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since 30/11/-0001


Dr. Oetker Ristorante 10/12/2004

Not quite what the doctor ordered

Dr. Oetker Ristorante I am a real pizza lover. I rarely get to eat it though, because takeaway ones are ridiculously expensive and frozen ones are … well, they’re not like pizza at all, are they? And I’m damned if I’m going to fanny about with flour and semolina to make one myself and wait for the dough to rise after a hard day at work. I was bemoaning this fact when a friend suggested I try a Dr. Oetker’s Ristorante, which she assured me was like no other frozen pizza on the market. My first pleasant surprise was the price. These pizzas are under two quid, and they’re big enough to fill a large dinner plate. My local Sainsbury’s had three varieties in stock: the classic tomato and cheese, the bastardisation that is ham and pineapple, and a pepperoni variety. I chose the tomato and cheese, which looked delicious in the picture on the packet. My second surprise came when I got it home, turned the box over and discovered it was made in Germany. That fact didn’t put me off, but it did strike me as a bit odd – but then I figured that all those ones with Italian-sounding names are probably made in places as diverse as Milton Keynes and Bombay, so what did it matter. The back of the packet contains instructions in about 99 languages, so it takes some time to find your own. Cooking the pizza is very simple, however – just bung it in a hot oven for around 10-12 minutes. In my fan assisted oven I found that about 8-9 minutes was quite enough. So down to business … Looks: The pizza ...

Mr Sheen Floor Wipes 30/11/2004

Clean Floors at a Price

Mr Sheen Floor Wipes I have floors of sealed wood, laminate and tile in my house, and cleaning them all is one of my least favourite activities. Over the past few months I’ve tried all sorts of different floor wipes and found them all to be extremely disappointing. Until last week, however, the one I hadn’t tried was Mr. Sheen, so I bought some in a last ditch attempt to crack the problem. Here are my findings ….. Mr. Sheen floor wipes come in a resealable plastic pack of 15 for around three quid, and they are readily available in most supermarkets. I’ve also seen them in cheaper places like Poundstretcher, where they are a little cheaper. They can be used on sealed wood, laminate, vinyl and glazed tiles. They are not recommended for unsealed wood or unglazed tiles. Smell-wise, they are sharp and lemony with no whiff of disinfectant, beach or anything else of a chemical nature. I found the smell pleasantly ‘clean’ enough, but nothing special. The wipes can be used by hand, wrapped around a brush or mop, or with one of those sweepers you buy from the supermarket for around a tenner. I used them with the latter, to which they attached easily and were plenty big enough to fit. In terms of ease of use, the wipes glided along the floors effortlessly and stayed intact in the process. Once cleaned, the floor stays smelling fresh for about half an hour and then the smell completely disappears. Though I didn't have any problems, the pack does say that they can irritate skin, so be ...

Breville KT8 18/11/2004

Faithful but Ugly

Breville KT8 There’s only one thing important in a kettle, and that’s whether or not it works. Or at least that’s what I thought, until I went to buy a new one a few months back. I had no idea that kettle design had progressed so much, and I thus found myself staring at a plethora of gorgeous models completely spoilt for choice as to which one to buy. In the end I plumped for the Breville KT8 at just under £30. I have a kitchen that’s a blend of old (oak units) and modern, and the kettle looked just the right style to fit in with the two. Being cordless and shiny stainless steel it’s nice and contemporary looking, but the round rather than jug shape gives it a traditional, nostalgic look. The KT8 has the following specifications: * One and a half litre capacity * Cordless * 360 degree base (meaning however you plonk the kettle down on it, it will work) * Right AND left handed (I think this is because it hasn’t got any measurements written on the outside, so it doesn’t matter which hand its held in and which way its facing) * Anti-scale filter Using the kettle is a doddle – but then what electric kettles aren’t? Fill it up, switch it on and … hey presto … boiling water! For anyone having difficulty grapsing this concept, there is a short but detailed manual containing full instructions. I haven’t timed my kettle (and would be ashamed to admit it if I had), but I’d say it boils in average time, which is fine by me. The filter is easy to remove and clean, an ...

Vicks Ultra Chloraseptic Throat Spray 30/10/2004

Get these razor blades out of my throat!

Vicks Ultra Chloraseptic Throat Spray Four days ago I took to my bed with fever, chills, pains in every muscle and joint in my body (even my individual teeth hurt!), and a throat that felt as though I’d been eating razor blades. Breathing hurt my throat, talking hurt my throat, swallowing was agony – basically, just existing hurt my throat. On day two I called my mum and asked her to get me something from the chemist that was preferably not lozenges (tried ‘em all in my time, found ‘em all pretty useless). She came back with a tiny 15 ml bottle of Vicks Ultra Chloraseptic and a request for a fiver in return. Basically, Vicks Ultra Chloraseptic is a local anaesthetic. The bottle has a long, thin nozzle hidden inside it, which you manoeuvre outwards. You then point the nozzle directly at the sore area of your throat and squirt. First time I tried, I sprayed the stuff on the not-sore roof of my mouth, but by the second go I’d got the hang of it and managed to hit the affected spot. I felt a sort of stinging sensation which lasted for a few seconds, tasted a vaguely lozenge type medicated flavour, and also felt some of the liquid trickle down my throat. I then waited to feel some blessed relief. None came, so I did it again. The instructions suggested up to three squirts, but I did six because I was desperate, in agony and ready to cut out my own thorax with a kitchen knife. (Please note: I am not advocating the overuse of OTC medications for others, but I’ll do what I choose to myself). A few ...

Monster (DVD) 12/10/2004

A Monstrous Distortion of the Truth?

Monster (DVD) ‘Monster’ is the movie that propelled Charlize Theron to international megastardom and won her a Best Actress Oscar to boot. It is the ‘true’ story of the infamous Aileen Wournos, prostitute and serial killer, who was executed in 2002 for the murders of seven men while going about her business on the Florida state highway. Aileen Wournos’ childhood was horrendous. Some of the ‘facts’ written about her are open to conjecture, but it is fairly certain that she was beaten by her father, sexually abused by her brother and grandfather, and raped by someone else close. She had no real friends and was constantly teased. Before hitting her teens, she was selling blow-jobs for cigarettes and soon after that began having sex with any boy or man who looked her way. She became pregnant in her early teens – some say by her grandfather, some say by the local paedophile, some say by any of the innumerable males who had lain between her legs. Her family made her give away the baby and then disowned her. It was the depths of winter, and she went to live in the woods. Before long she was patrolling the highways as a hitch-hiking hooker, using the money to buy booze, cigarettes and the occasional bed for the night. It is at this point in Aileen’s life that ‘Monster’ begins. One day Aileen finds herself in a gay bar, where she meets a girl called Selby (played by Christina Ricci). Selby is herself a troubled individual, struggling to express her sexuality within the confines of a ...

Betterware 27/09/2004

You're better off without them

Betterware I knew I shouldn’t have done it. I knew as I filled in the form that it was a mistake. But they just kept putting those catalogues through my door and I was really, really bored one day and decided to flick through and have a look and … well, the name, BETTERWARE … it makes you think you might be getting something QUALITY (even if the flimsy catalogue and even flimsier looking items therein tell you otherwise). And this was the day I’d had the carrot-grating finger accident … But I’m rambling. This is to be a coherent, informative review, so I’ll start again. Betterware is a mail order company selling a wide range of household items. They work by having agents who pop their catalogues through your door, with a little pre-printed note letting you know when they’ll be back to collect your order. The catalogues themselves are small, square affairs, printed on thin, not very glossy paper. The catalogue is full of photos which are described in terms sometimes perfunctory and other times glowing – you won’t find so many ‘miracle’ items in such a small space anywhere else on earth! Betterware sell the following types of items: Cleaning products Garden products DIY gadgets and products Cookware Personal care items General homewares Among the products come a whole variety of things you never knew you needed, such as a ‘mobile phone cleaning pouch’ (‘Just pop the phone inside and rub’), a ‘ring remover stone’ (‘Specially formulated to remove limescale from around ...

Dyson DC 08 Allergy 15/09/2004

Waging War on Pet Hairs

Dyson DC 08 Allergy I swore I’d never buy a Dyson. Not at that price. How good could a vacuum be to warrant such a whopping monetary difference? No matter what I read, or how good people told me a Dyson was, I didn’t believe the price could possibly be justified. A classic case of paying for the name. But then 6 months ago yet another vacuum cleaner broke on me after not much use and I decided to face the ‘told you so’s’ and splash out. After a lot of reading, researching and online price comparisons, I decided on the DC08 Animal cylinder model. I thought that maybe it was the cat hairs that had buggered my previous vacuums, so decided to splash out on a model specifically designed to cope with the havoc pets wreak on your carpets. I paid around £220 for my DC08 Animal from the online Co-op Electrical Shop. This is about £40 more than the DC08 non-animal version. For your extra £40 you get a couple of attachments specially designed to pick up animal hairs. (Incidentally, do make sure the description of your DC08 is followed by ‘Animal’ if you want this model. The Ciao comparison, for instance, offers you prices from £184, but they are NOT the Animal version.) When the product arrived, gleaming silver-grey and mauve, I approached it with great expectations … The manual was very comprehensive and included plenty o diagrams and text in several languages. Following the instructions, I had it fully assembled in around 10 minutes. The DC08 is reasonably compact. Its unique ...

Identity (DVD) 02/03/2004


Identity (DVD) It is darkest night. There is a torrential rainstorm. Roads become flooded. Public phone lines are brought down. Cell phones cannot get signals. Ten strangers are forced to abandon their journeys and take refuge at a lonely motel run by a guy not shuffling a full deck. So far, so Hitchcock. The motel is next to an ancient Indian burial ground. It is spooky. So far, so Stephen King. One by one, the ten start to die – each hideously murdered by an unknown, unseen assailant. Unless they stick together, there will be nobody left. Fortunately, however, at least one of the ten is a cop. So far, so Agatha Christie. But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let me introduce you to our characters: 1. The motel owner. Pure white trash, rather unwashed, staring eyes and a ‘don’t go in fer that book readin’ stuff’ vocabulary. 2. An egotistical TV actress with a career going fast down the tubes 3. The actresses chauffeur, a former cop 4. A family on vacation – mother, father and son. When the car gets a flat tyre, the mother steps out into the road and is hit by the aforementioned chauffeur. 5. A twentysomething prostitute who is giving up the game to go and grow oranges in Florida. It is her discarded stiletto that causes the flat tyre that causes the accident above. 6. A pair of newly-weds – the bride pregnant - returning from their Vegas wedding 7. A cop, driving a handcuffed convicted triple murderer across the state A seemingly unconnected group ...

Narc (2003) 13/02/2004

Good, but I've seen it all before

Narc (2003) The movie ‘Narc’ has pretty good credentials. Produced by Tom Cruise, screenwritten and directed by Joe Carnahan (Mission Impossible 3), and starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta, it is a cop movie that harps back to such 70’s classics as ‘Serpico’ and ‘The French Connection’. It is based loosely on a true story about the murder of a Dallas police officer which was the subject of an acclaimed documentary called ‘The Thin Blue Line’. THE PLOT Nick Tellis (Patric) gets suspended from the Detroit police force after a pregnant woman is tragically shot at a drug bust he’s in charge of. He spends his days looking after his baby son while his wife is out at work, and torturing himself by reliving the horrible shooting incident day after day. He does not want to return to the force, but does not know what else to do with his life. His wife does not want him to return to the force under any circumstances. So, he is the cop we have seen so many times in films – the tormented, sensitive yet tough one, the one who’s seen and done too much, the one who has the police force running through his veins. And, like all cops of his genre, his work causes him trouble at home. Some time after his suspension he is called before a review board and asked to help crack a particularly difficult and sleazy case where another officer was murdered. He is told that if he does this one job, all charges against him will be dropped and he can return to the force with a nice, unstressful desk ...

Twentysomething - Jamie Cullum 02/01/2004

I Get a Kick Out of Cullum

Twentysomething - Jamie Cullum In the run up to Christmas I kept seeing an advert on TV for an album by an artist called Jamie Cullum. He looked like a schoolboy but had the deep, resonant voice of a 40 year old veteran, and he was singing a jazzed up rendition of ‘What a Difference a Day Made’. I was intrigued. Driving along on Christmas Eve, a slow, jazzy, soulful version of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Wind Cries Mary’ came on the radio. It was so good I stopped the car, enjoyed the song, and waited to hear who it was by. On discovering that it was the aforementioned Mr. Cullum once more, I made a beeline for Sainsbury’s and bought the young man’s album, ‘Twentysomething’. And it is so good that it made my Christmas! Jamie is a twenty-something Englishman who has been a life-long jazz fan. ‘Twentysomething’ is his second album, and it came to prominence when chatshow host and jazz buff Michael Parkinson fell in love Jamie’s talent and championed the youthful maestro at every opportunity. The album comprises 14 tracks, and is a mix of covers and original songs. Covers include jazzy classics of ‘What a Difference’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Old Devil Moon’, ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ and ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’. All are brilliantly adapted to showcase Jamie’s beautiful rich vocals, and some are arranged in ways I had never heard before. ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’, for instance, has a lovely smooth vocal over a decidedly funky drum and bass, while ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’ is more modern than ...

The Pianist (DVD) 13/12/2003

Watch it if you think you can

The Pianist (DVD) Watching (and reviewing) a Holocaust drama is an experience of mixed emotions. Can you – and SHOULD you – say that you enjoyed it? Are you MEANT to enjoy it, or suffer through it? When you assess it, is it right to comment on its merits as a piece of art, or should the subject matter override all other considerations? I studied Holocaust literature and film at university, and this was a debate we often had. We came to no conclusions. So please excuse me if I seem to come from what to you is an insignificant arty-farty perspective, or if, on the other hand, you think I let the subject take over and cloud my judgement. I find myself in something of a quandary. The Pianist begins in war-time Warsaw, when the Nazis had invaded and the segregation and punishment of Jews was beginning. It tells the true story of Wladek Szpilman, a Jewish Pole who was a truly magnificent pianist. Wladek comes from a successful family who live a very middle-class, cultured life. Wladek is intelligent, reasonable, caring and incredibly gifted. He is instantly admirable and likeable, and we relate to him immediately. His family are normal, intelligent, decent people, and their relationship of bickering, discussing, joking and chatting is like many of our own. But their lives begin to change as new rules and laws against the Jews come into force. First it is the wearing of the Star of David on their arms. Then they are forbidden to walk on the pavements, but must trudge through the gutters ...

Love Actually (DVD) 09/12/2003

Actually Rather Wonderful

Love Actually (DVD) Love Actually, the latest film from Richard Curtis, sounded to me like a thoroughly cheesy and slushy affair. However, after several mates had seen it and all had said it touched them in some way that was relevant to their own lives, I agreed to join a party from work at the pictures. Some said it was hilariously funny, some that it made them cry, others that it was just a good old enjoyable feelgood flick. Hence I didn’t really know what to expect, which I’ve found it often the best way to approach things. Love Actually is made up of several stories, concerning several couples, most of whom are in some way intertwined, be it by blood, romantic love, work, marriage, friendship, obligation, or just good old sex. We have the newly elected Prime Minister and the down-to-earth Downing Street tea girl who sets his heart racing. We have the bereaved stepfather, Daniel, who finds himself responsible for her 10 year old son, and we have Karen, the Prime Minister’s sister and Daniel’s close mate, and her straying husband, Harry. We also have writer Jamie who takes off to France after finding his girlfriend sleeping with his brother, and his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia, at his house in France. We have Jamie’s friend Pete who is marrying the beautiful Juliet, who is in turn secretly adored by Pete’s best mate, Mark. Then there is Colin, who has no luck with women in Britain and decides to take off to America to get some rumpy pumpy, and we have John, an actor in ...

Porno - Irvine Welsh 05/12/2003

Sex Drugs and Videotape

Porno - Irvine Welsh Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting was a publishing sensation in 1994, and one of my all-time favourite novels. Eight years later, when Welsh reunited the Trainspotting characters in Porno, I had mixed feelings. I was absolutely dying to read it, but afraid that it wouldn’t be as good and that it would be a contrived piece of moneymaking. Could the characters stand the test of time, and would they have anything to say to each other or to us, the readers? For those who didn’t read Trainspotting, it concerned a group of mates from the poor areas of Edinburgh and their drinking, violence and, mainly, drug-taking. On the whole they were a thoroughly nasty bunch – though also entertaining, funny and even charismatic. The novel ended with them all involved in a drug-dealing scam in which they were ripped off by one of the main characters, Mark Renton (Rents). Eight years on we find them living distinctly different lives: Rents is running a club in Amsterdam, abstaining from the heroin he was addicted to and in an unhappy relationship with his German girlfriend. Sick Boy (Simon David Williamson, or SDW) has been working in London clubs and pimping, but returns to Leith to take over his aunt’s grotty pub and get rich by one means or another. Begbie, the violent, psychopathic one, is just out of prison where he’s been doing a long sentence for murder. And Spud, the kindest-hearted but biggest loser of the gang, is still in Leith, still struggling with heroin addiction and ...

Lush Big Shampoo 01/12/2003

Big up for Lush

Lush Big Shampoo Shampoos can be much of a muchness. Often they smell the same, look the same, feel the same, do the same job and produce the same results. They're all just sticky liquid that bubbles up and cleans your tresses, aren't they? Well, no. Not according to those crackpot genuises at Lush, they're not. Big is a shampoo unlike any other. And I really mean unlike any other. I recently commented to a friend that her normally troublesome hair looked amazing. Her fine frizzy mop had been replaced by a silky mane with unbelievable shine. What had she done to it? I asked and she just winked. A few days later I got a surprise box from Lush, sent by my mate. Inside was a pot of Big, her newly discovered secret. Big looks like porridge from a distance. It's the colour of porridge and has the same lumpy consistency. Look closer, however, and you can see that all those little lumps are in fact rough grains of salt. Sea-salt, to be precise. Big doesn't feel like porridge. It feels like hard rocks inside a creamy sauce. It doesn't feel like it will do your hair or scalp the slightest bit of good and is more likely to take your skin off and ruin your hair forever. The folks at Lush claim differently. I'll give you the blurb in their own words: "This shampoo takes ten (or maybe twenty) years off your hair. Your hair will look as if it belongs to someone who has never stayed up late, stood around in smoky pubs, been swimming and got drenched in chlorine, been permed, coloured or ...

Pete & Johnny Daily Detox Smoothie 23/11/2003

Delicious Daily Detox

Pete & Johnny Daily Detox Smoothie Getting my 5 portions of fruit and veg each day isn’t easy. I don’t have trouble with the veg, but I find fruit a very boring and lengthy thing to eat and most of the time I just don’t fancy it. There is fruit juice, of course, which gives you your vitamins but not the fibre and other goodies that come from the parts of the fruit. Enter the smoothie, the middle ground between a juice and a piece of fruit itself. The PJ Daily Detox Super Smoothie is a mixture of fruits, fruit juices and added extras. Though it’s called Mandarins, Bananas & Dragon Fruits flavour, there is actually a lot more in it than just that. Here, in fact, is what it contains: Crushed bananas, apples and dragon fruits Juice from mandarins, apples, red grapes, lemons and aronias Added vitamin C Natural milk thistle extract (thought to be very beneficial for the liver) Natural ginger extract (beneficial for the digestion) There is no added sugar and it is only 0.4% fat. It contains no gm ingredients, no preservatives, no artificial anything, no thickeners and no e numbers. I bought 1 litre of the stuff in a transparent plastic bottle for just under £2 from Sainsburys. The drink should be kept refrigerated, consumed within 48 hours of opening, and given a good shake before you pour yourself a glass. Smell-wise, it’s citrussy and berry-like, and certainly gets your mouth watering. Texture-wise, the smoothie is a thick drink and very slightly grainy. Taste-wise, it’s a ...
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