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Over the years we have had a few standard wired computer mice. Each in turn has died a death, despite all the usual 'take it to pieces, clean the ball inside, change the mousemat' remedies. With the last one, it was working but ohhhh soooo slowly - this unfortunately coincided with everyone in the family having some urgent report to write / homework to do / etc. etc. - so in exasperation my husband stomped off to get another one .... "Get a wireless one" I said. "Get a Logitech one" I said. I work in IT and colleagues had recommended Logitech, so I was pretty adamant on that score. Husband arrived home : "They'd sold out of the Logitech ones so I got this". Grrr. But to be honest anything was better than the almost-dead one, so decided to give it a go. It was a Bush mouse (can't remember the model). Well, what can I say? It felt flimsy, it was big and clunky, it seemed to tip my wrist to a funny angle, and none of us liked it much at all. Fortunately, it soon developed a fault whereby it kept needing to be reset - I say fortunately because this meant we could take it back and replace it with the now-in-stock Logitech M215. The information on the Bush mouse is really to show the comparison. I have to say the M215 was a dream from the start. * It has a pleasing matt finish and is perfectly contoured so it fits my hand really comfortably * Both buttons and the scroll wheel are easy and comfortable to use * Uses single AA battery - the sort most folk usually have in * Set-up could not have been simpler - battery in, switch mouse on, plug in the tiny USB nano receiver * On-off switch allows you to turn off when not in use, saving battery * Control is nicely responsive * Easy to move from one computer to another * There's a storage space for the nano receiver inside the mouse, so you don't lose it in transit * A button releases the battery door making access easy The only warning I would mention is that if you forget how to open the battery door, it can fox you for a while - well, it had me stumped, until I found the instructions! I mentioned I work in IT - so have used a lot of mice at work as well as at home, and this is my all-time favourite. If, like me, you spend a lot of hours on a computer, the comfort of a mouse is quite important really. This one does have a lot of little nice-to-have features too. I really, truly can't fault it in any way. Price-wise - I think it's available around the £15 mark. Bargain!
I am a bit of a sucker for kitchen gadgets. All sorts of weird and wonderful contraptions can be found in my kitchen drawer ... and yes, I admit it, many of them never see the light of day from one year to the next. ~~~~~~~~ In stark contrast, this little beauty has earned its place in my drawer many times over. ~~~~~~~~ It doesn't look much. It really doesn't look much. A plastic handle with a loop at one end and a jutting out bit underneath. Exactly the sort of object you'd be looking at with a very confused expression if you came across it without knowing what it was. ~~~~~~~~ But this, my friends, is the JarKey. A triumph of design. Sheer genius when it comes to opening jars. You may think I'm waxing rather too lyrical, but I really am impressed with this gadget. ~~~~~~~~ Unless you have wrists of steel, I'm sure you have at some point struggled to open a jar. Toast is waiting, jam jar lid won't budge. Maybe like me you've tried the 'run it under hot water' trick or tried using a tea towel so your hands don't slip. Maybe you've resorted to going in search of someone with stronger wrists. Maybe when everyone's had a go and failed you've gone without whatever it was in the jar. ~~~~~~~~ With the JarKey, such struggles are a thing of the past. You simply sit that "jutting out bit" under the lip of the lid, press the loop bit down into the centre of the lid by lifting the handle - only a very small amount of pressure needed - and hey presto, a little popping sound tells you the vacuum seal is broken, and the lid will unscrew easily. ~~~~~~~~ Now I actually have quite strong wrists, and yet I have had plenty of use out of my beloved JarKey. I can only imagine how useful it would be to someone with less strength and mobility. ~~~~~~~~ There are various alternatives on the market - but frankly, why bother? This is simple, sturdy, takes up very little room, is a doddle to use, and works every time. You can get hold of one for a paltry £3.49 from Lakeland Limited - a fab bargain for something worth its weight in gold!
The iconic yellow Pac-man, sitting on a black plinth, digital clock in its 'melon slice' mouth ... who could resist? My son has been hankering after an alarm clock for a while in order to be able to get up a bit earlier to play computer games before breakfast, so it was a delicious irony when I spotted this. I had no idea Pac-man was enjoying such a resurgence, but there appear to be Pac-man products everywhere at the moment, so it's clearly another trend which was about to pass me by. Actually, said son does own a perfectly serviceable Dennis the Menace alarm clock, but I had been finding this inexplicably moved out of his room or put in a cupboard ... then he admitted the ticking noise was bothering him at night. Hamster scurrying round his cage doesn't disturb him, ticking clock does - can't fathom that one, but never mind! Anyway, what I'm getting at is that it was rather important to me to find a non-ticking clock, and this one is just that. Silent as the grave ... until it goes off, when it's enough to wake the dead! If you're familiar with Pac-man sounds, you will understand the noise it makes. If not, I can't really describe very well, but it's a cacophony of ear-splitting electronic NOISE. Proper authentic game sounds. And he LOVES it! Me, I prefer to be coaxed out of sleep with a gentle alarm which gets steadily more persistent if you ignore it. This one hits you with the full force of its repertoire and scares the living daylights out of me even in the next room. It's definitely serving its purpose in waking him up and getting him out of bed, very useful on school days. I suspect that as he approaches teenage years I may be even more glad of that! So, what of the clock apart from the infernal racket it makes? Well, the other thing we were after was a digital display - he can tell the time on an analogue clock when he concentrates, but finds digital much easier. This clock has a large digital display - the numbers are about an inch tall. One thing I would say here though is that because the clock is inside the 'mouth', you need to position it carefully so you can see it. If it's about on your eye level it's best, otherwise the overhang can block some of the display. The clock is plastic - it feels quite sturdy although it is also very light. It takes two AAA batteries. The controls I think are very intelligently designed. Maybe it's just me, but I find with many alarm clocks it's quite tricky to find the right button to turn them off when you're not properly awake. With this one, there are three distinct sets of controls. On the side is a simple on/off switch. This turns the alarm on or off completely. On the front are three Pac-man themed buttons. These have little stickers on (or that's what they look like anyway - haven't tried piddling them off to check!). The left one is cherries - this is the snooze button and can also be used to hear the alarm at any time (hopefully the novelty of this will wear off SOON). The middle one is a bell to turn the alarm off when it's blaring. The right one is a pink ghost and is the backlight button. Then on the back are four buttons to set the clock and the alarm. Nice and simple, self-explanatory. I really like the fact that all the controls are separate - it means there's no danger of accidentally resetting the time when you're searching for the snooze button whicle simultaneously trying to keep both hands over your ears! This clock is fairly widely available. I saw it first at Comet, selling for the RRP of around £15. Sure there was a better deal to be had, I restrained myself and looked around. I managed to pick one up in the sale at firebox.com for £8.99 which I was well chuffed with, but I think it's available at Amazon and the other usual suspects for somewhere in the region of a tenner. I may have mentioned that it's quite loud, but actually I think it's a great little clock. I wouldn't choose it to wake me up, but for my son it's perfect. Definitely worth five stars on that basis.
Witch Foaming Face Wash - I used to buy it regularly but my local supermarket stopped stocking it and so I've had a break. I recently noticed it back on the shelves and immediately bought some - and I have to say, I'd forgotten how good it is, which prompted me to write this! Confession time - I'm a lazy so-and-so when it comes to skin care, and with a life where I'm juggling so much that spare time is at a premium it's one of those things that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. Fortunately I am blessed with relatively youthful-looking skin (well, everyone thinks I'm younger than I am) so I generally get away with it, but said skin is fairly sensitive and can be prone to the 'middle-aged teenager' type outbreaks, so I do occasionally need to take a wee bit more care, which is where a product like this comes in. I also have a genuinely teenaged daughter, so one more reason to be buying this. So, why is it so good? Well, it's gentle (no complaints from sensitive skin), non-drying (soft skin after use), effective (face gets clean, spots etc seem to be fewer than when we don't use it), and smells really nice (fresh and natural, not at all overpowering). The 'witch' name is because it uses witch hazel which is often used for acne and other skin problems. But to be honest, the thing I really like is the 'foaming' bit. One pump gives you a decent blob of foam sufficient for a good wash. Because it's foam it lasts for absolutely ages. It's also great for youngsters who are always in such a hurry they can't be bothered to use soap properly to get a good lather - or is that just my son? It's also pretty reasonably priced considering how long it lasts - certainly puts it into the realm of 'family use' rather than needing to be one more bottle of stuff for special use only. In summary, I'd highly recommend it - give it a go!
This is one of those books which I suspect many people might buy as one of those jokey presents, and which I doubt many recipients would actually be that pleased with. It takes the popular 'Where's Wally?' idea (where you have to look long and hard at a very complex picture to spot the Wally character) and replaces with Top Gear characters - so you need to search for Stig, Jeremy Clarkson et al. There are various other items to hunt for, including celebrities who have been guests on the show, and the pictures themselves are supposed to be funny (I confess Top Gear humour often passes me by!) A word of warning - some pictures are somewhat unsuitable for children, so not one to buy for youngsters really. I must confess that I hate these type of things myself - they send my eyes funny and I end up with a thumping headache if I'm not careful. However, my kids bought this for my husband, and it is fair to say that he has been delighted with it! He likes both Top Gear and Where's Wally?, and has had hours of fun peering at the pictures, spotting all the 'guest appearances'. So, if someone in your life is a fan of Top Gear and enjoys studying pictures to spot intricate details, then this will probably be well-received. If they only like one of the above, I would be more wary. And if they like neither, then don't go there, it'll be one of those thank-you-through-gritted-teeth moments! I'd definitely shop around - the Book People in particular are selling this way below RRP at the moment I noticed. Overall, doesn't float my boat, but not my kind of thing anyway. I would recommend it for the right kind of person though - and you probably know who they are!!! I'd give it 2 stars from me, because it is mildly amusing in places, and it's good for what it is. It'd probably get at least 4 from my husband though, so I'll split the difference and give it 3!
As I'm sure most people know by now, Fit Flops are the new (well not so new now!) sensation in flip flops, claiming to give you a toning workout as you walk. I'm not going to go into masses of detail about what they are, just share my experience with them. I'm actually not normally a huge fan of flip flops - they tend to give me blisters easily, and I have dodgy ankles which like a little more support. However, the latter point is one of the reasons I went for these - I wanted something to challenge my balance and build up ankle stability a little (one is still a bit weak after being broken last year). First to say is there are a wide variety of styles, all looking pretty, well, stylish (for flip flops anyway). Not out of place anywhere I would generally go ... I could definitely wear these as summer sandals, even in the office. Second to say is they are on the pricey side - for me anyway. This is where having small feet came in very handy - I headed off to the John Lewis children's department. As an aside, I got quite a good workout while shopping for these, as I was comparing prices, styles and fit between the adult Fit Flops in the basement and the children's ones on the top floor. After several trips up and down, up and down, I decided the only real difference I could see was the price (£25 as compared to £35 upwards for adult ones). I found a nice lilac suede pair, which were right up my street. I also treated my daughter to a pair while I was at it (same size feet as me, so I can always borrow them - permanently once her feet grow a bit more!!) Are they comfortable? Well, I have virtually lived in mine this summer, and even now on those days when I'm in denial over autumn temperatures. The sole is thick and springy, I really find it good to walk on. My daughter has also pronounced hers really comfortable, and they have been the first shoes she has reached for too - and she has never before liked flip flops. Do they give you a workout? Well, I'm not really convinced on that - but to be honest I don't really care. They look good and feel comfortable, so I feel I've got my money's worth on that basis alone. I've never noticed any post-exercise type aches after wearing them, and I do have muscles which are not backward in coming forward when it comes to letting me know I've been working them. If they are doing some good then that's a bonus, and to be fair, my ankle is doing well so maybe they have helped with the stability building. I'm giving them 4 stars - not because I have any complaints, but because I think anyone buying them for the toning aspect might expect a little more in the way of results!
~~~ Why we chose this one ~~~ I had always struggled fitting everything in to my old standard under-the-counter fridge, but that was all we had space for in our small kitchen. I do a lot of buying and bulk-cooking for the freezer too, but there was no space in the kitchen for our two freezers so they were banished to the garage. When we had our kitchen extended therefore, I was determined to make sure I would have enough fridge and freezer space. We decided to keep one freezer in the garage, and then go for a large American style side-by-side fridge freezer for the kitchen. That decision made, we started looking around. We decided we really loved the look of them in black, so that actually narrowed our choice down a lot. We also wanted a reliable brand for such a major purchase, and we also decided we didn't really want the fancy ice-making feature, because it would need plumbing in (not the easiest for where we were planning to put it) and also it reduces freezer capacity rather a lot. We loved the look of this model from Samsung - it ticked all the boxes of what we were looking for, so we did a bit of hunting around online for the best deal, and eagerly anticipated the delivery. ~~~ WARNING ~~~ This beastie is big! The only way the delivery men could get it in was to unpack it and take our door off its hinges. (Not the front door, I hasten to add - they came through the garage!) It was still a bit of a squeeeeeze! I confess I hadn't really given this much consideration beforehand, but the delivery men had a few tales to tell, so it's not just me. I heartily recommend that it is well worth doing some measuring. ~~~ Basic overview ~~~ Capacity is good - 350litres for the fridge and 210 litres for the freezer. Frost free, A efficiency, antibacterial protection, automatic defrost - all those things you want to hear! Fridge has 5 shelves, 2 salad crisper bins and 4 door shelves. Freezer has 4 shelves, 2 bins and 5 door shelves. There is also a snazzy ice-maker which goes inside the freezer - we've not used it as it takes up too much room, but I've heard really good reports of it and am looking forward to trying it out one day. ~~~ What I love ~~~ It looks fab! Maybe if you had small children there would be a bit of an issue with sticky fingerprints, but ours has stayed lovely and shiny. It has long chunky vertical handles which look really stylish, and they feel really solid - great build quality. The shelves and bins appear to be sturdy and strong. I have had bad experiences in the past with other freezers with plastic splitting and breaking, so I am really pleased that these are holding up well. Fridge door shelves are a good size - room for plenty of milk and juice in here. There is an electronic control panel with temperature displays for fridge and freezer, so you can see at a glance the correct temperature is being maintained. There is also a child lock feature on here, but ours are past that stage so I haven't used it. Door alarm - this goes off when the door has been open for a while. This can be a tad annoying when you're putting shopping away, but it does reset if you quickly close the door then reopen it. The reason I love this feature is that my son has a bad habit of leaving the fridge door open, and with this alarm, we always realise he's done it. It does the job- not something to underestimate! Food in the fridge stays cold and fresh; food in the freezer freezes well and stays frozen. ~~~ Niggles ~~~ My main niggle is the door shelves. The just come out too easily, so when you lift out one of those big plastic bottles of milk for example, the shelf tends to come with it. The same thing happens in the freezer. Not a show-stopper, but the one thing I think could have been better. The other slight negative I should mention is the noise. It does seem to make quite a racket at times! Rumblings and rattlings which don't sound ominous in any way - it's just getting on with doing its job I think! This isn't a problem for us at all as we have plenty of doors between it and the living room, and I rarely even notice it, but for more open-plan houses this could be a consideration. ~~~ Overall ~~~ I love it! Its sleek, black looks enhance the kitchen, it does everything I want it to do, it feels solid and good quality, and there are a few nice little features too without its being too gimmicky. I have been really pleased with this purchase and wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who can get it through the door!
Before I start, let me just say that I am writing reviews of two different sports bras, and some of the general information in the first two sections is common to both. I feel it's important to the reviews and have therefore included the same text in both, so if you've already read the other one (Shock Absorber Max), just skip down to the 'This bra in particular' bit! ~~~ Why use a sports bra? ~~~ I think most people are aware that breast tissue is easily damaged, and there are no muscles you can tone, so sag is sadly irreversible (well, if you don't include surgery!) It's therefore very important if you're doing any kind of aerobic exercise to ensure you have a bra with the proper support - and that really does mean a sports bra. I read somewhere that normal bras reduce bounce by 38% and a good sports bra by 78%. Not sure if I've got the figures absolutely spot on, but I think so. ~~~ The importance of getting properly fitted ~~~ I've tried a fair few sports bras over the years , initially with not a lot of success - partly because I didn't really know what to look for and partly down to plain bad advice over sizing. My personal experience seems to be rather a common one, so I think it's worth talking about bra sizes before I get round to the bra itself, I really want to recommend very strongly that you get properly fitted. Having measured myself (as per sizing instructions in many a catalogue), for years I was convinced I was a 36B. When pregnant I thought I'd better go and get properly measured, and was told I was 38C or even 40C. Bras of any kind in these sizes just didn't seem to give great support or shape, and sports bras were slightly better but not much! I thought that was just the way it was. Then, at our antenatal classes we were introduced to a wonderful lady known as the Bra Lady. She 'fitted' us all just by looking, and I was utterly shocked to be told I should really be wearing a much smaller back size and much larger cup size. I followed her advice for maternity bras, but somehow hadn't quite got the message and ended up back in my old bras after that. Several years later I heard about Bravissimo and decided to pay them a visit. There I was also 'fitted' by looking and then sizes were confirmed by trying on. I was stunned by the difference in support and shape - and this time I got the message loud and clear! Far from the 36D I'd gone in with, I came out with 32F. The specific application to sports bras here is that the ones I now wear are designed for larger cup sizes, and provide fantastic support. Before, when I'd been wrongly measured, I was just buying the sports bras for standard cup sizes, and they just didn't do the job. So please, even if you're too shy to get fitted somewhere like Bravissimo (though really, it's OK!) it's still worth trying a variety of sizes if you're quite well-endowed - it's amazing how many people are better off with a smaller back size and larger cup size, and for sports bras you will notice the difference, I promise! Just one final point on fitting - I generally find I need to go up a size in sports bras (34G) so it's definitely a good idea to try before you buy. ~~~ This bra in particular ~~~ Well, the bra I'm reviewing here is the Freya Active Sports Bra. I mentioned in my Shock Absorber review that that was the first one I bought after discovering my real size, and I used it so much I completely wore it out. Well, when I went to get a replacement, they didn't have any in the size / colour I wanted. I was quite disappointed as I'd been so happy with the Shock Absorber, but I needed a new one so I went for this Freya Active instead. I have had other normal bras from Freya in the past and always been really pleased with them, so I thought they were worth a try in the sports bra department too. I was really glad I did, as I have been delighted with my purchase, and have since bought myself a second one. It's for cup sizes D-H, and as you can see from the picture is pretty heavy duty - not something you'd particularly want to show off! It comes in white, black or nude. I personally have the nude and the black - I only mention that to point out that the nude actually shows up far less under a white top than a white bra (which is not necessarily what you would expect) and you don't then get the issue of nasty off-white / greying bras in the changing room! It has soft cups (wires are not good for sports bras apparently), wide padded straps, and is made of a moisture-wicking fabric called Coolmax. It also has a mesh panel between the cups. The fastening on mine is a very secure 4 hooks (and 4 positions too) though I seem to think smaller cup sizes may have 3 hooks. What I never used to know (but do now!) is that most of the support with a bra should come from the back, not the straps - even with larger cup sizes. So, I do this up nice and tight and the support it gives is amazing. It is also really comfortable, and gives a good shape too. I mostly use it for treadmill running and quite honestly when I use a treadmill opposite a mirror I can see virtually no bounce - it all feels pretty rock solid, but comfortable, not constricting. As with other decent sports bras it's not cheap but I don't think it's particularly expensive either - I've seen it around £24 - £27 - a really good investment though, worth every penny to me. I'd rather spend on a good sports bra and spend less on the 'looking good' kit, as let's face it, not many people look good after a sweaty gym session anyway! I would VERY HIGHLY recommend this bra - I said the Shock Absorber was a million times better than anything I tried before - well I didn't think it was possible, but actually I think the Freya Active is even better.
We spent a week on the South Coast this summer, and one of the places we visited was the Smugglers Adventure in Hastings. This is actually the St Clements Caves - a series of tunnels and caverns once used extensively by real smugglers. Having looked on the website before visiting, my son was convinced we were going to be shown around by 'Hairy Jack' in person, and was quite disappointed to discover Hairy Jack was just speaking on a film! There are in fact two short films - one just after entering and one a little later on, giving some interesting history and insight into the caves and the widespread practice of smuggling. As you progress around the caves there are plenty of interactive displays and over 70 life size figures bringing the days of smuggling to life. We particularly liked displays showing back-to-front horseshoes and innovative places to hide smuggled goods (bottle of brandy under a doll's skirt, anyone?) - all ways to foil the taxman. Many of the displays have a button to press to hear a short commentary on what you're looking at - well three buttons to be precise, as the commentaries are available in English, French and German. There was plenty to keep children occupied, and indeed it seems a popular place for school trips, but I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting I found it too. I don't think I'd ever appreciated the sheer scale of the smuggling operations which went on! I think what I especially liked was that the quantity of writing on the walls was about right to be able to read it all rather than having to skim through it as often happens when visiting such places with children. We did have a few minor gripes. Some of the life-size figures were looking a bit shabby, and some of the buttons didn't work too well - the English ones anyway. Nothing too bad, but it did detract from the experience slightly. It was not always entirely clear which way to go next, and we did actually manage to miss one of the caves completely! Also, this is just a personal one from that particular day, we had timed our visit badly and were being closely followed by a German school trip. Not a problem in itself, but it meant we were hurried into the second film showing before we were quite ready, because the next one was going to be in German. It takes about an hour to go round (before ending up in the inevitable gift shop!) - before going we thought this sounded quite short, but actually we found we were kept engaged throughout that hour, we had chance to see and read everything (well except for the room we missed!) and the children didn't get bored at all. I would say for a family visit the time is about right. At the time we visited, this was one of the attractions available on the Tesco Clubcard Rewards programme, so we didn't actually pay for our tickets as such, but it is unfortunately no longer possible to pay for entrance using Rewards vouchers. Still, the admission prices are not too steep - at the time of writing ticket prices are : adult £7.20, child £5.20, student/OAP £6.20, family £22.80. We thought this was about right - if we'd been buying our own tickets we'd probably still have bought them at this price, but wouldn't have wanted to pay much more. The caves are not accessible to pushchairs (though baby slings are available to borrow) and there are steps and low ceilings to negotiate. Overall, it was an enjoyable family outing, and combined with a browse round Hastings itself made for a lovely day out. We found there was plenty we'd seen that we were talking about in the car on the way home, which for me is a mark of a good family trip!
Before I start, let me just say that I am writing reviews of two different sports bras, and some of the general information in the first two sections is common to both, so if you've already read the other one, just skip down to the 'This bra in particular' bit! ~~~ Why use a sports bra? ~~~ I think most people are aware that breast tissue is easily damaged, and there are no muscles you can tone, so sag is sadly irreversible (well, if you don't include surgery!) It's therefore very important if you're doing any kind of aerobic exercise to ensure you have a bra with the proper support - and that really does mean a sports bra. I read somewhere that normal bras reduce bounce by 38% and a good sports bra by 78%. Not sure if I've got the figures absolutely spot on, but I think so. ~~~ The importance of getting properly fitted ~~~ I've tried a fair few sports bras over the years , initially with not a lot of success - partly because I didn't really know what to look for and partly down to plain bad advice over sizing. My personal experience seems to be rather a common one, so I think it's worth talking about bra sizes before I get round to the bra itself, I really want to recommend very strongly that you get properly fitted. Having measured myself (as per sizing instructions in many a catalogue), for years I was convinced I was a 36B. When pregnant I thought I'd better go and get properly measured, and was told I was 38C or even 40C. Bras of any kind in these sizes just didn't seem to give great support or shape, and sports bras were slightly better but not much! I thought that was just the way it was. Then, at our antenatal classes we were introduced to a wonderful lady known as the Bra Lady. She 'fitted' us all just by looking, and I was utterly shocked to be told I should really be wearing a much smaller back size and much larger cup size. I followed her advice for maternity bras, but somehow hadn't quite got the message and ended up back in my old bras after that. Several years later I heard about Bravissimo and decided to pay them a visit. There I was also 'fitted' by looking and then sizes were confirmed by trying on. I was stunned by the difference in support and shape - and this time I got the message loud and clear! Far from the 36D I'd gone in with, I came out with 32F. The specific application to sports bras here is that the ones I now wear are designed for larger cup sizes, and provide fantastic support. Before, when I'd been wrongly measured, I was just buying the sports bras for standard cup sizes, and they just didn't do the job. So please, even if you're too shy to get fitted somewhere like Bravissimo (though really, it's OK!) it's still worth trying a variety of sizes if you're quite well-endowed - it's amazing how many people are better off with a smaller back size and larger cup size, and for sports bras you will notice the difference, I promise! Just one final point on fitting - I generally find I need to go up a size in sports bras (34G) so it's definitely a good idea to try before you buy. ~~~ This bra in particular ~~~ Well, the bra I'm reviewing here is the Shock Absorber Max Sports Bra. It's the first one I bought after discovering my real size, and I have used it so much I completely wore it out. It's for cup sizes D-H, and is pretty heavy duty - not something you'd particularly want to show off! It comes in white, black or nude. It has wide padded straps, and a 3-hook fastening, and is made of a moisture-wicking fabric. I used it for high impact aerobics and treadmill running and always found it very comfortable, giving great support. When I use a treadmill opposite a mirror I can really tell how good the support is - there really is minimal bounce. I would HIGHLY recommend this bra - it's not cheap but I don't think it's particularly expensive either (usually around £26 I think, but I have seen it a fair bit cheaper) - and well worth every penny for the level of support and protection it gives. I would say it's a vital piece of sports kit, and it's a million times better than anything I tried before!
Like many households, ours has one of those delightful objects of torture ... a Rubik's Cube. I'm not going to explain here in detail what one is, as I'm assuming you won't be wanting to know how to solve one unless you know what it is - but it basically looks like the picture on the front of the book, and the idea is to twist and turn until each face of the cube is a single colour. Sounds easy, but the 3x3 cube has a mind-blowing (wait for it ...) 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible configurations, so looks can be deceptive! I clearly remember when they first came out, and also clearly remember my frustration at never being able to get beyond solving one side and a 'T' on the four adjoining sides. Especially when my little brother could do the whole thing ... Grrr! The 'peel off the stickers' route never appealed to me - I wanted to do it properly. So, many, many years later I decided I was going to beat this thing! This little book, 'Speedsolving the Cube' helped me to do just that. It did take me a couple of hours, painstakingly following instructions, spotting patterns etc. but finally I was in possession of a completed cube. Not quite as satisfying as completely working it out for myself, but still felt pretty good. Only took me 30-odd years! The world record is under 10 seconds, so I've a long way to go ... The book itself is actually quite interesting - it gives a short history of the cube, an insight into 'speedcubing' (the solve-it-as-fast-as-possible competitive world), and methods for solving all the types of cube (there are also 2x2, 4x4 and even 5x5 versions available!) There is also a section on how to turn your completed cube into 'pretty patterns', which I found great fun. The style is clear, and I found there to be a really good mixture of pictures, diagrams, quick references and longer explanations. Overall very useable! The first technical chapter (after all the history etc.) sets out the notation used. This looks complicated but is actually quite logical, and just takes a few minutes to get the hang of - although I did find myself referring back to it from time to time. I'm not going to go into all the detail, but just give a flavour of how it works which should be enough to decide whether this looks like a method you could follow or complete double-Dutch! If you look at the cube, the layers which can be turned can be described as upper layer, front layer and so on. U refers to the upper layer D refers to the 'down' layer R refers to the right layer L refers to the left layer F refers to the front layer B refers to the back layer When one of these letters is used, it means 'turn this layer 90 degrees clockwise'. An apostrophe is used after the letter to indicate that the turn is anti-clockwise. A '2' is used after the letter to indicate that the turn is through 180 degrees. So R' D2 R means : first turn the right layer 90 degrees anticlockwise, then turn the 'down' layer through 180 degrees, then turn the right layer 90 degrees clockwise. You do need to be methodical and accurate, but basically if you can follow the above explanation you can probably follow through and do the whole thing. I don't think it would take too many times doing this before being able to do it without the book - I certainly found I was able to learn how to complete the top two thirds without referring to the book at all. The main focus of the book is on the standard 3x3 cube, and the author spends three chapters on this, dealing in turn with a beginner's method, a speedcubing method and expert speedcubing techniques. For myself, I only really used the notation chapter and the beginner's method chapter. I found the instructions straightforward enough to follow - well as straightforward as they can be, given that they are describing complex moves. They are broken down into simple steps though, so as long as you don't lose your place it's not too bad. Bit like a knitting pattern really! So, in summary, I would definitely recommend this book if solving the Cube has been one of those never-completely-scratched itches in your life. You do need to be able to follow algorithms as described above, and you do need some patience, but it's a fun way to spend a few hours. My kids were also seriously impressed! My copy of the book only has a price in dollars, but I seem to remember getting it for only a few pounds - and well worth every penny.
I have a set of Sabatier knives which were rather expensive - almost obscenely so, but I do love a good sharp knife. I could wax lyrical, but won't as they are not what I am reviewing here! These knives came complete with a proper sharpening steel with which I have had limited success - well, when I use it the knives do get sharpened, although I'm not 100% sure I'm doing it properly! I do have fun pretending to be a proper cheffy type though ... My husband never really got the hang of the sharpening steel, and it got to the point where he was refusing to use the knives, and starting to hang his nose over knife sharpeners (not literally you understand) so on a recent trip to Lakeland Limited we had a good look at what was on offer, and came away with this, the Universal Sharpener from Anolon. It's a ceramic sharpener, with three grades of grinding wheels. The reason I went for Anolon is because it is a brand I trust when it comes to kitchenware. I have Anolon pans which have served me well, and also Anolon are endorsed by Raymond Blanc - he uses Analon products in his Cookery School. I know this for sure because I went on a one day Cookery Course there, and we definitely used Anolon equipment. I was very impressed by my experience of the Cookery School and would take seriously any product endorsement they make. So, the knife sharpener itself. It's a simple enough gadget. There's a black plastic base containing the three grades of grinding wheels, (pink, white and blue - not sure if this has any meaning or is just to look pretty!), a clear plastic lid with three slots, and an easy to grip handle. You first fill the base with a little water - this keeps the grinding wheels clean, and prevents them from overheating. You then put the lid back on, place the sharpener on a flat surface, hold the handle in one hand and your knife in the other. The slots are labelled 1, 2 and 3 - which you use depends on how dull your knife is. For very dull knives you need to use all three in turn, whereas for the kind of 'after every 3 or 4 uses' maintenance they recommend, only the finest grade grinding wheels are required. If it's not stating the obvious, medium dull knives will need to use two of the slots. To sharpen the knife you place it in the slot (which guides the knife between the grinding wheels) and slide it back and forth about eight times. You then move on to the next slot as necessary. The sharpener can be used on most knives - but not those with serrated edges. After I used the sharpener, the water was looking distinctly murky, so clearly something had happened! Yes - my knives now cut beautifully again; chopping onions is (almost) a pleasure. It's a little bit trial and error of course - the 'eight times' is not an absolute - but I think the key is to use the different grades as recommended, repeat the process if the knife is not as sharp as you'd like, and then to resharpen regularly. It's very easy to rinse the sharpener after use. The instructions contain some useful tips on knife care and some others on knife safety which I would have considered self-evident - e.g. 'never try to catch a falling knife' - if you need to be told that, maybe you shouldn't be handling the knife in the first place? Just a thought. I am really pleased with this gadget. It makes the task of sharpening my super-duper knives so simple that I don't think we'll be having trouble with dull knives again. Well worth the money (we paid in the region of £25) if you have decent knives - especially since blunt knives are really dangerous.
The final book in The Divide trilogy - and yes, definitely the final book, there is no way the story could continue ... I have already reviewed the first two books ('The Divide' and 'Back to the Divide') and would strongly recommend that they be read first, so although I will include a very brief synopsis of what has gone before, really I am writing on the assumption that the reader is familiar with the story so far. ~~~ The very brief synopsis ~~~ Felix is our hero, who in the first book crossed the Divide to a world where magic is reality and science is a legend. He became great friends with a tangle-child named Betony, and other creatures who are myths to us but fact in Betony's world. His quest is to find a cure for the heart condition which threatens his life. The world across the Divide is populated with pixies, griffins, sphinxes, magic carpets - but no science. In the second book, Felix needs to cross the Divide again to find the antidote to a spell which turned his parents to stone. ~~~ Plot of this book ~~~ At last it is Betony's turn to visit Felix in our world - she duly arrives on Nimby, the flying carpet, but there is a hitch. On his last visit, Felix brought back a brandee (genie) in a K'Faddle magic lamp. Steven Rheinhart (Rhino) - a bully at Felix's school - inadvertently lets the brandee out, a very disgruntled brandee at that ("spending most of your life as a cloud of gas is as disappointing as liver without onions"), but then gets trapped himself inside the lamp. Inside the lamp he comes across a Jinx Box - and this is the Jinx of the title. One of the main premises of this series is that "magic and science don't mix". The magic needs to be got back across the Divide - so we very soon find ourselves back in Betony's world - so much for her holiday with Felix! As the story develops, we discover that each in their own way, both Rhino and the jinx box threaten the delicate balance, putting both Felix's and Betony's worlds at risk. The plot is complex and I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that! ~~~ Characters ~~~ Characterisation is really well-developed. The friendship between Felix and Betony is a really strong and believable one. Plenty of old friends are back in this third book - but also new ones. With unprepossessing looks and habits the carrionwing Scoffit is not immediately appealing, but shows a soft side. My favourite of the new characters is Fuzzy - the chick of mathematician male brazzle (griffin) Ironclaw and historian librarian female Thornbeak. She hatched at the end of the second book, but is now rather rebellious "she'd had some of her spikiest golden feathers dyed black and her talons painted with pink and orange lacquer". ~~~ Opinion ~~~ This whole trilogy is wild, funny, clever, imaginative and original, with plenty to think about. It is definitely a complete story - the third book rounds things off nicely. I really like the mathematician brazzles and puzzle-loving sphinxes - they add an interesting element to the whole. The ending is amazing - I never guessed at all what was going to happen, but it is so clever, especially from a mathematical perspective. I found it deeply satisfying. I should say that my daughter didn't like the ending at all - so a bit controversial, and a great talking point. My daughter loved these books from around age 9, but she is quite an advanced reader. I really loved them as an adult too, and have reread them all more than once. They are books with characters and issues we could talk about.
~~~ About this Review ~~~ There are in the region of 300 reviews of the Wii on Dooyoo alone, so I don't really feel I have much to add about the console itself. What I do want to do is draw attention to a much overlooked feature ... the Mii. ~~~ What is a Mii? ~~~ Well, to put it simply, a Mii is a small avatar you create which appears as you on the screen when you play a Wii game. There are a wide variety of face shapes, skin tones, hair styles and colours, eye shapes and colours, etc. etc. - most people customise their Mii to look like themself, usually fairly recognisably in my experience. Once created, it can be used for any game you play. ~~~ Is that it? ~~~ For most people, yes. They create a Mii and use it to play the games. For our family, a resounding no! My children and their friends have had hours of fun creating a wide variety of Mii characters - for creative kids, don't underestimate the fun of this. It is in effect a Wii game you may not have realised you had. ~~~ Who can you make? ~~~ Depends on your imagination! My kids have created Mii versions of most extended family members and various friends. They also do celebrities (Simon Cowell is particularly effective!) and favourite characters from books and films (we have a comprehensive set of Harry Potter - Harry, Ron and Hermione, Draco Malfoy, Neville Longbottom et al). Characters from other games can be fun to do - we have Mario and Luigi, and also Dr Eggman from Sonic the Hedgehog - rather cleverly created by using a bald head and huge eyebrows repositioned on the face as a moustache! We also have some completely imaginary creations - including, rather gruesomely, a character they've named 'Dead' who is grey and looks as though his face is being eaten by a shark! ~~~ Now is that it? ~~~ No, no, no - the real fun for me lies in the fact that not only can you choose to play as any of these characters, but also in many games on Wii Fit or Wii Sports Resort in particular, any Mii you create can turn up - so you might be doing an areobics step class with Dr Eggman, or a kung fu class with Simon Cowell. Can be difficult to do the exercise without giggling, depending on who has turned up! Or the kids will be doing the 'jogging' activity, and as they jog around the virtual park, they might see Grandpa jogging the other way. It's far more fun to populate your games with some recognisable characters than to have random Wii creations on your team! Well, we think so anyway. ~~~ Conclusion ~~~ I guess this review was quite light-hearted - but I really hope it will inspire some people to play with the game they didn't realise they had! For kids (of all ages!) it makes a wide variety of Wii games even more fun. Go on - you know you want to!
~~~ About this review ~~~ There are lots of reviews out there about the Wii Fit Balance Board as a whole - describing its functions and extolling its virtues as a fitness aid, weight loss aid, or fun addition to game play. I fully endorse that it's great for those things, but I don't intend to add to all the reviews detailing that information; rather I am writing this review from a very specific perspective. Please bear with me on all the background - it is relevant! ~~~ Me and my dodgy ankles ~~~ I've always been extremely prone to 'going over' on my ankles, since I was a child - loads of twists and sprains, I can fall off flip flops! As you can imagine, I'm not generally safe in heels. Anyway, about this time last year, I was walking along a perfectly normal pavement, in trainers, full daylight, stone cold sober (I add that to pre-empt all the witty remarks, as I've had plenty of those aimed in my direction over this) and I went over on my ankle. It swelled up like billy-oh, and even using the kids as crutches I couldn't walk more than a few yards, so it didn't come as much of a surprise to discover I'd actually broken it. Well, only a surprise insofar as I had no idea it was possible to break an ankle like that. Cue 5-6 weeks in a cast and a lot longer getting back to anything like normality. ~~~ What my physio said ~~~ Yes, I did actually get a series of sessions with a physio on the NHS - had to ask for them though, they weren't offered automatically, but that's a rant for another day! Anyway, I was given exercises to do and introduced to the small gym in the physio department. One of the snazzy pieces of equipment was something for balance and stability. "Best thing you can do for it", quoth my physio, "- have you been on a Wii balance board, it's a bit like that". Once I'd been discharged, I still needed to strengthen my ankle, so when the kids got a Wii, with Wii Fit and Balance Board for Christmas, I claimed 'medical need' in order to nab a few turns. ~~~ Balance and Stability on the Wii Balance Board ~~~ The Balance Board itself measures the pressure you put on each side of it, so it really helps you to get your centre of gravity, well, central. It's amazing how lop-sided you can get without realising it, so the way the Balance Board shows even slight deviations from side to side or front to back gives you a lot of body awareness. There's an exercise which pops up in the daily training regularly where you have to transfer your weight to get your centre of gravity (shown as a dot on the screen) to a certain spot by leaning in the right direction in a very controlled manner. This is very much like the machine in the physio gym, very testing for a wobbly ankle. The Wii Fit has quite a wide variety of games to improve your balance and stability. I found that my ankle complained quite a lot - but in much the same way as it did when doing all the 'exciting' physio exercises - it was very much what my Pilates instructor calls 'grateful pain' - your body knows it's for its own good! So a few examples of what I found helpful : Tightrope walking This game is where you 'walk' on the Balance Board, crossing over a tightrope. As the game advances, you have to jump over obstacles too. This really makes you focus on putting the same amount of weight on each foot as you walk, and helps avoid the tendency to favour the uninjured side. Ski Slalom This is more or less as it sounds - you need to bend knees and ankles in a skiing position (ached lots, great for strengthening!) and transfer weight from side to side as you ski down the slope to zigzag through the slalom course. Great for stability control. Snowball Fight You are hidden behind a wall, but have to lean to one side or the other and aim snowballs at other characters, all the while dodging those being lobbed at you. Again, great for strengthening and control. There are plenty more ... the thing I liked was that the variety meant I wasn't bored with doing the exercises I was meant to be doing anyway, and I sometimes even managed to forget I wasn't just playing. ~~~ Conclusion ~~~ After ankle injuries, to get back to strength you really need to do exercises to challenge the balance, getting the ligaments to work hard. It's also important to make sure the weeks of being lopsided don't result in permanently favouring one side, so you really need to focus on postural stability and getting your centre of gravity in the right place. The Wii Fit Balance Board and the games which go with it are a fantastic aid to rehabilitation, and really make those exercises fun. Of course, once fully recovered, it's still great for all those other things - fitness, weight loss, game play etc. I should also mention that the board itself seems pretty sturdy, stores nicely under the TV stand, and doesn't seem to need batteries changing too often. Price-wise it still doesn't seem to come cheap, but we got it as a package with the Wii itself, Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, which was very reasonable for what we got.