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pgn0

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When it comes to getting weird things done, sane beats mad hands down. (Igor, in The Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett)

Reviews written

since 17/01/2003

96

Brexit: what's next? 09/07/2016

New World, New Rules!

Brexit: what's next? Digging ourselves out of a hole... For better or for worse, the UK has voted itself into a bit of a corner. That's nothing new, we've been in tight spots before, and, for the most part, we're still here to talk about it and reminisce about the good old days... Having lost the leadership, inasmuch as it could be called that, that got us here, and with any chance of revoking the result of the referendum firmly dashed on the rocks despite 4.1 million signatures requesting it, we have to face reality: we need to find a way out of the current limbo in which we find ourselves. Regardless of how we got here, by design or by default, we are not going to get to a better place without a few ground-rules. Spending a little time setting these out now, and keeping them in mind as we work to unstitch the ties that bind us to the EU and rework them to meet the UK's immediate and mid-term needs, is going to be time well-spent. Implicit in this process is the understanding that we will all, and I mean all, adhere to a small number of new rules from this point on. Guiding Principles ("Rules") 1: The politicians and the media need to get a grip and stop using their language of fear. Politics and Press need to be far more tolerant of each other than they have been up to this point. Migration, mobility and free-trade need to be addressed, and polarisation does nothing to help that. Examples of countries that embrace, or that have embraced, a more globalised approach are Canada, since ...

Christmas recipes 06/12/2015

Arctic Yule Fuel

Christmas recipes It's that time of the year again! Dining on-the-hoof On an icy Christmas trip to the Lion City of Braunschweig in Germany a few years ago, we encountered something that can only be described as Yule Fuel, a very effective antidote to the sub-zero temperatures common in continental Europe around that time of year. After wandering the many stalls of our third Weihnachtsmarkt in 3 days, we were, it has to be said, well and truly numb in parts that even the Glühwein had difficulty reaching. Flitting past the many interesting items on display in stalls en-route from the Jagd (hunters) food stall to the next stall selling any variety of food, and thus providing free access to a source of heat, we skidded to a stop at one stall selling something I had only previously encountered in Ikea: Köttbullar. Whilst waiting our turn to order a portion of these, our gaze fell upon a bubbling vat of something described on the stall menu as "Nordseelichter" (Northern Lights), sold with or without "Schuss", a fairly substantial dollop of either vodka or rum... Further investigation revealed the vat to contain a mixture of predominantly cranberry, blueberry and apple juices, which, when mixed with a dollop of a sticky, nutty syrup from an adjacent pan and served up with a shot of the rum, was the most effective antidote I have found to-date for the extremity-numbing cold (even through a substantial pair of C&A longjohns!) typical of any Christmas Market it has been my pleasure to visit. ...

Everything that starts with B ... 23/10/2015

Time-warps and fall-backs...

Everything that starts with B ... Be afraid, be very, very afraid! That low-interest loan, one hour of our collective life, that was taken from us last March, is about to be returned, sans interest, to us this weekend: Daylight Saving Time, known in the UK as "British Summer Time" is being repossessed this coming weekend, on the 25th of October 2015, at 2am. That's a Sunday morning, by the way - chance for a lie-in! Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days Of Summer British Summer Time - why do we do it? One blustery Sunday morning in March, we awoke, looked blearily at the clock and dawdled into what should have been a sedate Sunday morning routine, only to find that the Archers Omnibus was on R4 instead of Broadcasting House - where'd that hour go? Actually, of these two time-changing events, I prefer the October "blip" - here's why: Autumn Leaves Each of us gets the opportunity, once a year, to re-live an hour of our lives - and the powers-that-be make us wait until 02:00 to do it! Why couldn't the hour go back when I was enjoying a particularly good moment in my life, and I'd get to go through it all again, in the style of Groundhog Day. Or give me a chance to rectify that particularly bad choice of words I used with so-and-so in the pub, I'm sure I'd get it right the second time around. No, they have to go change it at some ungodly hour when I am too far out of it to notice. The hour going back wreaks havoc with the central heating, your PC tells you that "Windows has auto-adjusted your clock, is that ok?", ...

Perugina Baci Box 21/02/2015

Nut Kisses or Chocolate Nips?

Perugina Baci Box Now that I've got your attention... I'd like to bring a delightfully tempting and tasty chocolate confection to your notice: Baci Perugina. From the Umbrian capital Perugia, dark chocolate enrobes a single hazelnut, set atop a light milk chocolate ganache containing small nibs of hazelnut... The whole confection is wrapped in a small, translucent paper wrapper with a suitably romantic motto printed on it in several languages. This delightfully chocolatey, nutty sweet, in its motto sheet, is in turn wrapped in a silver foil with blue stars on it, bearing the words "Bacio Perugina". Bacio is the Italian word for kiss, and the box, containing many chocolates, announces the contents using the plural, Baci, kisses. Unwrapping the sweet, resist the temptation to read the motto until you've bitten into the sweet. The nutty base is crunchy, bitter-sweet chocolate contrasting with the crunch of chopped hazelnuts. Read the motto as the chocolate swirls over your tastebuds. Pop the remainder of this hazelnut-bearing chocolate-covered nipple into your mouth, crunching down on the whole hazelnut, and enjoy slowly. Bliss. Made in Italy by Nestlé Italiana SpA, at the Baci Perugina factory in San Sisto, Perugia, these delicacies are exported in small quantities to many corners of the world. As a child, living in a country neighbouring Italy, I remember these were an occasional treat as they were expensive in their dark midnight-blue clamshell cardboard box of 15. Today, Tesco sell ...

Chanel Chance Twist & Spray Eau de Toilette 13/02/2015

Take a Chance on me, with a Twist!

Chanel Chance Twist & Spray Eau de Toilette Oh, darling, look how neatly it slips into my... ...handbag! Well, accept praise when you get it. The neatness of Chanel's Chance Twist EDT is undoubtedly one of its great selling points, a 20ml, smooth, pink twist-and-spritz atomiser full of lively pineapple and hyacinth, a blast of citrus, and a base vanilla aroma! About £60 will get you 60ml, in a neat, almost-square pink and silver box, with the main 20ml atomiser visible in the middle, and concealed on either side of this, 2x20ml refills. Described on the rear of the box as a "Purse Spray", or "Vaporisateur de sac", this format is designed to be dropped into the purse or handbag, for ease of use on the move. The photo attached should convey the concept, take a look! Not cheap at about £1 per ml, but worth every penny. Originally released by Chanel in 2003 or so, in a round rather than the traditional Chanel square or oblong bottle, the perfume has often been accused of being a young person's scent. With the release of the EDT in this silky-smooth twist and spray format, the modern woman of any age can have 24/7 access to its sweet warmth. Chanel have since released two others in the Chance family, the mint-coloured "eau Fraîche" and the pale "eau Tendre", with the tag-line "Take Your Chance" - available in the same format. For those who place stock in the constituents of the scents they wear, research reveals the following: * Top notes: pineapple, pink pepper, iris, hyacinth * Middle notes: lemon, jasmine * Base ...

Dorset Cereals Tasty Toasted Raspberry & Apple Muesli 30/08/2014

It's toasted oats, Ted, then raspberries all the way!

Dorset Cereals Tasty Toasted Raspberry & Apple Muesli Blowin' In The Wind Always a sucker for a new variety of muesli, when it's on "Introductory Offer", this box fell into my trolley in Tesco recently. "On Offer" - but only just, at £3.00 instead of the normal £3.99, might I add. Still, in for a penny, in for a pound - or at least 650g! From Poundbury near Dorchester, Dorset Cereals have recently re-launched their product line, with a tweak here and there. The distinctive box design has become even more flowery, and the 'look, no dust!' tagline still features on the new additions to the family. raspberry & apple muesli is a newcomer to their Tasty Toasted Range, along with its siblings, spelt, fruit & nut muesli and, also new, hazelnut & brazil muesli. "toasted flakes that are easy to munch" This variety leans heavily on the freeze-dried raspberries, unsweetened, diced skin-on apple, and preserved, sweetened cranberries. There is also a hint of sweetness in some of the toasted barley flakes, so you may need to temper your morning bowlful with something a little less fruity, a little less sweet if breakfast and sweetness are abhorrent to you. The other grains in this box are oats, spelt and rye, all flaked. Truly scrumptious... Described as "a blend of toasted flakes, lightly mixed with dried apple, raspberries and sweetened dried cranberries", the mouth-feel is crisp, sharp around the raspberries and a little chewy when your teeth engage a cranberry. 6% of the 17% fruit content is made up of sultanas. Unlike some other ...

Summer Holidays: Best Memories and Places 14/07/2014

Lazy, crazy, hazy days.

Summer Holidays: Best Memories and Places Heat haze Someone much more articulate than I once observed that "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun". There are places where the sun makes hard work of life between 11am and 4pm. It has been my experience that local customs in such places tend to favour the observation above. School's out! School in such places tends to start early, 8am to make the most of the cooler hours in the morning. As May changed to June, the school day gets shortened, ending just after noon instead of around 14:30. Once past the ides of June, school stopped at 11:30am - and on the 29th of June, school finished completely until the end of September. Three months, give or take, of school holidays, all with an intro of half-days for the month of June - can't get better than that, surely? Daily grind So what to do once school has cast you out by lunchtime? Get home, strip off, don swimming trunks, flip-flops and a tee-shirt, then rush outdoors to enjoy a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters, perhaps with a mask and schnorkel - so many things to see, swimming in a clear, blue sea! Shady moves Suitably refreshed, a quick dash back indoors to grab some sustenance, perhaps the tail-end of yesterday's dinner wedged between two hunks of bread, then back outside to find a shady spot to while away an hour or two. Lying prostrate beneath a boat, paintbrush in hand, applying anti-foul - that was not a bad place to be, with the sea's edge affording the odd breeze as well. The juke-box ...

Do We Depend Too Much On The Smartphone? 18/05/2014

It's just too damned hard...

Do We Depend Too Much On The Smartphone? Crystal balls Let's get the navel-gazing out of the way first: I've picked some stats from a Jan-2014 article for this introduction (referenced below). The article indicates that by the end of 2014, 1 in every 2 people will have used a mobile phone at least once a month. With 7.2 billion people on the planet in 2013 against a global mobile phone penetration figure of 4.3 billion for the same period, it looks like we've surpassed the 50% mark already! Stick with me here: In 2013, 1 in 3 of those mobile phones, 1.4 billion devices, was a smartphone. This figure is set to rise, as mobile users switch to smartphones, driven by hardware price drops and the rise in prevalence of 3G and 4G networks. How many of those reading this have already been offered "free" 4G access by their provider, even though the carrier's network only supports 4G in a handful of locations across the UK? Smartphone dependence How often is the smartphone used for making a phone-call? One where one person places a voice call to another person, and a two-way voice conversation actually takes place? Do you find yourself talking to your smartphone, rather than to someone on the other end of it? And worse yet, expecting the thing to talk back to you? Reasons for owning a smartphone: * keeping in touch - the killer definition, this one, given we can SMS, Tweet, e-mail or Facebook each other from any smartphone you care to choose * alarm-clock - gone is the fire-engine bell calling us from our slumber every ...

HTC One Mini 21/04/2014

HTC's "One mini" will take you to the Max!

HTC One Mini Psychic Circuits* What does your phone mean to you? Mine used to mean keeping in touch, in a "Push Button A" way, i.e. talking. OK, the texting bit was kind of a bonus on New Year's Eve, who listens to voicemail anyway? Sonic Screwdriver* And that's when the rot set in - the phone, indispensable as it was for keeping in touch, became everything - alarm-clock, calculator, radio, calendar, organiser, word-processing tool, camera, music player, e-mail device, messaging tool, browser, compass, portable office, tracking device, television, navigator-cum-cartographer, games console... a "smartphone". In fact, how often is the smartphone of today used for making a phone-call? A bit like The Doctor's* sonic screwdriver, a mobile phone is the one tool many of us can no longer be without. It is futile to resist* I made the jump from "phone and text" to smartphone a few years ago. I recently ended my relationship with a much-abused friend and companion of 3 years, an HTC Wildfire. It was dumped in favour of an HTC One mini, no simple choice given my dependence on the Wildfire for 5 services: phone calls, photos, alarm/meeting reminders, occasional e-mail and news. The kicker was an e-mail from my bank advising that, for security reasons, it was changing the way its customers could interact with their accounts on-line, requiring a certificated and secured "app" on a smartphone - and my Wildfire creaked along at the best of times, and often left me with a headache if I had to use it ...

5 improvements you would like to see on Ciao 06/04/2014

Consumer Power or Reviewer Resentment?

5 improvements you would like to see on Ciao So what irks me about Ciao that I think merits a change? Ciao has been through many changes in my time here, some positive, some mediocre, and some canned completely (the initial foray into improving the text formatting feature for reviews, anyone remember that few months? Don't worry, I've got it covered below!). For all that, Ciao is well worth the effort, and can be most satisfying despite the frustrations I am about to outline. Here are my 5 suggestions on improvement, in no particular order of preference: 1. The "Report Abuse" process is tedious - if it can't be done in a couple of clicks, it's not going to get done. Give us a button that copies the relevant review details, allows us to enter the reason for considering the review to be abusive/offensive/SPAM, and then allows us to get on with reading or writing or interacting with Ciao in more satisfying ways. (OK some people might find it satisfying to sit reporting abusive or spam items, each unto their own.) 2. Adverts - I understand why they are needed, but they are so "in your face". On my PC, I can use an ad-blocker in my browser so I never see these intrusive elements. On my mobile phone, where I am forced to use the Desktop-version of Ciao (of which more later), I have not yet found the holy grail of advert removal and have to resize, type-around and just generally get frustrated trying to see past an advert for whatever it is that's popped up that day. 3. Bring some of the Desktop-version's functionality ...

Tesco Apple & Cinnamon Muesli 02/03/2014

Tasty nosebag to start your day

Tesco Apple & Cinnamon Muesli Breakfast - The most important meal of the day A couple of weeks before Christmas, my Saturday shop in Tesco had me hunting for a new box of my favourite muesli. "3 pounds and how much? Time to find an alternative!". And so my gaze wandered across and down the muesli offerings on display. Tucked away almost out of sight, down near the floor, I found this nondescript green bag lurking near the back of the shelf. "New? Let's have a closer look". Further inspection revealed the description "Wholegrain cereal flakes with warming cinnamon, red skin apple, golden raisins & roasted hazelnuts". The Christmas spirit must have worked its magic on me, for the cinnamon aspect of this offering, at £2.49 per 750g, meant the bag found its way into my shopping trolley. Sunday morning dawned, dreary and wet, an ideal morning to try this new cereal. Scissors at the ready, the corner of the bag was snipped and I was enveloped in the warming aroma of cinnamon. A mix of pale and darker wholegrain flakes, some little red flecks of apple, skin-on, the odd golden raisin and a few halves of hazelnut descended into the bowl, and with a liberal dousing of fresh, cold semi-skimmed, the tiny specks of cinnamon floated on the surface. The flakes offered a decent chew, the apple and raisins mixed well with the cinnamon, and an odd crunch of hazelnut - the overall effect was actually quite nice, if a little heavy on the cinnamon. The next morning, I mixed this about 50/50 with my normal nutty muesli, ...

Everything that starts with T ... 31/12/2013

A Touch of Teutonic Tradition - The same procedure as every year!

Everything that starts with T ... "Der 90. Geburtstag oder Dinner for One"- The same procedure as every year. For those who wish to cut to the chase, take this link to a new browser tab or window: http://youtu.be/Pn9vPG8s4ss - it's the full original version. Alternatively, here's a BBC short on this particular phenomenon: http://tinyurl.com/d1nner41 ! Call it a treat, or call it a tradition - every New Year's eve, many of our German friends and relatives will spend a few minutes gathered together around the goggle-box watching the same short 15-minute black-and-white comedy cabaret sketch. Performed in English by two British actors, yet screened at least once on every, yes every, television channel in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and many other northern European countries between 20:00 and 23:00 every New Year's eve, this is as much a staple of the changeover from one year to the next as is the British obsession with Mr. Bean, the countdown to midnight, fireworks, bubbly or Auld Lang Syne. Miss Sophie has reached the ripe old age of 90, and asks her faithful butler, James, to seat and serve her and her 4 most special friends and guests at the birthday celebration meal. Alas, time has not been as kind to her 4 friends, with none of them surviving Miss Sophie. As James officiates his way through the meal, he not only serves each of the imaginary guests, but also has to provide the toasts as the meal progresses, in the style and manner of each of the late guests: The same procedure as every year. Needless to ...

New Ciao Homepage 2013 19/11/2013

Am I in the right place?

New Ciao Homepage 2013 New Homepage for Ciao! My quick flit to www.ciao.co.uk after dinner this evening was greeted with a thought-provoking image, one of a little girl staring pensively out of a train window. "Am I in the right place?", I asked myself. (I find myself doing a lot of this lately, asking myself questions...!) "Yes, there's the familiar ciao! logo and search-box - ok, it must be safe to enter my login credentials in the username and password boxes then..." (Answering myself is a more worrying turn-up for the books, or so I am told by herself from the other corner of the room.) Credentials entered, and I am back on familiar territory, complete with hovering Hotpoint advert annoyingly getting in the way of everything. Once I manage to banish the Hotpoint ad, the "Latest announcement" part of the landing page after login prompts: " New Homepage for Ciao! Dear Ciaoers, The new Ciao Homepage is now live! Please have a look at it and feel free to send us your feedback here. Your views are expected and highly appreciated as always." So let's see... 1. The picture - is a bit triste, a quick Google Image search (have you tried this feature of Google? It's pretty amazing!) reveals many sites offering this photo in a variety of formats and sizes, many titled "pretty-little-girl-train-window-sadness-cute-child.html" or similar. 2. The "1.3m members have written more than 7m reviews on 1.4m products. Just for you! See latest reviews" is in white text against a paler part of the photo, ...

Recipes for Soups 28/10/2013

Pumpkin-up the volume for Halloween...

Recipes for Soups Reduce, reuse, recycle, recover Here's a handy recipe (not for dog, as the picture top-left might lead the gentle reader to believe!) for pumpkin soup that I have used for the last number of years to ensure that our annual family pumpkin carving antics resulted in minimal waste and maximal return on energy expended. I have no idea as to the origins of this recipe, and it is one that I have modified over the years to suit the young mouths in our household - those that can instantly express a dislike of something without even looking at, smelling, or tasting it... This requires the remnants left over after carving fresh pumpkins to make Jack o'Lanterns, so don't unnecessarily go out of your way to buy a pumpkin to cut and dice for this recipe... but do engage any available children to separate the seeds from the fleshy parts removed during the pumpkin carving. If you are interested in toasting the seeds, take a glance here: http://www.fabulousfoods.com/recipes/appetizers/snacks/pumpseeds.html . Pumpkin Soup 3lb pumpkin, peeled, seeded and diced 0.5lb potatoes, peeled and diced 6oz onions, finely chopped 3tbsp butter 2tbsp plain flour 2cups fresh milk 0.5tsp nutmeg salt and freshly-ground black pepper according to taste small carton fresh whipping cream Take the pumpkin and potato chunks and bring to the boil in a pan with just enough lightly salted water to cover the vegetables, then simmer until tender (ca 25mins, depending on the size of the chunks). Drain, reserving ...

Nescafe Gold Blend Nescafe Blend 37 Coffee 07/09/2013

The Coffee Lover's Coffee, or just A Blend of Strength?

Nescafe Gold Blend Nescafe Blend 37 Coffee One Thing Leads To Another A slightly confusing subject for "Product of the week" this week, as the product title offered by Ciao confounds two NESCAFÉ products, Gold Blend and Blend 37. As the picture on the announcement clearly shows what looks like a 500g tin of Blend 37, that's what I shall focus on for the remainder of this review. Titles and paragraph headings are taglines used by Nescafé for some of their coffees, including Blend 37. Coffee for the Connoisseur Inasmuch as my coffee-drinking habits have been documented on Ciao over the years, along with my disdain for "the freeze-dried stuff that occupies the bulk of the shelf space down at your local supermarket", I must admit to holding a secret stash of sachets of instant coffee, usually collected on offer or from places I have visited, for the sole use of the occasional visitor who prefers a mug of coffee when the rest of the guests want tea. Or when time does not avail to brew up a decent cuppa. A Cup of Character, the tagline for the 100g Blend 37 jar, at £3.28 from our local Tesco this weekend, compared with the mug-bearing 500g tin of Nescafé Original (powder) at £12.28 (£2.46/100g), would indicate a coffee for slow drinking. In reality, Blend 37, when combined with a cup of hot water to one teaspoon of the dark, rocky-looking granules, yields a nutty-flavoured bitter brew reminiscent of a dark-roast, but lacking something when drunk black, without sugar. Bring Out the Best in You Many of us are more ...
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