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since 08/08/2000

28 02/03/2009

Great products and excellent customer service is a large site which offers all manner of products for children, from baby clothes to pushchairs and children's bedroom items. There are a lot of products on there, which can sometimes be a bit confusing, but there's a type-in search box which seems to work well. If you have the time to browse, there are some really unusual products on there, such as the bedroom wall stickers I ordered for my son (which saved us redecorating, and which he loves!). I also particularly liked the personalised clothing items - we bought some named pyjamas which still look as they did when they were delivered despite having been washed weekly since last year. The customer service is generally excellent. I ordered an item and then changed my mind about the colour - I simply called them and it was changed without fuss. I've ordered from this site 3 times, and each time the items were delivered within the tim-frame stated on the site (usually within 3 days, but longer for some large items). All in all, a great site for anyone with children, especially if, like me they hate shopping.

Member Advice on Living Abroad 23/02/2003

La Extranjera

Member Advice on Living Abroad I can never resist a challenge! I am British but have lived in Spain for nearly three years. We lived on the Costa del Sol for two years, but now live in Granada, which is a beautiful city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains. So what’s it like to live here? Well living on the coast is very much like living in a slightly tatty city in Britain, but with sunshine. There are more foreigners there than there are Spaniards and most people speak English. You can buy everything from Lincolnshire sausages to baked beans and if you can’t find anything, Gibraltar is only an hour’s drive away. In “real” Spain (away from the coasts), it really is different. The Spanish have a whole different outlook on life – family is more important, weekends are sacred and religion plays a much greater part in life. And of course you can’t get good tea bags for love nor money. There are also differences on the coasts. For one thing the official paperwork is a complete nightmare. By law in Spain you have to carry a residence permit and you have to be registered for Social Security etc. For some reason though, many British people here seem to feel that they don’t have to bother with this or with other Spanish laws. Possibly it’s some sort of being-on-holiday mentality, but more on that later. More importantly for me, there are no proper British pubs here. Oh, you find many “Irish” pubs (of the kind you find in England), and many bars called things like The Red Lion, but they always seem ...

Tots Bots Nappies 16/02/2003

super nappy

Tots Bots Nappies I thought I'd add an extra paragraph to this opinion as me and baby have now been using tots bots for 9 months. Although this was written when she was only 2 weeks, everything in it is still true! The only change is that she's now in the size 2 nappies and for those I chose the ones without velcro fastenings, but I'll add a little extra below about that. I decided to use reusable nappies a long time before she was born for two reasons really. First I hate waste. Apparently 5% of *all* household waste in the UK is made up of disposable nappies – a ridiculously high figure when you consider that the proportion of households with babies is very low. I didn’t want to add to that waste. Secondly, I am suspicious of chemicals and modern disposable nappies are full of them: from the bleach they use to make them white to the weird jelly stuff that keeps your baby dry. I would rather have as few chemicals near my baby as possible. Furthermore, reusable nappies use far less energy than disposables. Yes I have the washing machine on every day (well, every night, for the cheap leccy), but this is still far less energy and water than it takes to make disposables. Apart from anything else, think of the energy used in transport costs both to bring your new nappies to you and to take the used ones away! (see for details - they reckon you can save up to £600 per child by using reusables) So months before she was born I scoured the ... 15/02/2003

The bible for car buyers is an amzingly useful site which contains a large searchable database of used and new car prices. It is essentially an online version of those battered old books that you find on any second hand car dealer's desk but has the major advantage of being free and frequently updated. I first discovered the site last year when I suspected my friend was about to make a very costly mistake on a Suzuki Jeep. I ran a search and it turned out that the seller of the car was indeed asking for a lot more money than the car was worth. The friend bought a brand new Fiesta instead, but that's another story. Once you have entered the details of the car you are buying or selling, you get a screen which shows you what the car cost new, prices for cars in A1, good, fair or poor condition, the trade-in price and (perhaps most importantly) handy links to a help page in which you can find out exactly what those terms mean! There are also reviews, specific buying advice for each model and insurance information. So for example, if you were looking for a Vauxhall Vectra, you can find out that the cam belts can be a bit dodgy on some models, that it'll be in insurance group 6,7 or 8 depending on the model and that the Vectra scores 4 out of 5 stars in crash tests. You can also read a very clear point-by-point review, find out what the insurance premiums will be (approximately) and see a checklist of potential problems along with the approximate costs for fixing them. For novice ...

Bosch ProfiMixx 46 07/08/2002

Big bowls, big jugs and houmous

Bosch ProfiMixx 46 Oh where would I be without my food processor? I “borrowed” my last one ( a moulinex one) from my mum, but sadly it died about 6 months ago. How would I make my houmous? Or my guacamole? As I live in Spain, the problem was heightened because you can’t buy those things fresh here, so off to the electrical store I went. I was absolutely bewildered by the array of processors on offer in the shop. For the uninitiated, they fall roughly into three categories: 1. Big Jug Processors My last food processor was one of these: they have a big jug with a sharp spinning blade in the bottom. I was perfectly happy with it – you could just bung in the ingredients for, say, guacamole, a cake or beefburgers, whiz away for a minute or two and voila! Mixture ready. The only thing was, since the jug was so big you couldn’t mix small quantities (salad dressing for example), and you couldn’t do anything that really requires a whisk/kneading attachment, like bread or meringue. I kinda fancied something that would do those things. These also come with slicer and grater attachments. NB – beware of cheap big jug processors – generally the blades aren’t so sharp (or they cease to be sharp fairly sharpish) and they can’t cope with anything like as much as the good ones. 2. Big Bowl Mixers I’d always wanted one of these. These are the old fashioned big bowl things with a whisk or kneading attachment. They’re perfect for ...

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (DVD) 28/07/2002

The magical world of Harry Potter

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone (DVD) OK I admit it. I must be one of the few people on the planet who has not actually read any of the Harry Potter books. This was just an oversight really – several times I’ve looked at them in bookshops and thought, “that sounds great”, but I’ve never got round to reading one. Anyway I’ve finally bought the DVD to make up for the terrible void in my cultural life. The plot certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a blend of CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett – a fantastical story with a modern twist. For those who may have missed it, it goes like this: Harry Potter is a young boy who lives with his Aunt, Uncle and cousin in a typical English suburb. They treat him terribly – he lives in the cupboard under the stairs while his cousin is treated like a prince. After several strange episodes involving owls and letters, Harry discovers that he is in fact a wizard and has been offered a place at Hogwarts , the school for wizards. Harry gladly leaves his cruel relatives and sets off with Hagrid, the school caretaker who has been sent to fetch him. Here of course his adventures begin. I won’t bore everyone with a more detailed description of the plot as I’m sure many of you already know it backwards. Suffice to say it’s a very well structured mystery/thriller in which Harry must prevent Voldemort (a baddy so bad that nobody can speak his name) from getting the Philospher’s Stone, which would give him back his ...

The Contented Little Baby Book - Gina Ford 14/06/2002

sleep beautiful sleep

The Contented Little Baby Book - Gina Ford Well firstly I have no idea why this book is in the health and beauty section and not the parental books section – it’s a book about coping with babies from 0 to 1 year especially with regard to getting the little darlings to sleep through the night. Perhaps it’s the health of the parents/mother who the categorisers at Ciao had in mind? Anyway, as it says in the intro, Gina Ford is a very experienced maternity nurse (a nurse who goes to live with mothers to help them look after babies – wish I could afford one of those!). Her philosophy is essentially that babies need routines and that “feeding on demand” (as espoused by many baby-care gurus) can often be counterproductive. The book gives a lot of general advice, including case studies of babies with some form of sleep problem, and a series of suggested routines for babies from 2 weeks to 1 year. I found a lot of the advice to be very sound, although since my daughter is only a month old I haven’t tested much of it out yet. She suggests, for example, that to prevent a baby from waking at 5am in the summer, you put black-out curtains in her room. She also suggests that you feed newborn babies every three hours (not every four as hospitals used to advise, and not on demand) and this did seem to work fine with my baby – she’s already gained almost a kilo! Where she and I disagree is on her routines. Here is a sample from the routine for a 2 to 4 week old ...

Epson Stylus C80 13/05/2002

The monster printer

Epson Stylus C80 About a month ago I wrote a review of our “old faithful” Epson Stylus 640. Obviously I was tempting fate as two weeks ago, sadly, that printer finally died. Something very strange had happened to the print heads so the poor thing couldn’t quite manage to print anything useful. It could still print the beginnings of things and the ends of things, but could no longer print those all-important middle bits. It had to go. That printer had had a very good innings though: we bought it at least 5 years ago making it a veritable great-grandmother in printer-years. As I was saying in that previous review, I work as part of a collective of freelancers and that printer had had a lot of use and outlived various other printers including an HP deskjet and a Cannon. (Actually, to be fair, the HP was second hand when we bought it, but should have lasted longer than it did.). So we had no real hesitation in buying another Epson. We did look around at other printers on the market, but in our experience, Epson make easily the best and longest-lived printers of the big 3 manufacturers (HP, Cannon and Epson). It could well be that one of the smaller manufacturers makes a better one, but we never really considered buying one as of course ink refills and other parts are so much harder to come by. Which model though? The true heir to the old 640 is the C60 or the 820, but after perusing the specs we decided to go for the C80. Actually there’s not a huge amount of ...

Granada (Spain) 28/04/2002

Granada - my favourite city in Spain

Granada (Spain) I have already written several opinions on my experiences in Spain so far, but the time has come to write about my favourite place here, Granada. For those unfamiliar with Spanish Geography, Granada is in Southern Spain, about 70 miles north-east of the Costa del Sol and very close to Spain's highest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada. It is an ancient city and was for many years the capital of Moorish Spain - the Moors being an old Musilm people related to modern Arabs. In fact, until the Christian "reconquest" in 1562, Granada was the last bastion of Islam in the West . Nowadays, Granada is the most incredible mixture of ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. The city centre boasts some of the most lovely 18th and 19th century Spanish architechture, alongside a substantial Moorish quarter with its exotic arches and of course the magnificent Moorish palace, the Alhambra. Now Granada is a small city (pop. 100,000 I think), but it is easily possible to spend a day wandering the streets and two days in the Alhambra before you've even started to look at the other tourist attractions like the cathedral, churches and the mountains - if you want to visit I would suggest you go for 2 days at least. Granada's most famous monument, the Alhambra is much more than a palace. In fact it is 4 or 5 palaces all set within the most wonderful Arab-style symmetrical gardens. Anyone interested in Art / design will be fascinated for hours by the detailed plasterwork on the walls of the ...

Johnson's Ultra Sun Cream 21/04/2002

sun creams for vampires.

Johnson's Ultra Sun Cream Well it’s that time of year again and I thought I should write another opinion on something I really know about – sun cream! I live on the Costa del Sol (and it’s lovely, thankyou. The pool is 22C today although I can’t face a swim as I’ve just cleaned the thing. See my Spain ops if you need to know more). I also have the whitest of white sensitive skin and sometimes can’t go out in the day – hence the title. In fact I am very popular in summer as sitting next to me makes anyone look like they have a tan. I never ever tan. I’ve tried a few times – once I lay in the garden all day, turned beetroot, couldn’t sleep for a week and then turned white again, other times I’ve tried the “gradual build-up approach” – but I simply don’t tan. If I really tried I could probably create a few more freckles, but I’m not sure that would be very attractive. So like I say, I know a few things about sun cream – especially high factor sun cream and Johnson’s “ultra” sun block is nothing to write home about. My favourite all-time sun cream is Vichy Capital Soleil, factor 60. But that’s not listed, so I’ll compare and contrast the two under this product heading. I hope there’s something for all you sun-worshippers out there too! ~~~The Science ~~~ As everyone knows by now, sunbathing for hours on end without protection is not good for you. The ...

Twenty Four 20/04/2002

24 - the best drama series in years

Twenty Four I was hoping to be the first to write an opinion on this, but Zoe30 has beaten me to it. However, 24 is the most enjoyable thing I've watched in months if not years (including films as well as TV), so I thought I'd share my thoughts on it anyway. Well to be honest it's about time I wrote a positive entertainment review. A few weeks ago though we were at a loose end and noticed that all of the first four episodes were being shown on BBC2. Now generally I'm not a big fan of TV serial dramas, mostly because I'm a bit rubbish at rememebering when to be in, and also because they can be a bit slow-moving. With a few notable exceptions, they tend to be second-class films broken up into pieces, rather than something designed to make the most of its medium. We thought we'd give 24 a go though and it really is something else. Every minute of its 24x45 minute episodes is filled with drama! No unecessary scene-setting, drawn-out dialogue or anything! The "concept" behind 24 is that it consists of 24 episodes that each track one hour on one particular day ("the day of the California presidential primary"). Since the show is American, this actually means that each episode is 45 minutes (to allow for ad breaks), but no matter. The one mild irritation I have with the programme is that the time [the time in the show that is] flashes up on screen every twenty minutes or so with a countdown-type sound effect, but I suppose it does kind of tie the whole thing together. The story is ...

Costa del Sol (Spain) 16/04/2002

How to get the best from the Costa del Sol

Costa del Sol (Spain) The Costa del Sol probably has the worst reputation of any major European holiday destination. I live here and, well yes, that reputation is justified to an extent(see Bravo TV's Costa del Dosh for some examples). It is possible to have a great holiday here though even if you're not a lager lout/sex tourist/criminal and even if you don't like lying on the beach (as I don't) so here are a few ideas. 1. Places to avoid Well I'll start with the worst bits shall I? There are one or two large towns on the Costa del Sol that are ugly and generally characterless. In particular I'd avoid Fuengirola and Benalmadena for these reasons, but even then they have their good points. It's possible to walk for over a mile in Benalmadena without seeing a Spanish person (but I think that, sadly, may be the point for some British tourists), but it's worth a visit for the cable car trips up the mountain (see below). Fuengirola on the other hand is built-up and ugly, but once you get away from the crowded seafront, it's quite a typical medium-sized Spanish town where you can take advatage of the local eateries and cheap shoes. Lastly Torremolinos has a terrible reputation, but the seafront has been tarted up nicely and the old town is quite lovely. These towns do all have the advantage of being on the railway line as well, and if you're staying there I suggest you use it and/or hire a car. 2. Food Oh yes. Spanish food. Firstly if you're staying in any Spanish tourist area, take a phrase ...

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey 12/04/2002

Polly relaxes a bit

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - PJ Harvey Here's another review of an album that came out some time ago. I always think you should give these things time as some albums that sound good at first start to grate very quickly and others can grow on you. Obviously it doesn't usually take 18 months for that, but there you go. Before I bought this album I wasn't a PJ Harvey fan in any way. I'd heard a few tracks that I like, and some that are just odd (Lick my Legs being a prime example. If you haven't heard that, you can imagine really, given the title). Anyway I was browsing on Amazon and thought I'd give this a go. I liked it so much it inspired me to buy several more albums, but this is easily the best. So, for those still unfamiliar with PJ Harvey, she writes guitar-based alternative rock songs. Many songs are quite heavy / grungey, others less so, but none are dull! She's kind of a cross between Michelle Shocked or Tracey Chapman and L7, but far more innovative than any of them. Her tracks are always well-produced, by which I mean there's a lot of depth, and this, combined with her very strong, very deep voice create a sound that is, well, big. Some of her tracks are a bit odd, but don't let that put you off (you can always skip them!). This album only really contains one of those - the first track, Big Exit, in which she screams "I wanna pistol, I wanna gun", and then sings notes which are uncomfortably high for her voice. Generally this is a bit over the top for an opening track. After the first couple of ...

Microsoft Access 2000 2000 Complete package 12/04/2002

an entry level database

Microsoft Access 2000 2000 Complete package Like it or not, Microsoft Access is probably the most widely used database programme there is. I have used it for years for various things – from analysing university project data for myself to powering full e-commerce websites. I also used to teach courses on it and I am writing this in particular for anyone who has an interest in computers and has an idea that they should learn about databases next, but doesn’t know where to start. So from the beginning then (sorry if this is too simple for some). A “database” is literally a base of data (information). It is any collection of information. What programmes like Access do is to organise that information so that you can get to it easily (like a filofax can be used to consolidate all of those bits of paper with phone numbers on in your handbag). In a computer database, information is organised in “tables”, charts with rows and columns. Tables can be used to store any information that can be sorted into rows and columns. For example a library database might have a table like this: Book No.   Author    Title 1    Charles Dickens       Oliver Twist 2     William Shakespear  Complete Works ..... And lots of other rows obviously. Now with Access you can make tables like this (quite easy to do with a wizard), and then you can view all of the data in chart form and then organise the information in ...

Bossanova - Pixies 09/04/2002

pixies lite - and fantastic

Bossanova - Pixies I've been listening to old Pixies albums a lot lately and as it's raining, I thought I'd write a bit about this album, my favourite. I've also added some bits for those who complained that they need to know more, but I must say I think it's quite hard to describe music. For those not already familiar with them, the Pixies were one of the leading goth-indie-rock bands back when goth was still fairly popular outside Norwich (has anyone else noticed how many goths are still there?) in the 80s / 90s. Not all of their music will appeal to everyone - some is noisy screaming death-rock style guitars, but other songs are very tuneful and quieter. They seem to have influenced a lot of the new "punk" US teenager bands around now (Blink 182 and Wheatus) and I'm trying to think of a comparable British band but I can't. The single everyone will have heard is Monkey gone to Heaven ("This mon-key's goooone to heaven") or maybe Velouria ("Even I'll adore ya") - hope that helps. Among Pixies fans I think general opinion has it that the other, harder (by which I mean less melodic, noisier) albums are better than this, but hey ho. As a lightweight Pixies fan I think this is their best album by far as it's the most accessible. Many of the other albums only have one or two really good catchy tracks that can speak to a wide audience (Monkey Gone to Heaven on Doolittle and Where is my Mind? / Gigantic on Surfer Rosa), but this one has many. Velouria in particular is a song that many will ...
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