Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tracey Ullman's Show - several of a kind

What's the freebie? Tracey Ullman's Show on DVD

How did I get it? A competition win from The Daily Mirror's We Love TV

A photo posted by @thebestthingsinlifeblog on
Tracey Ullman had several very successful years in the UK in the early eighties. Sketch shows A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind led to Girls on Top via huge music hits such as Breakaway. And then she disappeared...

...well, of course she didn't. She followed her husband to America and had even more success with her own show which trivia fans will also know launched The Simpsons.

And then she same back to Blighty. Tracey Ullman's show launched on the BBC in January 2016 to some critical acclaim. Was it any good? Well, having watched the first few I thought it was ... not bad. Now, having had chance to see the whole series .... it's not bad.

Ullman shows herself to be an adept impressionist. With the help of prosthetics (the voice needs no assistance) she does a great job taking off Judi Dench, Angela Merkel and others.

To be fair most sketch shows are hit and miss to me and this one is no different. There are some great characters - the US tourists amuse, the topless feminist MP raises a smile and the app guy (with a totally convincing male voice by the way) has the cringe worthy quality that the best comedy can provoke, whereas others such as the possessive zoo worker lack punchlines and the northern powerhouse businesswoman with a hatred of the south is a tired idea. maybe watching once per week stretches the gaps between episodes to make repetition less noticeable, but it can become tedious if you plough through a box set.

Ullman has always had talent and she's still on top of her game, certainly as creative and funny as any other sketch show I've seen for the past few years. She's always seemed to need to be the star - leaving a group to have her own show, having a music career and returning with another eponymous show. This series is a useful vehicle for her talents as a character actress and maybe a sitcom beckons - she would certainly provide excellent support characters to edgy comedies. To me, that's a better bet for the future rather than a second series of sketches.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Free things to do in Kefalonia

It's been a long time. The ageing laptop took a holiday for a few weeks and no sooner was it back than we went on our wonderful family holiday to Kefalonia. It was perfect.

Now let's clear up that my trip to Kefalonia wasn't free. Neither flight nor hotel, neither car-hire nor spends - I'm not that good a blogger . Greece isn't cheap, either. Their financial crisis seems to have caused a fair bit of inflation since I last visited and a weak Sterling/Euro exchange rate meant that meals for 6 in a taverna were out of the question. It's still a wonderful country though. Beautiful, friendly, HOT and steeped in history.

I thought I'd commit some memories of this wonderful holiday to my blog by looking at things that we did that didn't cost a penny.

History. This is Greece - everything about it is historic. It's not all about stones and ruins. It's about culture, food and influences from the many other civilisations that have had their say in how the island is now.

Kefalonia has a few Mycenean tombs and the first we came across was at Lakithra.
This probably isn't the most spectacular but it's the first old Greek thing my obsessed daughter has seen so it was a special moment. A walk through a quiet village finds the site looking out towards the Aegean. Strange holes in the ground look like they probably held treasure, whilst graves hewn from the rock once held the bones of ancients.
The ghosts of 3500 year old skeletons could rise at any moment like those in Jason and the Argonauts.

The ancient Acropolis at Sami was very spectacular. Again, the views are jaw dropping.
Just a short journey away is Ithaca, home of Odysseus and from whence he started his journey as chronicled by Homer. This huge site sits high on a hill and must once have been quite a sight from down in the waters. Like at Lakithra, we had the whole place to ourselves - only mad dogs and Englishmen do such

explorations in the midday sun. The size of the stones are truly impressive and one can understand why Cyclopean architecture is a known term for the Mycenean period - only the giants of Greek mythology could lift such stones so high up a mountain like this.

The Romans slaughtered the inhabitants of Sami after a lengthy siege around 188 BC. The Romans also left our final piece of free history - the Roman Villa at Skala. Located just outside the town it's not noticeably a villa, just a floorplan. But what floors - each still has remains of exquisite mosaics. An elevated walkway gives a good view down.

There are numerous other free historic sites across the islands, these are the only ones we saw. It wouldn't have been fair to drag the kids around more - we know how many we can get away with.

For inhabitants of a wet island at the edge of Europe it's also a free treat to see wildlife that we can only usually see in zoos, aquariums or similar. Lizards are plentiful and it's a novelty seeing fish swim past your goggles in the crystal clear waters off the beaches. I saw a few hoopoes too and was told that these were shot for sport. Not sure if that's true though.

My real 'bucket list' moments were marvellous. I'm also pleased that I saw them perfectly naturally and not through an organised trip. The real highlight was a pair of leatherback turtle. These frolicked quite happily along the harbour front at Argostoli and this is quite common. Magical.
My second magical moment happened as I walked along a farm track to the local shop one morning. The top of every plant along the edge of a field was topped by a dragonfly/mayfly type insect. One of them looked to be eating something but as I approached I saw that it was in a battle of life or death with a praying mantis. The fly escaped and the mantis turned its attention to me - I really think it would have taken me on, too.

A little gecko appeared outside our room a few nights. Not quite as spectacular, but something we don't see in England very often.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Brut Sport Style deodorant - a lot of pain for no gain

What did I get? Brut Sport Style deodorant

How did I get it? Sent freely for trial by Trnd

Ah, the great smell of Brut. The smell of my dad for a month after each Christmas in the 70s. Jousted with Old Spice as the smell of man when I was a young child. Left behind during the 80s as newer, fresher brands such as Insignia took over.
I'm assuming Brut has kept going in the intervening period but to be honest I couldn't say. Even in my forties it's still a brand I wouldn't choose as it seems a bit too old-fashioned, so it was an interesting experience to be given the chance to try it by Trnd. A parcel arrived with cards to give out, money of vouchers, some cricket fixture lists (Brut Sport Style sponsors a range of first class cricket stuff) and instruction in how to trial the deodorant. Some of that is geared towards a different sort of chap than I ("invite your mates round for a beer and take photos of you opening the package and trying the fragrance"; "take it to the gym and discuss the new fragrance") which sounds a bit forced. I did open it with the kids though, took some photos of the packaging (I don't put myself in my photos) and had a go.

The design is the best bit of this new Brut. Great colours and a sturdy squirter. Sadly, that's the most positive thing I can say.

The first spray is one I'll remember for a long time. About a second after applying I gave a sound like Tom when Jerry traps his tail in a mousetrap and had a face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Jeez, does it sting. Really sting. I've used loads of deodorants over the years and never known a sting like this.

So it must be strong, right? Wrong. This is the most disappointing part of the whole 'Sports' thing - it hardly works. Most quality deodorants still smell at the end of the day but this stopped smelling in mid-afternoon and by the time I got to bed I smelled like a hadn't bothered putting deodarnt on at all - not nice.
I drive a desk for a living and don't do gyms but I do walk a fair bit. Let's be fair to Brut and say that maybe there's some magic ingredient that is triggered by hard exercise and I didn't trigger it.

The smell is an improvement on traditional Brut, which I didn't mind anyway. It still smells a bit like Brut but more modern (can a smell modernise? Probably not, I think I'm being pretentious there) but it's a shame I didn't get much chance to smell it. Maybe a couple of hours each day, nowhere near what I get from other brands. A thumbs down on this one.

A word for Trnd - the package received is good and they prompt in a timely manner for feedback. They're a marketing company and not involved with the brand, my poor review of Brut shouldn't reflect on Trnd.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Shining Tor, Cat Tor and the Goyt Valley

What wonderful thing did life give me for free today? A wonderful walk along the border of Cheshire and Derbyshire, with historic ruins and FREE FOOD

How? Just get up and go. You can do it too
Errwood Hall


 The Goyt valley is a favourite of mine. It's got woods to get lost in, ruined buildings to play in, high hills to view from and babbling brooks. It's a beautiful and fascinating place and it's all free, including the parking.
A long walk up The Street to Pym's Chair and a view I've never appreciated before. With the aid of some new binoculars I could make out the hills near my hometown of Glossop (Lantern Pike, Chinley Churn and the Mare's Back quite easy to spot) but also the vista round past the airport to Jodrell Bank. Having been driving a desk in all the sunshine this week it was great to be out and part of it. From Pym's Chair it's a stride over Cat's Tor to Shining Tor along the Cheshire/Derbyshire border with constant views of the Cheshire plain.
Meadow Pipits aplenty over the moors here, kestrels hovering in the thermals running up from the plain to these high hills. Cotton grass thrives here.
Shining tor
Shining Tor is the highest point in modern Cheshire. It's a gentle ascent from Cat's Tor and from afar it's hard not to focus on the
para gliders that soar around the summit. On reaching the trig point it's odd to watch the sails of these gliders suddenly appear over the lip of the Tor and then disappear again below one's feet.
A quick banana and then over Shooters Clough and down to the Goyt Valley. The Cat & Fiddle pub is in the distance, an alternative starting point.
This descent to the Goyt is dominated by the most delicious bilberries.
There are millions of them spread either side of the path. Nobody picks bilberries yet they taste just like blueberries, which are really expensive in the shops. I grabbed as I passed, and munched all the way through Shooters Clough to the ruins of Errwood Hall.
This once magnificent hall was the home of the Grimshawes, a wealthy merchant family from Manchester. Sadly, the hall was only used for less than 100 years as the family dies out and it was soon demolished (over eagerly) as the nearby reservoirs were built. I'm not going to give you any more details as I urge you to visit David's excellent site and lose yourself in the photos there. I've been bringing my children here all their life, it's a great place for hide and seek.
Errwod Hall
From the hall I carried on down to the road and back to my car. An absolutely wonderful walk.
Errwood Hall

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Free milk, but I prefer Accrington Stanley

What did I get? A small bottle of milk

How did I get it? Freely given away in Manchester

I hate the taste of milk. At 5 years old I remember being told to drink my free bottle at school and thinking, I really don't like this and never have. I've not drunk it in over 40 years.
I know it's a shame, it's a healthy thing. I encourage my kids to drink as much as possible and we get our milk delivered by a milkman from the dairy to keep prices fair to the farmer. Please do this if you can, Britain's dairy herds can't survive much longer at the prices supermarkets are paying and for an extra 3p per pint I am making a difference.

It's all about the taste, I think. I can drink chocolate milk with no problems but any other flavours don't mask it enough for me. Cream and milky products in food are hit and miss. I don't mind a fresh cream cake if I get enough of the other flavours to combat the taste of milk. Warming milk for porridge and the like? That really turns my stomach.
There really isn't much in the way of food and drink i won't eat. I think milk and particularly strong goats cheeses are the only thimngs that my body rebels against. It's not an allergy or intolerance, I'm fine with it - it's just the taste.

It's weird when you think about it. If I were to say I like breast milk there would be cried of outrage (I probably don't like it, but I haven't tried it since I was a bab) but that's from my species and my start in life. Yet drinking from a cow is perfectly acceptable once your mother's dried up. I'm not ridiculing it, it's healthy stuff, but it just seems odd. Who was the first person to look at a cow's udders and put two and two together and go for it?

Anyway, this is a rubbish review of Cravendale milk because I didn't try it. But bless the fine people in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, who gave thousands of bottles away for free on one of the hottest days of the year. Cheers.

Here's Dr Feelgood - Milk & Alcohol

Friday, 8 July 2016

How do you like them apples?

What did I get? Apples

How? Right place, right time. A leftover buffet at someone else's workplace.

Another long gap between posts. I'm having a very busy work period and was working away for much of the pat week. Plus, I've been short of freebies for the past few weeks.

With all my freebies I post after I have tried/tested/used/visited them. There's no point in judging or reviewing otherwise. I've actually got dozens of books, DVDs and other stuff I've received (literally, dozens) but until I've managed to try them I shan't post.

So I was leaving work today and heard a shout calling me into a shared meeting facility. Another organisation had finished a large meeting and the cleaner was reluctant to throw all the food away. It's sinful how much hospitality food goes to complete waste.

An apple for each of the family. Granny Smiths and average in quality. I have no idea who supplied them so it's not much of a review but there you go - it'll keep the doctor away.

Have a playlist about apples.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Happy Gilmore is happier than me

What did I get? Happy Gilmore on DVD

How did I get it? Annoyingly, I can't remember. It was a competition win.

My longest break without posting. One major reason - the European Championships and endless football matches. England are still in it, as are Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - an incredible feat.

There have just been 2 rest days without football but I still didn't post as I'm a bit sad and very scared over Brexit. But this blog isn't a politics blog (although the ability to vote freely is a freebie and a victory that we all should use at every opportunity), so that's the last of saying why Happy Gilmore is happier than me.

If you've seen Happy Gilmore then you'll know he's anything but. Adam Sandler plays the titular chap who isn't one of life's winners. Happy has anger issues that stem from the walk out of his mother and the death of his father when he was a kid. Only grandma (with whom he lives) seems to get Happy's unconditional love. All this is played out in the opening few minutes as a scene setter.

Happy shares his father's love of hockey (ice hockey to us Brits; field hockey is what we know as simply 'hockey') but he really isn't very good. Every year he fails the trials but he still classes himself as a hockey player. Barely able to skate, lacking basic hockey skills and hampered by his temper, Happy does possess an incredibly hard shot. Using this in an unconventional way, Happy takes on the world of golf ... and this is definitely a golf film.

The film is rated 12 and I watched with my eleven and a half year old son. It's not bad, but there is a fair bit of cussing in it that would have made it a 15 back in my day. The gorgeous Julie Bowen appears in stocking and sussies a couple of times too, but nothing worse than that really.

As a comedy ... it's OK. It harkens back to an eighties Police Academy affair a few times but there are some amusing slapstick scenes and some surreal moments which tickle my fancy, plus a cameo appearance from Lee Trevino. It's a heavily sponsored film too - I bet a large portion of it's gross takings are from Subway.

I'd give it 6, my son says 8.