up onto a local beach, murder enters the equation but D I Charlotte Savage soon discovers that the murderer she’s hunting isn’t prepared to stop at just one crime. My opinion: I bought 'Touch' from Amazon based on the number of positive reviews it’s received. In the past, I’ve been disappointed by some of the Kindle only books that I’ve downloaded, even those which have had good reviews, but after reading the sample on the Amazon website, I decided this looked a cut above the rest and 99p wasn’t exactly going to break the bank. As far as I’m aware, ‘Touch’ is the first book Mark Sennen has published. It’s certainly the first in a proposed series which will feature Detective Inspector Charlotte Savage and I can’t wait for book number two. The author lives in Devon so he’s created a story set in a landscape that’s familiar to him and which certainly gives this novel authenticity and it should appeal to anyone with a detailed knowledge of Devon and Dartmoor in particular. I’m not sure how accurate his portrayal of police procedures may be but it comes across as totally ...

History Of Fairport Convention, The - Fairport Convention 26/07/2012

More truthfully, an early history of Fairport Convention

History Of Fairport Convention, The - Fairport Convention 'Sad deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving'. For several weeks I'd had that line from a song stuck in my brain and when I actually remembered what it was, a whole slew of memories came flooding back. The song was 'Who Knows Where the Time Goes' which I first heard at a Fairport Convention concert at the Festival Hall, too many decades ago to correctly remember the exact year. The singer and, indeed, the songwriter was Sandy Denny and I recall being blown away by the incredible beauty of her voice. It's the one and only time I've ever attended a concert where the entire audience fell into breathless silence and when she finished the song, it brought the house down. I have a couple of vinyl Fairport Convention albums tucked away in the loft but nothing on CD so my memories prompted me to check out what was available on Amazon and I plumped for a couple of CDs, this one and also a compilation album of Sandy Denny's music. Origins Though Sandy Denny wasn't the original lead singer with Fairport Convention, she was certainly the most talented and the most memorable. The band which formed as a more or less traditional folk rock band back in 1967 (though the genre was known as electric folk back then) has had many incarnations throughout its history and, though still touring today, none of the original line up remain. Over the next couple of years plus one or two more line-up changes, the band morphed into one of the premier folk rock bands of the late Sixties ...

Words for You - Various Artists 08/07/2012

Words for you, perhaps, but not for me.

Words for You - Various Artists In theory, beautiful words accompanied by beautiful music should be a match made in Heaven. In reality, it can turn out to be a case of the one cancelling out the other and with Words for You, I found it to be rather more of the latter. This was a gift and though one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I’ve really not appreciated this CD quite as much as the giver expected me to do. The fault may lie with me, of course, but I find that words and music work best in song format where the two elements combine into one coherent whole and not where the listener is torn between hearing the words or listening to the music. One also shouldn’t ask how much a present cost but I’ve checked on Amazon and it’s currently selling for £4.49. This album provides 27 tracks of some of the most beautiful poetry ever written plus one passage from the Bible, all very competently, and sometimes superbly read by British actors. Don’t worry; I’m not going to review each track individually, just cherry pick what I found to be the best and the worst aspects of the album. The main difficulty for me is that although acknowledging poetry is written to be read aloud, I feel some poems are best kept inside the reader’s head where they can be given whatever form of interpretation the reader wishes. Some of the poems read here are particular favourites of mine and the vocal interpretation given by the reader isn’t how I’d imagined they would sound if read aloud and they simply don’t resonate ...

Life Goes On (Live Recording) - Gerry Rafferty 02/07/2012

Gerry Rafferty's music lives on

Life Goes On (Live Recording) - Gerry Rafferty Following his stint in the Humblebums and Steelers Wheel, Gerry Rafferty went solo and garnered the biggest hit of his entire career, the mostly autobiographical Baker Street, which was reputed to give him a very comfortable living ever after from the royalties alone. Whether his constant striving to equal or better that song over the following years had any bearing on his slow descent into alcoholism, I can’t say, but there’s no denying that his fondness for the drink led to his somewhat early death aged 63 at the beginning of last year. His death was a great shame as it had seemed as though he had put his personal problems behind him and was getting his life back on track. In 2009 he’d released this album which included not only a few new songs but also reprised some of his earlier work, covered a Beatles song and even gave us a piece of religious plainsong and a couple of Christmas carols. The album doesn’t quite take the listener from the sacred to the profane but it’s a curiously pleasant melange of the spiritual, the religious and the secular. I can’t review this CD without mentioning the cover which is absolutely beautiful. Designed by John Byrne, in shades of bronze and turquoise, and depicting carved early Christian images bordered by filigree flowers, it’s a piece of art in itself and that’s before we even get to the music. The 18 track CD begins with a religious piece, demonstrating that Gerry was still a good Catholic boy at heart. It’s the rather mournful ...

Crocus spiral peanut feeder 30/06/2012

Almost squirrel proof

Crocus spiral peanut feeder Although I frequently bemoan the fact that the trees which border my garden cast it into dappled shade making it difficult to grow some plants, one of the benefits is that it brings a wealth of wildlife into the garden ranging from foxes and hedgehogs to a wide variety of birds. To ensure the birds keep coming, I’ve installed the obligatory bird table as well as having lots of nut and seed feeders dotted around. Sadly, as well as ‘nice’ animals and birds, the free food also attracts those pesky squirrels. (Anybody who thinks they’re cute, doesn’t have to contend with their nasty thieving and very destructive ways.) I’ve a couple of so called squirrel-proof feeders which allow the smaller birds access to the nuts and seeds whilst discouraging the squirrels but as there are a couple of woodpeckers who regularly visit the garden, I wanted a more robust nut feeder without a squirrel guard which would, hopefully, withstand any attack by squirrels, for a little while at least. Price and availability: I spotted this peanut feeder on the gardening website for £5.99 and it looked as though it was more robust than the run of the mill wire mesh peanut feeders so I hoped it would last a little longer. Although it’s listed on Ciao as being from Crocus, it’s actually a Gardman product and is sold through several websites besides Crocus as well as at some branches of Robert Dyas and various garden centres and it can probably be picked up for a little less than I ...

Soulless - Gail Carriger 22/06/2012

A lady who's all heart but no soul

Soulless - Gail Carriger I make no bones about loving the urban fantasy genre which so beautifully marries twenty-first century realism with total fantasy in such a way that the paranormal seems very prosaic and normal. The subject matter of many urban fantasies can be a little dark and it’s good to take a break from it once in a while with something altogether lighter. Although 'Soulless', which is the first novel in the Parasol Protectorate series, wasn’t quite what I was looking for, it popped up in my Amazon recommendations and the reviews prompted me to take a punt on it. Synopsis: As if being half-Italian, a spinster and having no soul weren’t enough, Miss Alexia Tarabotti has been attacked by a vampire and she’s accidentally killed him! Things then go from bad to worse as far as Alexia is concerned because Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf and head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) has been sent to investigate and whenever he and Alexia lock horns, matters tend to get a little heated. The vampire Alexia has killed turns out to be unregistered to any of the vampire hives and known vampires are disappearing to be replaced by these unknown ones. Lord Maccon, ably assisted by Alexia and assorted others, set about investigating just who or what is behind these strange events. My opinion: I didn’t really know what to expect from this book when I began to read. What I found was a curious mish-mash of Victorian adventure, a la Jules Verne, and urban fantasy with a big dollop of ...
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