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"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Benjamin Franklin"

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since 23/04/2001


Russell Hobbs 18099 02/12/2014

An Ode to Toast

Russell Hobbs 18099 Ah, the joys of modern life. We have appliances that do many things (like food processors) and then we have specialist appliances. Toasters exist to do one thing – turn bread into toast (for the avoidance of doubt, I am talking traditional toasters here, not toaster ovens). It’s amazing, when you think about it, that the vast majority of us have a small appliance to do something your grill in your oven will accomplish, but there you go. Most of us possess a toaster. A few months ago (it could even be a year), we replaced a cheap toaster (that had the nasty habit of tripping the circuit breaker) with a then snazzy looking Russell Hobbes four slice toaster (the 18099 model, if you really want to know). It has lots of buttons and supposed features and is of a reasonably well known, well-regarded make. And as a toaster, it works fine, though the jury is out on the buttons and features. A Toast to Bells and Whistles Gosh, this toaster has a lot of them. This is a four slice toaster, however, the slots work in pairs, so that you can toast two slices of bread to a smoking black mess and the other two as slightly stale bread, if that takes your fancy. Therefore, there are two sets of buttons (and crumb trays), one for each pair. There are lit buttons for bagels (that toasts one side only, though I can never remember which side without looking at the instructions), frozen bread, reheating and to eject your toast early. In addition, there are two levers (for lowering the bread ...

Russell Hobbs 19170 07/11/2014

Coffee - Good to the Last Drip

Russell Hobbs 19170 I’m an old fashioned girl, I guess. I have not embraced the capsule coffee revolution. Nope, I like the old fashioned, American style drip coffee maker complete with filter, jug, hotplate and a timer. We had a cheap and cheerful Tesco one. Cheap yes – it didn’t make me cheerful though – it had quirks. Therefore, not long ago, we invested the princely sum of around £40 on a Russell Hobbs jauntily red drip coffee maker. And I have to say, so far, I’m happy. Before You Brew Typical of this breed of brewster, you get a jug (holding 12 cups of coffee), the unit itself which has its own filter (though I tend to use disposable filters as well as I like the convenience of being able to simply chuck the grounds) and a thing the filter sits in (which has a spring allowing you to briefly remove the jug during brewing – but bear in mind, ‘brief’ means about 20 seconds). These are removable for easy cleaning. There is a small opening at the back into which you pour the water and a bunch of buttons and a really rather bright blue clock allowing you to either make coffee now or set a timer for later. Before using, the instructions ask you to run the machine empty, apart from water, for the first time to clean it. This we did. Once we did that (and, of course, that was after plugging it in and setting the clock) we were ready to go. Making a Brew You do not need a degree to operate this machine. Indeed, the most difficult manoeuvre (and my only quibble) is filling the reservoir, as ...

Long Reviews vs Short Reviews 13/10/2014


Long Reviews vs Short Reviews One thousand, one hundred and seventy seven (Kellogg’s Special K Bars, May 2005). One thousand, eight hundred and thirty two (Listerine Oral Care Strips, May 2003). Nine hundred and forty nine (Cadbury’s Picnic Bar – March 2003 – as a side note, this review even includes a shocked statement that the review clocks in under 1000 words). I have been writing on review sites for quite some time and I’ve written some whoppers. How I managed to write 963 words about Diet Coke or over 1000 words on a breakfast bar I no longer know. These are embarrassingly ridiculous in hindsight. No consumer will (a) be looking on a consumer site to make a chocolate bar or soft drink choice and (b) needs quite that much information in order to do so. I described the packaging, for crying out loud. short…? Let’s take the extremely mundane products out of the mix for a moment (as I’d argue they don’t belong on a review site anyway) – a review of a book can (and possibly should) be fairly short (I wish I’d realised that years ago). Everyday, inexpensive products probably don’t need a long review. You don’t need to measure the chocolate bar, include a full list of the ingredients, report on the bar code (I’ve done this), write an essay on the history of the company and include the circumstances that caused you to buy (or avoid) that particular product (unless they are especially relevant – for every rule, there can be an exception) Loooonnnggg….? I wrote a printer review here more recently (a ...

Logitech M305 - mouse 14/01/2014

A Mouse for All Seasons

Logitech M305 - mouse Not a Squeak I once had a mouse. A little white animal (called M&M) with a naked tail and a friendly disposition. When I had that mouse, the word ‘mouse’ referred to nothing but the rodent. These days, if you say you have a mouse you are almost certainly talking about the point-y device you use to make your computer work. These days mice come in various colours (mine is blue) with a tail (OK, a cord) or without (wireless), with wheels or a red light. My modern mouse is a wireless jobby with a red light (instead of an easily clogged wheel). It is petite, battery operated (oooh errr missus) and…effective. I have had laptops for work for the past several years. Sadly, not every company I have worked for has seen fit to give me a mouse to use with it, wireless or otherwise. Since I cannot bear using a laptop track pad or nipple, I purchased myself a Logitech M305 cordless mouse. I actually bought this mouse (which I am using this very minute) a couple of years ago, so have given it a good old test. And I am quite happy with it. Mice at Twice the Price As I recall, I paid around £15 for it (it’s available on ebay now for around a tenner, Amazon want a whopping £20 for it). This is, perhaps a bit pricy for a fairly basic pointing device but it is, nevertheless, a good tool. Wee Mousie This mouse is meant to be portable in that it is slightly smaller than a typical corded PC mouse. It fits my hand well (I do, however, have tiny hands). It is light (200g, apparently). It came ...

Pierre et Vacances Residence Haguna, Biarritz 28/08/2013

Haguna Matata - happy days at Pierre & Vacances Haguna

Pierre et Vacances Residence Haguna, Biarritz The last thing you want the afternoon before a silly-o-clock flight is to discover your self-catering studio apartment you booked through is not, in fact, booked. Sometimes, however, good things come from adversity and you find (after numerous phone calls and some serious pain, but that’s another story) that you’ve been upgraded to a two bedroom apartment in the same residence. This is what happened to us and thus we found ourselves in said two bedroom apartment at the do-it-yourself yet charming and friendly Pierre & Vacances Haguna in Biarritz, southern France, for seven nights. Biarritz is an Atlantic coastal town almost as far south in France as you can get. It’s a charming village with (expensive) shops, beaches, restaurants – everything the sun-seeking tourist could want. And gosh, there are a lot of sun-seeking tourists, many of whom are French. Many people stay all or part of the summer – longer than the average weekend break. Because of this, there are a plethora of apartments specifically for the longer-stay holiday maker. Pierre & Vacances Haguna is one of these. You can stay for a few days or a few weeks – they have different rates and rules (and check in/check out times) depending on how long you are staying (under a week or more than a week). Eating, Drinking, Cooking & Cleaning All the apartments come with various amenities. In the kitchenette there was a coffee maker, toaster and dishwasher and tons of pots, pans, plates, glasses, knives, ...

Atel Belta Residence, Paris 04/06/2013

Tightening the Belta...Hotel

Atel Belta Residence, Paris I’d like to think that I have become British-ised. I have lived in the UK for 25 years and I lived in Germany for just over a year before that. You’d think, therefore, I’d be used to slightly pokey hotel rooms with small beds and ‘interesting’ showers. Nevertheless, I still appear to be surprised each time I stay in a small European hotel. My experience in the three star Hotel Belta in the 10th arrondissement in Paris (near St Martin’s Canal) was typical for a European independent hotel. Reasonably clean, somewhat comfortable but spectacularly uninspiring. ~~~~~ Disclaimer ~~~~~ Before this comes across as a complaint, note that I did not pay anything for this. We used Avios (air miles) for the flight and the hotel, thus paying the princely sum of £60 (for both of us, not each) for flights from Heathrow to Paris and three nights in the Hotel Belta. I would be much less happy had we paid full rack rate for this hotel – at the time of writing around €130 for a double room. ~~~~~ End disclaimer ~~~~~ The hotel is in the 10th arrondissement of Paris within walking distance of Gare de l'est (the East train station – one Metro stop from Gare du Nord). It is in a mixed use road with residences and bars, cafés and shops nearby. The road is neither especially noisy nor especially quiet – it’s about what you’d expect in the centre(ish) of a major city. However, I am glad we were on the sixth floor (of six). This cuts down the noise significantly, especially as there is no ...

TIGI Catwalk Fashionista Shampoo 02/04/2011

Fashion(ista) for the Masses

TIGI Catwalk Fashionista Shampoo It's amazing what people will declare their loyalty for. It makes sense to profess loyalty to one's friends and family, to one's country, even to one's job. I've never quite understood rabid loyalty to hair products. Having said that, when buying shampoo or conditioner myself, I do tend to buy much the same products out of habit. But I am not loyal to them. Oh no. I have very fine, very thin and very soft hair. Therefore, I tend to use products formulated for these hair types; my current favourite being the Aussie Aussome Volume range. I am, however, not committed, and even have my doubts that there is that much difference between products besides colour, smell and consistency - after all, most the ingredients seem to be the same among the various products. Therefore, when my daughter indulges in her habit of buying, and then using half of and leaving the rest, various shampoos and conditions, I cannot usually resist trying them. The most recent bathroom leave-behinds are two large purple bottles with pump action dispensers of Tigi Catwalk shampoo and conditioner. I, of course, couldn't resist giving them a go - and not just once. You see, she uses half, and then gets bored and buys new. We therefore have a number of half or nearly empty bottles of product in the shower and around the bathroom. I can use pretty much as much as I like - if I don't, they'd sit in there, gradually acquiring a carpet of mould on the bottom, until the apocalypse. So I have used it a fair amount. ...

HP C310A 29/03/2011

Mattygroves and her Improbably (Photo)Smart Printer

HP C310A Recently, I have come into possession, without parting with any money, of a wi-fi, all singing, all dancing printer. It is an HP Photosmart Premium, provided by the kind folk at HP and Ciao, in the hope I’ll be bowled over and sing its praises over the internet. But is it that good? Boxing Clever – Arrival Unsurprisingly, the printer was delivered in a box (which had clearly been opened before). In the box was the printer, the cartridges (five of them), some spare cartridges (only four of those), a couple of handy bags (one for the printer and one for spares) and various wires and gubbins. Set up was easy – I asked my husband to fit the cartridges and plug it in, as I always get myself into a muddle when trying to do anything fiddly like that. As it turns out, fitting the cartridges is a doddle – they just slot in. However, the printer did make a number of interesting whirring noises, and chucked out a few test pages before it was ready to be connected to the wireless. The HP boasts that it has a one-touch wireless set up; my router didn’t seem to have the requisite button, so I wi-fied it the old fashioned way – I used the menu and inputted the password key. This was not difficult. There is a CD ROM with this – this allows you to install the software. I have three computers in the house – a Mac, a work laptop and a home laptop. Set up is similar on both Mac and PC, and is easy, if a little time consuming (perhaps 10 minutes). As well as the printer drivers, the software ...

Philips HF3330 16/02/2011

Out of the Black and into the Blue

Philips HF3330 I will admit right from the start I am a sceptic. I hold no truck with homeopathy, astrology, chiropractic treatments, crystal therapy, reiki healing and the like. However, when, as a BzzAgent, I got the opportunity to try a Philips GoLITE BLU energy light for the significantly reduced price of £40, I snapped at it. Whys and Wherefores and Whats or why I have it, and what it looks like I purchased the box initially for my husband, who is suffering from depression, some of which may be seasonally related. Blue light boxes are typically used for either SAD (Seasonally Affective Disorder) or to deal with time-shifting. According to Philips own leaflet, it may also be used to mitigate the effects of jetlag (though with a load of preparation beforehand - I'll discuss that later), and to simply combat low winter energy levels. It does, however, warn against using it if you are on antidepressants without speaking to your doctor first. I have to admit, I am uncertain why, and my husband has indeed tried it. I am currently working from home, in my daughter's rather dark room. As the halogen lamp I stuck in here to combat that darkness has fizzled (it actually fizzled - at least made a fizzle noise) and died, I have put the light box next to me on the desk. It is small and nearly square - I am saved the trouble of measuring it, as the booklet (which appears rather large, but that's only because it's in several different languages) tells me it's 14cm x 14cm x 2.5cm. Around 2/3 of ...

Sun In Gentle 01/01/2011

Dishwater Blonde does NOT equal More Fun

Sun In Gentle Mouse brown. Dishwater blonde. Ash blonde. Dirty blonde. Not the nicest descriptions of hair colour, are they? These are all terms that can, and have been (ok, often by me) used to describe my natural hair colour. Neither rich brown nor vibrant blonde, it can easily be described as mouse. For years, on and off (as finances permit), I have had my very fine hair highlighted, thus giving it a little extra blondish lift. However, money is now tight, as, indeed, is time (it can take a couple of hours for a good professional highlighting job). I have tried home hair colouring, but find it impossible to do properly without a friend , a bathtub, a shower, and usually a very wet bathroom. My options seemed to be limited - let my hair colour revert to its bland natural state; spend an arm and an ovary on a professional highlighting job; make a big mess in the bathroom (and probably with my hair) attempting a home die job or listen to my daughter. My daughter suggested a product called SunIn - Spray-in hair lightener. This stuff has been around forever - I remember it being advertised when I was a child, back when the Dead Sea was still only sick. I'd never really used it though, and I had noticed that my daughter's hair, already very blonde, did indeed appear blonder. She kindly donated (actually, she charged me for it) a mostly empty bottle of Sun in Gentle with Lemon, and I dutifully gave it a go. Look and Feel Actually, I looked at the bottle, and read the instructions first. ...

Pure Digital ONE Classic 07/12/2010

Pure (One) as the Driven Slush

Pure Digital ONE Classic I have eclectic music tastes. I like folk, rock (think Jethro Tull, The Who, and others of that ilk) with a smattering of classical. I loathe hip-hop, any genre named after a dwelling (House, Garage - what's next - shed?!), pop; indeed, most of what is played on mainstream radio stations these days. Therefore, when our team at work received an award, allowing us to pick a gift from a selection, I chose a digital radio, specifically, the Pure One Classic (aka the Pure Digital One). I was attracted by the idea of having a veritable cornucopia of stations to choose from - surely there would be a handful of stations catering to my tastes. A couple of weeks after ordering, a card was dropped through my door. Oops, I'd missed the postman. A day or two later, the package was delivered, and the radio duly unboxed, unwrapped and plugged in. I must admit to a wee bit of disappointment initially. The description on the web told me I could hook up standard speakers and my iPod to it. This is indeed true, but you need a line-in connector (it looks like a headphone socket) - my old, sadly poorly portable stereo in the kitchen seems to lack one of these. The speakers connected simply with little wires (you can tell I'm not an AV technician). The same is true with the iPod - you need a headphone to line-in connector. As it happens, I have one of these, but really cannot see myself using it. The Look But let's go back to the beginning. The radio I have is white, and it is quite compact. ...

Mutter Museum, Philadelphia 17/10/2010

A Mütter of a Museum

Mutter Museum, Philadelphia For every interest; for every hobby, there is a museum. There is a lawnmower museum, a penis museum (I kid you not), a museum of bad art, along with the more mainstream art, natural history and science museums. Many museums include interactive displays – buttons to push, levers to turn. Some, however, have remained resolutely Victorian. The displays are in dimly lit rooms, and in cases of mahogany and glass. The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia can safely be called both Victorian and quirky, yet is still educational, in a slightly morbid way. Who, What and Why The name of the museum, though pronounced ‘mooter’ as in the German for mother, has little to do with either German or mothers. Instead, it was created in 1858 by Thomas Dent Mütter, retired Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College (thank you to both the brochure and for this background information). He donated his vast collection of specimens to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. And what a collection it is. You may gather that the Mütter Museum is a Victorian medical museum. It therefore has a whole case of skulls (complete with descriptions of the race, age, nationality and cause of death, where known, of their previous owners), dead babies in jars, skeletons with various deformities – everything you might expect from a Victorian freak show of the dead. But the fascination goes beyond that. Where and How The museum is within walking distance from ...

BlackBerry Bold 9000 14/05/2010

Talking Fruity

BlackBerry Bold 9000 It's remarkable. The more devices we acquire to keep us in touch with the world around us, the less we actually communicate with each other. How many times have you seen two people sitting in a pub, both industriously typing on their phones, PDAs or laptops, and utterly ignoring the person sitting right opposite them? Partly for this reason, I'd avoided joining the Crackberry - oops - I mean Blackberry generation. My trusty Nokia was (and still is, for personal use) sufficient - I could make and receive calls, and send and receive texts, and even take the odd picture. What more did I need? This all changed six months ago, when I changed jobs. Within two days of joining, I was given a box, in which nestled a sleek Blackberry 9000, two charging cables (one for the mains outlet, the other for a usb connection), a set of headphones, a carry case which is, apparently, magnetic, and four booklets of instructions (two of which, admittedly, were in Spanish). I was well on my way to a serious Crack(berry) addiction. As this is a work phone, most of the set up was done for me. The device was set up to 'push' my work emails to my phone, and allow me to look up company names, numbers and email addresses from the global list. The phone number was already printed on my business cards, so it was pretty much ready to go. Yes, I did customise it to an extent, but it must be remembered that as this is a work phone, it's not got tons of memory, so I haven't loaded it up with music (though it ...

Best In Show (DVD) 14/04/2010

Spinal Tap Does it Doggy Style

Best In Show (DVD) Doggy Style Dog owners all over the US clean, preen and travel with their dogs in search of that elusive Best in Show. Prestigious indoor ring shows are the pinnacle of the dog show year, and owners and handlers will travel far and wide to attend these shows, each convinced their extravagantly named pooch will take that coveted title. It's a long, hard slog to get there - many regional shows must be won. Once the dog is at the show, they go through Best of Breed, then Best of Class before finally entering the ring with dogs of all shapes and sizes, competing for that top title. The annual Mayflower show, held in Philadelphia attracts dogs and their owners from far and wide. Harlan Pepper brings his bloodhound Hubert. He hails from the south, and has a rather worrying interest in nuts. The Flecks bring their prized Norwich Terrier Winky from Florida - every man they meet has apparently, at one point or another, slept with Cookie Fleck. The Yuppie contingent are represented by the Swans, bickering, neurotic and terminally dull, who insist on anthropomorphising their Weimaraner bitch Beatrice. The flamboyantly gay contingent isn't ignored - meet Scot and Stefan, doting over their Shih-Tzu Miss Agnes. Rounding off our eccentric dog-fanciers we have the enormously bosomed and nailed Sherri Ann Cabot, her very elderly (and utterly silent) husband bringing their Standard Poodle Rhapsody in White, handled by Sherri's very close friend Christy. Each owner is convinced his (or her) ...

Clinique Moisture Surge Extra Thirsty Skin Relief 11/03/2010

Making Matty Moist

Clinique Moisture Surge Extra Thirsty Skin Relief I was a lucky teenage, skin-wise. I rarely had spots (though struggled to leave the ones I did get alone), and my skin was, if anything, slightly on the dry side. I didn't have oily patches, and had (apart from hereditary dark circles under my eyes) a nice, even, pale skin tone - wrinkle free and pretty healthy looking. Moving forward a whole bunch of years, I've, unsurprisingly, aged. My good fortune in my youth is my downfall now, as I suffer from quite dry skin. As I utterly neglected it in my glory years, I now find that I need a moisturiser to keep my skin from feeling dry and tight. Hypeless I don't tend to go for hype. I ignore the pseudo-scientific ingredient claims. I don't believe that any non-medical cream will magically make my deepening wrinkles disappear. However, a decent moisturiser will make my skin feel smoother, less tight, and help foundation go on more easily. I often use products from the Boots Protect and Perfect Range, however, with a (fairly) recent purchase from Clinique, I received in my bag of goodies (I never buy premium make-up unless there's a freebie on offer) a little jar of Clinique's Moisture Surge gel crème - a pretty heavy-duty moisturiser, if I'm any judge. Fur Coat and No Knickers? I have here in front of me a small, clear glass pot - as might be expected for a fairly premium brand, it is classy looking. It tells me it's fragrance free and allergy tested (in several languages). I can vouch for the lack of odour - it is unperfumed ...
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